There are many different programs and software applications available to achieve the best audio recording. Professional level work can take years of practice and research, but an engineer can get a pretty decent recording at home as well using a computer and good software. Purchasing a good sound card, compressor, and microphone will help in achieving a high quality recording. It is also important to have low background noise, a good space to record in, and an understanding of how to work the levels.
A sound card converts digital data into an analog format. Higher quality sound cards result in higher quality recordings. Compression helps to bring out the quieter parts of the audio by reducing the dynamics of the louder parts. This results in an overall louder, more balanced sound. Nearly all commercial recordings are compressed.
A good microphone is crucial in getting a good audio recording. Omni microphones are easy to use and produce a good sound, and they will pick up sound from anywhere in the room regardless of where they are pointed. Cardioid mics lessen the volume of background noises and pick up more of the sound they are pointed at; they are best when recording lectures. Shotgun microphones are good for film and video, but not much else because they have a highly sensitive frequency response. The Lavaliere microphone allows the speaker to move around freely, so they are good for recording live performances where the singer is moving.
Computer recording programs often have level meters. It is best to set them so the levels come close to the red but don't go over. If the levels go over the red, there will be clipping and distortion in the audio. If the levels are too low, the sound won't be picked up as clearly.
There are different media formats available for recording depending on the engineers budget. The cheapest route is a high quality tape recorder, but it is impossible to get the same quality recording using a tape deck as from a mini disc recorder or computer program. Unless the engineer has a computer with plenty of space, good recording programs, a good microphone, a great location, a compressor, and an understanding of how to work levels, it is always best to go to a professional recording studio.
Renting time in a professional recording studio will vary in price, and they also vary in quality, depending on the experience of the engineer. Professional studios usually are in a space without a lot of echo in the room, since too much natural reverberation can muddy up the recording process. Reverberation can be added later for a more professional sound. High quality microphones and a good engineer are also usually provided at a professional studio, which can make a world of difference in your final product.
After the sound has been recorded, the audio files must be mixed and then finally mastered. The engineer will mix the audio recording by moving the levels to achieve the best balance and add any desired effects. The recordings then go on to be mastered to give punch, clarity, depth, and volume to the tracks. All of this can be achieved at home, but it usually takes years of practice to master.