Do I need to upgrade my interface?

JazzHat

Member
Joined
Mar 26, 2017
Location
Central Ohio
Current vocal chain = Flea 47, Grace m103 pre (using both eq & the comp when tracking), using line-in on Focusrite Clarett 4 to to access the A/D converter, then thunderbolt into MacBook Pro / Logic Pro X daw. Recording in a treated room and I’m happy with the capture. . . sounds great for demos, SoundCloud, etc.

I’m going to try to track an album later this year. Would like to track in my studio and send it out to be mastered. While the above sounds great for demos, I’m told it’s not up to the level needed to track a commercial sounding album.

So the question: If I upgrade the weak link (Clarett) to a better converter/interface (Apollo8, Antelope, etc) can I expect to achieve Pro or commercial level tracking? . . . Or am I kidding myself with an interface upgrade and just need to bite the bullet, pay to track the whole project in a commercial studio in addition to hiring out the mastering? And the above will always be . . . Just a demo studio?

I don’t have the experience to separate marketing hype from reality. I really respect the experience & knowledge here. . . Thanks for any guidance!
 

Kurt Foster

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Joined
Jul 2, 2002
Location
77 Sunset Lane.
i think what you have will be fine. i see no reason the converters on the Focusrite would be a problem. Focusrite makes some very good converters, it's the mic pres on the cheaper stuff that is the compromise and in the end they are a vast improvement over a lot of stuff that was available in the past in that price range.

i'm not saying the Apollo or Antelope wouldn't be an improvement, only that the Focusrite should be just fine. unless you need more than 8 inputs at a time, i see no reason to upgrade just to record an album. i'm a big fan of the Apollo line. not for the conversion but for the ability to use UA's excellent plug ins while tracking with minimum latency.
 

JazzHat

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Joined
Mar 26, 2017
Location
Central Ohio
Thanks Kurt, that’s encouraging. I’ve had a couple people tell me the Clarett is fine if, “all you want is a retro low-fi kinda recording”. LoL, like I said I just don’t have the experience to know. But I feel like the most recent stuff I’m doing sounds pretty clean with a lot of clarity in the capture. What I don’t want to happen is go through the whole process, get the master done, & find yep, all that work to make something that doesn’t hold up!
 

Kurt Foster

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Joined
Jul 2, 2002
Location
77 Sunset Lane.
it does 196 ...... that's hardly what i would call "lo fi". again, it's the mic pres in the Clarret that are not as great as they could be. the problem with the pres is in how they are powered and their topology (smt). around here we tend to prefer mic pres with discreet construction and high volt rails. hi volt rails are difficult (actually impossible imo) to do with a 9 / 12 or 14 volt wall wart power supply. there's a lot of snobbery when it comes this stuff and imo unless you have a billion dollar room with a billion dollar console and billion dollar monitoring along with a billion dollar budget, it's pointless. just work on the songs and the performances. that all matters much more than what converters you use.
 

JazzHat

Member
Joined
Mar 26, 2017
Location
Central Ohio
Thanks Kurt, Keith! Really appreciate the guidance! Like I said I think the quality of stuff I’m putting up these days is good. This years project is “new territory” for sure, and so many “experts” out there. Really value what people here tell me.
Cheers,
 

Boswell

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Joined
Apr 19, 2006
Location
UK
At this level, you need to weigh up your microphones and pre-amps together. It would certainly make it easier for us to give more targeted comments if we knew what the whole analogue chain looked like.
 

JazzHat

Member
Joined
Mar 26, 2017
Location
Central Ohio
Hi Bos, my vocal chain is outlined in first post. My other primary instrument (Electric guitar) I record 2 ways:
  1. use the DI on front of the Grace m103 when recording “clean” guitar
  2. for gain / lead guitar I plug my pedal board (used in my live performing) directly into mic-in on the back of the Grace. I have a Radial Stereo JDI on my live pedal board with XLR outs (I built my live board to accommodate PA, FOH, or recording deck)
For other instruments I just mic into the Grace and every thing after that point is as described under the vocal chain in first post. I’m a solo artist so all my recordings to-date are built a track at a time. The album will include some limited session musicians but will be tracked the same way.

