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What Should I Upgrade First in My Home Recording Studio?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by JoshHPMusic, Nov 22, 2012.

  1. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    Hi, so I've got a pretty cheap beginning setup right now in my home studio. I have a chance to get some new gear for the holidays, so I'd like to know what you recommend I upgrade. I currently have a MXL 990 Studio Condenser Microphone (I don't have a shockmount though, is that bad?) and my USB interface is a Line6 Pod Studio UX2. I don't have any external preamps or compressor or any of that stuff, but I have tools like that through the recording software. What should I upgrade? I was thinking maybe a Rode NT1-A, or something else under $600. Or should I instead first get a separate preamp? Is there any point to having a preamp besides for more volume. Because if so, I don't really need more volume. What would be the best investment at this point? I feel like the microphone itself is what I need, but you tell me what I need. I'd like to stay under about $600 for anything, but it doesn't apply if I am able to find a really good deal on it somewhere. An example of my current setup can be found at "Fix You" - Coldplay (Cover by Josh H-P) - YouTube

  2. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    Or what about the Neumann TLM 102?
  3. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Upgrade your knowledge and skill set first.
  4. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    Well I'm working on that, but this is my chance to upgrade a part of my studio for the next year... so anybody have any gear suggestions?
  5. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    get an sm57. it's a killer mic for everything. pre-amps basic function is to boost the small elctrical signal of a mic into a larger signal. high-end i.e, expensive pre's are known to impart a tonal character to the mics sound, or present it extremely accurately not altering the sound of the source/mic.

    the best upgrade you'll get if you want to delve into a great mic, and a nice piece of outboard gear. Get a shure sm57, and a presonus eureka channel. not the other chearper 'studio channel' it's not the same. If you want to real, professional level pieces of gear, of that nature, in the price range, it is very very tough to beat that combo.

    i have an nt1-a, it's crap, it's all hype, it's a cheap sounding mic, i like it on handdrums, thats about it. it's a paperweight, and has less than 6 hrs on it. pm me if your still intersted lol. you've already got one condenser mic you don't like don't get another one. there is no reason to buy the cheapest budget minded mic from a famous company, just cuz of the name. is like buying a BMW 3 series, its a BMW corolla that cost ten times as much.

    when your ready for an akg, or Neumannn, you'll know why you don't want there budget stuff.

    Every engineer remotely worth their salt knows how powerful the 57/58's are, and at 100 bucks, you cannot beat them. If and only if, you have your heart set on a condenser, trade your mxl, for an audio technica 3035, again this mic kills for the price and for 3 times the price.

    so now you've got a world class dynamic, a decent channel strip, and a fun large diaphragm condenser, to play around w/. all w/ enough money for a nice set of headphones, or a nice mic cable left over if ya go used!!! yes this will work! it'll take the gear out of the question, and let you make some recordings and work on your chops. best of luck.
  6. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    How about acoustic treatment? I think that could help a lot. Take a look at that video to see what I've got. Pretty much nothing. Any tips?
  7. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    Thanks man, I'll look into that stuff. Even though I've heard from multiple sources about how good the NT1-A is, I'll still take your word for it. Is the Neumann TLM 102 really worse than the Audio Technica 3035? That would be surprising to me. I mean yes, it's their cheapest mic, but it's still their mic and I've heard some pretty good reviews. Also, I've got Bose AE2's, I'm pretty sure they're good enough, I mean to me they sound amazing but maybe there is more out there.
  8. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    This is where the money should go first. Now you're talking serious. Gear is gear. With highly developed skills and a good sound room even your meager collection will sound twice as good.

    The secret to buying gear is always endeavor to increase the quality exponentially by the cost of doing so. Its no value to spend if it doesnt sound any better.
  9. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    So any tips on HOW to acoustically treat my room?
  10. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Acoustics for pop music, in a recording studio like environment, is basically a misnomer. You don't need any stupid acoustical junk. Your room already has a nice sound to it. Nice wood and brick. Reasonable diffusion throughout the room. So don't waste your money on stupid acoustic foam or even bass traps. Not necessary. Completely superfluous.

