Other guitar-y things

Recording at home- what do you use?

26

I got a new Tascam DP -32SD yesterday. It's a lot of unit for 500 bucks.

27

I still have both the Tascam 80-8 w/dBX, 8 tracks onto 1/2" tape, and the later Tascam MSR-16, 16 tracks on 1/2". Both had extensive use "in their day," and I hold onto them mostly because I've stored so many of the work tapes.

There's also an ADAT in the rack behind me, a piece I didn't use for long, but, again, I have material recorded in the format. A Tascam DA-40 DAT recorder rests handsomely in the same rack - used for 2-track mixdown for the few minutes or months it was the Thing to Do. During that same period I used the living bejesus out of a small portable DAT recorder, and I have dozens of DAT tapes chock full of all that raw material. Lots of gigs, many many hours of close recorded resonator from the summer I spent developing my approach to that instrument.

At one time...and for a long time...my home studio (which made many moves with me) was built around a proper (if hardly pro-grade) console: first a wonderful Carvin 16x8 from 1981, later a Mackie 24x8. Through most of those years I mixed down to a Tascam 35-2B "half-track" RTR. This was all good enough stuff in the day, and I felt (and was) fortunate to have it all. At one time there were a couple shoulder-high racks filled with the stuff you put in racks, and several patchbays, everything meticulously patched together.

I came to the computer-based DAW approach late and grudgingly. I, too, liked rolling tape and getting the sense of capturing a performance. And while I never minded overdubbing, even on dubs and punch-ins I was looking for the performance. Mixdown was every bit as much a performance, with dozens of fader moves, effect changes, eq tweaks, etc to practice and memorize before eventually getting the best mix you could. There was something exhilarating about it - especially for an obsessive perfectionist. I liked the smell, the bouncing VU meters, the tactility of handling tape, the warmth of the decks, the enforced breaks in the process waiting for tape to move, the sound it made accelerating and decelerating over the heads, splicing.

And, at time time (mid-late 90s) there was still that thing that digital "sounded" cold or sterile, and we rhapsodized about needing the analog preamps in the board and the recorder to get the tone we were after. Well...we've become accepting of a wider range of recorded tones and textures, the gear has gotten sooo much better, and times change. So OK.

Anyway, we'd started that album on the 16-track Tascam - then wanted to have some production and mixing done in Nashville, and the guy we worked with (ex-King Crimson drummer Ian Wallace) wanted the tracks in ProTools. I took the 16-track down, we transferred the tracks to his PT, and off we went.

I then bought Digital Performer, preferring the interface to PT (finding it more "Mac-like"), and we finished the album that way. Kinda had the best of both worlds (as I saw it at the time) on that project, with analog and tape up-front, then the advantages of cleanup, precision, and ease of mixing in the DAW. I got plenty familiar with DP over several years and projects working in it. Because I anticipated moving existing raw takes from the 16-track to the computer (and had found the process of doing it multiple batches tedious and tricky to sync), I bought two of MOTU's first-generation 828 firewire interfaces, so I could bring in (or record) 16 tracks simultaneously.

Well, downsize, modernize, rationalize. The big mixers are gone, but I've retained a rack-mount Mackie 16x4 VLZ-pro (or something) in case I actually ever need that many simultaneous input channels, or get around to moving all that archival material from the 8- or 16-track RTRs. I have enough snakage to do it, and I could get any of the RTR stuff patched in a day or so. (It kills me to have gear around that can't be used immediately, but time, space, and the willingness to fight cabling are all at a premium.)

That is, I could get tape rolling if I replaced the decomposed pinch roller on the 16-track, could find a replacement drive band for the 2-track, and baked the tapes One More Time.

The racks full of outboard have been (appropriately) compressed to a 30" under-desk with the last pieces I could let go - an ancient Loft delay/flanger, a Joe Meek optical compressor, Rane DC-24 comp-limiter-expander, a pair of dbx 163 compressors, a pair of FMR RNC comps, the Yamaha SPX-90 digital reverb, and the pair of MOTU interfaces (though I'd need to convert from FireWire 400 to Something Else to get them into my current recording Mac).

