3 Studios, 3 Budgets: What Would You Buy?

Mar 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Markkus Rovito, Kevin Becka, and Wes Maebe

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Technology changes so rapidly, and equipment prices come down so dramatically, that once a year we like to revisit a popular Mix feature where we ask three writers, “If you had x amount of dollars, how would you outfit your studio?” The only common assumption? We don’t make them buy a computer; we presume they are already working with their favorite.

MUSIC CREATION: $10,000

By Markkus Rovito

It’s not everyday that a person gets to start fresh. Say your bedroom studio burns down, but thanks to your online backup of all your music and $10,000 in insurance money, all is not lost. In fact, everything is gained, as your options for a new project studio configuration run toward the infinite. Rather than go for as much stuff as we can grab for 10 grand, we’re targeting quality over quantity, with each piece meant to be indispensable, and all at a footprint that will fit on a mid-sized, flat desktop. (All prices are MSRP.)

Perhaps the most crucial decision for any music maker is what DAW software to choose, and then which hardware to pick for controlling it. The modern trend is for software makers to also create or at least endorse specific hardware for their DAW, thereby ensuring lockstep interaction between the hardware and software. If you’re already firmly attached to a specific DAW (see Craig Anderton’s great column on switching DAWs, http://bit.ly/WuVas6), you may want to stick with such software/hardware combinations as: Avid Pro Tools 10 with Mbox Pro interface and Artist Control controller ($2,766.90 total); Steinberg Cubase 7 with UR28M interface and CC121 controller ($1,648.98 total); or Propellerhead Reason 6.5 with Balance interface and Nektar Panorama P6 keyboard controller ($1,229.98 total).

However, in this scenario, we’re choosing a setup with open-ended hardware meant to be software-agnostic. And in the spirit of a clean slate, we’re going with the surprising upstart DAW, PreSonus Studio One 2.5 ($449.95, Mac/PC). When Studio One launched about two years ago, it seemed dubious to unleash another such program to a DAW-saturated world. But with an efficient, musician-friendly interface and constant development, the recent Studio One 2.5 was released to critical acclaim and has garnered a rabid following. In addition to its well-rounded expected features like guitar-amp modeling, and a complement of effect and instrument plug-ins, Studio One 2.5 incorporates integrated Melodyne pitch correction, a cool approach to comping, track transform from virtual instrument to multitrack audio and back, Soundcloud inside the browser, editing of multiple instrument tracks at once, and many audio quantizing, organizational and internal mastering features.

PreSonus Studio One 2.5

PreSonus Studio One 2.5

In short, Studio One is a full-fledged DAW perfect for refreshing your approach to music making, and it supports the Mackie Control protocol, which leads to the Mackie Control Universal Pro ($1,499). This popular and time-tested controller offers near-instant mapping for almost every DAW software available today, nine 100mm motorized faders, eight channel strips with the ability to control as many software channels as you need, full transport controls with jog wheel, LCD display, many assignable function buttons, MIDI interface and more. You can also expand it if needed with the Mackie Control Extender Pro.

Mackie Control Universal Pro

Mackie Control Universal Pro

For an audio interface, we need something that finds the sweet spot between high audio quality, affordability and flexibility. MOTU’s interfaces in general fit that bill, and specifically, the Track16 ($595) utilizes a 44-inch breakout cable to keep the footprint of the 8.4-by-5-inch interface small, while still offering 16 ins and 14 outs, including optical I/O, MIDI I/O, two guitar ins, two mic ins, and four line-level I/Os. It has both FireWire and USB, as well as an internal mixer with DSP for dynamics and effects. If needed, you can expand it with another MOTU interface.

MOTU Track16

MOTU Track16






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