Home Recording Basic Info For Windows Users

A teacher friend forwarded to me a request from one of her students who wanted information on how to do home recording with her Windows PC (the teacher is a Mac user). Here’s what I replied FYI:

It sounds like you already have [free software for Windows/Mac/Linux] Audacity, which was what I would recommend for basic Windows recording. There actually isn’t a GarageBand for PC, despite what searching would have you think – the link that came up is not a product by Apple, but something downloadable from  “Rare Software” – I can find no references for that from reliable sites, so personally I would hesitate to install it.

The other important part of making a decent-sounding home recording into a PC (or Mac) is how you get the analog sound (the waves of sound your harp makes through the air) converted to digital 1s and 0s inside your computer. Your PC may have a line in/mic in 1/8″ jack, or a built-in mic, but those are only sufficient for talking on Skype calls, etc. You want some type of external analog/digital (A/D) converter.


There are two ways to get decent A/D conversion:

1. Buy a USB microphone. There are a number of these now – you plug it into one of the PC’s USB ports, and that provides enough power to run the mic’s built-in A/D converter and power the condenser mic. Both Deborah and I use the Blue Microphones Snowball USB microphone – it is a decent condenser mic, and if you don’t want it in a fancy color it only costs about $45 at Amazon for a white one. This is the simplest method.

2. If you want to use your own XLR connection mic, or if you want to use your harp pickup (which I assume uses a 1/4″ instrument cable), then you need to get a separate USB audio interface. That allows you to plug in instrument or mic cables, adjust the gain, and then connect it to the PC via USB. I’ve been using a Tascam interface that costs about $100 because I like the sound of its built-in mic preamps, but you can get something like this Behringer 302USB mixer/audio interface for $50 – I have one of their non-USB mixers and like their preamps.

As it happens, I wrote a blog post last year as a homework assignment for a Berklee music production class about using an XLR mic, USB audio interface, and connecting them to Audacity to record a sample for Soundcloud – it should be pretty much the same for PC Audacity:

How to Record An Acoustic Instrument

That article also talks about being aware of room sounds when recording with a mic. You avoid that using a pickup, but IMO you will get better sound quality using a room mic. E.g., here’s a piece recorded with the Snowball:

Note that with Audacity on a PC you will only be able to record one track at a time. So if you wish to record multiple instruments, or instrument plus vocal, record one ata time so that you can later adjust their volume relative to each other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *