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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Rather than investing in some amazing hardware synths or a master keyboard workstation, which can run into the thousands of dollars, we’re sticking with a package of software instruments and effects, a MIDI keyboard controller, and one analog synth module for that irreplaceable warmth. For a collection of stellar virtual instruments and effects, you can’t go wrong with Native Instruments Komplete 8 Ultimate ($1,099, Mac/PC). You get it all: 50 software products, including the Kontakt 5 sampler, Reaktor 5.6, Guitar Rig 5 Pro, Absynth 5, FM8, Massive, Battery 3, tons of drums, keys, piano and orchestral soundware; and a hard drive for the 240 GB of data. We also recommend another external hard drive for hosting samples and/or recording to. The Glyph GT 062E ($475) gives you 4TB of capacity at 7,200 RPM with FW800, USB 2.0, eSATA connectivity and RAID compatibility. Glyph has earned its reputation as reliable backup.

For reining in all those NI plug-ins, as well as your other MIDI needs, the Novation Impulse 61 ($499.99) gives you the crucial Automap 4 technology, which detects the active plug-in and maps the Impulse’s controls—including nine faders with buttons, eight knobs, eight pads, and transport controls—accordingly. With 61 semi-weighted keys, USB and MIDI I/O, the Impulse 61 has a handle on both your instruments and your DAW.

Novation Impulse 61

Novation Impulse 61

With companies like Moog Music and Dave Smith Instruments (DSI) going strong, analog synth lovers can enjoy all the lush sound of the golden age of analog along with new modern processing features, USB MIDI integration, and endless patch memory. Every studio can benefit from some analog signal path. We wanted a polyphonic analog synth module to control with the Impulse, and the DSI Prophet ’08 ($1,699) provides eight amazing-sounding voices at a price that fits our budget. The all-analog signal path includes two oscillators, three envelopes, four LFOs, and a gated sequencer per voice, as well as a Curtis lowpass filter. The one thing missing from the Prophet ’08 is an external input for processing audio through the filter. If you’re looking for that, check out these monophonic options from Moog: the Minimoog Voyager Rack Mount ($2,795), the Slim Phatty ($845) or Minitaur ($679).

If you’re anything like Nas, all you need is one mic. So, why not make it a good one? Our choice is the modern classic, the Neumann TLM 103 ($1,099) large-diaphragm condenser. With a capsule from the legendary U87, transformerless circuitry, and the ability to handle SPLs up to 138dB without distortion, the ultralow-noise TLM 103 will treat your recording right, whether its a buttery smooth vocal or the thunderous crack of a snare drum. In lieu of acoustical room treatment, we’ll pair the Neumann with the sE Electronics Reflexion Filter 3.5 ($399). Another modern standard, the Reflexion Filter mounts to a standard mic stand and uses six layers of sound diffusion to substitute for full-room treatment on your vocal and instrument recordings.

Neumann TLM 103

Neumann TLM 103

You don’t want to skimp on monitoring options, so we’ve chosen the Dynaudio DBM50 active speakers ($1,250 a pair) and the Shure SRH1840 headphones ($875). The DBM50s give you Dynaudio’s dependably accurate sound and a 50W bi-amped design that is angled upward to give you a reliable sweet spot when they’re situated at desktop height. Generous EQ switches in the back let you dial in the sound for your room. Finally, the SRH1840 cost a pretty penny, but they concentrate on super-audiophile quality, as well as comfort over long listening sessions. The open-backed headphones give you a spacious sound, and you get an extra set of luxuriously cushy earpads, as well as a variety of detachable cables.

Shure SRH1840

Shure SRH1840

Total cost (MSRP): $9,939

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