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Chris Loeffler

Recommendations for a semi-pro home recording setup

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Phil- I have been using a native instruments audio interface for about five years now into logic X for recording. If I was ready to scrap all that today and say I wanted the ability to record studio-quality tracks piece by piece, what would you recommend? My goal would be to capture individual tracks for my own mixing but also to have them be high enough quality that I could send them out to an actual engineer like yourself for professional results.

 

Enlighten me on your recommended preamp’s, Mike’s, and DAW.

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Style of music?

 

Types of sound sources you'll be recording?

 

Do you ever envision yourself recording multiple sound sources simultaneously, and if so, what? Two acoustic guitars? Guitar and vocals? Piano and guitar? Acoustic drums and bass? Bouzouki, bells and bagpipes?

 

What kind of room / environment do you have to work with?

 

Any special considerations, such as a need to record primarily direct, etc?

 

How is your current computer situation? Do you have a Mac or PC you can use?

 

How about your current (if any) transducers - mics and monitors?

 

 

 

 

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PS What, if anything, do you dislike about your current approach? What challenges are you facing?

 

Also, what do you like about your current setup / approach?

 

How do you feel about Logic - pretty happy there?

 

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Man, ask a stupid question, get 1 million good questions!

 

Lets say rock, with anything from mic only acoustic to face-melting fuzz, with vocals and bass direct. No hard requirement for dual input recording, but a two-mic acoustic option would be a bonus.

 

A relatively neutral room. Treated, so it isn’t a ****************-show of reflections, but not necessarily “sweet”.

 

I have a MAC (duh, Logic) and a PC I could recruit (some bloatware I would need to address).

 

I have MAudio B monitors and am demoing the Mackie Thump Boosted. A couple of classic Shure mics, one maudio conducted mic, and random stuff.

 

I don’t necessarily like/hate anything about my current setup, other than I haven’t invested enough time to feel ownership and am wondering if there is a better way. I like logic and the simplicity of the NI interface, and I’m mostly wondering if I’m half-assimg it or if there is a superior platform so when I catch the lightning in a bottle I’m not limited by the capture.

 

Edited by Chris Loeffler

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To capture lightning in a bottle, it needs to be happening in the room. :idea::)

 

If it IS happening in the room, capturing it is relatively easy.... and the better the gear and the better the ear, the easier it is - or so I hear. ;)

 

If it's not happening, all of the gear in the world and all of the editing and production in the world won't make it happen.

 

 

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Chris, how often do you use plugins - either for virtual instruments or as effects / processors? Do you have a decent selection of good ones available to you?

 

 

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My recommendations would be to invest in a better interface, possibly a couple / few mics, and down the line, a nice channel strip or two.

 

For the interface, I'd suggest the Universal Audio Apollo Twin, or the Universal Audio Arrow if your computer has a Thunderbolt 3 connector. The Apollo Twin has great sound quality, built-in UAD-2 processing (Universal Audio's powered plugins are some of the best that you'll find anywhere), and it can be expanded by adding an outboard 8-channel ADAT lightpipe mic preamp, so you're covered even if you do need to expand later (so you can track a drum kit, more musicians at once, etc.)

 

For mics, it really depends on what you'll be recording. I'd suggest at least a decent set of small diaphragm condensers for utility use and for stereo miking acoustic guitars. The Rode M5's are great on a tight budget (~$200 for a pair), and if you can still find them, I really like the Blue Hummingbird a lot too, and a pair of those are not all that expensive. Whether or not to get a large diaphragm condenser would depend on how often you think you'll need to track vocals... you might be just as interested in getting a nice ribbon mic for use on guitar cabinets...

 

As far as the channel strip(s), we can talk about that after you try the stuff that's built into the Apollo - they have some really good emulations of classic gear.

 

 

 

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My recommendations would be to invest in a better interface,

? Because?

 

The Audio 6 (probably what he has) is a very fine AI and "upgrading" is likely to return precious little improvement if any in sound IMO.

 

Chris, what you have already provides you "the ability to record studio-quality tracks" easily. Frankly it sounds like more a question of learning more about recording and mixing than it does equipment by far. Your statement about not using plugins much if at all is glaring evidence of that. Don't waste money on hardware that you assume/imagine is going to magically make your mixes better. It won't. Learning more about recording and mixing will. FWIW

 

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Chris, which specific interface do you have? Bill's correct insofar as it possibly being capable of recording "studio-quality tracks."

 

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? Because?

 

The Audio 6 (probably what he has) is a very fine AI and "upgrading" is likely to return precious little improvement if any in sound IMO.

