Hardware/Software Recommendations

Getting started

Hey everyone, I have been cruising through the posts and am amazed and what you all have done and what you know. I have been looking at getting into recording here and learning how to produce. I learned about N-track through Sony101.com. I am currently looking to buy a new computer, and wanted to get some ideas on what you recommended for best performance and ability… I know, a wide open question. But I figured it would be a basic PIV3.+GHz, SATA Drives, 1 to 2GB ram, and either XP PRO or Media Center. I do not have any equipment (mixers/amps,etc…) What I have is a Korg i3 and a Yamaha accoustic with a built in pickup and use a ZOOM 9000 guitar effects processor. I have played a little with Cool Edit Pro2.0 and looking forward to see what N-track has to offer.

It seems some of you are real serious in your equipment and the songs I have heard are really good. So I would be looking for any suggestions on what to look into as far as additional cards for the PC and equipment to connect to the PC. I was wondering on how N-track handled adjusting voice quality. You know how someone sounds live compared to “fantastic” from the studio ( like Ashley Simpson!! :p ) Also percussion programs, etc…

I know that this could be daunting, but if you had the ability to make “The Studio” what would you put together? I do appreciate your time. You can email me if you have lengthy writeups or pictures that would help me get started.

Thanks a million…

Hi, and welcome,


I know that this could be daunting, but if you had the ability to make “The Studio” what would you put together?

That’s a mighty big question you’ve asked there (especially the last part), and I’m sure you’ll find some of the answers here.

But first, another question: What budget do you have in mind?


My “studio” is probably one of the least expensive. Excluding the PC and instruments, I have invested:

N-track: $50
Used Yamaha 8 ch mixer: $50
Used Boss ddr drum mach.: $50 (which no one likes much)
Radio Shack mic: $35
Final mixes: ‘Priceless’ (to me)

You can hear what I do (simply as a hobby) in the music forum here. Granted my stuff is not great but my “studio” does what I want. Others are much more polished. I suppose it depends on how much you want to do…i.e. hobby, commercial, professional, etc.

I think a lot of people here started small and just added, added, added and added…



My main PC is pretty much what you describe.


Well, this thread here is the one you want to look at if you’re checking out other ntracker’s studios:

This one here!

Me, I think I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got. I certainly don’t do enough to justify any more gear all truth be told, although like women, there’s always something to think nice thoughts about.

AMD XP2100+ at 2400+, spire whisperrock cooler.
ASUS a7n8x rev 1.6 MB
1 gig ram
6600GT vid card. Bit noisy, I might put the GF4ti4800se with passive cooling back on.
2x 40 gig HDs, 1x 160gig HD, all seagate.

The PC is fine, no upgraded currently needed there.

Hercules FW 16/12 interface
Alto 4 channel compressor/limiter
Berry patchbay
Berry 2442-fx pro desk.
Yorkville YSM1i monitors.

2 x peavey 480i sd condensors
1 x atm-25
1 x sm57, 1x sm58
1 x EV nd 308a
1 x NT1
1x AT pro4L, 1x At pro6L, 3x Samson R21 dynamics.
1 x berry Ultra-GI, 1 x Berry V-tone GDI-21

So, I’ve got enough desk mic channels to fill up my interface and record a live band properly. My mic collection is broad enough to cover most bases, and enough room treatment to keep most of it clean. I would like some sort of preamp with digital outs, maybe an ART DIO, and maybe a nice vocal or tube pre.

If I was to do it differently, I’d probably only change my interface as I’m still not sold on it. Maybe a Mackie Onyx, or maybe a good Allan+heath desk with some other interface. I dunno. I started out with a SB32 value edition, and moved up to an ISIS, and now I’m here.

Anyway, my gear’s good enough for now, and I’ve done plenty of stuff with lesser gear.

Come to think of it, if I had an interface with decent realtime monitoring I’d probably forego the desk and go straight though a couple of channels of mic pre like an ADA8000 or preferably better as well as a couple of dedicated strips and maybe a small (or large!) control surface.


As has already been stated, what you need depends on what you want to do. I am a lowly hobbyist (and a newbie at that), but, with some help from folks on this forum, I’ve been able to do what I need to do with a Celeron 1Ghz, 256MB RAM (recently upgraded to 512MB) and a SoundBlaster USB sound device. Granted, I’ve never recorded more than two tracks simultaneously, but I’ve mixed songs with up to 8 tracks and haven’t noticed any problems at all (once I got everthing set up correctly).

I’m not saying I would recommend such lowly hardware. If you can afford better, go for it. But my point is, you don’t need much at all to get started.

