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What should I buy next?

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by mmcfarlane, Jun 28, 2007.

  1. mmcfarlane

    mmcfarlane Guest

    I'm ready to spend $2000-$3000 on upgrading my home/serious hobby studio. This is roughly my semi-annual budget.

    I recently changed over from Windows to a Intel Mac Pro Tower. I use Cubase 4.

    My current hardware chain is

    Preamp: ART MPA Gold Digital via SPDIF or Preamps in Yamaha 01V96 mixer
    Amps etc: A collection of tube amps, Radial DI's, Radial Re-amp kit,
    Interface: Yamaha 01V96v2 over mLAN (firewire) into Cubase
    Monitoring: mLAN from Cubase to 01V96. Coax Digital from 01V96 to Presonus Central Station then analog to Mackie HR824's and 8 channels of headphone pre-amps
    Mics: ADK Hamburg, Rodes NT1a, various Audix OM-7, OM-6, OM-3s
    Clock: I use Cubase as the master clock and slave the 01V96, ART MPA, and Presouns Central station.
    Software: Cubase 4, a few extra plug-ins - SW is in a separate budget, not for this discussion.
    Music: Rock, Celtic-Bluegrass fusion, Contemporary Christian & vocal

    The 01V96 over mLAN is working very well so far. I just started using this setup since I lost my old PCI-based Aardvark Q10 when I dumped Windows last month. Latency isn't a problem for my workflow, I do headphone mixes direct in the 01V96.

    How I track:70% of my tracking is done live usually from an 01V96 via 3*ADAT into an Alesis HD24. Sometime I hook into the house analog mixer. 30% of my tracking is in my studio, 1/2 in ensemble format and 1/2 one-track-at-a-time. For in-studio tracking I rarely need more than 10 simultaneous channels (typically 10 vocal channels for choral work) unless I'm tracking drums, then I need another 8 line-level channels (I play Roland V-Drums and Bass)

    Ignoring SW and tracking/control room acoustics treatments for the time being, what do you suggest should be my next upgrade to improve recording quality?

    Here's some of what I have been considering:

    A few better pre-amps? Speck, A pair of Safe Sound P1s, 1073ish clones, Joe Meek channel strip, RNP, Onyx 800R
    Get an Apogee Ensemble and connect 4 01V96 preamps via analog and 8 more via ADAT to the Ensemble? Would the 8 Apogee converted channels really be significantly better than letting the 01V96 do the conversion? Does the Ensemble have a near 0-latency mixer for headphone mixes during tracking?
    Get an RME Fireface 800?
    A few better mics?
    An Apogee Mini-DAC to replace the D/A converter in the Presonus Central Station? ($800 for 2 channels of D/A is pretty steep, the Ensemble includes 8 channels but I guess the converters must be 'inferior' in some way.
    A Presonus M80 8-channel preamp ( or another 8- or 4-channel preamp) to use for live and studio recording,... Mackie Onyx 8-channel preamp, Otcopre,...

    At the end of this upgrade, I want to have at least one decent preamp to have my own reference to judge future purchases against.

    It would be very helpful if someone has actually A/B tested the 01V96 preamps and converters, rather than just saying 'this will be better', tell me how you learned it is better.

    Ya, I'm going in too many different directions.

    If you're still reading, thanks for hanging in :)
  2. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    Assuming you do not need room treatment, and that is a very big assumption as it is more important that you seem to understand, you seem to be lacking in decent or high end preamps and/or mics. $3k will get you one or the other but will barely get you both. The preamps in any digital mixer are never likely going to be worth bragging about or match the sound and performance of high end outboard preamps.

    Instead of asking people who will never know what you exactly need to upgrade, evaluate your own productions for weakness. Nobody better to ask then your clients and/or yourself what you are lacking, and need to improve on. Focus on that.
  3. mmcfarlane

    mmcfarlane Guest

    Thanks AudioGaff for responding.

    I probably know more about room acoustics than the rest of the process and gear, having a couple advanced degrees in related fields of physics and working 30 years in acoustic and elastic signal processing. I am not an expert in room acoustics or recording but I've been studying both for 4 years and qualify as advanced hobbyist. I simply requested that we ignore room acoustics for this posting.

    But as a reminder 70% of my tracking is done at live venues (as off-board mixes) where I have little control over room acoustics and some control on some mic placements (e.g. micing amps, drums, acosutic intrumentss, etc). My control room (12' * 20'ish) was purpose-built as a control room and though far-from ideal, it sounds pretty good so far and I keep improving it.

