Setting up a Laptop-based Home Digital Recording Setup

Discussion in 'Computing' started by Tekktronic, Jun 10, 2008.

  1. Tekktronic

    Tekktronic Guest

    I am trying to get a Digital Recording setup that will be serviceable. Nothing fancy, just decent enough to make an accurate demo tape. Also, the setup has to be laptop-based. I know it's nothing compared to a desktop-based setup, but it's the best I've got. Some caveats/existing and projected equipment questions:

    - My system is a Dell XPS 1530, 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T8300, 800MHz FSB, 3Mb L2 Cache, 320 GB 5400 SATA HDD, 4GB DDR2 Mem. Sound card is only integrated Sound Blaster Audigy. Is this adequate?
    - Any thoughts on Phonic helix board 12 Firewire MKII Channel Mixer? Will it be suitable for my system, usage-wise? I intend to have my setup adaptable for live recording as well as session/studio project work, mostly acoustic music.
    - Any recommendations on good studio monitors? I'm in a bit of a budget crunch, so I want maximum bang for my buck (looking at spending a max of $800-$1k).
    - What other pieces of equipment will I need/ is required for a decent setup?
    - Is Steinberg Cubase adequate? Or should I look for other recording software? Is yes, any recommendations?

    I am new to recording/producing/sound engineering, but I am a singer/songwriter. I would very much like to learn and improve as far as these areas are concerned, and am willing to learn. I want to be able to record my own demo CDs, as well as put out CDs that are worthy to be passed out and of a decent enough quality to garner attention at gigs, etc. Any and all input is most welcome. Thank you!!!

  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    Your laptop used totally adequate as your central processing unit. The audio however, is not really something that will give you adequate professional results. In that respect, you really should look into an inexpensive USB 1.1/2.0 or FireWire based external device. Greater professional results can be had starting at $150 up to $15,000. All quite compatible with your laptop. Nothing limited about laptops these days in comparison to desktop systems unless specific PCI/PCI Express devices need to be installed. This is not the case anymore for most folks or equipment.

    For greatest track count and smoothest computer operation, you'll also need an external hard disk drive. Just about any 7200 rpm, 3 1/2 inch device that is externally powered from the computer will provide you with what you need.

    If you think you're going to do it all from your laptop and no other external equipment, you need to go back to school and start over again.

    All of the multitrack software pretty much does the same thing. You need to check out the companies trials and find what best that works for you if the audio interface is not already bundled with any number of Limited Edition software. So your external computer sound device selection may be dictated by what software it comes bundled with? It really depends on your needs.

    A simply simple person
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  3. Buzzgrowl

    Buzzgrowl Guest

    You first need to ask yourself several questions:

    1. What is the maximum number of musicians/instruments that you will be recording at the same time, in one go.

    2. How many of them will you record using microphones.

    3. If you have more than one or two instruments, do you want these to be recorded on separate tracks to be mixed later, or is one track (mono) or stereo recording sufficient?

    4. Define "Demo recording".

    Once you know this, let the forum know and you will get more better advice.

    cheers, -Buzzgrowl
  4. Tekktronic

    Tekktronic Guest

    Thank you very much for your responses.

    To wit:


    - I was thinking about purchasing the Phonic Helix MKII 12-channel Mixer I mention earlier. I think it's decent enough to handle my needs. Your thoughts?
    - Why would I need an external HDD, and how do I go about putting it in the loop? I know it would somehow act as a buffer to my laptop, but please explain in more detail how it would work. :)


    - I am looking at a maximum of maybe 3-5 people in one recording session. I am also looking at maybe making the rig more portable for live performance recordings.
    - Multitrack recording, for sure, to be mixed down at a later time.
    - A maximum of 5 miced instruments/vocals, at any given time.
    - "demo recording" refers to just recording a serviceable demo CD (i.e. decent enough quality to sell at gigs, maybe a buck apiece, just to expose my music to the rest of the fine folks out there).

    Bottom line is portability; however, multi-track recording is also a must. The reason for this is I work with a lot of session musicians, and not everyone is available at the same time, except on serendipitous occasions (which are few and far between). Usually, we all only get together during gig time, and that is why I want my rig to be portable enough to take on said gigs and save us a trip or two.

    Thank you all once again for helping out a lost and wayward soul such as I.



    Addendum: I also have an old EV 100m Entertainer PA. I could just use the Helix MKII 12-chan instead as my mixer and hook that up to my laptop for performing live and recording it at the same time, right?
  5. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    Tekktronic, that mixer should cover your needs quite nicely. Yes, that's one of the wonderful features of these kinds of devices. Recording while also providing your PA mix. Of course, you have to be fairly intimate with that mixer before you get up in front of people. Just remember what it was like to make love for the first time.... (If you're old enough and of legal age). You certainly wouldn't want to do it in front of a crowd your first time out. ??? Well, maybe you would?

    The external hard disk drive is a virtual necessity for any kind of multitrack, tracking/recording. You really don't want to be writing that much data to your operating system drive. In that way, it's not the buffer but the laptop is. That's what the central processing unit is all about, traffic control in a very fast numerical way. Fast enough to actually make you believe you are listening to audio. When actually you are only listening to a bunch of screechy numbercrunching, put together so quickly it even fooled you.

