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ah... decisions, decisions... / your $ 0.02 here ?

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by RedNucleus, Nov 4, 2002.

  1. RedNucleus

    RedNucleus Guest

    - I just posted this in the Small Steps section but maybe should have tried this section of the board instead.
    I promise I won't double-post again. Ever. Really ! ;) -

    Hi I'm new here. I would greatly appreciate if some of you would share your insights/opnions about the following -thanks in advance.
    I'm looking to buy new or used recording gear. Currently I only own a modest setup which I use as 'notepad' for song ideas : a small outboard 12 channel mixer and a Mac G3 running Logic Audio - the Mac can handle quite a few tracks so this is great for throwing demos together, but I do not intend to use the Mac (except for MIDI) and the cheapish console in my future setup, at least not for recording. A few years back I owned an ADAT (which I thought sounded 'clean' but not exactly 'great', I did a few projects with it and these always seemed to lack the 'depth' some of my other, analog recordings had) and a Mackie 24 8-bus series desk (which I thought was a nice and versatile desk for semi-pro use, but I didn't really like the EQ's, and the routing possibillities where far more complex than what I used/needed or had outboard gear for). I sold both a few years back for reasons which I won't get into now - let's just say life itself sometimes gets in the way when you want to make music - and I don't record music for a living so I could easily take a break from that while still recording ideas, hence the Mac G3.)
    Now, the choice I'm facing : I would either go for a standalone harddisk recorder, preferrably 16 tracks, which I would prefer to buy new; and a good console, which I'd consider buying second hand if I'd see an interesting deal somewhere.
    What I don't need is sample-level editing, automation, and a lot of bells and whistles. I pretty much like to record my stuff (and that of the musicians/vocalist I work with) the way it's performed, and then mix it. No cutting and pasting of verses and choruses, or cutting and splicing 34 solo's into the 'perfect' take, which in reality is not a 'take' at all. You get the idea - bare bones approach.
    I would consider buying a standalone digital recorder like a Mackie or Fostex 16 or 24 track because I have been reading good things about the newer 24/96 HD recorders and that's the sole reason I'd go and audition one. So far, all 'afforable' digital recorders I heard are disappointing and lack that 'something' which analog has. I've played guitar on project studio recordings using an old Fostex R8 which ended up sounding better than on some of the stuff I did with my ADAT. In the past years I've done recordings in studios with ProTools and 2 studios equipped with a 2" Otari. I prefer the latter. I know the sound largely depends on production and the outboard gear used, but in general i feel ProTools sounds incredibly crisp, clean and in-you-face, but the analog reel-to-reel stuff sounds, well, more natural. I know this equipment is in another league since my budget is only around $ 7000 (for the recorder AND mixing desk combined). But I'm seriously considering the option to try and find a used, but well maintained analog reel-to-reel machine from the likes of Fostex or Tascam. 16 tracks is more than enough.
    So, why am I in doubt if I like analog better anyway ? It seems to me the manufacturers of analog machines have completely abandoned the analog concept, except for the really expensive pro 2" 24 track machines like the Otari. I remember when ADAT and AKAI DR-xx machines became increasingly popular around 8-10 years ago, you could get a 16-track reel-to-reel like a Fostex (I believe with dolby S) for a decent price. Now I'm sure if I look around I can find a decent 2nd hand unit for sale for a few grand, but my question is if this would be a smart choice. It will need servicing/inspecting with regular intervals, and so on. I really wonder if companies like Tascam and Fostex still do this at 'normal' price rates in this day and age where 'cheaper' analog machines have become a 'rarity' and everyone in the 'home recording' segment of the market is focused on digital tape and disk recorders. I don't think their servicing departments love to see you coming with your second hand reel-to-reel machine, I seriously wonder what the quality of the support would be and I'd appreciate any comments from people with experience in this field.
    As for the digital recorder, I 'm aware of the fact I need to audition one myself to form my own opinion, but I'm curious as to what some pro / semi-pro people here think of the quality of the 24/96 - capable machines. I read a lot of buzz about how much more 'airy' the recordings sound but I wonder if that's a lot of 'hot air' (pun intended) from magazines who need advertising money. Like I said, so far I have yet to hear a digital recorder of a few grand, tape or disk based, that sounds *really* good the way analog does with real instruments - all of analog's imperfections set aside. (I don't need 105dB S/N ratio anyway - the music I do roughly falls in the 'rock' category.)
    Finally and FYI, I live in Belgium. The odds of finding a store or company here where I could A/B such a machine against a reel-to-reel is ZERO. Most salespeople here will probably recommend a Roland VS2480 or AKAI DPS16 anyway and tell me I don't need outboard gear, "just install the FX card and you have X state-of-the-art reverbs, compressors and EQ's at your fingertips, you won't need anything else" - I'm overdoing it here but you get the picture. That's the reason why I'm looking for some feedback here on this forum.
    Feel free to make suggestions or share you thoughts on the used analog vs. digital recorder issue, and what consoles would be interesting. I can live with 4-bus (would prefer 8-bus though to make un-automated mixing easier) and need just a basic amount of mic-pre's, inserts, auxes and a good EQ. I don't have an addtional $ 10.000 to spend on outboard gear so I'll be using basic dynamics/FX (Drawmer comp, Focusrite Voicemaster, and a few more) and squeeze the most out of that, bounce tracks here and there when needed... The regular trial and error approach.
    Thanks for wading through this. I apreciate that, and any feedback to help me decide on what gear to audition.

