Recording Rig for the True Beginner - Clueless

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by New & Confused, May 21, 2010.

  1. New & Confused macrumors newbie

    May 21, 2010
    Ok guys, I really need your help on this one. I am a true newbie at the DIY home recording. So far I only have a guitar and computer :) I only want to record acoustic guitar and possibly vocals--so I need to know what gear I need to set up my "rig." Here's what I have so far:

    Guitar: Taylor acoustic
    Computer: Macbook Pro - i7 15 inch, just bought it.

    I have no idea what an audio interface is, firewire box etc. Of course I know that I need a mic, but I'm not sure about the other stuff. I suppose I can just use garageband for now?

    Can you PLEASE let me know what items (audio interface etc) I need to record a high quality recording for ACOUSTIC GUITAR and possibly vocals? It would also help me out if you could briefly explain what the recommended function of the device is. I have the guitar skills but I'm so confused when it comes to items I need for recording...:confused: But I am eager and willing to learn!

    Thanks all!

  2. newuser2310 macrumors regular

    Feb 16, 2010
  3. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    Here's another vote for a firewire-based interface. They are far FAR superior to USB.

    I previously used a Presonus "Firebox", which was good, but the Echo "AudioFire8" that I now have is even better. I believe these are recently out of production, but you may still be able to find a fresh one (or even a used one) at halfway decent prices. Good mic preamps, very good analong-to-digital converters, plenty of inputs, rock-solid performance -- you won't go wrong with one of these.

    For software, GarageBand will work fine to start out with. Be aware that you might want to hunt up a good "hard copy" book as a GB guide, as well.

    As you get into it, you may eventually find you want to "move up" from GB. I would recommend that you take a look at something called "Cubase Essentials". The price is reasonable (even moreso if you're a student) and the functionality is as good as anything out there. I've seen no other audio software (possible exception might be ProTools) that offers audio processing/editing features as easy-to-use as Cubase.

    Mics are a whole world unto themselves. You'd probably do best to get one (or a pair of) large-diameter condensor mics. I'm using CAD mics now and they are excellent for their price range.

    I should mention that acoustic instruments are often recorded with small-diameter condensors (rather than larger-diameter). But the reason I suggest the larger diameter mics is because of their versatility -- they work well for many different tasks, guitar, vocals, etc.
  4. mesq macrumors member

    Jan 11, 2010
  5. TheLOGICalone macrumors regular

    Jun 7, 2010

    that'll do it. get max signal w/ out clipping and use a good vocal mic (spend at least 500$, or get shure sm7), get small stereo pencil condensers and use a stereo micing technique for acousic or just close mic it, then get some1 to mix it if you need to.
  6. Capt Underpants macrumors 68030

    Capt Underpants

    Jul 23, 2003
    Austin, Texas
    Max signal without clipping?

    He won't be recording to tape. We're in the digital realm, with huge signal to noise ratios and 24 bits. His signals should be peaking at -6dB max to give him room for processing. Get the loudness out of the master bus if he needs to.

    Of course, the OP didn't understand a single thing I just said.

    Here's what you need to know OP:

    Since you've already got the computer, you will need these things:
    1. An audio interface (preferably one that connects to the computer via a firewire port)
    2. Recording Software
    3. At least one microphone
    4. Studio Monitors
    5. A microphone stand, XLR cable, and pop filter, headphone extension cord, closed-ear headphones

    As far as recording software, many people will recommend Garageband for beginners. It is certainly very user friendly, but once you start to learn more about recording, you will want something more robust. I recommend starting with a program called Reaper. Reaper is a full-featured DAW (on the level of Logic and Pro Tools) but only costs $60. It is an incredible deal for someone who wants to learn the ins and outs of digital multi-track recording on the cheap.

    Microphones are tricky. There are 3 main types of microphones: Dynamics, Condensers, and Ribbons. The right microphone is dependent on a few things -- mainly (a) the source: your voice and guitar and (b) your space: the place you will be recording.

