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Time Out!   Q) What are the absolute critical pieces for attaining professional sound?
A) The most critical piece is always your own creativity.  No piece of gear can supplant that. But the items that give that "professional sound" are:
  • 1. Excellent Preamps for the Mics 
  • 2. Excellent digital audio converters)
  • 3. Appropriate Mics for the task
  • 4. Excellent monitors that reveal the flaws as well as the strengths
  • 5. Room treatment: A good sounding room that does not mask audio problems
  • 6. The effective use of mixers, signal processors such as eq, compression, reverb, delay.  These may exist in software or hardware.
  • 7. Good sound sources--instruments, amps, synths, samplers, loops.

 

Types of Home Studio
Systems for Making Music

Assembling 6 different types of Home Studios

Tweak IN

 

Ok now it's time to put it all together and make some decisions.  So I am going to take you out there so you can see the "big picture".  You will have an easier time of things if you can make at least some tentative choices about what you want your studio to be.  So, what do you want the studio to become?  Just a home electronica studio?  Or a place where you can record your guitar and bring in the bass player and drummer sometimes? Or are you more upscale, and want a modern, clean, super powerful computer DAW running the show and you want it to do everything?  Or maybe you have a garage or big room you can convert and are entertaining the idea of recording bands. 

Below I came up with the typical options and listed the gear that it is important to get initially and that which you can get later.  As you go down the chart we get into the frills and specialty gear. 

 

 

The Basic/Mixer Soundcard-Based Studio

typically 1-2 people recording track at a time

The Basic "Mixerless" Studio

typically 1-2 people recording track at a time

The Basic Multi Track Studio

good for small bands, songwriters, live/rehearsal recordings

The Basic MPC Studio

good for hip hop and electronica

Large Mixer Based DAW Studio

good for typical bands, synth studios, drummers

The Large Mixerless  DAW Based Studio

good for bands, music composers, advanced electronica, audio-for-video

Large  Multi-track based  Studio with DAW add-on

good for all kinds of work, approaches the pro studio

The Initial "Core Gear" Comes First
Prerequisite: Average Computer with CD Burner and multimedia speakers

Prerequisite: Strong Computer with CD Burner and multimedia speakers

    Prerequisite: High Performing Computer with CD Burner Prerequisite: High Performing Computer with CD Burner  
Soundcard with MIDI i/o

examples: M-Audio 2496, Emu 0404, M-Audio Delta 44

Audio Interface with Mic Preamps and MIDI i/o
Main

Firestudio mobile

 
Multitrack Recorder
examples:

Zoom R-16

Main

Akai MPC1000

Roland MV8800 Production Studio

Firewire Mixer example Mackie Onyx 1640i (includes audio interface)

--or--
Large Console (examples:  Behringer SX4882  Zed 428 and  Audio Interface with analog i/o.  Examples Delta 1010, Motu 24io

Large Audio Interface with ADAT option and MIDI i/o

Examples: M-audio Project Mix, Tascam FW1884, RME Fireface 800, Digidesign Digi 03

24 track Multitrack Recorder with ADAT or TDIF (24 bit)

 

Tascam X48,  Alesis ADAT HD24XR

 Korg D3200 

Sequencer

Use what comes with soundcard to get started

Sequencer

Use what comes with interface to get started

use keyboard's sequencer   Sequencer

Logic, DP, Cubase Sonar, Pro Tools LE, etc.

Sequencer

Logic, DP, Cubase Sonar, Pro Tools LE, etc.

use keyboard's sequencer
2+2 bus Mixer example Mackie 1402 VLZ3

   

Mackie D2

MIDI Interface

Additional Mic preamps

Premium Mic preamp

Condenser Microphone

Example: Studio Projects B1

B1 Large Condenser

Condenser Microphone

Example Rode NT1a

NT1a Large Condenser

Mics

Large and Small Condensers and a Dynamic

NT4 Stereo Small Condensers

Shure SM58 Dynamic Microphone
 
 

 

Mics

Large and Small Condensers and a Dynamic

RE20 Dynamic

Mics

Large and Small Condensers and a Dynamic

SM81 Small Condenser

Mics

Large and Small Condensers and a Dynamic

MD421 Dynamic

MIDI Keyboard with sounds

Examples: Roland Juno-D

Keyboard Controller

Emu Xboard 49 49-Key MIDI Controller

Keyboard

Korg M50


Edirol PCR300 32-Key USB/MIDI Keyboard Controller
 
Keyboard

example Yamaha 'Mo

Keyboard

Yamaha S90XS 88-Key

Keyboard

Roland Fantom-G8 88-Key Sampling Workstation

Stands and Pop Screens

Stands and Pop Screens

Stands and Pop Screens

Stands and Pop Screens Stands and Pop Screens

Stands and Pop Screens

Stands and Pop Screens

use whatever speakers you have for now use whatever speakers you have for now Studio Monitors

