PC Recording Questions and Answers

What’s New?

Because the improvements in both audio software and pc hardware plus the fact there were several factual errors in the original article I have taken some time and rewritten the entire article.

Questions:

1.. I have a computer with a soundcard, can I record my songs on it?

2. I have a multi track recorder, how can I use it and my PC together?

3. What should I look for in a multi track audio card?

4. I have a standalone Hard Drive recorder and a boatload of effects (compressor, reverb, etc.) what would be gained by going to the computer and using a program such as Sound Forge over the effects and compression I have available to me at present?

5. Does the computer and/or software program take the place of my mixer and processors?

6. What hardware do I need?

7. Should I get a IDE or SCSI hard drive and or CD burner

8. How can I get demos of the programs you are talking about?

9. Who are you and how do you know this stuff?

 

1. I have a computer with a soundcard, can I record my songs on it?

Sure. How well depends upon several things. First, how fast is your computer? I recommend a Pentium class machine running at 450 mhz or better. Of course, faster is better. Also, you will need a large hard drive, wave files take a lot of space (10 meg for 1 minute of stereo). To connect your sound card with your sound source (mixer, recorder, etc.) you will need an adapter. Most consumer sound cards have 2 inputs, line in and mic in* and use stereo mini plugs. Normally, you will have RCA plugs from your sound source. Whirlwind, Radio Shack and others sell the adapters you need (1/4" mini plug to dual RCA jacks). Next, you will need a software program to use for recording. If you have Windows 95 you already have one, Sound Recorder, but I don't recommend it. You may also have a program that was included with your sound card. They can be very useful to start with, but most have basic or limited features. Instead I would download a program such as Goldwave or Cool Edit 96. Both are good programs, not just for recording but editing your sound files as well. An excellent retail program is Sound Forge by Sonic Foundry. There are many others, demo as many as you can and pick the one you feel the most comfortable with. Realize of course, that any recording is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. In this case it is probably the sound card. The most dramatic improvement in PC recording will come with a quality sound card (see Recommended Hardware Setups) .

*The mic in is essentially useless. Always use the line in when recording from an outside source.

 

2. I have a multi track recorder, how can I use it and my PC together?

Depends upon how you want to integrate the two. If you plan to use your PC as a mix down deck, first see the answer to question #1. Then use it as you would any other mix down deck. You can then connect a cassette deck to the line outs on your soundcard to make copies. If you have a CD writer you can make CDs. For more on how to get your audio from your multi track recorder into your pc see my article Recording Music on your PC

If you want to use the PC to mix with you will need some more stuff. First you will need a multi track software package. One that I recommend is Quartz Studio. You may also want to look at Pro Tools which is available on our freebies page. Next, you will need to download your tracks to the computer. Using a stereo sound card transferring your tracks can be a problem, especially if you have a tape multitracker (cassette or reel to reel). If you have a digital deck it is a lot simpler, but you will still have synchronization problems. Trust me on this one ~grin~. The basic idea is to first record tracks 1 & 2, then rewind and do tracks 3 & 4. If you punch play on the tape deck and record on the computer at the same time you can get very close. A better solution is a multi track sound card. There are several good ones, the one I have used is the Wave/4 card by Gadget Labs. Unfortunately they have gone out of business. Another card I considered when I purchased the Wave/4 was the Dman 2044 by Midiman. Which also is not made anymore. It has been replaced by the Audiophile 2496 which looks like a very good card at a very good price. Compare features and price and get one that will fit your needs and pocketbook. And read the answer to the next question.

 

3. What should I look for in a stereo or multi track audio card?

 

Resolution/Sampling Rate

The higher the better. A 16 bit resolution is the minimum you should consider, 24 is better. Also, Any card you buy should have at the minimum a 44.1 sampling rate. The newer cards have 96khz. For comparison the sampling rate for a cd is 16 bits at 44.1khz. Usually you will see this listed as resolution/sampling rate, look for the highest numbers.

 

Signal to Noise

Also reffered to as dynamic range it is a measure of how quiet the card is. Anything over 90db is good.

 

Full Duplex

If a card does not have full duplex capability you will not be able to listen and record at the same time. That can make overdubs really hard. Some cards will offer 16 bit recording but playback at 8 bit while monitoring. This will work and will be less of a strain on a lower powered pc but the sound quality of the monitored sound won't be very good.

 

Will it work with my pc and software?

Perhaps the most important. It also depends upon the order you buy things. If you get the card first then you need to make sure you get compatible software. Almost all audio multitrack cards have a list of minimum requirements and the better ones have a list of audio editing programs the card has been tested with. And vice versa, if you get the software first you need to get a compatible sound card.

 

Number of inputs and outputs for a multi track audio card

Inputs being the more important. For instance if you are recording drums you will need a mimimum of four inputs - kick, snare and two overheads. More inputs can also reduce the amount of cable switching you need to do. Outputs are less important, unless you wish to transfer tracks back to your stand alone multi track recorder. Digital ins and outs can also be handy but not required. Think of how you record and/or how you want to record. That should give you a good idea of what you need.

 

A Breakout Box

Not a requirement but a goodie. Unless you enjoy reaching around behind your pc and trying to find where to plug in everything.

 

4. I have a standalone Hard Drive recorder and a boatload of effects (compressor, reverb, etc.) what would be gained by going to the computer and using a program such as Sound Forge over the effects and compression I have available to me at present?

