I have access to the majority of audio software like various versions of Cakewalk etc etc but simply loading some of this then buying a USB guitar interface for Ã‚Â£8.95 sounds too easy to me - it must be more expensive/difficult than that to record & mix my guitar, bass and SR-16 or nobody would sell workstation hardware surely..? What am I missing here guys? Buzz.
Well, buzzy, I suspect the market for DAW stuff isn't what it used to be, for exactly the reason you mention.
You don't even really need a USB interface. We've discussed "guerrilla recording" before, using the mic input direct to the soundcard of the PC, with freeware recording software like Audacity. I haven't tried it, but it apparently works OK as long as you watch the levels closely.
But really, the differences in recording gear come down to features, ease of use, and the ability to work with multiple inputs and multiple tracks.
While you can record with just a USB device, if you're going to be doing quite a bit of work at your PC, you may come to appreciate some of the extra bells and whistles.
I don't do a lot of recording, but I use a Lexicon Alpha USB recording interface. It was about $70 USD when I got it about 4 years ago, so not hugely expensive, but it has a whole lot more flexibility than those USB guitar rigs. And it came bundled with Steinberg Cubase LE 4 plus some Lexicon reverb plug-ins, so all-in-all I thought it was a pretty good deal.
It has two channels, and it will take either an instrument input or a balanced XLR input, so it works seamlessly with guitars, mics, whatever. Each channel has individual level controls, so one can set levels before the signal gets processed. It also has a headphone output with a separate level control, so one can monitor what's happening pre-software, with "no" latency. It has separate monitor outputs, in stereo, so one can run a set of monitors off the unit, separate from one's computer speakers.
These are all handy features to have, although strictly speaking, they don't make a digital recording sound any better. But I find that, at a minimum, I "need" that headphone out feature, it makes life a lot easier.
And, after struggling to get a decent sound going into the digital end of things, I've come to appreciate the XLR input, as I find myself miking an amp more and more, rather than just plugging in via USB. I've found the digital amp sims and VST plug-ins work best with adding distortion and layering on the effects, but if one wants a clean tone, without the digital "sterility", there's no substitute for miking an amp, IMO.
Again, I'm strictly an amateur. A Pro could probably tell you all the reasons why an expensive DAW is just the thing to have. Mostly, it comes down to how easy it is to manipulate multiple tracks- just recording your guitar is one thing, but recording a whole band is another.
I think, perhaps, the reason most people use an interface, is because the AD/DA conversion results are better. Most built in sound card converters are designed for gaming rather than use with a DAW. Bear in mind that a good DAW can be set to quite a high audio quality (even though you will probably mix down to CD quality levels, in the end).
I often use an effect pedal (switched off) when going direct to the 'puter input, I'm told it gives better level matching for line inputs. But I'm not sure about that.
That said, if you are happy with your results, you're good to go.
As newey posted above, you can record your guitar/amp tone by careful mic use. Also, if you have one, you can use your amp's line out to feed signal to the 'puter. The benefit there is being able to record silently, but you won't get the speaker sound recorded, of course.
Personally, I have a LINK firewire interface into my Peavey mixer (to distribute the sounds) which is connected to my monitor system and 2 computers. So, all my inputs are to the mixer, then through the LINK and off to the computer.
Anyway, have fun recording!!
Plug it in turn it up and play it 'til something breaks!
So you're saying I could plug the emulated line out from my Marshall (or even just the output from my pedal board) into the mic socket of my computer and, if the sound card/chips are up to it, it may allow me to record onto the HDD using something simple like Anvil etc?
This would be great as all I want to do is make backing tracks and for song writing so it's just basic multiple-track mixing down to stereo for burning to a CD. I'm not looking to do much more than level, pan, punch and maybe add a bit of reverb here and there..
