Simple home studio
December 29, 2007 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Will you help me set up a simple yet functional home recording studio?

This is for home use, and simplicity is the key - quality is not really a concern at this point (if you heard me play you would understand why). Here are my issues/constraints:

1.) Mic/Record Software - I don't mind free or cheap, but I am OK with paying, as well. I'd be happy using audacity, but would spring for ProTools LE if I felt that the basic functions/features could be use with simplicity.

2.) Mikes - I would like to record guitars using direct injection technology, instead of miking, but I don't know much about it. Any recommended units for the simple home musician?

3.) Drums - Software recommendations?

All help will be appreciated.
posted by kjl291 to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Ideally, you could give us a little more information than you have... What kind of computer are you using (Mac/PC, modern or a bit creaky?), and what you're looking to record. You mention guitars, but talking about mic and DI at the same time means you could be looking at an electro-acoustic, or something else...

Anyhow, some shots in the dark:

1) Have a look at Mackie Tracktion 2. There's a downloadable demo and it's reasonably priced, while very capable and with a reasonably shallow learning curve.

2) Mic'ing an acoustic guitar is a reasonably involved process, but DI'ing an acoustic rarely sounds good. A matched set of Rode NT5's will give you a nice recording of the sound you're producing, but that ignores the fact that your recordings will only be as good as the room you're in, the sound of the instruments you're playing and, yes, your own ability.

2a) If you're talking about electric guitars, a DI box (or an audio interface with an instrument level input) followed by reamping using something like one of these free amp sims (or Native Instrument's Guitar Rig 3 if you can stretch to it) will give you a reasonable sound.

3) There are lots of drum software instruments and sample sets out there, stretching from the free Bluenoice MyDrumset to the very large, very expensive Mixosaurus Kit A (which comes on its own hard drive!). I personally use BFD for a lot of things and it's expandable drum kits are very playable in most mixes.

Hope this helps a bit - if you can give us more information as to what you have and what you're hoping to achieve, maybe we can help with a little more...
posted by benzo8 at 11:17 AM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

1) I'm always mentioning it but I feel like FL Studio doesn't get its due recognition as an all-around amazing piece of software for the home recording musician. Sequencer, editor, VST host, mixer and sampler all in one, there's little you can't do in FL Studio. I record guitars/bass/vocals, program drums, sequence synths, mix and master all in this one amazing application. Download the demo and see if you like it.

2) I would recommend buying a Shure SM57 as a first-mic regardless of the application. They always find a use and are especially good for mic-ing guitar amps. The outboard and plugin-based amp sims are extremely useful but sometimes just mic-ing a tube amp sounds much more authentic.

3) I use FL Studio as a virtual sampler and have acquired a massive database of one-shot samples over the years. Not being prone to using loops or other DJ-in-a-box methods, I pile on the one-shots, layering, compressing, and mixing until I have an authentic sound (there are an infinite number of third party VST plugins out there to do this) that I'm happy with. It's possible to get impressive, realistic sounding drum kits just from combining one-shot samples from meticulously recorded libraries. I could never use programs like Garage Band without feeling like the application was making the music, not me.

You can hear some of the music, electronic and acoustic, I've recorded with FL Studio here.
posted by inoculatedcities at 11:46 AM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow - this is the first question I have posted, and I am already impressed with the speed and depth of the responses.

A little additional info:

I use a (high end) PC, and I use the Sibelius program for scoring and midi tracks.

Guitars - both Acoustic Electric (Customized Martin) and Electric (Gibson Les Paul).

The reason I threw in the reference to Direct Injection was simply in consideration of neighbors - I do not have unrestricted freedom to wail away, and mostly practice the electric with a headphone amp, and I was unsure if DI would be useful or not.

I hope this helps...
posted by kjl291 at 12:04 PM on December 29, 2007

1. Firewire/USB interface: M-Audio makes good, decently-priced options.
2. Mic: Rode NT series or Shure SM-57 depending on budget.
3. Direct box: Cheap if you get a plain/dumb one, but you might like something like a POD or other amp simulator.
posted by rhizome at 12:26 PM on December 29, 2007

I've been using the ART Tube MP Project Series USB unit for recording my guitar. So far, I'm extremely pleased with it. It's only got single lines in & out, but I like it for its simplicity and quality. You can run a mic or a straight line (say, from a pickup), depending on your other equipment and preferences. I prefer to mic my acoustic guitar, but I've had good results with the inexpensive bottle cap pickup. I can't offer much guide for software, as I'm still playing around with a few options. (Note that ProTools locks you into buying their MBox equipment, so stay away from that unless you think you need the ProTools experience for later employment or something.) But with the Tube MP USB preamp and a cheap pickup, you can be laying down guitar tracks in minutes, in any software you like, for less than $150.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 12:30 PM on December 29, 2007

For recording software, Reaper is very good. It's non-expiring, uncrippled shareware. If you like it, it's only $50 for a personal use license.
posted by tdismukes at 1:27 PM on December 29, 2007

On the guitar input front, I have an M-Audio Firewire Solo which works fine for me.. Guitars plug straight into it without needing to be amplified; and it also has an XLR input for attaching a microphone.

