The gear thread

July 3, 2008 7:18 AM

What gear do you use to record?

I know many of you are recording these songs in your bedrooms and basements, and sometimes the results sound astoundingly professional. What's your secret? Killer mics and preamps? Tricks with compressors and EQ? Any special tips you have for us aspiring home studio folks?
posted by danb (44 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

I think I've talked about my dining-table-studio setup in the comments of a song, a year or two back, and I'll see if I can dig that out, but the short version:

My main mic is a Studio Projects B1—solid, nothing-fancy condensor mic, costs about a hundred bucks. I've got a small Yamaha mixer with corresponding not-totally-shitty pre-amps that provides the phantom power the B1 (and most condensor mics) need; I run that through a little two-channel M-Audio USB sound interface (which is loads better than the onboard sound ports on my laptop) into Adobe Audition.

That's the whole tool chain for vocals and acoustic recordings. For electric guitar, I have a PodXT that I like for the overall versatility of sounds, though, excellent as it is compared to my high school multi-effects thing, still sounds a little fakey-digital to my ears when I'm using overdrive sounds.

The main things I use to turn that into a clear recording is a mix of careful levels-checking before tracking, careful application of compression, and some patience with the degree of ambient noise that comes from recording in a corner apartment in a downtown area. I find I can eliminate 95% of problem noise fairly easily if I take the time to set things up carefully and retake if a fire engine goes by; the other 5% I deal with by just not caring, which I've found is a surprisingly liberating approach. A good recording with a whiff of noise is still a good recording.

One of my favorite personal recordings-qua-recording is A Man in a Boat in the Water, which is a pretty good example of good-but-not-perfect noise control. The whole song is acoustic—at times, there are at least half a dozen mic tracks live at the same time, and if you listen you can hear some whooshing traffic noise/rumble low in the mix. But the vocals are fairly level throughout, and the banjo and guitar don't really talk over each other too much, and a lot of that was just putting enough compression on each track to keep them from varying wildly in volume.

Compression is a really fantastic tool when you get comfortable with it. Being able to control the volume of something without having to constrain it's timbre makes it possible to capture a lot of range in the sound of an instrument (vocals in particular) without having that instrument's levels either disappear beneath the mix or peak out into distortion land.

All the compression I do is post-recording with filters built into Audition. I have meant for a long time to pick up a decent outboard compressor, and one of these days I need to do that, because for all the value of being able to post-compress stuff, being able to do it at the source would give me even more control over noise floors in my recordings. I could probably go from 5% to 2-3% on that alone.
posted by cortex at 8:06 AM on July 3, 2008

The other 5% I deal with by just not caring, which I've found is a surprisingly liberating approach. A good recording with a whiff of noise is still a good recording.

I like to tell myself that perfection doesn't allow for happy accidents.

I use a MacBook, it's built in mic and GarageBand. Someday I will try to pick up a nicer mic, but for now I'm fine. I just got this MacBook though, so all my uploaded recordings are from the first laptop to have GarageBand. This new mic is a little cleaner. I have a steel stringed Ovation guitar, and a nylon stringed guitar from a company I forget the name of. It sounds Hispanic. The Ovation guitar has a round plastic back. Does anyone know how that effects the sound?

On Saturday I am taking a little road trip to a music store to look at ukulele's. It will be my first instrument purchase, mainly made so I can have a light, fun instrument to pack around during this gap year. At least I am under the impression that a baritone ukulele is pretty portable; am I wrong? I might be interested in a tenor, but they are so small....
posted by Corduroy at 9:49 AM on July 3, 2008

And by pack around, I mean able to bring hiking mostly, as well as on planes.
posted by Corduroy at 9:51 AM on July 3, 2008

I use ProTools LE with an 002rack. I starting using ProTools over 10 years ago when I learned it at school. When I used to work in recording studios in Chicago, it was the DAW of choice. When one of the older engineers had problems with it, I would take the helm and help out. I have used others like Logic and Cakewalk, and they work just as well, but protools is what I am the most comfortable with despite its shortcomings. If I ever work full time as an recording engineer and need to upgrade, I will by the HD version.

For synth sounds and bass lines I mostly use Ableton Live or Reason via Rewire.

As far as outboard gear is concerned, I just have a Focusrite TrakMaster with an optical compressor. I use it mainly on vocals and bass guitar. For the rest of my processing, I use plugins. If I need something outboard, I'll borrow it and print the output to tape, err, disk.

I used to have a few other things, but I sold them before I moved to Germany.

