Gear Reality Check, Please

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Matt C.
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Gear Reality Check, Please

Post by Matt C. » Thu Jan 21, 2010 7:57 am

i have been torturing myself about whether i should drop a bunch of cash on new recording gear, and decided it was worth getting a reality check from some other engineers here. i'm wondering whether some fancy new gear would be justified, or whether i should just be happy with what i have and save my money. (i know you guys can't tell me exactly what i need and don't need, but advice is helpful) here is my situation.

Right now i have a basement studio and i record mostly as a hobby (recording friends' bands for a little money on the side. Mostly fast and loud punk stuff). I have made a bunch of recordings that i thought were decent, but none i was thrilled with. In the future i'd like to be recording on a more serious (semi?)professional level, but for now i am still learning. I want to be able to produce recording of a somewhat professional quality, but i always prefer sounds with quirkiness and personality rather than super slick hi-fi stuff.

my current setup is:
Tascam m520 mixer
MOTU 24i/o into a PC running Nuendo (getting the BLA mod and micro clock in a couple weeks)
Tascam 58 tape machine, Revox B77 for mixdown

Behringer Truth 2031 monitors

FMR RNP
Joemeek vc6q
Rane Ms1b

FMR RNC
ART Pro VLA

Lexicon Alex reverb
Digitech digital delay

notable mic selection:
Oktava mk012 (pair)
Oktava 219
Rode Nt1
SM57
sm59
Shure Beta 52
Shute Beta 58
MD421
EV Bk-1 (pair)
EV 635 omni

so that is pretty much what i am working with. here is some of the gear i've been wanting to buy:

Hamptone JFET pre (or snother nice 2 channel pre in that price range)
a nice vintage compressor/limiter. hopefully stereo (considering a cheaper urei model like LA-4? although it is single channel...)
FMR RNLA
DBX 163x compressor
Ribbon Mic, probably Cascade (maybe a pair?)
one or two nicer dynamics (Beyerdynamic m69 or m88, RE20, SM7 etc)
2 channel parametric EQ
Sending my Oktava mics to Michael Joly to be modded

it may not look like a ton of stuff, but i am a cheapskate, and this would easily add up to $3-4000 or so.

my arguments for buying this stuff is:
1. it is high quality gear that will still be usable in a more professional environment in the future.
2. I will buy as much of it used as i can, so if i decide to re-sell it, i probably won't lose a ton of money.
3. gear is fun.

my arguments against buying this stuff:
1. i am a cheapskate, and i probably have more responsible uses for my money, even if i can technically afford this gear.
2. perhaps most importantly, it seems like i should be able to get good results with the gear i already have. maybe i just need to spend more time honing my technique.
3. i am already planning on doing more acoustical treatment in the studio, so maybe that will help things sound better without needing more gear.

sorry for the long rambling post, but all these gear choices are making my mind explode. if any has some words of wisdom for me, it would be greatly appreciated! thanks!

- Matt

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Post by cgarges » Thu Jan 21, 2010 8:40 am

Here's what will surely be a very unpopular idea:

Take one of these bands you're recording and offer to split the expense of freelancing in a fancy local studio with some of the gear in which you're interested. You get to try out a bunch of this gear and decide what works for you, they get to work in a fancy studio for a better deal than usual, and the studio gets to meet a new engineer who'll they'll see as a valuable connection because you brought them work. You could even do something simple like basic tracking there and then do overdubs and mix at your own spot if budget is a major consideration. Seems like a win/win/win to me, but suggestions like this don't always fly around here.

Chris Garges
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Corey Y
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Post by Corey Y » Thu Jan 21, 2010 9:09 am

I think Chris made an excellent suggestion. I'm probably at about the same level you are Matt and I've been wanting to find a band willing to go into a nice studio for tracking and then do the mixing and overdubs at my place. I've spent the last year trying to learn as much as I can about theory, identifying my own weaknesses and working on them, experimenting as much as possible with different tracking and mixing techniques and learning the gear I do have in and out and how to get the most out of it. After that I have a much more practical set of priorities on buying new gear. Just in time for having no money, heh.

You also might want to consider how acoustic treatments might improve your work space. At least for mixing if not tracking.

I wouldn't presume to tell you how to spend your money, just weighing in since I'm in a somewhat similar position myself.

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Post by teleharmonium » Thu Jan 21, 2010 9:14 am

I think your upgrade shopping list makes sense and none of it seems at all excessive to me along the lines of "whoa, you've already got great stuff, if you can't get it done with that..." etc. With the new purchases, it would still be a utilitarian rig based on what those tools do with nothing gratuitous and no overpriced high end pieces that can be outperformed by less sexy gear.

I've witnessed far worse ways of spending 3 or 4 k. Lots of people drop that much on one overpriced boutique guitar amp that has a mediocre clean sound, and then just mostly look at it for years.

So I would say go for it, as long as you're recording and can commit to yourself to get to know and fully utilize the new gear.

