Home Studios
July 11, 2004 10:40 PM   Subscribe

Home Studio Questions:
(1) opinions of Pro Tools vs GarageBand or other multitrack audio tools that run on a Mac (DP? Deck?)?
(2) What are the *most* useful home studio items you've ever bought, the ones you wouldn't want to do without?
(3) What are the *least* useful items you've ever bought -- stuff you got and then later thought "well, that was disappointing"?
posted by weston to Technology (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
(1) Garageband is too simple and Pro Tools is overkill for the average home studio. I'd go for Cubase, powerful and intuitive, and there are lots of cheap or free plug-ins.
(2) Easy. My Behringer V-Amp 2. An arsenal of guitar amps in one good looking box.
(3) I haven't bought it, but I have tried it, and though it seems really cool, I wouldn't pay big money for Vocaloid.
posted by mr.marx at 11:10 PM on July 11, 2004


You might look at Metro. Yes, that's Carl Sagan's son Jeremy who makes it. It has (forgive me) billions of features and is quite affordable compared to software like Cubase and Logic.
posted by kindall at 11:22 PM on July 11, 2004


The other mid/lower-end program I've heard good things about is Tracktion. I admit I haven't really played with it, but you can try the demo.
posted by O9scar at 12:02 AM on July 12, 2004


GarageBand is pretty damn handy. I just used it to clean up a poorly-recorded phone call.
posted by inksyndicate at 2:06 AM on July 12, 2004


I record on a PC using cool edit pro, or sometimes onto a small 4 track that I have. It's a hobby more than anything else. If you're truly wanting to multi track you'll want a good interface, something with several independant inputs. I play guitar and tend to want to record anywhere from 2 to 4 tracks at a time (clean preamp, dirty preamp, clean post amp, dirty post amp).

The best thing I ever bought it something I made: an isolation cabinet. Basically it's a big box that you put your speaker cabinet and some microphones into. You record the output of the speakers, typically at very high volumes, but from the outside it's not too loud. Especially important for a one room studio where you don't want any bleedover. I stick mine in a closet or down the hall and I can't hear it at all, even at the loudest.

Least useful item? I don't know, I use everything I've got.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:04 AM on July 12, 2004


Most useful: patch bay.
posted by mischief at 6:09 AM on July 12, 2004


1) I'm using GarageBand now, I used ProTools Free on OS 9. Since I use it basically as a "Tascam 4 track" and only with the built-in sound card, it's fine for me. I do all my effects in the analog domain and just use the Mac as a recorder. For what I do, it's a toss-up, but GarageBand was cheap and there's no (and won't be any) ProTools Free for OS X.

2) My Behringer MX1604A mixer. Handles everything I have, decent preamps, effects loops, reasonable size and price.

3) Nothing so far.
posted by tommasz at 6:10 AM on July 12, 2004


(1) I have and use both Protools LE and Garageband, and agree that if you are recording in a 'live band' situation, Garageband is definately inadequate. Pro Tools may be overkill at first, but it's intuitive if you're used to analog recording, leaves you plenty of room to grow, and a Digi 001 with LE is getting cheaper by the second. Most plug ins that I've ever needed to use were... 'around.' Check the (remarkably well-hidden) Digidesign DUC for more first-hand accounts of protools.

(2) Behrenger 4 Way Headphone Amp. Everyone knocks behrenger products left and right, but this one is nice and cheap, and does the job. When recording a live band all at once, the ability to give each member their own headphone mix (however minimal) is a godsend.

(3) I'm not at the level where I can afford to throw away money on things I'm not positive I'll be using yet. One item I bought and don't use as much as I thought were Oktava MK-12 Overhead mics. They were being raved about on the Tape Op board, and I needed overheads. They're good mics, but I don't hear the magic everyone else seems to.
posted by adamkempa at 6:12 AM on July 12, 2004


Er... BehrInger.
posted by adamkempa at 6:14 AM on July 12, 2004


The most useful tool is a multichannel sound card. Even if you are only recording one thing at once you'll appreciate mixing in hardware/analog (it's hard to keep control of more than one 'software slider') and the multiple inputs will come in handy later on. Also, if you don't already have a good sound card, the quality jump over the built-in sound is definitely noticeable, and they also usually come with good mic pres and balanced ins. I like the MOTU line (896, 828 etc) but those Digi002s look very nice as they have integrated digital mixers / control surfaces.

