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Upgrading Hobbyist Home Studio

Discussion in 'Recording In Progress' started by MrGibbly, Apr 4, 2020.

  1. MrGibbly

    MrGibbly Tele-Afflicted

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    A couple of years ago I posted here looking for help getting things rolling for my then 13-year old son and I recording. You all got us moving with our 2011 iMac, GarageBand, a USB mic, a USB "Rocksmith" cable, our existing low-end Grado cans, etc. so we were able to figure some things out without spending a lot of money. We've learned a lot about what we enjoy doing, how our "process" works, what we can/can't do in the space we have, etc. and are ready to take the next step. Here's kind of how we work and what our constraints are:
    • We are hobbyists...it's something to do together
    • Record one part at a time
    • Use a lot of loops and samples
    • Limited to about a 10' by 10' space that we have to "clean up" when we're not using it (my office...work from home a lot right now)
    • No real acoustic treatment in the room
    • We're pretty tech savvy
    • Already have a solid foundation of electric guitars/amps and an upright piano that is just a mic cable run from the desk
    • Somewhat portable is good...the master closet is a pretty quiet place to record from so being able to grab a few things with the MacBook and head in there easily is useful
    • Metal, Rock, Grunge, Punk, Blues and some R&B, Hip Hop around the edges
    Since my last post we upgraded to a 2017 iMac and added an Arturia MiniLab MkII as our MIDI controller. The Arturia is great and we probably haven't fully "outgrown" GarageBand yet. Given our comfort level with the software Logic is probably our next step and all we'd ever need. The USB mic is pretty terrible and the "Rocksmith" cable leaves a lot to be desired (esp. latency) so those need to be replaced. Looking for feedback on key next additions and things we aren't thinking of:

    • Mics - We are thinking SM57 and Rode NT-1 to cover a lot of ground for reasonable money. Like guitars, my thought is to cover the standards with quality stuff that I'll keep forever (in guitar world that means a Tele, a Strat, an LP, etc.). Want something that I am likely to keep and use forever even if this hobby ebbs and flows.
    • Cables and stands - Assuming just some decent quality 20' cables and a boom stand and a smaller stand for guitar cab will be sufficient?
    • Monitors - Very small space (near field) and pretty low sound levels just for our workflow. Have to pull double duty for games, streaming, music, and this hobby. Thinking JBL 104BT that I can get a deal on. Looking for "just adequate" here...can get spendy later if we stick with it. Just looking to take a step up from the built in speakers of the iMac.
    • Headphones - Keep using my old open-backed Grado SR60 headphones. We don't *think* we need something with isolation because we don't do "real" percussion and don't worry about bleed-through on vocals (yet!) or can "fake it" with AirPods when one of the little girls wants to sing (ages 4-12).
    • Interface - I am thinking of splurging a bit and getting the Universal Audio Arrow. It has enough inputs, I think, for the way we play and the ability to expand with the plug ins, processing power, etc. seems like something fun to experiment with and learn about. I know I could save some money and go with a Focusrite Solo or similar but believe this might open up some new things to dabble with...
    Thoughts? What are we not thinking of? Any sure regrets in the list above? Thanks!
     
  2. beyer160

    beyer160 Friend of Leo's

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    Mics- It's hard to go wrong with an SM57 as an all-rounder studio mic. A man much wiser than I once said, "An SM57 is rarely the best mic for any given source, but it'll never suck." I hardly ever use my 57s anymore since I have a pile of more application specific mics, but I'll never get rid of the 57s because one day I'll need an extra mic, and odds are a 57 will handle it with ease.

    As far as condensers, there are piles of options. Two good bang/buck choices are the CAD M179 and Shure KSM32. Both of these mics can hang with stuff that costs a lot more, and the CAD is multipattern (which is a big plus). The Shures are a lot more expensive new, but you can usually find them used at reasonable prices.

    Cables- Do NOT go cheap on your mic cable- a couple Canare Starquad cables are more expensive than music store stuff, but you'll be able to use them forever. I have road cases full of Canare mic cable at work that's 20+ years old and I've never had a failure with ANY of it. Years ago a friend of mine became the AV manager at a convention hotel, and inherited a box of cheap cable his predecessor had ordered from a music store. They ALL failed a month after he took them out of the box, and even after he fixed them they crackled if you touched them. If you can solder (or want to learn), you can buy the cable and connectors in bulk. I'm a big fan of K&M mic stands, but honestly, if you're just recording in a spare bedroom you can make do with a couple cheapies from Banjo Mart.