It’s a really simple set-up but I want to make sure I get the quality piece right.
 

Boswell

Moderator
Joined
Apr 19, 2006
Location
UK
In that case, I'm sorry, I misunderstood you. I did take in that you were using a single mic and pre-amp chain for multitracking your playing in order to build a composite demo performance.

However, when it came to recording the album, I thought this would be done as a conventional jazz recording using multiple performers making a multitrack recording of a studio performance - probably several takes but no overdubs. In this scenario, you would naturally need several microphones and pre-amp channels running concurrently. Experience shows that for jazz work you get the most satisfying results if you choose these two elements on a per-channel basis to best capture the instrument or vocal on that channel, hence my comment earlier.

I suppose I'm not really a fan of using a single type of mic/pre-amp for everything, no matter how high the quality of the chain. That said, you've got an interesting mic in the Flea 47 - I've never used one, but have heard good reports of it, particularly for vocals.

Are you planning to use the guitar pedalboard output directly in your mix, or were you going to re-amp it?
 

pcrecord

Quality recording seeker !
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Joined
Feb 21, 2013
Location
Quebec, Canada
Current vocal chain = Flea 47, Grace m103 pre (using both eq & the comp when tracking), using line-in on Focusrite Clarett 4 to to access the A/D converter
I think it's a good recipe. Using the line-in instead of the preamp in the front is the best thing with the clarett.
The only thing that could step up the quality would be to have a dedicated AD converter, for exemple the Mitek AD96 or similar.
But the difference would be slim.
 

JazzHat

Member
Joined
Mar 26, 2017
Location
Central Ohio
I’ve tried re-amping (Mesa Boogie short stack) but prefer the result from the DI approach. All my current demos are DI. FWI, I do have several lesser mics and use those as well (but the Flea is go-to for my vocal). LoL, while my recording methodology may be unconventional is does simplify gear needs and I have no issues with channel bleed! . . . Oh, and I don’t think it really matters but I’m not a jazz player. Soft rock with an occasional touch of jazz / hint of country. I perform under my own name, not the JazzHat moniker.

So Bos, do you agree I can track a commercial sounding end product with the Clarett converter or should I upgrade?
 

JazzHat

Member
Joined
Mar 26, 2017
Location
Central Ohio
I think it's a good recipe. Using the line-in instead of the preamp in the front is the best thing with the clarett.
The only thing that could step up the quality would be to have a dedicated AD converter, for exemple the Mitek AD96 or similar.
But the difference would be slim.

So I should take the UAD marketing hype with a grain of salt? They pretty much imply the Apollo series brings professional studio quality to your living room... Am I correct that while the mic pre might be better (slight? A lot?) than my Clarett, the converters would be pretty similar?

I know nothing about stand alone converters. . . Looks like Google Tonight!
 

Kurt Foster

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Joined
Jul 2, 2002
Location
77 Sunset Lane.
the Apollo is a unique piece in that it does the plug in processing for the system rather than relying on the computer to do it all. the result is you can track with minimal latency while you print with plug ins running.

the pres in the Apollo are not better than your Grace pre .... maybe different but they both share the same level of "quality". different pres will impart different coloring (or lack of) ...... that said, many hit records of the past were recorded in studios where they used only the pre amps in a console ... (all the same pres). a lot of people think it's a good thing to have a selection of colors (or lack of) to use. if you want to get real picky about it, i suppose different hi volt rail pre amps may be of use with what you have but i do not see see it as an imperative. what you already have will work quite well imo.

your going to spend a lot of cash to get a better stand alone converter.
 

JazzHat

Member
Joined
Mar 26, 2017
Location
Central Ohio
Thank Kurt! . . .I’m going to track the whole project with what I have. That’s a wrap!

And many thanks to everyone here. This is truely a unique forum - the experience & expertise and the willingness to share knowlege so many of you have acrued through years of work. . . I’m being sincere here, thanks for participating in this forum and for helping newbs like me!!!
 

pcrecord

Quality recording seeker !
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Joined
Feb 21, 2013
Location
Quebec, Canada
Grace pre are very good and very clean.. I doubt any preamp included in an audio interface is better. As Kurt said.. different maybe.
I'd love to have some Grace pre.. I went the colored path with LA-610 and Focusite ISA.. Clean is good too ;)
 

kmetal

Kyle P. Gushue
Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 21, 2009
Location
Boston, Massachusetts
So I should take the UAD marketing hype with a grain of salt? They pretty much imply the Apollo series brings professional studio quality to your living room... Am I correct that while the mic pre might be better (slight? A lot?) than my Clarett, the converters would be pretty similar?