  2. e-cue

    e-cue Active Member

    My gut feeling says "Pro tools". But let me get some more info out of you...

    What style of music are you using?

    Are you keeping up mind upgradibility issues?

    You sound like you are resisting a DAW. Why?

    Protools sounds a ton better than Adats, the Fostex, and Tascam stuff IMHO.

    Hard disk recorders are getting cheaper, and cheaper. Some sound great, some like complete dookie.

    At a $7,000 budget, are you still looking at some type of 8 bus console?

    Another route I know some producers love (if you LIKE the sound of the DA88's) is a tascam M2600 console, and a rack of 3 DA88s. Let me suggest the 98's. This is a good budget set up, but has sonic limitations.
  3. Bob Olhsson

    Bob Olhsson Distinguished Member

    I'd begin with a digi 002 and upgrade it by adding a Cranesong Spider just as soon as I could afford to. I think these are THE two most bang for the buck devices available for making uncompromised sounding recordings.
  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I completely respect your position in the recording industry and I can understand your point of view coming from that position. However, I submit that 96 K technology is just a real fast bus ride potty stop. For the home studio operator, it has potential to be a big waste of money. 24 /48-44.1 is fine for the delivery system currently in use and we all know that SCAD DSD is just around the corner. 32 bit processing point vs. 24 bit within the recording software is a simpler way to greater audio integrity at a much lower price point. I understand your preference to Pro Tools. Most major studios are using it as a defacto program but once again for the home studio operator Cubase or Nuendo is a better choice IMO. I would recommend a Cubase system with ADAT AI3 interface and a Frontier Dakota card. This is about the cheapest 24 bit system I could find, total cost for an 18 in 18 out system was approximately $1100 sans computer. Full mix in the box and cheap enough you won't be crying in you brew in a year or two when it's obsolete. I've had an opportunity to see both sides of the coin and that's my take on it ……… Fats
  5. RedNucleus

    RedNucleus Guest

    First of all thanks to *everyone* for taking the time to tell me what you think.

    The music I'll be recording falls mainly in the progressive rock category : rhythm section / el./ac. guitars / synths&samplers / vocals. The setup I'll buy will be used for this band/project mainly. I don't run a commercial studio so I do not have to worry about meeting the setup/editing needs/demands of individual customers (which I can imagine is a deciding factor when putting together your recording setup).

    Upgradability is IMO something you need to consider when buying a digital recording setup, indeed. However I feel most of the standalone harddisk recorders (the newer Mackie, Fostex, Tascam) offer plenty of i/o options, some offer SVGA out or a completely integrated editing system (Mackie) which is something I'd consider luxurious, but which is not a necessity. I initially started out recording my own music on Tascam portastudios and 8-track reel-to-reel systems, over 10 years ago, so I have some experience in "trying to make the most of things and being creative with what you have".