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Post by sir hills » Thu Jan 21, 2010 10:05 am

Chris made a very good & valid point. I've got plenty of gear but space is becoming more of an issue for me. I had the opportunity to do some tracking at a local studio...nothing too fancy but decent sized, well-treated rooms, a good collection of basic mics & solid stands. The guy I was engineering/playing drums for is a friend so we worked out a good deal & he took care of the studio fees. The studio owner is a real nice fella & happens to co-own one of the largest pro recording facilities in the area...needless to say I'm glad we've met, I know I have an affordable (larger than my home studio) place to do basic tracking & I've since had several conversations with the owner about future work together. win win win.

On the gear side of things, if I had it to do over (& had your existing setup) I would've started (& finished) with room treatment earlier. It will make every piece of gear you already have better, not to mention your mixes. After that I would upgrade your monitors. You've got a great chain already & after your BLA mod it will again be improved many fold. So, I might invest in those things first (might eat up a little over half your budget) & use the other half for a freelance gig at a nice studio that might have some of the gear you'd like to try. It'll most likely lead to more work which could lead to more money for gear.

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JWL
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Post by JWL » Thu Jan 21, 2010 11:45 am

From my point of view, GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is a lifelong affliction; no matter where you are, there is always another purchase that will "take my studio to the next level." This is true.

However, I also think that acoustic treatment is a HUGE gap in your setup. Of course I sell this stuff, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but if that were me I'd have invested in treatment long before I had that much gear. I can also say that good treatment has made a bigger difference in the sound of my recordings than anything else, except for practice/experience in engineering techniques.

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Post by LazarusLong » Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:21 pm

JWL wrote:However, I also think that acoustic treatment is a HUGE gap in your setup. Of course I sell this stuff, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but if that were me I'd have invested in treatment long before I had that much gear. I can also say that good treatment has made a bigger difference in the sound of my recordings than anything else, except for practice/experience in engineering techniques.
I agree. Wholeheartedly. I sell gear (including acoustic treatments), just for full disclosure here.

Acoustic treatments are probably the least 'sexy' upgrade you can make, but one that will effectively make all your gear sound better.
The truth of a proposition has nothing to do with its credibility. And vice versa.

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Post by kayagum » Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:22 pm

The fundamental question you have to answer is why you weren't "thrilled" (OP's original word) with the recordings you have.

I bet most of us here have opinions and guesses, but hearing what's specifically bugging you will help get you more relevant answers.

As someone who (a) also records in a basement, (b) owns identical or parallel gear as you, (c) could even sell you some of the gear on your wish list and (d) live in your city, I would +1 the advice on treatment, acoustics and room for what would help you improve.

The cool thing about St Paul is that there are a lot of places (think churches, warehouses, schools, other commercial space) that you can try your hand at location recording.... try it once, and if it sounds better, that will give you an idea of what to do.

I did theater sound design for a few years, and the room makes a big difference. Location recording classical music (especially choral) made me realize that I actually have pretty good gear, but there's not substitute for the room, performers and vibe.

PS Funny, I was about to write a "I hate/am disatisfied with my setup" thread too (although, it has more to do with workflow than audio quality).
"Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn't." ~ Erica Jong

"No one wants advice ? only corroboration." ~ John Steinbeck

kayagum
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Post by kayagum » Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:24 pm

JWL wrote:From my point of view, GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is a lifelong affliction; no matter where you are, there is always another purchase that will "take my studio to the next level." This is true.

However, I also think that acoustic treatment is a HUGE gap in your setup. Of course I sell this stuff, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but if that were me I'd have invested in treatment long before I had that much gear. I can also say that good treatment has made a bigger difference in the sound of my recordings than anything else, except for practice/experience in engineering techniques.
Holy crap, I just realized your affliation with RealTraps. How cool! Will definitely keep that in mind for my next acoustic upgrades.
"Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn't." ~ Erica Jong

"No one wants advice ? only corroboration." ~ John Steinbeck

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Post by JWL » Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:53 pm

kayagum wrote: Holy crap, I just realized your affliation with RealTraps. How cool! Will definitely keep that in mind for my next acoustic upgrades.
Heh, excellent. I've been with RealTraps for 2 years now.... I've been running the day-to-day stuff (outside the factory) for over a year. Keeps me busy, but I seem to be getting into more trouble these days.... :-)

We can definitely help with your room, shoot me an email (my username here @realtraps.com) or give me a call.

Matt C.
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Post by Matt C. » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:53 pm

thanks for the advice everyone. spending some time in a nicer studio with nicer gear sounds like it would be helpful. and i'm glad to hear these potential gear purchases aren't too extravagant

this project is a whole different topic, but i do have plans to do some major acoustical treatments in the studio in the next month or so. i already have a bunch of 2'x4' absorber panels (made of ultratouch cotton), but it could use some more work. maybe i will hold off on any big gear purchases until i'm done with it.

my plans include (and i'm sure i will probably end up starting another thread asking for help with this stuff):

*putting superchunk traps in the corners near the drums, and in the control room corners.
* putting an absorber cloud above the mix position, and a (larger) cloud above the drums (and maybe doing something on the rest of the live room ceiling to tame the flutter echo, but the ceiling is so low that my options are limited)
* building proper speaker stands
* building either a large skyline diffuser or a slat resonator to cover the wall directly behind the drums
* improving the door seal between the live room and CR to lessen bleed.
* maybe if i'm really ambitious i will build a few gobos so i can section off the live room a little bit

i'm expecting all this to help quite a bit.

but still...gear is fun.