Software: I use Logic Pro 6 on Mac, which is not cheap but does pretty much everything and is solid but a bit of a pain to get used to. The newer version (7, should be out in the fall) is reworked to look like and act like Final Cut Pro, etc, so if you're used to that model it might be nice. It also integrates the Garageband/Soundtrack loop functionality. There's an 'express' version which is cheaper but doesn't come with all the software instruments.

I have seen the new beta of Ableton's live 4, which looks amazing but is geared towards beat-oriented music of course. Other DAWs for Mac currently are ProTools (expensive, tied to hardware, but the Mbox is cheap), Cubase SX 2 (might be on its way out from the Mac platform in a year but who knows), Metro (looks great but haven't had time to use it), and Digital Performer (many people's favorite now.) Garageband is not so good for expandability, but I appreciate its easy-to-use interface.

The most dissapointing gear is hardware samplers and 'groove / drum' machines. Back in 95 they were very cool but nowadays no one wants to sit at a tiny lcd getting RSI from chiclet buttons. They don't crash (well, my MPC did, but that's another story) and they feel like gear instead of software, but their usefulness and promise is definitely overshadowed by software-based samplers and loopers, etc. where you infinite disk space and a huge screen. (My favorites in this category are logic's exs24 and some of the NI tools like battery and kontakt.)
posted by neustile at 6:23 AM on July 12, 2004


edit: version 7 of Logic integrates the loop functionality, not 6. And that's only from beta information, the real thing might differ.
posted by neustile at 6:25 AM on July 12, 2004


neustile> their usefulness and promise is definitely overshadowed by software-based samplers

Unless you get one of these, they integrate well and they sound amazing.
posted by snarfodox at 6:29 AM on July 12, 2004


I (heart) Deck.
posted by tomierna at 6:42 AM on July 12, 2004


I'm very happy with Deck - I have the full version, but the lite edition may suffice, depending on your needs. Another Bias product, SoundSoap has been extremely useful as well. It's not the miracle scrubber they'd like you to believe, but it does a good job of removing background hum from voice recordings, etc.


Lately, I've been enjoying some great stereo recording with a pair of Sound Professionals in ear stereo microphones. Excellent for capturing ambient sounds, etc.
posted by aladfar at 6:51 AM on July 12, 2004


Garageband is fantastic because it works straight out of the box and comes with a load of effects, loops and instruments for you to play with.

ProTools is a fantastic, reliable application but more suitable for professionals than hobbyists. It doesn't come with any loops or instruments and only a meagre set of effects.

Most useful piece of kit: a very good microphone.
posted by skylar at 6:56 AM on July 12, 2004


snarfodox: that's not a sampler, though. I'm certainly not slagging hardware synths (especially unique ones.) Samplers are a different breed that are usually just computers in a rack case anyway, and there's nothing they can do that a computer can do much better and easier.
posted by neustile at 6:58 AM on July 12, 2004


In response to tomierna's comment on Deck: I liked the interface but I could not get it to record on my G3 with built-in sound hardware. Other programs would record with no problem but Deck wouldn't. The VU meters would register but no data ever got written to disk. Since lots of people use it, I would guess it's my hardware and YMMV.
posted by tommasz at 7:57 AM on July 12, 2004


1) I don't know if there is a mac version, but I LOVE cool edit. I think it is exactly (!) the middle point between Garageband and Pro Tools.

2) skylar said it first, but I think it bears reiteration: microphones. If you are recording from instruments, it doesn't matter how much "great" software and other gadgets you have - it will still sound shitty.

I am kind of partial to the Shure mics, but another good brand is AKG. Start with a Shure SM58 for vocals (and perhaps acoustic guitar) and a KSM series mic for instruments.

3) I spent a lot of money on a metronome, which is nice to have, but I hardly ever use it (as there are more conveniant metronome features on other things I use.)
posted by Quartermass at 7:58 AM on July 12, 2004


Most useful item in my "home studio" is that free subscription to Tape Op and the time I spend lurking at their message board (previously mentioned) and rec.audio.pro. Second most useful item is the time I've spent in professional studios watching real engineers work.

