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Getting Started with a Home Studio

Discussion in 'Recording' started by inkd, Jun 8, 2010.

  1. inkd

    inkd Active Member

    Hello, all. I've decided that I want to try my hand at building a home studio and I was wondering if you all could help me with the basics. The music I plan to create consists mainly of hip-hop influences and will be composed of a mixture of samples and live instrumentation. Some of what I plan to buy at the moment includes:

    FL Studio
    - Because of its familiarity and MIDI capabilities as well as its easy installation and low-cost.
    Casio PX120 - Cheap(ish), weighted keyboard with MIDI capability (as far as I know, correct me if I'm wrong)
    Zoom H2 - Many of the samples I plan to use will be ambient samples (those taken from crowded places, outside, etc. Essentially natural sounds) in order to complement the content of my projects. This will come in handy both as a field recorder and for use in recording myself and others.
    East West Symphonic Orchestra Silver or Gold - I haven't quite decided which I plan to buy at the moment. In any case, sample libraries will be instrumental (no pun intended :smile:) to achieving my desired sound. The music I intend to make will be very hip-hop based as many of the beats will be in 4/4 and will contain heavy bass, but they will be composed mainly of stringed and orchestral instruments (Rob Dougan is the first person that comes to mind in this field, though his music is a bit more relaxed than I intend for mine to be). I also plan to purchase East West Symphonic Choirs at one point.
    Audacity - No matter how much equipment or software I buy, I will incorporate Audacity into my work until I feel I can no longer use it. It is free, open source, and amazing.

    As for my "DAW" software (again, please correct me if I have misused this term), I am not sure whether to choose Sonar, Pro-Tools, Cubase, etc. At the moment I am looking at Sonar simply because of its price, though Pro-Tools seems to have more support due to its industry-standard status. Regardless, I do not want to make the software more important than the final product, so I'm sure either of the two will do so long as I acquire the skill(s) needed to use them. Let's move on.

    My main concern at this point is actual equipment. As I said before, though I plan to make use of sample libraries, I definitely plan to use live instrumentation as well. I am not sure what computer, audio interface or microphones I should buy. At the moment I've been looking at audio interfaces with 6-8 mic inputs (I'm not sure how many I will need, but I would rather have too many than too few), and preferably firewire (I've heard that USB is theoretically slower or something to that effect. Another advantage is that many of the firewire interfaces I've seen draw power from the firewire as opposed to needing an external outlet). As for microphones, can someone list for me the different types of microphones and what exactly their applications are? I will be eternally grateful. I am aware that there are condenser, dynamic, cardioid and a few others, but I have no idea what exactly they are meant to be used for. Finally, I plan to purchase a new computer relatively soon. At this point, all I am certain of is that it will be a PC (because it's most affordable). I have been looking at:

    Gateway i3-530 (I believe this comes with Firewire ports)
    Asus e5400

    Again, I really want to thank you all for your suggestions and contributions as well as the time you took to read through this drab essay. Any recommendations or experiences and opinions with regard to the equipment are greatly appreciated. Also feel free to add ANY equipment or other hardware/software you think I missed.

    P.S. - As far as a budget goes, you all can just recommend things you think are reasonably priced. I thought within the range of 7-12 thousand, but this is not a final estimate.
     
  2. Cuy

    Cuy Guest

    What kind of real instruments would you play? This would have a great influence on what kind of interface to suggest.
    Also: I'd first familiarize myself with FL and find out, what the limits of that software are before buying a program like Sonar that you possibly never use (try Reaper, it's awesome =) ).

    Firewire vs. USB:
    USB only allows for data transmission in one direction at a time. If you are recording and playing back music at the same time, the interface has to switch between sending and receiving and on each end buffer the data to make sure there are no dropouts. This gives USB interfaces a somewhat higher latency, compared to other buses.
    Firewire allows for simultaneous data transmission in both directions - so you have lower latency.
    There are a couple other reasons why Firewire is generally considered better than USB (more power etc), but that's the most important reason, imo.