 Studio Monitors
 
Studio Monitors

Studio Monitors

Control Room Monitors

        XLR stage Box or snakes XLR stage Box or snakes XLR stage Box or snakes
Headphones Headphones Headphones Headphones Headphones Headphones Headphones
Website for Music Demos Website for Music Demos Website for Music Demos Website for Music Demos Website for Music Demos Website for Music Demos Website for Music Demos
The Basic/Mixer Soundcard-Based Studio The Basic "Mixerless" Studio The Basic Multi Track Studio The Basic MPC Studio Large Mixer Based DAW Studio The Large Mixerless  DAW Based Studio Large  Multi-track based  Studio
This Level Adds Devices that you want for Unique Sound and capabilities
Dynamic Mic

example Shure SM57

Dynamic Mic

Expand Mic Collection

Example Rode NT1a

NT1a Large Condenser

 

Expand Mic Collection

Expand Mic Collection

Expand Mic Collection

  patchbay patchbay     patchbay patchbay
Studio Monitors

Studio Monitors

Korg ESX1 Electribe SX Sampler
  tabletop CD player
MIDI Modules

example: Access Virus TI

Control Surface (if not included in interface)

Studio Room Monitors

Effects processors

Example TC Electronic M350

Compressor

 Software Processors

example: Ozone

Effects processors

example Lexicon MX200

Compressor

Direct Drive Turntable
 Software Processors

 

 Software Processors

example: Waves Platinum

Monitor Control

PreSonus Central Station Studio Monitor Control Center

Soft Sampler

example Kontakt

Plugin Boards for multitrack

example Massenburg VS

Sample CDs and DVD Soft Sampler

example Kontakt

Soft Sampler

example Halion

Plugin Boards for multitrack

example: T-RackS VS Mastering Plugin

MIDI Modules, Grooveboxs Virtual Instruments

Example

MiniMoog V

 

Grooveboxs  Music Computer
i
 

Virtual Instruments

Virtual Instruments

example Stylus RMX

 

SRX Cards for Fantom
MIDI Interface MIDI Interface   MIDI Sound Module 2nd Video Display 2nd Video Display Video Display for MTR
Turntables or other Unique Devices you may want Turntables or other Unique Devices you may want Turntables or other Unique Devices you may want other Unique Devices you may want Turntables or other Unique Devices you may want Turntables or other Unique Devices you may want Turntables or other Unique Devices you may want
             
The Basic/Mixer Soundcard-Based Studio The Basic "Mixerless" Studio The Basic Multi Track Studio The Basic MPC Studio Large Mixer Based DAW Studio The Large Mixerless  DAW Based Studio Large  Multi-track based  Studio
This Step Adds stuff to "round out" your studio
Racks Racks Racks Racks Racks Racks Racks
Studio Chair Studio Chair Studio Chair Studio Chair Studio Chair Studio Chair Studio Chair
Small Condenser Mic

Example: Rode NT5

Small Condenser Mic

Example Shure SM81LC

Audio interface with ADAT

Example: MOTU 828mk2

  Monitor Control

example Mackie Big Knob

Monitor Control

PreSonus Central Station Studio Monitor Control Center

 

24 ch audio interface with ADAT or TDIF

Examples: MOTU 2408 Mk3

    Computer and Editing Software

example Sound Forge, Peak

  Studio Room Monitors Studio Room Monitors Computer and Editing Software

example Sound Forge, Peak

    Sequencer       Sequencer
Basic acoustical treatment Basic acoustical treatment Basic acoustical treatment Basic acoustical treatment Advanced Room acoustical treatment Advanced Room acoustical treatment Advanced Room acoustical treatment
          Vocal Booth Vocal Booth
Studio Furniture as required Studio Furniture as required Studio Furniture as required Studio Furniture as required Studio Furniture as required Studio Furniture as required Studio Furniture as required
        Lighting Lighting Lighting
The Basic/Mixer Soundcard-Based Studio The Basic "Mixerless" Studio The Basic Multi Track Studio The Basic MPC Studio Large Mixer Based DAW Studio The Large Mixerless  DAW Based Studio Large  Multi-track based  Studio
This Step May Add the expensive fine quality gear to get your studio more professional
Better Preamp

example Focusrite Platinum Voicemaster Pro

Better Preamp

example FMR RNP

Premium Preamps

Example True Systems P-Solo

Better Preamp

example FMR RNP

 

More Premium  Preamps

Focusrite ISA428 4-Channel Neve-Style  Preamp
 

More Premium  Preamps

Avalon VT737SP

 Preamps

Focusrite ISA428

  Better Digital audio converters     Premium Digital audio converters Premium Digital audio converters Premium Digital audio converters
    Better Digital audio converters

RME ADI2 24/192 2-Channel AD/DA Converter

  2nd Computer System and Networking

 

Add More Digital Gear

Lucid Genx6 96

 

Digital Mixer/Control Surface with ADAT or TDIF

example: Tascam DM3200

        Separate control room and studio room construction Separate control room and studio room construction Separate control room and studio room construction
        Upgraded Electrical, Audio and Data Distribution systems Upgraded Electrical, Audio and Data Distribution systems Upgraded Electrical, Audio and Data Distribution systems
        Furniture Furniture Furniture
        Separate Machine Room Separate Machine Room Separate Machine Room
Larger audio-interface   Upgrade to a 24 track     Professional Console Professional Console

 

The 1st level has what you need to get the project off the ground.  The 2nd level we are adding the items to get the studio up to a state of completeness and on the 3rd level you will have everything necessary.  The final stage adds the touch of excellence.  You don't have to take things all the way.  If, for example, you just want to make music as a hobby, you can just stop after level one. 