I have a few mics that I have been collecting over the years.
AKG: 3000B, 2000B, D112, 2xC450 and C414
Sennheiser 2x421, 441.
The old standby Shure SM57 and few crappy no-name noisy mics that I use for nasty guitar sounds. I have found a lot of these mics over ebay.

I keep it pretty simple. I always try to get the best sound to tape as opposed to trying to fix it with a plugin. It saves so much time in the long run. Luckily, I live in a house where I can make a lot of noise and can experiment.
posted by chillmost at 10:19 AM on July 3, 2008

Most of my recordings are just acoustic guitar. Like cortex, I have a Studio Projects B1 condenser. It's running into a PreSonus Firepod, and all of the compression and other effects is in Logic. The quality is hit or miss, but I suspect that's just my inexperience at work; I rely on presets a lot, and I'm not very careful with mic positioning and the like. Hell, sometimes I forget to close the window and get traffic noise, or sit in my squeaky desk chair.

Anyway, my bigger problem is that I've never been totally happy with the electric guitar tone I get running through the Firepod (especially clean tones, as I'm more of a folk/jazz guy than a rocker). Maybe I should think about some external hardware, like the PodXT cortex mentioned.

I just posted my first MeFi Music song with the new recording setup, if you're interested.
posted by danb at 10:34 AM on July 3, 2008

When you say sometimes the results sound astoundingly professional, I know I'm not in that pack. While I appreciate and enjoy the pro-sounding MeFiMu entries, I like the coziness of the "recorded-in-the-basement-with-whatever" sound, and it frees me up to not care so much about gear.

I use Audacity (I have to download some VSTs or whatever they're called, effects plugins); the built-in mic on my mac-lappy or this crappy desktop mic that I found in a recycling bin for my PC, a friend's Gibson SG that has wires coming out of all ends and is coated in red housepaint, a bass (HD-1200 stagemaster?) that I picked up at this awesome sale 20 years ago at Building 19, a Peavy Renown 400 amp, a friend's banjo, a Korg touch-sensitive 64-key synth with a billion preset sounds (in lieu of drum kit packed away in basement), an upright piano I inherited, and I think that's it.

The only song I've recorded so far with that setup (as I'm still getting used to having computers strong enough to do multi-track recording) is this one. Although I'm generally happy with the results, the sound does strike me as a bit flat. With that in mind, I'd like to ask a similar question: for those of is who have a psychological or economic block to level-upping the gear, what would anyone suggest for ways to crispen audio--plug-ins, ways to mess with frequencies, etc? Is there a link to "Recording on the cheap for Dummies"? (Or am I already there?)
posted by not_on_display at 11:41 AM on July 3, 2008

I have pictures!

I use Cakewalk SONAR, upgraded from an ancient copy of Cakewalk Pro Audio 9 bought a long time ago. I plug my three hardware synthesizers (Korg N364, Kurzweil PC-88, Kawai K4) into a Yamaha 10-track mixer, then the mixer to an M-Audio Delta 44 external sound card.

For software synthesizers, I use mostly Reason but recently I'm incorporating more Ableton Live. I'm not a good enough guitar player to record guitar parts -- I'm actually a keyboard player -- so I record those parts with the samples from Reason. Yes, I am anal enough to key in every single note of a G chord.

I've got an MXL-990 for a microphone, which I put through an Alesis 3630 compressor. I turned my walk-in closet into an isolation booth by stringing up some clotheslines and hanging up a comforter and sheets, and I use a lot of the Sonitus plug-ins in SONAR for effects processing.

And finally, I use Sony Sound Forge to apply some limiting on the finished product. That's as far as I go with mastering.
posted by NemesisVex at 1:02 PM on July 3, 2008

The Ovation guitar has a round plastic back. Does anyone know how that effects the sound?

The Ovations I've tried seem to be *very* focused on being hooked up to an amp, definately gig guitars. When they're purely acoustic I've never particularly liked the sound, at least compared to a solid wood priced the same, but plug them in and they come to life. Mileage may vary though, I've only tried three or four of them.

Ended up buying a Taylor GS, cedar top-- gorgeous sound, no pickup though which admittedly wasn't an issue at first, but after we started getting some louder instruments at our weekly get-together, I had to upgrade to a pickup-- so I eventually bought a hybrid fishman pickup, which I generally just keep turned more balanced towards the mic side-- sounds like a loud acoustic guitar when I plug it in, which seems to mean it's doing it's job.

While I was at it I thought, well, might as well give this recording stuff a go, so bought a Shure 57 mic and a little Behringer mixing desk and a weeny line-in usb device.

Noise is an issue for me, and well, lack of talent, but with counseling, I'm coming to terms with the latter. The place I'm living at the moment is pretty open to nature, so there's no where I can really go that brings the background noise to silence. Maybe I need to fiddle with the settings a bit more though and find a happier balance.