    Your current microphone sounds quite nice. I think it actually complements your voice since you don't really like to breathe much? You don't also have Erectile Dysfunction too? Because it certainly sounds that way? Guess you didn't sing in the school choir either? I mean don't you want to sound like a man? You sound like a kid crying on your mother's shoulder? No guts? No glory. So let's try it with some more air, a little more guttural and try to sing in chest voice not head tone. Girls sing in head tone because that's all they can do. A guy can get it down with chest tonality. So while it is a sweet and somber song, you still have to sing it as a man and not as a child/kid. Your voice has already changed, so you need to explore what it's actually capable of doing. This requires support. This requires proper breathing. Your singing everything on stale available air, in your lungs. That's not enough.

    Choosing any other microphone similar to the one you are currently using, is really not a smart move. It's simply a lateral move to something that will be very similar to what you already have. A microphone that can provide some more guts would be the SHURE SM58, with an additional foam pop filter on top of the metal ball. This microphone actually outperforms what you are currently using. It's also what you should be using unamplified electric guitars, drums, even keyboard instrument amplifiers. This is where you can take advantage of your acoustics in your room. So not only can you take a keyboard from the DI outputs, you can mix it with the feed from an instrument amplifier with a microphone, for an extra level of acoustics.

    The Pod line of equipment is really quite good, first rate. If you want one of those classic hit making preamplifiers, that's going to set you back from between 300+ dollars to more than $1500 for a single channel preamp. And there's not too many that I would recommend. Seventh Circle, makes some nice API/Neve style kits in that $300 region. Warm Audio, also offers similar cloned API/Neve style preamps. These all have input and output transformer coupling along with discrete transistor circuitry. Nothing else much compares. Don't bother with any tube nonsense.

    The Neumann TLM-102, is one hell of a beautiful sounding microphone. Everything they make sounds gorgeous. That coupled with a transformer coupled all discrete transistor preamp, is a hit winning sound. And what you've heard actually on countless hits since the late 1960s. TLM-103 is also a great sounding microphone. But Rode? Come on now! Certainly not a improvement nor a step in the right direction. A waste of your money. MXL is not much different.

    While at the same time, condenser microphones sound like condenser microphones and dynamic microphones don't but can. An SM58 (57 is the same without the metal ball), slightly restricted bandwidth, can actually improve your recording. It gets rid of a lot of low-frequency noise. It's quite insensitive to higher frequency noises. And it ignores a lot of acoustic aberrations in nonideal rooms. You certainly don't need any microphone that goes beyond 17,000 Hz, as most online music downloads such as MP3's only go out to 15,000 Hz, at 128 kb per second, 16-bit. The same with FM radio. Television used to be the same, until it went digital. BFD! Watch any televised rock 'n roll event and what do you see everybody singing into? And how does it sound to you? Right. Fantastic. And it's a $100 microphone. Plug that $100 microphone into a nice transformer coupled all transistor microphone preamp and magic happens, just like that. But that also assumes that you understand how that preamp can color your sound, just by adjusting its gain trim settings. For a smooth vocal sound, you will be pad off on the preamp with the gain up. For a more open and slightly more aggressive sound, you will be pad on, with the gain cranked up even more. And ZAP! It will sound unbelievable! And you can't get this from cheap or IC chip style preamps.

    I find that most inexpensive condenser microphones, with inexpensive, transformer less preamps, get metallic sounding and crispy thin. And that only accentuates everything that we don't like about PCM digital recording. Though one might consider it when recording symphonic, orchestral, operatic work? Where everyone wants color, out the window. Go figure? WTF with that? Not me. Not what I go for. Half the time, you don't even need any equalization, when you choose and position correctly, the right microphone. Equalizers do more to to harm recordings, when it is not implemented correctly. I don't grab for an equalizer until I changed microphones. Change the positioning of microphones. Only then, might I add or subtract some equalization. Just to get the vocal to complement and sit properly in the mix. That's also where you add some dynamic range compression and/or limiting. Then some downward expansion to electronically remove room acoustics, breaths, other extraneous background noises, that maybe increased, exaggerated and accentuated, with the use of dynamic range compression and/or limiting. The downward expansion requires that you set, very carefully, a proper threshold, beneath the lowest level vocal range. And you don't need much more than say, 10-20 DB. This is the difference between downward expansion and gating. Gates sound relatively unnatural on vocals. You keep hearing this door opening and then slamming shut. And that will detract from the vocal. We're downward expansion is much smoother sounding and can be adjusted to only downward expand to a preset range such as 10 DB, 15 DB, 20 DB and not off. It also cleans up residual preamplifier and amplifier noise. And that's how ya get a clean vocal without the room boom.

