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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Hey Hatrack, pimp my home studio (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Hey Hatrack, pimp my home studio
advice for robots
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Hey, Hatrack music gearheads--

I'm not trying to become the next Bon Iver. I just want to be able to plug various musical instruments into my computer and make decent-sounding recordings—or find the right microphone setup if I can't plug in directly.

Right now, I don't have anything approaching pro-quality equipment, either in my computer, my instruments, or my software. I have a fairly milquetoast Toshiba laptop with what turns out to be crummy sound capabilities. I have a Squier P-Bass, a Squier Strat, a digital piano, and a keyboard both with MIDI outs. I have a 4-track mixer from Radio Shack. And I have Magix Music Maker 17--which works fine for what I want to do as far as mixing right now, as long as I can get the sound in.

What I want to know is if it's possible, using these things and adding something like an external sound card and/or the right mic setup, to capture recordings without the latency issues and buzzing I'm getting right now. What I hope to do is plug my guitar directly into my comp, or through my amp into my comp, and use it for effects and live recording.

Can I get something like a Creative Labs or M-Audio device and be fairly set, or do I need more in the setup? Does anybody do this kind of thing, and if so, what's your setup like? Would I be better using mics rather than plugging in directly? Should I just give up and buy a new computer?

Thanks for any advice. I'm pretty blind when it comes to the tech side of music production.

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Orincoro
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It's not terribly expensive to set up a decent studio.

First, ditch the analogue mixer. They're only good for live performance, not for studio work. M-Audio makes a 2 and 4 input external soundcard with basic onboard mixer that is far superior to anything analogue, and it should interact seemlessly with Logic, or Cubase (both in the 200-300 dollar range).

Ditch Magix and buy something more powerful like one of the above, or ProTools- you should look at some videos to acquaint yourself with the various options, but Magix is low-end and not powerful enough in my opinion.

For a mic, depending on what you want to do, a mid-range condenser will fit your purposes, most of the time. Be aware that you need to know what you're doing when it comes to post-production, because a condenser will pick up *everything*, and it's your job to filter the input intelligently- this is where the more powerful software comes in handy- you need flexible channel settings and plenty of modules to work with. A dynamic mic will do better if you are not confident in your ability to do sound-design. What you're going to get out of a condenser, you will not like without knowing your software intimately, and the learning curve is relatively high compared to a basic program like GarageBand or Magix.

For post-production, depending entirely on how you are using the program and what degree of flexibility you need, you should have as much ram as you can get. Rendering 8 or 10 tracks at once, with changes in the strip settings and levels will consume a lot of memory, and particularly for someone just getting started, you aren't going to know how to structure a project and what your workflow should be to get the best results, so starting with as much memory as possible is a good idea. I currently have 16gigs of ram, and consider that necessary for my purposes (recording on the fly while layering up to 12 dynamic tracks). This means, for instance, that I can record into 10 or 12 different tracks at once, all with slightly different settings and modules to get the perfect mix, and be able to hear the input live without any delay, from all 12 tracks at once. This is important for what I do- it may not be for you, if you're not into very hard core granular composition. If however, you are recording into presets with relatively processor heavy reverb or other settings (filters, amp modules), the amount of processing power necessary is staggering.

Learning Logic or Cubase is a major time investment. Don't do it unless you're serious, because you will be frustrated and unproductive unless you start with the basics and learn the programs. I find that the more I explore the program (logic in my case), the more I get out of my work and the easier it is to be creative.

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advice for robots
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Thanks, Orincoro. I'm not looking to record more than 1 track at a time right now (unless there's a good reason to be recording more than 1 track when I'm laying down one instrument--you'll have to explain that to me). On the post-production side it would be nice to handle 8-10 tracks once I've recorded them and put them together, although I haven't had a problem yet with my current setup.

Once our band gets some decent recording equipment I'll want to be able to record into multiple tracks. But right now this is just me at home, one instrument at a time. I'm trying to get an idea of the hardware I'll need to add first.

I'm wondering whether I need a buttload of processing power and memory to handle the recording end of it easily, or if something like the M-Audio box plugged into my modest-speed laptop will be able to handle it.

One of the next purchases I was going to bite the bullet and make was some better software. But I figure if I can't get good sound in then it doesn't matter how nice my software is.

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Orincoro
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I don't know what you're using, but processing power is very important in your workflow and in recording if you don't want a bunch of overflows once you've put together a project and done all the post-processing you need. On the workflow side, ram is the difference between being able to bounce tracks into a stem or normalize or de-noise in a few minutes or in a few seconds. If it takes 15 seconds every time you want to fade in a track in the clip window, and keep in mind you might tweak that clip 10 times, and you might want to smooth out a vocal line that is 2 minutes long, it makes a difference. When I first started, even 7-8 years ago, there were processing elements that I could set and walk off to do other things because they took so long- and the process might crash the application. But these days ram and processor power have cut those tasks to moments. Also, read/write speeds on the hard drive make a difference in this as well.


As for recording into multiple tracks, if you're as OCD as I am, you clone any input 4-5 times with separate presets and monitor all of them to get the fullest sound you can manage, then copy the clip into the tracks and bounce them into a single track, then layer that on top of something else, after you've thinned it back out with other modules, for that "far away and close up, here and not here" type of sound. But that's just me.

