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I'm looking to improve my home studio setup. I mostly just record stuff in GarageBand for personal to semi-pro use at this point.

I have a decent (though old-ish) Kurzweil keyboard, a professional mic, a guitar and a Mac Mini as my main audio sources. I also have an extra set of Klipsch 5.1 speakers left over from a home audio system that I'm hoping to repurpose for this.

Is that a reasonable thing to do? I don't want to spend a lot on this setup, but I also don't want to something that I'll outgrow immediately.

I think I need some kind of mixer to combine the external signals and some kind of amp to send them to the speakers and/or garage band, but any other setup suggestions (or specific equipment) would be welcome.

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4 Answers

Just to mention: You should keep in mind that GarageBand is not capable of doing 5.1 stuff, all you could do is record multiple audio tracks. But no 5.1 panning, etc. If you want that, you'll have to use Logic instead.

If you want to have a 5.1 setup, I would use a home cinema receiver (Since it is a semi-pro setup). These have 5 or 7 channels of powered amps, a dedicated sub out, enough power to drive virtually any speaker and usually a 6-channel (5+1) analogue audio input (DVD audio in) which you can feed from your onboard soundcard or a professional soundcard.

As you're not doing high-end mixes, you should question yourself if you really need studio monitors. To me, having speakers that I know well because I've heard music and did mixes on them for a long time is more valuable than having $600 Yamaha or $3000 Genelec speakers that I don't know that good. (Of course good speakers that you know well would be the best.)

What I want to say is that there is a good chance that the quality of your mixes will drop first and then slowly increase when you get to know your speakers better. The time for this process depends on how experienced you are - but even professional engineers (the really professional ones) take their time to sit in a studio they don't know and just listen to music samples of which they know how they should sound.

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I'm looking to improve my home studio setup.

If you are intent on producing better recordings then I'd not sacrifice anything and go straight for powered studio monitors. It's like chalk and cheese compared to most surround sound systems.

I used Yamaha laptop speakers for a couple of years but I only use studio monitors now. I could not (or would not) believe a change of speakers would give me any improvement. I just couldn't envisage how they would help. I got a decent sound from my original set-up (despite size and cost) so I thought "what is the big deal?".

The big deal was that those speakers massaged the sound leading me to believe I had a decent track. When I first plugged-in my Mackie HR624s and listened to a piece I'd recently completed, I was shocked at how weak it sounded. I never heard those weaknesses before (except if i took a CD round to my friends house to listen to). I was fooling myself.

Don't be fooled - get studio monitors and listen to recommendations from other folk who have done the same.

I can use them for listening to regular CDs and music and there are many many occasions when I've done so and thought "what a sh*t mixing or mastering job done on this track".

They give you the power to improve your sound by telling you the truth about your sound.

Think about it - why would any surround sound speaker manufacturer (or hi-fi manufacturer) give you the audio straight as it is? They want you to buy their product so, if they have the tech, they'll massage any sound to make it is good thru their speakers as they can. Think about the market they are selling into and the type of folk buying it.

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As your computer doesn't have a power amp, you will need some way to boost volume, so a mixer may well be the best way, however this won't give you 5.1 sound by itself. You'll need a soundcard that has the required channels - and some of these have a decent amp.

The good thing about audio kit is you can always upgrade:-)

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I can live with stereo instead of 5.1 if need be. Care to suggest any specific mixers? Also, won't I also need an amp or something to plug the speakers into? They're just normal bookshelf speakers... –  sprugman Sep 28 '13 at 23:54
    
You can get powered mixers, or a standalone amp. I wouldn't give a recommendation as there are so many out there that will do the job. If these are just normal bookshelf speakers you won't need a top end amp, so just get something you can afford. –  Rory Alsop Sep 29 '13 at 9:23
    
Even a single rec would help to anchor my search... –  sprugman Sep 29 '13 at 14:12
    
Okay - well, I quite like M-Audio kit, as it's quite cheap, but is not too far from pro-quality. We use M-audio on stage as well, to take our backing and effects from Cubase on a laptop to the backline. –  Rory Alsop Sep 29 '13 at 15:40
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You'll need a small mixer to connect to the mic, kb, and guitar (using a DI box). It'll connect to the LINE IN jack on your soundcard. Now, you'll then need a 5.1 amp to recieve the digital out from the soundcard (optical or coaxial), assuming that you're recording in 5.1. Those amps are simple Home Theatre amps with 5 channels and can be found for several hundred dollars.

However, keep in mind that most music is stereo, not 5.1. If you're just going with stereo, buy a 2-channel amp to drive two of the Kilpsch speakers you have.

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I also want to use this setup for listening to music, so I wonder if a 2.1 setup would help with the sound quality. (What's a "DI box"?) –  sprugman Sep 29 '13 at 14:10
    
A DI box is an adapter that turns a mic input (XLR) to a 1/4" guitar input. For 5.1 or 2.1, its entirely your choice. Most recorded music is in stereo though, but if you watch movies then 5.1 is better. –  d.free Sep 29 '13 at 19:09
    
Generally, a DI is used to take inputs, whether XLR or 1/4" etc, and send them as balanced feeds to your mixer. –  Rory Alsop Sep 30 '13 at 11:20
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