In 2017 we converted a bog standard timber garden cabin into a purpose-built soundproof recording studio. During the course of this project I posted several articles that covered a wide range of specific studio build topics that we experienced...
For regular visitors of Pro Tools Expert please be rest assured that an in-depth video documentary is in the works... it's just taking me longer to produce than first thought.
I've spoken a fair bit about my studio build project on The Pro Tools Expert Podcast and in the articles listed above, so I thought it was time to talk about all the main studio gear I use.
Pro Tools & Studio Computer
This article lists all the gear and hardware that I currently use in my studio and music production workflow... but I couldn't start this studio tour off without mentioning Pro Tools.
Pro Tools has been at the centre of my recording and mixing workflows since 2002. It's my DAW of choice because it enables me to produce music quickly and creatively. Like countless other Pro Tools users, I've weathered the difficult times and ropy releases of Pro Tools but I have to say that over the last year or so I've come to really trust Pro Tools as a stable DAW. Crashes are a rare thing these days... at least in my studio.
I've been keeping up to date with the most recent versions of Pro Tools, to date I'm running 2018.1 on my old Mac Pro 5.1 Cheese Grater computer. My Mac is sadly starting to show its age, at some point I will replace it, but with what? Only time will tell.
Control Surface - AVID C24
I was first introduced to Pro Tools when I was studying Music Technology and my first experience with Pro Tools was in front of a Digidesign Control 24 Pro Tools Control Surface. The vast majority of my Pro Tools interactions have been with some type of control surface between me and it. I've owned many control surfaces over the years including the Digi 002, M-Audio Project Mix and Digi 003 Factory.
I outgrew small 8 fader control surfaces when my workload increased. I initially purchased the C24 to help me handle large band tracking sessions but I soon gained a full appreciation of the control aspects of the C24. This desk is very well integrated with the Pro Tools software which enables me to mix mainly on the board with my fingertips suppose to "mousing around".
Negatives? Yes, two! I've spoken about these before on the blog. The C24 has 16 in and outs, I don't use them, they sound awful.
The monitor section is equally as bad as the preamps.
Control Surface - Softube Console One
The Avid C24 isn't the only control surface I use in my studio. I have, what I call, a small "side-car" control surface. Softube's Console One is a very cool small form factor channel strip control surface that is an absolute joy to mix with. I don't use Console One on every mix, I save it for full band productions that have lots of live instruments and large track counts. Console One's simple hardware ergonomics coupled with great sounding channel strips within the Console One plug-in help me to get large sessions in order, quickly without hesitation.
At some point in the near future I will get some cool replacement knobs for my one like other Console One users have done.
Main Studio Monitors - ADAM Audio P22A
I purchased my set of Adam P22a studio monitors way back in 2009. I heard a friend's smaller set of ADAM Audio monitors and I was blown away by the sonic quality. The sonic areas that stood out to me were:
- The depth of the sound
- Tonal balance
- Tightness of the stereo image
Prior to my Adam monitors I used the classic Tannoy Reveal Active studio monitors, however, these low-cost monitors only got my mixes so far as they lacked punch and low mid clarity. I chose the larger Adam P22a near field monitors (even though I think these really are midfield monitors) as I wanted a flatter and fuller sounding monitor set. These have certainly delivered over the years. These monitors produce great power and tonal balance when I'm cranking them up in tracking sessions while also performing equally well when I mix at low levels.
These monitors have never let me down due to any fault. These are the only items in my studio that have never needed repairing or replacing - and they have had a lot of punishment over the years.
As good as the P22a's sound I do incorporate another software technology to get the absolute most out of them. I use Sonarworks Reference software to improve the frequency response of the monitors in my studio and it works brilliantly. I've used Sonarworks in my mixing workflow for several years now, I would be lost without it.
Sub - ADAM Audio
The ADAM Sub 8 is a very recent addition to my studio. I noticed that the performance of my P22a studio monitors were not sounding quite right not long after moving into my new studio. I absolutely adored these monitors in my previous studios but in my new room these monitors didn't sound right at all. The new studio seemed to be taking away the character of my ADAM P22as, this room made the P22as sound very honkey.
I posted an article explaining how I recognised this monitoring problem, how I tweaked the placement of my monitors to improve the frequency response and how I fixed an artificial sound caused by the Sonarworks Reference correction process by way of an ADAMS Sub 8 subwoofer.
Monitor Controller - SPL 2381
The main monitor control dial on the Avid C|24 is a horrible digital control knob that requires 3 full turns to go from zero to full. I found the sound quality of the C|24 monitor section equally as disappointing. After a few months of putting up with the C|24's poor quality monitor section I decided my studio needed a dedicated monitor controller that could deliver brilliant sound quality and monitoring flexibility. The SPL 2381 is a reasonably priced solution that just sits there doing its thing. Not a lot to shout about really, absolutely nothing to complain about either.
Main Interfaces - AVID I/O 16x16x16
The Avid I/O is the central nervous system of my Pro Tools HDX Studio. My one has 16 inputs and 16 outputs. My ins and outs of outboard compressors and preamps all junction via d sub to XLRs multicores in the back. I got the Avid I/O as part of my Pro Tools HDX system. In my Mac Pro I have a single HDX card that connects to the Avid I/O via a single mini DigiLink cable. To my ears these boxes sound solid, however, I have always felt these interfaces were overpriced for what they are.
