Mini Price for a recording setup - by Tom Rogers
the $1000.00 recording studio

This article will look at the current possibilities for creating a viable, Mac-mini based recording system for $1000.00 with options for upgrading. In future articles, the technical issues of working with a computer recording system will be looked at.


Mac-mini with memory and hard-drive upgrade $675
M-Audio Fast Track USB $100.00 / M-Audio Mobile Pre $150.00
Shure SM58 style, or inexpensive Chinese condenser mic $100.00
Connecting cables and adapters $25.00
USB Midi Keyboard $100.00
TOTAL: $950.00

1. Computer / Monitor / Keyboard / Mouse / Recording Software

We will build our studio around the Mac-mini, and assume we have an existing monitor and USB keyboard/mouse.

The Mac-mini comes with Garageband - part of Apple's iLife bundle included with their new computers. While it won’t give either Pro-Tools or Apple's Logic Audio serious competition, Garageband's current version is eminently capable of being used to create finished recordings. And it fits our budget quite nicely- it's free.

What you will probably need to purchase with the M-m is more RAM and a larger capacity hard-drive. With the memory and hard-drive upgrade, our M-m will cost $675

Now we need an Audio Interface to connect our M-m to the outside world of music; this will get sounds into the computer, and be used for listening back to
our recordings.

2. Computer Audio Interface

At $100, the M-Audio Fast Track USB audio interface will suit our recording and budgetary needs. This is a very basic, simple audio interface, providing a single XLR microphone input intended for use with dynamic mics such as the Shure SM57 or SM58 models, and a single 1/4" guitar style connection for recording, well, guitars, but also bass, synths, drum machines, dj mixers, etc.

Stereo RCA type outputs are provided, for connection to either powered
speakers, a home stereo system, or even a boombox equipped with auxiliary inputs. A mini stereo headphone jack is also included. With USB cable connection to our Mac-mini providing both our digital signals and power for the interface, we eliminate the clutter of AC adapers and extra power cords.
While providing 24bit/48k audio to our Garageband software, this unit is limited to mono input sources and can't be used with condenser mics needing phantom power: BUT you can record both a mic and instrument source simultaneously, and you could in theory use the XLR input with a 1/4" adapter to capture stereo line sources like synths or DJ mixer outputs.

For $50.00 more, we could choose the M-Audio Mobile Pre, which provides dedicated stereo XLR Mic and 1/4" Instrument inputs, the ability to use phantom-powered condenser mics, and more output options. Its converter is an older, 16bit design, but for the type of recording we're going to be doing, this isn't a huge deal; all CD's are 16bit anyway.

3. Microphone & D.I. box

Practically speaking, a Shure SM58 or similar dynamic mic will provide consistent sound, reliability and ruggedness. They also don't need phantom power - which some of the budget priced Audio Interface boxes lack as a feature.
If you are planning on doing any MC-style vocals or raps, a 58 is pretty much a necessity; sensitive studio type condensers won't take the rough use and intense, lips-on-grill performance style, nor will they sound particularly good, or easily lend themselves to hand-held mic technique.

There are a variety of affordable mics out there. Remember cheaper mics can sound “harsh” when used with budget preamps and converters. Try before you buy.

While a D.I. box (direct-injection) is standard for interfacing instruments such as electric guitar with audio gear, most of the Interface boxes which we are considering provide a D.I. type input already, so we won't need to spend extra for one of these.

4. Playback speakers & Headphones

Making use of already owned equipment is part of our $1k Studio strategy; the average music oriented household pretty much assures a stereo system with speakers and headphones.
What you will need is a stereo line cable long enough to connect from the Audio Interface box to your playback system of choice; be that powered speakers, a stereo system, or boombox. Overestimating cable length is always a good strategy.

Make sure you confirm the proper connections required at both ends: for most stereo systems and boomboxes, this will be RCA, for powered speakers, this may be either RCA or 1/4". The higher priced powered models may have XLR type inputs. For the other end, the outputs of most of the Audio Interfaces will be either RCA or 1/4".

Welcome to the new Hit Factory.