I was actually in Miami a few weeks back, called into a guitar store near the Dadeland Mall and played a great Takamine, all natural woods, fantastic sound, and only around $300. Sorely tempted!
posted by Static Vagabond at 1:19 PM on July 3, 2008

Up until a few month ago, I used Adobe Audition as recording software. I now have Pro Tools M-powered 7.4, which has given me nothing but a headache, but I know that it will be easier to send files to "real" studios with it. *shrugs and holds head* I also used minihost and a ton of VSTs (most from here) on the last batch of stuff I recorded (although, that was a three year process). I've also used hammerhead as a drum machine, a MouSing virtual theremin, and sometimes the Virtual Drum Machines at Audio Playground (I used to have a real Kee Bass, but I sold it, so if I feel the need I just use the virtual one over there as well). Outside-the-computer instruments all go into an M-Audio 24/96 Audiophile soundcard from a Mackie 1402 VLZ (that some nice friends gave us). I've got an ART Levelar Tube Compressor that I use out of the Mackie going in. I've also got a Levelar mic pre, but I never use it. Mics are something I'd like to get more of, but something else always comes up and I never get any. What I have now is an Audio Technica 3525, several M57s, an Oktava MK-319, and several other kinda crappy ones in various sorts of abused disarray. Recently a friend gave me a Zoom H2 digital recorder that I've been using for field recordings because it works tons better than the handheld tape recorders and weird 70s two track tape recorder I've used in the past. I've also used old fostex 4-tracks and recorded at real studios, but I like the set up I have here, although I miss cassette 4-tracks a bit.

I'm not sure if you want instruments, because I've actually got quite a few things stashed in different areas of the house that I've collected over the years. Here's a partial list: two low end 80s casios, yamaha keytar, metal clarinet, sax, a couple of electric guitars, Boss SP-202, mandolin, one acoustic, a crappy bass that no one else can play but sounds great through the mixer, miniKorg, Boss DR 660, little kids drumset (with 70s zildjian that cost more than the whole set combined, but sounds fantastic), melodica, and various toys and other stuff. I miss our Juno 6, but I don't miss lugging it around.

I don't have an isolation area because I like room sounds. I have, however, recorded vocals in closets (with clothes/coats still in it), bathrooms, and hallways just because I liked the sound. We've been lucky in that most of the places we've recorded in have had wood floors, large rooms, and high-ish ceilings. I didn't like our basement in the house we live in now and have moved everything back upstairs to the nice wood floors again. Then again, I'm not that into complete hi fi. I tend to add distortion and weird, buried sounds to things I do to make them sound even more messed up than they already are.
posted by sleepy pete at 2:34 PM on July 3, 2008

Compression is a really fantastic tool when you get comfortable with it.

Not directed to cortex in particular, but after having heard the results of compression in much of the music here, I still don't get how to implement it. Is simply using some reverb "compression"? I'm using Adobe Audition too, and as much as I've played with it, my vox tracks still sound way in front of the others. Is that part of the compression ratio? Mixing live voice with electronic gear. Hell I don't know!

Sorry, big time noob question, but maybe others will benefit from it too.
posted by snsranch at 4:25 PM on July 3, 2008

I tend to apply compression to one track at a time to reduce the dynamic range of that track somewhat; I rarely put more than a touch of compression on a final mix. I'm not sure how you're using it, but if you're trying more that latter case, you probably won't get anywhere significant because mix-with-vox-too-loud plus some compression will just give you a less-dynamic-mix-with-vox-too-loud.

Case study:

I have three tracks. Electric organ, overdriven electric guitar, and vocals. (Maybe I'm doing a weird cover of Whiter Shade of Pale? I don't know. Regardless).

Both the instrumental tracks have relatively limited dynamic range as I've recorded them, but my vocal track has a lot of dynamic range—in some parts my singing is relatively low in my tonal range where I can't get much volume going, and I'm singing in hushed tones anyway. In other parts, I'm singing loud and high.

So when I mix my vox in with the organ and guitar, my voice is too loud in some areas and too quiet in others. If kick up the volume on the vox, it's now WAY too loud in some areas and okay in others. Turn it down: it's okay in some areas but way too QUIET in others. No amount of fiddling with the volume knob will fix that.

One way I could deal with it would be to turn the volume fader way up on the vox track, so that the quietest parts are loud enough in the mix, and then go through and tweak the volume envelope throughout the track to reduce the volume in the louder parts in proportion to how loud they are. This can work, but it's pretty time consuming and require a lot of guess-and-check and re-tweaking of that envelope line.

