The most important piece of equipment in any portable studio is the digital audio workstation (DAW), also known as a computer. Depending on the software on the computer, a DAW could act as a recording device, mixer and sequencer. By handling so many tasks, a good DAW reduces the need for additional equipment.
Handling audio files requires a lot of computer horsepower, particularly if you're mixing lots of channels. For that reason, it's important to choose a computer with a fast microprocessor. For a while, it seemed like Mac computers would always reign supreme in the world of media computing. But some audio engineers say that the differences between Mac and PC performance are negligible. As long as the computer you pick has a powerful CPU and a large, fast hard drive, you're in good shape.
Another piece of the portable studio setup is the audio interface. While many computers have input and output ports and sound cards, they aren't always capable of recording or playing back professional-quality sound. For that reason, many engineers who set up portable studios rely on additional audio interface devices. These devices range in size from a handheld gadget to a machine the size of a hefty VCR.
Audio interface devices usually have multiple input and output ports. Many have both analog and digital ports, which covers all musical instruments and microphones. Some also act as analog-to-digital converters (ADCs). That means the device can accept an analog signal and then digitize it. It converts sound into information that a computer can manipulate.
Analog signals are continuous waves that vary in frequency and amplitude. An analog audio signal's frequency corresponds to the sound's pitch. The wave's amplitude represents the sound's volume. Digital signals aren't continuous. Instead, a digital signal is a series of snapshots called samples. The number of times a computer takes a snapshot of an analog signal per second is the sampling rate. Higher sampling rates translate into smoother, more natural sound.
Not all audio interfaces are also ADCs. Some audio engineers might prefer to use a dedicated ADC, then run the signal coming from the ADC through the audio interface and into the DAW. Either way, the audio interface carries the signal to the DAW. Audio engineers use the DAW to manipulate individual channels and mix the sound into a final track.
The DAW might be the most important hardware component in a portable studio, but it's useless without the right software. Keep reading to learn about the applications audio engineers use to produce music.