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

Discussion in 'Recording' started by RedNucleus, Nov 4, 2002.

  1. RedNucleus

    RedNucleus Guest

    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. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    Your question is a tough one. I know exactly what you mean. I had a 2" analog and ADAT studio and I am sure the analog had a better sound. But of all the productions that were produced in that studio, the ones that I have come to like the best were done on the ADATS (16 bit blackfaces). Why? Because the subject matter was the best. To many times I see people focusing on the way they're recording instead of what they're recording! That being said, I think your going to have a hard time being happy with digital, although a lot of the bad rap that ADATS and other digital systems have taken has to do with the Mackie 8 Bus' and other CHEAP mixers that are used in conjunction with them. Headroom in these systems is severely limited and one can easily cross over the threshold without realizing it. If you operate a Mackie as instructed in the owners manual, you will run out of headroom. It's no big deal in a live PA setting but it sucks for recording! The operator needs to be very aware of gain structures. With analog, things tend to be a bit smoother and more forgiving but with digital the mixer problems compound with issues that digital has resulting in strident, brittle and harsh recordings. There is also a loss of ultra high freqs and stereo image with digital as compared to analog. IMO however narrow gauge analog isn't the answer either. At best these systems are semi pro. It takes the standard 1/8" (a little less actually) track width to accomplish a decent signal to noise ratio without the use of noise reduction. NR systems all bring their own baggage to the table. Maintenance on a 2" machine will kill you. So what's a guy to do? The future of this art is in computers. Get a DAW and start collecting quality front end gear. Don't waste money on crappy mixers. Perhaps in a few years, something will come along that is as good as what was being used 20 years ago!. Until then, go with a moderately priced 24 / 48 system and as fast a computer as you can afford. Learn to track and mix "in the box". It's time to get on board of the technology train or your going to be left at the station, which by the way is going to be closed in a few years…..Fats
  3. I agree with fats here.

    The other thing to consider is what medium is your final product going on?
    Sure in the studio the 24/96 may sound great, but you have to reduce your bitdeapth to 24 for you final mix cuz thats the best you'll get on a cd.
  4. RedNucleus

    RedNucleus Guest

    Thanks a lot guys. I feel like I'm learning something here on this forum - your opinions helps to put things in perspective.
    BTW now that I come to think of if, the remark about the black face ADATs and what consoles you use 'em with is dead-on, I've had the same experience when "travelling around" to different studios with my ADAT a few years back.

    I double-posted this topic (not too clever) in the hardware forum, and I'll be following the responses there. If anyone else has recommendations / thoughts to share please post them there. Thank you once again.


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