Starting an Analog Studio with a budget

Submitted by ChrisH on Tue, 11/29/2011 - 13:53

I'm looking for a professional that is experienced in Analog Recording to point me in
the right direction for a 16 channel mixer and 16 track tape machine.
My Budget is variable, I'd like to know a few price range options, I defiantly don't want to spend more that a few thousand.

I've been looking at the Fostex E16 1/2'' 16 Track Reel To Reel Machine for $599 on ebay, are they any good? good enough?

My main product concern is what board to get for a mixing console?
It looks to me that I'll have to get a used one off ebay in order for it to be affordable, have vu meters, good pres, and built for recording.
So what models and brands should I look for?

My belief is that a decent analog desk and tape machine is still going to sound better than a new DAW setup. The recordings will end up converter to a digital format anyway for mastering, so am I waisting my time dealing with tape or will I still get the tape qualities?

While you have probably read what Bob suggested, here's a few more takes from me. While I think analog consoles are still totally wonderful, not all are, of course. For a used desk, I might suggest looking for a Sound Craft. They are slightly more rugged. More modular in their design which makes for easier maintenance. They have that more effective wider Q in their equalizers making them a little more musical and providing some of that " British Sound ". People like that.

At one point, nearly 20 years ago, my 24 track Ampex MM 1200 broke down just prior to a session. OMG! So I call a friend with another studio who I had loaned a multitrack recorder to and asked if I could use his portable, 16 track, 1/2 inch FostEX. You absolutely had to use the Dolby C because it was just dreadfully noisy without it. I found it functional & usable but really didn't care much for its sound. That's because the tracks weren't any wider than that of an analog cassette deck. Thankfully, it at least pulled the tape at 15 IPS which was its only redeeming feature. A slightly wider 16 track tape formats of 1 inch varieties are far more viable sounding. Of course, that 1 inch tape is still quite expensive for a 1/2 hour reel. So what I really think you should do is to get yourself an ALESIS HD 24. That's what I use today since I dumped my Ampex MM 1200-24 track machine back in 1993.

Digital capture with an analog console is basically the way most of the finest studios today are utilizing. And the best ones have 30-year-old British consoles. Tape saturation sounds really cool on drum tracks. But for everything else, the digital stuff really shines through. Plus, they're really just isn't any maintenance you need to be concerned about with a digital multitrack machine. It doesn't matter what analog machine you get, you have to become an expert analog recorder technician to glean whatever it can deliver. If you think tweaking up multitrack machines is cool? You obviously love futility. I still have quite a few analog recorders, really good ones, I really haven't used much in the past 20 years. I'm actually considering putting one of my Scully 280 B-4 1/2 inch 4 track machine back into my studio again? I haven't had an analog recorder in my control room/facility since 1993. But I do utilize 30+ year old British consoles & 30+ year old designed American consoles. I'm a good engineer which produces really excellent recordings. So I really don't care what kind of console or equipment I'm working upon but I do have my preferences. My recording & mixes sounds almost identical to each other whether I'm using a rock bands broken 30-year-old crappy PA console or a state of the art digital SSL desk. Your recordings and your sound are all based upon mostly your technique & knowledge, experience. I know more about the equipment I'm using then most so I know what its limitations are and can work around anything. So while I might not necessarily care to do that, it's a fact of audio engineering life.

Everybody knows that the Foo Fighters made a big deal of their latest release being entirely analog. Well Dave can afford the best. He's got a console similar to my Neve and one of the best & last of the 2 inch, 24 track Studer's. He also has all of that vintage dynamics processing like 1176's (which you can get knockoffs of in kit form for just a couple of hundred dollars), LA 2's, LA 3's, API 525's & others. But a lot of us have actually built consoles, preamps, processors because we couldn't afford to buy the originals used or new. And that's basically the biggest issue with all analog control rooms today. Nobody knows anything about this stuff into its deepest bowels. The new word digital multitrack recorders are simply fabulous sounding. No grunge, no junk, no wow, no flutter, razor flat response. And unlike analog, you can copy it many times over without it turning into a mud fest.

