PC recording - What to buy?

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by Matthew Bryson, Feb 9, 2005.

  1. Matthew Bryson

    Matthew Bryson Guest

    Jul 30, 2001
    Like the title says, I am interested in purchasing a PC that I can use for some home recording. I do not currently own (nor have I ever) a computer or any recording gear. I've done a search and read a lot of threads here, but I'm so clueless that I'm having trouble finding the info I need.
    I am a hobbyist and not really looking to do any super serious recording. I would like to have programs for drum machine and multi track recording. I want to be able to create drum beats that I can jam along with and record along with my bass. I want to be able to record my bass (with descent tone) along with a separate click track and a vocal track. (possibly multiple tracks of bass and or vocals) The recordings will be for my own amusement and possibly to use as a demo that I could give to other musicians when considering new projects.
    I know that I'll need to purchase a PC, some soft ware, an upgraded sound card and some good speakers. (and a vocal mic, some assorted cables, maybe some other stuff?) If it is more versatile, cost effective, or otherwise desirable then I could buy a relatively inexpensive home stereo to run the sound out to - but I don't currently have this.
    I am thinking that at first I will use the line out on my combo amp into the PC and then look to buy a DI box later if I feel that it is necessary to get good tone.
    My budget - Well, I'm sure I can buy what I need but I don't want to spend more than what is necessary for what I'm doing.
    Any help is appreciated.
  2. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    I like Tracktion as a sequencer/audio recording program. Check it out at www.mackie.com. There are also "lite" versions of other major programs, including Cakewalk. Some of these programs come with plugins (e.g., reverbs, delays, compressors, sample players, digital pianos), which may or may not include a software drum or beat machine.

    There are various software drum machines that you can get and use as VST instruments within your main program. Some cost, some don't. You could poke around at k-v-r (www.kvraudio.com). They have a good collection of instruments and effects for computer recordists, some of which are free or at least cheap. You can click on the instrument tab and do a search for what you want. For PC recording, VST effects/ instruments should work in most programs, though IIRC DX is Cakewalk's native format. The software drum machine I own is the DR-008 by FXpansion, which I like a lot. It costs over $100 now, I think. But the little brother of that instrument, the DR-005 (which probably isn't being supported or updated any more), is, or was, available for free at k-v-r.

    There are various programs that are more centered on beats and loops, but I'm afraid I don't know much about those.:(
  3. DemoEtc


    Aug 18, 2004
    I use tape so I don't know about the software side of things. You won't be having to mic a drumkit so that saves a lot of time and money!

    I do like the Audio Technica 3035 for vocals and acoustic instruments though. They're not badly priced normally. Good little workhorse.
  4. DougP


    Sep 4, 2001
    if you dont nor have ever owned a computer, i would suggest an Apple that comes with GarageBand. This is probably the fastest and easiest way to introduce yourself to Digital Audio Recording on a computer. Garageband is quite powerful for its price ($50 in a software bundle) and it wont overwhelm you with buttons and parameters.
    with it you can use loops to layout drums really quickly and allows you to get to writing and recording, instead of fighting with a drum sampler that you then have to program through the sequencer program.
    you should be able to play straight into these initially, but may eventually want to upgrade to another audio interface such as M Audio's firewire boxes. i think the ticket here is that you get an easy introduction into computing as a whole, instead of trying to learn why a machine is acting flakey and simultaneously trying to learn how to troubleshoot ASIO and latency problems.

  5. Josh Ryan

    Josh Ryan - that dog won't hunt, Monsignor. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 24, 2001
  6. baba

    baba Supporting Member

    Jan 22, 2002
    3rd stone from the sun
    I'd suggest you start with a PC from Dell. Anything they sell in terms of power will be enough for what you want to do. I suggest at least one step down from their most powerful processor to keep your price down. Build-it-yourself is not a good option since you are a newb the the computer world. You will have customer support with the Dell computer (in theory) if you have any PC issues. You can add the speaker system option. It will be more than adequate for your purposes.

    I'd add a soundcard with multiple ins and outs. M-Audio's Delta 44 is an EXCELLENT deal in terms of quality, features, and cost. It has a breakout box that will sit on your desk for you inputs and outputs so you don't need to dig behind your computer. It will suffice for your listed recording needs.

