Recommendations on software vs. rack gear for voice?

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by tuco, Sep 14, 2004.

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  1. tuco

    tuco Guest

    I was all set to plunk down my credit card down on a Focusrite Voicemaster Pro . . . but then got to thinking: Adobe Audition (the sequencer I'm using) has a compressor, de-esser, expander, EQ, reverb, and even plug-in tube effects in software (all of which can be saved as an "effects rack"), why would I want the VM Pro instead of Audition with a simple (but good) pre and an interface card?

    Is this just a matter of personal preference? Tweaking knobs on rack gear vs. software controls, or am I missing important qualitative advantages in not using rack gear?

    My working projects will be mostly voice-overs, so tweaking the vocal sound is important. But for fun, would also like to have an additional channel or two to track guitar. Have a Rode NT1000 and new, fast PC ready to go.

    Some options I'm considering:

    1. Focusrite Voicemaster Pro (proven? single channel, lots of control, will need interface card)
    2. Mackie Spike (cheap, two channel plug 'n go, all tweaking in software via USB, unknown new product)
    3. Really Nice Pre/Compressor combo unit (2 channels, consistent good reviews, will need interface card)
    4. Echo Layla 3G (room to grow, PCI card/breakout box, multiple connection options)
    5. Mackie 1220 Onyx mixer with Firewire connectivity (room to grow, seems versatile, unknown new product)

    Would like to know -- is it essential to have a hardware compressor? Or will the compressor/limiter in Audition software attenuate the signal before the track is ruined? Can a PC really do all that work on-the-fly? If software compression is a real option, then the solutions that provide more channels start looking attractive.

    Budget is not fixed, but was hoping to get basic components for around $1,000, maybe $2,000. Would rather spend more to get decent equipment and love it for a few years instead of buying crap that will disappoint me and end up on eBay.

    Recommendations on a setup?

  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    The RNC is not the nicest compressor in the world. For what it costs, it is indeed "nice" and works very well but there are some killer hardware comps by Manley and UA/ Urei among others, that completly smoke the RNC ... but at a higher cost.

    I personally like to use compression on the way into the box and then compress a bit more if needed at mix... This is a "kinder and gentler" way to handle dynamics without introducing undesierable artifacts into the audio.

    It is most likely that any software compressor you purchase will be a lost investment in a few years ... so keep that in mind when your digging into your wallet. On the other hand, the widespread avalibilty of software models and re issues of vintage comps is driving the market value of the vintage used units down as well ..

    I would get a couple of great vintage style compressors like the 1176/1178 or a pair of LA2a's or a Manley ELOP and a Vari MU ... as well as the UA card for processing once "in the box" , but that solution is a lot more expensive than what you have said you want to spend..

    Perhaps you can start with a RNC and the UA card and then look for a nice hardware unit once you have recovered from the sticker shock of the card..
  3. MistaG

    MistaG Guest

    I have the RNC and the Voicemaster Pro. The opto compressor in the VMPro is really good. Not intuitive however. The RNC is more traditional in its approach to compression i.e. threshold, ratio, attack, release, makeup.

    By tweaking the Tube Sat, EQ, Opto compressor and Harmonics section of the VMPro you can get a very high quality sound for vocals. In fact, it stands up to preamps in the $1000 range. I know because I have done some shootouts against the Great River.

    For pop, ballads, country it has really good results. For a little more detail, you would have to spend twice the amount on a preamp. So I give it a major thumbs up.

    I have also done a shootout of the RNC, Opto Compressor in the VMPro and a DBX160x. I always end up with the Opto or the DBX and the RNC is seeing less action these days. The RNC is very neutral sounding but just not as smooth as the other two. A VMPro vocal into a DBX160x with the overeasy switch set, is a beautiful thing to hear and at a relatively low cost.

    After tracking with one of the above compressors, and then adding additional compression with a UAD1 card as Kurt points out, takes things right to a pro level sound. I highly recommend getting one of these.
  4. tuco

    tuco Guest


    Totally with you on the high-end gear -- would love to have it now, but the wife wants to take a vacation, the kids want to eat . . . can you believe it? Will keep your recommendations on the shopping list. Thanks.
  5. tuco

    tuco Guest


    Excellent points. From what I've read here and elsewhere, there does seem to be a preference to control compression/limiting before it gets to the PC. The Voicemaster is sounding like good immediate solution. Can always ad-on later. The dbx unit appears to be discontinued.

    Any ideas on an appropriate interface for the PC?

    Great forum! Thanks.
  6. MistaG

    MistaG Guest

    You can pick up the DBX 160x or xt version all day long every day on ebay for <$200.

    Regarding the interface, highly subjective subject.

    I go straight into my computer's soundcard with preamps or an analog mixer when I'm tracking drums. Others use an external rack of pres sent to an external AD box. Still others use a DAW for conversion. Lot's of options depending on your budget.

    I went for a Lynx II-A soundcard which is 4 analog in/out and two additional channels of digital for a total of 6 channels of tracking. The extra two channels require some external conversion prior to hitting the card which occurs in my voicemaster pro's AD card.

    So I can track 5 of the six channels for now which is enough for drums and a bass at the same time. This was the least expensive pro sound I could come up with.

    Again, depends on your interests and cash.
  7. maxmex

    maxmex Guest

    We have the voicemaster pro, and I can't say that it sounds "bad" but it sounds "cheap". Personally I don't like the high end. It's not a bad unit, but you get what you pay for.

    We used to use the voicemaster pro, and now we have a Voxbox and an Avalon 737sp, and they sound much better. Of course they are more expensive but it is worth it.

    You can get a good starting point with software compressors, and generally speaking, a good mic pre-amp is unbeatable, but it will cost you more.

    Since we got the avalon and the manley, I almost never need to process the audio with plug ins to get the tone character we want...with the voicemaster pro you'll maybe need to work more.
  8. tuco

    tuco Guest

    Gracias MaxMex,

    I appreciate the feedback on the Voicemaster. No doubt the high-end gear sounds better. I'm educating myself every day as I follow this forum. Will have to start with the Voicemaster or similar box though, as you did. Have been reading up on the great pres and compressors, even some of more obscure equipment like Buzz Audio in New Zealand.

    Go NZ!

    Any suggestions for a channel strip other than the VM Pro at say, $1,500 or less?

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