Any suggestions on cheap equipment to record 8 tracks to a laptop?
July 9, 2006 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Recording Filter: I want to make some almost studio quality recordings. I have a laptop, but I'm looking for good, well priced equipment (max $300 total).

I have a decent laptop, limited knowlege of Audacity, and I'm just wondering what cheap equipment I could buy to allow me to make recordings. I need to record say 4 different tracks at the same time (better would be 8), and mix them down seperately. I'd like to spend no more then $300 on mics and stuff ($200 would be better). Also, I'm hopeing to someday in the next year or so to get a Mac Mini, so it needs to be compatible with that. Any thoughts? Thanks!
posted by TrueVox to Technology (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm thinking it's going to be really hard to find equipment to record 8 or even 4 inputs simultaneously for under $300. I'd be inclined to say that it's impossible, but maybe someone knows better than I.

Microphone-wise, though, I can't recommend the MXL 990 and 991 highly enough. Nice condensers for cheap.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:57 PM on July 9, 2006

its old school but i still use dat tapes. theyre solid and dont freak out. as for mikes, i cant help you til i find out what youre recording. brass vesus strong, voice versus electronic... ect.
posted by Davaal at 1:14 PM on July 9, 2006

agree with everyone above... if you're going to be recording multiple tracks at the same time that means a firewire interface with at least 4 channels (probably $250-400 for entry level), at least 4 microphones (another $250-400 for even basic shure sm58/57s at used prices) and cables for everything (another $50-100). which puts you at $500-900, more likely to the higher end of that.

oh wait, have we forgotten mic stands? another $20-30 a pop for ones that will actually stand... and you should really be recording to a firewire hard drive and not some bobo officemax sale special. an owc brand enclosure (it's what everyone uses for recording) for a 3.5" hd costs about $60-80 (without the drive) plus the hard drive ($60-100, depending on size)

and did you say laptop? cause then you have firewire issues. firewire chipsets are notoriously incompatible with various audio interfaces. so you probably need a new firewire pcmcia card (another $50 at least) and the laptop also makes the firewire enclosure all the more imperative. laptop hard drives operate at about 50-60% of their desktop counterparts.

i've been going through this stuff for the past several years and it's a pain in the arse getting set up. i just dropped $400 on a tascam fw1804 (plus another $400 in various other expenses, excluding mics and cables) and it's still not working.
posted by noloveforned at 2:26 PM on July 9, 2006

why do you need to record 8 tracks simultaneously, unless it's a live recording?
i would spend the money on one good condenser mic and preamp and then just overdub until you have more money/experience to grow your studio.
$300 won't get you 4 decent mics, let alone 8, and then you still need some kind of interface to get them into your computer. i've yet to see an interface that has 8 discreet inputs for under $500 or so.
posted by chococat at 2:28 PM on July 9, 2006

what noloveforned said.
posted by chococat at 2:29 PM on July 9, 2006

there are actually several 8 analog input firewire interfaces in the $400 range - tascam fw1804 and the m-audio fw1814
posted by noloveforned at 2:39 PM on July 9, 2006

sorry, i should have said Canadian dollars.
the m-audio says $599 US on their site, and it's only 8 1/4" inputs, not XLR.
the tascam sounds promising, i'll have to check it out.
i was holding out for a presonus firepod.
posted by chococat at 3:06 PM on July 9, 2006

Yeah. Now if you only need to record one audio source at a time, that can be done very well for under $300.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:36 PM on July 9, 2006

What are recording? Music?

Depending on the instruments and the particular sound you're after, you may need more than $300 worth of mics.

You'll also need preamps, a desk, a sound card...
posted by popcassady at 3:49 PM on July 9, 2006

Would a mixer with a Firewire audio interface suit your purposes? Again, you wouldn't have much left over for mics etc., though...
posted by jack_mo at 4:50 PM on July 9, 2006

You also need to consider audio monitoring- an amp and a pair of speakers won't leave you much change from $300.

As far as mics go, you might well be better off renting than buying.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 4:54 PM on July 9, 2006

I'd think more in terms of what you can minimally get to start rolling. If you rely on overdubs and don't need more than one simultaneous input then you don't need a pricey interface. You also don't need more than one mic ... just get a decent 'workhorse' mic like a Shure SM57. Microphone stands and stuff like that? I used to hang my mic from a ceiling fan when I first started recording in my home. Improvise and be creative.

All of the great technological gear out there has the downside of making us forget things can still be done simply and cheaply. And, to be truthful, working around these limitations will probably make you more creative + could produce better and more interesting recordings. I personally feel that a lot of what I did in the 80's on my 4 track with a guitar, one mic, a casio sampler, and a reverb box was far more creative then what I'm working on now in my professional studio.

One thing I would insist you pay attention to is good studio monitors. In my opinion if you want professional sounding recordings than your monitors are the most important thing in your studio. I would recommend finding a used pair of Alesis Monitor Ones on eBay or somewhere ... they are cheap and highly underrated.

Lastly, I recommend a subscription to the invaluable Tape Op Magazine. Each issue is chock full of advice and frequent tips for creatively getting around roadblocks in studio situations. And, if you are in the USA, this won't take anything from your budget because the subscriptions are free from their website.
posted by General Zubon at 6:35 PM on July 9, 2006

If you're just recording one source, you can get a great sound with a $100 Presonus TubePre and a $70 MXL condenser. That's what I use. I use free software and mix with my $70 Grado SR-60s.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:39 PM on July 9, 2006

I don't think you're going to get something capable of multiple simultaneous input, but you could get a functional mic, mixer, and input device for a little over $300.

I'd suggest going to Tweakheadz Lab and learning about the recording precess. THe Lab is put together by a recording professional and he breaks it all down into easy-to-digest bites, starting with a good introduction section for n00bz, a good breakdown on what kind of rig to get, and why, all the way to the final mixdown.

I've already begun building my rig according to Tweak's suggestions and I've been happy with the results so far.
posted by lekvar at 7:47 PM on July 9, 2006

Shop around for used stuff. Do some windowshopping on ebay or craigslist.
posted by snsranch at 8:44 PM on July 9, 2006

Response by poster: Do'h! I didn't realize I was so screwed. I need a few different inputs because, well, to be honest, I've yet to have much luck with overdubs. I have heard a lot of people who have, I just haven't (though maybe that is a practice issue).

As for what I'm recording, one guy on an accustic/electric gutar, one electric bass, one or two vocalists, and a lead instriment (flute or harmonica, mostly).

Honest, didn't realize this all was so expensive. Thanks for the great suggestions, though! I really appreciate it, and maybe I'll start with just a good 4 source mixer, because I have access to a few mics (I was asking about mics because I didn't know if USB mics would provide seperate "inputs" each, but I guess not?) of decent quality, not great, but good 'nuf. :)

Oh, and why a firewire HDD? I already have an internal HDD and a gig of ram... Honest question. Remeber, I'm pretty numb sometimes.

Oh, and as far as mixing down, everything I need to do in a mix down I can do in software, I think. All I need is to get the tracks IN to the computer.
posted by TrueVox at 9:10 PM on July 9, 2006

oddly enough, ram ends up being one of the least important things when it comes to digital recording. processor speed (for effects) and hard disk speed (for recording) are the most important.

as for the firewire HDD - if it's a laptop, your HDD is most likely 4200 or 5400 rpm. most desktop HDD are 7200rpm. so there's the slowdown in trying to write data. but you're also running the program from this hard drive, which further taxes your speed. it's also generally considered safer to record to a separate hard drive that is not running the OS or software.
posted by noloveforned at 8:41 AM on July 10, 2006

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