More inputs vs better preamps (or other stuff)?

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Dok
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More inputs vs better preamps (or other stuff)?

Post by Dok » Wed Feb 21, 2018 11:12 pm

I currently have a Focusrite Clarett 8Pre. Honestly it seems good enough for my purposes most of the time, but I don't think I really have audiophile-quality ears (I've made some pretty decent-sounding records on a DIGI 001 and MOTU 828 and haven't found them terribly lacking). I have my studio tuned pretty well, although there are some resonant frequencies that I can't do much about due to the fact that my house is a rental. I would like to improve my signal chain, though, but I guess I'm just not sure what is the most effective upgrade.

Like I said, the 8Pre is pretty good and recently built, but I fear I might be missing the next tier stuff like you might find in an ISA One or any one of the offerings by say, Warm Audio, Great River, Golden Age, Black Lion, the sort of thing that you'd spend 300-800 for. My individual tracks sound okay but I'm never really getting that "fuck yeah" thing that everybody seems to describe when using super nice preamps. It does feel that I should get at least two channels if I'm going to pony up.

But when I start looking at all of those options, then I start thinking about maybe getting something that has good preamps and expands my input capacity, namely stuff like the Audient ASP800/880 or the DigiMax DP88 (some cheap ones locally) so that I'd have the option to record my drum kit and have decent inputs on bass/guitars/etc at the same time (a rare situation, admittedly), and I could spend around the same amount of money if I'm vigilant. People seem to have nothing but good things to say about either of those offerings, and even though I'm not often in the position of having to record 16 inputs at once, it's always nice to have the capability.

So that's one part of the dilemma.

The other is whether or not I should take the admittedly small amount of money I'm willing to throw at this at the moment and buy a B pair of monitors instead, or maybe save up a bit more and just buy a really nice microphone. I currently have a pair of Equator D8s which I think sound great and are really only limited by the resonant frequencies in my room, and I use an AKG C4114 for most of the vocal that I record, which, again, is alright. Nothing feels "killer". My recordings are turning out fine, and I'm sure that the biggest limiting factor here is really my mixing ability.

So am I just chasing diminishing returns or is there a piece of gear or two I could add to my setup that would significantly improve my output for less than a grand?
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Re: More inputs vs better preamps (or other stuff)?

Post by UlricvonCatalyst » Thu Feb 22, 2018 12:06 am

This might sound like you'd end up with nothing tangible to show for your investment, but have you ever considered taking your tracks in to a pro engineer for a mix? If you're happy that you're tracking everything okay and reckon your mixing ability might be the issue, maybe a visit to a pro studio could be money well spent, if only to see how much difference a proper mixing environment, better outboard gear and 'a good ear' would make to your tunes.

If a day spent mixing in a pro studio seems like money down the drain, maybe consider getting a mastering engineer to do a mix from vocal, instrumental and percussion stems and see how if improves things for a bit less of a spend...?

Not the advice you were asking for, I admit, but I just listened to an interview with Colin Moulding (ex-XTC) who said that (track at home/pro mix) was his methodology and the results sounded pretty high-end to my ears.

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Re: More inputs vs better preamps (or other stuff)?

Post by Dok » Thu Feb 22, 2018 12:10 am

Thanks for the reply! I actually do exactly that for any official releases (which is obliquely what I was referring to when I said I'd recorded some albums on some legitimately cheap-ass hardware - they still got finished by people who know what they're doing), but I would still like to continue improving my own recordings and mixes nonetheless.

But to your other point, better outboard gear is exactly what I'm trying to figure out how to go about acquiring, just very frugally and strategically. :)
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Re: More inputs vs better preamps (or other stuff)?

Post by marqueemoon » Thu Feb 22, 2018 12:20 am

I've done the track at home and mix in a "real" studio thing once was and was pretty disappointed with the results. It was not my decision and I feel like we didn't have enough time to properly sort out what were some pretty complex mixes.

I personally believe in quality over quantity. I'd rather have a few nice channels and compromise on inputs that are less important. For example I like getting a lot of the drum sound from the overheads, so those get the good preamps. The toms if they're close miced at all get whatever.

I wouldn't want to be so limited on inputs when tracking to miss something important, but I'd just as soon decide up front what can get axed and have fewer decisions to make when mixing.

As for outboard gear I wouldn't rule out a good compressor or two.

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Re: More inputs vs better preamps (or other stuff)?

Post by oid » Thu Feb 22, 2018 2:49 am

Your gear setup is perfectly fine, you need to know your recording setup as well as you know your guitar to be any good at it, treat it like an instrument and learn it inside out, its' weaknesses and strengths, find those odd little quirks and learn to exploit them and to avoid them. Your mixes will get better and your questions will not be a vague shot in the dark hoping for deliverance, you will know what you need to achieve your desired result.

