Q It Up: The Home Studio - Part 1

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95The Home Studio, once a dream for most, now a reality at incredibly affordable prices. Get a napkin and get ready to drool over some of the studios outlined below. No doubt, some of you have taken the home studio to the max, and aren’t through yet.

Once again, we had some great response to this month’s question, and will present the responses in two parts with part two in next month’s August issue.

Q It Up: Do you have a studio at home? What is it equipped with? (If you have a computer-based workstation, what audio software are you using? Also tell us about your computer—CPU type/speed, hard disk size, RAM, and sound card. Include any other information you feel is pertinent.) What plans do you have for new gear in the near future? Feel free to add any other comments you might have.

Lee Edwards <bhplee[at]aol. com>: Yeah, I have a home studio. Not the greatest, but it certainly gets the job done. It’s a computer-based workstation. For software I use a combination of Cakewalk and SAW Plus. My computer is a PC with a Pentium 166 processor, 4.5 (or close to it) gig hard drive, and 88 megs of RAM. My sound card is a MIDIMAN D-MAN with 4 ins and outs. My ‘puter has a CD-R burner in it for my mix-downs, unless I choose to mix to DAT. The DAT’s a Sony. Other odds ‘n ends: RE-20 and a Rode NT-1 (great mic, great price), a Yamaha 12x4x2 console, Crown amp, Yamaha Speakers, and AKG headphones.

Hey, I don’t make big bucks like Jeff Berlin. (Hey Jeff!) But if I did, I’d get a Pro-Tools 24/Mix. I don’t think Santa will bring me one this year, and my ex-wife won’t allow it in my budget. Maybe one day, though. But I do think I can afford a Paris system from Emu-Ensoniq. The way I understand it, it’ll do just about everything a Pro-Tools will but for a fourth of the price. I hope to have one by the fall.

My advice for building a home studio is this: Don’t start out small. Sure, SAW and Cakewalk work well, but get something you can grow with, something that kicks gluteus max and is not dependent on your computer’s processing speed. Purchase something with its own DSP processing chips!!!! But only if you’re serious. I wish I had known.

Hal Knapp < ZCobra[at]aol.com>, HSK Productions/Z100, New York: Well, the madness started six years ago, primarily to allow me to produce the syndicated show Backtrax USA on my own time away from Z-100. Additionally, the home studio helped me define a clear line between station business and freelance work—a subject that I could write a book about. My initial investment of $6000 gave me a whopping four tracks of Protools and a DAT machine, less the computer which I had purchased early that year. It was a time when DAWs where for hi-end/professional studios, and cheap sound cards were only a dream. While most radio stations were unaware of DAWs (we only had one at Z-100), having the tools in my bedroom at home, in 1993, was very unusual. That initial investment eventually paid for itself and started my “addiction.”

Today, my main DAW is a Protools 24 Mix system with an 888 interface and two extra DSP Farms on a Mac 8600/300 with 192MB RAM. I have 18 GB of hard drive storage as well as a Yamaha CD recorder, plus Zip and Syquest removable drives. This setup gives me 64 tracks and incredible DSP for multitudes of real-time effects. My second system is a Protools II system with 8 tracks on an older Mac. My Protools II system is for basic voice track editing, cataloging, and simpler tasks, and is used mainly by my assistant.

For software, I use Protools 4.3 with just about every audio plug-in currently available for the system. Also, I have just about every program available for the Mac that’s used for sound creation and manipulation, from Turbosynth to Metasynth and Bitheadz AS-1 (analog synth) to DS-1 (software sampler). I use Digital Performer for MIDI sequencing.