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advice for robots
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Oh, ha, um. *scratches armpit* Yeah, no, at this point I mainly want to play and record through my computer without it getting fuzzy and broken up. Something that sounds decently like a guitar or bass and responds in realtime is my definition of acceptable right now. I think cloning the input and bouncing tracks is 2.0, or more likely it's 1.0 and I'm still in alpha testing.

So if I plug in an M-Audio box that's going to give me about what I need for the basic experience? Any other equipment I should be scouting around on Craigslist for?

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Orincoro
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I'm definitely in 2.0 territory, not to worry.

Give it a shot, and see what you get. It's entirely possible your processor is not fast enough to give you live play-through without a discernable delay. Until a few years ago, this was a technical impossibility for such devices, and for some computers, it still is.

You'll do well to also buy some M-audio or such like monitors to connect directly to your soundcard for auditioning recordings. This is important because the output of the device can be set above 44 MHZ (and in fact M-audio soundcards do capture sound at a higher bandwidth), so you won't get an idea of how the track is actually going to sound by auditioning it through headphones that have a level of responsiveness a midrange monitor set will not have.

That said, before doing a mixdown, *do* use a quality set of headphones, for example, Sony, Superlux, Energy, or Senheiser, in the 80-120 dollar range. This is one of your most important pieces of equipment, so don't skimp on it. I would actually buy a cheaper microphone to have quality headphones- if you can't really hear what the track has in it, then you'll never be able to record anything properly anyway.

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RivalOfTheRose
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Do you have a budget in mind?
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Emreecheek
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Yes to M-Audio.

Yes to Pro-tools.

And get lots of RAM, or you're in for much frustration.

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advice for robots
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As far as a budget, probably no more than $150 right now, if I get to spend any money at all. Which relegates me to the used goods bin and maybe only one passable piece of equipment. I'll have to build from there. That's why I'm wondering if an M-Audio style box would give me basically what I want. I don't want to bother with it if it won't.

I'd like some better software, of course, but like I said, first things first. I want to be able to get OK recording ability before I buy expensive software. No sense polishing a turd.

I have 4GB RAM and an AMD A6 quad-core processor 1.4 GHz (with Radeon HD Graphics!) on my laptop. Not really a media powerhouse, but it works great for typing. Dunno if it ever will handle realtime play-through. I was hoping the M-Audio box would do what my computer's crappy sound card couldn't, but if it's the CPU and nothing else, I'm probably out of luck.

I am still curious what your rigs consist of (in layman's terms) just so I can get a good idea of what to eventually aim for.

Orincoro, thanks for all the advice.

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El JT de Spang
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Two suggestions: either a Blue icicle (which is essentially a pre-amp that lets you plug XLR into USB)

http://www.bluemic.com/icicle/#/desc/

They run 40 bucks, but will only do single track and do not come with a recording program. I can personally vouch for Blue's stuff being universally great, although I should disclose that I'm endorsed by them.

Or, I'd just pick up a used mbox (2, mini, whatever) off of craigslist. These can be had for less than 150 bucks used, easily, and come with protools software. I use one of these for mixing and some light recording when I'm not at my studio at home. ProTools is the software platform that the vast majority of professional recordings are made on, so learning how to use a stripped down version of it is always a good idea.

I would NOT go with a soundcard solution.

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advice for robots
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Can't you use a device like the mbox or M-Audio Fast Track as an external soundcard as well? It seems like there are some advantages to doing that. I am leaning heavily toward the M-Audio option, as it seems to have everything I need, may be able to support my computer's sound processing a bit, and is expandable to more instruments.

Is ProTools SE a decent program by itself, or am I going to be wishing I had the full version after a few minutes?

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El JT de Spang
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Yes, in fact that's precisely how the mbox works.

ProTools SE will do 9000% more than you require out of it for the forseeable future. I can do full band recordings, including dozens of tracks (both live and virtual instruments), in ProTools LE (which is the precursor to SE). At least, that's my understanding. I've not personally played with SE.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
As far as a budget, probably no more than $150 right now, if I get to spend any money at all. Which relegates me to the used goods bin and maybe only one passable piece of equipment. I'll have to build from there. That's why I'm wondering if an M-Audio style box would give me basically what I want. I don't want to bother with it if it won't.

I wouldn't bother. But give it a shot. Honestly, if I had to use the setup you're describing, I would never get anything done. It's like trying to learn guitar on a $50 guitar. It doesn't do what you're trying to learn how to do.

Also I have no confidence in your software solution to actually handle the input. You are in for a lot of frustration. I would save up $400, and buy a decent software suite and a sound card all at once. Trying to get somewhere with what you have will suck.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by El JT de Spang:


I would NOT go with a soundcard solution.

Sorry, when I say soundcard, I'm talking about an M-audio FastTrack. Technically a soundcard, not a board. It's an external soundcard, it just doesn't look like what you'd think a card looks like.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by El JT de Spang:

ProTools SE will do 9000% more than you require out of it for the forseeable future. I can do full band recordings, including dozens of tracks (both live and virtual instruments), in ProTools LE (which is the precursor to SE). At least, that's my understanding. I've not personally played with SE.

