I'm going to be recording a podcast and I'm trying to decide if I need to buy a multi-track recorder, or if I can get away with recording to my laptop (via an audio interface). I've noticed some comments here and there alluding to problems when recording to a computer (hard drive hiccups, driver issues, etc), and I'm worried that the using my laptop might introduce problems. A multi-track recorder isn't really in my budget, though.

Is it common to have quality problems when recording to a laptop? Are there recommended system requirements for hard drive speed, available RAM, etc? If problems are common, are there ways to minimize or fix them?

2 Answers 2


Using computers to record doesn't necessarily cause quality problems in and of itself, but it does introduce a number of variables that you otherwise wouldn't have to worry about:

  • Latency: Digitizing audio into a computer involves buffering samples, and then processing them. It is possible to minimize it with good hardware, but as far as I know it cannot be completely eliminated.
  • Drivers: Hardware attached to a computer requires driver software, which can be buggy. Not all manufacturers' drivers are of the same quality, and it's often not clear whether an issue is related to your configuration or to bad drivers.
  • Resources: Your audio software and hardware have to compete for CPU time and memory, just like any other application. This means that it's possible to interrupt your audio due to other applications using system resources, even when it seems like they shouldn't affect audio at all. This can show up in unexpected ways, such as your audio dropping when your wireless card attempts to find a network (this has happened to me).
  • Recording software: DAW and recording software can be very complicated, since there are a lot of options.
  • General complexity: There are more changeable parts involved that could come from different manufacturers (interface, usb/firewire, CPU/RAM, hard drive, operating system), so it's a more complicated machine.

There are ways to deal with each of these. If you're monitoring your recording through hardware, or perhaps you don't need to monitor it (such as a podcast where you've already got your levels set and don't need to hear yourself), you can get around the latency issue. Alternately, you could invest in hardware that can handle lower latencies. You can avoid driver problems by sticking to hardware that's known to have good driver support, or that you've been able to try out. You can minimize other applications' resource use by not running other software. And even very complicated systems can be learned.

For what it's worth, I personally use my laptop and a firewire interface for all of my general recording, and it has worked out very well for me - I don't mind the complexity compared to a recorder, since the tradeoff in flexibility is preferable to me. I don't run much non-music software on this computer, and I keep the wireless off during important recordings. Latency is a minor issue, but has been tolerable - I use my interface's hardware monitoring feature when I need to.

As far as specs, the more power the better, but any machine capable of running its operating system with plenty of room to spare should be adequate. Check the recommendations on your interface hardware as well as recommendation software, and add in some extra breathing room. It is possible to happily record on older hardware so long as you're using software from a similar era.

  • 1
    I am using the latest version of Reaper and an M-Audio ProFire 2626 on a 7 year old single processor computer that was not at the high end when I bought it. I have had no problems recording 4 tracks at 44.1 kHz. I have done some test recordings at higher quality that seemed to work fine also. Most modern computers should be able to easily handle recording a podcast. Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 13:24

In addition to the concerns that Warrior Bob has noted, computer recordings can be noisy. And they tend to have surprisingly inaccurate recording speeds which will be a problem if you want to sync with video. (If not, it's not an issue.)

A portable audio recorder like a Zoom H4n will set you back a few hundred dollars, but will deliver much better quality, be easier to use and will allow better quality mics to be used.

  • Out of curiosity, what is it that makes computer recordings noisy? I'm wondering if I've overlooked something in my setup. Your point about recording speeds is excellent though - +1 for that!
    – Warrior Bob
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 5:57
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    I know that if you're recording from the line-in then that will pick up a lot of the internal hum, but don't you avoid all that when using an audio interface?
    – Ian Dunn
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 6:28
  • With what a setup have you experienced inaccurate recording speeds? I never have with any proper interface. Video cameras are normally much more subject to inaccuracy. In a professional setup, the cameras will be SMTPE-synchronized to the audio word clock anyway!
    – leftaroundabout
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 11:08
  • I based that comment on data recorded by customers of our synchronization product. They were recording onto a MacBook Pro, but I don't know the details of their setup. In our experience video cameras, even consumer grade camcorders, have excellent recording speed accuracy. Any sync drift problems almost always arise from the audio recording.
    – gauss256
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 1:32

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