Ugh. So there's the history, context, and inventory of nostalgic old gear I still have, and could reasonably make functional. Sorry.


But. What do I actually use? Funny you should ask. Since our last move, four years ago, I've been intending (but failing) to "get the studio operational" in its current home, basing it around a much more streamlined approach, and one more in keeping with how I might actually productively record. Any recording I've done in that period has been either very casual, into the Mac with a tiny interface - or into the great Roland R-26 portable I carried to so many Roundups and other Gretsch events. Then I've edited in Audacity on the Mac.

But just last night, I bit the procrastinatory bullet and configured the fabulous iConnectivity Audio4 Plus interface to the iMac and small JBL 3-series (I think) monitors, and got it all working. It's trim and functional, and will let me make what use can be made of the small space I have; it will also let me finish projects that are begun elsewhere, like in studios with proper space for drums and other players, etc.

The Audio4 Plus has 4 combo XLR/1/4" inputs with pretty good pres (at least Focusrite-y in quality), AND supports connection to two USB sources (PC/Mac and iOS) simultaneously, routing both audio and MIDI across the connections. So the iMac and the iPad become one entity, with all the synth tools and toys in the iOS environment, AND I can connect any/all of my MIDI keyboards. Once set up, it's all internally routable from anywhere to anywhere - so I can use Digital Performer on the Mac and/or Auria Pro and CubasIS on the iPad.

I figure the four inputs are sufficient for me to do anything I do, in stereo, as well as accommodate vocals, bass, or another instrumentalist if we happen to do small combo work of that sort, or overdub together toward a bigger project (more likely). Son-drummer and I have experimented with 2-mic setups on his kit, but he's also using more electronics...so we'll submix his contribution through an external mixer on the way into the Audio 4+.

I can take my entire guitar signal chain (another, MUCH longer essay) either from the outs on the Kemper (alas, its USB port is not for audio) - or from the USB outs of the other three guitar processors I've been spearminting with. And, since my wife is acutely intolerant of anything that "throbs" or "screams" (ie, most of what I do), I can do all of this at tiny volume, or inside headphones (loving my Sennheiser HD600s).

Well, I'll have to record my voice somehow, and I'm oddly self-conscious about the way that will sound bellowing out into the silence while I'm in the cans. But my voice is another problem, and one that no gear can solve.

I've been pretty happy with the plug-ins in Performer - but of course am aware there's a whole world of others out there, as well as loads of virtual instruments. (I just think I have all that covered in iOS.)

I'm curious about Logic - my son uses it - but I'm familiar enough with DP's interface that I'll stick there until I run up against a reason to change.

So...a quick answer, directly responsive to your question, Kevin: I'm a real fan of the Audio4+ interface. I think it's the ideal centerpiece for any project studio. Enough inputs, enough outputs (4 plus headphone), lots of separate mixes (like to the four analog outs, the 2 USB paths, headphone), and the most robust MIDI implementation imaginable. At the very least it's worth investigating as you assay the other suspects (Presonus, UA, Apogee, Tascam, Focusrite, everybody got interfaces. iConnectivity's is just so expansive in its functionality.)

Pair that with any DAW software, laptop or desktop (or, I guess, iOS), and you're good.

28

I’ve had Cubase and Sonar. I’m currently working with sonar on a two channel Tascam usb interface. I had a presonus interface but it got lightning fried a few years ago.

29

Sorry, folks. KInda got sidelined on this for a couple of weeks thanks to a "build error" in our sewer drain system- a 32 yr old flaw that only reared its smelly, ugly head about 14 days ago when my lady and I woke up to a flooded, smelly basement.

All has now been largely rectified and I have time again to look into things once more. I picked up a copy of Power Tracks Pro Audio, but I fear that may have been an error. While it works with direct inputs and the latency is minimal to the point of absence, it simply refuses to play nice with pre-recorded arrangements in mp3 or wav form, generating nothing but noise on playback.

So the search continues, and I will continue to keep folks abreast of the journey.

