TASCAM FW1884 FireWire Audio/MIDI Interface and DAW Control Surface TASCAM FW1884
M-Audio MobilePre USB Portable Audio Interface
Mackie Onyx 1620 16-Channel Mixer

The computer based DAW route is more complex than the stand-alone option because you have several components that have to function together seamlessly in order for the recording experience to be fruitful and enjoyable. The last thing you need when trying to be creative is hardware or software compatibility. problems. MusicXPC and Alienware offer computers specifically designed for audio production.  

Cakewalk SONAR 6 Producer Edition Cakewalk SONAR 6 PE

       Other than the computer, the next most important thing to consider is recording software. There are several companies that specialize in this type of product and they all have very similar basic features such as recording audio, editing audio, applying effects, etc. The real difference in the packages is how much they integrate with other software packages such as synthesizes and samplers and how easily they integrate with other hardware via MIDI. I have been very loyal to Cakewalk products since starting with their MIDI-only products and then migrating ultimately to their Sonar 4 product. Sonar includes unlimited midi recording, unlimited audio tracks (dependent on your computer’s capabilities), built-n software synths, video sync capabilities, a whole range of midi and audio effects and mixdown options including .wav, .wma, .mp3, etc. Do your homework and determine what your needs are before you buy a software package, you’re going to be using it quite a bit and if you’re not happy with it, you can get frustrated quickly.



       After the software issues have been solved, the audio interface is the next item on the menu. There are easily as many audio interfaces out there as there are stand-alone DAWs and they come in 3 different flavors, Firewire, USB 2.0 and PCI. Firewire and USB 2.0 allow you to use either desktops or notebooks whereas PCI audio interfaces are installed inside your desktop computer. Firewire seems to be the industry darling but USB 2.0 has some fans as well. These interfaces will allow you to record from 2 –24 channels at a time and have a multitude of input and output configurations such as AES/EBU, SPDIF, TOSlink, ADAT, TRS and XLR. Some even include mixing stations such as Tascam’s FW-1884 (list $1,599.00). This can eliminate the need for an external mixer. The FW-1884 also has a 8 channel expander. Mackie has a live mixer  ( Onyx 1620) that has an optional Firewire card that allows it to be used as a audio interface as well. Entry level audio interfaces such as M-audio’s MobilePre USB (list $179.95) offer 2 microphone preamps, and true portability.

       Again, determine you current and future needs and don’t skimp here—buy the product that will grow with you. You’ll be much happier and productive if you don’t have to constantly change your working pace to accommodate your gear


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In addition, some companies offer turnkey solutions including recording software and audio interfaces. I will add, however, that sticking with name brand motherboards and components tends to cut the potential problems down to a manageable level . I have a computer I built myself with an Intel motherboard and processor that has functioned flawlessly (I hope that doesn’t jinx me) for a couple of years now. In any case, please do your homework and if something doesn’t feel right, make sure you get all your questions answered—it can save you tons of heartache and buyer’s remorse later. One other important consideration is your computer monitor. Buy the largest screen size you can with your budget, it will reward you later with fewer trips to the eye doctor.

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Mackie Onyx 1620 16-Channel Mixer
M-Audio MobilePre USB