Or I could do the same thing with some compression, because that's more or less exactly what compression is: automatically reducing the dynamics of a track, so the quiet bits are less quiet and the louder bits are less loud. What I'll normally do is take a track, apply some gentle-to-moderate compression to it, and then adjust the volume to find a sweet spot where the volume feels good throughout. If it's still too dynamic, I'll try some slightly stronger compression until I get where I need to be.

In Audition, my process is:
- double click the vox track, taking me into the Edit Waveform view (instead of the Multitrack view)
- go to the Effects tab in the upper left
- kick open the Amplitude tree
- and double-click the Dynamic Processing widget.

For me, it defaults to the Graphic tab, and there are twenty or thirty presets in the upper right. The most useful out-of-the-box, general-purpose compression preset in there is "Classic Softknee", which is a simple curve that more or less mimics the soft curve of a classic hardware compressor.

That will give you pretty usable results, though I find it's more compression than I usually want, so I created my own "Lightknee" preset that's the same curve but made less steep—the softs stay a bit softer and the louds a bit louder, which squashes things a bit less.

I've never used a hardware compressor, so I really don't have a head for ratios and such—I don't even know how to describe the Softknee in those terms—but I know what I like.
posted by cortex at 4:54 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hey, sns, here's part of an e-mail I sent someone (recycling is good for the earth) on compression recently for starters:

Compression is a strange beast. Basically, compression makes it so that the soft parts of a recording can be the same volume as the loud parts--it's kind of an equalizing of the volume.

Here's a decent run down on compression from ludwig_van

End e-mail.

With Audition, I tend to use the amplitude --> dynamics processing for compression (usually the Limit Soft -6db w/boost). It kills peaks so that you can have the quiet be loud and the loud be quiet. That sounds really dumb, but it's what it does. I'm not sure what cortex uses, but that's about all I use on Audition for compression. Although, it can totally change the tone of things,so be careful and remember that a little goes a long way. Also, reverb is designed to make things sound farther away within the sound field, along with delay.

on preview: I guess he uses the same thing. Hope that helps, though (because we all need more ranch kids' songs).
posted by sleepy pete at 5:28 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

cortex and sleepy pete, wow, thanks!!! Bing! *light bulbs going off!* You guys rock, and literally too! Sorry for so many exclamation points!!!!!!
Can't help it! Must go experiment now!
posted by snsranch at 6:08 PM on July 3, 2008

My work tends to vary in production quality based on the time I have and the equipment I'm using; the best stuff (production-wise) comes from Cakewalk SONAR and Propellerheads Reason, a few good microphones and an 88-key Yamaha weighted MIDI piano, and lots of time to tinker.

And yet, some of my best stuff (song quality-wise) comes from recording live into a single mic with me and my ukulele, into GarageBand, and normalizing it -- there's something about having to do it honestly and completely in one take that allows it to transcend bad production quality.

Concentrate on getting good, clean recordings with proper levels, and make sure the dynamic range of your microphone is good, and be sure to check your mix with crap speakers as well as good ones...I've fucked up many a mix by listening with my good headphones, only to find out that it sounds terrible everywhere else.
posted by davejay at 11:56 PM on July 3, 2008

I have two acoustic guitars I use for recording - the Ibanez AW12NT sounds absolutely huge but usually needs a ton of reductive EQ to tame it; I also have a dodgy Samick with electric guitar strings on it - it's hopeless as a regular guitar, but when recorded, the parts sit well in the background of the mix. I have a matched pair of Oktava MC-012s that are good for anything that needs clear, airy high end. Unfortunately, these have been acting up on me lately, so I've been using my T.Bone (Thomann own brand) Retro Jr, a dirt cheap LDC that sounds kinda chunky but lacks high end sparkle. These go into a Tapco Link.USB, an absolutely woeful soundcard that I would recommend you avoid at all costs.

The only good thing about it is the bundled copy of Tracktion 2, which I still use to this day. The built in EQ is great, and very intuitive. Most of my mixing consists of simple volume adjustments, obsessively listening over and over, turning up the bits that sound good and turning down or cutting altogether the bits that don't.

Two freeware VSTs that deserve a mention: endorphin, a two band compressor, and SIR a reverb that works with impluse responses.
posted by kersplunk at 6:31 AM on July 4, 2008

Let's see. I'm using an original mbox, and ProTools 7.4 on Windows, only because my poor G4 Ibook is woefully underpowered these days. Because of my job, I've got access to some pretty fantastic mics, so I'm spoiled there - on the last track that I recorded (which I haven't posted), I used a Neumann U89 on vocals, and a KM84 on guitar/banjo.