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Corey Y
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Post by Corey Y » Thu Jan 21, 2010 4:02 pm

Re: the ceiling, and speaking of JWL's employer, this thread and the linked article address an excellent solution. Ceiling height isn't as much of a concern if you don't have to worry about reflections coming back down (as much).

http://messageboard.tapeop.com/viewtopic.php?t=68797


I wish I had a basement to work in and remodel for recording purposes. I have a nice big warehouse which helps with not having to worry much about ceiling height at all, but I can't make any permanent/substantial changes to the inside of it.

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Post by jgimbel » Thu Jan 21, 2010 4:08 pm

Room treatment is usually the more responsible buy that will most likely help more than you'd expect. But I'm a gear lover, and I'm pretty much in the same position of you. Things I noticed about your first post - you've got similar gear to me, though you own a lot of things that are on my wishlist. Your wishlist is pretty much exactly my wishlist though too. I have a ribbon that's cheaper than the cascades (Nady RSM-4) and I use it CONSTANTLY. Having a ribbon in your arsenal would be great, I use it much more often than I had expected to. I'd say only go for outboard EQ if you're happy with what you're using now. I'm just starting to get to that point myself (and I just posted about outboard EQ) as I'm not loving my ITB eq, or the way it sounds. But this is a relatively recent development and it's not the first thing I'll be spending my money on. A nice large diaphragm dynamic is definitely something to hold onto, though I'd consider the MD421 one of those. I'd love an SM7 but I see myself getting a 421, more realistically. The RNLA has been on my wishlist too. I don't have any outboard compression, and I've been debating between the RNLA and RNC forever now. I've been leaning toward the RNLA since I use compression mainly on bass and vocals, and I've heard really poor reviews of the RNC for bass, while the RNLA seems generally good. I'd love both, like you would have if you got the RNLA, because they both seem like they'd have their place. I've been wanting a 160 as opposed to your 163.

I'm not being helpful at all, though I don't know that I will be. Regardless I'm kind of at the same gear level as you, and I've recently been deciding if I should make a big jump with one really nice piece of a gear (a mic, preamp, compressor, or converters, I think), or go with something from my list that isn't a huge step up but is a solid piece of gear (like the pieces I've talked about that you listed). I think it depends on the path you want to take (I know, a BS answer). I think all the time about how I'm glad I didn't start with the gear I have now. I started with horrible everything. Horrible drum mic kit, etc., I exhausted them as much as I could, then replaced the weak links as they became apparent. People say "why spent money on these pieces of gear, sell them, then step up when you can just save and buy a really nice piece of gear". I think that's a good point of view when you've got the skills and production to put those super nice pieces of gear to use. But personally I'm happy to be stepping up. And to be honest, I'm making recordings with similar gear, and though it's taken me a while, I'm getting mixes that I'm happy with and I've been getting compliments on. So if I were you (which hell, I'm close to it) I'd look at what the weakest link is, and fix that, and so on. When you're recording and something keeps coming out as "damn, I wouldn't have this problem if I had the _________", buy that thing. That's the path I'm going on, and I find it really rewarding. But that's just the way I think, and other folks would be the complete opposite. But there's never anything wrong with improving your weak links. It's never frivolous and you never regret it. That's important when you don't have a huge budget but are craving better sound.

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Post by vivalastblues » Fri Jan 22, 2010 2:44 am

really comes down to what kind of stuff you're predominantly going to be recording. if it remains punk stuff i wouldn't even bother upgrading anything. you have a good tape machine and some good mics (better than mine).

all i know is that you can get a great sound (RELATIVE TERM...i listen to mostly rock bands and 'indie' stuff, not particularly hi fidelity stuff) with not much great equipment. i'm personally just starting to think all the equipment is unnecessary unless you're recording stuff that sounds like phil collins. but that's just my opinion and it probably wouldn't sit well with most people here (which is weird considering the spirit of the magazine originally)

Matt C.
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Post by Matt C. » Fri Jan 22, 2010 6:29 am

lost blues wrote:really comes down to what kind of stuff you're predominantly going to be recording. if it remains punk stuff i wouldn't even bother upgrading anything. you have a good tape machine and some good mics (better than mine).
well, other than the vague "i want things to sound good" motivation for upgrading, it comes down to two main factors:

1. If i'm trying to eventually be an engineer as an actual job, i will need some gear that can accomodate more than noisy punk bands (even if that's the bulk of what i will be recording in the forseeable future).

2. i'm slowly trying to transition away from doing so much work ITB, hence wanting the outboard compressors and EQ. right now i end up recording and mixing on the computer just because my hardware options are pretty limited. so i'm trying to slowly tip the balance of power in favor of OTB recording/mixing (sadly, the tascam 58 and revox are often neglected)

thanks everyone, you guys are great.

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