Nowadays, with a small investment you can set up your own "home recording studio". An Apple computer with a Mac OS operating system or a PC with Windows will be the center piece. This kind of computer-based platform for production and recording is known technically as a D.A.W. (Digital Audio Workstation). A good functional home studio requires the following essential items: production software, recording software, a sound card and a USB/MIDI keyboard. Optional equipment might include microphones, speakers, MIDI control surfaces and/or plug-ins to integrate with the main software, sample libraries and, if required, external hardware.
Mac or PC? This is the classic question people ask when setting up a recording studio or a computer-based workstation. In fact, the question should be "Apple or PC?" People tend to confuse the operating system with the computer, i.e. the hardware. From a hardware point of view, with the introduction of Intel processors, the Apple platform actually became a PC; a very well configured PC. One of Apple's selling points is the standardization of its components which means you can avoid the complications of hardware incompatibility that you would have with PCs, especially with laptops or low end computers. In setting up a PC/Windows computer-based workstation you should select only good quality components, or go to specialist centres or musical instruments stores. The most reliable laptops are SONY VAIO or Toshiba it is worth paying a little extra for a better product. Nowadays, generally speaking, a good laptop requires the following components to produce music: a video card with its own RAM, at 7200 rpm(laptop hard disks often have 5400 rpm, cf. theMAC) or solid memory masses, min 4 GB RAM (8 GB is recommended), Intel core CPU, preferably i7, and the number and type of ports you need for your external hardware connections (USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt, etc). Speaking about a Windows/PC machine, the chipset must also be Intel. As you can see the components are similar to those installed in a Mac. With the rapidly changing market and constant upgrading it would be pointless for me to advise on specific components, models or brands; however, I can say which laptops work well with audio applications. If they are no longer available, you can compare their features with the new models.
SOME RECOMMENDED LAPTOPS
The MacOS is without a doubt much simpler, less complex, and has the big advantage over Microsoft Windows, of allowing you to revert to more recent operating systems without having to start from scratch, but simply by updating the software (OS, programmes, plug-ins, etc…), and the hardware drivers. If you use Windows the software needs to be completely reinstalled with every OS upgrade. Windows 7 has significantly improved its performance and stability levels in the last few years, but even with the default settings it requires some technical intervention in the system configuration and optimization phases. For further information see the article on operating system configuration/optimization.
In collaboration with EKO MUSIC GROUP S.P.A. (a leading distributor in recording studio, DJing, and M.I. market in Italy) I will illustrate here four kinds of workstation, from entry level to pro level, to give you an idea (computer aside) of how to set up a home recording studio, a project studio or a pro studio, within acceptable budget limits. These are general ideas to guide you towards the realization of your computer-based production and recording workstation. You may like to deepen your knowledge of the topic by reading the articles in the "Tips and Tricks" section of the "Music and Tech" part of this site. In the following examples no software will be named as there is an article dedicated to the subject of software. However, be aware that with medium-low range sound cards or MIDI/USB keyboards, LE versions of software (Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, Pro Tools, etc) are included. This software has its limits but it does allow you to take your first steps towards understanding the program, making your first sound recordings, and, if integrated with sample libraries and virtual instruments (those not supplied with the software), it can be a good starting point for music production. Of course, the advantage of an “LE” version is that you can go online and buy the FULL versions directly from the producer's website at a good discount.
ENTRY LEVEL: 300/500 Euro
ENTRY LEVEL: 300/500€
An affordable workstation for starting out could be an Alesis I/O 2 Express interface (approx 100 euro), an Alesis QX49 controlled keyboard (approx 150€) and a pair of AlesisM1Active 520 speakers. This workstation will cost you about 500€, and to record with a microphone add a Fidelity BM700 (approx 100 Euro). To complete the set up add three cables: 2 jacks to connect the speakers, and an XLR for the mike. You could also save €200 by replacing the keyboard with an Alesis Q49 (save €50 on the no control version) and the speakers with a pair of M1 Active 320, or the AKAI PRO RPM3. If you wish to spend even less you could choose a smaller USB/MIDI keyboard such as Korg microKey, AKAI PRO LPK25, or the nanoKey by Korg.
INTERMEDIATE LEVEL, GOOD FOR HIP-HOP AND DANCE: 1000€
The quality and functionality increase with the price. An AKAI PRO EIE PRO sound card, togheter with an AKAI PRO MPK49 MIDI/USB keyboard and a pair of Alesis M1 Active 520 amplified speakers. This trio costs about €1000 and is a pretty good set up for recording and production. You could get a Fidelity BM700, un Fidelity S-1007 microphone to record with. To complete the picture, note that both the mikes are condensers, the first one is a cardioid pattern mike and the second is variable multi-pattern (cartiod, omnidirectional, figure 8).
INTERMEDIATE LEVEL (2ND OPTION) FOR DJs AND PRODUCERS: 1300€ (excluding speakers)
The MPC Renaissance represents the evolution of AKAI Professional's famous range of Music Production Centres used in many successful productions. This MIDI Controller with an integrated sound card comes supplied with dedicated software, complete with samples and virtual instruments. The software works both as stand alone software, or independently on Macs and PCs, and (thanks to VST Audio Unit compatibility) as a plug-in for the most commonly used DAWs used in music production: Ableton Live, Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic, ecc.. Once drivers are installed and the MPC Renaissance is connected to our computer via USB we can use a sound card with four inputs and four analog outputs (1/4" Jack), as well as a MIDI interface (2 in and 4 out on DIN standard connectors) for the connection of external hardware equipment (drum machine, synthesisers, etc.). The four inputs are split into two Mic/Line inputs on combo connectors (XLR and Jack), with a phantom power supply which may be activated if condenser microphones are used, and two on RCA pin connectors (L/R) for line and phono connection. Furthermore, the USB hub allows us to connect other MIDI controllers to our MPC Renaissance, for example, the Akai Professional MAX49 control surface/keyboard. For microphones and speakers use the options indicated for the other workstations.
ADVANCED LEVEL: PRO MULTI-TRACK RECORDING STUDIO
A professional setup can be created using an AKAI PRO MPK61 keyboard, a Universal Audio Apollo audio interface, a Fidelity S-1007 microphone and a pair of Focal CMS65 speakers. The total cost would be around 4/5000 € and we end up with an advanced level important multi-track setup, where the audio interface manages not only the recording with its inputs and outputs, but also acts as a signal processor for the better UAD plug-ins. This means we can apply high quality plug-ins both in the production and recording phases, without them overloading the CPU, which will remain free to be used in other operations and in other "native" plug-ins. For more information about Apollo click here.
The aim of this article is to give you an idea of some different computer-based setups for music production and recording. In order to show newcomers or those who want to expand/upgrade their studio (home or project) that there are various options. This is only the starting point of a manual that includes many other articles - see the links below - which take an in-depth look at the various components needed for a modern recording studio. If you like this article remember to share it on the social networks, and if you have any questions, or doubts, do not hesitate to write in the comments box below.
FOR MORE INFORMATION YOU CAN READ THESE ARTCLES
(CLICK ON THE LINKS)
MIDI keyboards, USB controllers, Control surfaces
DAW Software sequencers, Virtual Instruments, Plug-ins
Sound, loop, one shot libraries,
Speakers, studio monitors
Different microphones and their characteristics
Pre-amplifiers, Outboards, Hardware processors
Connections, connectors, cables
Acoustics and soundproofing
Audio system configuration
Connection standards: USB, FIREWIRE, THUNDERBOLT
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