So I still run a completely analog control room (except for my digital reverbs & effects devices) which still requires considerable regular maintenance. So if you're not really a techie, a purely analog control room with analog capture isn't the intelligent way to go. Hybrid is the intelligent way to go. Digital recorders require no maintenance except perhaps an occasional larger hard disk drive which also have their problems today. Digital multitrack machines with smaller internal hard drives frequently don't do well when you upgraded to one of our newer monster sized 1 TB drives. So many of us with digital multitrack hard disk recorders stick with smaller older hard drives. That's really not a problem since it can all be dumped into the computer digitally. Once it's in the computer, you can spin it off to an outboard USB hard drive of any size. So if you see a used Digital multitrack with a 40 or 80 GB hard drive in it, I wouldn't necessarily suggest upgrading it with huge modern hard drives. In fact most of these newer modern hard drives have energy-saving green circuitry now built into them. This has been a huge problem for lots of folks as these drives have a tendency to timeout & spin down after a couple of minutes of nonuse. That doesn't quite work out well on these machines. In many of these machines are still utilizing internal parallel ATA IDE drives which really aren't being made anymore. The modifications and updates to utilize serial ATA drives has been met with confusion & limited success. So I still have about 15 older but virtually new 80/160/250 GB hard drives. So I'm set for quite some time. I don't need to sell my clients these drives after recording them. Instead, it comes out of the computer and into the new external USB and/or FireWire hard drives which can be sold to the client. And if there are master recordings you want to keep, you won't keep them in the recorder but in the same way as I've described for your clients. Unlike analog tape, we never used used tapes for our clients. Hard disk drives are different animals in that respect. They are designed for continual reuse and unlike analog audio tape, you won't wear out the oxide, experience high frequency loss or any kind of physical damage & warpage which tape is highly susceptible to.

NUFF Said?
Mx. Remy Ann David

Thank you Remy!

You have successfully talked me out of capturing to tape. Is all I really want is to be able to record and mix with a nice analog console (I've been looking at the Toft ATB Consoles and the Soundcraft GB4, opinions? Better options?)
I've only mixed "inside the box" so I don't really know how the signal chain works with an analog console, outboard gear, and a unit like the Alesis HD 24.
I imagine the signal chain goes, mic - preamp - console - alesis hd 24 - return to console?

Also, I would like to know if I can just buy one good outboard compressor, gate, reverb unit, and whatever else I would like to use, but be able to use them on all the tracks individually?

For example... I record the drums and decide after they're captured to the HD 24 that I want to go back and compress, eq and gate the recorded snare track. Do you just setup the processing and
re record it to the hd 24? And then after do the same with kick, vocals, and so on?

Last thing, how do I mix it down to a 2 channel stereo track? Can the HD 24 just hookup to my computer and just record 2 channel stereo input?

Member for

51 years 4 months


Tue, 11/29/2011 - 21:54

Have you looked at any hybrid summing gear? The more I use my stuff, the more I cannot imagine not having it now. Also, take a serious look at the Folcrom. I have one coming next week. What a brilliant piece of gear.

Staple comps , man... so many but the API 2500 would be one. This is on my lists for certian.
I have an A Design Nail here right now and WOW, is it ever cool and versatile sounding.
The Knif Vari-Mu looks very interesting the more I search.
The staple would be an STC-8 and if you are rich, the Weiss DS1

Bricasti would be the hardware reverb I would go for. And there seems to be a lot of used for sale so it makes me wonder.
Or a Lexicon.

Drums, you might want to look at the Transient Designer.

Well Chris, with a hybrid analog/digital workflow, your options are vast. And there is no correct or incorrect way to go about getting your mixes.

In answer to your question regarding drums which have already been tracked, you've got a couple options here. Firstly, if you decide to also mix with the analog desk and your outboards supply of hardware processing devices is slim, you won't be able to do everything in real time. In order to keep it in the analog domain, you may well need to playback the snare drum track in a solo isolated manner. You'll then use your inserts from your console in order to patch the snare drum track into your processing and back into the console. You'll then assign that snare drum track to a new empty track on your HD 24, providing you have any empty tracks that you have planned for. That will become your new snare drum track since you have added EQ, compression/limiting and/or gating/downward expansion. You'll probably not use the original snare drum track for your mix down but that necessarily isn't 100% true either. This is how we paint audio pictures. And so since you now have the snare drum processed the way you want, it won't be necessary to use that processing chain during your mix down. You could use your processing during mix down on other sources or even with a stereo dynamic range processor, place it across your stereo bus to further enhance all the components of your mix down. And that would also include that already processed snare drum which will be yet again processed with everything else, differently. That's a true analog/digital/analog hybrid way to go.

Conversely, your other options will be, after tracking, your raw tracks can be digitally transferred into your computer. Within the computer, you can use your software based processing & plug-ins. With the snare drum track, for instance, you could process that snare drum completely in software. In the same way as described above, you'll create a rendered track of that snare drum as a new track. Then, provided you haven't exceeded your 24 track allocation to the HD 24, you'll send that processed snare drum track digitally back to an empty track to be played out in analog from the HD 24 and into your console for mix down. This particular workflow allows one to take full advantage of what the software can cleanup, edit, automate to make sure all of your ducks are in a row prior to mix down. And this is where a lot of noise reduction, gating, linear phase equalization and what have you can be accomplished. Once the transfer back to the HD 24 of the processed tracks is complete, you're ready for an analog mix down of your digitally recorded & software enhanced tracks. This is another way to get that analog summation everybody keeps talking about.