Closer to 9,000,000%. It's one of those programs almost nobody really understands in its entirety. Nor would ever really need to. [Smile]

I find myself going back to online videos for Logic (Apple's version of an arrangement and recording suite), just to remind myself of what the program is capable of doing. You forget what it has tucked away in there.

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El JT de Spang
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Yeah, it's really true. Every time I do a protools tutorial on youtube or something, I discover ten new things. Every time I call a producer friend for technical questions, they teach me five new things.
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Tovarich Volk
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Many differant options at play here, some are quite cheap, others require a moderate investment.

Mics
Concievably, you can get away with a couple of cheapo Chinese Large Diaphragm Condenser mics, look for ones that have variable pickup patterns.

I would go for the moderately expensive route and look for a pair of AKG C-414's in addition to a couple of AKG C-1000's.

The 414's are pretty much an industry standard large diaphragm condenser mic with switchable pickup patterns. They have flat frequency response with a slight rise at 5Khz, and are good general purpose mics.
(average around $5-600 used)

The C-1000's are small diphragm condensers with cardiod pickup patterns which are very versatile instrument mics.
(average Around $2-300, used)

Also on the supercheap route, Samson makes vocal mikes that are basically Chinese copies of Shure SM-58's. --They sound just as bad as an SM-58 for a lot less.

If you have several thousand bucks you want to unload on mics, by all means blow it on a Neumann U87's or U89's and a pair of modular Neumann or Schoepps Modular small Diaphragm condensers.

Preamp/DA Conversion
You can concievably get away going the *gag* Berhinger *choke* route and save money, but if you want something decent and afforable, go with either M Audio or Presonus. If you're feeling particularly extravagant, there is always the highend stuff. AMS Neve, SSL, or Focusrite.

I would recommend either the M Audio or Presonus Firepod or Firestudio series. They have 8 channels or AD conversion with 8 Class A mic pre's and are daisy chainable. They are also capable of 24 bit wordlengths and 96Khz Sample rates.

DAW

Personally I think you could do a bit better than ProTools.

If you have a spare Hard Drive, you would do well with downloading and installing an AV/Multimedia production focused Linux Distro such as AVLinux or UbuntuStudio where you will have Ardour and a bunch of other AV software preinstalled and ready to go. Ardour is free DAW software, but it's still recommended that you pay at least something to the developer for his efforts.

If you want to stick with Windows, Ardour is again 'free', but the catch is that you have to download the Source Code and Compile it on your own machine, provided that you have GCC installed.--Most likely you don't.

Cockos Reaper is decent DAW Software that you can get for as little as $50 for personal use. It supports VST Plugins.

Moving up, there's MixBus from Harrison Consoles. which is DAW software built upon Ardour, but has added EQ, Tape Saturation. Audio Compression controls built in. It's available for Windows, Linux, and OSX. The Windows Version supports VST Plugins. It's available for either $50 plus $9 Monthly subscription or $150 outright.

On the High End, there's SAWStudio, Which once you reskin it to get rid of the 70's Fantasy Van styled Default UI, works much like an actual hardware setup. It's also written entirely in Assembler Code, so it's tiny and lightweight on resources, but the Downside is that basic version is $300, The Lite version is $1200, and the full version is $2500. See the particulars on the differances on each version here if this interests you. --Avoid the Demo, you really can't do anything except toy around with it.

Monitoring

I'm sure that you know this already, but a decent pair of monitor speakers and headphones are absolutely essential to making an accurate mix that translates well to earbuds/car stereo/ home stereo playback. Unfortunately, there IS NO CHEAP SOLUTION for accurate nearfield monitor speakers, but you can get decent results with a pair of decent monitor headphones.

Sony MDR7502 cost @ $50-75 and you get decent flat accurate response from them.

I get good results with AKG K-240M's which cost @ $200 and have pretty much been industry standard production headphones for the past 30 or so years. --I've had my pair since early 2001.

On the High End, Sennheiser HD-600's are super accurate headphones that are pretty much industry standard Mastering Engineer's headphones. @ $400.

Also, FWIW, I currently have no Mics/Pre's/DA conversion, but I use Ardour, SAW Studio and Steinberg WaveLab via WINE Emulation, with various Lv2/LADSPA plugins for Ardour, and VST plugins for SAW and Wavelab, plus the AKG K240's.

[ September 13, 2012, 02:50 PM: Message edited by: Tovarich Volk ]

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El JT de Spang
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You did see what it is he wants to do, right? You're trying to sell him a nuclear missile when he asked for recommendations on slingshots.
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advice for robots
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
As far as a budget, probably no more than $150 right now, if I get to spend any money at all. Which relegates me to the used goods bin and maybe only one passable piece of equipment. I'll have to build from there. That's why I'm wondering if an M-Audio style box would give me basically what I want. I don't want to bother with it if it won't.

I wouldn't bother. But give it a shot. Honestly, if I had to use the setup you're describing, I would never get anything done. It's like trying to learn guitar on a $50 guitar. It doesn't do what you're trying to learn how to do.

Also I have no confidence in your software solution to actually handle the input. You are in for a lot of frustration. I would save up $400, and buy a decent software suite and a sound card all at once. Trying to get somewhere with what you have will suck.

