Microphone and software for recording - Looking for recommendation for both

Talk to others about making and writing music on a computer

Postby Stretto » Fri Dec 30, 2005 12:58 pm

I just found out recently that a person can hook up a microphone to a computer and record an acoustic piano or other sounds. I always thought there was no way to record an acoustic piano with a computer.

So my question is can anyone recommend a decent "inexpensive" mic. for recording oneself playing an acoustic piano? Also is there any special recording software one needs? My computer came with software called "RecordNow". Is this sufficient for recording an acoustic piano from a mic. and also for recording from a keyboard connected to a computer? Or do I need additional software for recording? I don't really want to go the route of free software. Just something inexpensive for an amateur or novice. Also, any other tips for recording from a mic.?




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sat Dec 31, 2005 11:50 am

I suggest that your thoughts on this matter will be informed if you think of your computer as a high-tech tape recorder that does lots of other things as well. Just as with recording on tape, you can spend as much or as little on a microphone(s) as you want. The difference is that, with the recorder, what you get is what you get. Unless you pull it into your computer, the levels and sound quality are the way you recorded them.

As the previous comment implies, you can either record directly to the computer, or record on tape and then bring that into the computer through your sound card's Line input. I've done it both ways. I think recording to a tape recorder (cassette is fine for most things), then transferring the tape to the computer, is a little easier from a purely mechanical standpoint, but neither is hard.

For most people, the software that came with their sound card is good enough. Virtually all such software allows you to adjust levels in each of the stereo (or, in some cases, five) channels independently, remove noise and "clicks", cut out and move around sections of the sound and add leading and trailing silences or other sounds. Most such software also allows you to over-dub tracks from a microphone or add spoken content the same way. Most programs offer output to at least .WAV and .MPG formats. More capable programs can handle more "tracks" (independent instruments or sounds sounding at the same time). For example, the program I use for more advanced sound recording, Recording Session, handles 64 tracks simultaneously. Keep in mind that most programs allow you to adjust the sampling rates from 11,000 to 44,000 samples per second. The more samples the higher quality the sound, but the large the resulting file sizes.

I don't know "RecordNow", but I would bet that it will be sufficient to use with acoustic piano or MIDI input. If I were in your position, I'd use what I have for now, then, after I learned a little more and had more experience, consider upgrading. You could also give shareware a try too.

By the way, a pair of decent mikes is probably enough for acoustic piano, but, if you want to record chamber music, you'll probably want to mike each instrument independently, so that you can adjust the levels independently. This is where having multiple tracks becomes really valuable to edit the sound. :cool:
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Postby Stretto » Sun Feb 12, 2006 1:33 pm

I read in researching things about "making music" on computers something about how one has to be careful when hooking up things like microphones, or stereos, etc. to one's computer as certain volumes from these can "burn up" one's sound card. I didn't quite comprehend what this meant but it kind of "scared" me out of "hooking" a microphone or stereo to the computer until I found out for sure what that meant.

Would anyone have any idea about this?

Also can anyone recommend a type of "inexpensive" microphone for recording an acoustic piano onto computer? Preferrably one that can be connected directly to the computer as I don't have a very good stereo for recording onto tape. (I kind of got side-tracked on other musical endeavors so I had put hooking up a microphone on the back burner- just the way I am - it takes me a while to get around to my ideas! :D )
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Feb 13, 2006 8:11 am

Stretto wrote:I read in researching things about "making music" on computers something about how one has to be careful when hooking up things like microphones, or stereos, etc. to one's computer as certain volumes from these can "burn up" one's sound card.

Also can anyone recommend a type of "inexpensive" microphone for recording an acoustic piano onto computer?

I can't know specifically what you were looking at when you read that, but my guess is they were referring to amplified mikes, sort of like those on "personal karaoke" systems, which not only detect the sound but make it louder. Most good quality microphones for recording purposes are not amplified, so they're safe to use. You can even use an amplified mike if you're careful. Just start with the volume on the mike output turned as low as it will go. Start your recording software (make sure your mike input is turned on in Windows and the input volume is up - they are usually usually off by default) and speak into the mike. Chances are you won't see any signal. Edge up the volume in small increments until you get the signal at the level you want, then you're set tp record.

You can use the same technique to record on your computer from any player (cassette, CD). Just start with the volume on the player low and edge it up until you get signal at the level you want. As long as you're careful, you won't hurt your sound card. You'll need a stereo cable with RCA plugs at each end (from any stereo or electronics store) to connect the player to the sound card's Line Input jack. Again, make sure the Line Input is turned on in Windows. This is exactly the way I recorded for computer the Taz-mania and Dr. Who sound effects on our Audition Room page, once I had taken them off-air.