And that's really the crux of it. I think people underestimate how much difference a good microphone will make. And of course, where it's placed is just as important. If I'm all up on the U89 while I'm singing, my vocals just end up a mess of mud and low-end garbage. 12 or so inches away, though, and it sounds fantastic. The same goes for acoustic instruments - about a foot away from the 12th fret is the perfect balance of top end and low end on a guitar. At least for me.

For electric guitars, this is a pretty fantastic video that lays out basic micing of a guitar cabinet. The only thing I would change would be to put the cabinet up on a chair to decouple it from the floor - that'll get rid of the extra 3dB of low-end created by the corner between the amp and the floor.

As for compression, it's an interesting beast. I learned it by working at an AM radio station. It's amazing how quickly your ears can learn to hear something once you spend all day CRUSHING THE LIVING HELL OUT OF EVERYTHING. For anyone looking to learn what compression *really* sounds like, I'd recommend this - take a several minute stretch of spoken voice. Open it in Audition, and go to Effects -> Amplitude -> Hard limiting. Set the limit to -1db or so, and set the amplification to 20db. For a well-recorded track, this will crush it more than you'd usually hear. For a quieter track, you'll need to amplify it more. Then undo, and set the amplification a bit lower. And then a bit lower. Listen to the difference between each of these and your original track. If you're feeling particularly nerdy, you can level-match them so the difference in apparent volume doesn't throw you off.

I tend to compress pretty lightly, unless I'm working on drums. And like Cortex pointed out, a lot of things will have a narrow dynamic range already. You gain almost nothing by compressing these. As for specific settings, those are beyond what I have the time (and inclination) to lay out here - there's plenty of HowTos online for the curious. For final mixes, I usually compress maybe 2-3dB on the master buss, and then for things I want to sound a little more "mastered," I'll open them up in Audition and hard-limit them a bit, maybe 4-6db, depending on where the average level of the track seems to be. This tames the peaks a bit, and increases average level to make it a bit louder.

Also, I think that Hometracked is required reading for anyone interested in audio. They don't post too often, but it's usually pretty good stuff.
posted by god hates math at 7:10 AM on July 4, 2008

I use this portastudio to record, mix and "master" things to CD, then I import them into the computer.

In the past year I've been recording with this condenser mic. Before I was using a SM58 and the condenser mic made a huge difference in my life. I have a tendency to do things underproduced and with a lo fi sound, so the difference might not be all that noticeable for the listener, but the performance while recording has gotten a lot easier. I am a really bad singer, and the condenser mic has made it a lot easier to record acceptable vocal takes.

As for the instruments, I have a bunch of acoustic guitar-like instruments: a Venezuelan cuatro, a jarana, a Cuban Tres, a charango. Bass. Also a melodica. Some rather limited percussion. I had a bunch more, but I had to leave them back home when I moved to Venezuela because moving from one country to another with a bunch of weird instruments is a huge pain in the ass, both logistically and trying to get them through customs without the customs agents thinking you have valuable relics that you should import as archaeological artifacts. I've missed them like crazy the four years I've been here, but now that I'm about to move out I'm glad I don't have to worry about as many instruments.

So, my setup is pretty simple, and I think part of the lofiness and underproduction shows it. Perhaps after I move I'll start looking into better equipment, because it would definitely be nice to have better sounding recordings.
posted by micayetoca at 7:28 AM on July 4, 2008

Hello - I want to say thanks already. I just dipped into the MeFiMu pool today and have already learned about compression. I've been playing drums (I know, I know) for many years and have leaned on others for recording in the past. I am now working on putting together a fairly simple studio setup to take matters into my own hands.

Currently, I have a $70 Sony condenser "t" mic plugged straight into my sound card and I record wide open to an old version of Cool Edit Pro. I'll be upgrading to a MOTU 8pre input/converter/preamp with some nicer mics soon.

I'm in two bands at the moment and both are flush with new material. Both bands are broke, too, so it'll be really helpful if I can pull this off at home. I've been around recording for a long, long time, but have never done it myself.

Anyhow, thanks again - I'll post as I get rolling. (And I'll comment, too.)
posted by assoctw at 8:19 AM on July 4, 2008

Seconding Hometracked and also, if you live in the US, UK, or Europe (sorry everyone else) you can get a free subscription to Tape Op. Most of the stuff in a given issue you probably won't use, but there's always one piece of advice or technique or an interview that makes it worth the read. Plus, you know, it's free.
posted by sleepy pete at 11:13 AM on July 4, 2008

Mics: MXR Condender (don't remember which one atm), Shure SM-58

Mixer: Yamaha MG 12/4

Computer: Core2Duo 2.13 GHz w/ 2GB RAM

Software: Reason (for almost all of the electronic instrumentation including drums), SONAR for all the rest, Melodyne because even when I think it's a perfect take I can't help but want to tweak it just a little bit.

