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Your Own Home Recording Studio

Want to make good-quality audio recordings in your own home? All you need is a PC, a hifi system, a good-quality microphone and some software.

By Michael Goebel

Due to the prices charged by professional recording studios (some in the region of hundreds of dollars per hour), many talented soloist and group musicians cannot afford the cost of producing their first CD. What’s more, attempts at recording an entire performance using a single microphone invariably lead to very poor results – results that are so bad that reviewers cringe when hearing even the most promising artists.

But there is a way out. The latest PC recording software makes it possible to obtain surprisingly good results using relatively simple equipment in the comfort of your own home.

Before describing how you go about making such recording, let’s take a look at the equipment you need. The list is as follows:

(1) A standard desktop computer (the faster, the better);

(2) A CD writer (writing speed not critical) and CD writing software;

(3) A good quality sound card (at least 16-bit) or on-board sound system;

(4) A good quality desktop microphone;

(5) Adobe Audition 1.0 (Win98 users can use CoolEdit and/or CoolEditPro) or Diamond Cut;

(6) A home stereo system capable of good performance; and

(7) A hifi "sampler CD" of known high quality and containing material familiar to you

There are also a few important things to consider before you begin:

  • This project is intended for those who are fairly proficient in the use of computers, Adobe Audition 1.0 and have some experience with audio.

  • It is extremely unlikely that you will achieve adequate results using a bargain-basement laptop and/or a $99 combination CD/radio/cassette home "hifi" system. As with all systems, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

    Click for larger image
    Fig.1: this is the Windows volume control mixer panel. Set both the "CD" and "wave" level controls to about 80% and the "master" or "volume control" to zero.
    Click for larger image
    Fig.2: the Windows volume control mixer panel properties window. Be sure to select the Microphone option for recording.

  • This project is much more easily carried out with the help of an experienced musician, preferably someone who can play an instrument (eg, guitar) and sing.

  • Screen resolutions of less than 1280x1024 will make it difficult to control and organise the program windows used in this project.

  • An absolute minimum of background noise is essential to the re-cording process. If your computer has a noisy fan, then you should attend to this before embarking on this project.

    Also, remember to take the phone off the hook and switch off your mobile phone prior to any recording.

  • The objective is here is NOT to strive for bass levels that will rattle the windows or searing treble that causes bleeding from the ears. Instead, the aim is to achieve a well-balanced, pleasant and realistic level of sound.

  • Many stereo systems possess lots of "effects" options and it is vital that they be bypassed (disabled). The same goes for any "effects" on the computer (eg, "3D Depth", "Stereo Enhancement", "Surround Sound", etc).

  • For best results, all file operations for this project should be done in WAV format. Avoid the use of MP3 or any other type of sound file extension.

  • If you are having trouble getting sufficient gain through the microphone, go to the volume control panel (Fig.1), select "Options", "Advanced Controls", then in the microphone section, click on "Advanced" and select "Mic Boost".

  • In Adobe Audition 1.0, enable (tick the box marked) "Live update during recording" under "Options", "Settings". This will greatly facilitate monitoring the recording process.

  • While this project only uses a 2-track performance as an example, the principles and methods outlined can be extended to include up to 128 performers and/or instruments, by switching to the "multitrack" mode of Adobe Audition.

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