(I also have an M-Audio Trigger Finger which is kinda fun to use for drum programming; and on the software side, I use Ableton Live 7, although it is kinda expensive in the grand scheme of things. That said, both the Firewire Solo and Trigger Finger come with a basic version of Ableton Live...)
posted by ambilevous at 1:34 PM on December 29, 2007

If you using an electric, you'll get perfectly serviceable results with any of the amp emulation solutions, ranging from the Line 6 Pod XT to the much more elaborate Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3.

It's not the same, and certainly not as much fun as playing through a physical amp, but the comparative lack of headache in getting reasonable quality recordings is a nice change.

You could also plug your guitar straight in, either via a high impedence input, via a DI box or, handily enough via a non-true bypass pedal such as any Boss one. The downside to this is that it'll sound like poop. You can then treat this totally boring sound with something like Amplitube (or one of its many competitors) to make it sound like it's been through a cabinet. Caveat: I've never actually done this, but I've heard decent results.

On the other hand, if you're not worried about total fidelity, or just fancy getting your hands a little dirty, I'd recommend sticking with the staples - a Shure SM57 bunged in front of a cabinet, running into the Firewire/USB box of your choice (I'd personally stay away from M-Audio, but that's just me being elitist) and then being recorded in the audio package of your choice. Note: Despite the hoops, this is my favourite option. Nothing's quite the same.

The annoying part about picking the software and hardware is that they're all fairly capable of most things these days. If you particularly want Pro Tools then you're set. Get an M-Box, which comes with Pro Tools LE, and away you go.
If not, you've got lot to choose from. Are you in the UK? Turnkey has the Alesis iO 14 going for £120 which has decent reviews, and comes with the servicable Cubase LE. Or (and I link to this despite having an irrational dislike of Mackie) Dolphin Music has the Tapco Link USB going for £69, which comes with the excellent Tracktion 2.
If you're in the USA or Canada then I refuse to bargain hunt for you, as your music gear is already obscenely cheap compared to our side of the pond.

Software-wise, Reaper is very good and free/cheap, Tracktion is very good and easy to use and also cheap. FL Studio has its fans but I don't really like it. Cubase, Sonar (which is PC only), Logic (which is Apple only) and Digital Performer (again, Apple only) are all pro-level applications which carry a pro-level price tag, though Logic's recent price plummet means that it's a heck of a bargain, and the others are going to get itchy. The wild card is Ableton Live, which is a bit pricey, especially compared to Logic, is a bit novel, has an excellent interface, but is slightly irritatingly rough around the edges. I still use it constantly, but it's not for everyone.

One thing I would recommend for everyone, especially if you're going to be doing any mic work, is getting a few issues of the excellent Sound On Sound. It's a British magazine that you can find in almost any newsagent over here, or large bookshops like Borders in the US tend to carry it too. It has tips and features on making everyday rooms usable for home recording in almost every issue, plus there's so much stuff about simple and useful recording techniques. There's also the excellent and now free Tape Op magazine, which I heartily recommend subscribing to. It's a bit of a deep end rag, but it's also a bit of a goldmine.

I hope that's been some help, and good luck with your guitary adventures!
posted by Magnakai at 4:57 PM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Kristal Audio Engine is a free multi-track recording program.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:15 PM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with everything Magnakai says. The tools you pick are probably going to be the least of your worries when you really start recording, it'll be how to do it in the room you are in =)
posted by bigmusic at 10:14 PM on December 29, 2007

pro tools can be quite the headache at times but is a MUST if you want to take your tracks to pro studios for tracking, mixing, or overdubbing during the process. the compatibility of files makes the process very smooth. i find it pretty easy to use as well.

people seem to really like guitar rig, and i'm interested in checking it out, but i really recommend the pod xt. it has alot of good, useable sounds, plenty of effects and things to toy with, and it's useful for headphone practice and stuff like that without having to go through your computer. the latency issue has really kept me away from computer-based home recording- i'd hate to have the additional latency hit that relying on guitar rig must take. i might be wrong, i dunno. all in all, i'm very traditionalist about guitar equipment- and i really like the pod for simple home recording, headphone practice, and for textural/effects stuff- it does great distorted vocals!
posted by tremspeed at 11:03 PM on December 29, 2007

A very inexpensive, and excellent DI box for the guitar is the Johnson J-Station. I've seen them sell for as low as $70 on eBay, and it's an excellent (and discontinued) amp/cab simulator which many folks seem to like more than the Pod. Plug your headphones in, and blow your ear drums out without the neighbors ever hearing anything. It's also got a SPDIF output, so if you have a SPDIF in on the computer, you can keep the signal completely in the digital realm, superb for recording.

As far as software drums, I'm loving Steinberg's Groove Agent 3. It's not cheap, but it's literally a couple of great drummers in a box. It's the first thing I would turn to for complete, pro-sounding drum tracks with minimal effort.
posted by dbiedny at 9:45 AM on December 30, 2007

I find useful, especially their forum. Start with their Microphone FAQ.
posted by spiderskull at 12:48 AM on December 31, 2007

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