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About to spend money, would really like advice.

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by EricWatkins, Jan 9, 2014.

  1. EricWatkins

    EricWatkins Active Member

    So I am coming up to a point in time, in the next few months, where I will be able to start spending some serious money on upgrades to my studio. Let me quickly explain.

    About 5 years ago, I went from having a decent computer that I used to compose with VSTs and sample libraries in Cubase, to then upgrading my space and equipment. What I ended up with is a 13.5' x 22' room with treatment designed by Auralex with a $3000 budget at the time. I know the room isn't absolutely perfect but it is damn good as is. At that time, I bought a Tascam DM-4800, upgraded my PC, bought a MOTU-2408, and LA-610, and a handful of decent Mics. I also have a lot of plug-ins. Oh, and as a left over from when I first started composing, I am still using my Alesis M1 active monitors. So this is the basic studio. The other stuff isn't really worth mentioning. It is very functional but I am really wanting to up my game.

    I have it in my head, that the first and most important thing for me to do, is to upgrade my monitors big time. I am looking at the Focal Twin 6 bes. In addition to those, I am planning on getting the Black Lion mod for my 2408 which replaces the Op amps and also add an external clock. Finally, on the monitor end, I was thinking about the D-box for the added clarity in monitoring and the 8 channel summing. This would, IMHO, finish off the back end of the studio.

    So then for the front end, I was thinking of adding an API 3124 and then just getting some more standard Mics, mostly just SM57s but maybe a higher end dynamic or two also. This would all add up to about $10,000. It's not that I can't spent more at a certain point but I'll admit, I bought a LOT of stuff before that I now wish I hadn't in a way.my main goals are to A) Have a great monitoring environment that I don't ever have to second guess. B) Have analog summing. C) start to build a front end that an slowly replace the generic channels in my DM-4800.

    Im sold on the Twins and D-box from having witnessed my cousin's studio in Chicago. He has the Focal CMS65's and they sound amazing. I want that Focal sound without a ported design. I also love what the D-box did for his mixes when he got it, and, it seems like it will allow the monitors to represent what is there in the cleanest way possible. The API I'm just wanting based on the reviews. I have one good front end channel with the LA-610 and I do love it for vox especially. I figure the API, paired with just good standard Mics like 57s, D112, my overheads, should render some really good basic results for micing kick, snare, and OH's. Eventually, I can but more pres and perhaps, different flavors.

    I am about 50/50 composer and studio operator. In addition to writing music of ALL styles commercially, I also record local bands for demos or sometimes original stuff. Having the studio is great for me as it allows me to do serious out of the box music for my composing business too.

    So, you know my intentions and needs I think. I'd like opinions as to my path here. If I'm missing out on some great idea I really want to know. It'll still be 3 or 4 months before I start buying anything. I do wonder if me have 8 channels of summing will become a tease and if I will immediately wish I had 16 after I get the 8. Those are the things I am wondering now. I'd love your input. Tell me if I'm missing a major link in the chain if you see it. Thanks so much guys!

  2. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    i'm a huge fan of the sennhiesser 441. i didn't know how expensive it was when i used it the first few times, but it's a really great mic. i use it all the time on vocals, snare top, guitar amps, keyboard amps. it's not an overly talked about mic, but is excellent. i love my 57's and the usual suspects, this thing definitely has a sound of it's own, and i feel very versatile.

    My question for you is are you using the digital outs on the board? my concern is the quality of conversion (AD/DA). so i'm just wondering where your conversions are taking place. perhaps you might find it more beneficial to upgrade your interface/conversion to like something from prism or UA (which has dsp power). The BLA upgrade is like 350, maybe (just brainstorming) you would be better off putting that money towards something new, and selling the 2408, which should grab a few hundred bucks itself.

    as far as monitor controllers go, i thought they were another 'thing to buy', until i heard the effects of one. it is my opinion, that if, your going to use a controller instead of just going right out from the interface, than the controller is as integral as the monitors and room itself. i've a/b'd the mackie big knob w/ the outs of a motu, and the difference was huge. the big knob (while feature rich) lost significant power/fullness and increased the perception of harsh frequencies. obviously subjective thoughts, but i could hear a difference. we ended up getting the monitor switcher from coleman audio, which i haven't used yet cuz i've been busy at the other studio. Long story short, i would not skimp here. anything in between your ears and your music should be the best quality possible, so that you are hearing what you should. i think the d box is a wise investment, and if 8 ch becomes not enough, maybe a small console would be a logical next step. it would likely introduce some useful EQ/Pre's as well.

    i think we all have man. that's why, when i realized i was actually doing this seriously, i stopped w/ the cheap s**t. it's not snobby, or elitist, but it's true. this is an expensive field, and there is a difference in the quality of the gear available. 57's dope mics, hundred bucks, i love them. but compared to a 30 dollar peavy mic, it seems expensive. same for everything else. when you start talking about electronics like pres/eq's ect, your paying for the quality of construction, components, and most often the design. not everything needs to be expensive to me, like for instance cpu screens, i use average hd screens, but things that are part of the chain of audio, i always strive for the best i can get my hands on.

    i think your smart by addressing your monitoring first, and room, and to me, it's conversion, then mics, and then pre's/eq's/comp's. i've used the api pres on a quick test on my voice (which i hate hearing) and it sounded awesome. i liked the calrec p-15 better, but that has eq as well.

