Introduction – Requirements

The basics first.

For a computer based recording system.

A PC – today most PC’s have enough power to run a basic setup.

Onboard sound cards – although not the best setup – are adequate to get started.

Laptops also have this bare minimum requirement.

A useful download to start with is ASIO4ALL – a universal driver for asio and wdm –

This will enable a lot of software that requires ASIO drivers, which can be a massive stumbling block.

If you have a small amount of money it is probably best spent on a sound card – if you are serious about going forward.

There are a lot out there which will not break the bank.

If you are just about guitar, M-Audio Jamlab is worth a punt from around £40. A USB device with headphone socket and guitar jack input – easy to setup and ideal for laptops and pc’s. It will alos power and onboard fx and vst instruments very well.

If you looking at something more advanced and wish to record using microphones then the price will go up.

The M-Audio Fast Track is priced from £50 – Fast Track USB has an input for instruments like guitar, bass and keyboards, plus a microphone input for recording vocals or other acoustic sounds. The included GT Player Express software gives you killer effects and virtual stomp boxes so you don’t need any other gear to sound great. GT Player Express also plays standard audio files like AAC, MP3 and WAV that let you learn and jam along with your favorite music at variable speeds. Fast Track USB is the easy and professional way to add guitar, vocals, and more to your computer music experience. – ideal for pc and laptop.

If you are considering a mixing desk and have a pc then try looking at Behringers line of mixers with usb interface –
Behringer XENYX 1204 Premium Mixer
12-Input 2/2-Bus Mixer with XENYX Mic Preamps, British EQs and USB/Audio Interface. at £105.99.


Firewire or USB? Couln’t answer that to be honest – I’ve used usb interfaces on my laptop – mainly the Jamlab and Behringer and both worked – which in my world is all that’s required – that is not to say they’re perfect. It’s hard to say for definate as everybody’s pc or laptop setup will throw up a problem.

When spending any amount of money it is worth trawling the net for any info you can on what you intend to buy. Forums can in some cases be helpful – it’s just how you read them – the first answer to a question will not always be helpful – and some just abusive. Take your time and ask around.
So for anyone looking at this I will describe my soundcard setups.

I have a M-Audio Jamlab for my laptop – it works like a charm – I use my laptop mainly for sketch recording and backing tracks. I used Guitar Rig and lot’s of freeware plugins and all have been handled very well.

I’ve also used it with Sonar and Reaper and seen no problems – I’ve used a lot of frreware plugins and VST Instruments without incident. As for the audio – well a pair of earphones and/or pc speakers are necessary as the sound is outputted from the Jamlab itself – so if you haven’t already got speakers/headphones then you’ll have to invest in those as well.

My PC setup is a little more complicated and over the years has gotten more intricate.

I started small – Onboard sound and a Yamaha 4-track for input. Yup cheap and dirty – lot’s of hiss. It did the job.

Upgraded sound card to a Audigy – ASIO drivers made the difference in audio quality slightly – to tell the truth – I upgraded for the ASIO drivers – this was about 5 years ago and a lot of audio needed those. What I needed to upgrade was the input stage.

Upgraded from a 4-track to a 2 channel behringer mixer – this had phantom power allowing me to use a condenser mic I bought on ebay for £40. – probably the real start of my studio.

Phantom power is a must for Condenser Mics.

Next upgraded sound card to a M-Audio 2496 – still priced aroun £50-60 and worth every penny – I wouldn’t change now – it’s just what I need – easy to setup and no fuss – it’s PCI so a laptop is out of the question.

I Then upgraded the mixing desk to something a bit bigger – 16 channel. This was for a few reasons mainly my other equipment and probably not necessary for a beginner.
A Laptop/PC with soundcard is probably as much as you need to start with, as you can see I started billy basic and moved on as I got the money to do so.

The software that I’m going to list in the following articles will all be free/donationware.

All I ask is that you keep your setup to your requirements and get into using the software with the bare minimum to start with and add only what you need as you go on.

If you use the free/donation software and like it – then find a way of supporting that software.

Don’t take it for granted.

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