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Best Bang-For-The-Buck Upgrade?


The acoustic guitar for my recent cd was recorded with the following hardware / software:

Mics: Neumann KM-184s (X/Y setup)
Preamps: Allen & Heath GS3 console
Soundcard: RME Multiface
DAW: Cubase SL
Plugins: Voxengo and Kjaerhus

I suspect that the weakest link in the chain may be the preamps in the console and I know KM-184s are not liked my some. I know the converters are not top of the pops. Somehow I don’t think the software is critical path.

Assuming a reasonable and well treated room, what are the views on the best bang-for-the-buck upgrade? Should I look at mics and try another setup? Should I ditch the console and get top notch preamps? Top of the line converters? Any specific suggestions would be most welcome!

Thanks and cheers!


Member Mon, 10/30/2006 - 06:01
What about your sound are you not happy with. While all your gear isn't the highest end equipment available, it certainly is pretty damn good. Point being I've heard good records cut on far less. If your not getting quality results with that gear the only thing you'll need to upgrade is your engineer. No offense or anything, but I would say it's a fact that your system is not holding you back.

RemyRAD Mon, 10/30/2006 - 09:12
I second with what that muddy guy had to say. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your equipment roster. Microphone type and placement is the most obvious change I would suggest for you. Maybe the 184's are just too bright?? If you want a beautiful warm tone on your acoustic guitar, why not try a ribbon microphone? Cascade microphones which advertise on this site are advertising a $159 ribbon microphone which you might want to look into? It will give you a beautiful warm and fat tone before you touch an equalizer. Your console has perfectly adequate microphone pre-amplifiers and no need to go with anything else unless you just want to spend your money for fun? Your computer audio interface is just as nice. What you needed to purchase is " better technique and experience", which really can't be purchased.

Could I interest you in a 40-year-old Sony reel to reel tape recorder that runs offspeed with lots of wow and flutter for that good old analog sound???
Ms. Remy Ann David

JoeH Mon, 10/30/2006 - 09:19
Funny, you never mentioned the acoustic guitar itself, Martin? Gibson? John Zeidler? Takamine?
Strings used (nylon, gut or steel?), and your level of ability.
Are you a "Folkie", Classical musician, or rocker looking for a change in sound?
Do you use a plectrum, or just the fingers?

What about the space itself? (Sorry, but a "Reasonable and well-treated room" doesn't say much...esp depending on the genre of music.)
Do you stand or sit?
Hardwood floor or carpet?
Are you in a corner or out in the middle of the room?
Ceiling height? Wall treatments - wood or drywall? Any glass in the room?

The point here, as already stated, is that you gear is probably fine. (I could take that stuff and be quite happy with it, I'm sure most folks who post here could make a lovely recording with it, as it is.)

I'd just hate to see you throwing money around on more gear when it's probably NOT the gear itself right now. If nothing else, swap out a couple of the above variables and listen - REALLY listen - to see what changes for the better or worse afterwards.

I've done dozens of acoustic sessions with a particular artist who brings three or four vintage guitars (One of them is from 1935) and spends the first session switching around instruments and techniques to get comfortable both IN the room and what it sounds like on playback. As for the gear, we use the same stuff for it all, the REAL change in sound happens in front of the mic, regardless of the mics and preamps chosen.

Simmosonic Sat, 11/04/2006 - 15:19
IainDearg wrote: Assuming a reasonable and well treated room, what are the views on the best bang-for-the-buck upgrade?

Canvassing opinions? Alright!!!

As with any half-decent recording and monitoring system, the biggest bang for buck upgrade will always be found with the microphones. The KM184s are fine little microphones, and I doubt anyone would argue with that. But you can get better.

Have you tried any of the DPA or Schoeps mics? If you like the bright and detailed small diaphragm condenser sound you're getting from the KM184s, you will be very happy with DPA or Schoeps cardioids. They'll have all the detail without the hype or the 'etched' sound the KM184s sometimes impose. In my experience, if you were to put a KM184 alongside either a DPA or Schoeps cardioid, record the same signal, play them back and switch between them (on playback, not during record!!!), you will find the Neumann sounds like it has been recorded, whereas the DPA or Schoeps will sound like the musician is still playing in the room. One less layer of muck in the way...

But if you're after a fuller and warmer sound than the KM184s, take Remy's advice and try a ribbon. Remember, however, that if you take the ribbon route you are definitely going to need better preamps as well. The ribbon route may leave you rooted, financially.

If you prefer a brighter, detailed and more analytical sound, you will probably think the ribbon sounds dull and muddy. But, if you think the KM184s sound a bit thin and harsh, you will perceive the ribbon as being warm and musical.

If you are happy and able to keep your KM184s, adding a ribbon will expand your tonal pallette dramatically. Think of it as an expansion, rather than an upgrade. Whereas, adding a pair of DPA or Schoeps to your KM184s will ultimately mean that you have two chronically unemployed KM184s taking up space... You'll eventually sell them to fund the purchase of a ribbon or two and have a great set of microphones with a broad pallette of sounds available by mixing and matching.

