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Recording Audio To Your Computer

Whether it be from a microphone, or directly from an instrument such as a guitar or bass, you have several choice when recording audio onto your computer. This article aims to cover the basic options for connecting and recording audio onto your computer and the different hardware solutions available.

1. Sound Card Input/Built in Microphone

Using the sound card input or the built in microphone is not ideal for purposes of quality, but can be an easy and quick way to record ideas. This method is good for when you are trying to keep a musical idea notebook or take voice notes, but not good for production quality tracks. You may need a 3.5mm male to 1/4″ female adapter to hook up your instrument to your sound card’s microphone input. The signal will probably come across on the quiet side - just be sure to use the Microphone input, not the line in on your sound card.

2. USB to Instrument Cable

One of the more recent offerings to musicians looking to record an instrument straight into their computer is a direct USB to Instrument cable. These handy cables plug directly into your USB port on one end and into your computer on the other. Your computer will see the cable as a sort-of virtual sound card with which you can record.

Quality is a lot better than with built in sound cards, and these cables offer a good balance between cost and quality.

3. External Audio Interface

An external audio interface is the best way to get sound from a microphone or instrument into your computer. Audio interfaces can carry a price tag of anywhere from sub $100 to many thousands of dollars and vary in their quality on features. Firewire is the best, but most consumer grade audio interfaces are USB or USB 2.0.

If you are planning on burning CDs of your recorded music, you want to make recordings in better than CD quality. CD’s have a sample rate of 44.1KHz at 16 bits. A good audio interface will have a sample rate of 48KHz at 24 bits, and a great audio interface will have a sample rate of 192KHz at 24 bits. Generally speaking, the more you spend, the more channels you will be able to record at once. If you want to record separate instruments one at a time, you only need a few channels. If you plan on recording a whole band playing, you will need a lot more channels.

4. External Recording Devices

Many standalone recording devices offer a way of transferring their recordings to a computer. You can make recordings on a standalone 2-track, 4-track or 8-track machine for example, and then burn your recordings to a CD, transfer them over USB, or use a memory card to get that audio over to a computer. The method of transfer depends on the feature of your standalone recorder.

If you are using banana plugs, remember to view our guide on how to install banana plugs.

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