Posts Tagged ‘recording’

It has been nearly a year since my post on what I want for a studio upgrade because there have been a couple of new products that I think get me everything I need for nearly my original $300 price point. In addition it has been surprisingly difficult to find an Eleven Rack under $300. As a quick review my requirements were as follows:

  • Can I quickly capture an idea?
  • Am I able to get the sound I hear in my head?
  • Can I get a dry track at the same time?
  • Can I get the dynamics I want?
  • Can I get back to previous settings quickly?
  • Does it limit noise from my home studio environment (computer, family, dogs)?
  • Can I record whenever I want (in other words do I need a mic to capture and wake people up at 2am)?
  • Can I use that tone away from my studio?
  • Does a device need to be attached to run the software?

I had originally focused on the Eleven Rack or Bias Amp with an interface, both of which were just under the $300 budget.  A couple of changes this year have me now focused on Bias Amp and the interface, although I would be going over my initial budget a bit.

The first change was with Positive Grid.  They released a stand-alone version of the Bias Amp software so that you can now use it with or without the DAW.  The tones are killer and this ability puts that over the top, especially with the Eleven Rack now aging significantly (USB 1.0 and still not really coming under $300 even used).  The second is that Behringer (yes, I know) has come out with the UMC1820 at $300.  This is a rack mounted interface (which would work great with my desk mounted racks) that has 18 inputs, including 8 pre-amps that can be XLR, instrument, or line.  My hope is that since this interface would not be leaving my studio, that it will last.  With Bias Amp Desktop (not looking for professional at this time) at between $70 and $100 (depending on sales) it would complete the upgrade at $400 and the expansion of inputs is worth that extra money.

The other piece of equipment set to come out later this year that helps confirm this direction is the Bias Rack from Positive Grid (edit 11/02/16: there is now a pre-amp version as well at $999).  At $1200 it certainly isn’t “budget”, but looking down the road a bit it would fit in with playing live, allowing me to take the tones I will have spent time creating and push them to my power amp on stage.  In addition it appears I would get the upgraded version of Bias Amp Professional as well.  It would definitely be a tough call between that and the Mesa Boogie 5:25 but since this isn’t eminent it is just a mental exercise at this point.

To finish up then, a UMC1820 plus Bias Amp Desktop will allow me to quickly capture an idea with ample tone crafting all while keeping things quiet without having to have a specific interface attached.  Getting the tone away from my studio would still be difficult but would have a path forward with at least two devices.  I’ll be setting aside $35 a paycheck with the goal of being able to get these two things in January.  Since I hope to be done writing my EP and start tracking in January this lines up perfectly.  I would love to hear people’s thoughts on that setup.  Am I crazy?  Did I miss something?

A YouTube channel I’m subscribed to is doing what I think is an interesting take on showing off your setup; change over time.  I just did a setup tour and had found some old photos of what I started with back in 2009.  So I went ahead and submitted it and maybe it will show up on the channel sometime.  However, it worked out well as a kind of end of year review so I thought I would show that here as well.  Hope you enjoy!

