Laptop Digital Recording – Recording on a Laptop

Digital recording doesn't always stay in the same place. Laptop digital recording moves with you. 

You may have a bedroom studio, but there are times when you just need to be somewhere else. Maybe it's at a friend's house. Maybe a choir at church. Maybe it's a live concert to record.

>> Location recording is going somewhere that is not a studio. I also call it laptop digital recording.

You don't need lots of expensive equipment to do location recording. In fact, you probably can do it with what you already have.

I take my preamps and audio interface from my studio when I go on location. My regular mics work fine.

So here's what you need:

When you go mobile you will want lighter equipment. Rugged gear works better for the rigors of transport and many setups/teardowns. You also want something that can be set up and tore down fairly quickly.

Microphones don't generally vary much in relation to mobile laptop digital recording. Use the same rules you would regularly about what mic to choose and where to place it.

Cables are a smaller issue in location recording, but still pertinent - sometimes you need to run a hundred feet or more. I have several 100 foot cables. Don't use several 30' cables together (if you can help it). Why? It's more chances for the sound quality to have problems.

For the main gear (preamp and interface), an all-in-one box is definitely a nice hassle-free way to go. Check out MOTU's line of interfaces, specifically the 4-Pre, the 8-Pre, the UltraLite, or the 828mk3. I use the 828. It has two built in preamps and uses FireWire into the computer. 

Also look at some smaller interfaces, like the Lexicon Lambda or E-Mu 0204 USB. They have a few XLR inputs and go USB to the computer.

You can also use a separate preamp and go into the interface. This will take more cables and more space on your makeshift console.

case is really handy - something to put the core things like the preamp and interface. It's so nice to just grab that and go.

What kind of laptop?

Just a few guidelines for the laptop computer ensure a smooth recording experience. It should have decent speed as well as modest RAM and HD space. 

It does NOT have to be the best and fastest.

The exact model doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter if the laptop is Windows or Mac powered. It doesn't matter exactly what speed it is. 

Why? all you need is a decent amount of speed and memory. Record to an external hard drive (the internal one will probably be overloaded).

In the past, I used an Apple iBook G4 1.2gHz with 768MB RAM and a 60GB hard drive. The recording went to an external USB drive. My setup handled 3-4 tracks of 24bit audio just fine. 

The hardest things for a laptop are plugins. Regular recording doesn't need them much. (That comes later, in the mixing.)

You don't need a new model laptop to handle 4 tracks. If you already have a laptop, do a test by hooking up your equipment and recording something. See how it does.

How long does it take from the time you push record until it actually starts recording?

If your laptop is overloaded, try using a smaller program like Audacity to record the tracks. You can import them into your main audio editor later.

Here's what I use

You don't need much equipment to go onsite laptop digital recording. Here's what I take when I go out of the studio:

It seems like a lot (especially in my car's backseat), but it isn't all that much. It helps to get a small 4 or 6 space portable rack, like the Gator GR-4L. It holds the interface, preamp, power strip, some cables, and my headphones.

Mobile laptop digital recording doesn't take all kinds of expensive equipment. It just takes ordinary gear, like the stuff you have. Just pack it up and take it with you. 

Check out some of the light-weight portable audio interfaces available. They combine preamps with the interface, eliminating unnecessary clutter and gear. Get a good laptop, but that doesn't mean it has to be top of the line. Try experimenting with software. And have fun!

About the Author Lee Weaver

Lee started his career in recording with an auspicious goal - record tracks of his own voice singing in harmony. As a hobby project, it didn't have the funding to go to a studio and pay for someone to do it for him. Like many of you, he pulled himself up by the bootstraps to learn the art of recording.

Leave a Comment:

Hannah says January 2, 2019

Thanks for the checklist. Do you have tips on adjusting laptop mic settings when trying to record with a mic that’s plugged into an interface? It’s been a long time since I tinkered with recording, & so I’m foggy on what I need to adjust. The mic sounds fine through headphones plugged into the interface, but the recording is playing back through the laptop like it’s in a tin can.

    Lee Weaver says January 3, 2019

    From what you’re saying, it sounds like your laptop speakers are junk. Laptops don’t really have speakers worth much anyway.

    If it sounds fine on headphones, try listening to it on other sets of speakers. Export and transfer to a phone, so you can play it on a car, or other stereo player. Always listen in multiple locations, because one speaker is never the ultimate. Unless you paid several thousand dollars for it, but then you know more about it… 🙂

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