    Everyone has a different voice, and different microphones complement them in different ways. Personally, my voice is very sibilant in the 5k range. I need microphones that have a dip in their frequency response at around 5k in order for my S's to not sound brittle. Ribbon mics and dynamic mics tend to have less high end response, so they tend to sound best on my voice.

    Your voice is not my voice. You may have other problems. The best way to find out what mic works best for you is to try them. Since you are new to recording, you wouldn't know the first thing to listen for when you tried your mic. So you'll probably have to take a shot in the dark.

    I would go with a dynamic for your voice. Something like the Shure SM7 or the Electro-Voice RE20. The SM7 requires quite a bit of gain from your preamp, so depending on the audio interface you choose (and the quality of its preamps) you may have to avoid it. The RE20 is generally considered a great vocal mic, and would likely sound better on more voices than something like a cheaper Rode condenser.

    You could record your acoustic guitar with the RE-20 but most people prefer pencil condensers on acoustic guitars. I'm personally not a big fan -- but I prefer nylon string guitar kind of person, so jangly high end isn't my thing.

    As far as cheap pencil condensers -- there's Oktava MK12's, Rode NT4s/5s, etc.

    The thing about using condenser mics is that they will tend to pick up a lot of room ambiance. I'm guessing that, since you're new to recording, you'll be recording in a small square bedroom. These rooms sound terrible, so the less "room" your mic will pick up, the better. Smaller square rooms tend to have flutter echo and other undesirable reflections. When I first started recording, I was oblivious to these. Listening back to my first recordings now, the room sticks out like a sore thumb.

    I remedied my bad room situation with a Realtraps Portable Vocal Booth. It attaches to your mic stand and stops the sound from escaping into your room (and back to your microphone). You can use it for vocals, or for recording your guitar -- even as a small gobo for electric guitar amps and what not. It's a very useful tool for a home recordist with a bad sounding space.

    As far as microphone stands -- I like Hercules and K&M mic stands. I use Mogami cables because I don't have the knowhow to make my own, and they seem better than Monster cables. They're expensive, and I don't know if they're worth it -- but that's what I use.

    You say you're a beginner, you may or may not know what a pop filter is. You will need a pop filter to record vocals. When you say words with P's or B's, you expel lot of air from your mouth. When this air hits the microphone, it creates a POP. Pop filters stop this from occurring. Any cheap pop filter will likely work for you.

    One thing that a lot of beginning recordists overlook are the studio monitors. Literally everything that you record, you will make judgments about based on the sound coming out of your speakers. It is important that your speakers have a flat frequency response so that what you're hearing is what is actually there.

    Now, you'll likely be recording in a bad room, so your space is going to affect the sound that you hear coming out of your studio monitors. People spend thousands of dollars on acoustic treatment for rooms so that there are no reflections inhibiting them from hearing their mix as it is. Since you are just beginning, you likely won't want to do this. I believe you should buy a nice pair of powered studio monitors to mix through.

    KRK makes decent entry level studio monitors. Look into them. Remember to keep you speakers away from a wall (at least a foot or two away, if you can). If they are close to the wall, the bass response will be all out of whack (even more so than it necessarily would be in an untreated space).

    If I were you, I'd get a pair of closed-ear headphones. You'll likely be recording to a metronome, and nothing is worse than getting done with a good take and realizing met leaked into the track. Closed ear headphones will reduce the amount of metronome and other tracks that leak into the track you are recording.

    I'd also get a headphone extension cord. Record away from your computer and any other noise sources (refrigerators are especially annoying). Turn the air conditioner off while you are recording as well.

    As far as audio interfaces -- I'd look into the Echo Audiofire 4. MOTU also makes a decent audio interface with two mic pres -- the Ultralite. Apogee makes a really good audio interface called the Duet. There are a lot out there, but any of those would do you just fine.

    The most important piece of advice I can offer you is to use your ears. Learning to listen is one of the hardest things about recording. Read as much information as you can about recording. I enjoy the Tape Op Forum. Gearslutz is another option.

    You're getting yourself into a big mess. It can be really frustrating and really rewarding. Best of luck.