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1) This started when my oldest kids moved out (2009) and my wife and I got our own offices.  The most difficult part was finding a desk that I liked, since I am not a fan of desks with drawers on either side.  I keep hitting my legs on them.  But I finally found an Ikea desk that was simple and inexpensive and I started with it in middle of the office.  I had started playing guitar just before I got the space, so a big theme for me was to have a studio space.  Keep in mind I was learning about what would work best.  The PC I had was an HP Pavilion (AMD FX6300) with 10 GB ram. Dual Samsung SyncMaster 205BW panels finished it out along with a Razer Lachesis mouse.
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2) The second step wasn’t huge, but involved painting the office/studio, getting my first simple LED lighting rope, and a window covering.  Cable management wasn’t a real consideration at this point but you can see a bit.  I did get the M-Audio studio monitors separated from the desk and roughly pointed in the right direction.
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3) Next was some inspirational art work and here you can see a better shot of my lack of cable management.  It makes me cringe now.  You can see some of the studio peripherals as well.  The blue fabric (and some batting) was the beginning of my attempt to get some sound dampening on the cheap.
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4) You can see a view from the “front”, check out the flip phone and Zune.  Don’t knock it, that was 80 gigs of music on the go at a much cheaper price than that other brand. You can also see my M-Audio M-Box mini and Line6 Toneport UX1 audio interfaces.
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5) I was able to get my hands on a control surface and the desk went against the wall as I tried to get better spacing in the office.  It also made me start thinking about getting my panels off the desk and into a better viewing position.  Turns out beer cans are a great spacer.  I also was still experimenting with sound dampening and  trying to find a comfortable spot for my audio interfaces.  The cables are at least in a clump now.  One of my studio monitors died, so I switched to Alesis Elevate.
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6) I was able to get some real acoustic treatment so I got serious about placement of my desk, setting up a real listening station measured out so I was cutting out first reflections and getting bass traps in place.  Here I made a much more concerted effort on cable management.  I also got tired of the Pavilion case, so I ripped out the guts and put it into my Antec NSK 6580 case and was able to get more fans to get positive air pressure (and a start on LED in the case).
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7) I had some extra plywood and so built a custom stand for my panels and also created stands for my studio monitors to get them at ear level.  I almost got cable management under control, and also getting more studio equipment in a better position for use.  A Corsair mouse pad helps with a bit of gaming and generally makes the mouse smoother.
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8) I finally got rid of the beer cans and built real stands.  I also got an RGB strip to go under the stand as well as behind the panels to get some nice lighting.  I got cables down to just the main power strip and my phone charger (out of space on the power strip). In addition I moved the guitars as it was very awkward to get to them.
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9) Lastly (2015), I got a Fractal Design Define S and an MSI motherboard (still with the AMD FX6300) so I could use an EVGA 760 GPU I was given as the HP Pavilion OEM board would not support it.  I also got a hold of two Acer S230HL panels to move to 1080.  I now have a handle on my PC cable management, but not quite with my music gear.
Future wise I am looking to move back to Intel, upgrading the motherboard and processor to get better performance for both gaming and running plug-ins for my recording software.  I also want to upgrade my audio interface to something better than USB 1.0 and to clean up the studio rack so the cable management matches the desk.  I want to continue to be able to just sit and record with less than a minute setup time.  I want creation as easy as possible as well as a space to be inspired.

I have had my current guitar recording setup for a number of years now and while it has worked great (It is how I recorded my first EP), it is starting to show its age and is missing some features I now realize I want.  What I want to do here is use a bit of my programming/analyst skills to create a requirements list to describe what I want in a replacement and see what current gear might fit the bill.  Hopefully, my research will help others too.  I am setting an arbitrary $300 budget because if I had the $1500 for a Mesa Boogie Mark 5:25, I would be buying that and running it into an interface! On to my requirements.

Keep in mind I am not looking to do a complete studio setup.  This does not factor in the cost for guitar(s), MIDI instruments, studio monitors, or DAW software (I am using Reaper).  I already have that and am not looking to replace for this exercise.  It boils down to these factors:

  • Can I quickly capture an idea?
  • Am I able to get the sound I hear in my head?
  • Can I get a dry track at the same time?
  • Can I get the dynamics I want?
  • Can I get back to previous settings quickly?
  • Does it limit noise from my home studio environment (computer, family, dogs)?
  • Can I record whenever I want (in other words do I need a mic to capture and wake people up at 2am)?
  • Can I use that tone away from my studio?
  • Does a device need to be attached to run the software?