    IMHO, your thinking is is line w/ something that will grow. and the other thing about expensive gear like mics, speakers, instruments, is that they hold their value well. my most expensive mic is my 414xls (decent workhorse, i like the older ones better but watever), i spent 1k on it, they go for around 800 bucks on ebay, more or less. my cousins les paul classic, he paid 1500, now sells for 2k new.

    i'm not bashing digtal or anything, but digital gear in general, is in a constant state of improvement, so things like word clocks and cpu's have what i consider a 'useful shelf life' but will not likely hold their value. they will depreciate, and depending on how your taxes are this may be just fine. it depends on your needs. so my aim if i were in your shoes, would be to achieve a current level of conversion, and add some things like the api stuff. i'm on a soapbox lately, but i think that the value of a nice OB eq's are grossly overlooked. people talk pre's all day, but eq's are like scaring people off. i think it's becuase of the power they have to alter the sound. i think people don't feel free enough to just eq something on the way in, they feel afraid to touch a frequency knob.

    i know i didn't address everything, but i hope this helps.

  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member


    First off, I think you'd be more than happy with almost "anything API" in pre amps.

    For analog summing, before you pull the trigger, I think you'd be best off talking with audiokid, (that would be Chris, our fearless leader and conquistador of all he surveys in the kingdom of Analog hehe). He really swims in that particular ocean.

    As far as 8 channels being a tease, well, my suspicion is that your suspicion is likely the case, as it won't be long before you'll want to move from stems to actual discreet tracks.

    What you may want to consider, is to get into a 2 channel summing device first, as opposed to 8. You could at least bus a 2 mix through it and get the high voltage analog "smear", warmth, silk and cohesiveness you seek without getting into 8 channels right away. ( I only say this with the suspicion that an 8 channel will only work for you for awhile, when you know damn well that at some point you'll want 16....24.... LOL. )

    So, starting out with a 2 mix analog summing system would enable you to do what you want to do right away - and for less money - while you save up for the big one that you'll really want. That way you won't have an 8 channel device sitting around that you'll have to sell after you buy a 24 channel Neos. LOL. I know that my logic on this may seem a bit odd... I'm only going by what I would do. ;)

    Unless of course you throw all caution to the wind and just go ahead and order the 16 or 24 channel version now. ( You know you want to. Don't lie.)
    If you do go this route, let me know. I know a very good divorce attorney. hehe

    I'd also check with Chris (audiokid) on the external clock as well. From what I've read of his posts, he's spent money in the past - pretty serious money - on external clocking, and I'm not sure he's even using it anymore. (You should contact him or read through some of his posts regarding this subject though, to make sure I'm not just imagining this).

    Things like 57's, 58's and the 441's that Kmetal mentioned above are always nice to have around - for a variety of apps - from drums to amps to even vocals , and without breaking the bank. Back when I was full time at my own facility, I always kept a slew of 57's and 58's around, for many reasons, but if for no other reason that in the event that I ended up working with some jag-off animal on the drums who hit the rims and mics more than he would the heads, I'd take down the 441's and put up the 57/58's, and this also served another purpose.... to protect those stupid fragile clips that Sennheiser decided were a good idea to design for that particular model. facepalm

    Another mic that's nice to have around is the EV RE20. It's a very flexible mic, great on kick drum, brass, guitar amps, upright bass, and even vocals.

    You may also want to consider looking into a nice Ribbon mic. (Keep this away from the eventual animal you'll run into on drums. Also, keep a nice Louisville Slugger around for the time when you get a hip hop guy who decides to make drum noises with his mouth and pops and blows into the mic. Better yet, leave the Ribbon in the closet for that one. You can still wack him with the ball bat though, if you want.) thumb

    I don't mind the Alesis M1 actives you mentioned, I still frequently use a pair of M1 passives powered by a Hafler, alternating back and forth with an old pair of JBL 44's that I love, depending on the project).... but you're right, they're not Focals. If you've mixed through Focals before in a tuned room, and you are confident of your own monitoring environment as well, then this would seem to be a no-brainer, if you have the money. On that note, you may want to A/B the Focals against something similar like Dynaudio's. These are another monitor I've had the opportunity to mix through that I really liked, and apples to apples, they're in the same price and quality class as the Focals are, depending of course on the particular model(s).

