Constant technological progress and the cheapened globalised production of hardware in Asia and in other emerging markets has led to a huge drop in the price of studio equipment. Expensive analogue equipment is being replaced by less expensive digital counterparts across the board, and software is replacing hardware as we speak. Due to these developments, its never been easier or cheaper to build yourself a small home recording studio! What do you need for a basic set up?
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)Known as DAWs, Digital Audio Workstations are the key part of any modern home recording studio, i.e a computer connected to a soundcard and a sequencer like Cubase or Logic. The computer functions as a recording and rendering device, a source of other sounds (like virtual instruments and samplers), an editing devide, and finally as the nerve centre of your studio, where all the threads of the production come together - right up to the final master copy.
Which Computer?The decision between an expensive Apple or a PC doesn’t actually make much difference in the grand scheme of things. In terms of hardware, both systems are built in the same way, and they’ve had the same intel processors at their disposal for several years. The main difference between them is their operating systems; OS-X represents Apple, and Windows 7 and Windows 8 represent PCs. Discussions about which system is better can sometimes be a bit childish, with some pretty strange logic thrown into the mix! Try not to let yourself get too misled. If you decide in favour of a PC, you will have a much bigger choice between different systems, although this can also lead to typical “PC problems” because they’re installed with bad quality components. If you buy your computer from the bargain bin in Aldi, you know you can’t expect it to be a rendering master! If you do want a top class computer which can match the high quality audio functions of a DAW, you should: a) buy a Mac, b) build your own PC, or c) get some professional advice. Even better, you could buy an optimised computer from a company that specialises in producing high quality audio PCs. You also have to consider whether mobility is a priority for you, meaning that you’d need a Notebook, or whether you prefer to stay put. You have more connectivity and power with a desktop computer. Remember, any device under €900 wont really meet your demands.
Audio InterfaceNormally you need to buy a specialised audio interface (soundcard) with high quality audio, numerous connections, and above all - low latency (i.e. the delay between a hit/input signal in the computer and the audio signal that the computer plays back). Low latency values are extremely important, as they make it possible to play back virtual instruments or audio recordings like vocals (for example) without any detectable delay. The best audio interfaces also have internal mixing functions, so that you can listen to a mix signal directly from the interface without delay or the need to go via a computer. This is particularly helpful when you are adding instruments or voices. The more expensive your audio interface is, the better the quality of the AD/DA coverter will be, and the connection possibilities will be more lush and valuable (like WordClock, AES/EBU etc). You wont get a top end device until you pay at least €120, but results with devices around this price range will still be pretty good.
SoftwareThere is a growing abundance of high quality music programs, meaning that choosing one of them can be pretty overwhelming for a beginner. The fact is, the price of all DAW programs has dropped, while the dazzling amount of new features makes some of the most experienced engineers weep for joy – the possibilities of audio processing these days are endless! You can read an overview of the most popular DAWs in our previous blog post. If you want to use your computer as a musical instrument, you’ll need to use extra virtual instruments for specific sounds (like a digital synthesiser or a sample-based player) alongside your DAW software. Your options range from granular creations like Omnisphere, to multi-purpose weapons like Nexus, and even into the arena of revolutionary orchestra instrumentation like EastWest! The sky’s the limit!
In part 2, we will discuss more important parts of a home studio, including studio monitors, microhones, PreAmps, hardware instruments, and other basic equipment!
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