Basic Music Recording Setup Recommendations for 2013 MacBook Pro

I recently upgraded the MacBook that I use for consulting work, which frees up my old one (2013 MacBook Pro) for personal use–and I’d like to start using it for (among other things) some basic home recording. Problem is, I don’t really know where to start! I figure my Mac should be a pretty capable platform, if a bit outdated, but my recording hardware/software knowledge is a good 15-20 years out of date. Most of my experience is on 4- and 8-track cassette and free-standing hard disk machines, with a little bit of PC experience circa 2001.

Most of what I’m interested in recording would be live music–mainly acoustic instruments and vocals–via one or two XLR condenser mikes. If there were additional inputs (XLR or otherwise) that would be ideal, but it’s not something that I’d want to invest serious money into at this point in time. And I was planning on just using Garage Band, unless there’s a compelling (and affordable) alternative. Mainly, I just want to capture rehearsals and the occasional performance for the sake of reviewing and getting better, and also have the ability put together simple demos of song ideas. If I could turn my MacBook into a digital version of my long-deceased Tascam 424 for not-too-much money, I’d be very happy. And even if it was just limited to two simultaneous XLR inputs, I’d be perfectly okay with that too.

Any advice would be much appreciated!

Oh, technical specs would probably come in handy here:
2013 MacBook Pro 13"
2.8 GHz Intel Core i7
2 Thunderbolt ports (the older ones; not the newish Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports)
2 USB-3.0 ports

Sounds like you just need a USB audio interface. I have a device called an M-Audio Fast Track for this purpose but I don’t think they make them anymore. There are plenty of other such devices that do the same thing; there are both cheap options and very expensive ones. In any case, just do a search for “USB audio interface” and you’ll be able to find one that fits your needs.

Look for 24-bit, 96 kHz recording with low jitter.

For what you’re describing you might be better off using a handheld digital recorder. Tascam and Zoom make some that have built in condenser mikes and also accept XLR mikes. The audio can be transferred to your computer to edit/enhance with whatever software you use, and the devices are small enough to carry in a pocket. A lot more convenient than a laptop, and not much more cost than an audio interface would be.

I know that Avid makes several audio interface devices, many of which come with Pro Tools Basic preinstalled on them. I have one, although I haven’t used it for quite awhile now. My older PC never had an issue with it, and I was running a huge piece of amp modeling software in conjunction with it.

My basic rig is:

Avid audio interface with ProTools Basic
a pair of monitors
headphones (I like the Sony MDR 7506 'phones…great for studio listening and cheap)
my axe
Amplitube III amp modeling software

and that’s it.

If I may make a strong suggestion, I would highly recommend calling Sweetwater and talking to one of their reps about what you have, what you want, etc and they will guide you.

Their customer service is second to none.*Sweetwater%20-%20Branded&adgroup=Sweetwater%20-%20Exact&keyword=sweetwater&placement=google&adpos=1t1&creative=219897786869&device=c&matchtype=e&network=g&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI04eIweaZ2wIVg8BkCh0ctwm2EAAYASAAEgIYlfD_BwE

I recommend you to try Reaper for a DAW. There’s a trial version with full functionality, and a license is pretty cheap if you decide to buy. It’s easy to learn and use, especially if you’re familiar with DAW software.

I’d either get a dedicated USB audio-interface or a field recorder with audio-interface capabilities like a zoom H4n/H5/H6. I currently use a zoom H6 and it works really well. It has four inputs and I can either record to sd and transfer or use it as an interface and record into my DAW. It also has multi-track features, on-board effects etc. but I do those things on my computer.

As for what to get, it depends on your needs. If you plan on staying in the studio, I’d get a dedicated interface. If you want to bring your recording setup out to live gigs, do field recordings and so on and feel like you can sacrifice some inputs/outputs for flexibility, I’d opt for a field rec with interface functionality.

I own a couple of USB mixers and a hand-held digital recorder (and I owned a few 4 tracks back in the day). Unless you’re planning on multi-tracking, I agree that you might be better off with a portable recorder. They’re dead easy, and have plenty of features such as compressors to make sure you get a good source track. You can always export the tracks into a DAW and touch them up if you so desire.

If you’re set on gong the computer/mics route. I’ll echo calling Sweetwater.

Thanks for the recommendations, everyone! I hadn’t really considered that USB 3 has bandwidth to spare for real-time music data transfer (thought I might need to make use of Thunderbolt, which would have limited options available). Nor had I considered that portable recorder technology has advanced as much as it has. Much to think about here!

There is also one other thing that is always important when recommending musical/audio equipment: What is your budget?

I was hoping to keep it under $200. Any more and it’ll have to come out of my guitar build (summer project!) budget. Seems doable, at least for USB interfaces.

Also, I don’t recall for sure, but did you ever tell us how you intend to use this new setup? I mean, what’s it for, exactly? For instance, my setup is geared towards just me playing guitar. I don’t own a microphone because I am not recording anything other than guitars and multi-tracking them.

Are you a singer, instrument player, etc?

Yeah, ok. Then you need to figure out exactly what you need (and important: might want) to do with the hardware, within that budget.

For software, I’d still recommend you to go with Reaper. It’s a pro DAW, for free if need be.