My jig is pretty simple, but plenty adequate, generally. My PC would like a P4, but I’m running a Celeron 2GHz presently, with 512MB DDR RAM at 400fsb. The Hard Drive is a Maxtor ATA 133, 80 GB, partitioned. The whole PC was made by a friend, for about $700. The rest:

-ATI Rage 128 video card w/ new drivers (thanks Phoo, for the heads-up);
-Tascam US-428 soundcard/surface controller: $500.00 21/2 years ago, now $300;
-Tascam M-30 mixer, for the preamps and extra busses, & I/O, to the US-428: $76.00+ shipping on ebay;
-Studiomaster 12/2 mixer, for Phantom Power: $125.00 on clearance;

Mics & pre’s:

-SM57’s (approx. $75 ea);
-Studio Projects B3 ($159.00 ebay);
-MXL V63M (&60.00);
-AT4030a (got in trade);
-AT871R Boundary mic (for kick drum, $20.00 ebay!);
-Sennheiser Pro-Fi-Power 453 (2, in trade);
-Art Tube MP ($45.00 ebay);
-Presonus TubePre ($99.00);
-Oddball ass’tment of cheep dynamics for fun.

This has taken me three years to pull together. I do it part-time, officially, for my own and some others’ edification. The idea was left me as sort of a legacy by an old friend, now having left our immediate presence, and I have pursued it with vigor, to the sometime consternation of my wife! :;):

First, you don’t need a rocket computer to do great audio. You want a solid, dependable one – meaning, good motherboard rather than a fly-by-night no-brand thing. Other than that, I bet anything sold today should be fine.

However, get plenty of RAM. Don’t buy it with the computer: buy a computer with the minimum memory (typically 256M these days) and buy memory yourself to bring it up to 1GB, or more if you wish. 512M is the least I’d recommend. Once you choose the computer, post back here with the details and we’ll be happy to help you order memory if you’re not sure how. Buying it yourself will save you at least $200 – the prices OEMs charge for packing memory into new computers is almost criminal.

Take a quick read of this article I wrote a couple years ago. The Behringer mixer model number has changed but otherwise it’s still valid. The article is geared to someone with less knowledge than you already seem to have, and towards internet music collaboration in addition to just home recording. But it still might be worth looking over.

I believe that it’s best to start with relatively little gear, learn what you can do with that gear (including finding its limitations) and adding slowly, so you get to use the heck out of each new item. Here’s what I’d recommend for the cheapest but still decent startup system. There’s lots of flexibility and feel free to substitute a better item for any of these – this is really just a minimum.

If your computer has a built-in soundcard with a stereo line input (as most do), you can start out using that for recording. I recorded about half the tracks for my CD (visit my website below to hear it) using the built-in soundcard on my laptpop (which was just a 750MHz unit, btw). If you’re at all serious you’ll definitely want to upgrade to a quality 24-bit soundcard, but might as well start simple and give yourself time to sort out all the options (and there are many, many). If it doesn’t have a built-in, consider getting a SoundBlaster Live card for starters, since it’s cheap (especially if you get it used on ebay). Alternatively, go straight for a quality soundcard. But even with a quality soundcard, it’s convenient to have something like an SBLive due to its built-in MIDI synth (soundfont player). Most high end cards don’t, with the notable exception of the Audigy which is a decent card and very affordable.

While it’s nice to have an acoustic with built-in pickup, that’s usually a poor way to record acoustic. Only very expensive pickups (usually, dual-element ones having one contact pickup and one internal mike) sound much like an acoustic guitar. I listen to a lot of home recorded music, and believe me, the internal pickup sound just screams “amateur”. So, I bet you’ll want a mike to record your guitar. (Sometimes you can record both mike and pickup and blend to get a great sound.) For starters, I recommend a mike like a Shure SM58 (if you’ll be recording vocals) or SM57 (if you won’t). Or one of the clones, to save $50 or more – folks here can steer you to a good clone. These are “cardioid dynamic” mikes. “Cardiod” means unidirectional, and “dynamic” means they don’t need power. The difference between the two is that the SM58 has a ball-head to serve as pop screen, and the SM57 doesn’t. Either can be used for the other’s purpose, but if you’re going to do any singing I’d recommend one with a ball head.

Any serious home recorder will want more than one mike, but almost any studio will have at least one mike like the above two, and even if you spend thousands of dollars on mikes, you’ll continue to use this starter mike quite frequently.

Another option for first mike, especially if you have a bigger budget, is a good all-purpose large-diaphram condensor mike, like Rode NT1-A ($200) or a Studio Projects B1 ($100). Either of these will make the acoustic guitar sound better (though I used SM57 to mike the acoustic guitars on my CD).

If you have a mike, you need a mike preamp, and the cheapest and most versatile solution is a small mixer like the Behringer UB802 for $50. (Don’t get the 502, because it doesn’t have “phantom power”, which you’ll need if you ever get a condenser mike.) Another option is the AudioBuddy, which has two preamps for $80. However, I’d skip the AB and get a Studio Projects VTB-1 preamp ($100, single preamp). And I’d still recommend a little mixer because they’re handy, and you’ll want more than one preamp (just as you want more than one mike). So I say start with the little mixer and work up to standalone preamps.

