Hardware influence on recording quality

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Recording Tips
Hardware influence on recording quality
Updating Sound Device Drivers
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.

Edit note: 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 sound card your recording won't be sound any better than the sound card 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, consider a USB audio interface, such as the Edirol UA-4FX, Shure X2U (for microphones), or the Behringer UCA222 (inexpensive), depending on your needs.

Computer System Reliability

You don't necessary need a very fast computer to make good recordings, but it does need to be reliable. The stable nature of Linux or Unix operating systems may mean a reduced chance of a recording failure if you record with these systems rather than with Windows (other things being equal). In any case, a driver update or software upgrade right before an important recording session is probably a bad idea.

Up-to-date sound card drivers specific to your hardware are more reliable than generic drivers when recording. Be prepared so you can quickly reinstall sound drivers between events if necessary.

On a slow machine 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. 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 General 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.