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Though recording at home has long held popularity for musicians and music enthusiasts, relatively recent advents in recording technology have made sophisticated home recording capability both available and affordable. Priceonomics will guide enterprising home recordists though a few of the options.
As with most developments in sound technology, recording equipment was originally spawned for radio broadcast, and recording technology evolved in its sophistication and portability in conjunction with FM radio broadcasting.
Where tape systems were the only option a few decades ago, the expensive high-fidelity reel-to-reel recorder versus the inexpensive fidelity-challenged cassette tape, now a plethora of formats is available to the aspiring recordist: Tape was developed from magnetic analog to digital and engaged a whole industry of portability wherein someone could record a live performance with facility with little more than a TEAC, Sony or Tascam DAT recorder. Computers developed to where portable digital recorders that print the recording to a hard drive are omnipresent on the market, and seem to be the preferred medium, with the exception of the purist holdouts that maintain analog recording systems and websites.
The Home Studio
A home studio can be defined as having an input source, a recording mechanism and a monitor (speaker) or headphones for playback. This is, of course, minimalist and the considerations of the recording room itself, regardless of the equipment can be an adventure unto itself, whether done inexpensively or lavishly. There are three classes of home recording systems: Multitrack hardware-based recorders (the Alesis hd24 (http://www.alesis.com/hd24) is a good example), digital-audio workstations, and portable recorders. The hardware-based multitrack recorders are units that contain everything necessary to make a recording but the source. The expense generally directs amateurs to the latter two options, so we will focus there.
Digital Audio Workstation
The standard home studio today is comprised of a DAW, or Digital Audio Workstation, and a room. To meet the specification for a minimal studio, it features a computer, an input format (generally a microphone or an instrument with an electrical output) and playback capacity, monitors or headphones. Standard recording platforms are available as software, from freeware to expensive editing engines. Protools, Cubase and Sonar are good examples of commonly-available software, and the learning curve, though it exists, is not so steep to preclude amassing enough knowledge in the first recording session to effect the fundamentals necessary to produce a demo.
Generally all recordists look back at the first session and laugh.
Of course, in the interest of accuracy, a good audio interface between the instrument and the computer and either a good sound card or an outboard digital-to-analog converter would be the first peripheral equipment to get on the list for a DAW.
The Portable Studio
Though this heading could easily merit an article of its own, we will touch topically on some of the preferred gear for recording on the fly. As most applications involve recording music, there remains a market for those who wish to record a lecture or other voice-quality source with less concern for accuracy and fidelity. Though any portable recorder will adequately provide the necessary means to do this, any smartphone put on the video setting will also make a voice-quality document.
Most portable digital recorders contain integral microphones, arranged in a cross-pattern to isolate left and right channels, and auxiliary microphones can be plugged into most recorders to upgrade the quality of the source signal. The Zoom H4 (under $300) has this configuration, and the uncharacteristic link to Amazon is included because there is a good diagram explaining this in terms of true stereo imaging.
The Zoom H4n(ext) ($260) has developed this configuration further by offsetting the planes of the microphones, and this handy, popular device provides for up to 4-channel recording using auxiliary mics with the integral ones, adjusts the mics from 90 degree to 120, has a digitally-controlled mic preamp, and records at 24 bits/96kHz linear PCM. It has a 1.9 inch LCD screen and probably comes with a metronome.
The Zoom H2 ($120) has four onboard microphones and records to a 1 gigabyte SD card, which is included. It can be expanded to a 32-gig card which provides for 24 hours of continuous recording at 16-bit/44.1 kHz CD levels. Recording an MP3 at 128 kbps will expand that parameter to 280 hours of recording time. It has a W-X/Y microphone array and can record at 24-bit 96kHz rates as well.