You can spend as much or as little on a stereo mike as you want. This is old technology, so you can buy them at lots of discount stores, stereo stores, electronics stores, etc. About the only thing you have to be careful of is the frequency response of the mike (almost always shown on the packaging). Most of us can't hear sounds lower than 50 Hz (Hertz, cycles per second) and higher than about 16,000 Hz, so what you want is a mike with as "flat" a frequency spectrum as possible across that range. Don't worry too much if the mike response "trails off" at the extremes of the range. That's typical and not a problem, so long as the mike has some output at the extremes. Cheaper mikes will generally have a less flat spectrum than more expensive ones, although, because the technology is old, you don't always "get what you pay for." That's about all I can say without going into a dissertation on decibel output and roll-off characteristics, which I don't think you were asking about. :;):
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue Feb 13, 2007 2:37 pm

Stretto,

I've been doing a lot of home piano recording and turning it into CDs, but the equipment I'm using is probably more expensive than what you are looking for.

However, if anyone out there is interested I'll be glad to list the hardware I have.

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Postby Stretto » Wed Feb 14, 2007 1:36 am

I started to research the subject on the internet last year and read quite a bit of information on types of mikes that would be best for recording acoustic piano and best angles and such to set the mikes to the piano. I also thought I recall reading that a person would get a better recording of an acoustic piano with two mikes. I read information on simplest, "inexpensive" routes on up. It all started sounding more expensive and more complex to do even for home amateur recordings for personal enjoyment than what I expected.

I mainly wanted to record acoustic piano onto cd to record my playing to send to relatives, perhaps record some pieces for students for listening assignments and such, and to record compositions.

Before I read anything on the subject, here's what I expected to be able to do:

Buy a mike for $30 - $100.
Plug the mike into the computer.
Download the recording software.
Press a few buttons to start recording and there you have it -a half-way decent recording for an amateur home recording.

All the "tweaking" and "fine-tuning" of mike angles and "tweaking" and "fine-tuning" on the recording software made it sound more complex than plugging in an inexpensive mike, hitting a few buttons and recording.

I re-read some of Dr. Zeigler's info. on this thread just now. I don't think I wanted to try it at the time, but the way to go for me for the present may be to try to record onto tape or cd player and then from there onto computer. I have an old mike that my husband had probably since he was a teenager and also an old stereo he had also again probably since he was a teenager. I do occasionally just for "goofing around" purposes tape my playing with that or tape my kids singing or talking. Just for learning purposes and/or for starting out cheaply, maybe I could record something taped from mike on that old stereo and then onto computer?

Last year in looking for recording software and wanting to hook my old keyboard up to the computer, I bought Voyetra's Music Studio Kit that included a USB MIDI Cable and recording software. I thought compared to buying the cable by itself, it wasn't too much difference in price to get the Voyetra kit and have the cable and recording software. The recording software it came with, however will not allow you to burn a recording onto cd without upgrading (so another dead end). I decided then not to worry about being able to burn a recording onto cd and just spend some time learning the ropes of the recording software until I'm ready to spend more money. By the time I learn it, cd's probably won't be used much at all!

The other thing I was thinking is to wait a few years to see what else comes out that makes recording onto computer simpler. I'm sure there's already some different options for recording onto computer out than when I originally researched it.

That's where I left off with the whole endeavor.

While we're on the subject, what kind of cd's would be best to buy for burning music onto cd? In addition, if a person wanted to record an acoustic piano onto a computer, or record a keyboard onto computer and burn it onto cd so that a student or relative could play it on their cd player, what kind of cd's would one buy for that purpose?




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Feb 16, 2007 9:34 pm

Before you can record a CD with your computer you have to have a drive that will do it, never mind the software.
That means a drive that will write as well as play--mine is CD-RW. If there is not such a drive on your CPU you would have to install one.

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sat Feb 17, 2007 10:03 am

Stretto wrote:All the "tweaking" and "fine-tuning" of mike angles and "tweaking" and "fine-tuning" on the recording software made it sound more complex than plugging in an inexpensive mike, hitting a few buttons and recording.

Just for learning purposes and/or for starting out cheaply, maybe I could record something taped from mike on that old stereo and then onto computer?

Last year in looking for recording software and wanting to hook my old keyboard up to the computer, I bought Voyetra's Music Studio Kit that included a USB MIDI Cable and recording software. I thought compared to buying the cable by itself, it wasn't too much difference in price to get the Voyetra kit and have the cable and recording software. The recording software it came with, however will not allow you to burn a recording onto cd without upgrading (so another dead end). I decided then not to worry about being able to burn a recording onto cd and just spend some time learning the ropes of the recording software until I'm ready to spend more money. By the time I learn it, cd's probably won't be used much at all!

The other thing I was thinking is to wait a few years to see what else comes out that makes recording onto computer simpler. I'm sure there's already some different options for recording onto computer out than when I originally researched it.

That's where I left off with the whole endeavor.

While we're on the subject, what kind of cd's would be best to buy for burning music onto cd? In addition, if a person wanted to record an acoustic piano onto a computer, or record a keyboard onto computer and burn it onto cd so that a student or relative could play it on their cd player, what kind of cd's would one buy for that purpose?

You have rasied lots of good questions here. First, unless you're trying to produce "professional" level recordings, you don't need a great deal of "tweaking" and "fine tuning" of mike locations and levels - precisely because recording software allows you to "balance" levels from the mikes even if they are not exactly in the right spots. It's very easy to increase or decrease the volume of an entire track in software.

