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#1November 14th, 2007 · 02:53 AM
64 threads / 13 songs
669 posts
United States of America
Recording On The Cheap
On my last track, the issue of my recording setup came up, and it was remarked at the relatively good recording quality I have achieved with a modest budget.  I figured I'd give a rundown of a $200 setup that will suffice for most situations, is easily upgradeable, and doesn't require a tech guru to operate.  I don't have everything on the list, but I can vouch for what I do have.

At the most basic level, you are going to need an audio interface.  Higher-end audio interfaces have built-in "mixers", but since we are going to be on the cheaper end of the pond, we'll also need a mixer.  Since we are going to find ourselves plugging directly into the mixer, we will be using a DI (direct input) box for instruments (guitars, basses and keyboards) and a microphone.  We'll round it off with the required cables and a useful mic stand.

Please note a few things: I am not endorsing Musician's Friend; I have used them with some degree of success in the past, and the prices I've listed here could change.  Also, on a more technical note, if you have an active instrument, you will want to replace the DI box here with a passive box, or spend more on one that can handle the extra load.  If you aren't careful, you could damage your equipment.

The setup is:

Behringer U-CONTROL UCA202 - $30
Audio Interface
This is the heart and soul, so to speak, of the entire operation.  The USB-powered interface is very simple, and, with some tweaking, can provide zero-latency recording and very low latency real-time monitoring, even under heavy load.  The interface records and outputs in stereo.  This has the additional advantage of secretly being two tracks of simultaneous recording: more likely than not, you will be recording instruments and sounds in mono.  Pan a channel left and right and record using the mono channel and you can record, for example, vocals and guitar simultaneously.

Behringer Xenyx 502 - $45
Mixer
The mixer I've chosen has direct RCA tape input and output: this means we can easily--without using patch conversion cables--connect to our audio interface.  The mixer serves as the hub for instruments.  It is quite simple, but each channel has pan controls, the master channel has an XLR input (note: this mixer does not provide phantom power) and a 2-band equalizer.  The mixer has some other nice features for down the road: balanced line out for connecting to studio monitors and balanced line inputs for recording a stereo source.

ART ARTcessories Xdirect Professional - $36
Direct Input Box
A DI box serves as not only a preamp of sorts, but fixes problems such as hum and gain loss due to long cables.  It also converts a high-impedance signal into a low-impedance signal.  You will plug all instruments into this.  Remember, do not plug in an active instrument into this box unless you know what you are doing

Behringer XM8500 - $20
Microphone
While not the greatest microphone in the world, for the price, this is a solid and reasonable microphone.  It's a simple dynamic microphone, and is popular for users on a budget.  Because of the cost, build and durability of the microphone, you don't have to be too gentle with it.

CAD EPF-15A 6-Inch - $19
Pop Filter
If you are planning on recording vocals, a pop filter is an absolute necessity.  Not only does is clean up and improve your recordings, it also keeps the electronics of your microphone safe.  As long as you do nothing to the filter, this should last forever, and will be useful for any mic you use.  It has a nice goose neck that attaches to the boom of a microphone stand for convenient positioning.

Musician's Friend Tripod Mic Stand with Telescoping Boom - $17
Mic stand
While I am not advocating spending $100 on a microphone stand, there are certain features which I feel are extremely useful, and a telescoping boom is one of them.  The construction of the stand is not stellar, so it is a little fragile, but with even minor care, this should last a long time.

Musicians Gear Lo-Z XLR Microphone Cable - $9 x 2 = 18
XLR Cable (6-foot)
There's not a whole lot to say: 6-foot XLR cables.  You'll need two: one from the microphone to DI box, and one from the DI box to the mixer.  These are a weak link: they aren't the highest quality cable money can buy, and probably the first upgrade you may want to perform to the setup is pay for the highest-quality cables you can afford (remember, price isn't everything).

Musicians Gear Braided Instrument Cable 1/4" - $6
Instrument Cable (10-foot)
Again, not a lot to say.  This will be plugged into guitars, basses etc.  Similarly to the XLR cables, these should be upgraded first.

AV Link Dual RCA-RCA Cable - $8.50 x 2 = $17
RCA Cable (6-foot)
Unlike the instrument and XLR cables, these are of high quality.  They will connect the mixer and interface for recording and monitoring.

Our grand total is: $30 + $45 + $36 + $20 + $19 + $17 + $18 + $6 + $17 = $208

The total is higher than I would have liked.  That's partially because I couldn't find my RCA cables on Musician's Friend (they cost a fraction of the ones I have listed here).  The mixer could be replaced for something cheaper, as could the DI box.  In fact, the DI box could be foregone completely, further reducing an XLR cable, dropping the cost down almost $50.

The setup is extremely versatile: I record DI into my mixer and run my guitar through various effects plug ins to get the sound I want.  I can jam along to tracks on my computer.  It lacks the convenience of a hard-wired combo amp, but is more versatile than many stomp-boxes and needs far less batteries.

As you can see, you don't need thousands or even several hundred dollars.  With a very modest budget you can begin recording quite well for yourself.  Upgrades can be made everywhere you need without impacting the overall system, but I would suggest getting a dedicated microphone preamp, a nice condenser microphone (which may run you more than the cost of the entire system), and cheapest of all: superior cables.  Nevertheless, at the end of the day, as long as the music is good enough, slightly sub par recording isn't going to kill anyone.

