Knowledgebase: Audio Interfaces
Digital multitrack recording made cheap and easy
Posted by Rick Shao on 16 November 2015 06:36 AM

Only a few years ago the idea of making high-quality multitrack digital recordings at home was unheard of. The very idea that someone could spend a short time making a multitrack recording and mix it in a few short hours would have been looked at with a great deal of skepticism. After all, that requires the money and skills that the average musician does not posses.

Now, it is not only possible, it has very much become ordinary.Home project studios are on the increase, with the cost of equipment becoming cheaper by the month. Over the next couple of pages, we'll help you better understand what the most essential components of any amateur/home recording studio are and the kind of know-how that is vital to successful recording.

What you need

A computer – that should be a given, but it is important to make sure your computer is capable of handling the strain of audio recording. Any PC with a Pentium 4 processor, 512 megabytes of RAM and at least 40 gigabytes of hard drive space should suffice. If you are using a Mac, a G4 is likely the minimum you would want to be using. Of course, these specifications could vary depending on the particular interface you are using.The cost of the computer can be as little as $300 or as much as $3,000 – but that is only if you do not already have one. A good pair of PC speakers is also vital, and could set you back between $20 and $500 dollars.

You may also opt to include a DVD- or CD-RW drive in your computer. Doing so will ensure you are not only able to record and mix your tracks, but also produce the final product (albeit in small quantities). The cost of a CD 'burner' is not excessive, and recordable media is reasonably priced, however many choose to publish their tracks online or go through a third party CD manufacturers – both of which are quite viable options.

An analog to digital interface device, such as the Phonic Helix Board FireWire mixer, will also be required. The Helix Board FireWire allows users to send their individual input channels to the computer via a FireWire interface, where each channel is recorded independent of the others. The different Helix Boards can retail for anywhere between $300 and $750, depending on the model and your retailer.

You will also need Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software. There are many freeware programs you can find online (online search for DAW software should come up with many hits); though the previously mentioned Helix Board is shipped with Steinberg Cubase LE bundled in with the mixer. For the amateur recording musician this program is not only sufficient, it is amazing.

Anything else will really depend on what your needs are. Most bands, performers, singers, choirs, etcetera, will already own their own instruments and microphones, so it just becomes a case of plugging it all in and letting the magic happen.

The learning curve

Most people could probably get by with only a very basic grasp of room acoustics and microphone placement. All you will need is a microphone stand, set up in a position which will allow the talent to sing/speak directly into it without causing any reflection of audio off walls, floors and such. As for the microphone used: a high-quality microphone will, of course, provide better sound than something purchased out of a bargain bin, but it is important to pick a microphone that meets your needs while adhering to whatever your budget may be.

When it comes to the recording and editing, it may take some time to learn how to get a professional sound from your setup. In the case of the Helix Board FireWire, the learning curve should be minimal. Following the instructions set out in the user's manual will allow users to install the driver and connect the Helix Board, whereas the Cubase user's manual should give a good picture on how to record. Chances are, any amateur recording musician will not get it right the first time, but it can become a second-nature within a week or so of constant recording.

And off you go…

The advantage of multitrack recording is that any tracks recorded can be deleted and re-recorded at a later date if need be. Vocals can be equalized and compressed, effects can be added to guitars, drums, synthesizers, etc., and tempos and pitches can be altered after all tracks have been recorded. Multitrack recording also allows the one-person musical powerhouse to lay down the tracks for each instrument one-by-one; playing back previously recorded tracks while they record the next track right on top of it. The best part of having your own multitrack recording system, however, may be that it allows you to record your own music, at your own pace, in your own time, and entirely the way you want to.

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