You can take a recording from the old stereo into your computer. You'll probably need a Y-adapter (from RadioShack) to adapt the pin plug outputs from the dual stereo outputs of the stereo to the single, RCA-type, Line-In stereo input of your sound card on the computer. These are only a few dollars. You can also record directly from stereo mikes to the computer, bypassing the stereo entirely.

With regard to the Voyetra kit, I assume that it will write sound files that you have recorded to your computer's hard disk(virtually all will). Once it's on the hard disk (in either .WAV or MP3 formats), any burning program (Nero and Roxio are the two most common) will write them out to CD or DVD (if you have a DVD writable drive). If you have a CD or DVD writable drive, you can bet that you have burning software on your computer. You just have to make sure you choose in the burning program to write an Audio disk, rather than a Data disk, since the way the files are written to the two types of disks differs. Music CD's are written in the same "spiral" track format that LP's used. You can write the same music file to a Data disk, but it will only play on your computer, not your CD player.

If you have a DVD-writable drive (variously referred to as DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW) on your computer, writing the music to DVD is a good option, since it allows you to include video and photos to show while the music is playing (e.g. excellent for documenting studio concerts, etc.). You will then play the result on your DVD player. Beyond the hardware, you need writing software. Chances are that you got some kind of software for doing that with the computer, but, failing that, you can use the Windows Movie Maker software that comes with Windows XP (Start, All Programs, Accessories, Entertainment, Windows Movie Maker). If you really want the most power, Pinnacle's Studio software is probably the best for editing sound and video for DVD.

Be advised that video and sound editing can eat up a lot of time. I usually figure that, since I know Studio now, it will take me 8 hours of work to produce an hour of edited video or music on DVD. That said, the results can be very impressive.

If your CD burner is a rewritable drive (i.e. one that can not only burn CD's, but can burn ones which can be rewritten with additional or different information later), you can use either CD-R or CD-RW disks in it. I usually use CD-R disks for purposes like those you intend, since such disks have the advantage that the information, once burned to them, can't be changed. These also have maximum compatibility with all the different kinds of players "out there". They will play on just about any CD player or computer. Just make sure you use the "Close session" option in your recording software. Multisession CD-R's are far less compatible with players.

As for the specifics of the CD-writable disks, just about any brand and any speed is fine. Just make sure that you don't write them on your computer at a rate faster than the rated speed of the CD's you have. For this kind of thing, I usually buy the ones I can get the best deal on. You can also use CD-RW disks, but they are more expensive and must be burned in the CD-R format to work on CD players. Basically, it's just a waste of money to use CD-RW's for anything other than data backup (IMHO).

Hope this long disssertation helps. :)
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Postby Stretto » Sat Feb 17, 2007 9:11 pm

Thank you Dr. Leland and Dr. Zeigler for the tips and info. It will take me a while to mull over the information provided here. I'll check out the things you've mentioned.

Thanks again.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sun Feb 18, 2007 12:01 pm

A few other comments, Stretto: If you're looking to create CD's that students who have older Macintosh computers can read as data, you must create them in what's called "ISO-9660 format". This is a standard format that Windows computers can read, as well. However, you are restricted in ISO-9660 to 8.3 (DOS-type, 8 characters, followed by a period, followed by a three character extension) file names. Windows uses mostly a different format called "Joliet", which allows long file names. Your CD-burning progarm will have options that allow you to choose the ISO format, though chances are that it defaults to Joliet. Of course, all this goes away if you simply burn the CD's as Audio CD's, since virtually all computers will recognize and play them. If you burn DVD's, again, there are some compatibility problems with Macs, even the ones that have DVD drives, though these are usually solvable.

Even if you don't have a DVD writable drive or digital video camera, you may already have all you need to video your studio concerts, if you have a digital camera. Most digital cameras these days have the ability to record video to some degree. The camera can record short (maybe 60-120 seconds, depending on the camera) videos; you can then pull them into your computer and use Windows Mivie Maker (or any other editing program) to create an edited version. Once that's done, you can have the editing program write it out to CD in what's called S-VCD or VCD format. The video CD will only hold about 15-30 minutes of video, but will play on most computers and DVD players just like a DVD. This is a pretty cheap and easy way to hone your skills with audio and video editing before you get your next computer, which will almost certainly have a DVD-writable drive.

If you would like to display or make available audio-video on a web site, the writing programs, including WMM, allow you to output the same audio or video to .WMV files, the Internet standard for video. Without wishing to give away all our "secrets" (and with apologies to Dr. Leland for doing so anyway), Dr. Leland recorded the videos, which accompanied his article on scales a few months ago, on his digital camera. He sent me the raw (meaning unedited) video which I edited using WMM (Studio was sort of overkill for that), and outputted to WMV files. You can now see all that on PEP. :cool:




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Feb 21, 2007 8:14 am

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:However, if anyone out there is interested I'll be glad to list the hardware I have.

Yes, I think we would all be interested, not only in the hardware, but in the software you're using to edit the music and burn to CD. There is a lot of software and hardware available. I'm personally familiar with only a limited number of combinations. Any personal reflections you have on the usability of your setup would also be appreciated. :)
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