I know nothing about stand alone converters. . . Looks like Google Tonight!

the appollo is a decent converter, with excellent dsp capability. the pluggins are good, as good as any other nice pluggin, its the realtime capability that makes the apollo valuable. conversion wise its not much of a step from MOTU, and proably in line with RME.

a noticeable step up from the clarett would probably be the above apollo, like an antelope, or mytek. i'd take a mytek instead of an apollo, or antelope, and just use my well appointed pluggin collection during mixing, or via a master/slave instead. especially doing jazz or acoustical music, where touch, feel, and dynamics are key, as well as air.

for 2-3k something like mytek gives you a world class engineering experience. (good enough for Sear Sound) UAD has all sorts of options, from the arrow interface, to the pcie cards, you dont need their interface for their pluggin power, arguably their strongest suit.

you cant upgrade to world class conversion easily as a dsp card, its not readily available at those price points. pluggins are widely available. fine tuned, performance driven, audio conversion is not. it holds re-sale better as well.

the DA side is vastly overlooked, and another reason the mytek or similar shines. you hearing more in your mixes, will totally, improve them, require less work in the mix. it will give truth to your monitors, and allow depth to your listening experience. no pluggins do that yet. i love pluggins, but i know you cant mix what you cant hear. i would venture a used apogee rosetta 8 would be another, less expensive improvement to the clarett.

the differences are somewhat subtle, but theirs no other way to get that sound, it contribute to that "thing" wonderful recordings have. your mixes always sound better when you hear better, and conversion, and everything, including desks and screens, leaves its mark on the sounds path out of your soul, through the air, into your ears.

will clarett get the job done, yes, are you, or anyone, likely to achieve amazing sonics with it, most likely not. so it really depends what your looking to do. last i heard mytek was due for the new iteration of the 8x192 around now. but that was over a year ago. you could always snag a used 192, and sell it after the albums, done. it will hold its value. its ten years old, and companies like UAD and focusrtie still havent caught up to, or surpassed the 192's specs. if i remeber correclty its like a 121db dynamic range, maybe 119? its up there.

it might be worth sending a song out to a pro mixer as well. then you or whoever can use that as a reference for the rest of the album. it might reveal some inaccuracies in your room, that would otherwise be doubled up, as a result of tracking and mixing in the same CR. youve got a boutique mic, a boutique pre, and a very semi-pro converter. especially for Jazz, i think it'd be a worthy ans sensible investment. presuming your monitoring and room treatment was handled.

cheers!
 

JazzHat

Member
Joined
Mar 26, 2017
Location
Central Ohio
Thanks for taking the time to post Kyle. Will investigate the gear advice; & sending my tracks out is a great idea as an immediate next step! (Slaps forehead... tunnel vision is such a beautiful thing)
Many thanks!
 