An extra bit of polish. It's kind of like the difference between taking your car to a carwash or to a detail shop. The carwash will get the car shiny and clean but the detail shop adds that last little bit of sparkle. There are sound cards that will transfer the data from your Hard Drive recorder to the computer digitally. Once in the computer you can manipulate the file in ways you can't on the HD recorder. For instance, say the singer has some serious popping p's going on. You can zoom in on the offending phrase and massage the waveform until it sounds perfectly pleasant.

 

5. Does the computer and/or software program take the place of my mixer and processors?

Yes and no. You will still need your mixer, but the computer and software programs can handle many of the processing chores. There is some debate as to whether PC based effects are as high a quality as stand alone units. You can use both and decide which you prefer. Also, you can of course use both. For instance if you are recording a drum you can use your current compressor to compress the kick while you record it to the pc. Then use a software compressor on the entire kit.

 

6. What hardware do I need?

To use your PC as a mix down deck.

Recommended Minimum: Computer Pentium class 450 or better. Memory - 64 meg. Hard Drive - 20 GIG Sound Card - Sound Blaster Live, Turtle Beach Montego or equivalent. Backup - Tape, Jazz or Zip drive. Optimally a CD burner. This will get you started and the quality will be much better than a cassette. But to realize the full potential of your PC you will want to upgrade things. If you find yourself runnning out of hard drive space get a second hard drive, as fast as or faster than the one you have now. You may also want to get a better audio card, possibly a multi track card. And of course, you can never have enough RAM.

 

To use your PC as a multitrack recording and mixing station.

Recommended Minimum: Computer - Pentium class 450 or better Memory - 128 meg Hard Drives (2 recommended for serious audio work) - 15 gig for data and 20 Gig for audio Sound Card - Midiman Audiophile 2496* Backup - Tape, Jazz, Zip drive. Optimally a CD burner. Mix down - What else, a CD burner. *See the section on What card should I buy?

There is a boat load of stuff out there for multitrack recording on your PC. There are several complete packages, such as the Paris system from Ensonic. Be forewarned, you can spend some major dollars. I prefer to build things myself. I started with a generic 166 with 16 meg of ram, a 2.2 gig hard drive and a Sound Blaster Pro. I have since upgraded (piece by piece) to a 500 with 128 meg of ram, a 5.7 gig hard drive, a 15 gig hard drive, a Gadget Labs Wave/4 and a Mitsumi CD burner. The best thing about PC recording is the ability to upgrade. It's easier to convince the spousal unit you need $300 for a sound card than $3000+ for a new system .

 

7. Should I get a IDE or SCSI hard drive and or CD burner?

Yes. Just kidding. You can record very well with the speed of today's UDMA hard drives. I would recommend either (SCSI or IDE). What I wouldn't recommend is to mix and match. While you can do it, it adds unnecessary complications. Whichever you go with stick with it. If you have an IDE hard drive I would get an IDE CD burner or extra hard drive. And vice versa.

Right now your best buy is the IDE drives. The newer IDE drives with a 7200 spindle speed are more than adequate. Add a large buffer or cache and you will be able to record more tracks without stuttering. Also look at the Sustained Data Transfer Rate (SDTR), the higher the number the better.

 

8. How can I get demos of the programs you are talking about?

For Quartz (excellent multitrack programs)

Digital Sound Planet (opens in a new window)

for more information on Quartz check out our freebies page.

For Pro Tools (pro level multitrack program)

Pro Tools Free (opens in a new window)

for more information on Pro Tools check out our freebies page. For Ntrack (another excellent multitrack software program)

FASoft (opens in a new window)

For Cool Edit 2000 and Cool Edit Pro (excellent editor and a good multi track system)

Syntrillium (opens in a new window)

For Goldwave (a very good editor)

Goldwave (opens in a new window)

 

9. Who are you and how do you know this stuff?

I guess I'm a computer geek. I don't know how it happened for sure. Way back in 1983 I was a normal guy driving a fork truck in a local factory. Then one day the factory closed and I needed a job in the middle of a recession. I took a test at the local job service and they said, "hey you would do good in computers". They sent me to school to learn COBOL programming and I was hooked.

Since then I have worked with computers in various ways, programming, teaching, administration. I even installed an IBM system 36 (which still gives me nightmares). And I am constantly tinkering with my home pc, both the software and hardware.

I am still learning recording. In my youth I was in several different bands, rock and folk. The first recorder I bought was a Radio Shack cassette. Then I got an Akai reel to reel which right now is sitting on a shelf about 2 feet to my left. When my kids were born I quit my low down ways (playing in bars till the wee hours) and concentrated on raising a family. I must have done something right cuz about 5 years ago my son started a band of his own. Of course they wanted to be recorded and old dad could do it, right! So I called an old band mate and he brought over a Tascam PortaStudio and I was hooked. I bought a Yamaha MiniDisc (the word 'digital' hooked me). Unhappy with the mixes I was getting I tried importing tracks into the computer and manipulating them with the sound editor that came with my sound card.

My obsession has progressed from there. I am constantly reading and tinkering. I don't think my computer has had a cover on in months. If it is true you learn by your mistakes I must be a genius . I may not have all the answers, but usually know where to look for them. Also, I have learned a bunch just by hanging out here at The Recording Website and from Devin Devore, the owner of Trinity Sound Co. Like everyone else I am still learning. Maybe someday I will know it all (like my kids).

Dan

 

About Dan Monk

(c) 1999, Dan E. Monk,  All rights reserved.

(You are allowed to copy and use this essay for your own non-professional use. You are prohibited from distributing copies to others for a fee or for no-charge. You may not publish or quote this essay without obtaining the written permission of the author.)

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Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.”
Stevie Wonder