I have a Yamaha FX-500 which has a surprisingly decent compressor on board, and I use that on occasion when recording vocals. But generally I record without compression and add it in later.

It could be an artifact of the style of music I make, but I tend to be a compression fiend. Lots of it, especially on vocals and bass guitar. I try to have the dynamics be an effect of drums and just plan old spectral density.
posted by chimaera at 11:26 AM on July 4, 2008

Tape Op

Seconded. It's a great mag, even if I don't have any practical use for 4/5th of any give issue.

I'd love to see a What Did/Do You Read thread, actually. I'd start one myself, but (petard-hoistery ahoy) I posted a "test" thread less than a week ago and I don't want to make Matt or pb go tweaking the db just for me.
posted by cortex at 11:32 AM on July 4, 2008

For recording, my setup is wonderfully awful. I use my old cluttered pc with a fuzzy stock soundcard, a plantronics headset mic once used for counterstrike, a microkorg missing its vocoder and the 'cutoff' knob, and my computer can really only handle CoolEdit. I also prefer using old versions of sequencing software, like FL4.
posted by ageispolis at 1:09 PM on July 4, 2008

I use a Tascam 788 8-track digital portastudio. I picked it because I wanted to have one thing in my life where I wasn't sitting in front of a computer, but it has shortcomings such that I probably should've gone with a laptop-based system instead. (Proprietary format, backups are a hassle, etc.)

I've been home-recording for years and years but still don't understand what I'm doing -- EQ, compression, all that stuff is hard for me to grasp and I can't tell what sounds good and what sounds bad and why. So I'm trying to figure out a little of that stuff while simultaneously not stressing out over it, because I just like making up songs, and if I get all caught up in trying to be a "recording engineer" I'll just psych myself out of getting anything done.

(The same sorry attitude extends to playing music -- I'm not particularly interested in being a musician. So I have a collection of instruments [some of which you can see here, on my site] but I don't really play anything very well.)

Most recordings are made with a SM57 or 58 (unless I pull out the Copperphone or the D112) through a DMP3 pre. Drum machines and synths are usually run direct, controlled by a Roland MC-300 sequencer. Zithers are generally recorded with a combo of the 57 plus either a built-in or a contact mic.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 5:58 PM on July 4, 2008

Karlos, your Chartola Grand description on your website made me laugh.
posted by Corduroy at 10:23 PM on July 4, 2008

I'm a bit jealous of Karlos's instruments. Damn nice stuff on that page there.

Also, to derail a bit, has anyone ever played a digital accordion? I saw one yesterday and I still don't really understand it's appeal, but kinda want one now.
posted by sleepy pete at 12:00 AM on July 5, 2008

"a bit" jealous is an understatement, Karlos that's some wild stuff you got there.
posted by ageispolis at 10:43 AM on July 5, 2008

Today, as my birthday present a month late, my parents and I went out and bought a wonderful banjouke, very similar to this one. Light as a feather. I asked the old man who owned the instrument store about how common these were and he said that mostly they are used by clown on stilts, because they apparently are just a little bit sturdier than a normal ukulele. So, I have a future.
posted by Corduroy at 1:54 PM on July 5, 2008

Reaper and Audacity are perfect for my audio recording/manipulation needs.
posted by acro at 7:17 PM on July 5, 2008

I use an MXL 990 and a PreSonus TubePre to record at home. In the past I've used Kristal Audio Engine for multitracking, and the blockfish VST compressor.

I think arrangement and basic mixing principles are about 100x more important than gear. Arrangement is interesting in that it's sort of a meeting point of the technical, in terms of frequency ranges and overtones and and the strengths of a given instrument, and the creative/expressive. It's always been this way, before recording technology existed. You've got a great tune, but what instrument is going to play it? How is it going to be played? What instruments will support it, etc.? These have always been the questions facing orchestrators. Whether your music lives in the concert hall or in a computer, the same things apply. It's hard to give general advice for this sort of thing, besides to always listen for how it was done it in recordings you enjoy. And not to underestimate the power of panning. Recording complementary accompaniment parts to go on either side is usually much more effective than just sticking one part in the middle along with the melody.

And be careful with reverb. If there's no space in your track, you don't really hear the reverb anyway. And if everything is reverbed, you're defeating the purpose. You need to define the near space with some dry stuff, and define the far space with some verbed stuff.