    But that is a different discussion, I wanted to focus on gear for this discussion.

    I'm not building a pro-studio, I'm just looking for the next logical upgrade to my hobby studio.

    My key question at this time is will I get a better overall result adding a few new preamps in front of the 01V96, or should I replace the 01V96 with an RME Fireface 800 or Apogee Ensemble interface.

    I could probably swing one of these interfaces and another $1000 for a preamp channel or two. I suspect the ADK and Rode mics are better than my current ART preamp.

    Over the next 2-3 years I will likely replace both the 01V and get new preamps, I just wanted outside opinions deciding which one would give me the best bang for the buck this year.

    In terms of listening and making my own decisions, well I am and I will, but I don't have a personal reference/experience point to say 'wow, the Apogee Ensemble converters really do sound a lot better than those in the 01V96' I have done a lot of testing of front ends and know, for example where the ART fits in with a Radial J48, 01V96, Eden WorldTravler DI, ... as a bass tracking channel bit I've never heard A/B comparisons of AD & DA converters or a $2000 preamp.

    FWIW, I started out 4 years ago with a SoundBlaster card, then added a Behringer channel strip, then bought the Aardvark Q10. I didn't buy the 01V96 as a recording front end, I bought it for doing live sound reinforcement. It just happenned that it was a quick replacement for the Q10 when I moved from Windows to OSX last month and actually it has alot of great features for making can mixes, adding reverb to the can mix,... flexible input and output routing,... and it integrates nicely into Cubase. From a workflow standpoint the 01V96 is actually a great front end. I dont use the 01V96 as a control surface, I have a separate 24-channel control surface.

    Again, let's remember this is a hobby studio. Most of my gear and technique matches or exceeds my typical customers skill levels. I work for free. All of my current customers love what I do and think I am a genius, probably because they have never been recorded on anything other than a cassette deck.

    My most frequent remix request is to fix off-key vocals :D
  4. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Hmmm...I have never known anyone who's been doing something for a scant 4 years and qualifies as an "advanced hobbyist". Nice to meet you and welcome to RO !
    I realize that you are doing this in a live environment, but still, you should have a much more diverse mic collection. A Hamburg is a very nice mic (I have a Vienna, love it) for the $$, but you might look at at least an AT4040/4047/4050 series. And what's up with all those Audix live vocal mics? I am an Audix fan, I think that the i5 is a GREAT alternative to a 57 (which is not on your list...?) in many areas. But the OM line-up is very vocal-specific. Gotta large diaphragm DYNAMIC? An RE-20, M-99, ATM25, or even the venerable Sennheiser MD421? How about SDCs for OH, strings, CELTIC instruments? I'm thinking Crown CM-700, Shure SM81, Rode NT5s here. I have been doing what you are doing since 1970. Mics are your paintbrush, amigo, you can never have too many. 99% of the mics I've seen slip through my hands over the years were the result of theft, not sold off. OK, I DID swap an AKG D1000 for a bag of weed once 30 years ago... :) .
    As far as the preamp deal is concerned, the 01V has preamps that are merely SERVICEABLE, certainly nothing to rave about. You might look at a Grace 101 to get an idea of what a decent, transparent pre that doesn't cost you an arm and a leg should sound like. FWIW, I have 2 of those, and a Safesound P1. The P1 is not as clean or quiet. And the dynamics are nice, but not as good as a Drawmer MX60. Anyway, once you get the sense of how much these can (or can't) improve your sound, then you can decide for yourself if you need 8 channels of them.
    And FWIW, these people "love" you because...you're FREE !!! Everybody loves you 'til the rent comes due...Good luck!
  5. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    The problem with using external pre-amps with the 01V96 is that you still have the Yamaha pre-amps in circuit. Setting the input trims to +4dBu by using the 20dB atten button does exactly what it says - it attenuates the signal, which then goes though the same pre-amps. One way round this is to use balanced-to-unbalanced transformers on the outputs of the external pre-amps and feed the unbalanced signal into the analog insert jacks. This produces a noticeable improvement in sound quality, but at the expense of cost and complexity.
  6. mmcfarlane

    mmcfarlane Guest

    FWIW, I have 24 channels of ADAT and 2 of SPDIF available on the 01V96 for external pre's with converters as an alternative.

    Thanks for the tip on going unbalanced to the inserts, that's a great idea. What if I just dropped one of the balanced lines, what woud be the down-side (other than signal loss) fom a transformer-based solution?
  7. mmcfarlane

    mmcfarlane Guest

    Thanks Moonbaby for the ideas.