Well, a quick look on eBay seems to say I can get a low end M-Audio box and ProTools SE for less than $100. Might be a good place to start.

I would love to get out the card and plunk down a few grand on all the equipment I want right now, including the bass guitar and amp setup plus recording stuff--and I could and probably would if that were going to be what I do with the majority of my time. As it is, it's a hobby that gets pre-empted by just about everything else right now, and I'm not sure I'd spend any more time with it if I had a roomful of expensive equipment and software.

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quote:
Originally posted by El JT de Spang:
You did see what it is he wants to do, right? You're trying to sell him a nuclear missile when he asked for recommendations on slingshots.

I am just basically looking for a way to plug my bass into my laptop and get results that don't completely suck, yes. But I did ask for people to tell me about their rigs, and this is pretty informative, even if I'm not sure I'll ever be this much of a gearhead. I really appreciate everyone's responses.

I will slowly chase down info on everything people are telling me here. I wish I had the time to climb the learning curve faster. I have spent some time today reading about exactly how an amp works. That was time well spent.

You do have to know quite a bit about the gear if you're going to have a halfway decent home studio, that much is obvious. You also have to be serious enough about it to make the investment.

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El JT de Spang
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FWIW, I agree with most of Tovarich's recommendations. Ok, not most, but about half. And I missed your asking for people to share their setups, so mea culpa there.

Mine, when I'm at my home studio and not on the road, is a Digi003 (rack), and my macbookpro, basically. I mean, I have a power conditioner, midi controller (m-audio axiom60), outboard compression (RNC), some KRK7 monitors, and a handful of pretty to really good mics (Blue Kiwi [large diagram condenser], Shure KSM400 [also LDC], SM57s and 58s), and a medium sized pile of vintage gear ('74 telecaster, '77 gibson hummingbird, wurly 200, early 70s rhodes, '79 fender super deluxe amp).

The next things I really need are a pair of small diagram condensers (I like Rode's offering). I'd also love to have some serious old school compression. The RNC is GREAT for the money -- totally transparent, but I'd kill for an Avalon or Neve.

Of course, I can't really spend any more coin on a studio that I just use to demo stuff for myself and friends. Right now the limiting factor with my recordings is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, my skills, both as a producer and musician.

ETA: here's a pic of my setup (http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y32/jtspang/JTSTUDIO1.jpg)

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Thanks for sharing, JT. Love the Telecaster especially, but some dang nice stuff all around. OK, walk me through it. Are you playing mainly directly through your computer or through speakers and mics? What's a power conditioner? What is outboard compression? Does the Digi003 not do MIDI, and is that why you have the Axiom60? What do you use each mic for? Do you mainly record solo? Are you set up to play with a band as well?

Answer whatever you care to. This all makes sense to me to have in a fully functioning home studio. Most likely I would slowly collect this kind of stuff. I'm trying to get an idea of in what order.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
As far as a budget, probably no more than $150 right now, if I get to spend any money at all. Which relegates me to the used goods bin and maybe only one passable piece of equipment. I'll have to build from there. That's why I'm wondering if an M-Audio style box would give me basically what I want. I don't want to bother with it if it won't.

I wouldn't bother. But give it a shot. Honestly, if I had to use the setup you're describing, I would never get anything done. It's like trying to learn guitar on a $50 guitar. It doesn't do what you're trying to learn how to do.

Also I have no confidence in your software solution to actually handle the input. You are in for a lot of frustration. I would save up $400, and buy a decent software suite and a sound card all at once. Trying to get somewhere with what you have will suck.

Well, a quick look on eBay seems to say I can get a low end M-Audio box and ProTools SE for less than $100. Might be a good place to start.

I would love to get out the card and plunk down a few grand on all the equipment I want right now, including the bass guitar and amp setup plus recording stuff--and I could and probably would if that were going to be what I do with the majority of my time. As it is, it's a hobby that gets pre-empted by just about everything else right now, and I'm not sure I'd spend any more time with it if I had a roomful of expensive equipment and software.

I said $400, not a few thousand. But do what you want, you posted asking for advice. This is my advice.
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El JT de Spang
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quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
Thanks for sharing, JT. Love the Telecaster especially, but some dang nice stuff all around.

Thanks! Me too. The tele plays like a dream, but tends to be a little thin when amplified, which is why it's paired with the beefy Super Deluxe amp. Gives it some body, and some growl.

quote:
OK, walk me through it. Are you playing mainly directly through your computer or through speakers and mics?
Nomenclature: 'recording through your computer' is typically called 'going direct', or 'direct in'. Playing through speakers and mics is called 'micing or miking'. [Smile]

Most producers I have worked with (who have collectively taught me almost everything I know) tend to be almost snobbish about their sounds. They tend to universally prefer micing acoustic instruments, and micing amps for electric instruments (with the exception of bass, which seems to be fine going direct in). And when you a/b the two, it's hard not to agree with them. For example, my Hummingbird has an outstanding pickup (via another endorsement of mine). It sounds great plugged into a PA, and I do that at live shows hundreds of times a year. However, I NEVER record using the pickup. I always mic it with my large diaphragm condenser (or a pair of small diaphragm condensers if I owned them). The difference is striking.