    Different kinds of microphones:
    Condensers have an electrically charged membrane that is very lightweight and can thus easily pick up the whole spectrum of human hearing. Condensers need power to function and can distort rather badly if you hit them with really loud sounds (like drums).
    Dynamic microphones have an inductor coil attached to the membrane - the membrane gets heavy and higher frequencies get lost. But the construction is incredibly rugged and its almost impossible to get a dynamic mic into distortion.
    Cardioid, figure-8, omnidirectional etc. are names for the directionality of the microphone capsule. Basically, what it tells you is from which directions the sound is going to be picked up and from which directions it's suppressed.
     
  3. inkd

    inkd Active Member

    Hey! Thanks for the quick response! As for what instruments I will be playing, I will most likely be playing the piano, but I may have others come in to track horns, strings (most likely), small choir (something like 4 to 6 person harmony or something small). As for the comment regarding Sonar, do you think Audacity would suffice? Should I purchase Sonar, it would most likely be Home Studio XL or something of that nature. Certainly not the Studio or Producer packages. At least not for the time being. Finally, I've heard that Shure microphones are very reliable. Is there a certain brand or type that you would recommend?
     
  4. Cuy

    Cuy Guest

    Audacity is no replacement for a program like Sonar - it's basically meant for editing of just a few tracks (like a stereo master). It's a really good program to start, and I use it a lot for sound design - but it's too limited in functionality for music. The effects are rendered destructively into the tracks, no grid to align the pieces of a song etc. Try Reaper before you buy any other DAW software. You can try it for free, the discounted license has a price of 60$ and I have so far only seen one program with a more flexible signal routing. Also, it gives you a feeling of how to work with a more complex audio workstation.
    The recording applications you describe there cry for an audio interface with maybe 4 tracks. 2 would be enough, but it's nice to have an input or two more, in case you ever need them. And almost any modern computer around 1000$ would serve your purpose. Audio is not as demanding on the hardware as gaming or video editing is, you only need a good sound card (audio interface) and preamps.

    The choice of microphones will be difficult. Shure sure is a great brand, as is Rode, Sennheiser, Oktava, Neumann... You'll want to have a Shure SM58 or SM57 - those are absolute classics and both work well on vocals and instruments (the SM58 has an additional windscreen, so it's marketed as a vocal mic) and they are almost indestructible. You'll also want a matched stereo pair of condenser microphones for choir and piano recordings and at least one decent vocal condenser microphone.
    If you don't want to get 3-4 mics at once, start with the stereo pair because you can use those for everything else. But if you have the right mic for the right task, it's going to make your job a whole lot easier.
     
  5. inkd

    inkd Active Member

    "Audacity is no replacement for a program like Sonar."

    I agree completely. I've gone and looked at some of Sonar's features and I can see now that Audacity is meant for completely different purposes. Each time I've used Audacity I've remixed a song or done something simple of that nature. Admittedly, using Audacity taught me a lot about audio in that I had to learn about different formats and the effects different filters had on a song. As for the microphones, I was thinking those exact models. Nearly everyone I've asked has told me I need to make plans to purchase an SM57 or 58. From the looks of it, they don't seem to be too expensive, so I'll make the purchase asap. Now what audio interface(s) would you all recommend? I was looking at:

    Presonus FireStudio
    - $500-600 (Depending on where it's bought)
    MOTU 896mk3 - Around $1000
    MOTU 8pre - $549 (Okay, I don't understand. It says that this is a preamp with 8 mic inputs, but it also claims that it is a Firewire Audio Interface. So does this mean that I'll be able to use those 8 mic inputs for recording? Because if so, I'll just forget about the MOTU 896mk3.)
     
  6. inkd

    inkd Active Member

    "Audacity is no replacement for a program like Sonar."

    I agree completely. I've gone and looked at some of Sonar's features and I can see now that Audacity is meant for completely different purposes. Each time I've used Audacity I've remixed a song or done something simple of that nature. Admittedly, using Audacity taught me a lot about audio in that I had to learn about different formats and the effects different filters had on a song. As for the microphones, I was thinking those exact models. Nearly everyone I've asked has told me I need to make plans to purchase an SM57 or 58. From the looks of it, they don't seem to be too expensive, so I'll make the purchase asap. Now what audio interface(s) would you all recommend? I was looking at:

    Presonus FireStudio
    - $500-600 (Depending on where it's bought)
    MOTU 896mk3 - Around $1000
    MOTU 8pre - $549 (Okay, I don't understand. It says that this is a preamp with 8 mic inputs, but it also claims that it is a Firewire Audio Interface. So does this mean that I'll be able to use those 8 mic inputs for recording? Because if so, I'll just forget about the MOTU 896mk3.)