External gear is too long to list in any specific detail: 3 compressors, 4 multi-effect boxes, Eventide H3000 D/SE Harmonizer (w/broadcast option), EQ, tube preamp, Aural Exciter, 3 48-point patchbays, MIDI patchbay, Mackie 1604, 2-Mackie 1202s, 2 CD players w/digital output, 2 portable and 1 stationary DAT decks, Hi-fi VCR, TV, Pro turntable, AM/FM tuner, dual cassette deck, BandK oscilloscope, EMU sampler, Roland synth module, Yamaha keyboard, and Otari 5050B reel-to-reel w/dbx type II NR. I also have a DCI system for sending and receiving spots.

For mics, I have everything from large studio condensers to shotguns to PZMs. My main studio monitors are Mackie HR824s with an Infinity sub-woofer (if you love bass, you gotta have one). My second system’s monitors are Alesis Monitor Ones driven by a Hafler amp.

I’m fortunate to have a room in my house dedicated to my “toys” with extra sound insulation within the walls and Sonex on the outside. I’ve also invested in a commercial alarm system for extra protection and have all my gear insured. It’s important to point out that most homeowners insurance will not fully cover the kind of equipment that’s used for radio production—especially as much as I have. I had a special policy written that covers my equipment at home and in the field as well as a clause for liability.

I’m not quite sure what I’ll buy next. However, it seems as if the need for software is quickly taking over my purchasing decisions and hardware is much lower on the list. The madness will continue…

Todd Zarnitz <todd[at]broadcast.net>, Creative Director, WBHV/WFGI/WMAJ, State College, PA: I have a really compact home studio that’s actually in the living room of my apartment! I picked up a Rode NT1 mic, Symetrix 528E voice processor, Mackie 1402 board, Digitech effect generator, 300MHz Pentium system with 64 megs of RAM, Darla soundcard, CD burner, and SAWplus. I even put little sound tiles on the wall. Everything, including the computer came to under three grand. At that price, why not? I can actually crank out higher quality stuff from the living room of my apartment, than from the prod studios at work. I’ll produce something on SAW, mix it down to a .wav file, and then either burn it right to CD or convert it to MP3 and email away! Everything sounds like a million bucks, too.

Computers are just simply amazing. I can send my audio production to anyone in the world in a matter of seconds with an emailed MP3 file. Who cares if I live in State College, PA? Then, get this, I almost bought a fax machine and installed another phone line a few weeks ago, but it turns out I don’t even have to do that! I found a website, efax.com, that gave me my own personal fax number, and now emails any faxes that I receive. And the whole service costs nothing!

Thinking about building a system? Do it!

Tim Mikkelsen <gunnpro[at]earth link.net>: At Gunn Productions, we are currently using Pro Tools/Deck II for computer recording and editing. My wife is a school teacher, so she gave the Mac bug years ago. We use the Power Mac 7600 to run this software and hardware. I love the program but hate the fact that most of the “real world” is using the PC format! We also record to Sony MiniDisc and a Lacie CD burner and utilize mpeg layers 2 and 3 for recording. We archive our spots one of three ways: on MiniDisc, Zip drive, or CD-R. As far as the rest of the equipment goes, we use RE-20 mics, Mackie board, Yamaha monitors, a DOD compressor, and have a few reel-to-reel machines (including Revox, Ampex and Tascam) for dubs for stations that still aren’t ready for the new millennium!

Richard Stroobant <bigdick[at]cjay92.com>: I may be cast away as a freak by all my fellow producers for how I feel about having a studio in my home, but I am willing to take that risk. Here goes: I WILL NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE A HOME STUDIO!!! First, I must preface this by saying that I have been a producer for 15 years, and I am NOT a “union guy” or a “clock-watcher” by any means. But, when I go home, my family life starts and work doesn’t begin until the next day. I genuinely feel sorry for the guys who work on promos or spots all day at work and then take it home and spend all night working on it, too. I’m not trying to tell them they are wrong, but for me, I would rather spend time with my wife going to a movie or going for a walk with my dogs or bike riding with my kids (and I don’t even have any kids yet). I mean after all, it’s only radio.

Now the day may come when we producers will have to do everything out of our homes and work on a network from there, getting our scripts from writers via email, voicing with guys across the city or country thru ISDN lines, and sending our spots to the stations using MP3 files. BUT, when that day comes, you can bet that I will not be behind a computer screen all day and all night. But, that’s just me.

Mike Carta <kcarta[at]ix2.ix.net com.com>, Mike Carta Productions/SuperSweepers: Here’s the scope on my home studio. Two custom configured Dell Dimension XPS Pentium II 450’s (one for back-up) each loaded with: 256 MB SDRAM, 14/32X MAX SCSI CD ROM drive, 3-Com US Robotics V.90 modem, 16MB STB nVida TNT 3D AGP graphics card, 9.1 GB SCSI Ultra 2/wide drive, 21" monitor, Yamaha 4416s 4Xwrite/4X rewrite/16X read SCSI-2 2MB buffered internal, and DAL CardDplus. For software: Windows NT 4.0, SAWPlus-32 and Sound Forge 4.0, EDL Investigator 32, Ignition CD-R Plug-in, 32 Bit FX plug-in bundle. Other gear includes: Two Neuman TLM-193 mics, AKG C3000 mic, Yamaha SPX 90 II, Alesis Quadraverb 2, ART MDM 8L 8-channel limiter, Aphex 722 Dominator II, Aphex Aural Exciter type C2, Tascam 32-2 reel-to-reel, Panasonic SV-3500 DAT, Alesis Monitor Ones, Alesis RA-100 Reference Amp, Tascam DA-88 plus RC-848 remote control, Valley 401 mic pre, ART (tube) dual mic-pre, Berhinger 24/8 Eurodesk mixer, Teac CD-1440 CD player, Musicam USA RoadRunner ISDN codec, Furman PL-8 power conditioner, Roland PMA-5 (personal music assistant), and Roland Boss VT-1 mic processor.

Future acquisitions: Sony MDS 920B, Sony MZ-R55, Manley/Langevin mic-pre or the Manley VoxBox , Waves NNP software (maybe CoolEdit Pro too), DAL CardDSP sound card (waiting on it to hit the market), SAWPro Studio software.

Comments: Producing my VO projects got a lot easier once I switched to a PC based DAW. SAWPlus-32 and Sound Forge has surpassed my expectations. Both are extremely easy to use. Amazing results, especially now with two new “Help” CD ROM’s that show you the “SAW” way. I highly recommend any of the SAW products.

Jim Kipping <jkipping[at]texas.net>, Director of Production LBJS Broadcasting, Austin, TX; Owner PowerHaus Productions and Voice Over Austin: It’s a great time to be alive!!!! Equipment has been more affordable than ever before. The one unfortunate thing is keeping up with the changes in the industry these days. I have one entire room devoted to a studio. It’s divided in half with custom cabinets where you can sit down and VO on one side, or stand up and produce on the other. Equipment includes a Tascam M-2600 MkII 24x8x2 console with meter bridge. Advent Baby II’s and Acoustical Research monitors with a Sony STRv-55 amp. Rode NT2 Mic (main), Bellari RP533 tube mike pre and compressor, into a Behringer Composer MDX2100 and an Behringer Ultra Gain Mic2000 (for a nice quick filter). Leveling Line Compressor from Alesis 3630 for the main program out of the board. Other outboard gear includes Alesis Midiverb III and other outboard boxes from Ensoniq and Behringer. DAT machines include a Tascam DA-30 (which makes a nice DA converter for those that don’t want to sink a few K on a TC Electronics I/O). CD duties belong to an ancient Mitsubishi DP-311R. VHS-stereo drop box from AKAI, and let’s not forget the Scully 202b RR deck for those stations that need reel, and top it off with an RCA ribbon mike from about 1950.