The other exception, for me, are the electric pianos. If I record wurly or rhodes I go direct in. I don't have an amp that does anything cool to the sound, and IMO those EPs aren't designed to need an amp to make them sound cool. The coolness all happens internally.


quote:
What's a power conditioner?
AC power from your wall outlet can vary between ~116VAC to ~122VAC. This, put simply, is hard on electronics. A power conditioner is just a piece of equipment that sits between the wall outlet and all of your equipment, which a power strip on the back, and typically some sort of voltage meter on the front. It's not a sexy piece of gear, but it's pretty important if you have even moderately expensive equipment.

quote:
What is outboard compression?
Since I'm not sure how much you're familiar with compression, I'll just give you the long answer. First, what is compression? Compression is an effect (something that is applied to your audio signal, either destructively or non-destructively) that will compress, flatten, squash, attenuate, or whatever word you like, the signal when it gets beyond the setpoint. It's hard to explain it more simply than that, but here's a more in depth look at it (http://www.humbuckermusic.com/comex.html -- bonus! The picture at the top of the article is the compressor I use). Ask if you have questions on this, because it can be pretty important.

So, that's compression. Outboard compression merely means I have a physical device that does compression for me; I don't have to rely on a software plugin to compress my signal once it's in ProTools (now, I do still use those plugins, but not as often). This is somewhat of a luxury for the type of recording I do, but my voice has a lot of dynamic range, and I was having troubles getting the software compression in ProTools to manage it. Probably this is my lapse and not the software's.

quote:
Does the Digi003 not do MIDI, and is that why you have the Axiom60?
The Digi003 does 'do' midi, by which I mean it can process a midi signal coming in. It does NOT control midi, which is what I use the Axiom for. The 003 is my protools interface, but by itself it doesn't do or make anything musical. The Axiom60 is a keyboard that I can connect either midi cable or USB, and then play. So I can choose a virtual instrument and play what I want on the Axiom, which is connected to the software through the 003. Once the midi data is in protools I can do whatever I want with it.

quote:
What do you use each mic for? Do you mainly record solo? Are you set up to play with a band as well?
This is an easy one for me. By far, my best mic is the Kiwi, a large diaphragm condenser. I use it for vocals, acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, shaker, tambourine, room sounds, gang vocals, and recording the face of the cajon. I use the SM57 for the soundhole of the cajon, and for guitar amps. Really, I'd like some other options than this for amps, but I don't do enough of it now to be able to afford that.

I mainly record solo, in that I typically only record one input at a time. When I record the cajon I use two mics, and sometimes on acoustic guitar as well. The digi003 is more than capable of recording a full band, but I am not. I don't trust my ability to mic and mix a drum kit, basically.

Anyway, hopefully that helps. Ask anything else you want to know, and if I can answer it I will.

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advice for robots
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
As far as a budget, probably no more than $150 right now, if I get to spend any money at all. Which relegates me to the used goods bin and maybe only one passable piece of equipment. I'll have to build from there. That's why I'm wondering if an M-Audio style box would give me basically what I want. I don't want to bother with it if it won't.

I wouldn't bother. But give it a shot. Honestly, if I had to use the setup you're describing, I would never get anything done. It's like trying to learn guitar on a $50 guitar. It doesn't do what you're trying to learn how to do.

Also I have no confidence in your software solution to actually handle the input. You are in for a lot of frustration. I would save up $400, and buy a decent software suite and a sound card all at once. Trying to get somewhere with what you have will suck.

Well, a quick look on eBay seems to say I can get a low end M-Audio box and ProTools SE for less than $100. Might be a good place to start.

I would love to get out the card and plunk down a few grand on all the equipment I want right now, including the bass guitar and amp setup plus recording stuff--and I could and probably would if that were going to be what I do with the majority of my time. As it is, it's a hobby that gets pre-empted by just about everything else right now, and I'm not sure I'd spend any more time with it if I had a roomful of expensive equipment and software.

I said $400, not a few thousand. But do what you want, you posted asking for advice. This is my advice.
No, I really appreciate your advice and sorry for sounding sarcastic there. You are absolutely right that I'm not going to be completely happy with the sound and my recording ability until I have the right software on top of the right hardware. And from the looks of it, $400 could get me some fairly decent software that I know I'll need as I get more serious. I already have a list of equipment I want to get, including such things as a Fender Jazz bass and a decent gigging amp and cabinet, PA system and monitors for live shows. That's what I was referring to. And I'm also trying to put together a livable home recording setup and trying to figure out what the bare minimum is to get that started. I'm making a prioritized list of what to save for. I wish I could get it all at once.
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Orincoro
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I'm telling you a professional quality program and a sound card are the bare minimum. The instruments and the gigging equipment you can do piece by piece. You should not do this part piece by piece if you can avoid it. Really, you'll regret it if you do, so my advice is not to.
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*nod* I might have to save up a bit like you said, then.

What are your thoughts on an M-Audio Fast Track with Pro Tools SE?

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El JT de Spang
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I tend to contextually disagree. Many people who are not professional producers, arrangers, or sound engineers (thus, the hobbyists, who make up the major market share on a lot of this stuff) are forced to build their home studios piece by piece. In fact, I don't know any producer who DOESN'T build this way.

