Price for a recording setup
$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
Shure SM58 style, or inexpensive Chinese condenser
Connecting cables and adapters $25.00
USB Midi Keyboard $100.00
1. Computer / Monitor / Keyboard / Mouse / Recording
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
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
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
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
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".
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