    Why I don't know or even doubt if a DAW is a good choice for me is because I don't think I need that sort of technology. I don't do dance music or complex arrangements that requires endless editing/layering etc... Like I said, I can probably do most of my stuff on 16 tracks with slaved MIDI - although 24 would be nice. I know the "there's always a shortage of channels and tracks in your system" -rule, and one of the cool things about HD recording is of course the virtual tracks, but I'm certainly not in the market for say, an "all-in-one-box" solution like an AKAI DPS24 or Roland VS2480. As for the computer based DAW systems, it's all well and good to be able to see track layouts onscreen, manipulate the sound to sample level, and to be able to use plugings for effects, dynamics, and so on... but my working method doesn't really "need" that. That's why I was even considering a second hand 1" reel-to-reel machine - I love the sound of those and I'm not too concerned about the limitations in terms of tape operation (as opposed to disk-based) or complete lack of non-linear editing. I don't mind spending hours cleaning up tracks, doing punch-ins, or bouncing tracks. Bascially, if a song and its arrangement isn't (nearly) finished, I won't record it. I understand in a pro studio this type of working method costs is often too-time consuming and DAW offers way faster editing and more flexibitlity, but to me it's not at the top of my priority list.
    Also, I would not attempt to compress or master my own finished mixes, which is something a lot of these integrated systems claim to be capable of, but which I'd rather have someone else do for me. Also - and this is one of my major gripes - I know from experience that EQ and dynamics / effects in many "affordable" digital systems, are, well, not very good, to put it nicely. I believe in the end that, in the case of digital recording and mixing equipment that is not state-of-the-art, you often pay for not-so-great features you won't be needing - but you do get all the "flexibility" and that is often the argument to buy such gear.
    As for expandabillity, if I had, say an analog 16/4/2 or 24/8/2 board with good on-board EQ and a standalone 16 or 24 track recorder, I'd want to expand the system over the next years by gradually buying / upgrading external mic pres/dynamics/EQ/effects.

    I've heard some interesting suggestions, but was wondering if anyone could tell me :

    -what they think of the sound quality of the newer 24/96 "standalone" HD recorders like Mackie / Fostex / Tascam; compared to for example ProTools or other "expensive" DAW systems which are generally considered to be of very high quality.
    -what consoles (minimum 16/4/2, but 8-bus would be very welcome) they think sound sweet and offer bang for the buck in the sub-$3.500 price range new or used - good EQ & mic pres being the most important aspect I can think of (I would consider shopping around for a second hand console). In other words how do you think I could squeeze the most out of that ca. $ 7.000 budget I have for a recorder/desk combination or -gasp- DAW ? (In the latter case I'd like to point out I have a Mac G3 with free PCI slots, running Logic Audio Platinum, but I was planning to use that for the MIDI part of my setup only, and of course as "notepad" for quick demos and ideas like I'm currently doing)

    Thanks everyone for sharing your ideas, I greatly appreciate it.

  6. Henchman

    Henchman Active Member

    get a RADAR and a Digital console. I heard that Yamaha is releasing a DM1000 next year for 5K. What's your'e price range.

    A Pro-Tools rig can cost quite abit, once you get everything you need. With a consoel, you'll have enough I/O's, Mic pre's, etc.

  7. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I don't want to beat a dead horse...but...I have just begun to familiarize myself with the in and outs of recording on a DAW using Cubase VST. I feel it is a mistake to think that DAW is just for editing and viewing waveforms on a screen. My experience so far has been this recording engine sounds really good. The eq that comes with the system sounds good and is very powerful and clean sounding. The compressor and limiter are very useable and after having an opportunity to addition them I can understand how a lot of recordist get caught up into over compressing their productions. It's like candy! You can save a ton of money by going the DAW way on cabling interface, mixer, tape machine and outboard. It's all in the box.... and like I said, the technology train is leaving the station and you should get on board before you get left behind. Spend the extra money on a quality monitoring system…By the way Steinberg is offering an upgrade path from Logic to Nuendo....
    .................... Fats
  8. knightfly

    knightfly Active Member

    Red, I tend to record like you do - very little editing, if you can't play it don't record it...

