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What makes the most improvement in sound quality?

Member for

21 years 2 months
Ok, I've done a lot of research and talked with a lot of people on these forums for gear advice and have now narrowed it down to my final decisions on what pieces of gear to purchase. The only problem is that I can only purchase 1 or 2 items at this particular time. So I was wondering, which piece of gear should I purchase first, that will improve the quality of my recordings the most? Right now I'm using a great $1000 mic, a cheap dbx 266 compressor, a cheap Mackie pre, a cheap MAudio Delta 44 soundcard and cheap computer monitors. I want to purchase a great mic pre, a great compressor, good monitors and better converters. Considering that the songs and musicians are very good, which one piece of gear will make the greatest impact or improvement to my sound? Thanks.


Member for

20 years 9 months

AudioGaff Sat, 01/24/2004 - 10:38
Well, a good and decent mic deserves a very good mic pre. And if you get something in the channel strip catagory you can have the mic pre and eq, mic pre and comp or all three and that would make the biggest difference in sound quality. However, what you have seems to be enough to work with and you yet you are not very likely to be able to hear the major differences in quality or judge what your doing now fairly by using computer monitors, so upgrading to at least good to very good monitors would very likely be the wiser choice to focus on now.

Member for

17 years 10 months

rufuss Sat, 01/24/2004 - 13:10
when i read your post i first went for the mic pre.
I bought a very good one a few years ago and it really took the sound of my recordings to another
level, BUT, a good sounding room with good monitors are second to may have the perfect gear and the best performers, a bad accoustic will just give you perfectly-well-detailed crap...
fortunately one wouldn't tell on bad monitors...
I hope this will help a bit (tell you what, this quest never ends ;)

producer/mix engineer

Member for

19 years 5 months

Kurt Foster Sat, 01/24/2004 - 13:12
I vote for monitors also.. although in a scenario where you record the mic flat with no eq or other modifications prior to the recorder, a great mic pre would do the most to improve your sound. Unfortunatly you would then have to take your recording to a playback system that was accurate to hear the difference. This is a "which comes first, chicken or the egg" type question. You really need, good monitors and a great pre.. converters should be last on the list. If you can't generate a good signal in the first place and then be able to hear what you are doing to it, converters will not help one bit. With conversion it's a real case of garbage in, "garbage out".

Member for

21 years 2 months

Pro Audio Guest Mon, 01/26/2004 - 11:01
Originally posted by bgavin:
Sorry about the levity.

Resume ultra-serious mode now.
:p That's funny!

Kurt, I like your chicken/egg analysis. It sums up the circular thinking pretty good. :roll:

Well, I haven't researched any monitor I go again :roll: The fiancee is going to go crazy!

Member for

18 years 2 months

fromwithin Thu, 02/12/2004 - 23:10
i faced a similar dilemma recently and ended up getting a pair of yamaha msp5's (thanx for the review!) and it's made a huge difference in my mixes and i agree that w/o good monitors you can't really even hear how good or bad your gear sounds. my question was, and i hope this doesn't sound extremely ignorant but im still new to recording, how much of a difference will a good mic pre make in recording quality? would it be better to invest in a better microphone (im using a blue baby bottle)? i've saved up enough to purchase a sebatron vmp-2000 but wanted to ask first, thx.

Member for

18 years 8 months

Jonesey Fri, 02/13/2004 - 12:31
I've been there. What to purchase first for the largest improvement to my recordings. A preamp is not on the top of the list. You have to put time into getting your acoustics in your room correct. This has been the greatest improvement for me. The acoustics forum is a life saver. Second I would say your monitors. Once you have this you can appreciate what a good preamp can sound like. I would also say your AD/DA conversion. I upgraded my converters and thats when it felt like a blanket was lifted. But you won't notice unless you get your listening environment up to speed. Hope this helps.

Member for

18 years 2 months

Hawkeye Mon, 02/16/2004 - 11:45
If the question was, "How do I get better overall sound out of my studio?" then the advice to add new monitors makes sense.

But,if the question is "What piece of gear do I buy to make better recordings?" then the best monitor in the world will not make a poor recording a better recording, it will only better reveal the performance limitations of upstream components in the audio chain.

If you already have a great mic, then spend your money on the the A-to-D and then maybe your mic pre. Only they can actually improve the quality of a recording, a set of monitors can only reveal what the playback system can do, it can't actually improve it.

With a new ADC/DAC you get improvements at both ends of the signal chain (recording and playback).

This is an audiophile perspective. It says spend a large percentage of your budget on the source, which you have already done with a quality microphone. Downstream components from the microphone cannot improve the signal that is already there, they can only distort it. The degree of that distortion depends on the quality of the component thru which the analog signal is passing.

Some of the posters here did not answer the question that was asked.

No doubt there will be some dissenters to this opinion, but it's the same in the audio world where many well-meaning people believe speakers to be the most important component in the audio chain. It is true that speakers have the potential to colour the sound more than any other component, but the truth is, the source component is always the most important.

Improve the source and you improve the whole system. When you have the dough to get better monitors then you will have better recordings to listen to.

Member for

21 years 2 months

Pro Audio Guest Mon, 02/16/2004 - 11:53
Originally posted by Hawkeye:
If the question was, "How do I get better overall sound out of my studio?" then the advice to add new monitors makes sense.

But,if the question is "What piece of gear do I buy to make better recordings?" then the best monitor in the world will not make a poor recording a better recording,
I beg to differ. Good monitors will indeed make a recording better. I'm not even thinking on the mixing end. I'm thinking on the tracking end.

When you mix, you can take the mix to several different cars and hi-fi systems and boom boxes to see what you really did and then go back and make changes.

When you are tracking and a 30 degree tilt and two inch movement of a microphone can make all of the differnce between a workable sound and crap, you really don't have the time to burn a CD and check on 10 different systems. You have to hear that mic as you're placing it with the rest of the mix playing.

So yeah, good monitors will make a recording better.

Monitors for a recording engineer are like contact lenses for a painter: Say a painter has mediocre paints, brushes, and canvases as well as a horribly incorrect prescription for his contact lenses. Even though the lenses themselves have nothing to do with the process of putting paint on a canvas (just like monitors do nothing to transport or alter the sound) a better lens perscription will certainly make a better painting.

Member for

19 years 11 months

Davedog Mon, 02/16/2004 - 16:58
From the perspective of the original post, the monitors will be the point of initial great improvement.
If the discussion is about what can create the largest amount of difference for someone with decent gear and a trained ear then the answer will always be the room.

Member for

21 years 2 months

Pro Audio Guest Mon, 02/23/2004 - 08:57
I'd vote the monitor/room treatment.

I'm amazed at what passes for monitors, considering the mega-bux spent on preamps and mics.

Why are time-aligned drivers out of vogue? The right circumstances of crossover frequency and physical spacing with non-time aligned drivers will cause a suck-out at the crossover frequency.

I also don't understand the popularity of wimpy two-way monitors that cannot hope to produce the full audio spectrum. Why is bi-amping ignored, or subwoofers? As a bassist, I know how popular the low B 5-bangers are today. How can you mix what you cannot hear?

Wandering my ears around my friend's studio during kick drum setup reveals how much Ethan Winer's bass traps are needed in every control room.