Next Upgrades: From Basic to Pro

Discussion in 'Microphones (live or studio)' started by Taylor B., Jun 2, 2014.

  1. Taylor B.

    Taylor B. Active Member

    Jun 2, 2014
    Hello All,

    I've been recording my own and other peoples music for a few years now and am looking to upgrade all of my equipment. My previous recordings have all been completed at local studios in Atlanta, but I would like to at least record my next tape. I may send it off for mixing, but need high quality audio recording. I'm on a budget of about $1000 (could go a little higher) and will sell anything that I am not using. I only record vocals (singing and rap) at this time and don't plan to expand my offerings in the near future.

    I've gotten some opinions from friends and sales guys..This is what they're telling me:
    1. Upgrade the interface. I have a FastTrack. They are suggesting PreSonus Audiobox 22vsl, Scarlett 2i2, or Steinberg UR22.
    2. Add a Preamp. They are suggesting Presonus Studio Channel or Golden Age Pre 73.
    3. Upgrade the Microphone, currently a Shure SM27. They are suggesting the BlueBird.

    I record in a small booth that I built. It has studio foam on the walls and ceiling. I have a boom stand and pop filter.

    Update: Here is a link to the music from the last tape. It was recorded and produced at a studio in Atlanta. I'd like to have the same quality, but record it with my home setup.
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    If you are recording just vocals, you are presumably listening on headphones to a backing track, so you will need to have an interface unit that has a headphone output.

    Any interface of the type you list has at least one microphone pre-amp built-in, so at this level you don't absolutely need a separate pre-amp. However, in many cases you can get a better quality vocal track by splashing out on a decent pre-amp, even if you feed its output into a computer through a low-cost interface unit. I don't think a low/medium cost vocal channel box is going to give you better results than a well-chosen interface unit, especially as you say you send the recordings off to a pro studio for mixing and other processing. They would much rather have well-recorded tracks with no compression, EQ or effects added so they can do any necessary work in getting your vocal to sit well in a mix.

    Both the PreSonus Audiobox and Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 are in a quality league above the Steinberg UR22, with the 2i2 probably giving better value for money, at least in the UK. The cost position may be reversed wherever you are.

    As for microphone, I would stick with a dynamic, as it's likely to perform better than a condenser mic such as the Bluebird in the booth you describe. Look at a Shure SM58, Shure SM7 or EV RE20. The SM7 is a standard for the type of usage you mention, although it is a relatively low-output microphone and so the pre-amp gain has to be taken into consideration when choosing an interface unit.
  3. Taylor B.

    Taylor B. Active Member

    Jun 2, 2014
    Boswell, Thank you for your quick reply.

    I will go with the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 as my interface, its about $150 in the states.

    Its interesting that you'd suggest a dynamic mic for the vocals rather than a condenser. I've always been told (and never tried anything else) that a condenser would give much better results. Is your advice specifically for rapping or singing, or both?

    If I decide to mix the tracks myself, would you suggest either the PreSonus or Golden Age? Or something else?

    If I use ~500 to upgrade the interface and microphone, I still have about 500 left over. What should I put that money towards to get the highest quality recording?
  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Nov 25, 2012
    Akron/Cleveland, OH
    Home Page:
    Agree with Bos... again. LOL

    You're gonna have to shell out a considerable amount more than what you have to spend now to really notice a big difference for what you are doing - although Boswell's advice about the Presonus and Focusrite's models is spot on. They are both very good project level preamps - I/O's.

    As far as your booth, you should be aware that just because it has the typical sonex or auralex type foam on the walls, this doesn't mean that it's a truly "treated" booth. The 1 inch variety of both of these foam panels will only handle (absorb) certain levels of frequencies of around 1k and up, and while it may attenuate some flutter echo or ringing, it won't do a thing for problematic mids or lows.

    Because you are recording in this far less than professional environment, your best bet is to stick with a good dynamic, through a good pre.

    Dynamic mics have far less propensity for picking up ambient and surrounding noises than condensers do. Because condensers are much more characteristically sensitive by nature - things like breathy vocals, room acoustics and other esoteric nuances, they are popular choices for vocalists and acoustic instruments that have those subtle nuances as part of their inherent sounds.

    The problem is that they don't discriminate between good nuances and bad nuances. If your room sounds bad, then condensers will accurately reproduce that. So, for what you are doing, and the environment in which you are tracking, you'll be better off with a good dynamic.

    Bos mentioned The SM7 - it's a studio standard dynamic, great sound and range, but... it has a low output, so whichever pre you choose, you need to make sure that it has enough gain to compensate.

    Another option would be the EV RE20. It is also an exceptional sounding "variable D" type dynamic microphone.

    But, these purchases alone aren't going to get you to the "pro" level. They might up your game a bit, so that you are in a better league of "basic", but you're a long way - and a lot more than $1000 - from having a truly professional studio rig.


  5. Taylor B.

    Taylor B. Active Member

    Jun 2, 2014
    Thanks Donny,

    I'll go ahead and add one of those mics to the list based on your recommendation.

    I wasn't planning on looking on upgrading the booth acoustic environment. I know its not a great as a pro studio, but what additional steps can I take to improve the quality of the booth? It has several layers of carpet, a small window that looks into the mixing room (plexiglass), and 1" foam on all other surfaces.

    Which pre would you recommend?
  6. pcrecord

    pcrecord Quality recording seeker ! Distinguished Member

    Feb 21, 2013
    Quebec, Canada
    Home Page:
    You could go with an audio interface with digital input and a preamp with integrated converter (ex : Focusrite ISA one with digitial option) Why ? because if you plug a nice pre in a small interface, chances are you'll run the pre in another pre and loose quality.. The golden age is nice but very colored.. I'd go with the ISA which is a very clean, low noise and high output pre.
  7. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member

    May 12, 2003
    Neuse River Watershed
    Home Page:
    I think the biggest improvement will be spending the $1000 on your room, assuming it is of a decent size.

    After that, invest in mics first, preamps second, monitoring third, AD conversion a distant fourth.
  8. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    treating the monitoring area for optimum response will go a long way. keep in mind you will never make it perfect but absorption, trapping and diffusion will make it "better". what would help us is if you would post a sample of the vocals sans the beat so we can hear what is going on in the booth. the best dimension for a small vx booth is 5 feet by 6 feet by 11 feet. the 11 feet should be the height if at all possible. the best booths have some 3rd order diffuser in them and 3 or 4 inch foam (ok) or rigid fiberglass panels (better). Hammers booth had some absorbers on the wall made up of framing that covered pink insulation that was stapled to the wall the frames were 4 by 7 feet and about8 inches deep. they worked pretty well.
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    Okay, I'm going to lay it on the line for ya. But first... come on guys? He's a rapper. Room acoustics? Are you kidding me? You don't need any of that stupid stuff on the walls in your booth. You don't need your booth. I don't recommend a booth. Booths sound like booths. You want a room not a booth. You're in a room. Remove the booth.

    The Atlanta recording was done well. It was 100% professional. And you can get that same sound very easily. And cheaply. All those other computer audio interface devices are not going to have that big an impact on what you're doing. It's about what you're doing. It's not about the equipment. It's about the technique, in using your equipment. The equipment has no technique it's just equipment. You have a style. You have a delivery. That's your technique in your performance. Making a recording is no different. There is nothing natural about it.

    The microphone that you are using, by my favorite company, sucks. I mean it doesn't really suck. But it sucks for you. Most guys would like that connotation but in this inference, it ain't good.