DonnyThompson

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 25, 2012
Location
Akron/Cleveland, OH
Thanks Kurt, Keith! Really appreciate the guidance! Like I said I think the quality of stuff I’m putting up these days is good. This years project is “new territory” for sure, and so many “experts” out there. Really value what people here tell me.
Cheers,
Yeah, you have to be cautious of the sources when people are "advising" you...though we do have a pretty knowledgeable and experienced roster here on RO. Sound On Sound and RO are my two most trusted places when it comes to talking about gear, and the craft in general. ;)
So, this "demo" sound you are talking about...is this something you've noticed yourself? Or something you have been told by someone else?
Upgrading converters is never a bad thing ... And companies like Antelope, Apogee, etc., This is mainly what they do ( conversion), so sure, you might benefit sonically from an improvement in that regard. I've never used UAD, other than lightly at other studios, so I can't speak from any experience as to how their conversion sounds, though I can tell you from experience that just because a device "brags" about being able to sample at 192 ( or 96, or whatever) that doesn't necessarily mean that it's good sounding/quality conversion.
I recently added an Apogee converter to my system, replacing a Presonus VSL1818, and I can say, unequivocally, that my overall sonics have improved - and not just by a little or marginal amount.
I'm not knocking the VSL, it served me well, but I'd rather track and monitor through the Apogee at 44/48 than use the Presonus at 96.
You've got some pretty groovy gear, the Flea meds are something I've heard about and have been curious with, and the Grace pre you have is wonderful..., though I would echo what Bos said, about perhaps avoiding tracking everything through it; In my own experience, I've found that using different mics (and different pres) on a song lend a very pleasing contrast in textures. I have some pretty nice mics, some newer, some vintage, but I've even switched to a simple SM58 through my Focusrite ISA, for adding a background vocal, then switch to a 414 EB through an ADK AP mic pre for another harmony, and even swap out different transformers, too ( which the ADK allows), and then for another layer, maybe an SM7 or an RE20 for another vocal layer/track...
I've found it really adds a nice contrasting texture, and stops everything from having the same sonic fingerprint in the mix.
I haven't heard any samples of your music, but based on what you've mentioned having, I certainly wouldn't think that your sound would be " lo-fi".
Can we improve our sonics, either with mics, or pres, or converters? Sure. We can always improve... But you have to weigh out the cost versus the return, too.
Maybe one of the newer Neve "clones" would be an interesting addition to the "cleaner" pre you have now with your Grace? ...or perhaps an ISA One, or maybe a tube pre? It would expand the possibilities of your sonuc palette... But I can't see how those things are "deal breakers"...I think you're fine with what you have now to make a very good-sounding record; and so much of what we do is so subjective anyway.
Also - and I hate bringing this up but it is a fact - consider what your average music consumers listen through...I know, it can be frustrating, but in the end, your typical listener either likes the music or they don't... And none of those people are going to ask themselves what Mic pre you used for the vocal.
But I do get the neverending search and journey for better fidelity. I think we all do here.
IMHO
-D.
 

kmetal

Kyle P. Gushue
Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 21, 2009
Location
Boston, Massachusetts
given the chain, the converters are still the weak link. an sm 57, and the stock pre's from the clarett, which are decent enough for 'variety', and they have the 'air' function. so two mics, two different pres, is plenty for a jazz album, as far as tonal variety. jazz is often minimal anyway as far as micing goes, so i dont think tonal buildup or stacking would be a strong consideration in this case. i could see pop/rock, where stacks of everything exist, but even then a grace is a very transparent pre. i venture to say that jazzhat has never heard what the grace and flea are capable of doing, since the ADDA is currently the weakest link in the chain, although the clarett is does have good specs in general.

with so many great recordings done on consoles, it shows that pre-amps can be good, not great, and can stack reasonably well, and get the job done of adding gain to the mic signal. i dont disagree preamps are an integral part of the sound, i do however think theres a lot of commercial push on them, and a lack of focus on the other tools we have available. i believe some of it is a hangover from when interfaces had very few, or no pre amps, and were very basic. ie, the mbox era.

i also think conversion is good enough now, that when you have the level of apogee, ect, it doesnt go out of style as soon as the next gen comes out. these are units that can stand the test of time, much more than two Generations ago.

i was interested to read my old m-audio FW1814, ($400/2006) had a 107db dynamic range, which is similar to the 108db dynamic range of the latest focusrite scarlett range priced $100-500.

the claretts are up in the 117-119, 3db or so less on the AD and DA side, than the 2010 era mytek 8x192. and right on par w the current motu line specs.

Intel is slowing chip generations down, and processors have reached a bit of a plateau in base frequency, so i wouldn't expect huge leaps in the next couple generations of conversion. probably 130+ db dynamic range, 384+ sampling rates, and a focus on immersive sound channel counts. not that a single spec, or specs alone determine, subjective quality, they do give a means to chart progress on a certain level, and detect rates of change.

if i see another 'neve clone' im gonna puke. lol seriously, its like illegal to make a peice of gear that doesn't reference some old design, and old parts that arent available anymore. perhaps its because i still cant listen to music online at cd quality, which was state of the art in the late 1900's. (1982).

sorry, rant over.
 
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