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21 ways to assemble a home recording RIG
A Tour through the Diverse Home Studio options available Today
Rig #13 Electronika Superior
Who it is for:
Here is a rig for those doing electronica, which is typically a track at a time process. Its not for those recording bands, but rather for those making club, dance, trance other genres under the umbrella of electronica.
Hook up example:
You can keep this inexpensive. Use a Presonus Firestudio Mobile as your audio interface. You might also consider a DJ mixer if you have a lot cd/mp3 players. Lets assume you do. All your audio sources go to the DJ mixer. Its output goes to the audio interface. The Audio interface should connect by firewire (or USB2.0). Your monitors connect to the main outs of the audio interface, which ideally has a headphone jack for you.
Approach 1: A great approach, I think, is the Ableton Live software with a common audio interface that has the i/o you need. I like Ableton mainly for the way it handles loops, audio and softsynths. In particular, the Live can act as a Rewire host for Reason. You can also use Cubase, Logic or Sonar as a Rewire host. I'd not go with Pro Tools LE here, but you can make that work for you too. The advantage of the Live is that is is designed to be used live, that is, in the clubs. You can add DJ mixers to your audio interface if you need to. Akai has controllers specifically tailored to the Ableton live. Check out: Akai APC20 Ableton Live Compact Performance Controller and the Novation Launchpad Controller for Ableton Live.
Approach 2: Or possibly you might take newer approach, with a DJ audio interface. Lets not be fooled here. Is a DJ audio interface better than "a regular" audio interface? Not necessarily. What they are likely to have are unbalanced RCA inputs for CD players and maybe a phono input turntables. Big deal? No. Most audio interfaces that accept balanced line connections will also accept unbalanced. The 1/4" to RCA adapters are very inexpensive. Many turntables now have s/pdif and analog line outs in addition to phono outs. So read the fine print on what a DJ interface gives you. Sometimes these are merged with DJ Controllers designed to work with specialized software like Virtual DJ, or Cue, or Serato Scratch. These are great for the creative club DJ that uses existing material to make new mixes.
Approach 3: Another newer virtual approach is wth Native Instruments Maschine. This is an all-in-one solution to electronic production that can work as a plugin in a major sequencer. The software sequencer works with an integrated controller to call up sampled material. that can be controlled by the pads and knobs. To quote the ad "you can use Maschine as the control center for your entire studio. Use it as a master controller for your DAW and use it to control all your hardware sound modules and sequencers". That is quite a statement. I have not tried it yet. But we do have Maschine users on our forums who swear by it. (which is better than swearing "at" it. )
Approach 4: Old school. This approach does not favor computers, but actually limits or eliminates their role. Here you get some hardware, new or used. If you demand utter authenticity get the old hardware analog synths of the 70's and 80's. A lot of dance music was made with the TRS808 and 909 with a Roland MKS70 module. Do try to get at least one hardware synth. If not the pricey Virus consider a Korg Radias, or an Alesis Micron or MicroKorg, or an even Electribe. If possible get something with an old style sequencer (The Electribes and the Radias have these). Why? Electronika us as much about importing the electronic past as the charting unimagined future. The TR808 and 909 drum boxes are at the core of this kind of music. So many products have sampled them, their sound is ubiquitous. Boom chicka-boom-chicka boon chicka-boom--are you following me? Those drum boxes had a step sequencer. The electribe is a reincarnation. Many of your tracks on the Live will be emulations of step sequencers. It nice to have a real one somewhere.
You can, of course, mix and match from the above 4 approaches. I do. But here's a word of warning. Sequencers don't always get along and you might not be able to get everything in sync. Reason is not going to work with synths like the Virus T2. A closed VJ system and DJ interface may not have inputs available for that nice Lil Phatty you bought. The Electribe can be hard to use as a midi module under a major sequencer like sonar or Cubase or Logic, though certainly not impossible. Software instruments, like Stylus RMX and Omnisphere that work great with those sequencers are not going to do anything at all in a closed DJ/VJ rig as there is no stand alone version.
Vocoding (robot-like voices) is HOT once again. In fact its almost as ubiquitous (i.e., everywhere). If you want that sound, make sure your synth of choice has one. Korg Radias and R3 and MicroKorg have one. The Motif XS has a decent one. Probably the best synth vocoder that i have tried is in the Roland V-synth GT. Pricey, yes, but oh so good.