    I have a Tascam 38 and a 1516 mixer that I still use, but have been mostly using Samplitude for the last 6 years or so.

    Aside from a little "fatter" sounding in spots, the analog has nothing on Samplitude, even with only 20 bit hardware (Yamaha DSP Factory, Layla 20 bit)

    The things I've noticed are that this combo, thru KRK passive nearfields with a Yamaha sub (24 dB/octave crossover) sounds virtually identical on playback to what I heard during recording. Mixes (so far, about 19 stereo tracks maximum) still sound open and clean.

    I think most of that is Samplitude's summing bus, which has been a well-kept secret for several years. Now, from what I read, Nuendo and the newer Cubase SX are apparently catching up. There for a while, I think Samp was the only pgm out there that converted immediately to 32 bit float, and allowed you to STAY there when saving to disk, downsampling/dithering ONLY when burning a CD. This approach, to my ears, tends to keep as much fidelity as is possible with today's digital systems and, as I mentioned, hasn't disappointed me so far.

    Samp does very little MIDI, other than being able to sync to it - although the newer versions are adding more functionality there. I've synced internally to Cakewalk for MIDI, which has worked flawlessly.

    As far as sample level editing, I'd rather have it there and NOT need it, rather than need it and NOT have it available. I normally look at the DAW as a linear recorder with instant rewind for the most part. Just my way of working...

    Since you're on a Mac, Samplitude is out of the question and probably will continue to be. In your case, if you decide to go DAW I would have to recommend Nuendo over the more expensive and generally maligned ProTools - From what I've read by people I tend to believe, Nuendo is nearly as intuitive and sounds as good as Samplitude. It also comes with a somewhat rudimentary 5.1 encoder, which you don't sound like you'd ever use -

    I guess my main point is just that you can always use a DAW like a tape recorder, but you can't always use a tape recorder like a DAW - and that dollar for dollar, especially on a budget, digital is getting better and analog (real analog) is getting more expensive.

    I've maintained 2" transports for a living in the past, and I know firsthand why maintenance costs are so high. Even though I would LOVE to have a 2" 16 or 24 track, even with my background the maintenance and tape costs would kill my budget, which is not as stringent as yours.

    The upgrade I'm in process with at the moment involves a Tascam DM-24 mixer, Samplitude and Sonar running on separate computers synced together, a Rosendahl Nanosyncs tying things together, with 4 19" flat panel monitors, two per computer, with both 2.1 and 5.1 monitoring. Ultimately, this will go into a 36 x 48 facility yet to be started, but for now a single room will have to do. The computer will be outside the room for noise reasons, with only firewire optical drives in the room with displays and keyboards.

    If you think anything I said about DAWS made sense, ask Opus on the computer forums about Nuendo. He works with it daily, works at Apogee and deals with pro musicians regularly... Steve
  9. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I'd have to agree with Knightfly, Your gonna get 72 + tracks and all the processing you need to get started. Comp, gates eq's. Plus your going to be learning the way recording is going to be done in the future. Hell, now! With computers you can do these little $200 and $300 upgrades for a few years to keep current instead of having to get all new gear every 16 months or so to stay current with technology. Steinberg is very good about upgrade paths also. Nuendo or Cubase, both great ways to get started with Nuendo being the more expensive and pro geared of the 2....Fats
  10. RedNucleus

