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Big rich deep warm "studio" sound on a laptop?

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  • Big rich deep warm "studio" sound on a laptop?

    I'm trying to convince my son to choose/learn DIY recording and save paying studio rates for his "finished" songs. As it is he has been spending $1000-$2000+ to go into the studio each time he wants to get a couple/few songs down, and the finished product is still just "good demos" - not Ocean Way or Abbey Road - so no need to spend so much IMO.

    I came from the days when it really wan't possible to get that "big" studio sound without going to someone that had the big consoles and tons of outboard gear. Even for something simple like just synths plugged in direct for tracks or score music - I was only able to achieve the big studio sound in the big studio - but the times have changed!

    So, other than (presumed) good ears - and super expensive top level gear - where can I point him to in the most/all digital world as a DIY shortcut to "big" sound on a small budget?? (I'm pretty sure he's using Logic & a Macbook). Part of it is - he needs to learn the skills to record/engineer - the other part is, he needs to accept the fact that no matter how much he pays for independent recording studio time, it's still going to be demo quality less he stumbles upon underpriced, undiscovered talent behind the glass.... thus - no need to spend the big bucks just yet.
    Last edited by iGirl; 04-27-2015, 10:00 AM.
    Music Industry Veteran in every way - stage, recording, film and manufacturing.

  • #2
    The computer itself has absolutely no affect on making the sound bigger or better or any of that stuff. Once the analog signals are converted to digital by an interface you are only dealing with digital "ones and zeroes" There is no such thing as fatter or better digital bits when you're working with digital.

    I just wanted to be sure your understand that A computer is not a recording console and you don't get better music just because its the best or the fastest. Computer speed may affect how well programs run, the number of plugins you can load, and how fast it can move data which is important. A Faster/newer computers that's optimized can reduce latency and allow you to run the latest programs. You should always check any software or hardware against the computer specs to be sure it will run properly.

    The 4 essential items for digital recording are:

    1. The interface
    2. The Computer
    3. The DAW program
    4. The Studio monitors
    5. The mics and gear you feed the interface

    If you don't have all 4 you cannot produce a decent recording. The item most think of as producing quality sound is the interface. Fortunately or Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Just about all budget interfaces produce equally good recordings. The converters are pretty close to equal quality and its only those at the high end of the gear pyramid that may have some audible benefits but even there so much of sound quality is based on mixing skill and its unlikely even a lower end interface will impact the recording. There are some with better preamps of course so choosing one that will meet your micing needs is important.

    You low end interfaces will only have one or two channels. If you're going to need to record for example a drum set, you'd want more channels so you can record all the mics at the same time. If you're doing all solo stuff then 2~4 channels may be fine. Most people can only play only play instrument at a time and since you have virtually limitless tracks you can record everything track by track one at a time. I usually run 16 channels out of 24 and leave my studio wired with mics in place. I can record one track or all 16 at the same time.

    A note here. Tracking doesn't require allot of horsepower and the DAW program has very little effect on the recorded tracks. The path digital data takes comes straight from the interface and is bussed to the hard drive. Its not like you're running through a recording console to a tape recorder where all the channels need to be EQed prior to going on tape. You record the full frequency response from an instrument and do all of that stuff mixing. That's where the DAW program comes into play.

    You can use some virtual effects and amp emulators tracking. but because it takes time to convert the analog signal to digital, process that data digitally with virtual effects, then send it back to the interface and convert it back to analog so it can be heard, all that bussing and number crunching takes time. If you have a very fast computer the latency can be low enough to deal with but most home computers usually have around 100ms which is enough to cause some slap back echo. It can make a fast lead part sound sloppy because you're not hearing the music in real time. There's more to this as well, but I'll skip over this for now.

    Most interfaces have real time monitoring so what goes in goes straight to the monitors without any delay. The playback tracks are synced to the playback and the new tracks align flawlessly.

    There are 4 basic types of interfaces. USB, PCI/PCIe Firewire, and lightning bolt. If you're going to use a laptop then you'll likely use USB or firewire unless you have an apple with a lightning bolt port.

    The drawback of using a laptop is you only have one internal drive and that drive gets fragmented, cluttered with the huge wave files. In a desktop DAW you can have several internal drives and write directly to an independent disk. This allows the OS and programs to run at max speed on the main drive and not be affected by the wave files. you also have two or more sets of hard drive heads working at the same time that makes for even lower latency. That's and the fact a laptop is all about energy saving energy, its ratings are usually less efficient compared to a desktop. Main thing is if you work off the C Drive you only want to keep a couple of projects on the OS drive at a time and archive it on an external backup drive to keep the C drive from bogging down.

