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need advice on recording equipment/setup

Hi, I'm a college student and I've been writing and recording music for years. However, being on a budget, the extent of my recording has involved plugging a computer mic into the line-in of my PC and recording through Adobe Audition. The software is great, but my soundcard is lacking, which leaves me frustrated, because I would like better quality results. I want to get a better sound without having to go overboard with equipment, because I'm not looking to start building a studio or anything super complicated - just something that'll get crisper, clearer and louder recordings from mics or directly inputted guitar. The more I record things as it is now, the more frustrated I get as my ears get pickier and I realize I could probably upgrade my situation and get better quality recordings.

I was told to look into getting an external preamp, and then that led me to looking into mixers, but I have NO idea what's best for me and what'll be too much, and what simple equipment can get me enough of a result. I figured you guys would know... any advice would be appreciated, thanks!


Pro Audio Guest Tue, 04/03/2007 - 21:09
Gibbler, there are a lot of different ways to upgrade from the setup that you're using now. It would help if you could give a ballpark figure of much you want to invest. From what you have said, you evidently have some type of mic, and audio editing software. Adobe Audition is really not that bad of a place to start as far as editors are concerned. The hardware would be reponsible for the largest improvement in overall sound. There is hardware out there to meet every budget, and just like everything else, the more you're willing to spend, the more you'll get back out in terms of sound quality. As far as being told to get an external preamp, that doesn't necessarily mean that you need a mixer. Mixing can always be done in the box (PC). Mixers typically use an individual preamp for every input channel. An 8 channel mixer would thereby consist of 8 preamps. The basic theory behind going to an external pre involves several concepts. First, how many tracks do you plan to simultaneously record? If you will be recording 8 live mics into 8 individual tracks all at the same time, then maybe a small mixer isn't such a bad way to go. If you plan on building a multitrack session one or two tracks at a time, then an external one or two channel pre may be the way to go. The main logic being that the price you pay for an 8 channel mixer will buy you 8 mic pres. If you spend a similar amount on a one or two channel external pre, you will end up with a superior preamp that will give you far better sound quality. This is just a simple generalized example, but that's the basic premise.

Pro Audio Guest Tue, 04/03/2007 - 22:35
Dcj, thank you! I'm probably looking to spend under $200 in this scenario, based on my current financial situation. I figure that any upgrade I make will make a huge difference, compared to what I'm using now. I did see some preamp stuff that was around $100 or below, which was nice, and I would lean more toward that, if possible. Maybe I can get away with that?

Basically what I've been doing is building multitrack sessions one track at a time. On the project I'm working with now, I've been recording piano first (which is a whole other problem, because I have no idea how to capture that well AT ALL), then overlaying guitar, then various sets of vocals and any extra harmony parts with guitars and bass. So it's really one at a time for me. At this point, I'm just interested in getting all my parts recorded together, hearing them balanced and clean, and being able to edit and add effects to individual tracks. And if I can get quality results doing it this way, something demo-worthy and better than what I'm currently working with, I'll be incredibly happy!

Hopefully the additional info helps!

Pro Audio Guest Tue, 04/03/2007 - 22:52
well first off what do you want to record, guitar and vocals? Not only do you need to get yourself a mixer but some mics too so $200 might be too tight. I know the Alesis multimix is a great way to get some 8 inputs into a computer. That will cost ya $299 for a firewire yet they do have usb models that are like $150... soo ya

Pro Audio Guest Wed, 04/04/2007 - 04:20
Gibbler, let's back up a little bit. When you are talking about plugging into your computer, are you making reference to a stock type of computer sound card? If you are, then that's the place to begin by upgrading to an actual audio recording interface. If that's not what you're referring to, what kind of audio card are you currently using? Nevermind Baderup99, I don't think he read the previous posts.

Pro Audio Guest Wed, 04/04/2007 - 19:03
Dcj, I'm just plugging a computer mic into the recording jack on my computer, so that's running through the soundcard it came with, which is SoundMAX. When I record on Audition with the windows record settings on "wave out mix," everything's actually pretty clear, but I get track bleed as soon as I start to multitrack. But when I select "microphone" as the recording device instead, the quality significantly declines. But my tracks are isolated, and that's what I want to achieve (but with quality, of course!). I have no idea why my computer records better quality in one situation and worse in the other. So this is the point where my frustration comes in. Thanks for the help!

Pro Audio Guest Thu, 04/05/2007 - 19:43
Gibbler, I am just taking a stab in the dark here, but the cause of your problems may be due to not running a full-duplex audiocard. In otherwords, one that can record and playback simultaneously. If you don't know whether it is or not, check with the manufacturer. Here's a link to more info on full-duplex cards.

Regardless, of what you do have, I would still suggest upgrading to an actual recording interface that is designed for that purpose. Many of them come as a stand alone pci card, an interface with a pci card link, firewire, and usb. The good news is that you'll get far superior sound quality, and most of them are sold with audio editing software, and include a preamp. These can be found in almost every price range, and configuration. But, you definitely need to upgrade your hardware in this area before worrying about seperate external preamps or anything else. Check out some of the music sites on the web, pick out a few models that appeal to you and post the one's your interested in. The forum would be happy to help with input from model to model.

Pro Audio Guest Fri, 04/06/2007 - 12:55
Dcj, I checked the link, and it told me to run two sound recorders simultaneously - one playing a sound, and one recording it, to determine if my card is half or full. It ended up being able to record and playback simultaneously, so I guess it's a full-duplex card. But I do need to upgrade like you said, but I'm not sure what I should actually search for, and where. Thanks again for the responses, you've been very helpful!