    Also, I believe all of these possess MIDI I/O. Another question, is there a certain keyboard you all would recommend? As I said before, at the moment I'm looking at the Casio PX-120 which boasts MIDI capabilities, and is being sold for around $400 at my local Best Buy. Another possibility I've considered is the Casio WK200STAD (I have nothing against any other brand of keyboard, it's just these two were most accessible at the time).
     
  7. inkd

    inkd Active Member

    Sorry for the double post, guys. I was having trouble with the forum's posting process.
     
  8. Cuy

    Cuy Guest

    I'd go for the MOTU 8pre, because it's scalable (though only on a Mac) - so, if you're drum miking or something similarly complex and the 8 inputs are not enough, you can get a second 8pre, put it on the second FW port on the first interface, and you have 16 inputs. BOOYAH!
    Also: Almost every MIDI capable device today comes with a USB port and built-in MIDI controller. You don't have to look out for that.

    Speaking of MIDI: I'd suggest going for a MIDI master keyboard. You really don't need the internal sounds of a keyboard with today's software instruments. Look for something with a built-in pad controller, because beat programming is way more natural on those things. Something like the M-Audio Axiom 61. If you want something really good, get a master keyboard with aftertouch, because you can get amazing results with that stuff (meaning: You can assign a value, like volume, not only to the initial force a key is hit with, but also to the pressure you apply while holding the key).
     
  9. inkd

    inkd Active Member

    Isn't that technique called daisy chaining or something to that effect? And that's great! That saves me the trouble of having to worry whether or not the device has MIDI capability. The only reason I am getting a keyboard with internal sounds as well is because I plan to practice piano as well. I am a bit shabby and plan to take up lessons sometime within the next few weeks. Also, what is beat programming?
     
  10. Cuy

    Cuy Guest

    That's daisy chaining, exactly. But it will only work on a Mac, so if you're sure, you're never going to switch, that's not such a big advantage after all.
    Beat programming is the process of making a beat for your music. You know like: Bass - Snare - Bass, Bass - Snare... If you want some feeling in your music, you'll not just click something together but actually play it yourself somehow. That's where the pads come in handy, because they're like little drums that you can play with your fingers. And it feels more natural than playing a drumkit on a piano.
     
  11. I've daisy chained 3 Presonus FP-10's together for 24 simultanious tracks on a PC. Using Sonar 8.5 Producer with no problems. Typically just use 1 FP-10, but was recording church's worship service.
     
  12. Cuy

    Cuy Guest

    OK - I didn't clarify that: The MOTU 8pre will cascade only on a Mac. Of course, many other interfaces don't have this limitation. But I think, the 8pre is still worth buying, simply because of the fantastic preamps you get in that machine.
     
  13. inkd

    inkd Active Member

    That sounds great to me. It seems I know most of these techniques, but I'm just not too familiar with the actual terminology. Also, now that you mention beat programming, I considered getting either an MPC 24. I haven't looked into the two enough to make a final decision, but I would like to have something with pads. At first I considered getting an MPC 1000 since it's a sampler and can operate independently of a computer. Plus, I've seen some of what it can do, and I love it. One thousand dollars, however, is a bit steep for my tastes, so I'm willing to settle for MIDI pads for the time being. So at the moment, this is what my to-buy list is looking like:

    MOTU 8pre
    - $549
    Microphones (Probably about four, not sure exactly which at the moment. Most likely three condensers, one dynamic) - $300-400
    Zoom H2 - $ 136-160
    FL Studio - $300
    PX120 - $400 (From my local Best Buy)
    Cubase 5 Studio (I've been told that this would be the best for me because of its MIDI scoring capabilities) - $300
    1 TB External Hard Drive - $100-200
    Gateway i3-530 - $600
    EWQLSO Silver - $200

    Now what advice do you all have on acoustic treatment?
     
