a simple question from a complete beginner

Discussion in 'Microphones & Recording' started by bcwilliamson, Oct 20, 2009.

  1. bcwilliamson

    bcwilliamson Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2009
    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    Home Page:
    hi there, i'm new here and i have a question that i hope you can answer for me. let me first make it clear that i am no technician or sound expert; i'm an old, but fairly naive amateur musician/writer and i have little to no patience for the complex sciences of harmonics and microphone placement. i will hopefully learn more on these matters one day, but it isn't what concerns me now. talk of what pre-amp and cable type to use stresses me out to no end, and my ears have never been very discriminate to these matters. i either like or dislike a recording as far as sound quality is concerned.

    i've been working on a simple tape recorder for my demo tapes for a while now, but i would like to move a few steps further, so that i can overdub and re-record certain parts without much difficulty, and output multi-layered recordings otherwise impossible in a "one-take" scenario. i would like to have a small set-up in my house to record rough demos and other experiments, essentially sketches that i could work upon when recording at a later time in a paid studio.

    i'd like to produce recordings of reasonable quality, like the old scratchy blues recordings of the last century, or the demo tapes we hear on anthology collections by famous recording artists. i need to stress that i'm not looking to create amazing, cd-quality mixes at all. that takes a lot of work and i don't have the time just now. no, i'd like to make home-made tapes that are reasonably clear, with audible vocals and clear instruments.

    another point is that i'd prefer not to work digitally. i like analog sound because it's warmer, simpler to use (as far as i know) and it has a certain retro charm to it. i can't stand the overly clean mixes that we hear so often today. i'd like to be able to record simply, and to output it onto analog tape. if possible i'd like to work on a four to eight track machine, where i can lay down some rhythmic ideas, before overdubbing other instruments and vocals, finally mixing down onto a tape. i own guitars, drums, basses, keyboards, a small practice amplifier, and no microphones at the moment.

    so, in the end, i'm asking what kind of equipment i would need to make some decent recordings. mixers, amplifiers, playback speakers, pre-amps, microphones, cables, and so on... it's all new to me, and i don't know which ones i will need to make good recordings. my budget is flexible but i don't want to spend a great deal, so what would you advise me to purchase, and how would i set it all up? i've been searching around on ebay for old eight track recorders, and i found many, but i wasn't sure what other equipment i would need, so i have made no purchases just yet.

    thank you very much if you've taken the time to read this. if you have any ideas, i would be very grateful if you could respond soon with some helpful advice. god bless.
     
  2. jg49

    jg49 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2008
    Location:
    Frozen Tundra of CT
    You could use this type of recorder
    http://www.theguitarfiles.com/modules.php?name=catalog&file=product_info&products_id=1222
    4 track cassette, but for the life of me I don't know why when for the same investment or less you can go digital interface and up the quality and ability to expand. But that is not what you asked about. These units are not currently available new (they have been rendered obsolete by digital gear) but should be fairly easy to find on e-bait, craigs list or the like. They have built in preamps and do have lo-fi analog sound.
    If you were to purchase a 4 or 8 track studio quality machine you would be in for a boatload of maintenance, alignment, and possibly repair work as well as costly tape and the need for preamps and mixers.
     
  3. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2009
    Hey B.C Williamson, welcome to RO. I know you might not like digital recording for one reason or the other, but in this day and age you get a lot more bang for your buck. Digital recording doesn't sound all that bad once you learn how to work it. Choose the right mic for the situation, learn how to use it properly, and learn how to edit signal in the box. Couldn't be easier, plus if you buy a digital audio interface you get the software and included plug ins for free. Let me know if you are interested and I can throw some ideas your way.
     
  4. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2005
    Location:
    jacksonville,fl
    Coming from a 54-year-old musician/engineer..
    Analog cassettes sound like crap. They are not "warmer", they are noisier, they pitch-fluctuate like hell, their fidelity is in the toilet. Not to mention that a quality cassette tape that won't jam or saturate at the drop of a hat is getting harder and harder to find. Maybe that suits you, but...

    There are digital "Studio-in-a-box" units from Boss, Tascam, Zoom, Yamaha, Korg, and some others. These do not take a rocket scientist to figure out, they are designed so that even a DRUMMER can work one :lol:
    No moving parts to break, no heads to clean. Technology moves onward.
    Go figure.
     
  5. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2007
    "they are designed so that even a DRUMMER can work one"

    Say it isn't so!!
     
