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Sound Advice

Setting Up the Digital Home Studio by Alister Sutherland

So, you’re finally gonna ditch that smelly old 4 track cassette recorder (or whatever you currently use) and plunge headlong into a digital recording environment. Should be easy, right? Just spend the bucks to get the right system, hook it all up and go. The good news is this is basically right. There are, however, some differences in techniques from analog when recording digitally, some of which I’ll cover here.

The most essential part is right at the beginning, choosing the system that best suits your needs and budget. These days there seems to be reams of digital systems out there. If you want to make great sounding material and get the most out of what you buy, there are some criteria I would recommend as required features.

One is that the system does not automatically compress the audio files (this is not like dynamic audio compression, but rather a way of reducing the large size of audio files by throwing away part of them). Some ‘porta-studio’ like disk -based systems do this and they are therefore unsuitable for making CD quality recordings.

Another is that the system be able to record at 16 bit, 44.1kHz or higher and be expandable. The number of channels and tracks you can record and playback will depend on the system and your budget, but I would suggest no fewer than 4 ins and outs (I/O) and at least 8 simultaneous tracks of playback. By the way, in a hard disk recorder (HDR), unlike analog, the number of physical I/O’s (things you plug into) have nothing to do with the number of tracks you can play. A system could have only stereo out but play back 30 or more stereo tracks. Of course, the number of inputs you have will limit the number of simultaneous tracks you can record.

Alister Sutherland is a Toronto-based musician, producer, entrepreneur and educator. A partner in CreamWare US Inc., a company that designs and manufactures computer-based digital audio workstations, he is an expert with computers, music and technologies.

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