In 2004 I was a Music Technology student. This was a very exciting time for me as I was about to spend a whole load of money on my first Pro Tools home recording studio. I recently shared this story - My First Pro Tools Home Recording Studio On A Student Budget. This article left me thinking - What studio gear could I buy today in 2017 for a home Pro Tools recording studio with the same £3,000 student budget I had 2004? I have conducted a basic consumer experiment to find out. I compared the costs of my real-world 2004 studio gear purchases against modern day studio gear equivalents. The studio gear I've chosen in my hypothetical 2017 home studio shopping basket are as close as possible in feature set and specification of the gear I purchased back in 2004. It will be interesting to see if the types of studio gear I prefer for a home studio is more expensive these days compared to 13 years ago.
Read this article to find out if I managed to find modern day studio gear equivalents based on the home studio gear I purchased in 2004 within the same £3,000 budget.
Below are the types of studio gear I require - Same as my 2004 purchases:
Back in 2004, I was lucky enough to grab a great second-hand deal on a two-year-old G4 Apple Mac desktop computer. At the time the G4 Mirror Door was still considered a powerful machine, it also met the system requirements for running Pro Tools 6. Used or new Apple computers in 2004 were either not powerful enough, such as the eMac, or out of my budget such as the G5. Over the last few years, Apple computers have become incredibly powerful and pro audio software has become leaner in the way computing resources are used. I have more choices these days to source a powerful used Mac compared to 2004. I wouldn't need to get a used powerhouse like a Mac Pro or blow the majority of the budget on a new iMac. Instead, I could look into the used market and consider the middle of the range Apple computers such as the Mac Mini that have some grunt.
Many of us on the Pro Tools Expert team own a Mac Mini, I believe Mike Thornton owns four of them! The Mac Mini is still a current computer in Apple's product range. Features in a used i7 Mac Mini are still very current today including Thunderbolt, lots of I/O such as USB, swappable RAM, hard drives can be changed and the computer is extremely portable. A used i7 Mac Mini Server is the one to get over the i5. Apple stopped producing the i7 range of Mac Minis in 2012 but today in 2017 these little rocket ship computers can be purchased second hand for around £500 with 8GB RAM. I paid £800 for my secondhand G4 desktop in 2004, so far then I've saved £300 compared to the 2004 budget.
The audio interface I chose in 2004 was built into the Digidesign Digi 002 Factory. The Digi 002 was many things - an Audio/MIDI Interface, Control Surface, Headphone Amp, Monitor Controller and was bundled with Pro Tools LE. In 2004 the only way users could access Pro Tools was by using a Digidesign interface such as Digi 002 or Mbox. Since 2010 and the release of Pro Tools 9 we don't have those restrictions. Would I buy an Avid audio interface today? No, not out of choice as it appears Avid no longer develop affordable audio interfaces, I would have to look at third-party audio interface developers for a solution. Are there any audio interfaces on the market that include Digi 002 style control surface features? No, the "all-in-one" audio interface/control surface style of product seems to have dissipated in the years followed by the Digi 003. These days we purchase studio gear in a modular way. We buy an interface, if we want a controller we buy that separate. All-in-one solutions seem to be a dying breed.
The audio interface I would buy in 2017 would be a Focusrite Clarett 4Pre as this unit features Thunderbolt connectivity, four brilliant sounding preamps, 4 outputs, basic monitor control features, MIDI I/O and 2 headphone outputs... and the I/O a student needs. The Focusrite Clarett 4Pre costs around £550 new, very reasonable.
The computer and audio interface have been chosen, the next link in my hypothetical studio gear chain is the Control Surface. With the rise in popularity of touch enabled devices that can control Pro Tools the development in physical flying fader control surfaces has become less apparent. Presonus, however, released an eight-fader controller that looks like it took some inspiration from the Digidesign control surfaces of old. The Presonus Faderport 8 is an 8 Fader Motorised DAW Control Surface that works with any DAW and it only costs around £400 new.
If we add the costs of both the Focusrite Clarett 4Pre and Presonus Faderport 8 together we come to a total of £950 for both units new, a saving of £250 compared to my 2004 purchase of an ex-demo Digi 002 Factory that featured both interface and control surface features.
My 2004 Tannoy Reveal Actives had 6.5-inch drivers costing £350 for a pair new. In today's Pro Audio market a set of KRK Rokit RP6 G3 Active Monitors cost about the same. These are, like the Tannoy Reveals, a very good mid-range nearfield monitor that is very popular in the home studio market, even if they do look a bit bold.
My choice of large diaphragm studio condenser microphone would be the same today in 2017 as it was in 2004, the mighty AKG C414. This cost me £650 in 2004, the price though has gone up to £750. Second hand these microphones can be picked up for around £400 to £500 but I don't bother buying used microphones as I don't know how much punishment a used mic has had in its lifetime. The used price saving isn't worth it in my opinion. There's always a risk of the microphone developing a crackle in a week only for a costly repair bill to follow. Tip - Always buy microphones new unless you are certain a used microphone has been well looked after.
The Budget So Far
2004 Real-World Student Budget
- Second Hand Mac: £800
- Audio Interface/Control Surface: £1,200
- Monitors: £350
- Microphone: £650
2017 Experiment Budget
- Second Hand Mac: £500
- Audio Interface: £550
- Control Surface: £400
- Monitors: £350
- Microphone: £750
The total cost of studio gear today compared to 2004 is more affordable, I did suspect this would be the case as there is a broader choice of studio gear for home studios available these days. There is a slight snag though, one item is missing from "my basket" - Pro Tools.
In 2004 my audio interface (Digi 002) shipped with Pro Tools LE software, none of gear in 2017 basket ships with Pro Tools. There are three options for getting Pro Tools. First being subscription, but I wouldn't have opted for an annual subscription plan if it was available in 2004. Second being Pro Tools First, the free application with limited Pro Tools functionality and features, again this wasn't an option in 2004, even if it was I wouldn't have chosen it as my Pro Tools system, leaving the only option left - buying a Pro Tools Perpetual License for £549 going over the £3,000 by £99
I was no surprise to find a fairly powerful second hand Mac that can support Pro Tools. It was great to discover that I could mimic the Digi 002 Factory control surface & audio interface features using a modular Focusrite/Presonus solution. I felt rather confident that I would be able to find all the modern equivalents of my old studio gear within the £3,000 budget up until I remembered I needed to add the price of Pro Tools to the list thus taking me just over budget. I have only gone over budget by £99, this was caused by the difference in price for the microphone, but it's refreshing to see that prices haven't really gone up over the last 13 years, instead, studio gear appears to be better value and better quality.
I only just managed to purchase the studio gear I needed for my 2004 home studio within the £3,000 budget because I had to be smart and find ex-demo deals or second-hand items. In this experiment, even though I went over by £99, I managed to find all new items (excluding the Mac) meaning full warranties and after sales customer service.
If you need to buy studio gear for a Pro Tools home recording studio then take my advice - Set a budget, stick to that budget and shop around... you may be pleasantly surprised with what you can get for your money these days