    Since I believe that mixer utilizes FireWire as its interface protocol, your laptop either has to have it built in or, you have to have one of those PCMCIA cards that feature FireWire and/or USB 2.0. Your external hard drive can have either a USB and/or a FireWire interface. It really doesn't matter much even though the two types have fundamental differences. The way it streams the data is different from one another. I believe the FireWire handles the data load more efficiently? But it's really only important when you have high track counts. Generally, you won't find many devices that can write more than 8 simultaneous tracks. But from what you indicated, that's more than what you'll need. Now the way you screw it all together, is to tell the software that you will be using where to direct your recorded data to, i.e. the external hard disk drive which will generally be beyond "D". So yeah, you have to get to know whatever software you are going to use also. You'll get the hang of it once you start doing it. Check back for more info.

    Take 2 interfaces & call me in the morning.
    Dr. Remy Ann David
  6. Tekktronic

    Tekktronic Guest

    Thanks for the timely pieces of advice!


    - Any personal preferences on which external HDD I should get? Also, the Helix would use the only Firewire port available on my computer, and I would have to get a USB external HDD. You think that would cause latency or data transfer issues with my mixer using Firewire and my external on USB?
    - Vista issues (the dreaded Vista of Doom). What can I do to minimize them?

    Appreciate all the help!!

  7. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    USB external is fine, if it's USB2.0 and runs at that. Try and cut down on other USB devices in use at the same time though.

    Western Digital MyBooks are supposedly decent and cheap. Shop around a little.

    As for Vista issues...get XP. If you can't, well...
    Run nothing except Vista and your recording program. Get rid of EVERYTHING else. MSN, bluetooth applets, wifi drivers, turn it all off. The less stuff active, the better.
  8. GeckoMusic

    GeckoMusic Guest

    Latancey bugs me when recording as well. Even with the lowest settings It still feels a little out of sync. For this reason I use a mixer for my headphone mix. All of the live mics and my computer come into it, and I use the inserts as sends to my sound card. This way I have zero latency on all recording channels, and can create different sub mixes for all of the performers. I suggest an analog board with channel inserts, and one of the interfaces the others suggested.

    If you are on a tight budget, the Mackie 802-VLZ3 Compact Mixer would work. Use the inserts and the aux send for recording, and the main mix for the headphones.

    IMHO no. You will have synchronizations problems, and computer noise. I know because I have been there.
  9. Buzzgrowl

    Buzzgrowl Guest

    If you get the helix board you do not need to use your Sound Blaster soundcard - in fact you may need to uninstall its drivers should it generate problems for the "soundcard" built into the mixer you suggested.

    Regarding an hdd, I personally would not buy a ready-made external drive. These often have energy and performance management software you do not want kicking in while you are recording. What you need to look into is getting a bare 7200 rpm hdd (but not a 5400 rpm drive - these can work but...) and get an external case and power supply for it with the interconnect you want.

    You will need some microphones. Shure SM57/SM58 are the cheap but good standard. Also mic stands.

    Will you be micing up drums or percussion? What about acoustic bass?

    If yes, the 4 mic inputs on your mixer will not go far. If this is the case you may want to buy 4 additional mic preapms to use with your 2 stereo line level channels (2 x DPM3? - I've never used these so ask around), but going for the larger 18FW board will be cheaper.

    Will you be recording an electric bass guitar? You can (save) avoid using one mic input by using a direct box (SansAmp Bass DI?) for the bass.

    Also, how much do you need to "mix" for a live performance, as opposed to purely using the mixer as a recording interface?

    With the mixer you chose, once the music is in the computer, the mixer can longer be use to "mix" out as it's soundcard will only pull a stereo signal back out of your computer into the mixer; i.e. the mixer gives you multi-track mixing on the way in, but not on the way out. So you will be mixing "out" on the screen using your software of choice.

    If the primary purpose is to record, than you may want to consider a firewire or USB interface with 4 or 8 mic inputs (Motu, RME ?), instead of a mixer. On input, you are better off working on good mic placement (and occasionally renting a fancy mic and preamp) and instrument/player room positioning, than equalizing on a cheapish mixer.

    Regarding software, I just switched a laptop back from vista to XP. It was difficult recommended. You will need another SATA hdd (a 7200 rpm model) and swap it out but keep your vista hdd install until you are happy with the XP installation.

    Concerning software, I have been happily using Reaper ( for some time. It works with Vista too.

    cheers, + good luck Buzzgrowl
  10. Tekktronic

    Tekktronic Guest

    So am I really better off with something like a Presonus FP10 audio interface, and my existing PA analog board?

    What about the Soundblaster issue? Will I still encounter sync problems, latency issues and computer noise if I go with the FP10 audio interface plus an analog board?

  11. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    I recorded 75 mins solid with computer stuff. Onboard sound (2 x stereo) and a PCI card.

    There's an offset that appears which causes some nice phase issues.
    You should be able to hear very loud hissing and squealing (possibly humming too) depending on how bad the inputs are.
    However, the FP10 will fix this because it's designed for recording.

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