How to track synths the professional way?


Willi E.

Ok, I know how the easy way works in theorie and in practice.

Take a synth.
Connect it with a recording system (something like a HD-Recorder or PC).
Press record and start playing!

I have a rather simple setup with an average Audio-Card, a Behringer mixer, PC and Cubase.

My workhorse around my "studio-setup" is my motif-synth.
But when I compare it to professional recordings it lacks of "quality".
I think my motif synth as a sound source is a good start.
If I'm comparing arrangements with a lot of acoustic instruments, I'm understanding the point that a expensive guitar with a good player always sound much better than a synth-patch.

But even professional recordings with only drums and a simple synth line sound much better for my qualitative impression.

So how do the Pro's record synthlines.
Are there special techniques for coloring the sound?
Running it through special amps?
Or recording it like acoustic instruments (through speakers with mic)?
Or going direct line in?
Is it just a better recording chain?

If we follow the rule - crap in, crap out.

How do you record your synths?
Special techniques or if not, which Hardware should I upgrade first to get significant better recording quality(DAC or Preamps, etc.)?

I appreciate every constructive guidance!



Well-Known Member
Mar 28, 2001
Originally posted by Willi E.:

So how do the Pro's record synthlines.
Are there special techniques for coloring the sound?
Running it through special amps?
Or recording it like acoustic instruments (through speakers with mic)?
Or going direct line in?
Is it just a better recording chain?
Yes..all this and more.
More importantly it's a catsh-22. To compare the tone you yourself am getting with the gear you're using and your experiance, stacked up against commercially released tracks (and I'm sure you mean the "good" stuff...stuff you like that was well done in comparison to all the other releases, ect) is unfar and hard on your self.

...Start with this though. Get a pair of neve 1272 pre's...they'll have that neve sound (fat bottom, in comparison to other pre's) and the way they smooth the top end, they work really well with digital...record as hot as possible with out clipping. This will help alot.

Ethan Winer

Well-Known Member
Mar 19, 2001
New Milford, CT USA

> But when I compare it to professional recordings it lacks of "quality". <

There are a lot of tricks pro engineers use to make synths and other instruments sound better. EQ and reverb are probably the most important.

> how do the Pro's record synthlines. <

You can do all of those things, but what stands out for me the most from your post is the notion of recording a synth as audio. Since you have Cubase it would make much more sense to record it as MIDI. That way you can change patches later, and fiddle with the sounds and effects. When you record it as audio you are more locked in to the sound, though you can still apply audio effects. And, of course, recording as MIDI uses far less hard drive space.



The Motif is one powerful piece of equipment. Straight out of the box it won't sound like anything special, you have to dig in and start using the effects. You don't need any special amps or anything. It has eq and tons of reverb effects built in.

Go to and you'll probably get a more experienced answer than here.

Marcus Black

I think it´s just as much a question of what sounds you choose from the synth and how you play them. Sometimes some "useless" sounds that sound like crap by themselves are just right in context. Or that million$$$-superbig-best-sound-in-the-synth is so wrong in context. As far as i´m concerned what you mean with "professional" recording is equally professional playing. Then there is the arranging-issue. Sometimes a sound, let´s say a pad, that sounds just like one sound played in one take might be "constructed" from a basic pad and and additional one-note lines are played on top of that with different sounds to create what you hear as one pad.

Yes, running a synth through a Neve-preamp as suggested surely gives more balls to the sound but it´s really not the difference between heaven and hell. With good playing, arranging and choosing the right sounds for the purpose you´re on track. First learn that, then buy the Neve... :tu:

Willi E.

First of all, big thanks for the replies and suggestions.

I think I should try to get a little more precise about what I thought of.

It is really hard to explain it in words (maybe because it's audio?).

The problem is not about the arrangement and selection of the right sound.
Even a simple song with just a simple drumsample beat and a synth-hook sounds waaaaayy better than what I can achieve at home.

The sounds of the synth are not the problem and I'm sure meanwhile I know my motif well enough to dig into the deeper structure of filters, sounddesign and effects.

But even if I connect the motif directly to my nearfields, don't sound like the "real thing".
I've got the M1 active MKII and despite that they are not the pro standard, even mp3-files sound better!
The sounds have more presence and are very up in front sounding, maybe I'm wrong but I think it's not only because they mixed it that way. (If I'm wrong, feel free to enlighten me.)

Soooo, I assume it must be something else.
Crap in, crap out?

The Neve 1272 pre would be nice but I think at the moment it's financially not possible and hard to find in germany.

Recently I was thinking about getting an Aardvark Q10 because of the combination of preamps and AD/DA converters to replace my audiocard (MARC 4MIDI - AKM Converter 24/96, something like the M-Audio Audiophile) and to get better preamps to replace the small behringer mixer.

Would it make a "really significant" difference to get the better converters with this combination of preamps? Or is it better to go with the mediocre card and save some money for the neve preamp to get better results.

I've recently had the opportunity to borrow a SPL StereoQ and after an evening of experimenting, the next day I've bought it.
I don't have a comparison to other parametric EQ's, but in comparison with software it wins every time.

So the problem is, I cannot compare to equipment like neve and wouldn't want to spend the money and have no significant difference.

But I would really like to know how to improve my results. I know I can't compete with the pro's. I mean who would be that stupid to spend 100K and much more in equipment if it's not worth it.

My setup was meant to be a starting point, to see if this "music-thing" fits to me.
:) What should I say, I felt in looooove. :) :)

So after learning all this stuff about composing, arranging, etc.
I want to start to get some good results.
The question is not about semi-pro or real pro.
My goal is to get "as close" to a professinal recording as I can get with the tools I have.