You can always start out mixerless, if you have a fast computer, and add a mixer later if you think you need one.  If you don't have a fast computer you can start with a small mixer and the simple soundcard your computer came with.  These are not hard and fast rules.  For example, there is a lot of ground between the 'basic/mixer/soundcard' approach and the 'Large Mixer based DAW studio".  Of course you can use a 4 bus mixer and an 8x8 audio interface and end up with what we could call an "intermediate Mixer-based DAW studio".

After all, it's about the music.  I provide this chart just so you have a sense of how studios evolve.  Knowing this helps you avoid major blunders like investing in a DAW, MPC 2500 and a multi-track, then finding out later that you have three expensive pieces that all do the same thing.  Of course you don't have to rigorously stick to these definitions.  No one is going to bust down the door and say "Aha!  What ARE you thinking! You can't have that effects processor in a DAW based studio, dude!"  Your music might dictate a unique approach.  For example, if you are doing hip hop, then you really don't need lots of soft synths, and turntables may be bumped up the list. 

Which Sounds the Best?  Go to the top of the page and read the 6 critical points.  If you have great preamps, monitors, good mics and excellent converters you are going to sound stellar on any of the 24 bit systems, give that you learn how to use this stuff effectively.  Even with the lowly M-audio 2496 you can add a Great River preamp and an Lucid AD9624 and some DynAudio BM5a monitors and sound like a million bucks, but those three items will cost more than the rest of your studio.  Does greatness in sound quality happen with budget preamps and monitors?  No.  But goodness does.  Add great talent and the result is still great.

And it is about money.  For every item listed you have to make a decision on how much to spend, whether you will get new or used gear and at what quality (perhaps the most agonizing of the decisions).   As you go through Tweak's Guide, you will find dedicated pages on the items listed above.  

 

Questions and Answers

Q) Tweekie Dizzle!  Wana d Hip Hop and the Rap, no wha Im sayin cuz Im da big popper.  Uh, what is best?  How does the MPC fit in?

A) Yo don't smack me with dat Best tish.  They all can do hip hop.  If your computer is strong and not some crap windows laptop go mixerless to start.  You can go multi track but your timing has to be very tight to get those beats down.  Or you could go with an MPC 1000 or 2500 (which is like a multi track sampler with its own sequencer) and follow the basic multi track scheme for the rest of the gear.

Q) I want to add music to my home videos.  Nothing elaborate I'm not a composer.  Just want it to sound great. 

A) Either of the Basic systems will do.  Get Sonar, or Acid, which allows you to lock together some audio loops and record stuff along with your video, do voiceovers, play guitar, etc.

Q) Tweak I want to write dance, techno, industrial all that stuff.  Which is for me?

A) Start mixerless and upgrade with a lot of software instruments.  Might want to get a synth that makes analog noises.  Note you can crossover from the Basic mixerless rig to a Large mixerless rig by just getting a larger audio interface.

Q) We have a band of 5 old hippies--acoustic and vocals, piano, standup bass.

A) Basic Multi track systems.  Get something with about 12 tracks or more.  Groovy man.  Strawberry Fields.  Number Nine!

Q) Tweek You RAWK DUDE!  Me boys do Zepplin like Led man and I'm the drummer and I want at least 9 mics on my kit. 

A) The last 3 systems will work, but note you have to buy additional preamps if you don't go the large analog mixer approach.  A Lot of drummers like the Onyx Firewire solution cause it can send a ton of channels to the computer at once.  See you when the Levy breaks...(argh what has gotten into me tonight?)

Q) How come you don't list Control Surfaces under Multi tracks as an option?

A) Cause they generally don't work with them.  They manage the mixer inside your computer software. 

Q) I STILL DON'T KNOW WHICH STUDIO IS RIGHT FOR ME.  HEEELLLP!!  I LIKE TO BE SPOONFED.  WHAT CAN I DO NOW?

A) So you are the guy always posting in ALL CAPS.  Aha, a Spoonie too!  Ok, read the Guide...oh rats you ARE reading the guide.  OK, go over to the forums and PM all the top contributors! 

 

 

No, don't really do that

Studio-central has tens of thousands of posts like the above where this subject is approached from every conceivable angle.  Search and ye shall find!

Tweak Out.

 

Comment or Leave feedback on this article

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Freakin' out? Need to talk about these decisions?  Ask Tweak and the Studio-Central Community in the "Ask your questions" forum.  But be nice to him, he's answered these many, many many times.  :)


Cool Quote:

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (17921822), British poet.

 

 

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