Controllers Consider the novation controllers if using Live, Reason Logic or Cubase. With its display and automapping technology, it will help you tweak deep into the heart of your software. The people doing Electronika probably benefit the most from having a controller with a lot of knobs and sliders. Typically there is a lot of filter sweeping and audio morphing going on, so you need controls. You don't need a keyboard workstation for this kind of music, though you can use one. The Fantom, Korg M3, Triton and Motif all have lots of patches ready to burn for this kind of music.
Putting together and Electronika rig means getting software for most of us. Reason is the essential trance sequencer and you would run it right inside the Ableton Live when you wanted to add audio tracks (and yes Reason has a killer step sequencer in software, called the Matrix). It has an amazing wealth of synths and processors, you could actually get started with Reason and nothing else but a computer, soundcard and a controller. Recently, the Propellerheads brought out a compatible audio recording application designed to work with Reason (that does not record audio). It is named Record, and yes there is a bundle deal of Reason and Record together.
Stylus RMX is going to get you into some grooves that go beyond the typical audio loops. Recycle is going to help you make these grooves, and will also help out with Reason's Dr. Rex sampler and with adding your own sounds to Stylus RMX. The NI Komplete Bundle is going to give you a ton of soft synths, processors and samplers. Kontakt will deliver powerful sampling. The Pro 53, FM7, B4, Absynth, and Reaktor is an impressive synth lineup. If you get an learn to use all this software, you will have a software trance rig to die for. As you add your hardware to the sound its like frosting on the cake.
You have probably figured out that an Electronica rig is close to a DJ rig. Much of the software will help you screw with the sound in ways that DJs and Hip Hop people like to do. Hence the appropriateness of the DJ gear such as turntables and cd players. You can now get turntables that connect via standard line level, s/pdif or even USB. Check out the Stanton T.92. The Phono preamp, like the Radial J33 is needed only when you don't have a DJ mixer and do have a turntable with the standard RIAA phono outputs. So armed with that, you can go mixerless here. Just watch the i/o on the audio interface. Make sure there is enough for everything.
Ok I can sense your
Rig #14 Sound Developer's Hi End Workbench Studio (Mac or PC)
Who is it for:
People who make professional samples, or sounds for radio/TV/film and need to keep audio quality very high. It might also work well for a spoken word studio or as the hub for a home based internet broadcasting rig.
The Fireface is the center in this rig so your high end microphone preamps connect to it, through the line inputs. Monitors go on the outputs of the Central station, where they can be switched with other monitors. You could connect the Fireface main outs to both the Central station's line inputs and to s/pdif inputs. This way you bypass the DA of the Fireface when you want to. The MR1000 in the example above could simply connect to the line inputs of the Fireface if you wanted, but a better way would be to transfer files from the DAW direct to and from the MR1000, to ensure there was absolutely no degradation.
As a sound developer myself, I have learned to put the sound first. While excellent sonic quality is certainly possible with lesser systems, to get the finest quality sound you need to break into the top 5% of quality like pro studios do. That brings you to pro level equipment--the better mics, converters, preamps, compressors and recorders. I've included the Presonus Central Station not only for its monitor switching capability but for its high quality D\A converters, which will help you maintain accurate sonics.
I only listed the bare minimum software you need. A sound developer needs everything. If you are doing beats for hip hop, etc., I highly recommend ACID pro and sound forge7 and going PC. Ableton Live and Peak can do it on the Mac almost as well. Peak4 is not quite up to snuff with Forge 7 in my opinion. You could always run 2 computers (I do!) When doing sound dev you can find a use for them.
Note I have listed the Korg MR1000 as a field recorder. A true sound developer can't rip off stuff from movies for sound effects; you have to make your own, and that means having a wealth of raw material recorded in the real world and the processors to shape that down to stunning effects. But there are plenty of less expensive great sounding field recorders now. The Zoom H4 is the most versatile as you can connect external mics and preamps to it. It can record at 24bits, which every professional samplist should do.
