A Beginner's Guide to Essential Audio Recording Hardware

A Beginner's Guide to Essential Audio Recording Hardware

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The Audio Recording Guide For Newbies, Greenhorns & Rookies

So you want to start recording your own music, but you have little to no idea on where to begin. What equipment do I need? Is it going to be expensive? What the hell is a DAW? Don’t worry, this article is an essential guide for beginners on the audio recording hardware (and a little bit of software) that you’ll need to get your music recording going. By the end of this article you’ll be clued up on exactly what you’ll need to start recording your own music. There will be a recommended equipment list throughout, along with a variety of different budgets. Whether you’re strapped for cash or you’re rolling in the dough, we should have a setup that’s available for every level.

Over the years I have filmed, recorded and edited over 500 different live sessions. Starting out with very basic and cheap equipment, as time went on I experimented with different types of items adding more pieces to my arsenal to help streamline the process. It's taken a good few years for me to be happy with my set-up, constantly learning and finding out what works well for me. 

Back in the day, hiring a studio was expensive. Artists and bands would spend thousands of pounds to record their music in lavish studios equipped with the latest shiny objects that recorded the clang of a mighty cymbal. Now, you can spend a fraction of that price and get a similar outcome. What I must say though is important, just because the price tag is considerably lower doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of the recording deteriorates along with it. We’ve heard a seasoned guitarists make a £30 guitar sound majestic, whereas a novice might not even know how to hold one let alone play it. It’s not the hardware that is the problem, it’s the person using it. Remember a poor technician blames his tools. That being said, if we can point you in the right direction for audio recording this article would have fulfilled its purpose.  

 

Computers

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So where to begin? One of the most important pieces of equipment you’re going to need to think about is what computer are you recording everything in to. The computer is considered to be the central hub of your studio, it’s going to be recording everything in and processing everything out. Here comes the age old question, Mac or PC???

The answer? It doesn’t make much of a difference.

This is really down to preference. It’s like comparing iPhone to Samsung, either one is fine, they’re both going to make calls and send messages. If you’re used to the interface of a Mac then stick with the OS operating system. What’s most important is that the computer has a lot of RAM to process all the information.

 

Laptop vs Desktop

Personally I’d go with the former. Working on a laptop allows you to be mobile, you are no longer tied down to bleak four walls known as your bedroom, and you are free to go wherever you want. Obviously you don’t want to be recording your audio in the great outdoors by a busy motorway (or do you?), but you are free to roam around different rooms, studios or creative spaces. You can record, mix and master wherever you want.

Depending on the specifications, we’ve seen a lot of laptops rival desktop computers. However, that may come at a hefty price. Desktops are great too, if you get the right one they can be powerful processing beasts. For us, there’s an advantage in being portable. A new environment can help with your creativity too.

 

Equipment list & Pricing:

Laptop:

  1. Acer Aspire VX 15 (£)

  2. Eluktronics P650RP6 Gaming Laptop (££)

  3. Macbook Pro Retina 2015 (£££)

 

Desktop:

  1. Lenovo ThinkServer (£)

  2. Lenovo ThinkCentre (££)

  3. Apple iMac (£££)

 

DAW’s

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DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. It is software installed into your computer that is used for recording, editing and producing your audio files. There are quite a lot of different DAW’s out on the market right now, industry-standards such as Pro Tools to completely free programs like Garageband. Depending on your comprehension with DAW’s (if you’re reading this it’ll probably be low), it’ll be your best bet to start with a low-end piece of software. Unless you want to jump into the deep end and figure out how to swim later.

A lot of the companies offer trial versions, a good idea would be to download a few and play around with them before you commit. Again going back to the analogy of ‘a bad technician blaming his tools’, the choice of which DAW to use is dependent on you. You may have an advantage working with an industry-standard DAW. As it being the standard it’ll most likely be used more often, allowing collaborating with other engineers/artists that much easier. However, if you don’t have the budget right now that’s not too much of a problem.

I remember watching a video of Tori Kelly record one of her tracks on Garageband, and I’m positive Calvin Harris recorded ‘Slide’ on Logic. These are reminders that it really depends on who is using the software. You choose a DAW that works for you, don’t feel pressured to work with one due to peer pressure. It can hit your wallet hard and not make too much of a difference in quality.

 

Equipment list & Pricing:

DAW

  1. Garageband (Free - Mac Only)

  2. Logic Pro X (££ - Mac Only)

  3. Pro Tools (£££)


 

Audio Interface

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Sooner or later you’re going to realise another essential piece of audio hardware needed is an audio interface. What is an audio interface? Treat it like an external sound card that gives you the ability to connect microphone, instruments and other kinds of creative signals to your main hub, the computer. Along with all the different types of inputs the interface will give you a handful of outputs too, depending on what model you purchase.