    You are partially correct about folks recommending a condenser microphone for ya. Yeah... if you're using an analog recorder and you're not. In fact, for what you're doing, ya had the digestion of the SHURE SM-7. I have one of those. But I say... screw that. For your kind of performing, I really think you need to go handheld. For handheld... it's almost impossible to beat the venerable SM-58. Want it to sound a little more like a condenser microphone, if you want that sound? No problem... Beta-58. But ya can't stop there, no. What you also want to get, are one of those great big honkin' SHURE, foam pop filter. Not the little one. Their great big one. There is a reason for this. A very important reason. And that reason is your mouth distance to the microphone diaphragm. Too close and it'll sound like mud. That comes from what we call " Proximity Effect ". Sometimes it can work for ya. Most of the time, it works against ya. So the only way to avoid that is with a low-cut switch a.k.a. high pass, on the microphone itself, or on the preamp, or in the software. Having a large foam pop filter places your face a couple of inches away from the diaphragm. Thus lowering the proximity effect without the need for any other filtering. And will still provide enough for a fat but not muddy sound. I don't care who's preamp you're using. So that gives us over the first hurdle. Just make sure, you don't step on a turtle. I mean we have Terrapin, roadway crossing signs. Those are Maryland turtles. I'm not trying to mock you. That's another turtle.

    The computer audio interface you have selected, is first rate. Good choice. However, there are some things it doesn't have. So let's dive into this a little differently?

    While the computer audio interface has nice microphone preamps in it, no doubt about that. That's all it has. And that's only part of the equation.

    Now you can use just that and do everything else you want to do, in the software of your choice. After the fact. When you begin mixing. But if you want a slightly more exciting, more real-time, less production time, experience? Well then... this is where those other outboard microphone preamps come in. Yes... let's look at some nice microphone preamps and tell them to come in, from the cold. Here's why:

    When I cut vocalists, regardless of genre (well maybe not operatic but sometimes) they'll be wearing headphones to be able to hear the music track and themselves. But listening to yourself without any EQ, compression/limiting, downward expansion, doesn't sound like anything to write home about. Not exciting. Not gratify. And just plain, not good. So what to do? The answer was there. The outboard microphone preamp gets plugged into either an EQ or compressor. Or the compressor and then the EQ. Or the EQ into the compressor and into another EQ.

    You turn up the microphone preamp gain, without the red peak lights flashing. In this instance, " Peak ", does not mean it's at its best. And you don't need to record the level that high. You need some headroom. It's digital. You don't go balls to the wall. You could then run that preamp directly into an outboard " Program Equalizer ". For both of these types of items, the 500 series powered rack boxes, by numerous manufacturers, is a great way to go. The modules available for those 500 series racks, are all first rate, top notch, real professional not toy or consumer professional. They're the real deal. Like a single channel of a $150,000 console. But there are so many choices out there... it'll make your head spin. You don't have to worry about making those kinds of decisions. Because I'm only going to recommend a single item manufacturer, API. Now this stuff ain't cheap. Especially when you purchase a new. For a single microphone preamp and one of their popular equalizers, it'll set ya back between $1300 and $1500 not including the 500 series powered rack which will be an additional few hundred dollars. I've been using those items, for over 42 years. It's the same ones they been making since the late 1960s. Everything else is a miserable imitation. All those " better sounding " devices out there ain't better. I don't care if you think they sound better. It ain't the sound you want. What I've recommended is the sound you want and let all of the other rich studio owners, purchase. They don't buy the better sounding stuff because it's not better. It's only different. And for folks in the know, like myself? I don't want different. I want API and if not API? I want old Neve. Everything else you can flush down the toilet. These are the devices that have cut 80% of the hits since the 1960s and still today.

    A lot of people think this is some kind of hobby contest? It's not. That's infantile BS. Of course this is all 100% subjective. Everybody else will have other suggestions as you have already read. But they haven't exactly come from my side of the tracks. And I'm not an audiophile. I'm an actual audio engineer. This is not a hobby. This is all I do. This is all I have ever done. Did I use cheaper different equipment when I was younger? That depends what you consider to be younger? I'm almost 59. I've been using this equipment, what I have precisely recommended, since I was 17. But I didn't own that equipment at 17. No way could I afford that at 17. I didn't come from a well-off background. Both of my parents were world-class musical performers and we were paupers. And where did I grow up? I grew up in Motown. Now you might just think Detroit? Well I was born there. I was raised there until I was 15. But I mean... I grew up in Motown. Daddy played his violin for Motown. And every weekend he went down there to play his violin for Motown or other R&B artists at United Sound Systems, I was right there from the age of seven until 14 when my folks got divorced. So I made my career decision at seven. Did those guys have API and Neve back then? Absolutely not, no, it didn't exist yet. But I still have what they used to use in the beginning. Which is more of a collector's item keepsake for me than using it much. Because when I cut my teeth at 17, on API, it screwed me up for the rest of my life LOL. This stuff has a sound that when you hear it? You'll know it. You've heard it, most of your life. All this boutique crap, low cost Chinese stuff. It all looks cool. Great for professional hobbyists. I'm not interested in any of it. Not even Millennia preamps nor my buddy George Massenburg's, GML stuff. Not my cup of tea either one of those. And while some hits are being cut with those items. The amount of those is paltry or maybe poultry? Compared to the other 80% that was cut on the stuff I have and mentioned. I have what the real big boys use. It's what you should have. Then everyone will know you're not ^#$%ing AROUND! And you won't have to worry if what you've got is up to snuff.

    Not only that... but when you hear one of those cheap $100 SM-58's or the $150 Beta-58's through, what I've suggested? They then sound like the Neumann U-87's whose MSRP is around $3300. In comparison to $100. And you're not going to really hear a difference. Believe it. It's true. That's my favorite signal chain. I couldn't live without that for 90% of my recording purposes. I've even had to teach that to the dumb ass recording school professors. It's amazing what those jokers don't know. It's criminal actually.

    Just so you know... a lot of people don't like my attitude when I get like this. It's like I'm some kind of crazy warped whacked out, super opinionated, extremist. And they'd all be right LOL. Sorry... I can't help myself. Maybe you can? Here give me your hand? Where did you last have at hand? Forget the hand.

    So now when you cut your vocal track, it's going to sound great laying it down because you made it great. Because ya had the great stuff that's really great. Not fake great. We've all had enough of that. And it's okay to cut your vocals with EQ, with dynamics processing but there's still one more item missing? And that is, downward expansion. Sometimes erroneously referred to as noise gating. Which is somewhat right but not exactly. We gate drums. We put downward expansion on vocals. Now this is another thing, I refuse to live without. I have been using that since 1978. And it does some really, really, incredible things for ya.

    There are hardware units made to do that. There is software that can do that. Even without the need to purchase an additional plug-in. In fact, if you want to do that in software? Almost every audio software program actually has the ability to do that. But I'm talking real time here.

    The downward expander differs from the noise gate in only a small way. They gate does what the name implies. The gate quickly opens. They gate slams shut. Or maybe the gate shams a slut? Both. Which doesn't sound nice on a vocal to have someone slamming the front door on your face. Well maybe that might happen when you are a Jehovah's Witness going door-to-door? But I don't do that to them. I tell them I'm Jewish. But they still don't stop. That's when you tell them that you have a problem with a bout of diarrhea. So then you choose downward expansion instead. And the only difference between that and the gate is that the downward expansion allows you to set just how far you want the door to close, without completely closing. I generally select around 10 db of downward expansion. Which in compressor limiter terms would be called gain reduction. Because a gate/downward expander, is just a backwards compressor limiter. But that threshold setting is critical. Not so critical on a compressor limiter.

    When you set them up right, as in adjusted properly, it can just duck your breaths, while your vocal has been heavily compressed. This prevents the sound of you, gasping for air like you're drowning. Turn the release time up faster and it can take out the crummy sound of your room, traffic, kids. They can be used like an electronic vacuum cleaner. Or an electronic vocal cleaner to be precise. And I'm rarely precise as I'm into rock 'n roll.

    I've been around the block a few times. I always wanted to be a hooker. Instead I became an audio engineer. Same thing.
    Mx. Remy Ann David

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