I’ve wanted to set up a home recording studio for years. Nothing too fancy or expensive, just something I can use during those increasingly rare moments when I get time to sit down and play my guitar. I occasionally find myself playing something catchy, brainstorming up some lyrics, and writing at least the basics of a song. Unfortunately, because I don’t write music with any regularity, I usually completely forget the song by the next time I sit down to work on it. Or, if I scribble it down in a notebook, I find it hard to recall the melody or get the same feel I had when I first wrote it… bah…
Well, I decided to bite the bullet and get things rolling on this studio thing. I’m certainly not new to the concepts of multi-track recording. In fact, over the past 18 years of playing I’ve used a ton of systems including Tascam multi-track cassette recorders, reel-to-reel systems, and computer hardware/software interfaces. I pretty much know what I need get; I’m just a little out of date with the available technology and what falls within my price range.
After talking to a lot of people, reading a bunch of articles, and doing what I can to bring myself up to speed, it became obvious that a computer-based system was the way to go. This was no shock, but I have to say…
I hate recording music with a computer.
I know computers fairly well. I’ve worked as a Web Developer for more than 8 years and can find my way around a machine better than most of the people I know. The issue I have is that sitting at a monitor, using a mouse to adjust virtual sliders, praying that the computer runs smoothly, and dealing with drivers and codecs makes me crazy. It just takes something away from the “playing music” part of recording when you need to deal with the computer at the same time. I prefer using “stand-alone” systems with real knobs and buttons, but it’s no secret a computer based system offers more possibilities. I accept that, I just hate using them.
I’ve had a stab at setting up a computer-based system on a few occasions. Usually in the moment, with great haste, when I’ve written something decent that I quickly want to capture before its gone. Granted I’ve never had a decent interface, and have been using an antiquated version of Cakewalk Guitar Tracks, but I always ran into terrible sound and bad latency issues Every time this happened, I’d get frustrated, cuss up a blue streak, put the guitar down and break out the Musician’s Friend catalog.
Anyways, I know a lot of people that do use computers with great results and figured it was time to put my dislikes aside, get on the bandwagon, and give this an honest shot. I’d get some decent equipment, take the time to set it up right and learn the system well. It was time to shop!
I have a pretty kick-ass laptop that exceeds the minimum for everything I looked at (Dell e1705, 17 inch monitor, core 2 duo, two gigs of ram); I just needed an audio interface to connect to it. This is where I ran into a pricing barrier. I wanted as many inputs as I could get for the money. Most interfaces I found have only one or two XLR inputs. That made zero sense to me. What if I wanted to record direct from my acoustic while using an instrument mic, and singing? That’s at least three right there, and if I wanted to invite anyone over to record? Forget it.
I had to sacrifice inputs for value and decided on the M-Audio 410 FireWire interface. It looked like it would do what I wanted, had two XLR inputs, claimed “zero latency monitoring” and it was certainly in my price range ($299). For the first time, I was actually excited about computer-based recording and headed directly to Guitar Center from work.
No one likes to go to Guitar Center with me; I can easily spend a couple hours there. I try guitars, look at PA gear, and tinker with anything else they have on display. I love that place. I also hate to spend money, and can never make up my mind on what to get. When I got there to buy the interface I literally looked at all the options for like an hour before I actually brought it to the counter. I did go with the M-Audio 410… niiice…
I rushed home, opened the door, stormed right across the house to my studio, and busted open the box. In like two minutes I had the software installed, the interface plugged in, and had already ran into an issue. The interface would not work. The drivers were installed, the lights where on, and still nothing. No sound, no levels, nothing.
It was actually sort of funny. All this time I knew that I hated computer recording. I knew I had so many issues in the past. But I was determined to try. Now, after doing my research and purchasing a decent interface, I still could not get the damn thing to work.
I looked into the issue a little further, and went to the M-Audio support page. Turns out, that even though the box said “XP, Vista compatible,” what it should have said is “NOT Windows Media Center Edition compatible.”
M-Audio Support Page
Are you kidding me? After all that, I don’t have the right freaking operating system to run this damn thing? I was livid. In fact, not only am I out of luck with the M-Audio product, it looks the all the best names in recording interfaces are NOT compatible with Windows Media Center Edition.
More on recording with Windows Media Center Edition
The unofficial list of un-supported interfaces include:
- Digidesign Pro Tools (all versions).
- All M-Audio software and hardware.
- All Steinberg software.
- Cakewalk SONAR (all versions).
- The iLok.
- Syncrosoft USB dongles.
- Focusrite interfaces.
- Lexicon Omega/Alpha/Lambda.
- Edirol interfaces.
- Alesis USB and Firewire mixers.
- All MOTU hardware and software.
- All E-MU hardware and software.
- Native Instruments software.
- Waves software.
- Mackie Spike. Tracktion has been known to work, but is not guaranteed.
- Novation X-Station series.
- TC Eletric PowerCore series.
- Universal Audio UAD-1 cards.
- All RME hardware.
- All PreSonus hardware.
- All TASCAM software and hardware.
- Blue Snowball and Samson C01 USB Microphones.
- Line 6 USB hardware and drivers
Perfect, just perfect. After all that, I can’t even use most of the good recording interfaces because of the OS my laptop came with. I couldn’t even believe it. The next day I packed up the interface, drove to Guitar Center, told the guy my issues and returned the M-Audio. He mentioned that there is some “hack” I can get to make it work, but it’s un-supported. I told him no thanks; my goal here was to not use anything that required a “hack” to work.
It was a sign; computer recording was not for me. I tried, I really did. I bought a good interface, did all I could to get it going, and found that I basically need to replace my operating system to make it, or any other decent product run… Eff that.
I ended up getting a KORG D888 digital workstation. It has 8 XLR inputs, two headphone outs, on-board effects, a 40gig drive, and does everything I need it to. What an awesome machine, and it runs exactly the same… every time I turn it on. I’ve recorded like five full songs since purchasing it – with zero issues.
To all those people who “swear” by computer recording systems – have a blast! I’ve given up. Standalone multi-track recorders are way better in my opinion for the casual home-based musician. And for anyone who runs Windows Media Center Edition… yeah, good luck with that!