Studio upgrade for mastering and better recordings




I'm in the process of figuring out how to upgrade my studio to be used for 1) semi-professional audio mastering (meaning I'm keeping my day job, not that the work isn't professional) and 2) electronic-based recording with some acoustic sound such as guitar and vocals. What I'm after, overall, is an upgrade in sound quality, a substantial one, if it won't break the bank. What I currently use creates good and clean recordings, but they are missing that elusive pro studio sheen. I've also been very hardware based for recording over the years and I'm a little leery of entering the world of computer-based recording. I've had my Mac freeze up or crash on me far too many times (Mac OS 9 and earlier) over the years, and my hardware recorders have never been a problem. But Mac OS X (been on it for 6 months) has been remarkably stable and I think I have enough confidence to pursue recording multitrack audio with it. I don't think I can completely let go or should let go of all the hardware, so I'm after a versatile system where I can record inside the computer (I will let go of digital hardware recorders) with enough outputs so that I can make use of traditional analog processing / mixing if I so desire. I'm kind of looking for the best of both worlds so that I don't have to rely entirely on plug-ins (of questionable quality) for processing and record and mix in what seems like a very claustrophobic environment. I'll get a second and larger computer monitor to open things up a bit.

Things I plan on keeping:
- Dual Processor G4 867MHz
- Digital Performer 4.52
- Ensoniq DP/4 FX processor
- Roland SRV-3030D digital reverb (one thing I'd like to use with DP4, since this has digital I/O and great reverbs, probably sending and recording different reverb tracks for different groups in the mix)
- dbx263X de-esser (x2)
- Symetrix 525 compressor
- Symetrix 425 compressor
- Mackie LM-3204 stereo line mixer (for keyboard and sound module monitoring, and possible mixdown)
- AT4033
- Shure SM57
- K&K Dyna B 07
- Panasonic SV-3700 DAT (keeping for legacy purposes, probably won't record with it too often anymore)

Things I plan on selling:
- Roland VS-880 (It's been a great workhorse, but I think I want all audio tracks in one location, on the computer)
- Emu Darwin (Sounds great, easy and fun to use, but I'm committing to getting rid of hardware recorders, and the sound / sync problems with locking up multiple recording platforms.)
- Mackie CR-1604 with OTTO (I've recently disabled the OTTO, I finally realized how much it was limiting the mixer headroom and how much better it sounds without it. The CR-1604 was probably great for it's time, but I think I can do better in 2005. The replacement mixer will be mainly used to combine sources if I choose to not mix so much inside the computer, or do some sort of hybrid mixing, some in, some out.)
- Digi002 Rack (This was an upgrade from a AudioMedia III PCI card. I'm committing to DP, so I won't be using Protools LE. I need a strong MIDI environment, with a good audio environment, and DP seems to give me that. It works with DP, but I think I can do better.)
- Tannoy Reveals (passive) and PS110-B sub (Not up to mastering and critical audio listening. I'm actually not going to sell them, I'm going to move them into my home theater system, and use them for secondary monitoring. The Tannoys are great all-around Hi Fi speakers, thus making them not so great as studio monitors, at least that's been my experience.)
- AT822 stereo condenser (Great as a drum overhead, but noisy for more quiet things. I have no plans to record drums again.)
- AKG C1000S (neither good nor bad)

Things I plan on purchasing (this is where I'm mostly looking for feedback):
- Dynaudio BM5As w/ BM9S sub (I hope they are up to the task of audio mastering, both are too new to tell from feedback / experience.)
- Waves Masters Native Bundle (My mastering starter tool kit)
- RME Fireface 800 (The replacement for the Digi002R, hoping the A/D and D/A are good enough so I don't need, at least, a separate A/D.)
- Allen & Heath MixWIizard 3 16:2 (The Mackie CR-1604 replacement. I think I can still use the Mackie LM-3204 since that's line level and use of EQ on that is none to minimal. And I would have a hard time finding 20 stereo inputs in one package with another product.)
- Vintech 273 (At least one crazy mic/line preamp for adding a little something extra and refined to sound when needed. I'm not sure I want or need more extreme tube coloration and warmth, but more subtle refinement of sound. And it has to work at line level.)
- Presonus Firepod (A secondary audio interface for additional analog outputs. I won't buy a second interface until / if I need one, the Fireface might be enough. It's hard to define my workflow until I start working with the new tools.)