 

I made the assumption that he had an older interface that he wasn't crazy about. Plus, I am a BIG fan of the UA powered plugins, and the modern UA interfaces give him the ability to emulate some pretty classic front end signal paths, plus they give him the ability to use better plugins than what he's probably currently using when it comes time to mix... but you're correct that he may already have a decent enough interface, and I probably shouldn't have made the assumption that I did.

 

However, not all interfaces are created equal, and "studio quality" covers a pretty darned broad range.

 

Chris, what you have already provides you "the ability to record studio-quality tracks" easily. Frankly it sounds like more a question of learning more about recording and mixing than it does equipment by far.

 

No offense Bill, but now you're making some pretty big assumptions. :) Have you ever heard any of his recordings? Do you know what he knows and what he doesn't know? I've known Chris for a long time, and he's more knowledgeable than he lets on...

 

Your statement about not using plugins much if at all is glaring evidence of that.

 

Really? I know people who prefer to avoid plugins and who would much rather use hardware... and they make some pretty amazing sounding recordings that way...

 

Don't waste money on hardware that you assume/imagine is going to magically make your mixes better. It won't. Learning more about recording and mixing will. FWIW

 

I definitely agree that knowledge trumps hardware / gear, but there's a reason why the best engineers in the world tend to use high end gear. High end gear without the knowledge of how to get the best out of it is indeed wasted, but that doesn't mean gear doesn't make any difference.

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+1 on the Rode M5 stereo pair. I have those too, I've used them on both guitars and drum overheads. Very affordable and they get the job done.

 

Chris, you never mentioned what mics you already own. Maybe you can experiment with what you currently have, such as trying various mic positions, room locations, instrument-to-mic combinations. Anyway, a while back I was discussing with Phil about a new mic I got, the Shure SM81, it seems to record almost everything pretty well. especially acoustic instruments. Might be a bit biased since its currently my favourite mic. :smiley-lol:

 

Also, are you using any external mic preamps? Or just the built-in preamp of the interface? I find that mic preamps could make a big difference, especially with certain mics.

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? Because?

 

The Audio 6 (probably what he has) is a very fine AI and "upgrading" is likely to return precious little improvement if any in sound IMO.

 

Chris, what you have already provides you "the ability to record studio-quality tracks" easily. Frankly it sounds like more a question of learning more about recording and mixing than it does equipment by far. Your statement about not using plugins much if at all is glaring evidence of that. Don't waste money on hardware that you assume/imagine is going to magically make your mixes better. It won't. Learning more about recording and mixing will. FWIW

 

I agree with what you are saying, and I don’t disagree. Phil is right in that I tend to understate my pedigree because I work with giants like Phil and Craig Anderton, and I am also looking to start a conversation for other people who have less immediate access to them.

 

For my my specific goals, I am interested in capturing the highest quality raw tracks. I absolutely can mix and master, and I’m not that interested in that for myself. I can rock it for other people, but I don’t want to engineer my own tracks... I want to be creative, perform, and hand off the highest quality tracks to someone else.

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Chris, which specific interface do you have? Bill's correct insofar as it possibly being capable of recording "studio-quality tracks."

 

NI Audio 6

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I made the assumption that he had an older interface that he wasn't crazy about. Plus, I am a BIG fan of the UA powered plugins, and the modern UA interfaces give him the ability to emulate some pretty classic front end signal paths, plus they give him the ability to use better plugins than what he's probably currently using when it comes time to mix... but you're correct that he may already have a decent enough interface, and I probably shouldn't have made the assumption that I did.

 

However, not all interfaces are created equal, and "studio quality" covers a pretty darned broad range.

 

 

 

No offense Bill, but now you're making some pretty big assumptions. :) Have you ever heard any of his recordings? Do you know what he knows and what he doesn't know? I've known Chris for a long time, and he's more knowledgeable than he lets on...

 

 

 

Really? I know people who prefer to avoid plugins and who would much rather use hardware... and they make some pretty amazing sounding recordings that way...

 

 

 

I definitely agree that knowledge trumps hardware / gear, but there's a reason why the best engineers in the world tend to use high end gear. High end gear without the knowledge of how to get the best out of it is indeed wasted, but that doesn't mean gear doesn't make any difference.

 

You are kind, Phil.

 

Yes, I’m not a mook, and I know (at least theoretically) more than the average bear, but what’s also true is I have realized I don’t want to engineer for myself. For others, yes, I am happy to apply polish and such, but for my own stuff, I want to perform and be done. What I am curious about is what an engineer wants to make my scratch tracks mix-ready.

 

 

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+1 on the Rode M5 stereo pair. I have those too, I've used them on both guitars and drum overheads. Very affordable and they get the job done.