For me the two most telling things from your post are;
but I fear I might be missing the next tier stuff
and I'm sure that the biggest limiting factor here is really my mixing ability.
Replacing gear out of fear that there may be something better gets expensive quickly and people who go down that path tend to never learn any of it well enough to become any good. You do not know if the problem is you or the equipment, which means it is either a self esteem issue and/or a lack of knowledge, new gear will not help either.

My suggestion would be to strip your setup down, dump the plugins, use just your mics and pres, use the DAW as mixer only. Spend a few weeks recording and mixing a couple tracks that way, play with mic placements and gain, see how they interact and change the sound, learning to get a good mix out of just mics and pres is a valuable skill and will teach you a great deal about dynamics and gain. Add one thing in at a time from there and spend a couple/few weeks with each new addition and avoid the complex plugins like multiband compressors and massive parametric EQ banks, an old fashioned compressor is still the work horse and a 4 band eq is a powerful thing. This learning process tends to be skipped or forgotten now that we have cheap limitless studios in a box. Build a solid base with just mic and pre, then add compression and when you got that down throw the eq into the mix. And don't just work from those base tracks, start a new track as well each time you add in a new processor.

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Re: More inputs vs better preamps (or other stuff)?

Post by mike fried » Sat Jul 07, 2018 7:06 pm

oid wrote:
Thu Feb 22, 2018 2:49 am
Your gear setup is perfectly fine, you need to know your recording setup as well as you know your guitar to be any good at it, treat it like an instrument and learn it inside out, its' weaknesses and strengths, find those odd little quirks and learn to exploit them and to avoid them. Your mixes will get better and your questions will not be a vague shot in the dark hoping for deliverance, you will know what you need to achieve your desired result.

For me the two most telling things from your post are;
but I fear I might be missing the next tier stuff
and I'm sure that the biggest limiting factor here is really my mixing ability.
Replacing gear out of fear that there may be something better gets expensive quickly and people who go down that path tend to never learn any of it well enough to become any good. You do not know if the problem is you or the equipment, which means it is either a self esteem issue and/or a lack of knowledge, new gear will not help either.

My suggestion would be to strip your setup down, dump the plugins, use just your mics and pres, use the DAW as mixer only. Spend a few weeks recording and mixing a couple tracks that way, play with mic placements and gain, see how they interact and change the sound, learning to get a good mix out of just mics and pres is a valuable skill and will teach you a great deal about dynamics and gain. Add one thing in at a time from there and spend a couple/few weeks with each new addition and avoid the complex plugins like multiband compressors and massive parametric EQ banks, an old fashioned compressor is still the work horse and a 4 band eq is a powerful thing. This learning process tends to be skipped or forgotten now that we have cheap limitless studios in a box. Build a solid base with just mic and pre, then add compression and when you got that down throw the eq into the mix. And don't just work from those base tracks, start a new track as well each time you add in a new processor.
This is the best advice on this topic you will likely ever got!

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Re: More inputs vs better preamps (or other stuff)?

Post by øøøøøøø » Sun Jul 08, 2018 2:39 am

My concise advice:

Buy new shit only when you're absolutely sure you're struggling up against the limitations of your old shit.

If you have free money laying around, bank it and wait. You'll certainly come up against a limitation sooner or later.

The best way to both ascertain your gear needs and improve your recordings is to hang out around great engineers in great studios whenever possible. You'll be able to see what they use, ask them why, and get a handle on the benefits of this-or-that piece of equipment in a way that's much better (and less wasteful) than instinct + guess-and-check.

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Re: More inputs vs better preamps (or other stuff)?

Post by jorri » Sun Sep 02, 2018 5:39 pm

I guess no one's mentioned acoustic treatment...
but yet you did mention the room being a problem

...but often people talk about some preamp costing a grand before doing that...
...though its cheap and yet would make more difference than a preamp...
...sometimes its just what's going in to the mic before we consider any of this.

I don't get the 'fuck yeah' thing from preamps...usually its what's going on before the mic and sometimes the mic itself.
(C414 is pretty damn good, but as a vocal mic perhaps lacks some hype and colouration, its got very accurate highs for overheads and almost any instrument but have heard before it sort of lacks...something...in terms of character on vocals.)

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Re: More inputs vs better preamps (or other stuff)?

Post by Dok » Sun Sep 02, 2018 6:40 pm

Funny this reply came in now.

I fixed my room and have been borrowing a friend's API A2D preamp for the past couple of weeks. It fucking rules and I'm gonna buy one.

But fixing my room made the biggest difference. I don't have to fight it any more and stuff just translates!
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Re: More inputs vs better preamps (or other stuff)?

Post by jorri » Mon Sep 03, 2018 4:02 am

me obliviously replying to a 7 month old thread haha.
I guess the recording section doesn't have that much activity

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