  7. TheLOGICalone macrumors regular

    Jun 7, 2010
    Getting as much level without clipping is always important, especially if you have a sm7 like you said, you really need to crank the gain, but for the project studio, the only real necessary piece of outboard gear is a preamp, so my advice is spend as much as you can on a solid preamp bc if you do everything else right, it will dramatically increase your recording quality- and you want to send as much signal through it as you can- if you have the ability to record 24 bit, it gives you some slack, but doesn't down play the importance of solid levels. Otherwise, I agree with you, op what is your budget?

  8. zimv20 macrumors 601


    Jul 18, 2002
    sorry, but i wholeheartedly disagree with this. this practice is left over from recording to tape, where there was an audible noise floor from the the recording device itself.

    digital recording has no noise floor, plus the "sweet spot" of analog/digital converters is shockingly low. I find i get better results at mix time when the signals i've recorded are in the -18 to -36 range.

    if you try to mix too many signals that were recorded hotter than that, there is an audible and negative effect on the final result.

    it took a long time for me to get my digital mixes sounding better than my analog ones, and using lower recording levels was instrumental in doing so.
  9. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    The answer to this is really book length. not forum post length. Bit it short.

    1) Think first about the source of the sound and follow it through all the stages from your guitar or voice to the speakers. What matter the MOST are those stages physically closest to the source. #1 most is your playing and singing skills then #2 is the space in the room and the (reflective walls, ceiling and floor and if there is any background noise like computer hard drives, fans or the fridgfe in the kitchen cycling, cal this the acoustic space, #3 is the location of the microphone. #4 is the mic it self, next #5 is the audio interface and so on.

    So spend you money and mental energy on the things above with the lowest numbers. this will have the best payoff.

    Acoustic treament of the room pays off big time. This need not be exotic. Bookcases rugs and maybe a absorber panel or two and most of all long enough mic cables so you can be nearer to the center and far from noisy computers

    I would buy a pair of decent quality made in China large diaphragm condenser microphones. these sell for about $100. The AT2020 is hard to beat for the money but the next model up is better. and there is the $160 "two mic deal that is hard to pass on
    What you are looking at is the bottom of the line from a top tier company. A lot of value.

    Don't listen to people who argue "firewire vs. USB" At this point is is like arguing about the sound of gloss vs matt finish on the guitar. Yes it matters but it is like #186 on the list. Firewire is nice but for your needs you will never notice. Which mic you select will matter 100X more. How you place that mic matters 100X more. That said I did just buy a Presonus "Fire Box" audio interface. And yes it is Firewire. Sweetwater had them for $180, a huge discount. I'd recommend it 100% along with those AT mics and a pair of $30 each mic boom stands and 25foot mic cables.

    Garage band is good enough software. Use it until you have good reasons not to.

    Go to Amazon.con and look for a "dummy's guide to home recording" or something like that. There are several of them and read the chapters on acoustic room treatment, mic selection and placement.
  10. #10
    And I wholeheartedly agree with you.

    I know a ton about recording to tape, especially 2" tape. And there was this misguided thinking in the early days of digital that everything should be recorded as hot as possible. I made the same mistake myself when I first started out with digital decades ago.
  11. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    I think everyone knows that with 24-bits to use we can aford to not use some of them and keep the level down. Took me a while to understand this too. Using a 24-bit system for recording makes it easier as gain setting can be less exact and it still sounds good

    But we have to watch it. Advice for studio recording may or maybe applly to home recording. for example, another reason to keep the gain down at home is that you are using a $10 preamp and those things make a his sound if you turn past 1/2 way. Also a noisy house needs a different mic, maybe you think like you are making a feild recording. And where is the "suit spot" on a way-cheap DAC used inside a $40 audio interface or "USB Mic"? So we do have to watch it not to think "the pros do X, therefore I should do X."

    But in this case you are right there is no tape hiss, you have more headroom if you keep it low.
  12. #12
    I miss tape hiss. I manually put it into Logic sometimes.
  13. undies65 macrumors newbie

    Jun 17, 2010
    My first rig as a beginner was very simple. Presonus inspire, and a shure 58 mic. Worked great as a starter package. But then the bug strikes, and the list is now endless.

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