  6. bcwilliamson

    bcwilliamson Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2009
    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    Home Page:
    many thanks for the (very quick) responses so far.

    i have taken in your comments, and i will certainly reconsider in time the viability of using digital recorders in the process of creating my demo tapes. i've always preferred to work as lo-fi as possible, and i have found analog to have a unique charm to it. you more experienced users are probably right about how much better digital is, and though i hope you understand my point here, in the end i'm looking for a simple solution that keeps the use of a computer to a minimum and makes a product that sounds clear, with a touch of home-made charm (i think of the famous 1930s robert johnson recordings especially).

    along with the above suggestions, i've found various tape-based recorders with microphone inputs online, but i still have no idea how i would use these, or what other pieces of equipment they would need to be used in conjunction with. microphones are no great issue, i can buy a few well-built models and use them with ease. obviously i would love an old amateur analog recorder to work with, but if this really is a bad option i would be willing to look for a more modern digital recorder. again, to put things very simply, i would like to be able to record a track, and to overdub other tracks over it, and to have that final mix easily available in a hard format.

    idealistically it would be great to work with a box (preferably old, metallic and retro looking for aesthetic purposes :p) where i plug the microphone into its inputs, adjust sound settings, press record, and repeat the process to overdub parts, before putting the mix onto a tape, but i am sure that reality is a little more complicated than this. please advise a little more to let me know what is realistic for home recording of this nature.

    please forgive my naivete on this subject, and thank you again for the assistance.
     
  7. jg49

    jg49 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2008
    Location:
    Frozen Tundra of CT
    Well B.C. obviously you are a romantic, not a bad thing, just not much is made for the romantic recording engineer. You could go a number of different ways with this.

    You could purchase some used tape recorder, an audiophile prosumer 4 track reel to reel on ebay hoping that it is in good shape (unlikely) and end up with a deck that is need of repairs/maintenance that will probably require a tech to complete. Techs, parts and tape are all in scarce supply these days. Or you could buy one from a good dealer that you are sure is in reasonable working order. These usually have preamps built in but rarely accept xlr connections, and do not have phantom power for condenser mics. The dealer can help with what your recording chain might be.

    http://www.playitagainsam.com/

    http://www.j-corder.com/

    Romance aside these units may or may not give you the sound you are looking for and certainly not the Robert Johnson recording sound.
    If, and breathe deeply here, you are looking for a more budget concious route there are many digital options available. Zoom H4n 4 track portable recorder, simple easy to use, the "Studio in a box" recorders moonbaby suggested which drive me nuts with the the number of screens you have to scroll through, also two channel interfaces like Tascam US-144, Presonus Firebox et al. The interfaces are the most common way to go but rely heavily on the computer and software packages which have a steep learning curve. These programs however offer plug in effects which will mimic the lo-fi sound you are looking for from scratchy vinyl to the Johnson recording sound you seem to be seeking. You need to do a little research and come back with what it is you think you can live with.
     
  8. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2001
    Location:
    Pacific NW
    All of these choices depend on your budget.

    You've already stated your lack of patience for all things mechanical and electrical and by this I KNOW without a doubt that you want NOTHING to do with tinkering with an old analog recorder of any sort. These demand the care of someone dedicated and curious as to the inner workings of these machines and so far you havent expressed that.

    Astand-alone digital desk-top studio isnt something you want to spend the time on learning its mostly confusing layers of operation.

    As Moon said, cassette multitracks arent anything more than idea machines whose recordings can be erased the moment your brilliant song passage is secure in a Real Recording System.

    Capturing the type of sound from the 20's, 30's and 40's is going to require the gear from that era. Theres no other way to accurately achieve this. And if you think that a fairly straight-forward reel to reel is a bunch of trouble, try wire recorders and ribbon mics.

    I have a couple of suggestions but I need to know the budget first before they can be of any benefit to this conversation.
     
  9. bcwilliamson

    bcwilliamson Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2009
    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    Home Page:
    once again, i am very much gladdened by the helpful responses. thank you.

    i looked on the websites you provided and began to realize that in many cases these old machines are out of my price range, and you are correct about the technical issues that will accompany my use of them. i suppose my romantic ideals will have to lay to rest for a while, so i would love some suggestions on good pieces of simple digital software to use.

    can i make it clear that i'd really not like to be using a computer system a great deal, though i can of course use a software provided with one of these boxes. i have worked with many software packages in the past, and part of my interest in going analog was provoked by my impatience when working with standalone computer programs. but bearing in my mind that i want to work as lo-fi as possible, are there any digital "boxes" with various inputs, effects and faders that i can patch into a simple audio editing program that you can recommend?

    i've been hit by the financial times a little more than i would have liked, so i wouldn't like to spend more than a few hundred dollars on an easy to use system that can put my sound through to something like audacity or whatever software the system provides, where i can make alterations. any thoughts? thank you.
     
  10. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2009
    Thank you for respecting our advice, you'd be surprised how many people ask for professional advice and then completely blow it off. Even though I don't know you I appreciate it, it's the little things like this that make my day :D Anyway, back to business, there's a few ways to look at this.