    Monitors- I was blown away with how good the JBL 305s sound, and right now you can find them new for $220/pair. Total no-brainer bargain. Any monitor with speakers above 5" is gonna pump out bass that will cause problems in a 10'x10' room.

    Interface- The UAD stuff is nice, no doubt. Their plugins are cool too, but you can do the same basic thing with a Focusrite 2i2 (two input) and some Waves plugs for a lot less money. If you were making A Record and had the money, the UAD stuff makes sense. For a hobby project, if budget is an issue (and when isn't it?) the Focusrite stuff sounds fine. If the choice is between a UAD interface and a cheap MXL mic or a Focusrite interface and a KSM32, I'd go with the Focusrite and the better mic every time.

    You'll also want to do some kind of treatment to your room- 10'x10' is gonna have all kinds of flutter echoes and nastiness, at least try to cut down on that with some foam or homemade absorbers on parallel walls and corners (I've used batts of insulation covered in fabric, you can probably make something nicer). Bass is gonna be a problem that foam can't solve, too- I'd recommend doing the classic "car check" to make sure your bottom end is where you think it is. I've even carried my laptop out to my car to finalize the bass and kick in a demo mix.

    Sounds like fun, good luck!
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2020
  3. GuitarPix

    GuitarPix Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

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    I think that all sounds pretty good. The one thing to consider is if you go the with the Arrow - which is a fine interface- is that you will probably wind up on their continuous upgrade path for the plugins that work in the unit. I’ve heard this from others who’ve got Universal Audio interfaces.

    If I had was buying an interface with some room to grow it would be to get the Focusrite 4i4 which has the midi in. Kind of passé but I’m glad my interface (the Clarett 8Pre) has it for my digital drums. The way you’re kids are getting into recording with you - drums may be in you’re future [emoji12] and a digital kit has a lot of advantages in a small home studio. As does a soundproof room out in the basement or in the backyard if it keeps going.
     
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  4. MrGibbly

    MrGibbly Tele-Afflicted

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    Great advice, thank you! I'll look to spend a little more on the condenser mic and cables and then less on the interface based on your input. I'm very comfortable with a soldering iron (built amp, pedals, wired guitars, etc.) so I'll buy the recommended cable and wire 'em up. Neutrik XLR connectors ok?

    Might have to get creative on making some affordable, easily removable sound treatment to absorb and diffuse in this space...
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2020
  5. Boil

    Boil Tele-Holic

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    +1 on the K&M Mic stands, those are good, cheapies are hit or miss at best.

    I have a few SM57 mics but I don't use them for vocals anymore, I find the Senheiser 835 is clearer and it often comes in a kit with a cheapie cable and cheapie stand, this is how I know so much about K&M stands.

    https://www.avshop.ca/sound-amp-pa-...ennheiser-e-pack-e835-mic-stand-amp-xlr-cable

    I also use foam wind covers on these mics, that allows my bass player to rub his beard back and forth across the Mic while the rest of us are discussing the finer points of a song, oh how I miss my band practices right now.
     
  6. Norris Vulcan

    Norris Vulcan Tele-Afflicted

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    All good advice. I'll add that the Rode NT1 is another 'bang-for-buck' mic you'd have to spend twice as much to beat, IMO. Not multi-pattern, though.

    Also - don't skimp on monitors ! They will be your reference and need to sound good and flat-ish in response. Lots of reasonable choices for not much dosh - Yamaha, Alesis, KRK, etc.
     
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  7. Rolling Estonian

    Rolling Estonian Friend of Leo's

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    Hobbyist here doing it not on the cheap but definitely not high end. Can't go wrong with the SM 57 and Rode, my first buy was the 57 and an AT2020. Cable, stands, accessories, I don't go high dollar but know that you do get what you pay for. I got the Audient iD14 a couple years ago and couldn't be happier, great unit with awesome pres and ability to add ADAT when ready.