Other than that, I've got a virtual strobe tuner that I use religiously for tuning and intonating instruments. It is far, far more accurate than a conventional tuner and is the first electronic tuner I've used that's more accurate than my ear.
posted by stet at 8:31 AM on July 12, 2004


Cool Edit Pro is these days known as Adobe Audition. No mac version.
posted by mr.marx at 9:22 AM on July 12, 2004


My Behringer Truth B2031 Studio Monitors give me a good idea of what my mixes will sound like in most applications. Couldn't tell you the model number, but my 24 channel Mackie mixer is great for just hooking up the machines and jamming with a few friends. It could probably excel in more serious endeavours though.
posted by mnology at 9:37 AM on July 12, 2004


1) GarageBand is great for a home studio, as long as you only need to record one track at a time, don't need to automate anything but track level, and (if you already have a synth or two) don't mind recording your synth tracks live instead of playing back sequences (since GarageBand can't drive external MIDI devices).

GarageBand is a great place to start, and depending on the kind of music you want to produce it can take you pretty far. The UI is straightforward and easy to understand, and it's so cheap that you really can't lose by trying it.

2) A mixer. You don't need this if your audio setup consists of a microphone plugged into your computer's input jack, but cable-swapping gets old really fast once you have more than a single audio source.

3) There's an 1/8"-to-RCA converter cable laying in the corner that I didn't end up needing. Aside from that, I've been pretty successful at only buying gear when I'm certain I need it...
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:45 AM on July 12, 2004


GarageBand does not do MIDI? That's interesting... almost makes it the inverse of Reason, then, and does sortof downgrade it.

The main reason I asked about GarageBand vs ProTools is... I currently have a Powerbook Lombard (G3/333 Mhz). It runs PT Free well enough that I've done a few projects on it, does OK with Reason. I've been eyeing either buying a new laptop OR buying an MBox. I could do both, but I'm trying to economize so's to be able to buy some other studio niceties, like Antares Autotune and whatever gets suggested here.

I've also got Reason, and an old copy of Digital Performer (1.6 -- relevant because it makes it really cheap for me to upgrade to DP 4, but I can't run 1.6 with anything running later than system 7.6. I use it right now as a plain old sequencer on a Performa 6116). I've considered DP over Pro Tools -- I could probably upgrade and buy something like an M-Audio 4 channel interface for the same price
as an Mbox... but I've just had the vague impression the Digidesign stuff is better. However, given that Digi stuff is the only stuff I've had exposure to in the last 6-8 years, I figured it's worth examining other options.

Also, I'd love to hear more about virtual strobe tuners. I've
definitely found that I trust my ears better than most tuners, but they have their limits and I'd love a device I could rely on.
posted by weston at 11:40 AM on July 12, 2004


GarageBand does not do MIDI?

It accepts input from a MIDI controller, but will not send MIDI commands to an external sound module.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:19 PM on July 12, 2004


So I could, say, control GarageBand with Reason.
posted by weston at 1:43 PM on July 12, 2004


Since you asked... Peterson is the only company I know of that makes virtual strobe tuners. Strobes and virtual strobe tuners work much light timing lights for engine tuning, there's a bunch of spinning discs and when they line up you're in tune. I currently own the V-SAM, which is the size of one of those old, extra-big VHS tape cases. My luthier has one of the actual Peterson Strobes which doesn't offer any appreciable improvement to my ears. It is huge and hugely expensive. Peterson's newest model is a Strobostomp that's a tuner built into a pedal (w/ true bypass switching and a built in DI *drool*).

The reason I bought the V-SAM is that it has presets for Just Intonation as well as Equal Temperament and another couple specific to the pedal steel. Sadly, since I've purchased the tuner I've been forced into Equal Temperament by other players. Prior to getting the strobe, I tuned my steel by jaw conduction, which involves resting my chin on the guitar and counting beats. It is exceedingly undignified and entertains the audience in entirely the wrong way.

For a middle road on the tuners, Korg makes a number of models that use a needle instead of LEDs that cost ~$90 that a lot of people are happy with. I wouldn't intonate a guitar for the studio with one however.

And there is always the tuning fork. They work great at home or in a non-noisy, non-smoke-filled-bar environment. They're harder to use though, particularly if you're tempering your tuning as is generally done.

Some links on tuning in general:

Temperament: How music became a battleground for the great minds of Western civilization by Stuart Isacoff. A very readable book on the nuances of tuning systems.

Tempered Tuning Armageddon: A thread on the Steel Guitar Forum with a number of steel players who've spent way more time than normal thinking about tuning guitars. The thread gets technical fast and the main reason I included it are the in-thread links to about a dozen websites on intonation.

I am, by the way, obsessed with tuning. And street prices for Peterson Virtual Strobes run between $180US and $250US. Money well spent in my circumstances.
posted by stet at 1:57 PM on July 12, 2004


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