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Recording

Tips &

Techniques

 

This collection of pages is provided as a resource by Renaissance Recording for anyone wishing to make
higher quality audio recordings.  If you are just getting your first studio together, please read the short discussion
below the page listing.  If you're a veteran, by all means proceed to the pages that follow; topics covered include:  

If you have arrived at this page first, also visit: Renaissance Recording Studio / John Wheeler's Band - Hayseed Dixie Site
General Beginning Recording Philosophy
Following is a brief essay regarding audio recording in general.  It is intended for those just putting
together their first studio, not the seasoned pro. When putting together your initial equipment,
it is important to keep a few priorities in order.  First, if you have to cut corners, DON'T skimp on your
microphones; this cannot be overemphasized.  The final sound on tape will never sound better than the
original source signal.  If your budget is limited, buy one or two high quality mics rather than several
lower quality ones.  If I could only have one mic, I'd have an AKG C-414; there's no sound I've heard
that this mic doesn't do at least a good job with, and they're slightly under $1000 (US).  If that's still
out of your price range, the AKG C-3000 or the Audio Technica 4033 are both pretty decent mics which
go for under $500 (US).  If you can't come up with that, well . . . how serious are you?
 
Second, you don't need a 20-space rack full of signal processors (reverbs, delays, etc.) to make a pro
quality recording; it's nice sometimes, but not essential.  One or two good reverbs, and a couple of
quality compressors and you're set (at least initially).  Decent low-priced reverbs include anything by TC,
anything by Lexicon, and the Yamaha REV-500.  Acceptable
low-priced compressors are the DBX 160A and the RNC (www.fmraudio.com).  None
of the cheap units are going to startle the world, but if they're used correctly they can yield professional
results without sending you to the bank for a 2nd mortgage.
 
Third, I've never been much of a fan of multi-track cassette recorders; they're noisy, muddy, and
seem inclined to display speed (pitch) weirdness.  You can buy a used ADAT (digital) for way less than $1000,
or an 8-track reel-to-reel (analog) for a little over $1000;  anything less is not going to yield much worth
listening to sonically.  The other route is to set up your computer so as to record directly to your
hard drive; in terms of sound quality (if you record at 44.1 kHz or greater), this is quite acceptable;
however, you're going to spend just as much if not more on the necessary computer hardware and
software as you would on a basic tape machine - it's more a matter of taste than quality, though.
Stay far away from the mini-disc format; it does some very funky data compression that'll wreck
all the harmonics and overtones.
 
Finally, since you're going to have a standalone 8 (or more) track tape machine, you're going to need
a mixing console.  A good one to start with is the 16-channel Mackie (they go used for around $500).
In it's class (that is, for under $4000 new) I think it's the best thing going.  Some people seem to really
like the Tascam mixers as well.  It would be a good idea - if you can afford it - to pick up a quality
microphone preamp.  This is not to say that the pres in the mixer are "bad."  The ones in the Mackie
are pretty good.  But go rent a Focusrite or an Avalon preamp, listen to both, and see if you
can't hear quite a bit of difference in regard to definition and clarity of tone.  Even many mid to upper
mid level mixing consoles have mediocre mic preamps;  the only reason I can think of is that most pro
engineers have their own outboard mic preamps they like to work with - and probably won't use the
ones in the console anyway.  Thus, the manufacturers figure why jack up the pres and the price when
nobody is going to care.  Low-priced preamps to look for are the Symetrix and DBX units, though
they may not be a great improvement.  Really good mic preamps cost at least as much as
top-notch mics; if you've got the cash (or the credit), spring for an Avalon or Focusrite preamp; however,
be warned: once you use one, you'll never be happy with anything less.  There are many stellar mic amps
on the market, each with their own uniqueness - some of my personal favorites (along with the Avalons
and Focusrites) are the Great River, the Crane Song, the Manley, and the classic Neve.
 
I should also note that your monitor speakers will have a great impact on the finished sound of your
mixes, so don't use those 3-ways that came with your Emerson stereo system.  In the affordable range
are models like the JBL and the industry standard Yamaha NS-10 (which don't "sound" all
that incredible, but seem to mix very well once you're used to them).  The truth is that many consumer
speakers have built-in EQ curves, etc. to sweeten their sound.  What you want to hear for a mix, however,
is the absolute sonic truth.  Pro audio monitors don't lie (nearly as much, anyway).  I also keep a pair
of really cheap Sony boombox speakers around just to reference to once in a while; you'd be surprised
how a mix can sound like the voice of God over good speakers and muddy trash over your friend's
Audiovox car system.  So, have at least 2 sets of monitors - a set of good ones, a set of garbage ones.
 
In conclusion, you can put together an adequate home / project studio for around $8,000 if you shop
around.  Anything less and you're probably better off to just go pay somebody who has some gear
to do your recording for you.  However, you don't have to have 48 tracks to make a fine recording;
The Beatles "Sgt. Peppers" album was cut to 8 tracks (actually, two 4-track machines syncronized
together).  You just need the gear you do have to be top notch, and most importantly you need a
good understanding of how to maximize its potential.  (Great performances from the musicians
never hurt anything either.)  Good luck, and we hope these pages help you make great tapes / records / CDs.
 

Now, drop us an e-mail and tell us how it went, who you are, where you are, your favorite beer, whatever. Cheers!


Site Index / Renaissance Recording Studio / Tips & Techniques / Microphone Placement / Tracking / Mixing / John Wheeler's Band - Hayseed Dixie Site / Who's the Dog?  For a collection of links to dozens of microphone & recording gear manufacturers, stop by our links page. This page written by John Wheeler, ©1998 The Renaissance Group, All Rights Reserved.