    The biggest item for sound quality is your studio monitors. Without monitors you have no idea whatsoever how good your recordings are nor can you do any worthwhile mixing. Monitors have an ultra flat response and are mostly colorless to the music. What you hear is what you get and anything you mix on them will play back well on consumer playback systems, computer monitors, ear buds, Hi Fi and car audio systems. Consumer gear hypes the sound quality to make small speakers sound bigger then they are. This is why you cant use them for mixing. If the speaker has hyped highs and lows, you wind up having too little highs and lows after you mix.

    Monitors can be the most expensive item but there are a few good Budget buys out there that wont completely bust your bank. M-Audio for example sells the BX5's for around $150 each I bought a set on sale for $200 and they were worth every cent. Many monitors have process for a single monitor so be sure you're careful there when buying. I wouldn't bother with anything under say $200.

    Next is the DAW program. There are several you can download for free and even Reaper has a free to try download. The rest will vary in cost and what you get with the program. There's not that much difference between the actual programs in what they can do, in fact you can load the same song into Cubase and Sonar and do a blind listening test and not be able to tell the two apart. However the bundled effects plugins and virtual instruments are a different story. Some DAW programs may only have the basic necessities. A reverb, and EQ, a compressor etc. Higher end programs may have a whole deluxe package of high end plugins that make the DAW program a good buy vs buying those programs separately.

    Workflow is the other item. Some DAW programs can be easier to run and do specific things easily. Some may be better for keyboard and midi, some are better for composing, and some try to do everything equally well but none are easy to work with. I come from an old school analog tape background. I tried out several back in the beginning. I was most comfortable with Cakewalk which a cross between an actual tape studio and Microsoft office for doing things. Steinberg is similar in most aspects except all the menus are backwards right to left. Guess this is because they drive on the left side of the road in Europe. The worst I ever used was Logic. Whoever wrote that early version surely never spend a day in an actual studio. I spend two weeks working with that program trying to get tracks to record and play back right and it still baffled me. The newer versions are supposed to be better but they are mac only now so I wouldn't know first hand.

    There are many others so trying out a few can be most beneficial.

    External gear like mics is another item you can do pretty good on a budget. Of course there are allot of mics out there now and your high dollar mics are still some of the best for sound quality. You can add a high quality mic preamp to an interface too and bypass its internal preamp on many. Just about everything else like mixing consoles, hardware effects etc really aren't needed any more. You could incorporate their use if you want but its not a must have item like it was for analog studios. I for example do allot of recording with a hardware preamp and effects units for my guitar. I also use an amp simulator unit recording bass direct and it basically eliminates my need to do allot of tweaking when I mix.

    If you use live drums, theres no real budget short cut, you really need 4 or more mics with a quality sound room to make them sound good. If you use samples or drum machines, they have never been better. I have about a half dozen electric drum sets I use all the time. Trying to get my miced set to sound as good takes all my efforts tracking and mixing to match the quality now.

    Everything else as far as quality comes from skill and experience. Gear, programs and computers only account for maybe 5% of the recording quality. The other 95% comes from knowing what you're doing to get the most from the recording, and of course having a good sound source, amps guitars etc.

    Of course none of it is going to make up for a poor musical performance. The ears can hear through a bad recording and hear a great musical performance. If you hear a led zeppelin song on a crappy $2 AM radio with a 1" mono speaker with practically no fidelity, you still hear the musical performance and know those boys can play. Take a poor performance and you can have the best engineers and gear in the world and still sound bad. There are only so many tricks you can pull in a studio, and the best performers are still going to be the most successful in the end.

    Also check out this site. It covers everything I mentioned in an easy to read format. The menus on the left cover just about everything you need to get going and should cover all the details I missed. Anything you don't understand you can just Google up further info on them.
    Last edited by WRGKMC; 04-27-2015, 10:50 AM.


    • #3
      Thanks a million for this - I hope you copy/pasted all this from somewhere you had it written previously! Of course you have no way of knowing what experience level I was from the original post, but I actually know all the above (though my son may not). My earliest DIY recordings were on reel to reel 4 track and when I eventually went digital (partly), it was in the dawn of MIDI, before anyone had ever even heard of digital audio. My first sequencer was on 5.25" floppy disk run on an Apple IIe - and I bought MOTU Performer when it was version 1.0. So to make it short - I was there from the 70s, and walked the path into digital through the 80s and 90s from both the creative/user side and developer's view.

      Yes, you're right - the digital data is just data. So I guess the question is - moving it into that form, with the big rich deep warm tone I mentioned? Assuming it's done one track at a time - one good stereo tube preamp & a couple of good mics? I know he'll have decent monitors...(maybe not Genelecs) and already has a couple of decent mics... If he were looking to change DAW I'd probably tell him Digital Performer is a good one to look at as well. Anyway if latency isn't an issue (maybe he goes to a desktop or external HDD setup) the question of top end effects (particularly reverb) is another possible variant for achieving "big" sound IMO. An yet maybe another piece to this is done in the mastering process - more outboard gear - or emulations of...

