Introduction – The Home Recordist’s Challenge
The distribution of the Apogee Duet has created a perplexing reality in the music business. Along with the cutting edge DAW software packages becoming affordable for “the little guys”, and off the shelve PC and Mac computers, the big professional studios are having to completely alter there business model. Before the Apogee Duet was released the average part time (poor) musician could never afford the luxury of top-of-the-line preamps and analogue to digital conversion.
Sure, the weekend musicians, and young recording artists in waiting were getting a little bit closer to having professional level recording equipment, but high quality D/A conversion was not available to the masses. As the technology revolution presses on musicians around the world have been dreaming and striving for the ability to make music that can compete with major label releases as far as sonic quality is concerned. The problem is there are missing links. Below I will list some of the crucial links in the recording chain.
The Professional Recording Chain
In order of signal path, this is the basic modern recording chain and it’s different links.
- analogue to digital conversion
- tape or hard disk
- computer (processing power)
- signal effects (compression, EQ, reverb, ddl, etc) in mix-down
In a professional recording environment all these links are usually looked after using the best possible equipment and resources. Money is rarely a consideration – in fact, a major studio can spend over 300,000 on preamps alone. Mixing consoles can be in the millions. This was frustrating to home based studios and hopeful musicians since the dawn of pop music. The hope of recording your songs at a professional level was based on getting a recording contract. Times have changed!!
The DAW Revolution
First came the DAWs (digital audio workstations) that were really in beta-mode for a decade – such as Cubase and Nuendo from Steinberg, and Pro Tools from Digidesign. The latter is still out of reach for home recording studios, but the Steinberg products were financially within reach. Other DAW software packages such as Acid, Logic, Samplitude, Cakewalk, etc. were becoming somewhat affordable, but the there was something else missing in the recording chain – processing power.
Not until as late as 2007 have off-the-rack computers had enough power to run the above mentioned DAW applications. There was the inevitable comparison between Mac and PC, the predictable rhetoric that came to pass.The truth is, until recently, no off-the-rack computer (laptop, notebook, desktop) that had enough processing power to operate DAW software competently. This led to many musicians becoming more “computer geeks”, than musicians. It also led the the OVER production of most home recording projects. Just like the recordings in the eighties when digital reverb and digital delay became mainstream, and midi became commonplace – mixing music became more about drowning a recording in effects, than highlighting the most important part of a recording.
The most important part of a recording is, and always will be, the lead vocal and the main instrument.So here we are now in 2008 whereby Mac and PC systems certainly have the processing power to run a good DAW package, and some of the processing effects are much better. Home recordists are getting smarter by buying signal processing equipment that competes with major studios. They’re buying quality microphones (condenser and dynamic) high quality preamps, and high quality D/A I/O processing.It used to be that high quality preamps, signal processing, compressors, and analogue to digital conversion could only be found on 100,000-300,000 mixing consoles, and in the professional studio racks.
Most of the equipment was purely analogue and consisted of true hardware units consisting of tube circuitry. Some believe that the quality of this classic analogue gear will never achieved using digital equipment, but these critics have to admit the gap is narrowing. Some major studios are purely in the digital realm, though the source instruments are using amplification equipment that incorporate analogue (tube) technology. I personally don’t think that the source instruments will gravitate rapidly toward digital solutions. We’ll see in 10 year from now.
The Ideal Home Recording System in 2008
If you take into account cost and quality, there is an ideal home recording setup. This is arguable, and completely subjective, and I encourage your disagreements and comments below. Keep in mind that this setup can only record two tracks per take.
Step One – Source Instruments
This is something that took me a long time to learn, and most developing musicians fail to understand this CRITICAL factor when setting out to record their masterpiece. You must invest in quality instruments when it comes to drums, electric guitars (bass and six string), pianos, and percussion instruments, and acoustic guitars. Make sure the instruments are all tuned, setup, and calibrated before even thinking about laying down your first tracks. Make sure you have strings and skins that are not too wore out and dead.Make sure your cables are short and high quality. Make sure the room your recording in doesn’t have too many reflections and noise present. Make sure your electric equipment is not creating noise that your microphone will surely pick up and add to all your tracks.
Step Two – DAW
If you are a new Mac owner who bought your Mac in 2008 you are already one step ahead in the quest for the ideal home recording system. Macbook and Macbook Pro laptops come with Garageband included in the software package. Garageband is THE MOST advanced DAW you can buy for the price point. Garageband in built on the Logic DAW platform, and Mac has made this popular DAW accessible to hobbyists and professionals alike.
Step Three – Mics and Preamp
You need a few microphones, and this can be VERY expensive. However, there is a way to buy a large condenser microphone for recording vocals and instruments. Buy a C1 from Studio Projects, and buy it’s preamp cousin the VTB 1 V Series Preamp. Buy a couple of cheaper dynamic mics as well like a Shure SM58 and Shure SM57.
Step Four – I/O or A/D Breakout Equipment Digital to Analogue Conversion
Get the Apogee Duet for world-class digital to analogue and analogue to digital conversion. These two channel units cost $500 dollars. The Duet has it’s own preamp built in as well so you can use it instead of the VTB 1. Depends on the track you are recording of course.
Step Five – Mix-down or Playback Speakers
You can buy may different near-field speakers for mix-down and playback purposes. You can use Tannoys, Sony, Mackie, Yamaha, etc, etc, etc. Don’t buy speakers that enhance any part of the frequency spectrum. You don’t want your mids, highs, or lows being “hyped” in any way. You want your mixes to transfer to all playback systems, from car stereos, headphones, large rooms, and radio. You can even try doing your mixes through your MAC SPEAKERS! Whatever you do, never mix-down your at loud levels. Always at low levels. Nothing higher that 72 DB. You can buy a DB level meter for cheap. I use a Radio Shack special.