Unless you are considering just buying an interface and software package building a studio in toto. In which case I'm with you.

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JT: Thanks for all the info. That's really helpful. A lot of that is stuff I wouldn't know to have on my list--or even look for when I needed it.

I shoulda looked up the Axiom60. Didn't realize it was a keyboard.

That's good to know too about miking the amps, although that seems to be a far more expensive route in general if you have to buy multiple mics.

I'm assuming, based on what Orincoro told me above, a large-diaphragm condenser picks up sounds all around and not just right up close to the mic. I can see how that would be useful for quite a few things, as long as (as Orincoro said) I know how to handle the input. If I had one of those and did direct-in with bass and guitar, would that be a pretty good setup for playing and singing at once?

Edit: Thanks for that link on compression. Fascinating.

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rollainm
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Awesome info on compression, JT. I've just started experimenting with it myself. That link cleared up some things I was a bit iffy on, so a big thanks from me as well.
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El JT de Spang
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quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
JT: Thanks for all the info. That's really helpful. A lot of that is stuff I wouldn't know to have on my list--or even look for when I needed it.

I shoulda looked up the Axiom60. Didn't realize it was a keyboard.

That's good to know too about miking the amps, although that seems to be a far more expensive route in general if you have to buy multiple mics.

I'm assuming, based on what Orincoro told me above, a large-diaphragm condenser picks up sounds all around and not just right up close to the mic. I can see how that would be useful for quite a few things, as long as (as Orincoro said) I know how to handle the input. If I had one of those and did direct-in with bass and guitar, would that be a pretty good setup for playing and singing at once?

Edit: Thanks for that link on compression. Fascinating.

Large diaphragm condensers aren't all omni-directional -- mine has a 8 position selectable polar pattern. I almost always use it as cardioid (capturing sound in a semicircle in front of the capsule and rejecting it behind and from the sides).

So, yes, that would be a good choice to sing while recording your guitar or bass direct. Of course, some people prefer recording their vocals through a dynamic mic (like a stage mic, a Shure SM58 or Sennheiser 854 or whatever). You may be one of those people. You have to experiment on what you feel comfortable with and what sounds best for you.

Also, you can mike even a large amp like mine (which has 4 12" speakers) with one well placed SM57. Multiple mics are awesome once you are skilled and/or bored, but one mic will cover most everything except a drum.

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rollainm
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afr, check it. Kinda wish I had $300 myself. Audacity is so frustrating sometimes (and from what I've read, completely backwards in how it functions compared to real DAWs), but that's all I've got at the moment.
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rollainm, guess I'll have to enroll in a class somewhere. [Smile] The ProTools SE might be all I need for a while, from what people are saying.

JT: A condenser sounds dang useful. That'll definitely be on my list, although right now I'll have to make do with the (very) low end dynamic mics I already have for any voice recording. But I want to start with figuring out how to record my bass and guitar direct, and hopefully be able to use some amps and effects on my computer in real time.

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El JT de Spang
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Really, the performance is almost always more important than the equipment. I could spend ten times more on my gear without it improving my recordings, because I'm still only an average player and an average producer. I'm an excellent singer, though, so I can get excellent vocals even on crappy mics.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by El JT de Spang:
I tend to contextually disagree. Many people who are not professional producers, arrangers, or sound engineers (thus, the hobbyists, who make up the major market share on a lot of this stuff) are forced to build their home studios piece by piece. In fact, I don't know any producer who DOESN'T build this way.

Unless you are considering just buying an interface and software package building a studio in toto. In which case I'm with you.

I'm not saying he should build an entire studio. I'm saying two pieces: a sound card and a software package, re the bare minimum. Without which he shouldn't start. I should know. I started with never, before either was affordable. I never got anything productive done.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by rollainm:
afr, check it. Kinda wish I had $300 myself. Audacity is so frustrating sometimes (and from what I've read, completely backwards in how it functions compared to real DAWs), but that's all I've got at the moment.

audacity I only use if I need to record something in 30 seconds and can't be bothered t plug in my equipment and do any preparation. It's like a notepad, not a production program.

Re: condenser mics: typically a cheaper one, such as the one I've had to use since my last one was stolen, are just single setting, omnidirectional. They will pick up more sound than you can actually hear normally, and you need to learn how to use them and handle input to get best results. For instance, if you play and sing at once, blead from your instrument will get into the vocal track, and blead from your headphones will also get in. Not always a big deal- you can hear blead from headphones on a lot of professional recordings and it doesn't always matter, if you're using the same tracks in the final mix down. If not though, you have to re-record to eliminate it, or filter it out somehow. That's where pro software comes in, because you can apply dynamic limiters and other software solutions instead of having to get fancy with your physical setup. Even micing instruments is not really necessary with software to emulate amps and pedals- which have the advantage that they can be altered later, whereas if you mic an amp wrong at the beginning, your recording will be useless. People pay hundreds of dollars for external modules that the software, these days, usually does as well or better. I no longer use *any* externals in my recordings. Just raw input from pickups and mics.