I currently use a Line 6 Toneport UX1  with the “live” Gear Box software and then just record that wet sound directly, changing tones manually for each track I want.  Unfortunately, the interface has to be plugged in for either of those to authorize making it difficult to use other plug-ins for guitar tone.  The interface provides an instrument jack and a pre-amp for a dynamic mic (no phantom power).  It also has two line inputs so I can use a stand alone pre-amp, which is what I do when I do want to use a condenser mic.  Together this cost me about $200, $90 for the interface and another $99 to get the PODFarm plug-in which also got me a few more amp models. So how does my current setup fit with my requirements?  One and two are great.  The interface is my sound card so it is always plugged into the PC and my guitar is pretty much always plugged into the interface.  The Gear Box/POD Farm software is great and gets me a ton of different tones that I can do a fair amount of tweaking with, including a number of pedals.  It also ticks the boxes for five, six, and seven. But it does fall short on three, four, and eight.  It does features a USB 1.0 connection so for me that is something I would like to upgrade.

The question then becomes what would be some possible replacements, ideally staying around that price point?  Unfortunately, it seems that there is not a lot of choice. Either the hardware is expensive, or it is necessary to get many software add-ons.  But here is what I found to meet my requirements.

Eleven Rack – $250 used

With this setup I would use the Eleven Rack as my audio interface as well as the amp.  I’ve seen these used on Craigslist for between $200-$300 some coming with the expansion pack (a $100 value).  Connected to my PC this gets me everything on my list, including the ability to not have the interface connected since I am using Reaper as my DAW.  Though obviously I have to have it attached to record, it isn’t necessary during the mixing process.  I already have a Tech21 Power Engine 60 (which is a small cheat for being mobile) that would connect straight in for playing live.

Positive Grid BIAS FX with Interface $200/$40

Positive Grid has been making waves with their plug-ins and and BIAS FX looks promising.  At $200 (on sale at time of writing for $180) this would give me access to a bunch of amps and pedals.    I could then spring for a USB 2.0 interface like a Behringer  U-Phoria UMC22 which  would get me a mic pre-amp and instrument in for $40.  Roughly the same as the Eleven Rack.  This setup gets me almost everything on my list, with the one glaring exception of being able to use the tone away from my studio.  Based on my non-ability to find anyone to jam with, this may not be that big of a showstopper.  They are teasing BIAS Head, which appears to be some type of amp, but whether or not I would be able to use my tones with that remain to be seen.  If it wasn’t too expensive it could tick of that live mode.

I did find a several very cool items that did also meet the requirements, but bust the budget by a wide margin.  Again, at those prices I would just by a real amp!  But I will list them so I can keep an eye on them and you can check out the information.  At some point one would think the prices will be begin to come down.

Line6 Helix – $1,500

Fractal Audio Axe-FX -$ 2,250

Kemper Profiling Amp – $1,900

Let me know if I have missed anything that would be a good match.  I have a feeling many people would be interested in the information and the marketing materials do not help make this easy.

Acoustic Treatment Hanging

Posted: July 7, 2014 in music
Tags: ,

A week or so back I got some acoustic foam from a friend cleaning out their storage space.  There were two reasons that as I put this up I wanted to make sure it could come down easily without damaging the walls; I’m basically borrowing the foam and second I’m not sure of location since I’ve not done this before.  So I did the usual “OK Google” and while there were many suggestions of where to locate the pieces and discussion of what was the best to use for a home studio, it really kept coming up glue to do the attachment.

I had put them up temporarily with push pins and that got some ideas flowing. I still needed something more permanent than that but much less destructive than glue.  So I went to the office supply store and discovered T-Pins.   These are about an inch and a half long thin nail sized pins, folded into a T at the top (non-affiliated Wal-Mart link if you want an example).  I got 100 for something like $4 dollars.  They were long enough to go through the foam, but thin enough to not damage the wall (and foam) too much, and the T shape gripped into the foam to keep it on the wall.  Here is a close up:

20140706_132740

Since I had used a push pin to get the rough idea to hear how it affected the sound it was a pretty straight forward process after that. I used a level and T-pin in a top corner then went to the other top corner.  After that I would do the bottom corners and I ended up putting one it the top center so it wouldn’t sag.  After the first couple it became obvious I would need a thimble or thimble like device.  I went with a pair of pliers, but my thumb did end up being sore.  Just take it slowly and push as straight as possible.  Otherwise you end up bending the pin.