 

Chris, you never mentioned what mics you already own. Maybe you can experiment with what you currently have, such as trying various mic positions, room locations, instrument-to-mic combinations. Anyway, a while back I was discussing with Phil about a new mic I got, the Shure SM81, it seems to record almost everything pretty well. especially acoustic instruments. Might be a bit biased since its currently my favourite mic. :smiley-lol:

 

Also, are you using any external mic preamps? Or just the built-in preamp of the interface? I find that mic preamps could make a big difference, especially with certain mics.

 

I own quite a few. I have the classic shure assortment, I have a M-Audio st of matched stereo condenser mics, I have a few M-Audio M5s (I think, they are vocal mics), and some random vintage gear

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...but what’s also true is I have realized I don’t want to engineer for myself. For others, yes, I am happy to apply polish and such, but for my own stuff, I want to perform and be done.

 

Recording yourself can actually be very challenging. In spite of the success of the home recording revolution and the sheer amount of products available that are aimed at that market, it's not really as easy as some people might think.

 

It's not because the basics of recording are all that difficult to learn, but rather it's the different parts of the brain involved in the actual process of recording and playing... one is a very analytical / left-brain activity, while the other is very much a creative, right-brain activity. It can be challenging and distracting to have to quickly switch between the two over and over throughout the course of a tracking session.

 

I've been recording since the mid-late 1970s, and I'm pretty good at self-recording, yet I still enjoy it when I can focus on just playing and don't have to think about the recording side of things when I'm trying to wear the musician hat.

 

What I am curious about is what an engineer wants to make my scratch tracks mix-ready.

 

Two biggies for me: Clean, well-recorded tracks, and well organized and documented tracks / session files.

 

If I'm going to mix something, I want to mix - I'd rather not have to perform a lot of clean up (muting unwanted / unused tracks / parts / sections, getting rid of extraneous noises, tracking down and fixing polarity issues, clipping, etc.) and repairs / editing / fixing first. I'm probably going to do some of that anyway... and I'm probably going to organize things the way I like them laid out, but I don't want to have to spend a bunch of time trying to figure out which playlist or track contains the final vocal take or comp. Stuff like that should be clearly labeled.

 

If you're not good at things like comping and editing (and not everyone is), then that should be discussed with the mix engineer in advance.

 

And please, dear god, don't record everything slammed! I can't tell you how often I get tracks that were recorded at home that were waxed waaaay too hot - often to the point of clipping. Keep those level meters averaging in the -18 dBFS to -15 dBFS range... occasional peaks that run hotter are okay, but that's about where the average levels should sit - and nothing should be clipping - ever!

 

On a similar note, unless you're using heavy compression or EQ as a deliberate effect, go easy on it when tracking. I'm not suggesting that it shouldn't be used in the recording stage - only that it can be over-done... and if it is, it's very difficult to undo later.

 

Another thing that people sometimes don't realize - the arrangement can make all the difference in the mix. The better the song is arranged, the easier the mix is going to be, and usually, the better the final outcome is going to be.

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Phil, I definitely agree with you. Arrangement is very important. As I'm working on my songs lately, I feel like when the arrangement is good it almost doesn't need any mixing or processing, it already sounds pretty good. I think its something that a lot of new music creators struggle with, I suspect that a lot of their "mixing" issues are actually arrangement issues. Nowadays I'm a big proponent of getting the sounds right at the source. Arrangement and performance should come first, then capturing that sound properly comes next. I find that too many people these days use mixing as a clutch or bandaid fix, granted everyone's unique situation may call upon it. I remember a while back I had to use piezos to trigger most of the pieces of a drum set because I didn't have the budget at the time to set up proper mics. Anyway, its a work in progress and constantly a learning experience.

 

Chris, I think you mainly need to figure out what to prioritize first. See what in your current setup/gear works well, then see what holes do you have in your setup. You might already have all the gear necessary to do the things you need to do. Or you're just simply missing a piece of gear or two, it could as simple as getting an extra microphone or maybe better interface. Just gotta find what is your "bottleneck" in your setup.

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I made the assumption that he had an older interface that he wasn't crazy about. Plus, I am a BIG fan of the UA powered plugins, and the modern UA interfaces give him the ability to emulate some pretty classic front end signal paths, plus they give him the ability to use better plugins than what he's probably currently using when it comes time to mix... but you're correct that he may already have a decent enough interface, and I probably shouldn't have made the assumption that I did.

? Not following this. UA is simply a company that makes AIs, right? Plugins are not dependent on a specific AI or line of AIs, at least not that I've ever seen...and pretty much ANY AI gives him the ability to emulate some pretty classic front end signal paths.

 

However, not all interfaces are created equal, and "studio quality" covers a pretty darned broad range.
No argument there! But the diff's tend to be greatly exaggerated. :) I guarantee he can use the NI 6 to create studio quality stuff. And really the same is IMO true for most if not all AIs on the market today. The tech has gotten that good.

