Gear that has paid for itself in my studio

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chris harris
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Gear that has paid for itself in my studio

Post by chris harris » Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:18 am

The other recent "dirt cheap gear" thread got kind of weird. But, it did get me to thinking about inexpensive stuff that I've owned that I would definitely buy again if I could start all over, knowing what I know now. I've been surprisingly lucky with inexpensive gear, partly because of TapeOp and these forums. When I got started, I bought mostly new gear. There are tons of good deals on useful gear that is still in production. Some of this stuff is older and can only be found used. I'm not trying to impact market prices for this stuff by starting a discussion about it. But, I'm not trying to keep secrets either. I've followed the used gear market long enough to know that everything goes up and down and that there are always deals to be found.

So, I'm going to make a semi-random list of gear that I've used that paid for itself during its time in my studio. Lots of these things still get daily use in my studio.


Audio Technica Pro37r - This was one of my first mics that wasn't an sm57, sm58, or a knockoff of one of the two. I think I bought it because Steve Albini said that it was one of the best microphone values on the planet. For years the pair that I had were my goto mics for drum overheads, percussion, acoustic guitar, and general "room mic" duties. I've got better mics for those things now. But, SURPRISE!! I recently discovered, because of this forum, that these things are super rad on amps for both guitar and bass! I'm using them as a second mic on amps in just about every session now.

Oktava mk012 - I'm pretty sure I bought these because either Joel Hamilton, Chris Garges, or both said that they were the bees knees on toms. And, whoever said it, they were absolutely right. I use these mics every time I mic up a drum kit.

AKG c3000B - My first LDCs. I would have obviously preferred to have 414s. But, I could afford a PAIR of c3000s. I used them for vocals and acoustic guitar on more than enough sessions to pay for them. I still occasionally use them for bottom snare and drum room mics.

Cascade Fathead II - My first ribbon mic. I still love these things on almost anything you would typically use a ribbon mic to record.


Mackie 1604vlz Pro - If you ever plan on working in a studio with a large console, one of the best things you can invest a little money in is a Mackie mixer. You can learn most of what you'll ever need to know about basic signal flow and routing by using a 16 channel mixer and a small patch bay. Mackie manuals should be required reading for anyone interested in recording or mixing audio. A half hour with one of their manuals and you'll be qualified to just chuckle the next time someone points and asks, "You know what all those knobs do?!?!"

Hill Audio Multimix - I still have two of these and use them both. One is in my rack at the studio. I use the first 8 channels to submix effects returns into my main mixer. I have the last 8 channels wired to my mic panel and my patch bay. I use the preamps. Prior to getting API preamps, I used them for close miced drums. I feel like they had a similar vibe to the APIs, just with less "heft". Now, I occasionally use them for bottom snare, or other auxiliary duties when all of my better preamps are in use. The second Multimix is in a road case and goes with my band. We've been using it for monitoring electronic beats on stage with a pair of 15" monitors so that we don't have to depend on house monitors for the beats that drive the songs. If we play smaller DIY or "in-store" shows, we'll run vocals through the Multimix, too. They have a super simple 3 band fixed frequency EQ at 100, 1k, and 10k. It's not exactly flexible. But, it's really fun and sounds cool.


FMR Audio RNP - My first outboard preamp. It's just a good, relatively clean preamp. Everything just sounded more detailed than when I used the Mackie preamps. I still use the RNP on every session.

ART Multiverb - This is probably pretty shitty. But, it's the first reverb I ever used and I grew quite attached to those verbs and delays. I used it until it died. RIP. I don't really buy a lot of gear anymore. If I did, I'd probably try to pick up a couple of these.

Lexicon Reflex - I'm glad I got to use one of these things before I ever even knew what plugins were. Sadly, the Reflex died a couple of years ago, too. I have a lot of reverb plugins that I love now. But, I still use the MPX-500 (another great value) that I replaced the Reflex with, on almost every mix.

Symetrix 501 - I bought these because they were referred to as "a poor man's Distressor." I like them a lot for squashing things. And, they're also useful for more gentle compression. I use them on vocals, bass, and drums at mix time.

dbx 160a - I actually got to use these on tour as FOH and grew to really like them. I sometimes use them when tracking vocals. But, I almost always use them on bass in a mix.

ART Pro VLA - I bought this because Dave Fridmann said he used one. I've mixed into it. It's fun. I mostly use it for bass drum and acoustic guitars.

Miscellaneous items:

Moon Gels - These things can save your ass. Sure, it would be great to rent a dozen drum kits and spend three days tuning them before tracking drums. But, when you get a punk band that wants to track and mix 15 songs in one 16 hour day, Moon Gels can tame rings and pings in a hurry.

Earthworks Kick Pad - If I had some badass outboard EQ, I probably wouldn't use this. But, I don't. And, honestly I don't use it all the time. But, in some bass drums, the Kick Pad makes my D112 and e602 sound pretty magical with very little fuss at mix time.

Little Labs STD - There are lots of ways to split a guitar signal and/or run it all the way across the house to your amp in the back bedroom. This thing is a cheap, convenient way to do those things with no noise or hassle.

Guitar pedals - ALL OF THEM! As many as you can afford, all the time! Get a reamping device and a good DI and your pedals become little outboard effects processors that can be chained together to create really unique effects.