    M
     
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  8. beyer160

    beyer160 Friend of Leo's

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    Neutrik NC3 series XLR connectors are industry standard, with good reason. All my XLRs at work have them, and again, 20+ years and thousands of road miles with no failures. My personal preference for TRS (you'll probably need some for the monitor outs on your interface) is Switchcraft 297, but there's nothing wrong with the Neutrik stuff. If you're gonna build, make the cables longer than you think you'll need- a 15' cable can reach 10', but not the other way around. Cable should run you around $.50/foot, so the connectors for a second cable (around $5 each, so $10/cable) are way more expensive than just making cables a little longer.

    If you're thinking about using a 57 for vocals (which it can totally do), get a $5 foam windscreen. 57s pop like CRAZY on vocals. Fun fact- the SM57 and 58 are identical except for the headbasket pop filter on the 58. It actually makes more difference than you'd think, but they're pretty much interchangeable except for the lack of pop filter on the 57.

    I'd just go ahead and affix your foam/absorbers to the walls and leave 'em there.
     
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  9. MrGibbly

    MrGibbly Tele-Afflicted

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    Good stuff. I will probably either (1) build the foam into some nice looking frames to keep on the walls, or (2) stitch them into fabric that I can string up to discrete curtain rods on two of the walls. Option 2 may work better because one wall is windows and one is French doors...
     
  10. Dismalhead

    Dismalhead Poster Extraordinaire

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    SM57 is a great all-around mic. For a long time it was the only mic I had. Mine got stolen last year and since then I've been using my SM58. I think I liked the SM57 better, even for recording vocals.
     
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  11. ponce

    ponce Tele-Afflicted

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    I've always been thinking if those different grille heads are interchangable between the two mics, since that should be the main difference in their design? Never had both at hand to try that out.
     
  12. ricknbaker

    ricknbaker Tele-Afflicted

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  13. MrGibbly

    MrGibbly Tele-Afflicted

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    Thank you for this! I like to buy used and locally wherever possible but it doesn't seem like anyone around here ever parts with these particular mics.
     
  14. KT89

    KT89 Tele-Meister

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    You should upgrade to logic if you're spending this kind of money IMO. It's not magic software, but it is much easier to use and get exact sounds out of than GarageBand. I can't fathom spending UA money and using Garageband when you can get something Focusrite makes and have a full-featured DAW. Having good tools to work with will have a much larger impact on your end result than slightly nicer conversion or preamps. There are all sorts of other resources that will compare the two pieces of software, but IMO you "outgrow" GarageBand when you're doing any kind of editing (compression, EQ, reverb, etc.-basically anything that isn't garage demos direct into a USB mic).
     
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  15. MrGibbly

    MrGibbly Tele-Afflicted

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    Yep. :) Was planning to go to Logic. They are running a 90-day free demo at the moment so was thinking we’d kick that off as some of the new kit comes in... Sorry that wasn’t more clear in my original post.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2020
  16. WireLine

    WireLine Tele-Afflicted

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    Re mics: buy smart once...

    Don’t overlook alternative solutions. Ive chosen an EV RE16 over a 57/58 almost 100% of the time...an SM7 is a great mic..you may look for steal deals on things that have multi polar capability (cardioid, fig 8, Omni)...and never rule out a good ribbon, which have been used on nearly every conceivable source.
     
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  17. Biffasmum

    Biffasmum Tele-Meister

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    Sounds like you have one lucky son!! Great comments and suggestions here.

    On monitoring, which is highly subjective, listening to a wide range of favourite music will probably see a couple of models bubble to the surface. In my studio days it was common to seek unflattering and fairly flat nearfield monitors and the amp was often overlooked.

    KRK and Genelec make some super active monitors which are widely accepted. And unlike some bog paper adorned speakers of yesteryear, actually sound good!
     
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  18. beyer160

    beyer160 Friend of Leo's

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    Yeah, the EV RE series are killer mics- I've been hunting for an RE38 for 20 years. The problem with SM7s and ribbons (RE20s, too) is that while they're great, they need more clean preamp gain than your average prosumer interface can handle.

    Spoken like a man who's experienced the joy of NS10s...
     
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  19. Carl_Tone

    Carl_Tone Tele-Holic

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    Mackie Mixer before the interface
     
  20. LooseJack

    LooseJack Tele-Meister

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    If I've understood your setup correctly, I'd add a load box / cab sim / DI so that you can do away with micing and record amps at full volume in the small non acoustically treated space you have.

    I use a mesa cab clone but everyone hates those so a torpedo captor X might be a more popular choice.
     
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