    I have a few other mics in my collection, including a 57, which I normally use to mic amps. The 2 Celtic groups I work with all have built-in mics in their instruments (whistles, harp, accordian,...) but I take to heart what you are saying about more diversity in mics and will study your suggestions.

    Like I said, the people I record are happy to have the memory and have no other recording experience so they don't know any better. I wasn' bragging on myself, it was a toung-in-cheek thingy. I'm happy to provide it for them. I don't have any plans to raise my rates from free, just to continue improving my craft.
  8. mmcfarlane

    mmcfarlane Guest

    Thanks Moonbaby for the welcome.

    I apologize if I appeared to oversell myself, I thought I lost most of my ego a few decades ago but maybe I just forgot where I put it. Is serious hobbyist OK? :roll:
  9. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    OK, you were talking about the use of pre-amps in front of the 01V96, rather than digitising pre-amps with ADAT or S/PDIF outputs. I use an 01V96 in my portable live rig and run both ADAT and analog inputs, especially as I often need more than 12 or 16 channels.

    That would depend on the output design of the pre-amp. If it's a floating transformer or a pseudo-transformer electronic output, just use both outputs with one grounded. No signal loss with this configuration. If it's op-amp outputs with independent + and - drivers, try using only the + output, but you will sacrifice noise rejection, and maybe some signal linearity. This configuration incurs 6dB loss of signal, which can be made up on the 10dB overrange of the channel fader or the +12dB available on Out Atten in the dynamics processor for that channel (no dynamics need be set).
  10. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    Well, 30% still justifes room treatment if is needed.

    Otherwise if you already have the gear you need for recording, you may NOT need to buy anything. What do those recordings sound like? The weakness they reveal is where I would likley be thinking of spending the money.

    What about gear and/or software for mixing those live recordings?

    For one thing, I would make sure I had the cables and splitters to avoid interfacing with the FOH board.
  11. mmcfarlane

    mmcfarlane Guest

    Regarding recording in-studio, I don't have a proper tracking room per-say, but my primary tracking room has about a 15' ceiling and it sounds OK. I don't have a vocal booth - and often track 6-10 vocalists at a time so I live with that limitation for now.

    Are the 'clamp-on-a-stand type vocal shields any good? I've seen a few different models that effectively sorround the back of the mic. Would one of these be a decent investment to isolate room reflections for the time I am tracking a single vocalist?

    Regarding a splitter, I have thought long and hard about this and am still putting it off. Almost always when I am recording live I am also running FOH sound from my 01V96 and tracking via adat into an Alesis HD24. Adding another record board where I have to monitor 2 sets of preamp levels makes things a bit more complicated.

    However, I have thought about adding 16-24 channels of preamps that would front-end both the HD24 and the 01V96, connecting one via balanced analog and the other via ADAT. In essence I would use the preamps as a splitter.

    I could potentially send the ADAT to the HD24 and the (unbalanced) analog thru the 01V96 inserts. Another option is to upgrade the HD24 to the XR coverters and send the analog balanced to the HD2r and ADAt to the 01V96.

    So many options...

    Thanks AudioGaff for the great feedback and ideas. I really appreciate the help.
  12. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    You don't need to split if you are using external pre-amps with ADAT output. Take them to the HD24 lightpipe inputs and then the HD24 lightpipe outputs into the 01V96 ADAT ins (assuming you have the MY16-AT expansion fitted). The HD24 can monitor its inputs on its outputs.
  13. mmcfarlane

    mmcfarlane Guest

    Shoot, I forgot that. Thanks Boswell. I have the MY16-AT card and the mLAN card. The downside is I can only use one at a time.

    It would be nice if I could get 16 channels of 'better pramps' and use them live thru the HD24 but use them in my studio through mLAN but when I stick in the mLAN card I loose 2 or the 3 ADAT ports.

    Speaking of 8-chanel preamps, I havebeen researching

    Onyx 800R $1000
    Audient ASP008 w/ ADAT $2000
    Focusrite Optopre w/ ADAT $800
    Presonus Digimax 96K $1300
    Presonus M80 $1800
    RME OctaMic $1400
    and the Mackie Onyx 1200 ($1500) would eliminate my 01V in the studio,
    I just don't lnow if I owuld trust Mackie for the driver support.

    The Onyx has had some very good reviews

    Any others I should look at, or any feedback on these others listed above?
  14. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Skip the Focusrite. No headroom, poor build quality.

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