    RedNucleus Guest

    To all - thank you so much for taking the time to write these insightful posts. This has given me quite a lot to think about - I definitely need to audition some of the proposed sytems - I guess I was just a little put off by the digital semi-pro 16-bit 44.1/48 systems I had heard/used so far. I'm sure the different possibilities mentioned here are worth checking out - can't wait for the German Musikmesse next spring (I'm in Belgium - you hardly see that on the map so there's not a lot of pro audio distributors/stores here, you know) - the Messe also might shed some more light on the possible upgrade paths ... we'll see.
    Thanks again - this is a really cool place.
  11. subspace

    subspace Guest

    I think your initial instincts were good, a new stand-alone hard disk recorder and a used analog 8 bus console is a very intuitive set-up to work with, especially if you're more interested in playing it right rather than fixing it later. You already have Logic, so you're aware of what you're "missing", and you're willing to grow your basic set-up over time rather than get an all-in-the-box, master of nothing solution. Sounds to me like you're pretty far along on the road of home recording lessons learned.
    I'd pop for an Iz Technology Radar 24 project HDR. At $6k, it's a good deal for the converters alone and I think it will get you the closest to your stated preference for an analog sound. I don't think the less expensive Tascam, Mackie, etc. HDRs are gonna do it. With a $7k total budget you'll have to settle for a $1k used "project studio" board, but at this point you can find some steals even at that price. Some Tascam 3500s have changed hands for that short money, and they're a decent board to work on. With a $7k total budget, I'd lean towards getting one of the less desirable "name" boards for cheap and a great recording medium with the rest. Worry about upgrading the board when you've got enough funds to get out of the "project studio" console range entirely. HTH
  12. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    On the back cover of the new EQ magazine there is an ad for MOTU hd 192 system...
    96 k was just here! Wazzup? If I had just bought a standalone 96 k capable system, thinking I was getting the bleeding edge of technology, I would be really bummed!. But I don't care because I can just upgrade my software and get some new converters and I'm back at the head of the class. Cheap mixers bite! Talk about compromising your audio!!!. You can bury your head in the sand, but the boogie man ain't goin' away!. Radar is really good about upgrading their product but PCM is going the way of the dinosaur and there won't be an upgrade path to DSD form PCM....just remember when your crying to momma about all the cash you just wasted you can say "Fats told me so"...... ..... Fats
  13. subspace

    subspace Guest

    You can't get ahead of the curve. Your computer is out of date if it already exists. Your converters are a low rung on an endless ladder.
    Analog consoles are PCM, DSD, and the next three initials to come along compatible. My advice is to buy the best sounding recorder currently available in your budget, and don't worry about the newest numbers being marketed. Bury your head in the music, not the marketing.
  14. themidiroom

    themidiroom Active Member

    My goal is to get my recording business to a point where I can start leasing digital gear. Let's face it, most of today's clients want to see the cool toys and it influences where they choose to record. Since much of the new digital equipment doesn't hold it's value worth a crap, it would make sense in my opinion to lease and keep up with the latest gear.
    What do you guys think?
  15. subspace

    subspace Guest

    My experience has been that the depreciation will always be structured into the lease payment. You can buy, and sell at half value the following year, or lease, pay for half of it, and give it back in a year. The computer marketing world has always been hip to this fact. Talk to a computer seller about leasing and they'll tell you straight out that the product your considering buying will be worthless in three years, and that's structured into their lease payments. I talked to one about leasing a $3k workstation and I think the three year residual value was $500. Kinda puts a damper on the whole sales pitch, doesn't it?
  16. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Subspace wrote;
    That's exactly what I was talking about.... Computers, digital audio interfacing and software all have a very limited lifespan... You can't collect and build a system with this stuff... Get the least expensive thing that works and use it until it's obsolete. Sure a Radar sounds real good but in a little while, the newer inexpensive converters and DAW software will catch up and they will be half the price. But quality mics, pres, eq's, comps and monitor systems will hold their value.... IMO that's the most intelligent place to spend your money... the other stuff? Get by with as cheap of an investment as possible....cause it's down the drain as soon as you spend it....... Fats
  17. Bob Olhsson

    Bob Olhsson Distinguished Member

    Actually a Spider/002 system is only capable of 48kHz. due to the lightpipe interface.

    My rational is that the 002 is about the cheapest thing that would get him up and running without buying any additional gear that he probably wouldn't want after acquiring a Spider. The Spider is what will kick his sound quality right up to being competitive with the very best. I totally agree that investing in computer gear is wasteful but I also think most of the hard-disk recorders are overpriced by the time you get a decent mixer to go with them. Better to put the money in a Spider and mikes.

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