I focused on left and right of the listening position, followed by behind monitors.  I also put a couple of panels on the ceiling above the listening position.  I’m not sure if that is right but I need to focus on listening to my mixes and other music to see how that works.  There was an immediate difference to me in terms of a lot less reflections but my ears are going to have to adjust.  Here is a shot of the corner:

20140706_132703

I put them in a pattern and the wife was happier with that look.  If form is an issue (and it can be) I’m thinking that covering the foam with fabric could be an option.  Since mine is in a separate room (home office/studio) it isn’t as much an issue, but I’d like to put something like this in the family room where the entertainment center is and there is little chance those would be allowed as is.  I would wrap them around so there was a flap on the back and just pin through the fabric as well onto the wall.  Instant color and everything sounds better too!

The last pieces I have to put up are on doors so the t-pins will not work there.  I have some smaller Command hooks and am thinking I can add some thread to the foam and hang those from the hooks.  I’ll post an update as I finish that since I am not quite sure of the best way to add the thread yet.  I’m a bit worried about getting it level.

Hopefully that sparks your own ideas.

Sonic Assault Studio

Posted: March 16, 2009 in music
Tags: , ,

Okay so it sounds more impressive than it really is, but still I’m pretty psyched about it.   I’d been playing lots of Guitar Hero and Rock Band with (and without) the kids and I just kept thinking about getting out my real guitar and playing.  Some of the songs are actually easier to play for real than they are in the game.  So around July of last year, I went digging for my guitar in the back of the closet, and started trying to remember the scales and the other stuff I used to be able to play.  It was a blast and even though the fingers complained for the first couple of weeks I kept on playing, trying to get back into some kind of playing shape.  I just played on the guitar without any amplification.

Then around August I decided it was time to hear what I was playing and maybe be able to record.  I didn’t want to shell out for a real amp, which would just annoy the rest of the family.  So I spent 90 bucks to get the Line 6 Toneport UX1 and the “studio” was born.    The amp modeling in the Toneport is great and since I was in the family room I could totally crank up the volume and rock out without driving anyone crazy.  I tried both the Riffworks demo and the free Kristal audio engine as my DAW.  I used both, but not a whole lot since there wasn’t much to record as I was trying to relearn what I’d forgotten from my bass playing days in the the early nineties and figuring out what was possible to do with the Toneport.

At the beginning of October I was still enjoying playing and starting to understand the basics of recording.  I had also experimented with Reaper and Ableton Live as my DAW, but decided that if I were going to get serious and actually buy something, I wanted what the pros use even if realistically I won’t ever be a pro.  So I got a Protools mini in a package that came with studio monitors and a condensor microphone for my birthday.  Yes there are tons of other just as capable DAWs available, but that’s what I decided to go with and it’s been great.  Of course, now I’ve had lots to learn with playing the guitar and figuring out Protools, but that’s all part of the fun.  So now I had the pieces for the studio even though it was in the family room.

Then in January, the oldest daughter moved out.  After the musical chairs with the rooms was settled, I ended up with a room to double as my office and a home studio.  After some cleaning, new paint, and a trip to Ikea I was able to start settleing into my new digs.  The family was a big help with that!  This past month my wife and I have been able to find stuff to get on the walls and start to make it feel more homey.  Now that it’s pretty close to finished, I figured I better have a name, but I wasn’t sure would be a good one.  Then I remembered telling somebody after I’d been to a Tool concert that what I had heard was a sonic assuault on my body.  That stuck in my mind and seemed to be a perfect fit.  Now to the business of actually creating music!

In the raw

In the raw

You can always check out the rest of the set on my flickr page.