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Hardware recommendations for the newbie and semipro project studio.

In the following text I will give you suggestions for hardware, minus computer, of what to buy for your home project studio. My focus is on the composer/synth/sampler/electronica person and not so much on recording, but I will give you suggestions for that to.

There are two suggestions one for the beginner and one for the intermediate-semi professional.

It’s not a complete list of equipment. There will be things like cables and connectors that are not listed in my text, and microphone stands, speaker stands, furniture.....


There are no instruction how to connect and setup the hardware, which can be complicated if you haven't done that before.

And finally, there is nothing about the room, about the acoustics, something that can be very important for a professional result.


What is a Project studio?

It’s a working environment for someone that works/produce/record his/her`s own music. A project studio is a working environment for personal use. It’s usually situated in your home.


































My home project studio used only for VST synthesiser and sampler work (no keyboard).


I will suggest hardware for two types of user

1.   For the beginner, that already has a laptop or stationary computer.

2.   The Intermediate, someone that wants to produce his own music and record his, or his friends,

      bands/music.

2b. The “professional” project studio, the expanded project studio

      A studio for someone that plan to make a living using music technology. Someone that
      alread know a lot about music,someone that has worked with music technology a bit.  


My project studio hardware suggestions, are based on:

-Hardware that has a very god audio quality.

-Hardware that has a proven reliability.

-Hardware that work for recording audio and for using all kinds of music software and VST

  instrument/plug ins. It has to compatible with all types of hardware, platforms and software.
-Hardware that is excellent value for money.



Project studio hardware for the beginner, someone that already has a laptop.

Audio Interface.
Native instrument:s Komplete audio 6

Loudspeaker.

Genelec 8030


Headphone.

Beyerdynamics DT 770


Microphones.

Studio Project B1


Komplete Audio 6

This is a god audio interface with all the basic input and outputs you need.
It has two microphone inputs, a headphone output with volume control on the front, a master output with volume controller for your loudspeakers and a MIDI in and out.

It has all the basic functions you need for a stereo setup and its USB3 compatible and that may be very convenient if you have a new laptop as some of them don’t have an USB2 port.
I haven’t used it a lot but i recently bought 6 of them to replace Roland interfaces, just because the Roland:s don’t work with USB3 (December 2014)


Someone may want to sell you a (used) fire wire audio interfaces. Stay away of Fire wire audio interfaces! Fire wire is a computer compatible hell as so many appel introduced technologyes is. There is only one way to be almost sure that firewire work, and that is to have a computer has a Texas T1 firewire chipset, and very few laptops has! Luckily there are few fire wire audio interfaces available today.


I’m a reluctant to Thunderbolt, they only work on a Mac. I don’t like incompatibility. Hardware should work on any platform!


I should say that I don’t use Komplete Audio 6 in my home studio. I use an RME babyface. It cost almost 2,5 times as much.


Loudspeaker. Genelec 8030 (or 8240)

This is where you should put your money when you start your building your “computer project studio” as a good set of loudspeakers will last for many years. If they are too expensive for you new buy, a used set!
Loudspeaker is the single most important equipment in the studio. They tell you how it sounds. And you need the full story. You have read about people that mix on Yamaha NS10,
Behringer Truth B2031 or some fantastic B&W speakers that they found in his uncles garage. It may work but most likly not.
I’m a Genelec fan I have used Genelec:s for a long time, almost 30 years. I know how they sound and I know that you can trust them. You find Genelec:s everywhere (when it comes to loudspeakers you want to be like everyone else, compatible).

Loudspeaker is not like computers. They don’t get out of date in 3-5 years. A good loudspeaker is something you can use for many years, maybe 20++!


I have tried many of the small size monitor speakers on the market today. And Genelec:s is hard to beat. At home (in my project studio) I previously used Genelec 8240 with GLM and then a year ago I switched to  PSI 17m. They don't sound any better than the Genelec 8240. The main reason to switch to another monitor than Genelec is that they sound…..different. They give me another feedback than the Genelec:s, a bit more focus on depth and placement of sound. And, they are very comfortable to work with.


