13 Important Factors in Computer Audio Recording

The speed and size of the hard disk

In the audio recording process, the sound going out from the guitar/any instruments are analog in nature, hard disk cannot store analog data, so the function of the audio interface is to convert analog to digital audio. It is then stored in the hard disk.

In year 2004 using crude onboard soundcard, I record at 16 bit/44.1 KHz since this is the only supported recording bit depth and sampling rate by my device on that time. Starting in 2011, I now record at least in 24-bit/48KHz using my Saffire Pro 40 audio interface. The resulting digital audio are larger in file size and would need a bigger hard disk drive capacity.

I recommend a dedicated hard disk drive for saving digital audio files (not including your OS, which would be in another hard disk drive). Aim for a size around 1TB; this should get you started without worrying about large file size.

The speed of the hard disk is important because during recording and the audio interface performs the analog to digital conversion, the disk will store these data. It will spin measured in revolutions per minute (RPM) during the read and write access. So a slow rotating disk can have problems with recording. It is recommended to select a faster hard disk such as 7200 RPM range or even better (those optimized for recording).

I currently install 2 disk drives: Western Digital 160 GB 7200 RPM Hard Drive in my PC.

In early 2012, I upgraded to 1 TB hard drive dedicated for recording 24-bit audio. Hard drives today are cheaper than it was before. You should also learn how to back up your sound recording masters for the long term.

CPU Speed and Optimum Operating System

The faster the CPU, the more information can be processed.Use the faster processor you can afford. You can even use 64-bit processors paired with very high RAM for a more efficient DAW.

The CPU commands the transfer of data from the audio interface to hard disk when using what we call as PIO (Programmed input/output) mode. PIO mode stresses the CPU too much. This is not a recommended data transfer mode because transfer of information coming from the audio interface are being passed via the CPU for checking then the CPU will transfer to the disk to save.

The most recommended is DMA (Direct memory access), all data transfers from the hard disk will not pass the CPU for checking, this is optimal during recording.

The quickest way to check when PIO mode is activated is when you hear clicks, pops and distortion when audio is being played back despite having a fast CPU and a large RAM. This will add serious latency problems. You can read the following tutorials on how to change it back to DMA mode:

Recommended OS tweaks for PC – read the “Second Tweak”.

Windows Xp or Windows 7 optimization guide– for Firewire and USB audio interface -read tip #6.

You can as well refer to the above tutorials on how to optimize your operating system for best operation.

Size of your RAM

RAM is called Random-Access-Memory, one of the most important components in a computer system. Its main role in computer audio recording is a fast temporary storage of data.

Instead of querying hard disk all the time. RAM stores the data temporarily, for faster data transfer. So in a computer audio recording, big RAM is much needed. For a typical Pentium 4 system, I recommend a RAM of at least 1GB. In 2012, you can easily get 4GB RAM for your 32-bit DAW computer, then with 64-bit processors and operating system you can even install 8GB of RAM comfortably with supported motherboards. Insufficient RAM can cause latency and audio dropout.

The quality of your studio monitors

I highly recommend, whatever type of studio monitor brand you like to use, make sure:

a. It has wide and flat frequency response (around 53Hz to 20,000 Hz)
b. It is a stereo sound system (2.1 is recommended for audio mixing, more than that is just confusing)

c. Has subwoofer dedicated to deep bass. As a sidenote, there is a lot of debates on this. Some pros do not recommend mixing with subs. I recommend having one if your music contains a lot of bass content such as dance music.

d. Medium to high power amplifier can be played loud without distortion or cracking.

For complete recommendations on studio monitors, refer to this post.

The noise coming from the connections

Noise is unwanted in recording because it will surely destroy your recorded signal. Noise can be further classified as “hum” (low frequency noise, such as 60Hz hum from power lines) or “hiss” (high frequency noise). Although all system has noise, in computer audio recording it is highly suggested to keep it at minimum. To learn more about noise and some preventive measures; it is recommended you read this article on the common causes of noise in recordings and the solutions.

The quality of DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software

This is important. Quality DAW can offer a wide recording features to maximize recording quality. There are lots of high quality DAW like Reaper and Adobe Audition. Pro tools from Digidesign is an industry standard and commonly used in big project studios.

Starting in year 2011, my new personal favorite is Reaper. It only costs $60 to license and you can get a lot of features and superb 64-bit internal processing (read this article for details)

Read the following tutorial below if you are still building your PC/DAW hardware system:

Building a DAW/recording studio at home.

The quality of your motherboard

I used the top of the class motherboard at the time (2004) I built my computer. It was Asus P4P800-X. It was far expensive than any class during that time. But I say, it was worth it. P4P800-X has the best onboard soundcard I have tried and helps me to record some songs.

Powerful motherboards offer so many RAM slots, PCI slots, faster connections. And above all, it offer fast onboard USB or Firewire connectivity crucial for hooking up your external audio interface for optimum recording quality.

The quality of your headphone

Although not very important but it you will use this to check the audio during a recording process or review the mix in a headphone. It is not recommended to rely on headphones for your entire audio mixing process, find out why in this tutorial.

The acoustic treatment of your room

You can do some testing on your room acoustics to assess monitoring accuracy. Then listen to a professionally mixed CD to assess the bass levels, treble levels and mid frequencies. Learn how to treat your room properly to create an accurate monitoring environment..

The quality of your CD-drive

This is usually important during the mastering process, wherein a mastered track will be burned down to CD audio, this will use the CD drive. If your CD drive is not optimized for audio, then you will have problems. The best CD burner/writer & media for mastering/computer audio recording applications requires very slow burning speed of around 1x to 4x.

It is because the slower your burning speed, the higher accurate it is. The faster the burning speed, the more prone to errors. It is why master CD to be submitted for replication needs to be burned at a slow rate to prevent digital errors during CD replication.

Content last updated on October 21, 2012