Return on investment : Mic Pres or Better compression?

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by Barkingdogstudios, Oct 29, 2003.

  1. Barkingdogstudios

    Barkingdogstudios Active Member


    I have been equipping my home studio over the last couple of years. To give you some idea of where I'm at in the process, here is an abbreviated list of what I'm using :

    PC with SONAR2 XL
    Aardvark Q10 Interface
    Mics : AKG Solidtube, SHURE KSM32, AKG C3000, AKG C1000s, Sennheiser 421, SM57, AKG D112, EV RE20
    Outboard for recording : Joe Meek VC1Q
    Outboard but haven't used for recording : Mackie CR1604VLZ, dbx 166a compressor
    Monitors : Far Field - Vintage JBL 4311b, Near Field - Event 20/20 Bas

    I think you can see from the equipment list I don't have pro gear but it's not all crap either so I'm not likely to buy a $5K Avalon or a Behringer either. I've tried to use the "best bang for the buck" mantra in choosing my equipment.

    I would like to have access to more (or better) compression for more than one channel at a time when I'm recording and I'm not sure which way to go : just use the pre's on the Aardvark and purchase a better multi-channel compressor or go with a channel strip mic pre that has compression built in. I would like to have at least two more channels available for compressing bass guitar and bass drum (or some other combination) being recorded concurrently. I would probably use the Joe Meek for the vocal track and the second pre-amp or compressor or pre-amp/compressor combo for the other two. The Aardvark has inserts for four of the eight channels. I have looked at the dbx 376, Presounus VXP and the Focusrite Dual Track pre-amp/compressors, but I'm wondering if I would be better off to just invest in a decent quality compressor (HHB or Joe Meek?). I guess the simple question is, given what I have so far, is it better to invest in better compression and live with the pre-amps I have access to, or would it make more sense to get better pre-amps along with the additional outboard compression I'm seeking?

    I realize this may be like asking "what is the best mic I can buy?". My confusion is coming from the research I have done so far which seems to indicate that some units are great pre-amps and some are great compressors but rarely are they good at both, particularly when there's more than one channel involved. Of course, this rule is null and void for those units that are priced in the range of the space shuttle.

    Any help would be great. Thanks!
  2. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    It seems to me that you have enough decent gear to get stuff done so I suggest that what ever you buy, take a giant leap up and get something really great. I am a real big comp lover and collector myself, so I have more channels of them than I do preamps as I find that comps not only do the dynamics work they are meant to do, but also are a big part changing or making tone. And to me, it's all about the tone.
  3. sdevino

    sdevino Active Member

    Audio Gaff is right comps are really all about the tone. You do not need external comps for record level with a 24 bit digitaizer so the only reason left to use them is to get a specific tone.

    I have actually chosen to go the other way. I have sold off all my external comps and use only plugins. I use the Waves Rennaisance, and UA LA-2A and 1176 plugins for most of my compression deeds. These all sound different and none would be truly universal.

    If you do decide to get an external comp for tone be careful not to use it just as a way to track too hot. With a 24 bit system you want to average between -20 and -10 dBFS when you track. Tracking hotter will generally require running your mic pre's at levels that are overdriven and it will be a lot harder to get a good mix.

    If you do decide to step up to something world class you might think about something more contemporary like a Distressor or Fatso from Empirical labs. You can set it for a wide variety of tones and charactor, and it is used on just about every record on the radio anymore,
  4. white swan

    white swan Guest


    What do you think of the Oxford Dynamics and MacDSP compressionplug-ins
  5. Barkingdogstudios

    Barkingdogstudios Active Member

    Thanks gentlemen.

    Gaff, unfortunately, in an effort to remain married I can't afford (literally and figuratively) to have a large number of comps at my disposal. I'm really seeking the 'best bang for the buck' unit that will allow me to compress more than once source while recording my band. I'm gleaning from what you say is that I'm better off to have two or three comps than to have one unit with say, four channels. Would you agree?

    Steve, I was really looking for a means to avoid peaks (nasty red lights that stay on) than to track hotter. One particular singer I have been working with has tremendous dynamic range so I thought even 3 to 6 db of compression going in might help. I do also understand that the comp is going to have it's particular influence on the sound.

    In terms ofplug-insI do have the Waves Renaissance package. But my (limited) understanding is that the plug-in is compressing the signal post digital conversion. Is that right? Can I acheive the same 'limiting' or 'mild compression' objective by using theplug-inswhile tracking?

    BTW, I think this site is great. Finally some non-marketing driven advice!
  6. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    Yes, I would agree. I also can't think of a four channel comp that is worth owning?

    All plugins work post A2D in the digital domain so while you can compress and limit, this would be after any clipping has occured prior to A2D. And while most comps can do limiting, a specific limiter or limiter function on a comp is a better tool.
  7. Mundox

    Mundox Guest

    Get an RNC(really nice compressor) for $175 including shipping,it is a great BANG for the buck.Very versatile too.(it is stereo)
  8. tripnek

    tripnek Active Member

    To fit in the "Best bang for the buck" catagory I'd suggest a Sebatron vmp2000e mic pre and 1 or 2 RNC compresors. The RNC will certainly take care of your peak problem without killing the sound quality (a problem with most inexpensive comps), and the Seb Pre will add tone and flexibility that you can't get close to with the Meek or Mackie.
  9. sdevino

    sdevino Active Member

    Keep you tracking levels lower and you will not need a compressor to prevent overs. Or ride the preamp gain when tracking if you can.