Having said that Im now back on Genelec. I have just gotten the new 8330 and the 7350 sub base. It came with the GLM 2.0 which is a very god room correction system, and by very mean VERY!
For the beginner this is probably way over budget. For the money, it’s not possible to get anything in the same prize range that works better in a project studio environment (that is at home).

In a home environment it’s close to impossible to get a flat frequency response, especially as many of us work in small rooms. To me home studios needs loudspeaker frequency correction if you have any intention of getting a functional mix. GLM doesn’t cure this but it certainly helps (a lot).


A small bit of a warning. The GLM 2.0 software is buggy, uses a lot of CPU and generally seems to be a beta state, but it mostly works. I may write a review but I hope the version 2.1 fixes all the bugs and makes better room calculations. I was able to tweak the sub setting to a better frequency response, with little effort (it didn’t get significantly better, just a tad....).


GLM
In the pictures below youll se what the GLM do for each of the tree speakers

-The read line is the room response
-The blue line is the equalisation the GLM make

-The green line is the new room response



















  
 
Left speaker. Much better that the uncompensated room response, but there still is a hug dip at 102Hz


















   Right speaker has no serious dips in the compensated frequency response























  
 Sub. There is a peek at 30Hz But generally its pretty flat down to 18-19Hz. I have set the crossover frequency to 95Hz

 



Headphones may be an alternative to loudspeaker.
I find it hard to mix on headphones, but if this is your only alternative, and you are looking for something really good,  I would suggest Sennheiser HD 600 or HD650. They are both excellent headphones. It is expensive but you can use them for yers and years. I use HD 600 and have had them for a very long time (15 years?). They are “open” so they work less well for tracking as they emit sound to the surroundings more than what closed types do. They are expensive so HD600/650 is more a recommendation for the semipro/pro users.



Headphone.

Beyerdynamics DT 770

They are closed type, so they work great for tracking. Comfortable to work with, hard to mix on if you ask me but I know others find them perfectly suited for mix work. DT 770 has become a sort of a standard (at least here in Norway…).


Microphones.

Studio Project B1

In 2011 i did a test with 8-9 budget microphones (“China microphones”) and a Neuman149 costing 40 times more as a reference.
I recorded close mic:ed male and female vocal and solo instruments (like guitar and violin). Some of the singers actually preferred the B1 over the more expensive microphone. In some cases they didn’t really hear any difference worth mentioning, neither did I.

Amazing value for money, and works on most sources.

As my test is a bit old, there may be other budget microphones available that is equally god or even better, but Studio Project B1is probably still a very god choice. Amazing value for money!


MIDI Keyboard.

Anything with a usb interface.

If you are a keyboard player you may want to get something that feels god to play. M-Audio makes god keyboard controllers and so does Roland, Novation, Akai........

In real life there is not that much difference between different brands in the same price range. Personally I don’t like the small ones, the ones with less than  25 keys, <49 is much more practical.


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The Intermediate-”professional” project studio.
This is my recommendations for someone who wants to produce his own music and record his, or his friends, band, and need a flexible hardware setup that can do almost anything (within limits). Someone that also works a lot with a VST instrument.































My office at the Norwegian Academy of Music, a “larger” project studio.


Audio Interface

RME Fireface UFX.

One reason for my recommendation is that it is flexible. There are plenty off inputs and outputs, it is configurable in a multitude of ways and its expandable, and it has absolutely all features you ever need.
It is a bit expensive but I think it will be modern (that is usable) for a long time, 10 years (?). It is, as far as there is a professional audio interface today, a professional product.


I used an UFX in my home project studio for 2 years. Now I’m using a RME Babyface out of convenience (small size). I don’t record audio at home. The UFX did performed flawlessly, that is, not a single glitch. It delivers a super clean and “unbiased” sound. No hype!