For sampling instruments I have chosen the versatile Avalon AD2022 which can do stereo, but there are many other preamps that will do a great job. The Focusrite ISA One could be excellent for when you need to move the preamp to different rooms. (On a budget, yes the immortal RNP is a winner). A great mic like the Neumann TLM 103 and the NT4 (for Stereo sources) will give you clean recordings. You should also have some good dynamic mics to minimize the room's response. Samples, typically, should be recorded bone dry to maximize their usefulness. I have added other mics known for their unique characteristics. If the budget allows, consider a Ribbon mic as well, like a Royer 121.
The NI Komplete, Kore2, Waves, (or the UAD-1) will let you create and shape audio in unbelievable ways and fill your audio workbench with tools you will actively use. Kore2 can be used as a holder for all your plugins, and its database will allow you to organize your sounds so you can retrieve them quickly. Kore2, filled with nice plugins and soft synths, inside Cubase, Logic or Live is the current cutting edge in my opinion. I think there is no better way to come up with beats, loops or fresh new sounds.
Your recording and monitoring room will need to have some room treatment. Your job as a sound developer is to make sound. You must be able to hear every element of your sound, particularly their weaknesses. You need some broadband treatment, such as that offered by "bass traps". Also, I am a believer that acoustic foam helps the sampling process for that dry sound. A dry sample is 10 times as useful as a sample with room in it.
I could have extended this list a few more pages as a developer needs a full arsenal of quality gear.
Expanding this rig: If you have a lot of gear you may want to have a patchbay or get some ADAT expanders. You might also at some point, assuming you are on the uncompromising high end, is to get an external A/D converter. While the cash outlay for this rig is considerable, by professional standards, its about par. The good thing is, with talent, and ear and some room treatment you got what it takes to make a work of high sound quality.
Rig #15 Software based Home Mastering Rig
Who it is for:
Those who want to master their own work at home.
Hooking it up:
A software based mastering studio does not require a big audio interface. It does require the best monitors and converters you can afford. The audio interface, in the example below, would connect to the Central Station via S/PDIF, which would go to the pairs of monitors. You might connect 3 pairs of monitors to help with the translation to different systems. For storage, you could use either your computer's local drives, a Masterlink or a Korg 1-bit recorder.
First off, let me say that a high end mastering lab is beyond the scope of my expertise. You need a special room and particular hardware that is very pricey in order to compete with commercial mastering labs. A home studio is unlikely to afford this gear. If you can afford that, you can also afford to send you material to one of these commercial labs. My approach is designed for home mastering to make your own CD demos at a quality that can almost rival the downtown sound. Indeed if you have a home recording rig already, adding the mastering component is not hard to do at all.
With this gear you can make your own CD Masters, make radio ready optimized masters, accept even pro studio recordings on CD at 24/96, transfer them digitally to your DAW and polish them up.
The main thing is the studio monitors and the room you are in. Your room has a strong effect on what you hear, so getting some bass traps and some foam panels to treat the low and high frequencies is important.. The DynAudio BM5a are the choice for critical listening, when you need to hear exactly what you have so you know what processors to add.
I've included a link to the Universal Audio UAD2 Duo DSP Card. Which card do you need depends on how many and which plugins you plan to run. There is the UAD Solo, Dual, and Quad cards which have 1,2 or 4 processors on the card. I just have the Solo card myself and I am fine with it. However, if you plan to run a fully emulated 128 ch Neve console in your virtual mixer you better go with the Quad Nevana bundle. Keep in mind every UAD bundle may have different plugins in it. Some include redeemable vouchers you can cash in at the Universal Audio store. These are important because the best plugins are expensive. Don't assume once you buy the card you are set, I recommend substantial research at the UA site till you know what you are getting for your money.
I have chosen as an alternative Waves Platinum bundle because these processors are in use in hi end labs, particularly the EQs, multiband compressors and L1 and L2 Ultramaximizer. Ozone is a great lower cost alternative to Waves or the UAD-1 for mastering processors. Waves has an "Update Plan" on their site. Before you get into Waves, its a great idea to learn about this plan, see if it is for you.
You also need a great 2 track audio editor, and that brings us back again to Forge with CD Architect or Wavelab (PC Only) or Peak Pro (Mac Only)(which is the functional equivalent to both the former). On the Mac you can use Peak Pro as a 2 track editor, or use the editing capabilities in Logic or Digital Performer.
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