The Home Studio

Posted: January 18, 2018 in 1

I’ve been a big fan of recording since I was a kid.  I remember sometime around age 13 I had bought a pair of Realistic mics and was experimenting at length with mic placement on our piano in the basement, trying to get a decent stereo recording on my trusty Pioneer CTF-500 tape deck. I thoroughly pissed off my mom when she discovered I had stolen every metal thumbtack from the desk and a few from my grandparents next door – having heard that you could put them into the felt hammers to get a honky-tonk sound.  To me it was like a harpsichord, RIGHT THERE in OUR basement!  I delayed their removal as long as I could, knowing that she’d probably never stick her hands in there and take them out.. and by the time I did I had my recordings anyway.  (Sheesh! What A Rotten Kid!)  I have always been fascinated with recording sound, and over the years I have collected a barrage of tools to do so, some cool, some funky, some weird.  My current project studio started in a real sense in the 90’s when the band I was in (The Voice) was working on CD projects and needed to have a good pre-production situation that we could use to minimize the cost of going into a professional studio.  You can save a lot of cash if you know before-hand EXACTLY how each track should be played and then pay just to re-record the parts in a better room and use their mixdown facilities.   We used it well for that cause, and along the way I recorded demos for several young bands and other musicians in th area.  I began with a Fostex R8 1/4″ 8-track  reel-to-reel machine,  (a package deal which included a  Fostex mixer) and later bought 2 new ADAT XT20’s. and  a new Mackie 8-bus 32-channel console with Meter bridge.  I would later expand that setup with another XT-20 for 24 tracks in total.  This setup was used for many years and tracked several CD projects for bands I was involved in and others.  Meanwhile, I was collecting mics and outboard gear – nothing too exotic, but good-sounding  standard stuff wherever I could find it.  Sometimes the gear seemed to find me.. I stumbled into many deals from friends and colleagues. I collected dBx compressors, Yamaha reverbs, cheap but useful Behringer gates, Alesis reverbs and other oddball bits and pieces.  I did invest in a pair of matched CAD E200 dual-element large condenser mics, which have proved useful and musical for lots of tracks over the years. I also have a Neuman condenser, a Shure SM91 condenser, and a handful each of SM57’s ad 58’s , and examples of beta 57 and beta 58 mics. Lot’s of headphones, too, but I have 4 pair of AKG 240M monitor phones that I tend to prefer.   Speaking of monitors, I use Yamaha NS-10’s and Hafler M1’s both driven by a Crown DC150 amplifier, no fan of course.  In recent years I have been using hard-disk based recording, mostly because I was working for 7 years in speech recognition for automotive OEMS and we were using Adobe Audition for all of our prompt editing. Since I got used to that I’ve been “mixing in the box” on an HP 8560 Elitebook with an SSD, and  I find that works pretty well. This older recording gear is not being used much anymore as a result, but it still looks cool.It’s a little sad to think how much investment is tied up there that I will probably never recover.

I got an M-Audio Lightbridge to use all those ADATs as digital/analog converters. My recording room is set up to be non-reflective, with about 16 each of  2 foot by 4 foot absorber panels placed along the walls, so it’s pretty dead. These are not the dangerous foam types, but a special  heavy 60 or 70 mm thick recycled cotton that does not burn (unlike foam)  and does not out-gas crap into the house.  They are surprisingly effective and I’d recommend them to anyone.   As I said, they will not catch fire (self-sustaining) like foam, and if they do manage to burn, the result is not anywhere as toxic as any foam would be.  I have no idea why these aren’t used more often in home studios, they cost just a bit more per square foot, but are a far better solution.  My thanks to my friend Ed Walters of The Solution LLC – audio consultants – he’s the one who turned me on to them, as well as handled the order once I’d decided what I needed. No regrets there.  cimg9854

I keep a lot of instruments and amplifiers on hand for the studio, mostly American stuff, such as  Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker guitars & basses.  For amplification, there are many choices as well : ’79 Super Reverb,  ’66 Vibrolux Reverb, ’96 ProSonic,  1980’s Marshall JCM 800,  ’79 Hiwatt Custom 50, ’73 Traynor Mark III,  ’73 Ampeg VT-40,  ’66 Ampeg Gemini I,  ’66 Ampeg Reverberocket,  Peavey Triumph 120PAG, 60’s Gibson GA-9 , 60’s Valco, 40’s Electromuse, and a  rare 1936 Epiphone Zephyr art deco  amp.  A 1970’s Ampeg portaflex B-15S is  now present, with an additional Ampeg 4×10 cabinet for bass sounds.

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I have set up the room for recording everyone at once since the ADAT/Lightbridge combo can handle 24 inputs simultaneously, and it’s possible to set up  4 to 6 separate headphone monitor mixes.  The idea was to be a place where good 100% live recordings can be made.  To that end, I still would like to run some permanent mic lines into the adjacent rooms for use as isolation areas – guitar amps, vocalists, etc.  I have the 1000′ spool of mic cable now, just need some spare time and a mess of XLR wallplates :o)   .

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