Home » Buyer's Guides » Getting the Most from Apple GarageBand

Getting the Most from Apple GarageBand

If you’ve worked with Apple’s GarageBand, you know just how easy making music can be. M-Audio makes a variety tools that help you get the most from your GarageBand experience, including USB MIDI keyboard controllers, audio interfaces, microphones, audio monitors, and loop libraries. Here’s a look at how to choose and integrate these tools to create your own private recording studio.

Audio interfaces

Preamplification. Most Macs have line-level inputs and outputs that work with devices such as stereo receivers and computer speakers. Bringing signals into your computer from sound sources such as guitar, bass and microphones poses a different problem. The first thing you’d notice is that the connectors don’t match. You’d also find is that their audio signal is too weak. That’s because these unpowered devices require preamplification in order bring the signals to line level—another benefit of our external audio interfaces.

Our Fast Track USB, for example, features built-in preamplification for both instrument and microphone inputs. This allows you to record electric guitar, acoustic guitar with internal pickup, bass and similar instruments, as well as a microphone for vocals and acoustic instruments, into GarageBand. (Fast Track also includes GT Player Express software that gives you great guitar effects and virtual amp models without even having an amp at all.) Of course, interfaces like the Fast Track USB also provide high-quality audio outputs suitable for connection to your stereo receiver, mixer or powered monitors.

All M-Audio interfaces are built to accommodate the demanding needs of today’s recording professionals. So, in addition to giving you a preamp, an M-Audio interface also serves as an overall audio upgrade for your computer.


Closeup View Connectivity


Monitoring and Latency. There are other benefits to having a professional audio interface. Simple stereo computer audio circuits and audio cards typically lack the capability of letting you hear what you are recording while you’re listening to something else. All M-Audio interfaces provide this critical monitoring feature.

Also, all digital audio circuitry has an inherent processing delay between when a sound goes into a computer and when it comes out—a phenomenon known as latency. This latency creates an audible delay that can take the fun out of recording. All M-Audio interfaces feature extremely low latency so that you can monitor your performances complete with software effects.

Configuration. M-Audio makes a complete line of professional audio interfaces. One deciding factor is the number and type of inputs and outputs. If you work alone, you may never need more than a pair of analog ins and outs, as found on our Fast Track USB. If you plan on creating music with a friend, you’ll probably want to look at an interface that has multiple inputs as well as dual headphone outs. Multiple pairs of ins and outs are also handy for things like routing to and from external effects such as reverb and digital delay. The FireWire 410 is an example of an interface with multiple ins and outs as well as dual headphone monitors. All M-Audio interfaces come with our software drivers that allow you to choose what sounds or instruments you want to hear out of each output or headphone.


Closeup View Connectivity Driver Software


Digital I/O is something to look at if you want to transfer audio pristinely to and/or from another digital device without going through analog circuitry. (Even the best analog circuitry adds some noise compared to digital). All of our digital outputs also provide pass-through of surround-encoded AC-3/DTS signal that can be processed by a surround receiver.

M-Audio makes interfaces that connect with your computer via PCI, USB and FireWire. The choice depends partially on your need for bandwidth—the amount of audio data you want to move in and out of your computer at a time. More bandwidth is required for higher numbers of audio output channels, along with the higher the bit rate and sample rates that influence fidelity. PCI has more bandwidth than FireWire, and FireWire has greater bandwidth than USB. If you use a laptop, USB and FireWire allow you to enjoy professional recording on the go. And if you are planning on working alone, any of our interfaces should do the job.

MIDI Controllers

While GarageBand lets you work with loops with only your mouse and computer keyboard, you’ll need a MIDI controller keyboard if you want to actually perform your software sounds the way you would play a piano or synthesizer. A controller has no sounds built into it. Instead, it controls an external sound source such as your computer. This means that instead of having to buy expensive hardware that generates sounds, you can do the same thing with an affordable controller and software.

