Hardware influence on recording quality

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Gale: 05May14: ToDo-2 Definitely the Wiki material on recording quality could be rationalised some time, and key points mentioned in the Manual with links to these pages.
Hardware is usually taken as shorthand for "computer hardware" and relates to the physical parts of the computer including the digital circuitry and especially the graphics and sound devices. Hardware is thus distinct from "software" such as Audacity which executes within the hardware.

The only available sound device on many "as shipped" computer systems is the sound device built in to the motherboard . Unfortunately, such an integrated device is usually inadequate for professional recording, especially on laptops. This page offers advice to ensure you have adequate computer hardware for your recording needs.

Please help us improve this page. Probably much of Improving Recording Quality should be incorporated here, the remainder incorporated into other pages linked to on Recording Tips (with a concise summary against the links) and then Improving Recording Quality deleted.

Sound quality is ultimately only as good as the weakest link in the signal chain; this means that even if you are using a $3,000 microphone if you are running through a cheap soundcard your recording won't sound any better than the soundcard itself; likewise a $20 microphone from Radio Shack will still sound bad no matter what you plug it into.

If you are using a laptop that may lack quality inputs, consider a USB audio interface, such as the Edirol UA-4FX, Behringer UCA202 (inexpensive) or the Shure X2U USB microphone adaptor, depending on your needs.

Computer system

You don't necessarily need a very fast computer to make good recordings, but it must be have appropriate sound device drivers, be stable and have sufficient resources to write the recording data.

  • Up-to-date soundcard drivers specific to your hardware are more reliable than generic drivers when recording. Be prepared so you can quickly reinstall or roll back sound drivers between events if necessary.
  • Earlier version of Windows prior to XP SP3 could be less stable than Linux or Unix, meaning a greater chance of a recording failure.
  • On older, slower machines with less RAM, shut down un-necessary applications and processes so that the recording has most of the available CPU to itself (for example with tools like Enditall for Windows). Don't multi-task on the PC that is recording, as it could cause skips. A separate laptop is good for that. Ensure DMA is enabled for the drive you are recording to. Many recommend changing the process priority to give Audacity priority, but this does not work in every case.
  • Consider making a checklist for any important recording. You may want to do a last minute check that you've got power settings set to always on, screensaver off, levels set right and so on before you record. The Wiki has more tips on Managing Computer Resources and Drivers and further Recording Tips that you should read before commencing an important recording.

Backup Recorder Strategies

No PC hardware or software can be relied on with absolute certainty. A reliable backup recorder is very much recommended. An mp3 recorder is a good back-up recorder if it has sufficient capacity and works with external microphones.

Tape-based recorders may not always deliver good sound quality (in the case of cassettes or improperly aligned tape machine) nor will you be able able to record very long and uninterrupted takes, but a recording made to tape is less likely to fail than one made with a computer, and after processing with Audacity (given this is speech rather than music) the results should be acceptable.

Backing up the computer audio files as soon as possible is wise, and keeping the original and back-up files physically separate avoids loss in case of theft, breakage or spillage. Giving someone else a copy of the files each day reduces the chance of data loss.

See also Improving Recording Quality.

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