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"Cheap'o" gear your brave enough to admit you use.

Okay. How about a topic where we can put aside our gear snobbery and risk the wrath of others who would thumb there noses at cheap gear and people who have used said cheap gear, and you tell us, what cheap gear you have used that you actually ended up liking.

Mind you, I'm not asking what cheap gear you though was super fantastic since those two things don't usually go together... but what really cheap gear do you find useable and that you would actually not be ashamed to say you have used from time to time.

By "cheap" I dont necessarily mean an exact dollar value... but more along the lines of manufacturers that generally gets visciously mocked by others like Alesis or Behringer, Nady, etc...


Okay, so this is my confession. I have purchased my share of cheap crap, more often because sometimes I just needed something "in a pinch" and not so much because I like buying cheap crap... but once in a rare while I find a cheap toy that I actually think is "useable" and is underrated. Today, I want to talk about Alesis CLX-440 compressor which is now defunct. Alesis also produced a PEQ-450 which I found to be much less favorable.

Very few people have used this unit, which is why Alesis stopped selling it,and its why hardly anybody ever mentions in on recording forums. so I happen toown this hunker... and for the benefit of somebody who happens to see this unit on e-bay. I will tell you my opinion of it.

The Alesis CLX-440 and its cousin the PEQ-450? (parametric EQ) was one of the first toys I purchased when I started building my small studio many years ago and I was on a tight budget. Its been a long time since I have used it... and my taste in gear has gone up quite a bit since then. and I have not used it in quite a while to where I could recite every flaw or positive aspect of the unit. but my overall opinion of the CLX-440 was quite favorable (speaking perspective-wise based on its low cost).

Alesis takes a lot of sh*t and personally I think they are seriously underrated and misnderstood. Alesis is one of those companies that is either "hot" or "cold". Theres like not a whole lot of in-between with them.

Once in a while, Alesis manages to do it right... and when they do it right. its really, really good. The HD24XR is an example of when they got it seriously right. The Alesis Andromeda (one of the most sougt after and desireable analog synthesizers in teh world) is an example of when they got it right. The 3630 compressor is a perfect example of them getting it wrong.

The CLX-440 in my opinion is an example of them doing it fairly right. although in this case, this was one of those examples when they created something average (maybe above slightly average) and it really never garnered the attention it should have because for the money it really was fairly decent and I'm surprised it didnt at least grab a little bit more market share, if not on aesthetic value alone. The unit really had that pseudo-vintage, mastering unit quality look to it (despite not being of the latters quality). Unfortunately this product line died out real, real quick. I was never really sure why.

The thing that I like most about this unit is just that the metering is absolutely fantastic. No unit on the market, ever has, or ever will, have better or more useful metering than this Alesis CLX-440, and that, I find to be the greatest tragedy of all. because this is what I think that Alesis got really, really right about this unit, even if the signal path and sound aint' fantastic.

Metering is what I like most abut the unit, and I kind of wish other manufacturers would follow suit and adopt something similar.

The unit has 4 meters per channel (as opposed to 1 meter per channel like most other compressors on the market). It has a meter for both the input level as well as the output level so you can precisely set the make-up gain knob. and it also has seperate meters for the amount of compression, as well as the amount of downward expansion (or gating). Thats 4 meters per channel. Me likey'. Me likey that idea a whole lot.


Now. For the sound?

To be honest, I have not used the unit in about a year so I probably shouldnt give you my opinion by memory. but I'll say this. The noise floor is sufficiently low. It could stand to be a bit lower, but definitely acceptable compared to how noisy a lot of "vintage" equipment can be. Alesis idiotic mistake here was putting 20 bit converters into these things instead of 24 bit converters. and while they were at it, they should have designed those 24 bit converters the same as their HD24XR, and had they done this. this would be one piece of sweet gear. but no sense talking about what they should have done instead of what they did... which was take a shortcut.

The sound is "clean". Most definitely in the transparent compressor category.

The compression is extremely pleasing and gentle in my opinion. That I can tell you is my subjective opinion. To my recollection, you can really slam the compression on, and yet it still sounds barely like your compressing so its much like one of Aphexes compellors which also has this unique quality of being transparent in its compression operation.

I don't normally set my compressors to do anything extreme on purpose, so I dont recall if you can get this pony to do any little tricks, and I doubt you much can for two reasons: (1) First, because its just too transparent it its operation, and (b) Secondly, because its a digitally based compressor, I think if you tried to intentionally slam it too much... all you would get is harsh digital artifact sh*t sound instead of smoothed out pleasing distortion effects like you might get in a decent analog unit.

I wouldn't say the unit produces "harsh" sound because its digital... but thats just my subjective opinion. I am used to dealing with very transparent equipment because ransparency is my preference. so "clean" or "harsh digital" sound doesnt sound harsh to me... it just sounds "real" like the way it should be.