 

No offense Bill, but now you're making some pretty big assumptions. :) Have you ever heard any of his recordings? Do you know what he knows and what he doesn't know? I've known Chris for a long time, and he's more knowledgeable than he lets on...
No offense taken and certainly none meant to Chris. IMO they were reasonable assumptions given his initial posts (esp "I haven’t invested enough time to feel ownership" and stating how he hadn't put any time into using plugins), but that's all they were.

 

Really? I know people who prefer to avoid plugins and who would much rather use hardware... and they make some pretty amazing sounding recordings that way...
Of course. Again, assumptions......he didn't say "I avoid plugins because I have a lot of external equipment I use," just that he didn't use them. I won't disagree that I over-assumed. :)

 

I definitely agree that knowledge trumps hardware / gear, but there's a reason why the best engineers in the world tend to use high end gear. High end gear without the knowledge of how to get the best out of it is indeed wasted, but that doesn't mean gear doesn't make any difference.
Sure. And some of those reasons are actually about quality. ;) But again IMO the diff's in gear are greatly exaggerated, and the gap has closed sharply in recent years, esp with the proliferation of DAWs, VSTs, etc.

 

Bottom line: he's in great shape with the NI 6 and putting out big bucks on a "better" one would return precious little extra, if any, IMO.

 

 

 

 

 

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I agree with what you are saying, and I don’t disagree. Phil is right in that I tend to understate my pedigree because I work with giants like Phil and Craig Anderton, and I am also looking to start a conversation for other people who have less immediate access to them.

 

For my my specific goals, I am interested in capturing the highest quality raw tracks. I absolutely can mix and master, and I’m not that interested in that for myself. I can rock it for other people, but I don’t want to engineer my own tracks... I want to be creative, perform, and hand off the highest quality tracks to someone else.

Got ya and again sorry if what I said came off wrong. You're fine with the NI 6. :)

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Recording yourself can actually be very challenging. In spite of the success of the home recording revolution and the sheer amount of products available that are aimed at that market, it's not really as easy as some people might think.

 

It's not because the basics of recording are all that difficult to learn, but rather it's the different parts of the brain involved in the actual process of recording and playing... one is a very analytical / left-brain activity, while the other is very much a creative, right-brain activity. It can be challenging and distracting to have to quickly switch between the two over and over throughout the course of a tracking session.

 

I've been recording since the mid-late 1970s, and I'm pretty good at self-recording, yet I still enjoy it when I can focus on just playing and don't have to think about the recording side of things when I'm trying to wear the musician hat.

 

 

Two biggies for me: Clean, well-recorded tracks, and well organized and documented tracks / session files.

 

If I'm going to mix something, I want to mix - I'd rather not have to perform a lot of clean up (muting unwanted / unused tracks / parts / sections, getting rid of extraneous noises, tracking down and fixing polarity issues, clipping, etc.) and repairs / editing / fixing first. I'm probably going to do some of that anyway... and I'm probably going to organize things the way I like them laid out, but I don't want to have to spend a bunch of time trying to figure out which playlist or track contains the final vocal take or comp. Stuff like that should be clearly labeled.

 

If you're not good at things like comping and editing (and not everyone is), then that should be discussed with the mix engineer in advance.

 

And please, dear god, don't record everything slammed! I can't tell you how often I get tracks that were recorded at home that were waxed waaaay too hot - often to the point of clipping. Keep those level meters averaging in the -18 dBFS to -15 dBFS range... occasional peaks that run hotter are okay, but that's about where the average levels should sit - and nothing should be clipping - ever!

 

On a similar note, unless you're using heavy compression or EQ as a deliberate effect, go easy on it when tracking. I'm not suggesting that it shouldn't be used in the recording stage - only that it can be over-done... and if it is, it's very difficult to undo later.

 

Another thing that people sometimes don't realize - the arrangement can make all the difference in the mix. The better the song is arranged, the easier the mix is going to be, and usually, the better the final outcome is going to be.

Fantastic post. esp the recording vs mixing one's self part. This should be "stickied."

 

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? Not following this. UA is simply a company that makes AIs' date=' right? Plugins are not dependent on a specific AI or line of AIs, at least not that I've ever seen...and pretty much ANY AI gives him the ability to emulate some pretty classic front end signal paths.[/quote']

 

Universal Audio has their own proprietary UAD-2 plugins that run only on their own proprietary DSP's, which are built into some of their interfaces, and are also available on PCI-e cards and external firewire and Thunderbolt products.

 

General consensus among a lot of engineers is that they smoke a lot of the native plugins on the market. FWIW, I concur with that opinion.

 

https://www.uaudio.com/uad-accelerators.html

 

https://www.uaudio.com/uad-plugins.html

 

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