All in all I have 7 UFX (in different studio:s), and the only “trouble” is that some find the software mixer, the Total Mix, a bit hard to understand. I can understand that, for the novice, it can be hard to grasp. But it’s actually very well laid out and logical. I only thing i miss is to rout the output back to another input directly in the mixer, without having to cable it.


Loudspeaker.

A used (or a new) set of Genelec 8240 with GLM, may be a god idea (you can get a used pair for 1000$). 8240 has a very god bas response, a sub is not necessary.
Another suggestion is Genlec 8330. I would certainly recommend them if you don’t need the 8240:s extra base response. They are much smaller compared to the 8240 and size can be an issue in an home studio (it is in my case):
The clear difference between the 8240 and the 8330 is the  bas extension. More than the specs tell you.


The GLM is a very attractive and highly functional room correction utility that really works very well.


In my acoustically bad room, I also got a Genelec 7350 sub bas. It made the bas frequency response even and smooth. If you live in a flat sub bas can be really annoying for your neighbours and should be used wisely. If you mostly do electronic dance music, and live in a flat, don’t buy the sub.....


Headphone/headphone amplifier.

Beyerdynamics DT 770. Sennheiser HD600 for mixing and serious listening.....

Headphone amplifier Inexpensive Presonus HP4 or professional quality Sonifex RB HD-6


Microphones.

There are so many really good microphones to choose from. When you move up to the intermediate level you have probably your own ideas of what you like.

-Studio Project B1 my inexpensive favourite

-Shure SM 57, no studio can be without a couple of these

-Neumann 103, very flexible large capsule microphone, almost an all-rounder


Expandability and reliability.

The main area of expandability is the number of inputs and outputs. I don’t think that the project studio need much more than 8 microphone inputs and 6- 8 outputs (2 for main monitor 2-4 for headphones and maybe 2 for a second pair of monitors). When moving up to more than 8 microphones, physical recording space becomes an issue.


Do you have a recording space that gives you the possibility of using up to 12-16 microphones?

Let’s say you are using:


7 microphones on drums (you can make excellent drum recordings using 4 (or even 3))

1 guitarist

1 bas player  

1 lead singer

2 backing singers

2 horn players

The keyboard player uses the stereo line input on your audio interface


That's 11-14 microphones and 7 players! You need a quite large room to record them in.


Remember I’m writing about a, mainly, stationary project studio. So, do you really think you need 16 microphone inputs ?


My hardware suggestion would be to ad a RME Octamic XTC. Together with the UFX you get 12 microphone inputs but it can easily be expanded to 20, using a second Octamic XTC and you will still have 8 line input left. Or maybe buy a used RME Octamic II.


Upgrade microphones.

Microphones is much about taste.

Neuman 103 is an excellent all round microphone. You may hear a smother sound compared to the

B1 microphone.

Neuman KM184 is a small “cigar type” microphone that is excellent on acoustic guitar and overhead on drums, piano anything without too much “breathing” like vocals and flute. To me it’s sounds a bit “faster” than the larger capsule 103. It can result a more “brilliant” or “detailed” sound.


Ribbon microphones have a sound that some people like, they are VERY trendy. They work excellent on overhead and brass as they tend to “even out” the high frequencys . They are also very useful on electrical guitar/amplifier. There are several to choose from but I’m not an expert. I have access to a Royer 122 but to be honest I have never used it in a project. I don’t like the somewhat dull sound of ribbon mic:s........


A lot of people like tube microphones, there are many inexpensive ones to choose from.
My personal favourite tube mic is Neuman 149, its very expensive and to my ears far from neutral sounding.....but I like it ;-)
If I had to choose a favourite microphone the 149 would be an easy choice.


DSP card

For mixing I’m totally dependent of UAD hardware and software. I think that their plug ins are the best there is. I’m using the UAD 2 Quad card.































Comments?

E-mail me at mats@matsclaesson.net


                                                             

matsc 3.4.2010

updated 22.5 2010 and 16/12 2012