A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Recording Gear

Playing in front of an audience is only part of the fun for some musicians, as many also enjoy recording material from the comfort of their own homes or in a professional studio. But people who are looking to buy their own recording gear must consider a number of issues before making a purchase. First and foremost, what type of recording do you want to do?

Most recording equipment can produce results that would easily be good enough for professional release, while other options could be better suited to creating multi-tracked demos. And some may want to commit a band rehearsal or live performance to disc, rather than a studio track.

Musicians in all these categories therefore need the capability to record at least in two tracks, either in a standalone digital audio device or through computer-based software. At least one microphone is also an essential requirement, although additional mics can be particularly useful when recording instruments such as drums.

And before recording, a person should ensure they have the proper cables to meet their needs, as many mics for instance contain XLR connections, while guitar amps typically have jack sockets. If the digital audio recording device only contains inputs for one type of connection, adaptors can be purchased to enable both cables to be used. Mic stands can also be useful in ensuring optimum sound for your recording, so accessories such as these are certainly a worthwhile purchase.

Recording equipment needs to have a sufficient number of inputs, particularly if the project involves recording a live band. Microphones, guitars, drums and keyboards all need to be individually input into a recording device at the same time to give producers the chance to mix each instrument in isolation.

This means that at least four tracks of simultaneous recording capability are needed, as well as MIDI inputs and outputs. Separate microphones for each instrument and vocal will also be required, along with headphones and studio monitors for playback and overdubbing.

At this stage, recording artists may benefit from the use of outboard gear such as a mic preamp, a compressor, a channel strip and a mixer that has a sufficient number of channels. Other accessories at this stage could also include direct boxes, pop filters, studio foam, monitor stands, racks and recording furniture.

But what if a project needs to be recorded on a much larger scale? A 12-channel mixer or eight-track recorder may be insufficient to be cope with this, which means more specialised top-end equipment would be needed.

Bigger projects should only be recorded on a device that can deliver at least 16 separate tracks of simultaneous recording, and a selection of headphones and monitors will be required if the producer, engineer or musician wants to listen to the track with a critical ear.

Using different types of microphone may also be useful, as using a combination of dynamic mics such as the Shure SM58, through to ribbon and condenser mics, will make sure that all types of instrument are covered.

People engaged in larger projects could further benefit from incorporating a wide array of signal processors into their recording set-up, such as mic preamps, compressors, limiters, equalisers and effects units.

And finally, a much larger and higher quality mixing desk would be needed to do justice to the music being made. At least 24 separate channels will ensure that all the sounds can be suitably recorded, isolated, manipulated and balanced to produce the optimum result.