    You already own the Waves RenComp which is a very very good compressor. Other plugins I recommend based on personal use are the UA TDM plugins, and McDSP. I also hear great things about the Sony but have not demo's or used it myself so I can't really comment.

    If practicality rtequires that you use an external comp, the RNC should do really well for the money at nipping the occaisional paek provided you know how to set it up as a limiter.

  10. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I myself like the sound of a great comp in the front end chain. It's "that" sound. I have heard mix's that forgo the use of comps on the inputs and to my ears they don't sound as good as they could. I think some thing need it while others don't.

    To me, software comps still don't sound quite as good as hardware ones and adding more processing at mix only make things more ragged due to more demand on the processors.

    Learn to make your decisions as you track. Yes, this requires a little foresight. It requires that you have a plan. It requires that you know what you are doing and where you are taking your recording, instead of waiting until mix time and then playing "poke and hope" until you stumble upon something that you think sounds good.
  11. sdevino

    sdevino Active Member

    We already hashed this out Kurt. He was more concerned about overs than tone.

    Outboartd is an option. I thnk newer plugin comps sound very very good. Having the aggressive sound of an anlog outboard comp sounds great in some mixes and not as great in others. Given that the original poster is on a budget, plugins are a valid and reasonable choice.

  12. Pez

    Pez Active Member

    If you do get a new pre then you will have to set the Q10 levels at 0 to by-pass the Q10's pres.
  13. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    The Q10 has class A pres in it. How good are they? I don't know. I would assume they are pretty decent. The XLRs are Nuetrik combo inputs that accomodate both XLR and line inputs..
  14. Pez

    Pez Active Member

    The pres in the Q10 are pretty good. I've done commercial releases using them. They have a decent clock. The only con I can think of is that you need to adjust the levels through the software mixer. I personally prefer hardware knobs. The software will let you save your level settings however which is kind of nice. Since he already owns this a pre with some color would make sense if he wants some variety. For a bang for your buck choice the UAD-1 has some of the best plug-in compressors around. It's been awhile since I heard Sonar but I was never impressed with any of the plugs that came bundled with it. I was pretty much ready to give up on the idea ofplug-insuntil I heard and personally used the UAD stuff.
  15. jdier

    jdier Active Member

    I have a couple Q10s and I have successfully used the inserts on the back to patch in my crappy nady compressor (which seems to work ok for very mild control on drums (sometimes it never kicks in)) and am using FMR RNC's for vocals.

    While the RNC IS stereo, you can only use one insert per RNC unless you are doing real stereo mastering type stuff. For instance you could not run bass guitar through the left and vocals through the right.

    The Nady 5000 can be run either mono or stereo.

    If I could have the $60 that I spent on the nady back, I would use it to buy another RNC. They are just a bit easier for me to use and understand.

    Hope this is of some help.

  16. Barkingdogstudios

    Barkingdogstudios Active Member

    jdier, thanks for the input. Would you agree that my dbx 166a is probably at least as good as the nady? Would the rest of those who responded and offered RNC comps as an option feel that the dbx is comparable?

    So perhaps, when tracking the whole band, I could use the dbx for light compression on some part of the drums (say kick and snare or overheads), the Joe Meek for either vocals or some other instrument like bass or guitar (although I tend to do a "throw-away" vocal track because I don't have a proper isolation booth) and any additional compressors I may pick up.

    I have been looking at TL Audio as an option. A C1 might be out of my price range so the 5021 is a possibility. One thing that I'm considering is that because I sometimes track the entire band, I would like to be able to take advantage of the the two SPDIF channels available on the Aardvark (8 analog inputs, two SPDIF). So the option of a digital out card could be important. TL offers this on both models. I guess this raises another question : is the quality of D/A conversion on these "optional digital output cards" any good?
  17. Jim Chapdelaine

    Jim Chapdelaine Active Member

    Hi Steve, I think there's a benefit to both.
    I also wanted to thank you for taking Dave (from the school where I teach 1 day a week) and giving him some hands on.

    I've found that any good hardware has to be a useful tool first and an investment 2nd.
    While I've recently upgraded my Waves bundle to Diamond, it has zero resale or investment purpose.
    The bundle is a great tool so that alone justifies
    the cost.
    I've also been on a compressor binge and have found, since using the Dangerous Music system, that all of my rack gear is back in business.

    The SLAM! has proved invaluable as have my matched Distressors with mods. These do what no plug in can come close to. I've also found that they solidify audio images in a way that plug ins cannot. I still use my Ren Comp and Oxford Filters as well as a host of others every day for mixing.
    I can track hotter because of the Dangerous stuff and now I can track AND mix with all my rack gear.

    In addition to that, I've added a TC6000 which does
    the last thing that plug ins can't - reverb.
    My point is that I think the future will be hybrid systems that are personalized to the taste and budget of the user and result in more robust audio as well as have a longer shelf life.
    Someday, I'll sell the rack stuff and my daughter will go to college. Of course, someday, some of the stuff will be junk but it's working now.
    Interesting thread!

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