      Anyway your answer is good, and maybe that's all he needs to know at this point.
      Music Industry Veteran in every way - stage, recording, film and manufacturing.


      • #4
        Good microphones and a good sounding room to record in are probably the most important aspects of getting a good sound.

        I recommend Reaper as a DAW. It is only $60 for small scale use and does not use up a lot of computer resources.
        Every worm, every insect, every animal is working
        for the ecological wellbeing of the planet.

        Only we humans, who claim to be the most intelligent
        species here, are not doing that. ~Sadhguru


        • #5
          Another for Reaper here, great DAW.

          I have been using an EV-RE20 mic lately and would actually describe its sound as "big, rich, deep and warm".
          My backing track channel:


          • #6
            Any examples of deep rich sound? You mean like audiophile quality lounge singing ?
            Originally posted by Unconfigured Static HTML Widget...

            Write Something, or Drag and Drop Images Here...


            • #7
              Originally posted by 1001gear View Post
              Any examples of deep rich sound? You mean like audiophile quality lounge singing ?
              Sure just like this! (Sorry I couldn't resist) lol
              Music Industry Veteran in every way - stage, recording, film and manufacturing.


              • Phil O'Keefe
                Phil O'Keefe commented
                Editing a comment
                You go iGirl!

            • #8
              Can't believe that's Label stuff.
              Originally posted by Unconfigured Static HTML Widget...

              Write Something, or Drag and Drop Images Here...


              • #9
                A decent sounding room is half the battle.
                flip the phase


                • #10
                  a decent mic
                  a decent preamp
                  a decent compressor

                  then there are a heap of good plugins to use

                  if you don't have a properly treated room, you're wasting your money buying a condenser mic... you are FAR better off with something like a shure sm7b for vocals

                  but i'd suggest building some bass traps for the area where you'll be mixing/tracking

                  get the best monitors you can afford... but more importantly, LEARN them... learn how they translate to other systems

                  learn the craft

                  2 plugins i would suggest for someone that doesn't have a lot of experience are the waves Chris Lord-Alge Signature Series bundle... and the metric halo channel strip 3... look out for when these are on special at places like audio deluxe... the logic plugins are great though

                  then when the song is finished, take it to a good mastering engineer... they'll have great analog gear and will be able to get the song to the next level (providing the mix is ok)

                  the signal you record is where it all starts... get that right and the song will be a lot easier to mix and you'll have a far better chance of achieving the sound you're after... getting a crappy recording and trying to fix it in the mix is like a dog chasing it's tail imo

                  start with a decent mic... a decent preamp... and a decent (hardware) compressor
                  Last edited by mistersully; 05-11-2015, 12:14 AM.


                  • #11
                    We did all the basic tracking for our last album at home including all instrument tracks and simply took our hard drive to our preferred studio to do the vocals and mix and process it to take to mastering. Cut our costs way down because we did most everything at home. It sounded really good though not as nice as the instrument tracks we took in the studio but we didnt have Neuman U mics and an SSL at home and given the money we saved Im happy with that decision. The results were quite good and the cost savings massive. If your son is not a major artist or getting a steal to do it in the studio then he is probably throwing good money away IMO.
                    Stupidity in of itself is a fine art.


                    • #12
                      Thanks again to all - good thoughts I'l be passing along. I'm having a hard time convincing the son to do pre-production tracking to save money. It does take some skill on certain things but for plugging in DIs and tracking or even laying down guide tracks, there's no reason not to. It also affords one the luxury of time and experimentation which can often result in happy accidents.
                      Music Industry Veteran in every way - stage, recording, film and manufacturing.


                      • #13
                        There really are no happy accidents in a studio because you rarely play together anyways. Its always best to rehearse it to death outside of the studio.
                        Stupidity in of itself is a fine art.


                        • #14
                          Originally posted by iGirl View Post
                          Thanks again to all - good thoughts I'l be passing along. I'm having a hard time convincing the son to do pre-production tracking to save money. It does take some skill on certain things but for plugging in DIs and tracking or even laying down guide tracks, there's no reason not to. It also affords one the luxury of time and experimentation which can often result in happy accidents.
                          I stress the importance of pre-production to every band and artist I work with, and if I'm producing too (as opposed to only engineering), I insist on it, and attend some of those pre-production sessions to see how they're going and to offer my input and suggestions. It makes zero sense to go into a commercial studio without 1) having the material well rehearsed and 2) having all the arrangements worked out. Trying to write or arrange in the studio is just not cost effective, and IMHO it should be avoided unless you're U2 or someone with more money than they know what to do with. If you can competently do some of the work yourself then that's even better, but at the bare minimum, you need to go in with your act together, knowing your stuff backwards and forwards.

                          You and your son may find one of my recent articles to be of interest...


                          "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."
                          - George Carlin

                          "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."
                          - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

                          "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."
                          - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter