Some thoughts on gear.

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by Mckey, Dec 11, 2010.

  1. Mckey

    Mckey Active Member

    Jan 4, 2007
    Hello everyone, its been a while since I've posted on this (or any) forum. I've been very busy. But I'd like to share a few experiences I've had in the past few months that has completely changed my perception of this whole GAS problem we face. For those who haven't heard it GAS stands for Gear Aquisition Syndrome. It's why forums like this one are always so heated! Granted I love this one because there seems to be far more openness and just plain ole common sense than other forums (*cough* gearslutz *cough* *cough*) who said that? Wasn't me!

    There's always so much talk about what Mic Pre to use and what AD Converter sounds the best. It becomes this huge focus point to everyone and after about a week of reading threads on various makes and models you will become so disillusioned into thinking that to have any semblance of a good recording you have to have 2 different API pre's, a Vintech, an Avalon, and an Aurora. Now I'm not knocking any one of these pieces of gear. We all know they're great. But just how much better are they?

    I used to think that the performance of a piece of gear came down to one simple truth; price per component. Now in a lot of cases this is true. How can a behringer 8 channel pre with its own conversion sound at all good when its only 200 bucks? But a very smart and practical friend of mine help shed a new light on this "truth". He explained how that's not at all the way the economics of this situation work. He used Apogee as an example. Apogee is constantly refining their high end products, while trickling down their old technology into their budget line. This ensures they don't ever undermine their high end, while still making an appealing budget product. Case and point, the Duet. Its not taking a whole lot of customers away from the Rosetta's is it? But yet its still one of the most appreciated interfaces in its price range. If not THE most. Now for this field of high end audio gear, Apogee is rather large. That means they can manufacture and produce at a much lower cost. Many of the companies we hold so highly are tiny. They make 100s or maybe the low 1000s of these pieces a year, often with only a handful of very skilled employees working out of a garage or small office who have families to feed. I think that alone is a better selling point to me. But because all of this hand made high quality stuff costs so much more to make than the assembly line budget gear, the strides in quality are going to be less and less the higher up you go. If a 400-600 dollar pre-amp gets you 75% of the way to the perfect audio quality, doubling that price may only get you to 80%, and doubling that price only to 85% and so on and so on. That is speculation obviously, but you get what I'm saying. Now the difference between the pre's on an mbox vs a pre in that 400-600 range is likely going to be a much more dramatic difference, maybe 45% to 80%. We can argue all day long about transformer vs transformer-less preamps, but the difference between two good preamps is going to be so much smaller than the difference between either of those and a bad preamp. I think this can be said about converters too. The difference between an RME ADI-2 and a Rosetta 200 is going to be much smaller than the difference between either of those and the converters on an M-Audio FastTrack.

    I recently did a pre shoot out, on a fairly small scale, with what we could easily find around us. It included an API 512, a Martech MSS 10, a Summit 2BA-221, a MiniMe, and whatever pre's are in an SSL C200. All the pres were running to a 192, except the MiniMe which we used its own converters. Not the most scientifically perfect shootout ever, but again, goes straight to my point. We spent about an hour or so matching gains prior to recording and about 15 minutes matching them after in PT. To my amazement the ones in a blind test that I thought sounded the best were the Martech and the MiniMe. I also thought they sounded extremely similar to each other, with the Martech having a bit wider image and fatter bottom, but I thought the MiniMe had smoother mids. This by the way was the general consensus of pretty much everyone else in the group. Now there is a HUGE price difference between a MiniMe and a Martech. And yet they sounded so similar I don't believe the difference is truly justified by the price.

    Yesterday I went to Universal Studios and toured there sound department with Doc Goldstein, who is btw a fantastically funny person to be around. But one of the very first things he told me was to stay away from the forums about gear, because in his words, "Its all a bunch of bull* written by bull*ers who don't know what they're talking about because they haven't actually done this work." He took me over to their ADR CR and told me about when he first built it he had some GML's for Pres, but swapped them out for... wait for it... wait for it... ISAs! WHAT?! THEY USE TRANSFORMER PRES FROM FOCUSRITE?! OVER GMLs?! So anytime you here ADR on desperate housewives, heroes, or any other shows produced there you're hearing focusrites?! I'm not trying to put anyone down here who thinks those pres are terrible. I have my own hates and biases. I don't like AKG mics other than the one C12 I was able to try, which pared to a U47 wasn't a whole hell of a lot different to my ears. So sue me. But here is a man who has been working at this for years and years and years, you've heared his work countless times, especially if you love Empire Strikes Back. And yet here he is saying its all a bunch of crap. So whose word do I take? A faceless forum member who swears on his life that a vintech is the only pre in the world that sounds good? (you can replace vintech with whatever you want. API. N64. Whatever.) Or do I trust someone with a resume to back up everything he says? I'm gonna go with the guy who actually makes money in this business.

    And all of these arguments are completely trumped by the fundamentals of recording. Anyone remember the good rule? Signal path is only 1 part of that rule. You can have the nicest signal path in the world but if everything else is bad its all for nothing. Alright yell at me all you want. I'm just trying to spare the newbies reading this board from becoming so discouraged that they either a) give up or b) take a second out on their house to buy gear.
  2. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2001
    Silicon Valley
    First, keep it in perspective. Voice over for a TV show is much different than vocals for a song or other mic pre duties. It is not just about specs or precieved quality. Maybe the Focusrite is used more because it better matches the mic pre used in location recording. Any decent high end mic pre could likely be used for TV VO work with very few people even noticing one way or the other.

    Modern technology has upped the audio quality game for everyone including what is considered cheap crap gear. Of course you have you have the speakers, room and listening skills to be able to tell subtle differences when you comparing one piece to another. Even then it can be hard to tell with just one source or track. More obvious and a much bigger deal is when you evaluate after you combine many sources and tracks using the same mic pre.
  3. Mckey

    Mckey Active Member

    Jan 4, 2007
    I know the cumulative effect argument, and is the one area I feel purism wins. But my entire point here is that there are so many other ways to get a better sounding recording than just switching out a preamp or converter. Switching microphones, or moving the mic even slightly can have a much larger effect than a lot of these academic differences in pro gear.
  4. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

    Mar 20, 2000
    BC, Canada
    Home Page:
    You have made some good points.

    GS name says it all, seeded by convincing gear shills and bad management has made it the largest BS audio site on the planet. It has been so damaging to online forums that I don't think it will ever recover. The core used to shill here until I saw where it was headed.
    We all take more pride here, thanks!

    That being said, I personally agree with you more than I don't on G.A.S. I am investing is a few types of high quality pre's and a variety of mics for various instruments and amount needed. I need better converters than what I have now, because I know they do sound better than others. Once you have high end gear, you notice things others may not (big topic).

    After years in this business and the type of music I am most interested in ( besides Remote Recording), is 75 percent midi. Therefore, I am basically investing in certain products to compliment OTB analog processing.
    I am not all caught up in GAS at all. I see this as a big racket and becoming hugely addictive. Pro Tools HD is the biggest joke of all but coming at it from a different part of this thread... The industry is beginning to balance out now. People are beginning to read between the lines and sift through all the GearSlut BS. Their best years are behind them.

    AG said it clear in a few sentences. All these pieces of gear have a place. If all you have is FAT gear, after 16 tracks of FAT, you have mud. So, you need to know what type of music you are into and what products will get you there with as little eqing as possible.

    In order of sequence...

    Room acoustics first, then mic, pre, ADDA, monitor, cable, clean power, DAW and down the list. You don't need racks of gear for most pop music. But you do need ins and outs and pre's and mics, and ... .
    Quality gear and knowing what you are recording and how many tracks are going to be crammed into the final 2 tracks at the end of the day is where it all starts becoming science and flavors. If you have to eq it all like crazy, you have a problem.

    I think when you read all these forums and all the opinions , without understanding the basics and understanding who you are as a musicians or recordist... its all so confusing and this is where it because a mess of buying wrong gear. Start multiplying all the newbies BS together and you have a house full of gearslutz that do nothing but mess up the industry. I can't imagine what it is like being a manufacturer and reading BS and BS about their products. GS leaves it all up and it just gets worse and worse. All in the name of trying to be the busiest place on the web.
    The recording business is not an easy process. There is so much to learn. We all really need to understand the music and what each piece of gear is ideal for. But how do you explain this in one or 50 threads?

    Thanks for complimenting RO. I think we are one of the finest pro audio communities. Since day one, we have been pushing out BS, clamping down on BS and optimizing this place for manufacturers, engineers and newbies.. I think its really starting to show. We aren't the busiest venue, but I think we are one of the most solid and respected. Glad to see you posting!

    Good thread.

  5. Mckey

    Mckey Active Member

    Jan 4, 2007
    I wish there was more emphasis on acoustics, it seems so forgotten about sometimes. I think a large part of that is people think its too much money for something they wont get to turn a knob on. And good acoustics is a lot of money too, especially if you don't build it yourself. And there really is SO much information to learn about engineering. Discerning the differences in gear is only a fraction of what there is to learn.

    I like the changes I've been seeing here over the past year or two. Its becoming more of an informal text book than a giant screaming stadium of whose got the shiniest toys. Although I think this editor needs an indent option, or am I just not seeing it?

    I noticed you now have to take a test or something to register here, that was pretty clever. While keeping one part of the forum open to guests as a kind of "junk drawer". I know my words were harsh above, but I'm certainly not attacking RO. Mostly GS, but just the mentality in general which is quite poisonous to be around. Its funny you mention that working with high end gear allows you to hear things others don't. I totally agree with you, but its also gotten me to realize there are certain things I can do without. In fact I think knowing where and how to cut your budget can make you far more valuable than the guy who has it all. Better still if you can make a better recording, which I see happen constantly. I've been working on SSL's for almost a year now. I used to have that "oooooo awwwww" feeling while being around them. Slowly I began loosing that feeling, especially when I had to replace pots in the duality. I went, "hey! It falls apart just like a mackie! A pots a pot!". Slowly it became just a tool, as well as a coffee table... My situation is temporary, I'll be starting my own home studio soon, which will be geared mostly for mixing, post, and overdubs. I honestly can say I'm not going to miss the SSL's all that much. I certainly wont be drooling for one. Relying on gear to make a better recording can only go so far. If it were the only or even the biggest aspect, who would hire a great engineer? You only need a button pusher in that instance. And it defeats the idea of engineering. In the book The Last Lecture, he opens it by defining what an engineer is. He said, "engineering isn't about perfect solutions; it's about doing the best you can with limited re*sources." That, to me, defines what a good engineer is. (Great book by the way for anyone interested. Its a tear jerker.)

    This profession is prone to getting caught up in fads, the latest models, etc. But none of it changes the role of the engineer. You are still a problem solver. The trouble comes with all the people coming into this profession with the best of intentions and a lot of hard work being pointed in the wrong direction. Instead of learning to be a problem solver understand what it means to not just be a button pusher, they fall into one of two traps a) obsessing over high end pres and converters (when in all likely hood they have never touched a diffuser) or b) they become disheartened. I think there may be a 3rd category, which I'll just call "settling". They settle for the belief that they cannot achieve a good sound without ___ and ___. So they give up trying to get a good sound at all. I'm guessing this last category are the ones doing the local tv commercials for my area. Sounds awful.
  6. song4gabriel

    song4gabriel Active Member

    Mar 27, 2007
    NY, USA
    Home Page:
    how true it is what you stated!!... another reason why RO is so awesome is that from what i understand tree practially handpicks every dealer that advertises on this site. oh man GS is really nothing more than a platform of shillers. i remember reading a post in "high end gear" and someone asking some opinions about a pre or comp that was very well regarded by lots of folk, but was like 5 or 6 hundred bucks. there were a lot of nice and helpful replies. and then a well known shiller pipped in and commented "i thought this was the high end gear forum". that was all he said.
  7. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    Aug 28, 2008
    Cincinnati, OH
    Home Page:
    I'll admit, I'm as susceptible to GAS as anyone - but this statement rings so true.
    Whether it be mic choice, mic placement, acoustics, construction, or anything - it's really about being a problem-solver.
    And having enough of a grasp on all the variables to solve the problem best.
    Or, understanding the problem well enough to actually solve it.
    I'm getting there...

    On a side note, we should all rise up and take all local tv audio positions. Seriously, I'm tired of it!
    We can make a little extra and solve one of society's most obnoxious problems!!
  8. Mckey

    Mckey Active Member

    Jan 4, 2007
    Haha I'm imagining an angry mob going to the local cable stations demanding that we, the engineers, be allowed to edit their commercials. "The masters, or your heads!"

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