Overall I would like to embrace the philosophy of re-use to achieve sound quality. Since I can't afford a $XXX,000 recording setup, I'd like a few high quality pieces that I can use/re-use to effectively simulate the big studios sound. That's where something like the Vintech comes in. I'm used to mixing with the MIDI tracks live (my main source of music), but I'm thinking of tracking the MIDI gear through a great pre into DP, and then mixing with all recorded audio tracks, no MIDI. If the quality is captured and retained within DP then it should, in theory, still be there in the final mix. Does the re-use theory work in reality? I might need a better pair of A/Ds to make this reality than the Fireface has to offer. I only need a pair for the way I work.

Any thoughts on my plans to keep, sell and purchase would be great. In case I'm making some really bad choices. The embrace the future but hang onto the past a bit philosophy seems to work the best for me.




Hi Robert!

I read that you are upgrading your studio, want better sound quality and that you have the RME Fireface 800 on your purchasing list. I bought the RME Fireface 800 audio interface a few months ago for my home recording studio and have had it now for little over a week. Now I have learned it completely and have good knowledge about what it is capable of doing because I've both tweaked it and recorded with it very much!

I guess you are, just like me, trying to get the best possible sound quality for a fair budget. Let me give you a very good advice: Focus on A/D! Is the A/D in RME Fireface 800 good enough? That's a very hard question I think. I have asked myself this question ever since the RME Fireface 800 arrived. The card works great and has great features. It also sounds good, but does it sound good enough?

Let me tell you this, it is whispering quiet. In terms of latency, it is not even there. I have tested this with the best quality sound source I have, Yamaha Tyros, to see what the difference is between completely analog and a converted analog to digital signal. I notice a difference if I run at CD quality: The sound is a little more compact/less space in the sound and a little reverb is gone, but if I run the card at 192 or 96 KHz and 24-bit resolution the difference is very small, but noticable. I would say that if you really want good CD quality you have to spend more than 1169 (fireface) euro in the audio interface/digital converters. For the quality and features the RME Fireface 800 is worth the price, but if you are looking for warm, crystal clear sound you have to choose differently than going with the RME Fireface 800 because I think that even though the A/D in the Fireface is good I think there are better alternatives! I feel that the sound in the RME Fireface 800 is a little on the muddy/dark/tight side meaning it is difficult to make different instruments shine through as you'd want without having to tweak pretty much. If feels like if I raise the volume on one track I lose the volume on the rest, if I raise the volume on some other track I soon can't hear the ones played at low volumes. It is like there are some quality issues with the dynamics... It is a little hard to describe, but feels like there are always tracks eating up each other on the recording as if there is not enough room for it.

Now, I am not sure how much you have to spend before you get to the next sound quality level, but my best guess is that you would get it for 3000 dollars. I have heard that Apogee Rosetta 800 is better, so you maybe want to check out that. When it comes to ADC I have noticed it is one of those things you need to spend more in than you think. But if you are on a budget like me and want to upgrade I think RME Fireface 800 is worth the money.

Here are some sound clips I recorded with the RME Fireface 800:
(all done with the Fireface, the Yamaha Tyros and a Fender guitar)






Thanks for the information on your recording experience with the Fireface. I'm wondering if your tracks might need a little EQ to cut out some of the unwanted "warmth" that's causing the mix to be murky? I'm wondering if the A/D's are OK and if the analog pre-amps are causing things to sound warmer? There's not much you can do about the preamps, but maybe try cutting out some of the upper bass on certain tracks during the mix, and leave it on others that sound better with it, and see if that helps your mix sound less dark.

Well, it's been a few days, and I've been doing more research, and now I'm considering yet another option, the new Lynx Studio Aurora 8 with the AES16 PCI card.

They've been developing quite a reputation when it comes to sound quality, and at an "affordable" price. I might even be able to get along just fine with the LynxTwo Model B card at $900, something I'm a little shocked to even consider. I was all set to go Firewire and move away from PCI. I'm getting the impression that for true professional performance, PCI will always be better and more stable than Firewire. I will probably always use a Mac with PCI, and not a laptop, so I could go back to PCI since portability probably won't be needed, although it's a nice option.

Another thing I'm learning that's a bit disturbing is that a lot of A/D converters do not sound good unless that are clocked by a high quality external clock. It is possible to build on-board high quality clocks, Lynx seems to be doing it, even on the LynxTwo sound card. It's like they make the converter sound OK with an OK clock, and then want you to spend even more money to make it sound the way it really should sound with a great clock. Why not just put the great clock into the box and charge another $300 - $500 for the A/D? It just seems a little slimy, trying to get us to spend even more money. I think that's one reason I like Lynx, no slime, just honest quality products.

I'm sure I'll find some other viable interface options as I continue to search. But at some point you just have to make a decision and stick with it. Nothing is perfect, everything has limitations, if you can make the product work for you and like the results, you've made a good choice, be happy with it and make good music.