There are only a few things that I've purchased that I didn't end up having much use for:

Electro-Harmonix 12ay7 Preamp - I have two of them. They sound great! But, mine are just noisy. It's not user error or dirty power. I've taken them all over and they both have a significant hum no matter where I am.

Focusrite Liquidmix - I bought this on clearance because it was super cheap. Don't buy proprietary software/hardware on clearance. The plugins sounded alright and were definitely useful. But, the whole thing was buggy, unstable, and unpredictable.

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Post by Nick Sevilla » Thu Feb 28, 2013 6:59 am

Mine has been Pro Tools HD.

Paid for itself many many many times over.

And as to other gear that's been super useful? My soldering iron, a set of jewelry screwdrivers, and yes, all my guitar pedals.

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Post by E.Bennett » Thu Feb 28, 2013 7:37 am

mci jh24 and jh110a. inexpensive. easy to maintain. clients like recording on these machines. i like making records with them.

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Post by vvv » Thu Feb 28, 2013 8:40 am

Zoom R16 recorder, and before that (sometimes still) the Zoom H2. Saved me mucho dinero recording drums for release, as well as a complete band in auditions and practice; sorry, local studios.

Digital Reference GX instrument mic's: my first overheads in a reflective, low-ceiling basement room, OK for Recorderman and usable for anything, never great but at US$36 each plus a boom mic stand and cable ...

E602 for the time it saved me trying to get a good kick sound.

AT4040's for the time they saved me getting a good overhead sound, even in the afore-mentioned basement.

Snark clip-on tuner for time saved, and convenience.

Fender Pro, Jr. because it will always work, and work for a song. (See what I did there? :twisted: )
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Post by dfuruta » Thu Feb 28, 2013 8:56 am

CAD M179s. Really nice for the price. I still like them better on drums than much more expensive mics.

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Post by builttogrind » Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:37 pm

I don't really have anything to contribute to this post other than to say this post is very worthwhile and I've got some gear to look in to now. THANK YOU!

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Post by djimbe » Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:46 pm

one of the pieces that started paying for itself right away was an EMT 140. For a while I had 2 of them, one stereo and one mono. Prior to getting the plates, people would come to us to track basics, then they'd go hit their bedroom for OD and sometimes basic mix. Sometimes we'd get final mix work out of the tracking session sometimes not.

Once we loaded that first 140 in the place, the bedroom guys would book time just to print tracks through it, and they sure liked to bring their clients in for final mix just to show off the sound of the 'verb.

yeah, they're big and expensive and take some care. Nothing sounds like a real EMT though...
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Post by kayagum » Fri Mar 01, 2013 12:27 pm

(Relatively) cheap stuff that has worked for me doing sound design:

* Large diaphragm dynamics (SM7, PR40, and if you stretch the definition, e906)(easy to use, takes out the room reflections, takes EQ well)

* Adobe Audition (the plugins dedicated to noise reduction are worth the whole cost by themselves)

* Alesis Wedge Reverb (stupid cheap, really decent programs)

* Maxon CP101 compressor pedal- always on, always in the chain. Working with the FMR ARC pedal now as well.

* Redco TGS cable snakes (can't ever have enough)

* SP202 series hardware sampler. So useful. Better lofi effects than the Bitrman. I have two 202s and a 303.

* Mackie 1202. They're the leatherman for live theater tech. I own 3 of them plus a 1402.

* Groove Tube Ditto DI. Everyone should own at least 1 good DI box.

* Splitter boxes/rack units. Another swiss army tool.
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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Sat Mar 02, 2013 3:02 pm

B+W 805s

OC 703

a good accountant

chris harris
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Post by chris harris » Sat Mar 02, 2013 5:10 pm

MoreSpaceEcho wrote:B+W 805s

OC 703

a good accountant
Nice! Those are all fairly expensive, but definitely earn their keep!

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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Sat Mar 02, 2013 5:40 pm

hey a good accountant is relatively cheap, and with what they save you, they pay for themselves before you've finished writing the checks!

but actual cheapish stuff in the studio....hhhmmm, my studio is mostly expensive mastering crap now....i'll have to just +1 moon gels and guitar pedals.

oh! how about the SM7? useful on pretty much anything.

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Post by kslight » Sat Mar 02, 2013 6:46 pm

I'm not sure if you'd call a Pigtronix Keymaster "dirt cheap" but I use it on just about every session, either as a DI or for reamping or for blending effects or running vocals/drums through pedals...

Most of the other gear I only got dirt cheap because of right time/right place, so it would be unfair to list all that really as for the most part it isn't dirt cheap.

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Post by Snarl 12/8 » Sat Mar 02, 2013 11:47 pm

I doubt that my $15 [new] MXL 2001 has paid for itself and I've probably used it on close to every recording I've done for the past 10 years. I bet my Fostex 8-track Reel to Reel paid for itself though, I used to charge people $10/hr to record in high school and college.
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Post by T-rex » Sun Mar 03, 2013 12:44 pm

MoreSpaceEcho wrote:hey a good accountant is relatively cheap, and with what they save you, they pay for themselves before you've finished writing the checks!
+1 on this!

Also, Pro VLA, Oktava MC-012 (I have 6 of them now), the Alesis Microlimiter and Moon Gels!
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Post by Ryan Silva » Sun Mar 03, 2013 2:36 pm

From the list you gave the DBX 160a has more than done its job for the money.

414b-uls (2) purchased used.
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