    1. Bite the bullet: Go with a computer recording system. If you've got a decent computer (and we'll be able to tell you if it's up to par or not) then the flexibility offered by such a system is truly the way to go. Think about it, you run out of space? Press the delete button to get rid of a few innocuous files to free up some space on your dedicated drive. Or you could purchase a supplement drive. If you buy an all-in-one system, you pay a surface price for everything included, all the knobs, FX, ports what have you, and that's all it has and that's all it will ever have. With software you can purchase additional FX or devices to increase productivity and workflow. There are many FX bundles that are for free download on the internet. Every aspect of the recording chain can pretty much be swapped out for an different/upgrade piece. It is this 'customization' aspect of a computer system that is its major turn off to many people, but once you dive headfirst into it, you will see that it is its major strength.

    2. Go with an all-in-one package: It is much simpler to use and you will more than likely end up with something that you are 'satisfied' with. Not to say that it will be easier to get a better result than with a computer system, but that's the innate human psychology. Think about it, you are given full freedom and capability to edit the signal as you see fit, well it will most likely never sound 'perfect' to you. But if there is no opportunity to edit your tracks then you will be more likely to say "eh, close enough" and be done with it. I digress. The parts in an all-in-one box are not upgradable, and if need arises to repair, you'll need to send it to the manufacturer. Not very customizable at all, what you see is what you get. You will also need a dedicated mic preamp for each mic channel , because for a budget all-in-one the preamps tend to be lacking.

    I am not trying to make one seem better in any way, but I have used both systems (still have both of them) and I am sticking with my computer-based system. Back before I went computer based I thought my recordings were amazing, but I recently dug out my old 4-track digital recorder and did a side-by-side comparison and found out that they were noisy, full of distortion, and lacking any kind of 'produced' quality. But boy were those fun times in my old basement :D

    It comes down to personal preference. Both routes will have a learning curve and one is not necessarily 'better' than the other. You'll just have to decide for yourself which one suits your individual needs. How many simultaneous inputs will you require?
     
  11. natural

    natural Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2006
    JG49's suggestion of 4 or 8 track all in one cassette machines is your best option for analog.
    Yes, they have problems, but you probably already know how to work them.

    There are also 4 to 16 or more tracks in an all in one digital machine that could possibly meet your digital requirements.
    Yes, they too have problems. (surprise)

    Actually, every single recording platform will have problems, and the older the item, the more problems you will have.
    You will either have to clean heads, fix tape, reinstall software, solder headphone cables, track down buzzes,lose data, learn to back up data,still lose data , replace cables, track down why you can't get a decent signal on channel 3, etc etc etc.
    BTW- we recording types love doing these types of things.

    Have you possibly considered finding a technically minded friend that could help you do all these mundane and yet necessary tedious things so that you can concentrate on just recording?
    Because I'm afraid that what you seek is going to be a tad bit difficult to come by.

    I would like to be a farmer and grow my own veggies, but I don't like dealing with fertilizers and I really don't like getting my hands dirty.
     
  12. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2001
    Location:
    Pacific NW
    Actually there is one type of system that is easy to use, quality in sound, and very much like the analog of the past. It is more than a few hundred dollars....trust me I know the financial crunch as well as anyone....but it will last you for as long as you may want to record...it is expandable and mostly bug-free. PLUS...and this is the biggie, it SOUNDS like what you put into it. ie: You got Caruso shouting through a megaphone, then thats what it sounds like....

    A small footprint analog board and an Alesis HD24 recorder. A patchbay and some cables.

    Done.

    The workflow is very much analog. This is destructive recording. No 'virtual' tracks and editting is a PITA! 24 tracks of digital capture with an analog front-end. No heads to align...no rewinding time as well as lossy with the passes over the heads....a very decent conversion rate...Theres a simple reason that this standalone digital recorder has outlasted all the others of its genre. It sounds great and it is simple to use and doesnt break very often. If you want to mix in a computer, you get the additional firewire for this unit and dump the tracks into whatever you have.

    There are so many boards out there on the used market. Chances are great you could score a 24 channel Mackie for a few hundred at worst and these recorders can be had refurbished for a grand.

    You really want 'warm'? Add a real old tube pre to your recording chain.

    Buy an old Roberts two-track reel to reel....and plug the guitar direct into its preamps...set your tape to pause and find the Led Zep guitar sound of 1969.
     
  13. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2007
    Location:
    Scotland, UK
    Bit late with this, but moonbaby said:
    "a quality cassette tape that won't jam or saturate at the drop of a hat is getting harder and harder to find"

    So, moonbaby, your preamps are giving you plenty of gain then?
     

Share This Page