Computer Interface - Behringer U-Phoria 404HD
Don't let the brand name put you off, trust me, this is a great little USB bus-powered audio interface. I use this for general computer audio output for YouTube, Final Cut and iTunes as Pro Tools HDX systems don't play nice with core audio. The outputs of the U-Phoria connect to a spare stereo input channel on my SPL monitor controller and that's it. I used to use this interface to record screen cap audio and some instruments but I came across a different interface that was slightly better sounding...
Voice Over Audio Interface - Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 Second Gen
I use the Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 for one thing, to record both my spoken voice and audio out of Pro Tools (via my SPL Monitor controller) for producing screen cap videos for The Pro Tools Expert Community.
I use Mic Input 1 phantom powered for my voice (SM7B and Cloudlifter) and Line Inputs 3&4 on the back (no gain controls) for the computer audio output feed. This is an effortless box to use, sounds great and it has never let me down... which is great as I do produce a lot of screen cap videos.
Pre Amp - Focusrite ISA 428 MKii
Early on into using my C24 I got to a point when I couldn't use the built in C24 preamps anymore, they just sounded awful and noisy. I had to get a preamp with at least 4 good input channels, it was Focusrite to the rescue.
The ISA range is highly regarded for having very clean sounding preamps, and I agree with that, however, the preamps are so clean and transparent that at times I find they sound a bit gutless... but I do at least get clean audio down in Pro Tools with this unit. For the money, it's a great multipurpose studio front end.
Pre Amp - TL Audio PA-1 Valve Preamp
Where the Foucsrite ISA 428 fails to deliver edginess the TL-Audio PA-1 triumphs. This is a dual channel valve pre that sounds amazing on stereo drum overheads, electric guitar amps and rock vocals. It's not the brightest sounding pre out there, nor is it the quietest, but it is one of those types of pres that works beautifully when used in anger. It's a shame TL- Audio aren't in business anymore.
Pre Amp - Tegeler Audio VTRC
The VTRC is currently in my studio on demo from Tegeler Audio Manufaktur, though last time I spoke the words "Tegeler" and "Demo" in the same sentence I ended up paying the invoice... both times, and I'm sure I will again as this unit is a bit swiss army knife for the price of a decent Fender Stratocaster.
The monstrous 3U chassis features an array of tubes, a Pultec style EQ, opto compressor, low cut and lushous VU meter. For now, I don't want to say any more about the VTRC as I plan to publish a video review of the VTRC in the coming weeks on Pro Tools Expert.
Headphone Amp - ART Head Amp 6
I find it very boring talking about headphone amps... So let's move on swiftly...
Headphones - KRK 8400
I have five sets of KRK 8400 headphones. Why? What's not to like? They sound full, they are lightweight, comfortable on the head, the cable can be replaced and a set costs around £100. All my sets have been heavily used with none of them breaking or even showing any signs of starting to fail. Out of the box the KRK 8400s sound very good and work well in both tracking and mixing applications. But, the performance of the KRK 8400 can be enhanced by use of Sonarworks headphone calibration plug-in. I was initially sceptical of Sonarworks headphone calibration but I find that I use it all the time when I do final mix checks using KRK 8400 headphones.
Outboard - Furman PL Plus CE
For me, power conditioners are as boring a subject to talk about as headphone amps are. Long story short, I ignorantly ignored whatever benefits a power conditioner could provide me in favour of years of purchasing sexy studio gear such. Learn from my mistakes. Don't turn a blind eye to power conditioners, especially if you have expensive outboard gear in your studio. Read the full article below:
Outboard Compressor - Tegeler Audio Creme
The Creme was my first Tegeler Audio purchase. It is a stereo "mastering" compressor with Pultec style EQ. The compressor sounds so transparent that it's easy to forget the unit is even on. I had it on loan for a couple of weeks, in this short time it quickly integrated into my mixing workflow. I prepared the unit ready for shipping back to Tegeler Audio but I had a last minute change of heart and decided to buy it. Like the Schwerkraft Maschine, that you read about in a moment, I use the Creme on every mix. I mainly use it on the master 2 bus just to gently shape the lows and highs of the entire mix ready for masting.
Outboard Compressor - Tegeler Audio Schwerkraft Machine
Sometimes it's nice to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, the sledgehammer being the Tegeler Audio Manufaktur Swerkraft Maschine. This is an absolute brute of a device that features 11 different tube compressor modes. I commonly use the Vari Tube Compressor and Drum Smasher modes along with the sidechain set anywhere between 20Hz to 300Hz to get nice mid to top end squish on my masters or sub-mixes.
The amazing sonic performance of this unit is only half the story though. This device features a powerful modern convenience in the way of motorized pots. No, this isn't a gimmick, this is a smart feature that enables users to interact with the device. It also means we can save/recall compressor settings quickly and automatically via a plug-in.
So there you have it, that was a brief tour of my studio along with the gear that I use to produce music. I know I didn't talk about my microphone collection, we'll save that for a future post.
I have some extra rack space... what studio gear do you think I should get next?