I would really like to know how much the pro's have to adjust after recording a hookline, if everyone says that if it's good recorded, the adjustments are minimal.
Or is it really just a mixing thing? Are there special routines or ways to record a synth or electric piano? Or is it directly into a preamp (clean sound)?

I really appreciate every tip you can give, because I'm still learning and I would like to learn it just once and therefor properly.
Just no need to extend my learning curve with some own expensive mispurchase.

So, what is the weakest link in the recording chain?
How can I achieve more subjective quality, clearness and presence in my recording?
Are there other good alternatives to the Q10 (the most people who talked about it on this forum where very pleased).

Please, please, please, be really honest.
If I'm on the wrong track, please correct me.
If the truth is that I can't achieve it without selling my car, house, wife? or whatever to buy some decent equipment, I will take it like a man!
:) :) :)

Thanks in advance!

PS: I've read an interesting thread about analog mixing. Would it be better to mix it on an external console and how could I achieve that with a PC-Setup when I'm recording on PC? Wouldn't I have to convert it 2 times? Once in, then out and in again? Or does such hardware like Q10 do a good summing?


Forget the monitors, how does it sound in headphones? If it's bad there then it has nothing to do with the way you record it.

I really don't think you have to spend a dime. Just methodically track down the source of the problem.

Willi E.

Now I really need some good advice!

I'm getting a bit confused.

In my first steps as a composer I started out doing all in midi in cubase, then mix it a little bit internally in my motif with the effects and finally bounce the whole track at once in cubase as audio.

After doing several songs I thought: Now I'm going to do the final mixdown.
So I've started to bounce all the tracks separately into cubase and started to do a fresh mix with all the plugins and EQing.
This is where my problem started!
Now I'm far, far, far away from what I wanted to achieve. Can't get the tracks work together.

So I've gone back to my starting point and guess what?
It sounds good. Not like a pro result (because of the limited mixing abilities of the motif), but better than the digital result. Even the summing of my motif seems to work better then cubase.
Maybe it has to do something with the reverb, because in my motif mixer you choose just one setting for the whole mix and just control the amount of reverb on each track.
Maybe I'm just too stupid to mix on a DAW, but all the instruments and frequencies seem work out better with the motif summing.

So now I've got a new problem.
How can I mix analog and record into DAW?

Getting a multiple I/O card and an analog mixing desk? But then I would have to go two times through the converters. How much would it degrade my audio?

And finally I'm still curious about the synth-tracking.

When I record it sounds good, no doubt. But something is missing.
When I hear some of the pro recordings and they play an e-piano it has this warmth, presence and sparkle. Even some thin synth line sound really in front of you and has such a big presence.

When I'm mixing, I can make a sound softer with reverb, pan it left and right or push it back also with reverb or just turn it down a bit.
But I can't give the track such a presence.
All experimenting with and without reverb, make it louder and so on, didn't work out.
If I make it louder, it's just that - louder!
But I can't bring in front of you, like it's sitting directly in front of you.

What I'm doing wrong?

How much can Improve my sound by replacing the preamps of the behringer mixer with better ones?
I thought a preamp is just like the name says, a preamp (getting a louder signal)?

And how much difference makes a better AD/DA converter?

I'm talking about the affordable pieces of gear.
I'm sure, even if I've never heard one, that the apogee's, lucid's and prism's are a big difference. I can't judge if the price is adequate but if the gear isn't worth it nobody would buy it. So don't argue with success.

But I'm interested more in the things that I can buy.

Does equipment like the Q10 really makes a big difference to my current setup. Can I achieve a quality step in my recordings?
Or maybe such thing like the FMR RNP in combination with an AD/DA converter would bring better results too.
Do you know some other, better alternatives or is the difference to my setup just a slight one.

And I would really, really like to know some of your routines, tips and tricks when recording a synth/e-piano.

BIG thanks in advance.

Willi :)


Dec 9, 2001
Hi Willi,
I'm in the same boat as you're in. I don't have a lot of $ to spend on gear, but still want to get the best results I can with what little money I have to invest. My chain for recording my synths = Neve 1272's to Lucid A/D to Motu 2408. I bought the pair of 1272's used for $900 and the Lucid for $600. I'm happy with the results that I get.

Kurt Foster

Well-Known Member
Jul 2, 2002
77 Sunset Lane.
Here is part of the problem…
average Audio-Card, a Behringer mixer - crap in, crap out.
I think the Q10 would be the fix for you. Class A pre amps, better clocking and converters. That’s a start. Then, what was said about layering. I worked for a composer who had a midi based studio in the early 90’s. We did a lot of stuff that was complete midi arraignments. Maybe one guitar or a sax but mostly midi. Even on simple lines he would use 2 or 3 tone generators to get a sound. The part is simple, but the waves are complex. Do you understand this concept? Sometimes a snare drum sound is the combination of 2 or 3 different drum box’s mixed together. It sounds simple but it is a more complex sound wave. Another trick is to take the output of the synth and run it through a PA and re mic it. This adds room sound and mic and mic pre coloration. Once again, making the sound wave more complex. Last, a lot of records/CDs you hear are tracked through great mic /line pres or consoles. API’s, Neves, SSL’s. Like everyone has said, try to get a couple of good mic pres. You’re in Germany, right? Should be some old Telefunkin/ Semins V72’s or V76’s around. I don’t care much for the 1272’s myself, they are short a gain stage and I don’t think they sound as good as the three stage Neve pres, but even a 1272 would be a vast improvement over the Behringer. The Q10 has some good pres so try that first. Later you can think about a couple of other types of mic pres to add a little variety to your palette. Kurt