That leaves monitors for mixing. I don’t know much about brands & products for “home-studio-quality” monitoring (I’m doing without decent monitors, actually). Radio Shack used to sell a nifty little speaker you could use starting out, and then later as a comparison monitor, but I can’t find them at their site any more. (The famous “mini mouses”, made by Optimus.) Hopefully other folks will help you here.

You also need headphones for monitoring while recording. The quality here is unimportant (other than for your enjoyment), but comfort is important beause you can have them on for long periods. I have a pair of wireless headphones that I really like because I’m not “strapped down”. I got mine on sale; normally they’re not cheap unfortunately.


Hmmm… interesting thread. I’ll echo what some of the others have said. A good stable PC, a sequencer that’s easy to use and good quality, (n-Track) a decent sound card and a small mixer or mic pre will get you a long ways for one man band type stuff.

My rig -

AMD AthlonXP 3200+ on ASUS A7V600 mobo, 1 GB RAM, Matrox G450 video card
2 x WD 80 GB, 8MB cache PATA hard drives
1 x Lite-On DVD burner
1 x HP LightScribe DVD burner

EMU 1820M Soundcard/Interface
Behringer ADA8000 ADAT enabled 8 channel mic pre

2 AT 2020 LD condenser mics
2 AT 2021 SD condenser mics
1 CAD M177 LD condenser mic
2 Shure SM57’s
2 SM58 "no name clones"
1 CAD 7 piece Drum mic kit - OK but not great IMO.

Event TRS8 Active monitors
Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones

Yamaha PSR- summat a nuther keyboard
Various geetars and geetar junk

Lotsa fun to be had flying solo and I can do full band recordings when the need arises. (Which is getting to be quite often!)


PS My son had a Tascam US-122 USB interface thats pretty sweet. He uses it on an Athlon 1700 based PC and I occasionally borrow it for location stuff with a laptop. Neat unit for < 200 clams. Has phantom power for mics, 2 ins, 2 outs plus MIDI.

I forgot to add I’m using Fostex PM 0.5 active monitors. $299 for the pair.

Learjeff appears to be right on the money with the starting out thing, as well as a hundred other aspects of all this business. I’d have done a few things differently this time, if I could do it over. Especially with the PC!

I had a friend build it, and we actually had trouble communicating about what I wanted in the machine after I’d done some homework(he wouldn’t listen to me!). It’s my fault, I should have told him to bugger off, and gotten more qualified help… but I was on my own with it, was pretty ‘broke’, didn’t have regular internet access at the time, etc. It does work! But the P4 will be an upgrade, and stop the program from it’s closing on me occasionally, I think.

Get your advice and stick to it, I think.

Yeah…I’m still adding. I forgot to mention I really like my Sennheiser headsets and they were dirt cheap - new on e-bay. Next addition is probably another monitor (screen).
This is like answering “what are the best strings for my guitar?” ha ha


Wow, everyone has given me a lot to think about. Learjeff, you raise some great points. Has anyone looked at sony101.com, they have a lecture (course) on “Record Music into Your PC” posted today for “Turn Your PC Into a Recording Studio” at Sony 101. They are covering some basics.

I am not up on all the equipment names, but I am taking on a hobby approach and hopefully over time being able able to experiment. So I am just trying to ask people are that are recording in their basements and posting to the internet and looking around at what is on the web. Are there any good books or magazines that cover these topics? The Community College used to have courses on producing (if that is the correct name), but have not seen it in the catalogs for awhile.

This stuff seems to change so fast, product-wise, it makes sense to just keep an earth-bound approach to learning the basics; like signal-flow, the essential components for getting into your PC, and how to get good, usable signal to disc (or tape).

There are some good books, like “The Recording Studio Handbook”, by John Woram. It’s out of print, but if you can fuind it used, you might find a good base reference. It’s very analog, but there’s your principles for all the sound processing gadgetry and signal-flow.

Having said that, I’m considered to be a newbie, especially with the digital approach…

I believe there is a good start-up article at Audio Minds

You will have to reach ‘the end of the internet’ before you stop learning. Like most things, master the basics first and you will go far.

Quote (g8torcliff @ Dec. 01 2005,07:27)
Granted my stuff is not great but my "studio" does what I want.

Give it time... you'll get hooked like the rest of us. :;):

Does two or three hours a night qualify as hooked?
Good thing this home studio wasn’t a possibility back in the day…I would never have left home.
After my 3 months of asking about how to use MIDI, I have a project going on now that has nearly a dozen MIDI tracks.
OT: I realize that my softsynth has 16 channels. So until I use all of those channels, there is really no reason to add another Synth mixer?

weebee jammin’