Flip Flops in the Windy City: The Home Studio (Hardware)

The Rig

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I’m going to break down the hardware I use in my home studio.  This will get a bit technical, and its meant mostly for those who write and produce music.  Explanations will be denoted with this. ***

The Computer

I started my life on computers with a PC, rocking Windows 94 like everyone else.  When I got serious about music, I converted to a Mac.  Most people in the film and music world use Macs, so it just makes sense.  I use a 2007 iMac 7.1, 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo with 6 GB of RAM.  The RAM is essential, but we’ll get to that in next week’s post.  I’m still running Snow Leopard; upgrading to Lion is more trouble than it’s worth at this point.

The MIDI Controller

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I use a Casio CTK-731 MIDI controller.  It has 5 octaves and a 2HD/2DD floppy disk drive.  It was considered somewhat current in 2000 when I bought it.  Now it is somewhat of a joke, but it certainly gets the job done.  I used it as my primary means of production in high school, but now I simply use it as my MIDI controller.  I run it into my computer with a MIDI Man MIDI-to-USB converter cable.

***A MIDI controller is just a fancy way of saying “keyboard”.  But since we also call the thing we type on a keyboard, we use the term “MIDI controller” to avoid confusion.  It is also slightly more specific, since a keyboard is not always technically a MIDI controller, and vice versa.***

The Microphone

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I recently acquired a Rode NT1-A, arguably the best microphone in the $200-$300 range.  One of the quieter mics out there (only 5db output), the only possible bad thing to say about it is that it is in fixed cardioid position.  But that isn’t a draw back in a closed studio setting like I use.  I run it through my audio interface with a regular old XLR cable, although I’m looking forward to one day using Mogamis.

***You get what you pay for with microphones.  The best singers in the world sound the way they do because A) they have amazing voices and are very talented, B) use top of the line microphones, and C) lots of other stuff.***

The Interface

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I have a less than impressive audio interface, but it gets the job done.  I use an M-Audio MobilePre USB interface, with one line in and stereo out.  Combined with my microphone, I have recording capability.

***An audio interface is what takes the analog signal from your microphone and converts it into digital information that can be understood and manipulated by your computer.  Without an audio interface, we’d still be using tape machines.  Gross.***

The Enclosure

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Since my iMac has no tower, there is nowhere to install an internal hard drive.  Therefore I need an enclosure, which acts as a permanent home for my internal drive outside my computer.  It connects through both SATA/Firewire and USB.


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I have at least a dozen USB devices.  My computer only has 3 USB ports, so obviously I use a couple different USB hubs.  I will soon get a hub with an external power source so I can run my external drive through it.  Routing through this Belkin hub are my iLok and flash drive.

***An iLok is a USB key drive that holds software licenses.  These days one doesn’t purchase some software (you can download it for free), but simply the license to use it.  Without an iLok containing your software licenses connected to your computer, you cannot use the software.

Coming Next Week: Software