During the recording process, latency can be a big issue that will hamper the production of a song. If you’re unaware of what latency is, it’s an issue of delayed transfer of sound from the source to your ears. Let’s say you’re recording a vocal track and the singer and would like to hear themselves during the process, if there is a latency issue the singer could hear themselves a few milliseconds or even seconds after. That delay can be quite off putting and disruptive. Implementing a good audio interface should fix all of that.

 

Equipment list & Pricing:

Audio Interface

  1. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (£)

  2. Apogee ONE (££)

  3. Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (£££)

 

Microphones

equipment needed to record music

Purchasing the right microphone for your recording setup can be quite overwhelming. There are a variety of different microphones out there and every engineer has their own preference. Small/Large diaphragm condenser mics, dynamic mics, ribbon mics, USB mics, there are so many to choose from. If you’re starting out with audio recording I would stick with the small/large diaphragms as well as a dynamic microphones. Those type of microphones are ideal for recording vocals, a variety of instruments and ambient noise. Microphone prices can vary from £50 all the way up to £5000, right now since you’re starting out I would keep the costs low - again don't be blindsided by expensive gadgets. However if you have the budget, investing in a good microphone can do wonders for your recording.

 

Equipment list & Pricing:

Microphones

  1. SM-58 (£)

  2. RØDE NT2-A (££)

  3. RØDE NTR (£££)

 

Pop shield

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A lot of people tend to overlook the impact of good pop shield/filter. If you’ve purchased a decent microphone, it would also be a good idea to get one of these in front of it - I wouldn't advise to have it any other way. The main purpose of a pop shield is to reduce the ‘popping’ sounds or the plosives from vocals. Generally speaking the ‘T’s’, ‘P’s’ and ‘B’s’ are the culprits to that plosive popping sound. It would be a shame to have bought an expensive microphone only to have the recording process ruined because you forgot to get yourself a pop shield.

 

Equipment list & Pricing:

Pop shields

  1. Nady MPF-6 (£)

  2. Avantone PS-1 PRO-SHIELD Studio Pop Filter (££)

  3. Stedman Pro Screen 101 (£££)

 

Headphones

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A good pair of studio headphones are ideal for two things.

The first is for recording monitoring purposes. Earlier we mentioned how a singer might like to hear the recording during the performance. Using wedges/speakers for monitoring would allow bleed/spillage into the microphone making it harder to mix isolate. Having the singer wear a pair of studio headphones will solve that problem. Even if the engineer wanted to monitor the audio but was in the same room of the recording, it would be silly to use studio monitors during the recording. Unless you’re in a control room then that’s fine, but if the engineer is recording in the same room (which would be likely if you’re starting out) it's a good idea to purchase a good pair of studio headphones.

Another purpose for the headphones is to monitor the audio whilst you’re mixing your tracks. Although it isn’t the first option to mixing, it is a good idea to listen back to your mix through a variety of different outlets, ie. different headphones & speakers - as not everyone has whatever system you have been working on. Invariably your mix will sound different.

 

Equipment list & Pricing:

Headphones

  1. ATH-M20x (£)

  2. Sennheiser HD 380 Pro (££)

  3. Shure SRH 1540 (£££)

 

Microphone Stands

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A lot of people tend to overlook a good quality microphone stand, they think that once they’ve purchased the major pieces of equipment to record they can save a bit of money and buy cheaper stands. Don’t make the same mistake we did. Having good quality microphone stands make the recording process that little bit smoother. Having your microphone droop down because it can’t handle the weight of the microphone can get annoying - fast, especially when you’re trying to record a vocal take. It’ll be one less problem for you to worry about and will allow you to focus on what is important. Buy yourself some good quality stands!

 

Equipment list & Pricing:

Microphone Stands

  1. Samson MK-10 (£)

  2. DR Pro Quick Release (££)

  3. Latch lake MicKing 2200 (£££)

 

So there you have it, I hope this article is thorough enough to give you a starting point with what equipment you need for recording audio. Do you have any favourites? Are we missing anything out? Send me an email and I'll be happy to respond. Just remember, 'a bad technician blames his tools.' I know I've mentioned it throughout the article, but I can't emphasize it enough. You can purchase all the equipment I've laid out for you, but if you have no knowledge on how to use the equipment that is in front of you, it's not going to bring you as much value as it can. Take the time to work on yourself as well, make the most of your equipment before you decide to upgrade and enjoy the recording process.

 

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