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Help taking my studio to the next level please.

Ok, first post on RO ond I'm really happy that I found this place. Seems very helpful on multiple levels. Background: Keyboard player of about twenty years. Got into computer based sequencing about four years ago. Got my first real DAW about 2.5 years ago. I currently sequence with Cubase SX 3 and I want to continue to use it. I do a fair amount of orchestral mock-ups and electronic types of stuff. I've been getting small to medium sized commercial and educational video project for the last year and a half. It's what I want to do full time but I'm not there yet. I've got a ton of soft synth and libraries, all legit by the way. Aside from a networked extra DAW as a slave, I'm very capable of turning out pro work in the field I'm in. However, I really want to add the ability to do multitrack recording to my studio. I have an M-audio 1010LT right now so I can do the multitrack thing but I'm lacking a lot of other things to really do it right. Last year, the band I was in, recorded our entire CD from my studio. We recorded drums at our practice place with a Roland VS-1880. We used 7 tracks and had a dummy track too. I then brought the VS-1880 home and did digital transfers one track at a time x all 11 songs. From there, we recorded guitars, bass, and vocals here at my studio. Last year, I was using a Tascam US-428 but the latency really sucked for realtime playing of VSTi's so I moved to the M-audio. I reduced latency from 26ms to 6 ms. Big difference. I have two mics, both are AT2020s. My preamp, dont laugh please, was a tiny 8 channel Behringer with phantom power. I used those mics and that board for vocals, guitar, bass, and drum overheads. I used all the plugins I could to benefit the sound and in the end, it wasnt all bad for a freshman try at recording, producing, and engineering/mixing/mastering our CD. It was 99.9% all on me to get it done. Now I just want to be able to do it all better. I know it's not just a matter of equipment but I also know that some of mine needs to be updated. The biggest thing I want to be able to do next is to record a great, pro-sounding vocal. I like my mics but thet arent ALL THAT GREAT. I also used Voxengo's "Voxformer" on the vocals and it did seem to help. I'm mostly looking for suggestions for a preamp/channel strip and a good mic for vocals. I know that I could just get a Neumann U87 but the problem is that, well, I probably cant afford it. I'd like to know if there is a $500-$800 mic that could be just as good. I've heard that some of the higher end AT stuff is really good. Suggestions? And then for the preamp, I'm kinda looking for a magic bullet of some sort. I've read great reviews on the Avalon 737 but it's like $2300 or something. Same with the UA stuff. Does it really matter if it's THAT high end? I really dont want to compromise. If I have to spend 5 grand to get a great mic and preamp, I guess I would but it might take me another 2 years to get that kind of money for that and that would suck. Also, it sure would be nice to have a stereo preamp for overheads and stereo guitar tracks so if you have any suggestions on those, I'd love to hear em. I know I need to address the soundcard issue with something higher end one of these days but this one does have two balanced inputs. I dont see any sense in getting something with 8 or more balanced until I've got decent mics and preamps to drive into em anyway. Thanks for the help and sorry for being so long winded.



anonymous Tue, 02/13/2007 - 12:46

The thing is, you need to find a vocal mic that suits the singers voice

The Neumann TLM103 is a great mic. It was the first mic of the line when Sennheiser took over I believe... You still get that Neumann sound, but due to more efficient production process, they come in alot cheaper than a U87.

Channel strip? I dont really know, but what you could do is upgrade your audio interface to something that comes with a couple of pres, that way you'd be killing two birds... If your on a PC RME makes some nice kit, if on Mac MOTU has some nice products

Good luck!

Davedog Tue, 02/13/2007 - 23:27

I'm with Joe.

Bust it up a bit so its not so tiring to read!

On to the gear.

Not to disagree just to disagree, but if there was ever a mic that is pickier about what sounds good on it, its that TLM103. Not bad for spoken word work. Its got so much output its silly....Yeah, its got some of that Neumann sheen...Just not enough to warrant the price.

You want a great vocal mic and a bit over a grand is in range, then you need to get a Soundelux U195.

Theres many many mics in the 300-700 range right now that are superb. The AT mics being the leaders in this group. It doesnt get much better than a 4050 or the 4047.

Due to your setup, you should look at mic pres that offer sonic quality as well as digital interfacing.

Study study....Try out and return. I dont know where youre located but there must be a audio pro somewhere that you can start a working relationship with.

EricWatkins Wed, 02/14/2007 - 02:59

Thanks guys for the responses. I live in Decatur Illinois and good studios are few and far between but I'm sure I can find a few and speak with the owners or operators. I'd just like to be able to hear some recordings that were done with specific models. I guess the best thing would be to have a channel strip/compressor/eq that had a bit of variety to it since it'll be a while after this first one, before I can get another. Thanks guys, I'll post more questions later.