If/when you are happy with your microphones, the next big bang for buck upgrade will be your preamps. There are plenty of high quality two channel preamps on the market, and I'm hesitant to recommend any one in particular because you really need to mix and match them to your microphones to create your desired overall tonality. However, I will say this: I am amazed that the Avalon AD2022 does not get more credit on this forum. It is hands-down the most natural sounding commercially available microphone preamp I've ever used. It's like an XLR cable with gain and enhanced naturalness. But then again, when I was using it I was going into a 24-bit Prism AD converter and monitoring through a 24-bit Prism DA converter feeding directly into a pair of ATC monitors in a near-field situation in an acoustically treated room. It doesn't get much more accurate or analytical than that! And so, every little change in the signal path was blatantly obvious. Perhaps the Avalon is too subtle for most people to notice? (I might also mention that the AD2022 allows you to switch between a few different input impedances, very handy when using ribbons and dynamics...)

Okay, those are my opinionated suggestions for your best bang for buck upgrade/expansion. Please bear in mind, however, that the microphone choice is going to make a far, far, far bigger difference than the preamplifier. So, get the microphones right, then fine-tune the tonality with an appropriate preamp.

Cheers, big ears!

Member Tue, 10/31/2006 - 06:36
Hi folks,

Thanks for your interest.

I think I gave the wrong impression: I was canvassing views; not looking to solve a problem. :)

Mud5150 > There is nothing in the sound that I'm unhappy with per se, unless it is an edginess that sometimes I think I hear. Being aware that improvements can always be made, I was just interested was the views might be, given the hardware I've got at present.

Remy> Thank you for your heads-up on the ribbon. I will consider and If I get an opportunity, I will certainly try your suggestion. Also I didn't know you couldn't buy " better technique and experience". Thanks for passing on that insight. :wink:

Joe> The guitars are Martin (OM-18V & OOO-28 ) I think you've heard them already - at least, you commented warmly here:

(Dead Link Removed)

The room is 16x12x8. I have measured the room modes and done the sums. The corners are packed to the ceiling with Rosksil RS60 but little else in the way treatment. The room is still quite lively and not very flat - but I like it. The floor is carpeted and has a window, the walls are dry. I sit I the middle of the room, play fingerstyle only, track vox separately, try to eat regularly and keep sensible hours.

Once again, I was only looking for a view on what you thought might the the weakest link in my audio input chain.

I daren't ask about my monitoring. :shock:


bap Tue, 10/31/2006 - 12:24
I have never tried many of the 'this' or 'thats' that are available. Many on this forum have, but I assume that it is difficult for them to recommend something to improve your results (in gear, of course) without any idea of what your results are currently. They might even be able to suggest technique. Are your results available on SoundClick?

You shouldn't be impudent to Remy Rad. She can be a bit sassy but she has been around the audio block and her advice can be of great value to most recording weenies no matter how good they think they are.

Happy Guy Fox!

Since you are a serious player, you already know that gear alone cannot say it all.

Member Mon, 11/06/2006 - 09:51

Thanks for your detailed and considered reply. I am aware of the KM-184's reputation for edginess; I'm not hearing it, but maybe I don't have the ears for that kind of detail. Nevertheless, I'm determined to A/B it with others - Schoeps and DPA seem like obvious candidates. You know, to be honest, I don't know if I've ever played through either!! Back in the days when I was recording LPs I never paid any attention to gear. Dumb.

Your comments about the Avalon AD2022 are fascinating - your description accurately describes my aspiration viz neutrality.

I think my RME converters will "do" for the time being - but I note the point about Prism.

Thanks again.


Simmosonic Mon, 11/06/2006 - 13:35
IainDearg wrote: I am aware of the KM-184's reputation for edginess; I'm not hearing it, but maybe I don't have the ears for that kind of detail.

Another thing I neglected to mention that may be appropriate in your situation. If you're only recording yourself, and always recording the same acoustic guitar, then the matching process is far more specific. You want to match *your* microphones to *your* guitar, and then fine-tune the match with the appropraite preamp.

The KM184s can be a bit bright, but if you're not hearing it then perhaps they are a good match for your acoustic guitar? Some acoustic guitars, especially nylon string models, can be quite mellow and, in some cases, the low frequency energy from the sound hole can be dominating. But, if captured with a small diaphragm condenser such as the KM184 at a reasonable distance (e.g. 30cm away or further) the combination of the mic's 'enhanced' upper midrange (or brightness) and low frequency roll-off may prove a perfect complement, simultaneously rolling off the LF while bringing out the HF detail.

One clarification: Personally, I wouldn't use the word 'edgy' when describing the KM184. I think it is a very fine small diaphragm condenser, and I don't mean that in a condescending or sarcastic way. In my previous post I used the word 'etched', and, reading it back, I think that too was unfair. I was referring to the 'super detailed' sound they can deliver due to their enhanced upper midrange. I tend to reserve the word 'etched' for AKG's 451 and 414s, which always sound to me like I am hearing a waveform that was drawn on a blackboard with chalk. But anyway, no harm done...

And furthermore: I had the good fortune of baby-sitting a matched pair of KM184s for a year or so, and derived great pleasure from recording with them in ORTF and XY... until I got my Schoeps rig. Then I gave the KM184s back to their rightful owner and have never desired them again.