30

Taken a further step backwards. Wading through heaps of stuff in the basement I unearthed my old Denon cassette deck -- hadn't been plugged in for at least 15 years. After a quick trial run with a pre-recorded Best Of Gallagher& Lyle cassette, I dug around and found a stash (OK, just two actually) unopened TDK blank cassettes and a pair of Maplin (sort of Radio Shack) pressure zone microphones, which I mounted onto a couple of pieces of plywood offcuts that were lying about.

The Denon has two mic inputs so I'm now set up for some live solo bashing to fill my copious free time while confined to barracks. When we are no longer under house arrest I'll get the guys round -- a couple of acoustic guitars, acoustic bass and Cajon. If anyone goofs we start again.

32

This was my home setup in the 80's...Scully 8-track, Ampex 2-track, Altec 250SU mixer, Altec 436C compressor, 2-Fisher Spacexpander reverbs, and a pair of 15" Tannoys.

33

Old school. Roland 2480.

– Bigsbyslur

... was the basis of my little home studio for ten years, actually. Had 4 built-in effects cards, CD burner and I added a remote monitor, at the time a monster 22-incher.

But it quickly became a dinosaur, just about the time I began to think I knew my way around it..

34

Any updates, Kevin?

Ultimately depends upon your purpose, and budget, but I use Logic Pro as well - as it includes many virtual instruments and other interesting stuff (such as drum program) on Mac. Linked to tutorials, so you can check whether it's too complicated for you or not. Switched from PC with Reaper, though I still use it occasionally. As for MIDI controller, I chose AKAI and it works fine with Logic. Hard to add anything, but it's a great value and relatively easy to learn (many guides on the youtube which is certainly useful!).

Twice that Jazzhands11 said, good luck with your journey. It's a rabbit hole I fell down several years ago, and proper research is a must!

– josh_p

I wanted to add on the MIDI controller idea, I also use AKAI thing (just a different model Josh_P mentions MPK Mini MKII and I have APC Key 25) that's just great. I use it with Logic Pro X and it works just fine. As it was said it's relatively easy to learn how to use it, which was an important point for me on the stage of choosing the controller.

36

In my home I use a RME Babyface with a Mackie Onyx 8 channel pre/converter into the Babyface ADAT in. I use the the Mackie to route some nice pres into the Babyface (2 channel Langevin DVC, 2 channel Drawmer 1960, (2) Focusrite Ones, and (2) Presonus RC500s). I use Sonar X3 (multi-track) and Sound Forge Pro 12 (2 track) in all of my 3 recording computers which are HP Elitebooks all tweaked specifically for audio recording still running Windows 7 Ultimate. I have the same HP docking stations in my home and project studios, so I can move computers back and forth between both places effortlessly. The interfaces are plugged into the USB ports of the docking stations. I also use a UAD laptop solo card in my house, and a UAD QUAD Accelerator in my studio so I can run UAD plug-ins in both places.

37

when the computer is up and running shortly, i'll be using a MacBook Pro with Logic Pro and a Focusrite Scarlett interface. beyond that i have no idea what i'll use as far as microphones, signal processing equipment, plug-ins, or monitoring is concerned. my only experience with digital recording has been using GarageBand with an M-Audio MIDI keyboard controller, and i have never recorded a note of guitar to disk. it will be a work in progress.

38

I've used Garageband a bit, and Logic Pro a bit. I hope to get more adept at Logic, but in the meantime, a month or so ago, I picked up one of these that popped up at a local store, used. A Zoom R8. I think I just might find it easier to work with the drum pads, and the more hands-on approach of actually setting the faders and turning the knobs, rather than using a mouse.

I think there may also be something to be gained – for me anyway – by recording music without the visual feedback of the wave form on the computer screen. Maybe this way requires me to listen more with my ears, rather than having the visual distraction of the wave form?

Anyway, I think it might at least help me capture ideas quicker when they're fresh, and work out the initial tracks and parts, then move it into Logic for editing and fine-tuning and adding any software instruments that may be required. Plus, the R8 also works as an interface and a DAW controller (though I haven't figured out how to set that up yet).

39

Others I know have had good results with Ableton.

i have a friend here in Charlottesville, a keyboardist who's actually somewhat well-known in the limited jazz-cum-new age space, who's working on a lockdown album using Logic and Ableton. he says that Ableton is great for mangling samples and manipulating sound in other ways, but dumps the Ableton tracks into Logic to mix. i've heard a sample track, and it appears to work quite well indeed.

i've been considering some sort of small multi-tracker to use as a sketch pad, but i'm not made of money, y'know?

