Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Expanded Barracks Home Studio

Ladies and gentlemen, it's the newly-updated and fully-equipped Barracks Home Studio.

I've splurged a bit during the last few weeks. Errrr, actually, I've splurged quite a lot. My desire to raise my setup to the next level -- a level capable of semi-pro mastering -- has opened the floodgates in a terrifying way: when you find out how little you know, you also find out how much more you NEED.

Replace "Need" with "Want," if you like.

But my mixing and mastering quest will be detailed in another post. For now, this is where my studio stands today. And like an egocentric goof I'm going to tell you what's inside, in order of when it was acquired (more or less).
  • Akai S700 Sampler: The first instrument I bought that I still actually use, though its disk drive died several years ago. I picked this up mid-90s from Sherwood Music so I could hold my own within Mindsculpture, a band I was in at the time. It's incredibly easy to use, has a large sample capacity, and sounds pretty damn good...but the single mono out reduces its usefulness unless you're manually playing the thing.
  • Tascam Portastudio 424 Cassette 4-track: My second 4-track, after the first one suffered a tragic head loss. Most of my old pre-DAW music was recorded on this thing. Effect sends and returns, variable speed control, 2-band EQ, and extremely smooth operation. For a while I used it as a mixer and a pre-amp, but it's so noisy that it's almost useless. Now I just use it to get at my old master tapes.
  • DOD Digital Delay System R-910: I don't remember where I got this, which makes the following fact even stranger: it has almost no online presence whatsoever. No pictures. No manuals. No description. That's strange because it's so much fun! You can change your effects (flange, chorus, double, and echo) on the fly, apply a repeat hold, change all your settings's a real-time dub monster! Strictly monophonic, however, and it sounds a bit sharp. Here's a picture:

  • Ensoniq ESQ-1 Keyboard: About five years ago my neighbours had a garage sale, and this was the little gem they were selling FOR TEN DOLLARS. They were unable to get any sound out of it so they assumed it was broken (they were plugging a stereo headphone jack into the right mono port, no doubt), and I gleefully gave them twenty for it because I hated to see them get ripped off. Well, the battery immediately died (which is a huge deal for these keyboards), which also erased all the presets. I splurged on a Syntaur soundset cartridge and was back in business. It sounds weird and complicated in all the right ways, but I have yet to really devote the time to explore it. Downsides: you can't smoothly edit sounds while you play them, and there is no MIDI thru.
  • iMac Aluminum Desktop Computer: Now we're entering the modern era. Wonderful computer power. I'm running Logic Pro.
  • Korg NanoPad, NanoKontrol, and NanoKey Controllers: They certainly have their uses, but I get frustrated having to FIGHT them so often. Whether it's flaky detection thanks to their custom USB drivers, or an inability for their Kontrol Editor to update the devices occasionally, or keys getting stuck on they keyboard...well, you DO get what you pay for, and I certainly still use them. Here's my recent assessment.
  • Lexicon MX300 Effects Processor: I use this mainly for lush stereo reverb applied selectively to the mix, not to alter individual tracks...but now I can be more flexible because of...
  • ...the Presonus Firestudio Project 10x10 Firewire Interface: I've upgraded from the old 4x6 Firebox, for the simple reason that I was craving more effect send/receive capability. It's working perfectly and was an easy transition from the Firebox. Its editing software is SO simple, and it doesn't run NEARLY as hot as the Firebox (though maybe that's because it has a bigger surface area). Anyway, this is the lynchpin of the new studio setup.
  • Vox ToneLab LE pedal/effects/amp modeler: I bought this from my father and am only now really exploring it. I've had some bad impressions so far with a consistently harsh digital distortion, but that may be because of my source material, my amp settings, or my volume setup (probably all three). The expression pedal is beautiful just on its own for adding dynamics to a synth pad.
  • Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro Headphones: These started me on this upgrade project, because they revealed to me everything that was deficient about my equipment and my technique. Some things you don't WANT to hear, unless you have the means to fix them! Now I do.
  • iZotrope Ozone 4 Mastering Plugin: Do you want to know how much better and more professional your music can sound? Just try the demo. I can vouch that it operates just as sweetly as you can imagine. Even if you aren't trying the product, you should read their "Mastering with Ozone" guide, which is FULL of tips, information, and explanations for the neophyte mastering student.
  • KRK Rokit 5 G2 Close-Field Studio Speakers: I bought these today to finally bring my studio to a functional state. They're small (and I need to elevate them about two feet somehow) but they give an even tone that's far beyond anything I've ever owned before.
How does all this fit together? Basically I use Logic Pro as the central hub, with the Firestudio Project as a router for all my effects, external equipment, and monitoring options. It's a beastly patchwork of equipment but it all fits together now, and my hope is that I can finally CRAFT some music instead of simply hacking away at it.

Several projects are on the go, including a few collaborations that are far outside my comfort zone. More on that soon!

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