[ September 14, 2012, 06:50 PM: Message edited by: Orincoro ]

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El JT de Spang
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They also have the disadvantage of sounding like crap to a knowledgeable listener compared to the real thing. I never thought I'd be one of those audio snobs, until we tracked an actual upright piano for my last album. Gah, I'll never use a virtual piano plugin for a featured instrument again. The difference was amazing.

Now, some of the virtual instruments are great. The Velvet plugin that does virtual rhodes has almost as much texture and character as the real thing. Maybe some people can tell the difference, but I can't. The amp modelers that I've heard/used all stink, though. I'm also extremely lucky in that most of my friends are musicians -- any particular piece of gear I want is typically only a phone call or two away.

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Kwea
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I am fiding this a facinating conversatin. I am about to actually start learning (finally) how to play my acoustic guitar I bought years ago, but I really don't have any need to know how to produce or rewcord. Still, as a guy who once played 11 insturments, I find the topic facinating.

Of course, I am also somewhat of a techophile, so that's probably why I like the subject. It speeks to 2 distinct and equaally geeky sides of my history. [Big Grin]

I love Audacity, but that's because I don't do anything you guys do, I just use it to record reading materials, verbal greetings/messages, and I think I used it for the Reading Out Loud club that we use to have here at Hatrack. For a freeware program it is pretty cool, and I remember using it YEARS ago, so I am sure it was much more advance then than it is compared to the multiple offerings available these days.

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Kwea
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I have a question though, sort of related to this topic...

My wife plays a little bit of piano, and I know she would love to have one, but we don't have the room. I was wondering if anyone has a recommendation for a good digitial piano that is reasonable price-wise.

She is a bit of a snob when it comes to music, which is fine....I hardly play it these days, but I still have my professional model flute and couldn't ever consider playing a student model again. [Big Grin]

So, she would want all 88 keys, and I know she liked the one we tried out years ago wiht the weighted keys. But I have no idea what is or is not a good price point for one, and no idea what to look for, positive or negative, when buying one used.

Any suggestions?

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MattP
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We have a real piano, but also have 3-4 people taking lessons at a time, so we got a digital piano to allow more practice time. Ours is similar to this one:
http://www.amazon.com/Yamaha-DGX640W-Digital-Piano-Walnut/dp/B003KVKT0W/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1347679276&sr=8-10

It's way better than the non-weighted Casio junk from the warehouse stores. To my 3-years-of-lessons ears and hands it sounds and feels pretty nice but a real music snob my not find it acceptable for factors beyond my ability to discern.

The next step up would be something with a full piano action, like the Clavinova line which is sold in a proper piano store, but they are much much more expensive. They are also approximately the same footprint as an upright piano.

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Kwea
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I am sure that she would love it as long as she has all 88 keys, and they are at least semi-weighted.

Anyone else? [Big Grin]

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by El JT de Spang:
They also have the disadvantage of sounding like crap to a knowledgeable listener compared to the real thing. I never thought I'd be one of those audio snobs, until we tracked an actual upright piano for my last album. Gah, I'll never use a virtual piano plugin for a featured instrument again. The difference was amazing.

Now, some of the virtual instruments are great. The Velvet plugin that does virtual rhodes has almost as much texture and character as the real thing. Maybe some people can tell the difference, but I can't. The amp modelers that I've heard/used all stink, though. I'm also extremely lucky in that most of my friends are musicians -- any particular piece of gear I want is typically only a phone call or two away.

Well, I'd have to agree when it comes to micing a live instrument. There isn't software that can emulate an actual piano, yet. As for the pedals and amps, the fact is that many of those that are on the market are actually using the very same software, just internally, that your production suite is using. A typical stomp box, for instance, is just the same software with physical buttons. No help there, unless you're actually using stuff with tubes and wires, which is expensive.

I wouldn't say you could replace live micing a piano, but electronic modules are passe for me at this point.

Anyway, my attitude about production is that I have to get the best out of what I have. I don't like to waste time worrying about what I can't do, like have a grand piano in my living room. And I do find ways of making it work- you can never do all that you might desire.

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El JT de Spang
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Yeah, the audio snob in me (and friends) also love vintage gear for this reason. If it's a brand new fender silvertone, yeah, you may as well use the modeler. If it's a '67, there's a big difference. I see what you're saying, and I don't disagree.

---------------

Kwea, my best advice would be to go to Guitar Center and have her play a bunch. They'll all play and sound a bit different. Then, and this is the important part, find one online! Either craigslist or an online retailer. One of the digital pianos you'd want (88 keys, weighted, etc) has a long lifespan. You can buy one that's 5 years old and still easily get ten years out of it.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwea:
I am sure that she would love it as long as she has all 88 keys, and they are at least semi-weighted.

Anyone else? [Big Grin]

It's a tough call, really. The thing with a digital piano is that basically anything that sounds anything like a real piano will cost *more* than a real piano actually costs... even several times more. Which sort of defeats the purpose unless you treasure the ability to play silently through headphones, and then you're just burning money on the very extravagant speaker setups that are featured on digitals from Yamaha (which are among the best).