In the old days, you needed a MIDI interface to bridge the gap between a controller keyboard. M-Audio’s entire line of MIDI controllers feature built-in USB-MIDI interfaces so you don’t need the middleman anymore. MIDI signals go directly from the controller to the computer and back via a single USB connection. Most models even derive their power directly from the USB bus to keep connections simple and provide easy mobility


Closeup View Connectivity


You’ll find a wide selection of USB MIDI controllers available from M-Audio that fit just about any playing need or ambition. Our Keystation 49e and 61es are popular choices for GarageBand users. In fact, Steve Jobs featured the Keystation 49e in his keynote speech kicking off GarageBand. The Keystation 61es has an extra octave of keys and features a semi-weighted action compared to the non-weighted action of the Keystation 49e. And if you have some experience playing piano, you may appreciate a hammer-action keybed that feels like the real thing—our Keystation Pro 88


Closeup View Connectivity


M-Audio also makes a wide variety of controllers that have knobs, switches, buttons and the like for more sophisticated control, which you’ll find in our full USB MIDI Controllers family. We also make the M-Audio Ozone and Ozonic, both of which combine an audio/MIDI interface, keyboard and additional controllers in a single package.


If you want to record voice, acoustic instruments or real-world sounds, you’ll need a microphone. There are two popular classes of microphones on the market: dynamic and condenser. Dynamic microphones are primarily designed for stage use, and are typically less expensive. Condenser microphones are more sensitive, are designed primarily for studio use and need power (called phantom power) from an interface, preamp or mixer in order to function.

The M-Audio Fast Track USB features an input for a dynamic microphone. (You can find a selection at your local music store starting at well under $100.) M-Audio does make a variety of high-quality studio condenser microphones, such as the Nova, which provides a great value for GarageBand users. In order to use a condenser mic, however, you will need an interface such as our FireWire Solo that offers phantom power.


Closeup View Connectivity


Reference Monitors

Most consumer speakers are made for the average person to listen to pre-recorded music. When you’re actually making the music yourself, you need to hear every nuance. That’s why professionals use audio reference monitors that produce the entire sonic spectrum accurately to help predict what mixes will sound like on other systems. M-Audio’s Studiophile line of reference monitors are used in recording studios around the world—and we’ve distilled that technology down into our StudioPro 4 monitors that are ideal for desktop recording. StudioPro 4s deliver a big sound in a small footprint. They’re also self-powered so you can run the audio outputs of your Fast Track USB or other interface directly into them for clean, high-fidelity audio.



Sound Libraries

One of the great things about GarageBand is the ability to mix existing loops together to create music of your own. Our ProSessions Sound and Loops Library offers an extensive selection of loops created by some of the industry’s hottest producers, musicians and songwriters in just about every style under the sun. We’ve distilled the cream of the crop into several Best of ProSessions titles in Apple Loops’ native format. If you’re looking for instant inspiration, The Best of ProSessions represents an incredible value.



Setting Up A System

Now that we’ve covered some of the components of a personal recording studio, let’s look at how they work together. From a software standpoint, just copy the Best of ProSessions loops on your hard disk. Your USB or FireWire audio interface connects directly to your computer via a single USB or FireWire connector, respectively. Similarly, your USB MIDI controller connects directly to another USB port on your computer or via a USB hub. As mentioned earlier, the M-Audio Ozone and Ozonic combine interface and controller so you only need one cable.

Outputs from your guitar and microphone go directly into inputs on your M-Audio interface. You’ll also want to make a connection from the audio outs of your interface to the inputs on your StudioPro 4 powered monitors (or stereo receiver or mixer). Most M-Audio headphone outputs use professional 1/8 stereo connectors. You can either use a pair of headphones with 1/8 connectors or get an adapter that converts between 1/4 and the 1/8 connections found on some mobile gear.

The setup illustrated here is an entry-level system ideal for getting started with GarageBand. Of course, there are as many different systems are there are people and types of music. If you feel that you need a more ambitious setup and/or want to work with one or more other musicians, you’ll find more information in our section on Project/Pro Studios (coming soon).