  14. Cuy

    Cuy Guest

    I'd get one microphone (or stereo set) at a time and buy another one if needed. Otherwise you could buy mics which you never use.
    Nevertheless: The rest of your shopping list looks very good. Don't expect too much from the H2 though, it can be really noisy when recording quiet sources. If you want to pick up louder sounds, it's a really nice handheld recorder.
    For acoustic treatment: Have a look at Ethan Winer's Videos - he's my personal demigod of all things audio! But for simple starters: Make your listening room symmetrical and avoid reflective surfaces (like glass or concrete).
    Do you already have a good set of speakers?

    Cheers =)
     
  15. inkd

    inkd Active Member

    Coolio! In that case, what other handheld recorder(s) would you recommend? As for the speakers, no I don't have a set of speakers fit for studio use. I've been meaning to look into monitors (both headphones and actual speakers). What would you recommend? Also, thanks for the quick/constant replies, man. I really appreciate it! :)
     
  16. Cuy

    Cuy Guest

    Just the other night, I recorded some thunder and rain through open windows when the storm was almost directly above me. Later I picked up some far-away thunder through closed windows with my H2. You hear the hissing noise in the second recording really clearly - that was high gain setting and a very soft sound source. As long as you don't have to crank up the recorder to high input gain, the sound quality is really good.
    The problem in this case is, that I know of no affordable handheld field recorder with a high quality preamp. So - as long as you don't want to record stuff that is barely audible in a quiet room, the H2 is a good choice. If you DO want to record stuff that is barely audible in a quiet room, get something like the Edirol R-44.

    Speakers and Headphones:
    You have to listen to them. Period! I have had the pleasure of working on Genelec, Blue Sky, Behringer, Adam and ME Geithain monitors - and my mixes sounded best when I used the Behringer speakers.
    You also should never forget what your music will be played back on. I'd suggest, investing 29$ in a pair of iPod earbuds, because your music will possibly be played back on those quite a lot. You'll love them, just to make sure your music also sounds great when played on an iPod. I want to make music and sound effects for computer games and guess what - my "monitoring speakers" are simple computer speakers for 60$ (but I will get a pair of Harman/Kardon Soundsticks II soon)
    As for monitoring headphones in the studio: I totally love the Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro, but I don't know how available they are in the US. Just make sure, you buy closed, comfortable (around the ear) headphones, because you don't want playback sound from the headphones to find it's way into the microphone and the vocalist may have to wear these headphones for several hours.

    And about the constant replies: No problem, I really enjoy this.
     
  17. inkd

    inkd Active Member

    I'm so glad that I've finally found some audio samples of Zoom H2 recordings. They certainly don't sound bad, but I see what you meant about the hissing in the second recording. How is the battery life on that thing? Also, I've got a Pro Gear magazine from Sweetwater that I will probably skim through to glance at their speaker selections. From what I've seen, they aren't that expensive if you know just what to get.
     
  18. Cuy

    Cuy Guest

    Like I said, the H2 really isn't bad, just the preamp is very noisy with the high gain setting.
    Battery life is really good - I've used one pair of AA batteries for almost a month before changing them (occasionally recording some ambient sounds) - my guess is, that you'll get something around 5 hours of operation out of one pair of batteries.

    At the very least, have a look at the frequency response of the speakers before buying them. The style of music you're going to make sounds very bass heavy, and if you don't have a speaker that can handle this amount of low frequency, it might distort on any other system. I'd suggest, going at least as low down as 40 Hz. And watch out for frequency responses like "32-24000 Hz (+/- 10 dB)" - 10 decibels is a LOT. Normal frequency responses are measured at +/- 3 dB, relative to the response at 1 kHz.
     
  19. inkd

    inkd Active Member

    Thanks for the spec. recommendations. Are there any books you would recommend for familiarizing myself with these sorts of terms? One I was Cubase guide.

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/1423463315/?tag=recording.org-20
     
  20. Cuy

    Cuy Guest

    Read something like theHandbook for Sound Engineers. It's a huge amount of knowledge and the sheer volume of the book (not to mention the price) might seem intimidating. But books like this, aiming at a professional market, are kinda like the only reliable source if you want to understand the underlying principles.
    For example: Understanding, how, when and WHY the proximity effect is going to hit you will make your positioning of microphones more efficient and save you time, because you can roughly calculate how far away the microphone must be positioned to have the desired bass boost (if desired at all...).
     

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