I don't know the market right now because I don't own my own flat and I don't want to invest in something like that, but the factors you need to consider are the quality of the keybed, the weight of the keys, and the responsiveness. A top quality electronic piano will have fully-weighted keys, and a bank of sounds with a wide level of responsiveness. The problem will always be that a digital sound bank will *not* respond to input the way that an actual instrument does. The hammers on a piano are real and they interact with vibrating strings in extremely complicated ways. Also, a full piano harp will vibrate in very specific and complex ways in response to which strings are vibrating, and at what frequencies- this is all far too complex for a digital piano to emulate. The sound of a digital piano will also never age as a real piano will (the grain in the wood of the hammers and body ages and the grain solidifies and becomes richer). So to someone with ears for it, it's just not going to be like a piano. That "ahah!" feeling I get when I touch a real piano is palpable, since i play on a digital most of the time, and I do feel a difference in the way it allows me to think as I play- a real piano is much more responsive and much more inspiring.

So it's a tough call- it will accomplish the purpose for practice, but it comes with its own level of frustration that you have to consider.

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Kwea
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Yeah....we JUST got a Guitar Center here in town, so maybe I will head over there tonight while she is out of town. I know that the ones I can possibly afford are not going to sound like a real piano, but for what we would use it for it will work.

There IS a very good local piano/music store here in town as well, and they sell used piano's.....and we do have room for an upright, I suppose, but then we have to worry about moving it when we get our house.

I always loved guitar, and when I moved up here I bought a nice acoustic/electric, but I never learned to play it. I was just too busy, and then sort of forgot about it. Now that we are having a kid I have been thinking about my past a lot, and one of the things I really miss is performing music. Not on a stage, even, but I use to be surrounded by music every single day. I think I would like to raise my kid in a similar surrounding. [Big Grin]

I got lucky when I bought my guitar. There was a really nice kid working at the Orlando GC I went to, and he was going off shift but he loved music, you could tell, and he stayed and talked guitar with me. I figured I could spend about $350, max, but while I know a bit about tone and timbre, and know what I like a guitar to sound like, I don't know much about them in general. He really helped me a lot, and I ended up with a great sounding guitar.

It's funny, he walked around testing me when I said I knew a little bit about music too. [Big Grin] He would pick up a Taylor and play it, and I would say "Wow!", and he would laugh, then show me why it sounded better than the Yamaha I was looking at.

He left right as I was making my decision, and I actually bought a slightly cheaper guitar than the $300 one I was looking at, just because it sounded better, and the kid said the action on it was really nice. When I got home I looked it up, and it turns out I bought one with a solid spruce top, which is why is sounded so much better(IMO).

[ September 15, 2012, 06:07 PM: Message edited by: Kwea ]

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Kwea
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I bought this guitar about 6 years ago.

I paid about $250 for the guitar, a gig bag, picks, a tuner, and a stand. It still goes for about the same price now, so I guess I did OK. [Big Grin]

I have a friend who said this specific guitar played just as well as the low line Taylor he bought years ago. I know that the Taylor he had was more expensive, and is worth more because of the name, but after hearing him play both side by side, I loved the sound of mine even more. It's funny how each guitar...hell, each instrument...has it's own voice.

To this day I can almost always pick out another professional level flute just by the tone, although of course a bad player can make ANY flute sound poorly. [Big Grin]

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Blayne Bradley
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I have a 150$ condenser microphone, a AT-2020 I think its called; it has the problem of where it can pick up the sound of the house creaking; or even worse the sound of the computer I'm using to record. Audacity just seems to "deafen" the whole track, what can be done to remove noise without a sound proofed environment?
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El JT de Spang
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There's no easy way to remove noise from a signal once it's there, and in a program like audacity it's impossible.

Kwea, if you guys are staying put for a while, an upright is by far the cheapest option. People in every town I've lived in in the last five years have been giving them away on craigslist. Of course, you'll need to move it, and then probably tune it. But then you have a real piano.

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rollainm
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwea:
I am sure that she would love it as long as she has all 88 keys, and they are at least semi-weighted.

Anyone else? [Big Grin]

If you want the best bang for buck (as far as realistic piano experience goes) for under $1000, I'd suggest the Casio PX130. Now, before you go biting my head off for suggesting a Casio, just check it out. I bought this one nearly two years ago and it's still holding up pretty well. No, it's not going to stand up to the $1500+ models, and with my ear and skill improving a bit over the months I am considering getting something a bit higher-end, but it's damn good for the price, and I'm still pretty happy with it. I managed to get the piano, stand, and 3-pedal attachment for around $600, though, so definitely check around on prices.
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rollainm
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quote:
Originally posted by Blayne Bradley:
I have a 150$ condenser microphone, a AT-2020 I think its called; it has the problem of where it can pick up the sound of the house creaking; or even worse the sound of the computer I'm using to record. Audacity just seems to "deafen" the whole track, what can be done to remove noise without a sound proofed environment?

Keep in mind I'm no expert, and my results are far from professional, but I've managed decent results eliminating background noise from a condenser using audacity. When I record, I use a stand and a shock mount, and I turn off anything in the room that makes noise, constant or otherwise, including the ac. I also position the mic as far from the computer tower as my setup will allow. Given all of that, though there's still tons of background noise. The noise removal tool in audacity isn't horrible for constant noise like a computer fan. Just don't go overboard with it. After that, high/low pass filtering and compression can be pretty effective. And if all that fails, there's always plain old manual silencing and fading. Is this for podcasting or for your LPs?
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