    The Rumba is completely different.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  11. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    Well thanks a lot for all the advice. Not thanking you for being such a **** at first, but whatever. I'm only 14, been singing for less than 2 years, and never taken vocal lessons but I'm trying. I'll start taking lessons soon though. Thanks
  12. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Well I will say that for 14 you're already heading in the right direction. I recorded someone else for a demo when they were 14. Her name was Ellen Amos, later known as Tori Amos. She was only 14 when we cut her first demo and remove shoes and going to be famous just by the delivery of her performance in the studio. It's not just about the lyrics. It's about the delivery. She didn't take any singing lessons and you don't necessarily need any singing lessons. Though her father was a Methodist Minister and she may have performed and sung in church?

    Watch and listen to performers on television. And listen to how they split their lyrics out. Listen to the energy. Listen to the air they are moving. And imitate them. Emulate them. It will help you to develop your own style. Right now your style is sort of fat-free. So it's certainly not bad but it certainly is rather lightweight. And you came here to learn something, didn't you? Like people who have been doing this longer than your parents have been alive LOL?

    You really do have an advantage over a lot of people already. You're obviously multi-talented. You've got a reasonable technical command of your equipment. You already know how to produce a good product. And it takes years to refine one's technique. You've already got a head start on those kids coming out of high school. You certainly haven't made any gnarly technical errors. In fact on the contrary. I was very pleased with your sound and your production. So maybe all you really need is some coaching from a good producer/engineer? And you can get that frequently, from the best studios in your town. Go in with the intention of cutting, say, two songs. Every step of the way, you keep picking the engineers brain (not many have them) and ask for explanations as to what he's doing and why. You not only get yourself a decent recording, you've just gotten a couple of hours of private tutoring, for the low, LOW Price for a couple of hours of studio time. Much less expensive than going to specialty schools and universities where you'll end up spending 10,000-$40,000 to learn how to twiddle volume controls and plug-ins microphones. What a bunch of rear end horse feed that is. This is just another example of thinking out of the box. Or the continuing saga of how to accomplish things with little or no budget. I mean you can even ask the engineer who might be putting that $3000 Neumann on you, to also set up a SHURE SM58, to cut to an additional track so that you can hear and compare. And the most amazing thing you might find? Is that that $100 microphone might actually sound better than that $3000 microphone, no foolin'. And you can learn that within $10 worth of studio time in an hour looking. And you don't go to your buddies basement studio. No. Ya find the biggest and best in your region. You might elect to just cut tracks there, taking your session home on hard disk, memory stick, DVD-ROM/CD-ROM. And with that scenario, you're going to learn a much greater degree of professional recording techniques and performance improvements. And ya get to do this without any other kids taking up your time. This is a real one on one way to get much better, much quicker.

    Whereas I've also been booked into my musicians friends home studios. They invite me in not only to record them on their own equipment, to find out, if their equipment is worth diddly squat? And to show them how to get more professional recordings out of their own equipment. So you might want to inquire some of the engineers at the bigger studios if they would be willing to make a house call? After all, the TV repair man does for those large LCD displays everybody has today in their living rooms/bedrooms/basements. Just tell him... you'll buy him some beer LOL. 14-year-olds know how to purchase beer don't they? Good. I would hope so. OK so you don't quite look like you're the same person on your father's driver's license? Tell them you have "verbal I go". And that it's the same condition that Michael Jackson had not changed his appearance. If they respond with " that only happens to African-Americans ". You can say " Well, yeah, DUH. Look at me! See what I'm talking about? Now give me the God damned beer! " And then you can have a professional session.

    People tell me I shouldn't be around children? I don't know why?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  13. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    Thanks, that's some really helpful advice. I'll look into that stuff at some point, at least after I've started vocal lessons. Also, I know this doesnt have to do with knowledge or skills much, will I will DEFINITELY be working on, but at this point I'm leaning towards buying a SM58. Or should I get the sm7b instead? And the Warm Audio preamps look great, but which would you recommend?