You can find them on e-bay and the price has been cut in half in the last 2 years. They used to be around $200, but now you should find them for around $100. I actually check from time to time because I really love these little units, and kind of would like to have some "back-ups" for whatever reason, maybe for live use or something.

Only problem I ever had was I blew one of these units out once, which may or may not be a sign that they are a little bit sensitive to overvoltage. In fairness, I was plugging and unplugging a defectiove high wattage space heater repeatedly, like 40 times (dumb, dumb, dumb) which was malfunctioning and was on the same circuit. ummm... I kind of think that was what blew it out :-) Still, as with most Alesis products, the unit is filled with integrated circuits (I reopair the units, I know them inside and out) so its a little on the flimsy side in comparison to units with discrete components.

The other problem is, since the units are digital, they have an inherent delay to them... so it would be more adviseable to use them for tracking than for adding effects during mixdown if your routing your signal from in the box, into these units, and then back into the box. You can set your DAW software up to compensate for this problem if you can figure out what the latency time is.

Oh, I'm a little less a fan of the PEQ 450 parametric EQ which is the CLX440's matching "sister" unit. You should probably buy one just to have a matching set since they are cheap enough. but the units really sound like crap when you change the filter "Q" beyond reasonable limits... Not bad for small tweaks though.


JoeH Sun, 02/11/2007 - 21:18
The A-51 mic is very cable sensitive, though. Through Mogami it sounds pretty awful, with a nasty coffee-can resonance. With the free blue cables supplied in the package, it's a little bright. But with Whirlwind-branded "Accusonic" Belden cable, which isn't anything special at all, the mic is right on.

I too own an A-51, and am quite happy with it, esp for the $ I spent on it which was just about (or perhaps a little less?) than what you paid, Hilary. I have it on a boom stand in front of a "talent desk" right in my production room, and it gets used for 'quick & dirty" VOs many many times, esp when we need something done right then and there. Most folks ooh and aah over it (you guessed it, they're not audio people) and literally everyone who hears it is thrilled with the sound of their voice through it. For what it's being used for, I have no plans to replace or upgrade it.

However, I've never heard a difference in its sound related to what cable I used, so I"m very interested in hearing your results, Hilary. I was wondering....could you run off a quick series of tests to demonstrate this? I'm assuming you're running with equal 25-foot or 50-foot lengths, and can immediately switch between the three, perhaps while pointing it a complex musical/audio source....a CD player, perhaps, or a musician doing someting repeatable? Ideally, you could just run your recorder/computer continuously, and swap the cable out as you go, then chop it up into three wav file with a label for each, corresponding to the cable used.

Another thing to do, just to keep it as scientific as possible, would be to run the same tests a second time, with a second (different brand/model) mic. Print those results as well, and see if there's any change there as well. Last but not least, run a line source through the three mic cables to another recording input, and make a third set of wav files.

I'd love to toggle between these three sets of examples and hear this for myself.

JoeH Sun, 02/11/2007 - 21:54
As for budget (cheap) gear, I'm no stranger or snob when it comes to getting the job done, either.

As a location recording engineer, you always have to be ready for the unusual, the unexpected. In all three or four of my "live" remote rigs, I have a tupperware-style goodies case with every kind of adapter, splitter, turnaround, etc. Not all of these are top shelf Switchcraft or Neutrik. Some are indeed radio shack (SOME of their stuff is ok, just gotta know what to buy.)

One particular life-saver is their Hi-Z to Low-Z barrel-size adapter. (About $19 at RS.) it's got a female 1/4" jack at one end, and an XLR male out at the other end, fter the transformer. I keep two of these in every road kit, because after the better direct boxes get used up, and suddenly the church organist/keyboard player decides they're going to be playing their electronic instrument, you need SOMETHING to save your butt. In a pinch, these aren't that bad anyway, at least for HI-Z keyboards and such. For keyboard direct outs, or similar work, they can be a life-saver. I also have a couple of spare sets of 1/4" cables to go with these...

I also own one of those nasty ol' ART tube preamp/DI's. It doesn't get used too much these days, but for all but the most snobby pseudo-engineer wanna be's (who usually wouldn't TOUCH a preamp/DI for under $500), this one works great, including uses for Bass amp outs and other sources that can always use some warming up. I'm not against using this in the right circumstances - esp when the track is going to be buried with a ton of other noiser tracks.

I'm also very happy with a pair of SP C4's I own. I don't care what ANYONE says, these are very nice mics indeed, depending on how/where they're used, and they come with both omni and cardioid capsules. For the price, they are almost unbeatable. I'm in no hurry to buy any more, but these are doing quite nicely and get used on occasions where the really GOOD stuff is in use elsewhere.

Last but not least (for now), I love my inexpensive MXL V6 and M3 mics. The V6 is the warmest, roundest, all-round LD mic for instrument use, with a deliberately warm tone, and it's cheap enough to risk out on some remotes. And I'll let you in on a little no-so-secret tip about the M3. It was deliberately designed to emulate the sound/character of the old Neuman U67. Not having one to A/B it with, I can't say for sure how close they came with it, but I CAN tell you that for the cost, this is one insanely great vocal mic; smooth, rich, highly detailed tone with a very bright - but never harsh or strident - top end. I have used it on many many projects for the lead vocal(s), esp female, often putting it up against several of my other much pricer mics in my collection. Most times, the M3 won out, and it's been close at hand for everything I do in-studio.