Jonesey Wed, 02/14/2007 - 06:00

The At 4050 is not a bad mic, I used it on some voals with good success. The price is right to. Getting a channel strip can get very expensive. perhaps getting a great river nv-1 pre and a rnlc or rnc would be a good choice. A pretty big step up from what you have now. These pieces should last you along time without having a need to replace them down the road. You can go to my website and here some recordings done with the AT 4050 and great river pre. They are not my best recordings since those songs were the first songs I've ever recorded but will give you an idea. follow the link to myspace, foolsgold and driving are the songs.

RemyRAD Wed, 02/14/2007 - 10:39

EricWatkins, while you think you need some other kind of magic condenser microphone to put your vocals into the major-league, I would suggest a Shure SM58 for vocals. That's right, a cheap, rather universal PA microphone. If you want to hear what that microphone sounds like on major, Platinum recordings, just listen to Bono, Michael Jackson, Steve Tyler, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They have all cut their lead vocals with SM58 or, SM 7 (which is a deluxe SM58). Of course it was plugged into a good-quality professional mike preamp and not necessarily some inexpensive blah blah tube jobby bargain preamp. It was also followed with compression and obviously some equalization.

People think that condenser microphone means better, even when they're not better than their inexpensive dynamic cousins like the SM 56/57/58. I'd rather have one of those than any of those inexpensive Russian or Chinese invitation condenser microphones.

Taking your studio to the next level, means taking your hearing and recording chops to the next level, not necessarily the equipment. You have to be able to know how to make great recordings with a handful of inexpensive microphones, on junky mixers. Because wasting your money on other microphones, won't make you, or your studio, better.

Making beautiful recordings on anything.
Ms. Remy Ann David

EricWatkins Wed, 02/14/2007 - 16:55

Thanks Remy. I totally agree with you that, the equipment isnt going to take my abilities to the next level. I just figure that, at a certain point, it would be best to have some really good options. I am a bit blown away to think that Bono's voice is recorded with a 58 but I had indeed heard that Steven Tyler used a 57 in the studio. Maybe I could post some of what I have recorded and I could get some feedback? I have all the tracks from my band's last CD as WAV and mp3's. Would you consider giving a listen to give me a little feedback on how I handled the mix and so forth. If you had time, I would really appreciate it. If not. I understand. So what kind of preamp do these guys use for a 58? Thanks,


RemyRAD Wed, 02/14/2007 - 18:32

Eric, I would be pleased to hear some of your work. Many folks on the forum regularly put their material up for peer and professional evaluations. Pick a nice site without too much spam, such as .

I absolutely agree with you that a broader palette of colors (microphones) will offer you greater variety. Good condensers aren't rare, just more costly. There are many affordable Russian and Chinese microphones that people are trying to hot rod to sound better. I'm not big on modifying equipment. I generally purchase items that I like the sound of from the get go. I have been fairly impressed with the affordable Shure KSM32, large diaphragm condenser. One to consider.

I would rather own a bag full of SM57's than a bag full of Chinese and Russian condenser Mike's. Of course, an SM57 will not give you that light "airy" sound that a quality condenser mike will give you but they do provide a nice smooth quality all their own.

I am a bit biased (+3 DB over at 10kHz for anybody who gets that one) because I specialized in live recordings for so long, most everything is Miked with SM 56/57/58's, when it comes to pop music. I could say you wouldn't catch me dead miking an orchestra with those but if that's all I had on hand, or, if there was a phantom power failure, etc., I would still come away with a lovely recording, especially if they were plugged into quality preamps but even then, your mother's Mackie could still do the trick.

Turning tricks for years
Ms. Remy Ann David

JoeH Wed, 02/14/2007 - 22:42

Just to hijack the thread a bit about SM58's and 57's, a few more stories first "live" sound system in 1976 for a summer outdoor series had not much more than 10 SM57's and 6 SM58s, all brand new. (Heck, it was a 16 channel PM1000 console, so who could ask for more, eh?) We made it work, along with a few other oddball mics the first season. Loved working with those mics; it was a challenge with position and EQ to get it sounding just right, but it worked.

Around that same time, Bruce Springsteen had already been touring with and singing into an SM57 with the windscreen ad-on. (Sound Specialies in Philadelphia was doing his sound right up until he broke big, then Clair Bros came onboard, but he continued to use the SM57 for many many years beyond. All of the older publicity "LIVE" shots shows him using one.)