I hope this came in useful to some people, and I'd love to hear any suggestions and changes you guys would make to this.  I have all of the above except for the DI box.  Does anyone use a setup similar to this?

Edited for typos and formatting.
#2November 14th, 2007 · 11:19 AM
119 threads / 27 songs
1,374 posts
United States of America
Hey, I'm glad to see that you did this up for this forum--- you've got a good head on your shoulders, both to use the setup you're suggesting, and then to in turn post it for others to see.  This is one of the more useful posts I've read in this section, in my opinion, since it's directly aimed at the lower-budget users who need to get their recording done just as much as anybody else, plus it's condense and doesn't require the reader to go off adventuring on his own research to arrive to your conclusion here.

When I posted stuff about my junk, I ought to qualify that the reason I spent as much money as I did on that mixer of mine was because of it's many inputs that I could balance individually.  It was useful to me at the time since I was also recording for the band of the time.  If I could do it over again, I'd go after something more like what you've posted here, both because of price and (yet, good) functionality for a small operation.  I'd rather do the balancing while single-tracking instruments rather than having them all go off at the same time.  It's a better recording strategy, anyway :P

Good stuff--- glad you posted.

TLS
#3November 14th, 2007 · 12:54 PM
64 threads / 13 songs
669 posts
United States of America
Thanks TLS, I am glad you found this useful.  I wish Gear Talk would get a little more traffic, because I feel a lot of people could benefit from learning about the budget-conscious end of the home recording market.  You don't need to spend $2000 to record well.
#4November 15th, 2007 · 08:51 AM
50 threads
259 posts
United States of America
Thanks this is a GREAT setup and in fact like you said it could be cheaper stil!!! lol
but i was wondering are there any *cough*FREE*cough*  cubase programs out there
(newer versions) Im on a REAL tight bugdet till i can get a job. (some stupid kid labor law or sumthin)
but till then i need something to record with and im kinda tired of fruity loops its GREAT dont
get me wrong but its more of an electronica/techno/rave kinda program I have no
use for most the stuff and it just confuses me more cubase looks cool and i want to give it a try so....
if you could link me up AVI!!
#5November 15th, 2007 · 09:37 AM
64 threads / 13 songs
669 posts
United States of America
SS, I'm glad this was helpful to you, but don't ask and expect people to link to and condone piracy on a public forum.
#6November 15th, 2007 · 04:23 PM
5 threads / 5 songs
590 posts
United Kingdom
great post avi, good call. i found it very useful cos im planning to buy a very similair setup myself.

everythings soo much more epensive in the UK though.  

good stuff

Ian
#7November 15th, 2007 · 05:53 PM
64 threads / 13 songs
669 posts
United States of America
Glad it was useful for you Ian.  I am sure you can find a similar site to musiciansfriend.com if you tried.  You should see how much they charge for shipping internationally to the UK, anyway.
#8November 16th, 2007 · 08:49 AM
50 threads
259 posts
United States of America
ooo yea im sorry i ment for a trial period!!! im gonna buy it now.... but thanks anyway
#9March 2nd, 2011 · 02:01 AM
1 posts
United States of America
I know this thread is old but hopefully some one will read this and help me out.
If I wanted to use this set up would I need to install a new sound card into my computer?
#10March 2nd, 2011 · 02:11 PM
340 threads / 59 songs
4,344 posts
United Kingdom
ricosuave wrote…
I know this thread is old but hopefully some one will read this and help me out.
If I wanted to use this set up would I need to install a new sound card into my computer?
Wouldn't it be just great if Avi were to answer you ........ alack, Avi is apparently a very successful iter in the mean time.
So what kind of audio card do you have now installed in your system ?
#11March 2nd, 2011 · 11:10 PM
64 threads / 13 songs
669 posts
United States of America
Hahaha, hello, Kings!

@ricosuave: It doesn't matter what your soundcard is. The UCA202 is essentially the "sound card" in this operation. It is a stereo USB interface with in/out that goes into your mixer. A computer sound card in the traditional sense is really not required here at all. Just USB.
#12April 27th, 2011 · 10:38 AM
38 threads / 11 songs
278 posts
Canada
avinashv wrote…
Hahaha, hello, Kings!

@ricosuave: It doesn't matter what your soundcard is. The UCA202 is essentially the "sound card" in this operation. It is a stereo USB interface with in/out that goes into your mixer. A computer sound card in the traditional sense is really not required here at all. Just USB.

A computer sound-card can work in a pinch but the noise floor is usually ridiculously high (due to the fact it's almost always located inside the computer close to other electronic interference and stuff) and also the number of possible sample and input rates doesn't have much variance (usually you can only get 16-bit 41k or maybe 48k).
#13April 27th, 2011 · 10:39 AM
38 threads / 11 songs
278 posts
Canada
I use my computer's built-in sound card all the time because it's just so handy.

I have a UCA too though.  Saving up for a TASCAM 8-track usb soundcard.
#14July 19th, 2011 · 01:26 PM
5 threads
17 posts
United States of America
Very useful information!  This is a great read for anybody trying to get into recording.
#15August 23rd, 2011 · 02:50 AM
1 posts
United States of America
Hey Avi,
       I was just wondering what you meant by an active instrument. Would that have to do with the pickups? I've got a PRS Tremonti SE, with the stock pickups. Should I be fine?
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