Maybe I am the only one at the party, but I really enjoyed reading the extensive explanations of the various recording techniques. As someone who does amatuer recording I am often surprised that more audiophiles do not "put their toes in the water" of some sort of audio recording.
Many of you will have little interest in laying the down the green to "do it right" as JA and John Marks do for their respective labels, but it does not mean that you should not give it a whirl. It is great fun and you will learn and have a greater respect for just what it takes to get a decent recording to market. It just ain't that easy folks!
My 2 cents:
To get your toes wet start off with a whipping $99 10/2 mixer from Yamaha that has 4 mic pres that are decent for amateur work. You can also use a Behringer as they have many in the same price range to get you started.
The noise level is higher than pro gear, but 2 Behringer ECM 8000 omni measurement mics can get you started for recording pianos or chamber groups. Try the Tony Faulkner method of 27" mic spacing to achieve an nice capture of the room and the players. They also work decently on a grand piano. They have a noise floor of about 25 db, but at $49 each they are good and you can use them to measure your in-room speaker response using your Stereophile test cds that YOU DO HAVE...RIGHT?
To get more serious you can buy the M-Audio DMP-3 2 channel mic pre ($159) that has low noise and is a good step up from the Yamaha or Behringer. You could also look at the PreSonus 2-channel mic pre the Blue Tube DP at $199 that uses a 12AX7 and allows you to add tube warmth?
This step up should put you at the dual capsule Behringer B5 that has both omni and uni capsules for a mere $90 each and a much lower noise floor than the 8000's. Now it could get to be some fun.
From here there are numerous $299 firewire 2 channel mic pres that are an improvement and usually come with some decent recording software to boot. We have all read the jitter history of USB so I would try and not go there unless you already have.
If you are just going the mic pre route into your computer Digital Audio Labs has great pricing on their Card Deluxe off their web site and is a great buy. This is a serious piece so do not let the price fool you.
Up from here is the $599 PreSonus MP20 that is super quiet class A mic pres that have an added feature of a built in mixer for closing the stereo spread if you are so inclined. This piece has gotten great reviews at its price point. If you add a couple of uni Rode NT1As at $199 each (a super low 5db noise floor) or the step up to the multi-pattern NT2A's at $399 each you can start to make some very nice recordings that you can be proud of. Your challenge will be finding local talent equal to this gear. Your recording abilites will NOT be the problem.
If you are going to do vocals you will need a good hand held mic ( I really like the Sennheiser 835) for $99. I like it better than the OTHER mic at this price point. You know what I mean. A step up would be the Rode NT1A at $199, but you will surely need the round breath pop filter to keep breath noises down. Also look to buy the Lexicon MPX 200 for $199 for adding warmth and space to vocals. Use this sparingly. There are others at lower cost effects processors, but I would try and avoid them. This is the most over used tool in the recording engineer's tool box. If you record acoustic string groups and piano try not to use any.
I will be doing some new recording coming up in August using the Presonus MP20 and 2 Rode NT2A's in omni or figure 8 for a profesional chamber group. If this goes well maybe I would look at the Grace 201 or the Langevin Dual Channel mic pre at about $1400 street price. I am looking to have great fun.
This recording issue is just like high end audio...there is always something better than what you have now and if you want to hear more (capture more) you have to spend more. It really is that simple. Kudos to JM for a great piece.