And just this past weekend, I heard a lovely Eastern European women's vocal group performing in the Plaza at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. I was walking through getting coffee and was literally stopped in my tracks, it was so beautiful. (Good sound man, too!) They were all using (You guessed it!) SM58s.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not as sold on using them for as many things as Remy does (with all due respect, of course), but I know the signature sound (EQ, proximity effect, p-pops, etc) and know how to dial it all in as I go. I have done many many live band mixes that included vocals done through SM58's up close. I know and love this sound, and know how to deal with it. (If you can't get good vocals out of a 57 or 58, it's time to rethink your career...)

Having said that, neither are my first choice for STUDIO vocal stuff, but as Remy has pointed out here and in other threads, these are great, usuable, hard-working mics.

With elevated levels and a bit overbiased for 456...

EricWatkins Thu, 02/15/2007 - 06:08

Thanks again guys. I'll start loading some stuff up to if you can listen in WMA. I know that this might not be possible for someone with a mac but I'm already registered there and I can upload all I want I think. No pop-ups or anything there. Just a billboard or two. If anyone wants an mp3 version, I could email them direct or something. I'll post again later with links. Thanks guys.


EricWatkins Thu, 02/15/2007 - 08:18

Ok, here we go. All the songs, 11 total, that I recorded for my band (at that time) "Roswell", can be found at this link: . They are all at the bottom of the page and are the only songs which are catagorized as "Rock" in the "Genre" column.

To recap a little, this was my first attempt really, at recording anything let alone an entire CD so atleast you know where I'm coming from experience-wise. I played bass for the band at the time but I'm actually a keyboard player of about twenty years. This project was to get me through a really painful and drawn-out divorce (about a two year process). I had only been playing bass about a year when we recorded.

Drums were recorded in our practice place which is a 14" x 32" room with about an 11' cieling. The room was halfway live but with carpet on the floor and alot of people and equipment in the room when we were recording. I used my AT 2020s as overheads. I placed them about 6 feet high at about 10 and 2 o'clock from the drummers perspective pointing back at his left and right sides basically. They were probably about 4 or 5 feet back from the kit. We used Beta 52s on both kicks but I replaced all the kicks with samples from Stormdrum later with a KT drum trigger plug-in. We put a 58 on the snare but I replaced it with samples from Stormdrum also. We used some other mics over the toms but most bled so badly that, in the end, I only used the overhead tracks and the Kicks and snares were all replaced with samples. I tried to layer in some of the mics but I wasnt happy with any of it. Also I might mention that all of these mics went straight into a Roland VS-1880. When routing the software mixer inside the Roland, I screwed up and put both overheads on one mono channel, Whoops, so much for that cool stereo spread I was trying for. After the drum session (yes, one session) I took the VS-1880 to my house and tranfered all the tracks one at a time to Cubase SX(1.06 at that time) via the spdif outs into my spdif in on my Tascam US-428. By the way, this drummer is deadly with his sticks. He plays so hard that it's best to wear eye protection when he's going at it. Taming the cymbals was a really tough one. As far as stereo for the overheads, I ended up puting an imaging plug-in on the overheads mono track to try and add some depth.

Next was the guitar player. He played through his Line 6 Axsys combo driving a Peavey 4x12. I close mic'd both sides of the cab with the AT2020s for some of his patches that were stereo. I built a tiny couch-cushion-fort around the mics and the front of the cab for isolation. It worked as there wasnt any extra ambience on the tracks which is what I wanted at the time. We tried to record with dry tones as much as possible and then added effects in Cubase.

I played bass in direct. I was using my SWR head output but then later realized that the output is just a throughput without any of the eq or preamp so it was a really boring dry signal. I had no idea how to work with this so I just did my best by experimenting with eq and some compression in Cubase.

Vocals were recorded with, you guessed it, one of the AT2020s. I needed phantom power so I used my little behringer 8 channel mixer (normally a live mixer for my keyboard rig. I have a mackie 1202 but it's all tied up for other things in the studio and didnt want to untie it, maybe I should have. I dont know. I just left the behringer flat as far as eq and stuff. Tried to isolate the recording as much as possible with a mattress and some blankets. It pretty much worked. I bought Voxengo's "Voxformer" plug-in for the vocals and used it on all the vocal tracks (it's all I had to work with). I also ended up picking up Antares "Auto-tune" and using it liberally. Vocals were tough. It took alot of time and alot of takes. What you hear on these mp3s are comp tracks made of as many as 6 vocal takes and those are just the ones that we DID keep. I cant really say anything because I cant sing worth a crap. Let's just say that the vocals were, by far, the most challenging thing to deal with.

