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Q. Can I get a cheap, basic computer to record audio?

By Sam Inglis
Published January 2000

I don't own a computer — I just use the public library's — but I want to 'upgrade' from my cassette 4‑track and stand‑alone sequencer setup. Is it possible to buy (perhaps second‑hand?) a computer that could have, at least eight mono tracks of CD‑quality audio, that could record two or more of them at a time and run, say, twice as many MIDI tracks, or at least sync them to my existing sequencer? I read so much about three‑ or even four‑figure PCs that do all‑singing, all‑dancing 48 tracks and plug‑ins and everything, but I'm too poor and too modest in my musical endeavours to warrant such luxury! Besides, I have a 'small‑toolbox' theory when it comes to creative ventures...

I also have good access to an 8‑channel desk, the usual outboard gear and plenty of microphones, plus a DAT!

Denis McDermott

Assistant Editor Sam Inglis replies: Even a very modest PC these days would be capable of running eight mono audio tracks alongside 16 channels' worth of MIDI data; you should be able to pick up a suitable machine new or second‑hand for £300 or less, though you will need to budget for suitable software too (the entry‑level versions of packages such as Cubase and Logic Audio are good value). Check out SOS readers' ads, the second‑hand ads in you local paper, or budget computer retailers.

However, if you're planning to use the computer solely as a recorder and do all your mixing and effects processing externally, be warned that unless you fit a high‑end soundcard (which may not be possible in an older PC) you're unlikely to have eight separate outputs. Most cheap soundcards (and factory‑specification Macs) have only stereo outputs, meaning you'll have to mix down your eight tracks to stereo on the computer, rather than having each track go into the desk on a separate channel. This would obviously make it hard to apply external effects to individual tracks at mixdown; if you're concerned about this, it might be worth looking at an eight‑track digital recorder such as the Fostex VR800 plus VC8 converter box, or a second‑hand Alesis ADAT, instead of a computer.