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Computer Based Music Studio
First, some basic info on
starters, don't believe the hype!!
It seems to be
a commonly held belief that all you need is a computer with a sound card
and a 'multimedia microphone' and you've got a complete "professional"
music studio in your bedroom. Of course, you'll need a good deal more
than that. Couple an up-to-date computer and audio interface with a good
music production software package (or an 'all-in-one' digital mixer/hard
disk recorder), then add a pro-quality microphone, monitoring system,
MIDI gear and some other cool toys, and you just might have what you
need to make your home-brew CD!
Secondly, choose your tools carefully!
If you pick
out good quality, well-designed equipment to start with, you can keep
adding to your setup as your projects get more involved. By thinking
through a good purchasing strategy (and sticking to it!) you can avoid
buying expensive gear that becomes obsolete too quickly or that doesn't
do what you need it to do.
Finally, design your studio installation to be easy to work with!
equipment in the world will still need to be installed competently. When
you get down to work, you want your equipment to do what you expect it
to do. That means you'll need to learn about the equipment that's
available and then figure out what you need and how to use it – which is
where this website comes in...
story 'til now. . .
was little more than fifteen years ago that the only way to make your
own recordings on a low budget was to get some kind of multitrack
cassette deck or open reel tape recorder (like the good ol' Tascam
A-3340S - remember those?). It was a real challenge to make a decent
sounding recording with a 4-track cassette deck, mostly because of the
inherently poor audio quality of the mid-1960's vintage, 1-7/8
inches-per-second Compact-Cassette medium (slow tape speed + skinny
tape = high noise + high distortion).
reel tape decks offer much better sound quality than cassettes (many
would say they're still better than anything else!), but require a lot
of maintenance and use up a lot of expensive analog tape at the
preferred tape speed of 15 inches-per-second. Editing is also difficult
on analog tape, requiring pinpoint precision with a razor blade and
editing block. This is not a skill one learns in an hour or two of
the beginning of the 1980's, as the recording industry was preparing to
launch the Compact Disc as the replacement for the LP in the home, Sony
introduced its new professional digital tape recorders, the PCM-3324 for
multitrack recording and the PCM-F1 for stereo mastering and
live-to-two-track. Both were too expensive for the home recordist, but
quickly became standard equipment in studios around the world. Around
about 1985, Sony introduced the 16-bit, stereo DAT
format (or R-DAT as it was first known). The idea was to make a 'digital
cassette' that could be used to produce CD-quality recordings.
Unfortunately, this scared the recording industry so much that several
court battles ensued, resulting in royalties being assessed on each DAT
recorder and blank tape sold. This made the DAT format too expensive for
the average consumer, but didn't keep the DAT from becoming the standard
portable format for recording stereo master tapes in the music recording
and broadcast industries. It wasn't until the recent introduction of
inexpensive CD-Recordable media that the DAT finally began to fall out
came Digital Multitracks...
a decade ago,
came out with the ADAT, a 16-bit, 8-track digital tape
recorder that uses S-VHS videocassette tapes. The last 20-bit models
were the ADAT M20, XT20 and LX20.
quickly responded to the ADAT's success by introducing the DA-88,
the first of its DTRS machines, which are similar to
ADATs but use Hi-8 videocassettes instead of S-VHS. These
Modular Digital Multitrack (MDM) recorders
quickly became the standard multitrack recorders for small project
studios, home studios and for live recordings. The Tascam DA-88 and its
successors (the budget DA-38, the top of the line
DA-98HR, and the 24-bit DA-78HR) are
popular in the broadcast and film industries, while the Alesis ADAT is
primarily used in musicians' home studios and small project studios. The
Alesis ADAT XT20's 20-bit Analog-to-Digital Converters sound
significantly better than the 16-bit converters in the older models, but
all ADAT's are limited to 60 minutes of recording time on a single tape.