Use EQ to chop out the parts of the sound you don't need. This usually includes lots of the bass/low middle frequencies in tracks that aren't meant to provide bass, like guitars and vocals. Liberal use of this kind of subtractive EQ can really clean things up.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:47 PM on July 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Mic: Rode NT3, picks up the Taylor's boomy sound really well, and does fantastic vocals.

Computer: M-Audio MobilePre

Guitars: Taylor M100, Epiphone Sheraton, Ibanez bass

Software: Waves effects (namely the R-Verb and TrueVerb effects). Reason for accompanying effects.
posted by spiderskull at 9:42 PM on July 6, 2008

Holy crap. While I was busy commenting on all those songs, this has turned into one of the best threads on all of MetaFilter. Thanks so much, everyone, for your wonderful and informative answers!
posted by danb at 10:19 PM on July 6, 2008

If I could favorite ludwig_van's comment again, I would.

I record with some really cheap mics: an MXL 990 LDC for vocals (which really doesn't match my voice very well) and one or a pair of MXL 993 SDCs for acoustic instruments. It all goes through a Focusrite Saffire LE (which is a nice piece of kit, actually, and cheap) into Logic 8 (which, for the price, absolutely cannot be beat).

Electric guitars usually go through a Line6 POD xt (the kidney bean), although I do still have the POD 2.0 in the closet (the not-really-a-Marshall Marshall tones on the 2.0 are killer, believe it or not). The trick to making the POD's heavy tones sound at least a little natural is rolling off the top end (above 9.8K or so). Bass goes through the POD just as a DI box, and is usually reamped with Logic's bass amp sim.

Drums come (lately) from XLN Audio's Addictive Drums, which is a great value for drum VI. Nice dry sounds, great built-in mixer and effects, really, really versatile.

I mix mostly through Logic 8's built-in effects (have I mentioned what a great value Logic is?), with the occasional hit of Massey's TapeHead and some plugs from Airwindows.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:08 AM on July 7, 2008

My current setup is...

MacBook (work computer for the time being... ) with it's not-terrible internal mic
GarageBand and, occasionally, Live (although I think my trial period just ran dry)

I'm more into instruments

'93 American Tele (my love... I'll never 'upgrade' because I can't), Alvarez MF80C (it's like... the best of acoustics and the best of my Tele combined...), Deering Goodtime II (currently no resonator, since I'm apartment-living and practicing daily), Casio MT-100 (soon to be even more circuit modded. I can already use it as a lofi amp), Bushman Engelmann Concert (it's a ukulele.)

Needless to say... my gear acquisition syndrome is curbed as far as it comes to instruments.
posted by tmcw at 8:58 AM on July 7, 2008

I'm late to the thread (wow--the new MeFi Music features are incredible, BTW! I just got my first chance to check the additions out), but here's my input.

I like to work within the limits of the lower-end of the price/performance spectrum (at the sweet-spot between price and performance, in other words), both because I'm a cheapskate and because the challenges of working with the limitations of the gear are appealing to me. I started out recording on a Yamaha MT-120 cassette multi-tracker, so anything made within the last 15 years of so still kind of seems like a technological marvel to me.

As a result, my setup is a cobbled together mess of odds and ends I've gotten good deals on over the years, or acquired through surgically-precise purchases made after carefully weighing different options for meeting specific needs. It's been a few years since I've upgraded anything, except that I recently bought a pair of nice Sennheiser studio headphones.

Here's a rundown of my current studio hardware:
-A desktop PC I built out of spare parts installed with an Echo Audio Gina 3G PCI card/Digital Audio I/O device (which has passable built-in Mic Pres)
-AKG 2000 C Microphone
-A handful of Shure SM-57s
-An ancient Roland VS-840 Digital Audio Workstation (which I've been using less and less since I got some decent amp modeling plug ins, but which I've used in the past as a digital mixer and guitar processor because it offers a decent-sized library of tweakable amp-emulation effects on-board, has a coaxial digital line out, and mixes at 24 bits)
For instruments, I've got:
-Boss DR-670 drum machine
-Novation K-Station (performance synth)
-Ultra-cheap Gibson Epiphone bass
-Cordoba gypsy jazz acoustic guitar
-A 20th anniversary edition Les Paul custom, inherited from my grandfather
-Korg Workstation Keyboard
For audio production software, I'm mostly running obsolete versions of the older Steinberg products these days--Nuendo for tracking, WaveLab for mastering, primarily. I used to use and really love Cool Edit Pro, back before Adobe bought it, turned it into Adobe Audition and priced it out of reach of its users (as a side note, I've been told Cool Edit was also what American Analog Set used in the early days for mixing and arranging a lot of their stuff, after first recording the basic tracks to eight-track analog tape and dumping them).
posted by saulgoodman at 8:16 AM on July 8, 2008

Holy shit, I had no idea this was here. This is awesome.

