3 Studios, 3 Budgets

Nov 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Robert Hanson, Kevin Becka and George Petersen

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On the DAW software side, I choose Cakewalk SONAR 8 Producer's Edition ($619), but everybody has their faves, whether it's Steinberg Cubase, Nuendo, Magix Sequoia or SAW Studio.

The all-important interface here is RME's FireFace 800 ($1,999), routing to 28 outputs simultaneously with 24/192 clarity. It also boasts a great sound, solid drivers and four respectable onboard preamps. Upping the ante is Focusrite's ISA828 ($2,999) with eight mic/line inputs (four with DI jacks) and optional ADC card. For the money channel, I splurged on a $4,000 Manley VoxBox — one channel of tube mic pre, compression and EQ, but it makes any input (mic or DI) sound like heaven. Another flavor is Groove Tubes' The Brick — mostly as a tube direct box, but it's equally useful as a mic preamp and line driver — and it's a deal at $499.

The centerpiece is Solid State Logic's new Matrix line mixer/router/DAW controller ($25,995) set into Argosy Console's Mirage Matrix housing ($5,645), which makes the package look a half-million, while keeping everything tidy and adding 12 rackspaces (six per side) for outboard goodies. Those with more can add Argosy's matching 11-space sidecar(s), but with all of my plug-ins, I won't need it.

I also bought the $3,365/pair JBL 6328P-Pak powered room-correction monitor system (no sub, but it's optional) on two Argosy 42-inch X-stands ($259/pair) with a couple Primacoustic RX9-DF down-firing Recoil Stabilizers ($150 each) set at a 5-degree downward slope to optimize the listening area. Speaking of listening, I added the Aphex HeadPod 454 headphone amp ($249) with four channels of loud, distortion-free — and minimal fatigue — playback and three beyerdynamic DT770 closed-back studio phones at $299 each.

Even though SONAR, Cubase, et al, ship with powerful DSP suites of their own, he who dies with the most toys wins, so I added Waves' new $900 Silver Collection. The latter's 16 plugs include the Renaissance Compressor, Renaissance Equalizer, Renaissance Axx, IR-L Convolution Reverb, L1 Ultramaximizer, C1 Parametric Compander, S1 Stereo Imager, Q10 Paragraphic Equalizer, MaxxBass, MondoMod, Enigma, TrueVerb, SuperTap, Doubler, DeEsser and Paz Analyzer — a deal at $50-plus-change apiece. One gotta-have plug is SPL's sweet new Analog Code Transient Designer — shipping now in RTAS/VST/Audio Units for $299. A more unusual plug-in selection is the Peterson Strobosoft 2 guitar-tuning software — a bargain studio essential at $49.

I really went wild with mics, selecting 14 classic and future-classic models. In the sweet-vocals-but-great-on-anything department, the selections are Neumann TLM 49 ($1,998), the RØDE K2 tube ($999), BLUE Baby Bottle ($799) and the Cascade Fat Head II Stereo Pack — two ribbon mics, stereo bar and Blumlein mount in a nice case for a bargain $400. For applications where versatility is a must, the selections are Audio-Technica's small-diaphragm AT4041/SP stereo pair ($795) and four gotta-have-'em Shure SM57s ($140 each). More specialized is the $179 Audix I-5 (perhaps the new standard on snare), Sennheiser's $154 E-609 (remake of the MD-409, a guitar amp classic) and the Electro-Voice N/D 868 kick drum mic ($388).

There are still a few loose ends. At $310, Furman's P8 Pro 20-amp power conditioner offers protection and peace of mind. I also budgeted $2,000 for some miscellaneous purchases, such as mic stands and cabling — both XLRs for mic/lines (from various suppliers) and Planet Waves' new DB-25 breakout snakes, which are ideal for SSL Matrix interfacing.

It's a tidy $60,000, although with all prices MSRP, you can probably come in a good deal lower and pick up that Les Paul Custom you've always wanted.

HIGH-END APPROACH

The $175k Room

By Kevin Becka

The biggest-budget studio is a tracking/over-dub room that can cater to both the old and new school. It's DAW-based but has some incredible analog hardware. The $175k budget presupposes items such as interconnects, patchbay, mic stands, furniture and accessories. I shopped around for the best price on all gear, so strike the word “retail” from your vocabulary.

Recording will be to a Digidesign Pro Tools HD3 system ($13,000) through 24 channels of Lynx Aurora converters ($4,990) addressing Pro Tools through Lynx's LT-HD cards ($700). The system will be clocked by the rock-solid Grimm CC1, offering 16 word clock outs and 90 dB of jitter suppression at 10 kHz ($1,750). This DAW will run on an Apple Mac Pro with four 3.2GHz quad-core Intel Xeon processors, 8GB RAM, two 500GB 7,200 rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s hard drives and two 23-inch Cinema HD displays ($7,947). AC power will be handled using the Balanced Power Technologies BP-10.5 Signature Plus ($2,999). There are lots of extra slots with Digidesign's 6-card PCIe expansion chassis ($2,395), giving me five open slots for expansion. I'll use one of those slots for SSL's Duende PCIe system ($1,295) offering 64 channels of processing on Duende's dedicated DSP and plug-ins.

The centerpiece of this studio will be the Tree Audio Console ($38,750), which, due to its modular nature, assures a variety of sonic colors. The 24-channel desk has three tiers available to accept 500 Series modules. I'll start building the desk by choosing some vintage flavor with four API 512C preamps ($760). Next, I chose four Shadow Hills Mono GAMA mic preamps ($795) with switchable output transformers and added four Chandler Germanium 500 preamps with their tone-bending feedback control ($950). I plan on putting some sweat equity into the room by building four Eisen Audio D.I.Y. 500 Series preamps, which lets me choose from a wide variety of op amps, I/O transformers; this is an inexpensive, custom way to add more variety to the front end (about $400 each, depending on parts). Finishing out the first tier, four Atlas Pro Audio Juggernaut ($895) preamps with switchable input impedance promise even more tonal options and four OSA MP1-L3 Big Daddy ($650) pre's with Lundahl transformers.

EQs on the second tier of my console include four Speck ASC-V ($735) 4-band EQs. I'll put in more solder time and save more dollars by building four kit-based EQSM1 EQs from S and M Audio ($350). Next are four Purple Audio Odd Inductor EQs ($735), four API 550B EQs ($1,195) and eight pricey-but-sweet A Designs EM-PEQ ($1,235), promising a tip-o-the-hat to the classic Pultec EQP-1A.






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