    The only other thing I can think of to mention - just off the top of my head - would be client monitoring . If you are doing a variety of sessions-for-hire to help pay for your own toys; how is your current cue system? Is it capable of handling multiple players tracking at once? (If this is something you even do at your studio, I'm only suggesting here). If so, you may want to look into a decent HP monitoring system for the players on the other side of the glass, if you haven't something similar in place already.

    Finally... do you have a good coffee maker? LOL... My next gear purchase is gonna be a Kiereg. ;)

    IMHO, of course.
  4. EricWatkins

    EricWatkins Active Member

    Thanks guys. Yeah, I look forward to audiokid chiming in. Since my post, my wonderful cousin has put new thoughts in my head. Still with the same intention, a rock solid monitoring chain first, but with a different way. It would be more money but.....He mentioned the Shadow Hills Equinox with 32 channels of summing and two killer preamps as well as monitor management. Then, he recommended the Antelope Orion ADDA with 32 channels also. This really seems to make sense. No I'm up more money with no mics at all and only two additional pres but I LOVE the idea of 32 channels of summing. I mean, to me, that says set for life. In the end, this is a very fun hobby that I do indeed make some money from so I don't see ever needing more back end to my rig than this. Honestly, even with all of this, it's probably basically a one year pay-off, and then I'll be ready to so some serious front end purchasing along the same lines as this. Reviews are not plentiful on the Equinox but there a few and they all bode well for it. THoughts? Oh, and yeah, I have a Keurig so....totally good to go there. Like a good ADDA, if you've never had one, you have no idea what you are missing with regularly brewed coffee :)
  5. EricWatkins

    EricWatkins Active Member

    Oh, and I track everything inside this same room (tight I know) but that's just my situation. I have a headphone amp with 6 outputs. It's been enough in the past. I can always add another one. Everyone has seemed happy with the monitoring situation.
  6. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Eric - If you are going the route of external analog mixing, you would be adding a couple of levels of conversion to your chain, so you need to be confident that your A-D and D-A converters are up to the task. I couldn't work out from your post what it is you are using as converters. Is it the ones in the MOTU 2048 or possibly the Tascam DM-4800?

    When I got my first API 3124+, I found it sounded warm and smooth, but I couldn't get the transformer saturation effects on vocals I used to like on some voices at other studios I worked in. It didn't take me long to realise that I needed to put attenuators on the outputs that fed my A-D converters so I could run the 3124+ hot enough to start working the output transformers without overloading the following ADCs.

    You don't need hugely expensive summing units to start getting the benefits of external analog summing. Even my A+H Zed-R16 that I often use as a live board makes an excellent analog summing mixer (ignoring the converters in it), especially when fed from 96KHz tracks. However, to get to the upper levels of quality you would have to be prepared to invest quite seriously.
  7. EricWatkins

    EricWatkins Active Member

    Thanks Boswell. I'm sorry, I wasn't clear at all. I have been using the 2408 for conversion with my LA-610 and the DM-4800 when needing more channels. I have thought and thought about this and I am now convinced that I probably need to just replace the 2408 with something better. I'm looking into the Antelope Orion at the moment. I know that there are even higher quality ADDAs out there but this seems like a very good price point for me to have that many channels. I might hold off on the summing for now. The more I read about it, the more it sounds like it's really the addition of other analog processing in the summing chain that makes the magic happen. I'm looking to have a really great monitoring chain first, and then start adding as much mojo as I can where it will have the most impact. At this point, with only one really good pre, I have to believe that that would come in the form of more pres and Mics, at least until I have enough to record an entire kit at once. Then, I would love to add summing and some analog eq and compression.

    I love the mic suggestions to guys, thank you. I had the RE-20 in my sights already but was unfamiliar with the MD-441, thanks for that. So does this still sound logical? I'm basically thinking, probably in this order, Focal Twins, Antelope Orion, and then the API 3124 plus some mics? Oh, and the Drawmer monitor controller looks like a really solid offering. Not sure if you have any opinions on that.
  8. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    LOL! Famous last words.

    Sorry, Eric... I'm not laughin' at you. No, wait, yes I am.

    It's only because I can't even begin to count the number of times where I've said those exact same words, so many times over the years as both a musician and engineer, and I'm drawing a complete blank to think of even one time where that statement turned out to be true. ;)

    We're like the Mafia. You only get out when you're dead. :cool:
  9. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Just like all our other stuff./crap we get what we pày for. It's my IMHO that conversion is very important and in my case standard (apogee) conversion works decent enough. I don't make top 40 recordings but i do know the differences, and since re-amping is the trend, decent conversion is cool. To me it's mics and source sound, then conversion

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