Q It Up: How would you equip a $3000 home studio?

q-it-up-logo2Q It Up: Money is tight, but you need to put together a home studio for voiceovers and multi-track production. You have around $3,000 (US) to spend. How would you spend it? What gear do you think would give you the best bang for the buck? What DAW software package would you buy? What mic? What mic processor/preamp, if any? Would you get a mixer? What about soundproofing? Would you spend most your budget on a loaded new computer, or upgrade an existing one? What would be your minimum configuration -- how much RAM, disk  space, CPU speed? Please add any other thoughts you have on the subject!

Ryan Drean [ryandrean@gmail.com] www.ryanontheradio.com:  I figure the first thing to decide is whether you are focusing on VO or production. For 3 grand you can’t maximize for both. I just upgraded a bunch of things but since the bulk of my income is related to production and imaging, the computer was the most important part. I already had the Waves Gold bundle but I think that is a major part of a producer’s world. So it may have to go on your list which slaughters your budget right there. I had a computer built by a company in CA. 4GB Ram, 2.5ghz Quad core, 2x500GB audio drives w/32 MB buffer and an Asus p45 (I think) board which is very stable and good for the DAW. Watch out for any other upgrades as most things can be done yourself. DVD drives are cheap, don’t need floppies, oh and BTW, the “super quiet super-awesome” CPU fan was a joke. It is the loudest fan I have ever heard. I am told now that this fan is mostly for gamers who over-clock the system. As for the Op sys, I still use XP pro, which I recommend buying and installing yourself if you are computer savvy. I apply all the PT needed tweaks and have a little “thing” from a computer friend that “does stuff” to XP which makes it run incredibly lean and fast. Basically all the extra services and parts I don’t need are stopped. I  would also get a good quality power supply in the unit plus I think my Furman power conditioner helps with system noise.

I upgraded to an expensive mic, but before that I used a Superlux (TLM 103 rip-off). It’s like $116 shipped and it sounds REALLY good. Also for VO if you have the Waves Bundle, the plugs it comes with will be good enough for your EQ/Comp/Gating needs. I have an Aphex 230 which is not too expensive and has a ton of different processing capabilities if you are looking for something external. It received many good reviews all over the net.

 So for me the importance was on production. The new machine and Waves, if I didn’t already have it, would be the 2nd most important. I am also going to be upgrading to Pro Tools 8.0 this week. With my new machine I am weeping like a child over how awesome it is. I am running many plugs and instruments at the same time with NO issues. I made a mistake and went with a cheap machine a year ago and it was not worth it. So wait until you can buy the good stuff! You will be MUCH happier in the long run.

 PS: The Digi guy told me that if you do not have the 6.0 version of Waves, it might not be a good idea to upgrade to Pro Tools 8.0. It is only tested to run with Waves 6.0 versions and up.

Ric Gonzalez [Ric.Gonzalez@CoxRadio.com], Cox Radio, San Antonio, Texas: Three grand? Can I have some more please? No? Ok... I’d keep the Dell I have and buy: Adobe 3.0, 1 AKG 414 mic, 1 Focusrite Platinum Voicemaster pro, and since I’ll need what little is left for cables and a mic stand, I guess I’ll use some packing blankets for soundproofing.

Steve Stone [steve.stone1@sbcglobal.net]: Well, I’m not shopping anymore, but I’ll tell you what I bought and am very happy with. About a year ago I spent about $2500 and set up my home studio. I intended to produce ads, jingles and songs that I write. I went with a PC (dual core @ 2.8 7200 SATA 2G RAM) a 24/96 sound card with 4 in - 4 out, a sweet little 12 in – 4 out Tapco mixer, and a pair of KRK Rockit powered monitors. For my microphone, I took the advice of Steve Avedis (Grammy nominated engineer/producer) and went with the MXL V69 Mogami tube condenser. I run it through a dbx 266XL comp/gate. I too highly recommend this mic. I record with Audition 3.0 and some fancy plug-ins. For soundproofing I went to Wal-Mart and bought some foam mattress pads with unusual texture for under $20 each and stapled them to the walls -- my own little rubber room where I talk to myself.

I cop a fat, clear sound with this setup.

Now, that being said, if my budget had been more like 6 grand, I probably would have gone Digi on Mac with a Neumann.

A footnote: I’m not too proud to admit I own a $60 MXL 990. At that price, I had to see. Through the dbx, it sounds pretty good!

Mike Mlazgar [mmlazgar@radio.astral.com], Astral Media Radio G.P., South Okanagan/Kootenays, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada: I’ve been picking up equipment for a home studio over the past year, and here’s what I did. The first thing I purchased was an Audio-Technica AT 4040 and a Presonus Eureka channel strip ($900 CDN). The Eureka has a compressor & EQ built into it, so I saved a bit of cash there. At work, I use Adobe Audition, but I’ve always wanted to learn Pro Tools, and figured an M-Box 2 rig with PT LE would be the way to go ($500). This covered my software and audio interface decisions. I knew my 8 year old Gateway wouldn’t be able to run Pro Tools, so I would need a new computer. After a lot of reading about chipsets & compatibility issues with Pro Tools & PC’s, I decided to go with a 20-inch iMac 2.66 GHz ($1600). It came with 2 GB of RAM, and a 320 GB hard drive. It’s my first Mac experience and so far, I really love the machine. Pro Tools installed easily on it, and I’m a very happy camper. Lastly, I picked up a pair of KRK Rokit 5 monitors ($350) to hear my mixes. With the current exchange rate, I’ve only spent about $2700 US... I guess I need to go shopping!

Paul Cotton [PCotton@blackburnradio.com], Blackburn Radio Production, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada: 15” Mac Book Pro w/ 2 gig RAM ($1950). Pro Tools M Power ($300). M Audio Fast Track Pro 4x4 Pre ($250). Rode NT1-A condenser mic ($200). Mic stand and 50’ XLR ($100). Sennheiser HD 280 “cans” ($200). TOTAL:  $3000.

A very nice (expandable) portable studio. The Mac is solid out of the box. PT software and plug-ins allow great flexibility for any recording environment. The fast track bundles MIDI aps, if needed. The Rode is a great vocal mic with decent reproduction and durability for the price. Throw on your cans and start your imaging imagination.