40

Since my last post, I’ve reverted back to Reaper into a Focusrite 18i20 interface. There’s a ton (and I mean a metric TON) of stuff that Reaper will do that I’ve never even needed to try to learn to touch. I can record, edit, render....I came up during the tape-only days so even the most basic stuff on a DAW still blows my mind. So my Flintstone-ish approach to recording has been an advantage, I think, because the concept is to get it to sound the same in the room as you want it to sound during playback and try one’s hardest to suck as little as possible during tracking.

The last step for me has been dropping to my knees in gratitude to the digital gods for providing the capacity to hold the necessary amount of buckets full of turd polish to address the aforementioned suction. Reaper does that painlessly for me by just running it using the most basic, bare bones procedures.

Just my opinion, worth every penny you paid for it.

41

I started home recording back in the miid '80s using a domestic open spool tape recorder I'd bought from a boot fair (yard sale). I would record some stuff then using my Watkins Copicat as a rudimentary mixer play it back and overdub another couple of tracks as I bounced down to cassette (or maybe it was the other way around, it was a long time ago). In '87 I made the leap to 'proper' multi tracking with a Foster 250 4tk portastudio. I fooled around with it for a couple of years and in '89 worked as a session player for a guy I knew who was making up some demos. I got friendly with the studio owner and started working as a tape-op/tea-boy in late '89.

The studio had an Allen & Heath Sabre 28ch desk, Foster E-16 tape recorder and we mastered to a Tascam 32, then later a Tascam DA30. A Studer B67 was added later, around the same time we went 24trk (3 Tascam 8 track digital machines linked together). That was when I bought the E-16 from the studio and set up at home - about '96/'97 I guess. I later replaced the E-16 with an Alesis HD24 which I still have and use occasionally.

So my background is very much in the analogue/tape domain, and like some of you guys I bought into the analogue-is-king thought processes, but the idea of computer-based recording really appealed to me for the simplicity if nothing else. I tried various recording softwares for the PC with varying degrees of success, but nothing really cut the mustard until I got my iMac in '10 and tried Garage Band for the first time. For what is essentially a beginner/amateur programme I have to say I was impressed. So much so I dropped the dollar and went to Logic Pro X a little while later. It is infinitely more powerful and capable than the studio I worked at in the '90s and cost a tiny fraction. The effects and processors it comes with are perfectly OK and useable, but I found that branching out and getting a few dedicated plug-ins is well worth the investment.

Not counting mics and speakers my full recording kit now is:

  • 2010 iMac 27" with 16Gb RAM
  • Logic Audio Pro X
  • Focusrite Saffire PRO40 interface
  • Various plug-ins; mostly Waves, but my Line 6 stuff works on there too so I use those sometimes
  • And this morning I scored a Waves Soundgrid Server which I can offload the plug-ins onto to reduce CPU usage in the Mac.

And that's it. Computer aside I have a recording and mixing facilities way beyond my requirements for about a grand (without the plug-ins and Soundgrid it'd be less than half that).

42

oh boy, what i wouldn't give to work on an Allen and Heath desk. around the turn of the century i worked with a crew throwing underground raves in San Francisco, and for one event the sound guy brought in an A/H mixer which was the only mixer i've ever heard where turning the bass knob to 0 actually takes out all the bass. and taking the bass completely out of electronic dance music is quite a technological feat.

43

It was a great desk, for sure. Completely modular, so you can have as many or as few input channels as you need (or can afford). I think ours was the biggest frame available (If I recall correctly it could hold a max of 32 channels), with 16 sub-group/monitor channels. We had 20 inputs when I started there and I think we were up to 28 by the time the equipment was finally sold.

In the very early '90s A&H introduced an upgrade to their tone circuitry which changed the cut/boost from 12dB to 15dB. All the new channels we added had the upgrade already, but during the rare downtime we had Graham and I methodically worked our way through the original 20 changing the facia plate and upgrading the circuitry. Very happy memories...


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