Home recording is the practice of sound recording in a private home, rather than in a professional recording studio. A studio set up for home recording is called a project studio or home studio. Home recording is practiced by indie bands, singer-songwriters, hobbyists, podcasters, documentarians, and even top-name acts. The cost of professional audio equipment has been dropping steadily in recent years, and information about recording techniques has become increasingly available due to the internet. These trends have resulted in a dramatic increase in the popularity of home recording, and a shift in the recording industry toward recording in the home studio.
Until the late 1970s, music could be recorded either on low-quality tape recorders or on large, expensive reel-to-reel tape machines. Due to their high price and specialized nature, reel-to-reel machines were only practical for professional studios and wealthy artists. In 1979, Tascam invented the Portastudio, a small four-track machine aimed at the consumer market. With this new product, small multitrack tape recorders became widely available, and grew in popularity throughout the 1980s. In the 1990s, analog tape machines were supplanted by digital recorders and computer-based digital audio workstations (DAWs). These new devices were designed to convert audio tracks into digital files, and record the files onto magnetic tape (such as ADAT), hard disk, compact disc, or flash ROM.
A modern DAW consists of a personal computer with a quality sound card, a hardware audio interface (which handles analog-digital conversion) and digital-editing software. Editing software is now widely available at various price points (including free): examples include Ardour, Pro Tools, REAPER, Ableton Live, Cubase, Sonar and Reason. Many software synthesizers, effects and tools are also available, often in the form of plugins.
As an alternative or supplement to a DAW-based system, some home recordists use studio hardware (known as "outboard gear"), which is increasingly available to the home consumer market. This class of hardware costs less than professional studio hardware, but operates at a lower nominal line level than professional studio gear. Outboard gear is frequently used for analog processing or for tasks requiring dedicated processing power. Types of outboard gear include: audio mixers, microphone preamplifiers (preamps), instrument preamplifiers (known as "direct boxes"), effects units, compressors and equalizers.
Home recording has tended to focus on commonly available instruments, such as acoustic, electric and bass guitars, drum sets, pianos and vocals. With the advent of MIDI, many new devices, such as synthesizers, samplers, sequencers and drum machines, became available to the home recording market. These days, MIDI equipment, including keyboard/keypad controllers as well as synthesizers, are often connected to the computer, which is used to sequence instruments, manipulate MIDI songs and store the songs as files.
Portable recording rooms (vocal booths)
The surge in home recording has led consumers to the discovery of portable recording rooms, or vocal booth companies. One of the major drawbacks to producing quality recordings, is controlling the noise pollution and the room reverb at the microphone. In that way, the reflections from the walls can be reduced. Companies such as SnapRecorder.com, Whisper Room, Seulx Acoustics and VocalBooth.com, are among the suppliers of portable rooms geared specifically towards professional home recording. Also a DIY solution can be cheaper and more suitable for the home studio. There are many websites where anyone can learn how to make a vocal booth. Vocal Booths can be used also to record guitars, bass, percussion, or when some overdubs are needed. They are often used to make voice-overs.
The guitar amp enclosures can cover the need to record amplified instruments, at the home studio, with poor insulation. It eliminates the ear high levels needed to capture the natural sounding distortion and overdrive, produced by the speaker of a loud guitar amp. It can also reduce the interference and the possibility of an unexpected background noise, affecting the recording of guitar tracks or other instruments. A guitar amp enclosure can also be used for musician's practice at nighttime and provides a quiet rehearsal solution for any amplified band . Amp enclosures are available in different sizes.
Home recording is often done in garages, basements, bedrooms and living rooms. Such rooms are typically much smaller than performance spaces used for professional recording. Because of this, home studios have particular issues with acoustics, including comb filtering and low-frequency resonance. Other challenges include isolating the room from outside noise, and preventing excessive sound from leaking from the room. The surge in home recording has led to an increased availability of devices for acoustic treatment targeted to the home recordist. These include sound insulation devices, portable recording rooms (vocal booths), baffles, bass traps and acoustic panels.
There are three main types of microphones used in home studios: Condenser, dynamic and ribbon. Dynamic microphones are known for their use with recording distorted guitar, snares, and other loud instruments. The condenser microphone provides a warm sound and is commonly used for recording vocals and the acoustic guitar.
Computer, audio device, studio monitors
A personal computer is the typical means by which digital audio is recorded and stored. An external hard drive may be used for additional storage capacity. Routing audio to the computer will require an external or internal sound card or analog to digital converter (A/D). Studio monitors allow the user to listen to the play back. Also required for play back is a digital to analog converter (D/A). Many sound cards will provide both A/D and D/A converters. A good example of a sound card would be one of the following: Presonus AudioBox, Avid Mbox, M-Audio Fastrack pro. These products offer microphone pre-amps and also AD & D/A converters. They can connect to the computer via USB or Firewire connection and record 1-8 or more audio channels simultaneously. That means that many different sound sources can be captured at the same time. For example, this is needed when making a basic recording of a song where two different microphone signals are required for the voice and the guitar, or in situations to combine many different microphone sounds from the same source. Examples of studio monitor companies are Yamaha, Genelec, Tannoy, Focal.
Room acoustics and design
Another important aspect, when building a home studio is acoustic treatment. The way the room sounds or reverberates, can change dramatically the way music is mixed, written and recorded. Untreated rooms have an uneven frequency response, which means that any mixing decisions being made are being based on a sound that is ‘coloured’, because sound mixers can’t accurately hear what’s being played. Acoustic panels and bass traps, can improve the sound in the room.
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- George Petersen, "In Memoriam: Keith Barr 1949-2010", Mix Magazine Online, Aug 2010
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- SnapRecorder,"Portable Home Recording Studio, SnapRecorder.com, Monday April 22, 2013 (http://snaprecorder.com/buy-now)[dead link]
- VocalBooth.com,"you are in control with a VB amp Enclosure", RecordProducer.com, Tuesday August 2, 2011
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- Chris Mayes-Wright, Sound on sound, December 2009