As for recording gear, I'm currently without it, but the reason why is a little awesome: I was settling into GarageBand on my MacBook Pro and really liking what I could do with it. And then, excited to put some guitar down over loops I'd made with the John Bonham tracks that were linked a while ago, I stupidly ran a cable from the Line Out jack of my amp into the mike input of my laptop. It was one of those things where, as I did it, my head's saying, "you know, this is a really, really dumb thing to try" just as my nose is saying, "hey, is that hot solder I smell?" So the sound card's melted (although the computer works fine otherwise) and I'm back out of the home recording game, leaving me out of MeFi Music except for when rough mixes of my band's stuff floats up.
posted by COBRA! at 9:32 AM on July 8, 2008

That's wonderful and awful, COBRA!. Can I suggest you look into a USB sound device? We miss you.
posted by cortex at 10:02 AM on July 8, 2008

I actually bought one, but I still can't get any sound in (I can get sound out, though, at least). The situation's compounded by the fact that it's my work computer and I was stretching the "we want you to use it as much as possible so that you'll be a full-on Mac Guy as quickly as possible" mandate a little farther than I probably should have.

We're actually getting pretty close to having a crapload of new Derailleur tracks mixed down (I'd detail the setup for that, to stick with the theme of the thread, except that I really don't know the details-- I kind of intentionally stay out of that end of it because we already have a bunch of cooks working on the broth and I figure one more will just get in the way), so I'll have more stuff to upload soon. And like I just posted over in the bitter and suite thread, I mean to be a better MeFi Music citizen and do more participation when I don't have my own stuff up.
posted by COBRA! at 10:21 AM on July 8, 2008

COBRA!: Sad to hear it. Hope you get up and running again soon.

Until you mentioned it, cortex, it had never even occurred to me that there might be external USB-interfacing sound cards on the market now. USB audio I/O devices are old news to me of course, but for some reason, the possibility of external sound cards just never even entered my mind until now. So now my mind is just blown.

(How big of an issue, if any, is latency with one of those puppies anyway?)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:32 AM on July 8, 2008

(How big of an issue, if any, is latency with one of those puppies anyway?)

Anecdotally, I saw a lot of complaining about latency when I was looking around for USB sound cards. Can't verify, though, since mine won't let anything in at all. The word on the street seems to be that Firewire-connected external sound cards don't have nearly the latency trouble.
posted by COBRA! at 11:38 AM on July 8, 2008

I use this thing with an ASIO driver and the latency is pretty minimal. I haven't really dabbled, so I can't speak to the overall hardware market on that front, but there may be a difference between bad experiences (or bad specific driver situations) and the actual viability of USB controllers in general.

I've heard nothing but happiness re: firewire devices, though, and if you're looking at going beyond just one or two channels at once then it's probably a necessity, since latency questions aside USB only has so much bandwidth.
posted by cortex at 11:48 AM on July 8, 2008

Yeah, I don't know about USB, but I've got very little latency (a few samples) with my Firewire box. Zero-latency monitoring, too, which is practically a requirement.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:49 AM on July 8, 2008

cortex: I tried one of those things myself before the one I use now. Couldn't ever get it up and running properly on my machine. I eventually figured out the problem was probably that I didn't have my system configured to run the on-board USB ports in 2.0 mode.

But whether it's through a firewire or USB interface, sampling resolution and bit depth is limited to what your sound card can support with one of those types of external I/O devices, isn't it? I think that's why I ended up settling on a device with a PCI card that supported higher sampling rates. My previous sound card couldn't handle full-duplexing either (not that I ever record more than a couple of channels at a time anyway).
posted by saulgoodman at 12:08 PM on July 8, 2008

My FW interface will, allegedly, do 192KHz, and squeeze quite a few of those tracks over the FW400 pipe. (Whether anyone actually needs that kind of sample rate in the home studio--or anywhere--is a discussion for another thread, though.) Seriously, though, if you've got the PCI slot, and the drivers are stable, may as well stick with that. But know that if you come to the dark (that is, Mac) side, Firewire is a viable (and, actually, pretty great) option.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:26 PM on July 8, 2008

if you come to the dark (that is, Mac) side

FWIW, I would gladly come to the Mac side--if only I had the spare parts to build one!

posted by saulgoodman at 12:57 PM on July 8, 2008

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