The latest Tascam MDM's have 24-bit Analog-to-Digital Converters, and
also have the advantage of being able to record up to 113 minutes on a
single tape (much better for recording live concerts). Note that audio
CD's are limited to 16-bit 44.1kHz resolution, so both types of MDM are
capable of better-than-CD sound quality. It's quite common to fly the 8
tracks of digital audio from an MDM (or 16 tracks from two MDM machines)
into a computer to mix down entirely in the digital domain, and then
burn a CD of the final mix. This process keeps the signal entirely in
the digital domain from the Analog-to-Digital Converters at the MDM's
inputs to the Digital-to-Analog Converters at the outputs of the
listener's CD player.
generation of MDMs record onto computer hard drives instead of tape,
allowing instant access to any point in a recording and more advanced
editing capabilities. These new "hard disk recorders"
include the new Tascam MX-2424, Alesis
ADAT-HD24 and the Mackie HDR24/96 and
MDR24/96. Best of all, these new recorders cost no more than
their tape-based predecessors. Korg, Fostex
and others offer entry-level hard disk recording systems that sell for
around $1000 or so.
then came the home PC audio revolution . . .
personal computers getting more and more powerful and going ever lower
in price, and with the wide selection of high quality music production
software available, it's easy to record multiple tracks of audio on a
computer, in effect making the computer a digital multitrack recorder.
Great strides have been made in the ease of use and sound quality of
audio hardware for personal computers in the last five years. Starting
with the early 1990's models from such pioneering companies as
Digidesign, Turtle Beach and Digital Audio Labs, quality has been going
up while prices have come steadily down. There is a bewildering variety
of audio interfaces available with microphone preamps, MIDI interfaces
and digital audio I/O all built in—all for as little as $250! Check out
now, the "Studio-In-A-Box"!
Korg, Yamaha and others are offering
all-in-one combination digital mixer/hard disk recorder/effects units
that are as close to a true 'studio-in-a-box' as you can get. The
Yamaha AW4416 and AW2816 are good
examples of this type of recording system, featuring a digital mixer
section (based on the industry-standard Yamaha 02R digital mixer) and a
24-bit multitrack hard disk recorder, complete with 32-bit digital
parametric EQ, compression and reverb. The Roland Virtual Studio
VS-890 (c. $1700) and VS-2680 (c. $2500) are
mixing/hard disk recording systems that are not as easily expandable,
but are in some ways more user-friendly for the 'weekend warrior.' The
VS-series recorders combine 24-bit hard disk recording with digital
mixing and extensive Digital Signal Processing (DSP)
capabilities built in, including digital compression, EQ and reverb.
They can even mimic the sound of a Neumann U87 mic using the input from
a garden variety Shure SM-57!
Digital Age is upon us. . .
digital recorders and CD-Recordable drives have become so inexpensive,
commonplace and easy to use, digital recorders have almost completely
replaced analog tape recorders in home studios (and most professional
studios too!). We've become accustomed to signal to noise ratios of 85dB
or better in even the cheapest CD or MiniDisc player, a spec which was
obtainable only in professional studios only a decade or two ago.
Consequently, the importance of maintaining a clean signal path has
become ever more important for the musician recording at home. The
average home studio now has the capability to perform stereo audio
transfers completely in the digital domain using the Sony
Philips Digital Interface (or S/PDIF). Some
more expensive soundcards have the more professional AES/EBU
digital interface. Both of these digital interfaces do away with the
need to make a recording using the analog inputs of your soundcard or
built in audio inputs. This allows for cleaner, lower noise recordings,
even in your home recording rig.
While both S/PDIF
and AES/EBU are limited to two-channel (stereo) digital transfers,
Alesis and Tascam have devised formats for simultaneous transfer of up
to eight channels of digital audio data at a time. The Alesis system is
called ADAT Lightpipe and uses commonly available
TOSlink optical cables - the same Optical S/PDIF cables used for
MiniDisc. The Tascam digital audio transfer format uses standard copper
wires and is called Tascam Digital Interface Format (TDIF).
High-end studios (using ProTools or similar systems) often use multiple
banks of stereo AES/EBU I/O synchronized to a single word clock source
in order to record and play back multitrack digital audio.
stereo and multichannel digital audio can be transferred via AES/EBU,
ADAT Lightpipe or TDIF, it's now commonplace for studio engineers to
record a session to their favorite multitrack recorder, on tape or hard
drives, and transfer the resulting tracks into a stand-alone or
computer-based Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
for editing, mixdown and mastering. There are so many advantages to
editing audio in the digital domain that DAW's have all but completely
replaced analog tape editing suites in mainstream audio post-production
facilities. Fortunately for musicians, CD quality digital audio
technology has become incredibly affordable, and even 24-bit 192kHz
sampling rate equipment is surprisingly low-priced.
believe that the power and low prices of today's personal computers and
digital audio hardware have opened the doors wide to high quality audio
recording for the working musician on a tight budget.