Considering everything, I think that there are a few shining moments for a guy who hadnt done this before. I was at work on this for months after all the tracks were recorded. I used everything I could to try to make the best possible recording. I tried to play producer during the recording sessions and lent ideas to the songs that became key parts I think. After all the mixing, I wanted to add some professional sheen on it. Once again, I was in the dark. From my research on the subject (which was a constant all through the process) I decided to buy Izotope's Ozone. It became the one and only mastering tool I had and I used it all I could to TRY to make things better and louder. There were a couple of happy accidents along the way and I'm also sure I probably would have gotten my hand smacked by a few engineers out there at certain points but hey, like I knew what I was doing. Thanks so much for listening to my ramblings. Any feedback is very welcome and appreciated. THe "Cinematic/Sountrack" stuff is what I usually do but I really enjoyed this process of recording and producing the band. I know I would love to do more of it if I was good enough to make some decent money at it. There is a small market around here for it. Aside from that, I want to be able to do it for my commercial projects when they need more than just the all-in-the-box-sampled sound. Thanks again guys.

(edit) I might also mention that, the ones I really like, as far as the way they turned out are Letting Go, Calm B4 the Storm, Tow the Line, Goodbye So Long, Make Believe. THe ones I really dont are Believe in Me, Pieces. Maybe you can pick out the difference that bothers me. I dont know.

As far as effects go, I fought for a dryer sound on almost everything along the way. Especially on vocals but the result that you hear, is a compromise between band members and I. This is the sound that made us least likely to choke the #^$% out of each other by the time it was all through.


Davedog Thu, 02/15/2007 - 09:35

I took a listen and I gotta say that you're no rookie. Everything in its place and obvious care as to where those places are. I very much liked the rock genre stuff and will say this...Its a great example of minimalist recording making a maximum sound. And props to AudioTechnica 2020 mics. Those things sound great!. More props to you for being able to get through that Rolands' sticky programming. I never liked those. The routing is intense and hard to deal with. This is probably just me!!

What I REALLY liked is the Movie stuff. While I did not listen to all of it, what I did hear made me believe in the emotions being expressed.

I think I understand what youre needing as far as the next step in your evolution regarding studio gear and technique. Your description of the process clearly showed that your learning curve was intense and probably for the best as far as furthering your skills.

I see you want to retain the quality...or bump it up a notch...but also make it easier in the process. Quality gear will do this, especially for someone with discerning ears and a solid foundation of recording techniques.

You might really be ready for that Soundelux and a set of Neve pres.

I have an interest in the movie stuff. PM me if you will and we can discuss this further.

EricWatkins Fri, 02/16/2007 - 05:37

Back to the original intensions of this thread; Can I get an opinion by someone experienced about dynamics plugs versus real dynamics processors on the way in. I understand the issue of CPU load. I understand that once you record it with a real box, that it's now colored permanently. What I want to know is; How do they compare sonically? Such as the Waves SSL plug versus a UA-1176? Can you get all that great character through a plug-in? THere are a lot of channel strip plugs out there and I dont expect a $200 plug to be as good as a $2000 analog channel strip but the Waves SSL is not cheap. For that price, how DOES it really sound? Are there any pros that do real recording and just use plug-ins for dynamics? Just wondering.


anonymous Fri, 02/16/2007 - 12:52

inexpensive mic choice for vocals

Hey Eric:

Your recordings sound great. I'm not sure what others think of these but I have been using it in my basement studio for a few years and am very happy with the quality of it, it's a Studio Projects C1

In addition to being great for vocals it is also great for recording acoustic instruments, acoustic bass, mandolin, banjo etc. or hand percussion effects. [/url]

I responded to the microphone discussion because I hadn't seen your last post on page 2...I'm sure you'll get good tech advice comparing the two options waves vs ua1176 from others on this board... my 2cents on that would be to go with the ua1176 so that you don't have to worry about software compatibilities if you bring your recordings to a pro studio for adding additional tracks or other things that are beyond the capabilities of your home studio

EricWatkins Mon, 02/19/2007 - 17:26

Hey RemyRad,
Any chance of you giving this stuff a listen and giving me some constructive criticism. I just seriously would like some feedback on what I can improve on and how. I thought I PMed you but apparently I didnt get it sent off right or something. Anyway, looking forward to some more feedback. Thanks everybody else that commented. It is much appreciated.


anonymous Mon, 02/19/2007 - 21:07

Eric, Nice work. I really liked the cinematic pieces. Are you curently getting paid to do that kind of work, because it sure seems you could be. We have projects all the time that could benefit from a strong score, and sometimes the producers decide to go with some canned music that doesn't quite work so well. I'm always advocating that they give some young composers a shot. I'll keep you in mind for future projects.


EricWatkins Tue, 02/20/2007 - 04:18

Thanks so much Steve. I am getting paid for my cinematic work these days but mostly for commercials and some governmental work. I havent done any full length feature films yet but I am slated to work on a few for a local production company in the next year. Please contact me if you need anything. I'm 110% reliable and hungry for this kind of work. If you want my contact info, please email me at Thanks again for the listen.