It does not matter if your interest is creatiing your own original music, cover music or compiling your music collection, a dedicated “Home Studio” space is good enough with today’s audio technology that’s available at a so affordable cost.
So, then how do we get our sounds via the computer? When you have the right tools, its no harder than using a cassette recorder. I’m going to get your head on straight so you can make some good decisions for your future rig. There are 5 common approaches here, and we’ll talk about each briefly.
Use your onboard Sound device
A cheap sound card, like the one that comes with your PC that only has 1/8″ MIC and LINE inputs poses a problem right away. You will have to use a cheap mic to connect to the little 1/8 inch phone jack, and you’ll need a little adapter (1/4″ to 1/8″) to connect the guitar to the MIC in. (be careful to keep you guitar at very low volume). If you have a direct box or a pedal, connect that to the LINE IN. You also connect your synths to the Line In, again, with the 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter. As you might guess, this is not a very good solution. The Mic preamps often have hiss noise, usually worse than an old cassette deck. The DACS are poor on these cards and the cables are always falling out of the jacks due to the weight of the adapters. Also you will find yourself always plugging and unplugging stuff in this very inaccessible area.
The classic solution here is to get a small mixer that lets you connect the mixer output to the LINE IN jacks on the soundcard. The Mixer will let you use better microphones with XLR jacks and will have better clearer sounding preamps. Also a Mixer will be able to boost the guitar signal just right, making it easy to use pedals and all the cool guitar gadgets you might have. I call this the Mixer/Soundcard approach.
A third way to connect audio sources to a computer is with an audio interface, which 100% replaces all the functions of a soundcard, with mixer-quality mic preamps and line inputs and outputs.
The PreSonus Firebox is an example of an inexpensive audio interface that has Mic Preamps and line ins and outs. It also has MIDI i/o.
Some of these come with PCI cards and others with Firewire or USB2.0 interfaces. You don’t need another soundcard if you have an audio interface–it is your soundcard. If you get one with Mic preamps, you don’t need a mixer. We will call this the “mixerless” approach.
Soundcard-less Approach (Mixer with integrated audio interface)
A fourth way to connect your audio sources to a computer is to get one of the newer type analog mixers that have a firewire port, or one of the many control surface/digital mixer/midi interface boards that use firewire. You don’t need a soundcard or an audio interface with these devices. I tend to call this the “soundcard-less” approach.
The Onyx. A full function analog mixer, when equipped with the optional firewire card, does not need a soundcard
MultiTrack Recorder Approach
A final and fifth method is an alternative to the computer midi and audio sequencer for those who don’t want to mess with computers that much. It is the dedicated standalone multi-track recorder. You basically do all your work on the recorder, not on the computer, but can use its built in interface (usually USB) to port files over to the computer for editing or whole songs over after the mix.
Having all that above understanding in mind and you have found your way into and out of your Digital recording equipments, so, its now the time to find a program to store and playback your sounds. Most audio recording computers come with audio programs pre-installed. Its a must idea to try this out before you venture into the larger and more complicated professional software. If your computer comes with no audio recording programs, download “Audacity”. It’s a fun audio recording program complete with music loops and various rhythm tempo’s. So when you had success with the free software programs, you may want to look further into the more powerful audio recording programs. The most advanced and popular programs are “Pro-Tools”, “Cubase”, “Apple-Logic” and “Cakewalk”. Your personal taste and budget will guide you to the program that best suits you. The advantage of the powerful programs is that it has higher audio quality interfaces for professional jobs.