What is a Personal Recording Studio?

R. Kayne

A personal recording studio is a digital dream for musicians and songwriters. About the size of a laptop computer, the personal recording studio packs an unbelievable amount of technology, tricks and tools into an affordable, portable device. A personal recording studio can create studio-quality demos from the convenience of your living room.

Microphones are a necessity for any proper recording studio.
Microphones are a necessity for any proper recording studio.

If songwriting is just a hobby, don't fret —- a 4-track like the Palmtop personal recording studio has all of the basic functionality necessary to lay down tracks, bounce, edit, trim, master and export in .wav/aiff formats to your computer for burning to CD. With a built-in mic you can also record vocals or acoustic guitar. The Palmtop includes an integrated effects processor for your guitar with amp modeling and programmable drum and bass machines. Ten virtual takes are available for each track, so you can record multiple takes, then pick the best one. This pint-sized personal recording studio features four faders and records with a respectable 20-bit analog/digital (A/D) converter at 31.25 kHz. All this and more for about US$200.

Personal recording studios may be used to make a demo tape.
Personal recording studios may be used to make a demo tape.

If you need more than a "scratch pad," you might want to step up to an 8-track personal recording studio. Manufacturers and models vary, but one popular product packs all of the tricks of its Palmtop sibling while adding four more tracks and faders for greater flexibility. This personal recording system also uses a 24-bit A/D converter for greater clarity and 44.1 kHz sampling for studio-quality sound. It sells for about US$300. A personal recording system can also include a CD burner to finish the job without having to export for burning. An 8-track model with a built-in burner can be found for about US$600, but other features might be missing, such as an integrated bass machine.

In general, the more tracks, the more expensive the recorder will likely be. Many popular models feature 16 and 24 tracks respectively. Connectivity varies between models, so the intended purpose of the personal recording studio will be important. To record a band, for instance, the device must have many inputs and allow for simultaneous recording of multiple tracks. An entry-level personal recording studio allows simultaneous recording of only two tracks. While perfect for personal use, this will not suffice for a band.

As price increases, so should advanced editing features. The ability to loop a phrase and use a time sequencer to match the loop to tempo might be one example. Tools that make punching in and out easier at a precise location are also valuable. This allows hands-free editing via marking a section of track that needs replacing in advance -- such as a lick with a sour note.

When the track is played back, the musician can play along. The personal recording studio will automatically begin recording at marker point A, "punching in," and stop recording at marker point B, "punching out." Placing the markers at exactly the right point will allow a clean edit, but this is much easier with tools that allow a preview of the sound that comes just before and after each mark. Being a few milliseconds off can ruin the edit.

A personal recording studio is a great way to archive your original music, create promotional demos, or even record live performances. Depending on your needs, prices range from US$200 to US$4,000 or more. It is wise to consider several different models before making a decision. Specs and owners' manuals are available online to give you the complete picture. Customer reviews are often also helpful in determining the right product for your needs.

A personal recording studio typically has at least one amplifier.
A personal recording studio typically has at least one amplifier.

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