Based on my experience; I could say that the overall recording quality would be affected by the following factors:
1. The quality of your audio interface
2. The quality of your Audio Mixer- only if you are using an audio mixer in your studio; however this is not required anymore with current audio interface technology.
3. Speed and Size of the Hard disk.
4. Speed of your CPU & optimization of your operating system
5. Size of your RAM
6. The clarity and the response of your studio nearfield monitors.
7. The noise coming from the connections (wires, etc)
8. The quality of your DAW (Recording software or Digital audio workstation)
9. The quality of your motherboard
10. The quality of your headphone.(however it is not advisable to mix audio entirely using headphones)
11. The acoustic response of your room
12. The quality of your CD-drive
13. The quality of your microphones and musical instruments.
Overall, the above factors defines the quality of your signal chain. This is one of the most important aspects on making quality recordings at home. You need to pay attention to your signal chain.
Let’s discuss this one by one:
The quality of your soundcard or audio interface
Before, I attempted to use an onboard soundcard from ASUS-P4P800X in year 2004. It is a Soundmax Soundcard. Well, I can say it is decent for an onboard soundcard but the recording quality is not good. Although it helps me produce some songs, it does have a lot of disadvantages:
a. Extreme noise
b. No amplification of signals inputted to the computer
c. No proper grounding
d. Cannot reproduce bass frequencies very well.
Extreme noise can be handled by Adobe Audition 1.5 or other noise removing software. Proper grounding can be solved by placing your feet on an insulator.
But the most serious problem is the absence of quality preamp. And this seriously affect the recording quality. Although, I managed to make the problems less than what they appear in the mixing process; this is not a recommended technique for beginners. I am sure it will produce crappy results. Read this post on recording without preamp and its effects on recording quality and signal.
Until then, those problems were “slightly” solved after I bought Creative Audigy Value Soundcard, a great upgrade for my Soundmax Onboard soundcard. But there are still serious problems such as the preamp quality not enough to provide a clean and professional sounding records.
Starting in year 2011, there are lots of great USB and Firewire external audio interfaces designed for home music production. I mean, these PCI soundcards such as those designed by Creative are not professional recording soundcards. They are only great for gaming.
I strongly recommend you should be using an external USB/Firewire audio interface instead of PCI soundcards or any other methods. If you are using Windows OS for your recording; you can read this post on the recommended audio interface. They are now very affordable and can significantly improve the quality of your results. For more details about audio interface, you can read the following resources:
Guide on purchasing an audio interface
Frequently asked questions on audio interface preamps
When to use USB or Firewire audio interface?
The quality of your audio mixer
Mixer works to accept input signals for processing and output mixed signals to other audio components such as the audio interface of the computer. And there are tons of application for audio mixers not only this.
Before I still don’t have an external audio interface; I hook up all musical instruments to the audio mixer preamp to provide some preliminary amplification before passing the signal the PCI soundcard. At first I buy Behringer Xenyx 502 mixer. It is very handy and cheap. The results were fabulous, I can now record all instruments cleanly with sufficient gain.
Today, you do not need to buy an audio mixer to get started in recording. It is because professional external audio interface do already include mixing and preamp features. However, you can read this tips on selecting a mixer for home recording if you want to buy one.