    On to software...I use Cakewalk's Sonar XL. There are many other programs available, but this works well for me.

    Other than a DI for instrument level signals, you really don't need anything else. If you already have a mixer or something, you can actually use that instead of the DI to get your signal level where it needs to be.

    Everything I've listed is actually my exact setup. I post it not just because it's what I know, but because it works great, sounds great, and is very reasonably priced. The only need I can imagine to upgrade is if I needed more ins and/or outs than the 4 each that I have. I don't.
  7. Droog


    Aug 14, 2003
    If you feel so inclined and poses the know how you may try building your own PC. May I suggest The Allenstein Rock solid and affordable. Just read some of the thread. If I can I think I will build one this summer.
  8. The FAQ at the top of this forum has some information for computer recording newbies - I hope you find *some* useful information in there.

    As for buying a computer for recording :-
    PC or MAC? Depends on what you're familiar with at work or previously at home. MAC's are very user friendly and are reported to be more stable. They have a lot of really useful audio / visual software bundled with the computer. If you're not going to be using lots of PC-based software for other things then a MAC may be a good option. Many people already have PC's kicking around and it's possible to pick up a really reasonably spec'ed one for not much money nowadays. However be aware that Dell's and other cheapo PC's may not be set up ideally for audio right off the bat, so you might want to check out what you really require for audio before going to the store. Fast hard-drive (speed not capacity), lots of RAM, quiet, USBv2 or Firewire (and make sure these aren't set up to conflict with other inbuilt goodies).

    Second, you'll need a soundcard. For decent audio recording quality the best bet is to get an separate specialised audio soundcard rather than rely on an inbuilt soundcard. Although the little "Realtek Audio buddy" soundcard may be fine for listening to CD's it ain't gonna give you much fidelity when it comes to recording a demo... Similarly although Soundb****rd cards are fine for gaming and watching DVD's the sound quality compared to specalised audio cards isn't as good. External soundcards are now very good with a really wide variety of inputs and outputs and also a variety of connection types (USB, USB2, Firewire). Internal soundcards now often have external boxes for inputs and outputs (cables, basically!).

    Third you'll need software. This is where it boils down to a horses-for-courses discussion. The best answer is to download a few different packages and see what you like. If you've chosen the MAC route then Garageband is a decent place to start. If you're in the PC world, try packages like Cakewalk Sonar (or Home Studio which is very good), Steinberg Cubase (Cubase SL is the starter edition). There are also lots of audio recording software if all you want to do is record a stereo mix. Audacity is a good place to start (and free!). For drum tracks, Cubase and Cakewalk both offer VST plugins and there's a huge variety of different VST instruments including drum machines out there - for free. Check out Computer Music magazine's cover DVD. There is always a software studio on it, free, and the included VST instruments and effects are really good.

    Don't worry about MIDI at this stage - if all you want to do is to record your bass and vocals then you probably won't need to go there.

    Hope some of this info is useful. I can appreciate it really is a minefield out there, but with a little careful research it's quite easy to pick out a good working solution.

    Check out Martin Walker's advice at the Sound on Sound website: http://sound-on-sound2.infopop.net/2/OpenTopic?a=frm&s=215094572&f=514099644. He also did a "which soundcard" article recently for the magazine, but you might need to subscribe for that...

    Best of luck, and keep us posted on how you get on / what you decide.

  9. tubster


    Feb 5, 2003
    Southwest Spain
    Macs would be my suggestion too. Garage Band 2 is a great intro to recording.

    FWIW, I have tried and failed with: Cubasis, Pro Tools LE and Cakewalk but took to Garage Band within minutes.

    Good luck
  10. I am a computer tech and i have a pc and a mac and would like to use my mac for recording. If i get Garage Band (legaly of course :D ) what would i need for an importing card or interface? I would like as cheap as possible to start with just kind of as an intro to recording. I am very knowledgable with computers so get technical if you have to haha.
    Thanks in advance,
  11. DigitalMan

    DigitalMan Supporting Member

    Nov 30, 2011
    New poll. Which would you rather have for the upcoming zombie apocalypse:

    1 - food and water supply
    2 - power generator
    3 - shotguns and baseball bats
  12. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    Lol. This got resurrected by a bot. It harks back to a long-gone era when Macs were actually better than PCs for recording. How times change. :D