I would use the line in rather than the mic. It will have more headroom and avoid the unnecessary extra gain of the mic preamp. Note that this is usually a 3.5mm (1/8") TRS (stereo) jack. You only need one side usually for mono recording, though you can use them as separate inputs in most DAWs to record two sources at a time.
The thing with the pedal is not about level, but about impedance. The inputs on the computer are very low for a passive guitar pickup, and you'd lose a lot of treble connecting your guitar directly to them. This can sometimes be an advantage if you don't have any other form of speaker emulation. But since you're going into the computer, there are all kinds of better ways to knock off that top end. So, we usually want to get all the treble we can into the machine and have finer control over what we throw away. The buffer in the non-true-bypass pedal accomplishes this by presenting a healthy in-Z for the pickups, with a very low out-Z to drive the computer ins.
All of that said, there are a number of benefits to an external interface. I don't honestly believe that the cheaper units must use exactly the same ADC/DAC as you'd get in an on-board soundcard. But all of the analog circuitry is outside of the computer case, and theoretically better isolated from any of the EM noise flying around inside the case.
I guess the 800 pound gorilla in the room is how much do you want to spend to pull this off? Some folks prefer going direct in. Playing bass I have found that this leads to a very sterile tone. Results vary, but for me...and perhaps this defaults back to my ancient analog days...I prefer to mic everything.
Others here will offer their preferred interfaces, but for me I have had the most success with the M-Audio Delta 1010LT sound card.
"Full Features 8 x 8 analog I/O 2 mic preamps or line inputs S/PDIF digital I/O (coaxial) with 2-channel PCM SCMS copy protection control digital I/O supports surround-encoded AC-3 and DTS pass-through 1 x 1 MIDI I/O directly drive up to 7.1 surround (bass management software included) software controlled 36-bit internal DSP digital mixing/routing +4dbu/-10dBV operation individually switched in software word clock I/O for sample accurate device synchronization"
This card is compatible with any respectable sequencer app and does a seamless job on your .vsti plugins.
I also use the audio outs to tie into an integrated amp to allow multiple mixing options through two speaker setups as well as headphones.
Granted, this is not an under $10.00 option. I also run an older AKG mic through an old Carvin mic preamp into the card. I can honestly say that this setup gives me just what I hear in the room, so if your tone relies on the amp, cabinet, stomp boxes, rack effects or the room itself you won't have to "settle" for the DI input and hope you can save it with plugins in the mix.
Again, YMMV and opinions vary on the subject.
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Im using the line-in on the standard 5+1 sound card of a 5 year old pc. I use a good mic into an analog mixer ahead of that. I can record two channels at once so it might be vocal and guitar or miced guitar and line out from amp.
Im not aware of any lack of audio quality. But a powerfull external unit could give more versatility and more channels
I think its well worth having some actual external knobs to adjust rather than just a Usb adapter with no controls. Even a very small mixer by Behringer is fairly good quality and tbese days they have usb as well.
Most processors also can act as a usb interface then you dont need an amp. But i think the miced amp sound is the way to go and at least a reasonable quality mic on a stand to hold it is the key piece of hardware.
So you're saying I could plug the emulated line out from my Marshall (or even just the output from my pedal board) into the mic socket of my computer...?
No, as ashcatlt says, you are best to use the line- in.
So, it seems the cheapest set up would be with what you have at hand. Take your signal from the Marshall line-out and put it direct into the line-in of your computer. You could also try using the line-out of your pedal board, for a different sound, or using a mic in front of your Marshall's speaker (the mic would go into your computer's mic input). The last option will give you a truer signal of your 'live' guitar/amp sound. Me, I prefer the last option, along with JohnH.
Upgrading from there is quite easy, should you feel the need.
Plug it in turn it up and play it 'til something breaks!
Here is what i managed to acheive pretty quickly using AmpKit on my iPhone, other Apps and Phones are available, its alright, nothing particuarly amazing tone wise. However it does sound alright with a few guitars going and I have paid more then £20 for recordings that sounded worse.