    Thanks again,
  14. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    And how does the Blue Spark compare?
  15. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    Nevermind, I just saw Warm Audio only has that one preamp it seems. Well How can I use the input with a XLR mic?
  16. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    And scratch that about the Blue Spark, how is the Blue Baby Bottle?
  17. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    the baby bottle is nice, but again it's a low price condenser, you already have one. w/ you mxl, and a 58, you'll be fine. don't sleep on the eureka channel in addition to a transformer based pre-amp, it's got a nice compressor, and decent eq. and more importantly, bypass switches so you can learn what each is doing, and just use the pre when you don't need the other stuff. it has beaten out api stuff a reasonable amount of the time, down at the studio. you have to try these things before you buy them, it's like a pair of shoes, they may look cool, or be perfect for someone else, may be completely wrong for you.

    i've heard good things about warm audio, and 7th circle, too. i havesn't used them so i can't say much about 'em. just go w/ what you like the best, but your in the right ball park.

    the sm7b is a great mic, tho i dunno if it'll do ya any better than the 58. the Tlm series is killer, Neumannn doesn't put their name on crap. the reason i suggested you get the other things instead is because it would eat up your whole budget, and i think a nice pre/channel strip and mic, would go alot further both sonically and educationally for you. again just a suggestion
  18. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    Well I've heard the Blue Baby Bottle is great, and the thing is, I can get the mic for 360 bucks WITH the blue enCORE 200. Then I could try to sell the MXL 990 and get a good preamp. So I would have a condenser and a dynamic mic, both better than the MXL.
  19. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    i cannot stress the importance of trying the mic first. there have been many, many times, when we used a shure, or a sennheisser dynamic, over a Neumann 87, or akg c12. that's 8k worth of mics, that didn't sound as good on a vocalist as a sm 58, or sm-7. we're not talking about micing a marshall cab and a les paul.

    the differences in human voices vary so much more. think of a mic as an EQ. if your voice is say boomy, then you don't want a mic the accents the low end even more right? if your voice is shrill you don't want a mic that accents the top end. Basically you want the mic to neutralize any exaggeration in the voice.

    mics like the the 58 or the sm-7 do this much better than most condensers barring price. i used the Neumann 87 as much as a kick acoustica guitar or room mic, as a do on vocals. it sounds great on a great singer w/ a voice that that mic complements it.

    there is a reason people have been using the shure sm58 for over thirty years, and even still, all the time. i haven't seen anybody use the blue encore onstage, live, on tv, or in any studio i've been to, or seen pictures of. and it's the same price as a 58.

    if your going by reviews, or your buddy who has one's opinions, you may want to think twice. the mxl 990 got great reveiws and i have a buddy who loves his. doesn't mean it's any good for me, or that i even like it very much.

    i'm just wondering exactly why you keep insisting on a condenser mic? and why another entry level one, comparable to the one you have?

    if you really want a condenser how bout trying the shure beta 87? that plus an sm58, still cheaper than the blue package. and much more widely used in professional applications. Try the mics at the store, really try all of them, then do a blind test, you will be surprised at the one you pick.

    i had an 87 up 2 weeks ago on a male vocalist, and it was too much sssss kkkkkk's just too much. so i put a sennheiser 441 dynamic mic, and woolllaaaa all the definition, the nice air in the top, but smooooth. it wasn't exhaggerated, it just right.

    mic choice/placement is a huge part of engineering.!!! my first mic was an sm48 it came w/ my 4-track tape machine. 8 years later i got an AT3035, and Nt1-a on the same day. then i got a 414. at that point i was able to work w/ mic choice. and then further when i started working where i work, w/ a bigger selection.
    Still, we use dynamics all the time on vox. don't be fooled by price, or adds, or because it sounded good on someone else. again it's like a pair of shoes, some fit "just right".

    oh yea, your not gonna be able to get a pre any better than what you already have, for your used mxl. not trying to be mean here man, just trying to help you learn from my mistakes.

    Quick story, i was doing live sound for a platium selling hip hop guy one night and i had an akg, and sennhiesser wireless set up for him. 3min before he took the stage he made me hookup up my $50 peavey pv.1 dynamic that i brought for backup. so it ain't the name or the price. it's what works. sm 58's work.
  20. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    Actually you stand corrected, the blue encore 300, the 200's big brother, has been used on American idol. And some other performances obviously. And I'm not saying I hate my mic right now, but it's the bottom of condensers, I mean they're down to selling it at 80 bucks. But it's not like every condenser is exactly the same mic, why put them down? The blue baby bottle is the top of their line of more affordable mics, they have a great reputation, and the mic did actually get better reviews than the MXL 990. I'll still test them out, but it's looking like a great option. Plus with recording acoustic guitar, the shure sm58 was beaten by the blue baby bottle in a sound comparison. Don't worry, I'll still try things out.

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