Need advice on rebuilding a stripped-down audio recording studio
May 21, 2009 6:00 AM   Subscribe

I want to (re)build a small, mostly digital studio in my office. I write and play mostly indy pop, typically using no more than 16 tracks with a mix of electronic and acoustic instruments. Although I have a ton of gear, most of that will remain in boxes. I'm going for a smallish singer/songwriter production suite.

Here's what I plan on salvaging from my current gear:

- MacBook with 2g ram. Firewire 400 + USB2, writing to an external HD (more on that in the What I Need section)
- My Genelec 1032As midfield monitors
- My Mackie 1604EZ board
- An assortment of wide diaphram mics & instrument mics
- A metric assload of guitars, basses, keyboards, outboard effects & processors, and other random gear. I'll mostly use my J-45 and Tele for the guitars.
- My ASR-88 as my main keyboard interface

What I Need:

- A new I/O: two balanced in's are all I need.
- New HD recording and sequencing software: I've used Cubase, Logic and most recently ProTools. I'm a set it and forget it guy; when I'm recording I do NOT want to fuck around with configuration.
- New sample/synth software for sounds: mostly mainstream instruments like pianos and organs, basses, strings, the occasional vintage synth emulator.
- A new HD - I don't think it'll be a good idea to write to my dedicated Time Machine back up HD, no?

I've got $500 and Manny's in the city is going into liquidation until the end of May. Can it be done? What would you suggest? Old AskMe's don't really address my specific gear needs in relation to what I already have, and the latest one is over a year and a half old - an eternity in gear-years. Thanks in advance!
posted by digitalprimate to Technology (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would go with some form of ProTools as your DAW. Its the pro studio standard and will help out, should you want bring your sessions to other studios to record Drums etc., or send the sessions to other people to mix/remix.
You can get an Mbox with protools software for about $500, which wouldn't leave much left for the other stuff. But ProTools comes Bundled with plug ins and Some SoftSynths, so you can get rolling.

Another option would be to get an M-audio Interface and M-powered software, which is ProTools for use with M-audio interfaces.
posted by JamesMCS at 6:26 AM on May 21, 2009

Best answer: Personally, I prefer to work with Logic, but JamesMCS is absolutely right about the superior portability of ProTools sessions. You can export everything to BWAV in Logic (which will let someone just drag them into a new ProTools session for mixing), but it's a bit of a hassle. I do mix in Logic, though, and I think even the built-in plugs sound good. Remember, also, that ProTools LE doesn't natively support AU plugins, I don't think.

That said, if you'd rather use Logic, I really like the Focusrite Saffire LE. Decent preamps (although you don't really need those), plenty of routing options, balanced I/O, and it just works. Logic Express is full-featured, and every bit as good as Logic in most ways. The pair of those would run you something like $450, though, so you'd likely spend a little extra getting yourself another hard disk (I've got a WD WorldBook, I think, that works well enough).
posted by uncleozzy at 7:42 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you want to go with ProTools, get the Mbox (not the mini), et voila. I don't think it's worth buying ProTools M-Powered, and then be left with only enough money to buy a cheap soundcard (that is, a M-Audio). Plus ProTools is still used a lot in music recording, but also a lot in sound for film.

If it were me I'd take advantage of the mac and get Logic Express (or, if you'really serious about it and can afford to splurge, Logic Pro). You might be going overbudget, but there are a lot of online resellers and stores, and you could get a good deal at Manny's. Logic has strong synths, it's got a lot of great plugins and you can use whatever soundcard you want, so your studio can be upgraded later. (I also think personally that the interface is way more efficient and configurable, so you could automate the whole thing, and control these settings through your Ensoniq'S MIDI (by the way how is it hooked up to your mac?)
posted by ddaavviidd at 7:43 AM on May 21, 2009

Response by poster: " the way how is it hooked up to your mac?"

At the moment, it's not; it's in its flight case in the basement :)

That was one of two other considerations: I'll have to have an I/O with MIDI in order to take advantage of the bundled sounds. Also, I suppose it's totally unreasonable to hope for balanced outs to feed my Genelecs. The Mackie doensn't have them either, but it sure would be nice.

I'm kinda leaning towards the MBox 2 at this point, mainly for the Pro Tools/other software bundle. There's a guy in East Harlem selling it with all the software and is willing to throw in a copy of Reason....

However, that Focusrite Saffire LE looks mighty tempting - decent mic preamps would go a long way towards me not even needing the Mackie desk.

Thanks for all the answers - I'm still mulling this all over.
posted by digitalprimate at 8:23 AM on May 21, 2009

(For what it's worth, the Saffire LE's outputs are all balanced.)
posted by uncleozzy at 8:32 AM on May 21, 2009

I would go with Logic Pro. It is worth the $500. It has way more bundled plug ins and software synths than proTools. If you want to bring your laptop with you and mix with headphones or whatever, you can do that. With protools, you need to buy an extra dongle in order to do that. Logic works with almost any audio interface or without an audio interface. Protools works with only digidesign hardware connected to your computer. Logic has a lot of presets that help you get the sound you want quickly. Protools, not so much. Protools doesn't have Automated Delay Compensation. Almost every other DAW software does.

I came up on Protools. I like it a lot but Logic has a lot to offer and brought a good game to the table. If I am recording a band playing live (16 inputs or so) or need to do lots of editing, I record in protools, make my edits and then mix in Logic. Logic is also, IMHO, easier for quickly capturing ideas when you are inspired. Go through the list of presets and find the sound you are looking for and go. This is not so easy with Protools (As far as I know, I haven't upgraded to PT8).

I use the DIGO002r with the Focusrite Octopre and have had next to zero problems. It works perfectly with Logic. I have no experience with MBox 2, but I have a few friends that have had nothing but problems. Ask that guy why he is selling it.

As far as interface is concerned, I also recommend Focusrite. They have good preamps and work well with logic.

Just my 2cents.
posted by chillmost at 2:50 PM on May 21, 2009

DON'T buy an Mbox without first reading the forums at There's a thread about the current Mbox2 that stretches 58 pages long. Mbox2s have well documented driver issues that are over 2 years old and still unresolved. Digi's current position on it is that they expect to release a new driver this coming fall and they hope that will fix it.

ProTools LE is pretty strong. I've used it for years - but I strongly recommend avoiding the Mbox2 (the current generation of the Mbox).

On the other hand... Apple sliced the price of the fill Logic Studio Pro in half. It's just $500, and it's amazing. Here's a money saving tip though: Logic Express only costs $200, and the price to upgrade from Logic Express to Logic Pro is $300, which adds up to the same price as if you'd just bought the full package to begin with. Sweet!

As for an I/O - I recently bought an Apogee Duet and I can't speak highly enough of it. Good lord, I can hear things I've never heard before in music that I've owned for years.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:48 PM on May 21, 2009

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