I've got plenty of high-end expensive stuff as well, but I have a very soft spot in my heart for things that don't cost a fortune, yet deliver a fantastic bang for the buck. Back in my struggling days, the Mackie VLZ Pro series' preamps come to mind, too; another story, another time. 8-)

drumist69 Sun, 02/11/2007 - 22:14
Cheap stuff is all I have for now. So...I like the AT2020 on a variety of things. Vocals, acoustic guitar mainly. I like my M-Audio DMP3 preamp. Very clean and clear, no color. The MXL 2001 is a pretty nice warm vocal mic, and would probably be good for jazz drums, although it comes across too warm for rock drums to me. I like the MXL 603 sdc's for rock drum overheads. The ART Pro VLA Compressor is nice straight from the box to my ears, and from what others have said here, can be made quite killer with some work/money. Also, I just discovered that the ART Tubepac preamp/compressor makes for a nice DI on bass. It also matches well with the AT2020 for vocals. ANDY

Member Mon, 02/12/2007 - 07:17
5 Track Behringer Eurorack, 2 Behringer condensors, 3 Behringer Dynamics all for under £200 and a random digitech effects rack from 1708. But I dont care, i love them all and ive got some sweet sounds out of them. we all know kids thats its not just the equipment. And to be fair I run through logic express with god knows how many cracked plug ins I could make a fat man with the runs sound good.

Davedog Mon, 02/19/2007 - 22:25
The C3 is a very nice mic. Its well made and they really stand behind their products. I own a B3 which is unbelieveable at its price. No hyped anything and patterns.

BUT...Andy....Ask yerself..."Self, how good does my AT 2020 sound?"

And you'll find your multipattern mic choice will be an AT 4050. Save for it. Its that much better.

Member Wed, 02/07/2007 - 22:41

Hey, I'll be the first to admit it, I'm an idiot when it comes to recording, but here is one thing I just can't stop wondering about.....
Why do you really need expensive gear like a great vocal mic and preamp, when I hear so many great recordings, big time ones at that, where the vocal is back in the mix with effects and what have you all over it, they could have been using a radio shack mic.
It's not like they were tring to record Frank Sinatra for some pristine live session. Example, early Beatles, great mics, right, great studio, but the recordings were terrible (ie Love Love Me Do), but who cares how good the recording was or what Neuman mic they use......... it sounded great and sold millions, and don't forget in comparision to other recording of the time those early Beatles recording weren't very good, those mics coulda been and probably were the best money could buy but they certainly didn't sound like it, but...............who cares.........they coulda sang into a tin cup.....and we'd ah still loved it.
Michealangelo made some of the greatest art works of all time ( Andy Whorehole eat your heart out) with a big piece or rock and a HAMMER and CHEISEL......and I'll bet he didn't use a 'vintage' cheisel....just my guess just doesn't seem fair now sometimes does it, all things being considered.

moonbaby Thu, 02/08/2007 - 07:40
525's are a decent piece. I have never seen a Symetrix unit that wasn't.
I have a ton of 501's for live sound; great performance at around $100 a pop.
My piece of cheese is a 1977 Ashly SC66 stereo parametric EQ that has been relegated to be a sidechain processor. Screw the noisey pots, it turns any compressor into an instant JoeMeek wannabe. Hideously loud colors on a box the size of a VW, I love it!

Davedog Thu, 02/08/2007 - 08:13
Moon...I know that unit! Yeah...noisy but effective. I had an old old Furman compressor for years...I called it the 'ParaLyzer' it could stop a 12db spike dead in its tracks...but noisy.....You could hear it when it was off! Still.......I miss it. I think I gave to my kids band for their PA a while back and they lost it when someone made off with a rack of their stuff. Come to think of it, there was my Alesis MidiVerb (first year model !)in there too. Talk about trashy snare verb!....I miss that too....

Okay then ....heres another piece.
Carvin 31 band graphic EQ. Transformers front and rear....input and output levels....weighs in at over 5lbs... 2 rackspaces...This thing actually sounds great just running a signal through it. I'll leave the EQ out and run a guitar track through it just for some grit.

I'm feeling nostalgic.

moonbaby Thu, 02/08/2007 - 10:02
I had one of those Furmans, too! Mine was green with red knobs, and I got it when they first came out ('78). Mine kept crapping out because of a chip that would go bad. No signal passed unless all 3 bands were set "flat". Happened all the time. Sold it to my bass player....:)
OK, how's about the dbx 117/118/119 units, the Roland SD1000 delay (mine stll works!), and the immortal (you can't kill 'em-I've tried!) SPX-90 !!!