I have utilized on single projects both styles of workflow indicated above. Frequently, if I have the opportunity to record through my highly desirable analog console/preamps to the HD 24, I'm likely to mix ITB. On the other hand, if I have made a recording with the HD 24 from only a PA console at a nightclub, let's say, I'll bring the HD 24 back into the control room where I'll do a pure analog mix through the Neve and all of the other analog dynamics processors outboard digital processors, etc.. But even if that is the desired workflow I choose, there may be a track or 2 that really requires the versatility & power, from software, to clean it up. So the HD 24 track channel may have to be bounced into the computer for recovery/restoration/enhancing, digitally back to the HD 24 so I can accomplish my analog mix. This enables me to impart the tonal coloration and quality my Neve & API preamps offers.

Like I said, to quote a line from the movie Solaris..." there are no answers, only choices ". Of course there are those folks out there that produce everything ITB with a full-blown Pro Fools HD rig. Where except for the microphones and the front-end preamps, nothing sees analog anything before it hits your speakers. I know plenty of engineers who produce incredibly splendid sounding recordings all ITB. But there are those other purists, like us, then believe a fine tradition still plays a pivotal role in the product in which we produce. Personally, I like this hybrid way to go because there are so many flavorful variables. While software can also provide flavorful variables, I feel it's similar to enjoying a thick rare juicy steak made from tofu! It ain't real, it's artificial imitation, emulation, artificial flavors & colors with chemical preservatives no one can pronounce. I'll stick with the real thing. The real deal. The organic grown ingredients with no artificial colors since it's made from real colors. I really have never had anybody return anything because they didn't like the way I cooked it.

Go boogie down dude and show us what you've got.
Mx. Remy Ann David

RemyRAD, post: 379826 wrote: Firstly, if you decide to also mix with the analog desk and your outboards supply of hardware processing devices is slim, you won't be able to do everything in real time. In order to keep it in the analog domain, you may well need to playback the snare drum track in a solo isolated manner. You'll then use your inserts from your console in order to patch the snare drum track into your processing and back into the console. You'll then assign that snare drum track to a new empty track on your HD 24, providing you have any empty tracks that you have planned for. That will become your new snare drum track since you have added EQ, compression/limiting and/or gating/downward expansion.

If i had the outboard gear on, and only effecting the snare track, couldn't I just arm just the snare track on the HD 24 and just over-write the existing snare track?

Thanks again Remy!

You certainly cannot read before write on an analog machine. While that's possible in some digital situations, it's not necessarily advised. That's because digital does suffer from occasional data dropouts. If you read the dropout, you'll have nothing and you will have recorded nothing over it. So it's always better to keep your original track saved, one way or the other. On the machine, or through downloading to the computer and keeping it isolated, pure, unmolested. Only then should you considered deleting it from the multitrack completely. There is destructive editing and nondestructive editing along with overdubs somewhere in that equation. That's why so many people have multiple tracks of the same thing and carefully composite them together for a single, near-perfect, track for the mix. With digital today, it's even easier than ever before. This is where multitrack digital recorders and good digital audio workstations can work in credible magic with analog mixing. So Schnell Schnell... we've got ways of making you do this right.

I've talked to German engineers before. You can get into really heated conversations over microphones with those guys. I gave up and bought some.
Mx. Remy Ann David

What console to get

So what do you suggest for a nice warm sounding analog console?
I can't afford a Toft..

Would I be better off "sound quality wise" getting something like this
[=""]Ramsa S840 40 Channel Analog Mixing Console w/case NOW CHEAPER! Killer mixer! | eBay[/]="…"]Ramsa S840 40 Channel Analog Mixing Console w/case NOW CHEAPER! Killer mixer! | eBay[/]

Or.. Like this..
[[url=http://="…"]Allen & Heath GL2400-24 Live Console Mixer: Shop Pro Audio & Other Musical Instruments | Musician's Friend[/]="…"]Allen & Heath GL2400-24 Live Console Mixer: Shop Pro Audio & Other Musical Instruments | Musician's Friend[/]

That's a really tough decision. Japanese boards will to me are fine but they sound like Japanese boards to me. I've used that Panasonic console and other similar ones by them. You at least have a lot more channels on that one that is some should go bad, it's easier you can work around.

Although having a reputation & sound of a British board is very appealing you only have those 24. And because of the different ways that these consoles have been assembled, the Panasonic RAMSA Is far more modular in its design. This gives you the opportunity of course to move modules around to where you need them to be if some have failed. Plenty of these larger console frames (for recording studio consoles) in the past could be ordered " short loaded ", meaning, you may have a 40 input frame but only ordered it with 32 modules. That's just how my previous console the American built, Sphere Eclipse C, was actually configured and how I purchased it used. So there were blank panels covering up the last 8 positions.

Conversely, there is not much modular with that Alan & Heath other than the faders. So while I might personally prefer the sound of the Allen & Heath, I believe the Panasonic would be a better choice here. It's a more professionally configured console as well. Thankfully, both companies still exist and you may want to contact them as to parts availability to help you better make your decision.

I've been up all night and I have a 1 PM session it's already 8:30 AM. Oy vey...
(yawning) Remy Ann Da... (snore, cough, grump I don't want to go to school today...) DA David