I also incorporated a network of computers throughout the house for various tasks for the business. I have custom built each one, a never ending process, and they include: K6-233mhz MMX, 128 RAM, 8 and 4 Gig Hard Drives, SBlaster Pro AWE64 Gold Sound Card, HP 8100i CD-R Burner and Mitsumi 20x CD ROM, Iomega 2G Jaz, and 100m Zip drives. This is mainly used as a firewall to the Internet. It’s also used as the main copy computer and billing machine. This is in a full tower case and is placed in a walk-in closet in the studio in a half rack on casters for easy access. This also includes the main production machine.

The main production machine, just completed, is a Pentium II/400mhz MMX with 256 meg RAM running Win98, 8G Western Digital Hard Drive (main C:) and an Ultra-Wide SCSI IBM 9 Gig 7200 rpm hard drive (D: used mainly to do sessions), Mitsumi 20x CD-ROM, Memorex 4x2x8 CD-R, with the new Gadgetlabs 24/8 Pro sound card. This has the optional SPDIF daughter card hooked directly to the DA7 above. This machine is only for recording and mastering, using IQSoft’s SAWPro 1.7 Software. It is using the first machine as a Proxy Server to the www via a 3Com ImpactIQ ISDN Modem.

Throughout the house I also have a Pentium 166 Machine w/64Meg RAM (for the phone/fax server and demo line), and my old Pentium 200/64 that was my previous recording unit. This has the older Sony CD-R model 920s. This serves as a back up work machine, or another net machine so my wife won’t kill me for barricading myself in the studio where she can’t get to the web. Email and full web capabilities are on each machine just for this reason. I also incorporate Audio Active’s Production Studio Pro in the mix for mp3 encoding (see review in this issue) for world wide distribution.

I also have another personal machine at the day gig (LBJS Broadcasting, LP Austin). It’s a K6-233/128 20 Gig Western Digital h.d. and a sound card from “adb” called the Pro18 (Digital I/O), and another 3Com Impact IQ ISDN modem. (This works great with PC Anywhere software where I can control my machines at the home studio from the office).

My business, PowerHaus Productions, and now Voice Over Austin, has been growing exponentially over the past 10 years, which has allowed me to purchase equipment, an extremely nice tax write off, as I go. No debt. That’s the key. The equipment I have built onto over the years has been a tremendous asset for my work at LBJS too. If I can’t finish a project at the office, I can continue at home that night if need be. (oh.. and that NEVER happens right??) Above mentioned equipment is monitored by a 24 hour alarm service, electrified razor wire, and a team of trained attack dogs. No, really, they will attack!

Jeff Berlin <jberlin[at]kissfm.com>, WXKS, Boston: A subject dear to my heart. My home studio started in my attic. After a year of “honey I’m home; I’ll be up in the attic ‘till 3 am,” I moved the studio to an office outside of my home (which happens to be at the radio station where I work) and is what I now work exclusively out of. A Mackie 1202VLZ board; a Neutrik patch bay; a Panasonic 2800 DAT machine; Yamaha powered monitors; and a Shure KSM32 mic with a TC Electronics Gold Channel Mic PreAmp. The Computer: a Mac clone (PowerTowerPro225) running ProTools with a MIX card, 160MB RAM, a Cheeta 9GB hard drive out of an Adaptec Ultra Wide SCSI card, two monitors—one for the edit window and one for the mixer window, an internal Yahaha CD rewritable, and a Digidesign 882 20-bit audio interface. I’m about to get a Tascam real-time CD recorder and have a list of outboard boxes I never use anymore. I don’t have a lot of space, so I continue to use the 12-channel Mackie due to its small footprint. I figure the real mixing is done inside the computer. A bigger mixer would save me about 30 seconds a day—the time it takes to use the patch bay instead of dedicated inputs. BTW, after reading the review in RAP about “ACID,” I bought the PH1 version, loaded it onto an old 486 PC I use to write copy, and now create music beds with it, exporting the .WAV files into ProTools with my Mac and PC networked together. Never had this much fun doing production!

We'll do part 2 next month.

 

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