You’ll need multitrack recording (eventually), some tough kit for the road, microphones and mobile options. Can you really do all of that for £500 or less? Yes, you can! Yet to read the rest of this series? Check out part 1, part 2 and part 3.
Option 1: £500 or less
Yes, it’s GarageBand again – see part 2 for the full reason why!
Speakers Presonus Eris 4.5
With a band on the road, we’d probably recommend headphones for production, especially if your iPad is the centre of it all – so check the headphones box for recommendations – but, again, for this end of the budget, there are plenty of proper monitoring options. We’d suggest these from Presonus for your budding band or engineer. When we reviewed them, we said: “We hadn’t expected that much from the Eris 4.5s because they most closely resemble computer speakers and are priced accordingly.
“Given those caveats, the sound quality was absolutely remarkable. Although they have all the tone-shaping controls of their bigger brothers we felt less inclined to tweak them because the 4.5s sounded so good straight out of the box.”
Other options: Yamaha HS5, Samson Resolv SE5, IK Multimedia iLoud Micro, Fostex PM series
Microphone Shure MOTIV MV88
Again, when it comes to an iOS studio, there’s no better way to get your vocals or instruments in than a dedicated iOS mic. So the MV88 is an obvious option – it’s great for both singing and playing into. As we said in our review: “This is a serious recording device with the added benefit of optional sound processing.”
Interface and Microphone Apogee ONE
You might not need an interface if you’re monitoring on headphones, but if you insist on proper monitors you’ll need something a bit better. And for mobile iOS needs, this is a great choice and includes a mic so you can just get this and the Presonus speakers within your £500 budget.
In our review, we said: “Apogee is best known for its high-end studio electronics, but in recent years, has been adding iOS compatibility to its more portable models. The ONE is a 2×2 USB audio-and-mic interface with top-quality circuitry that will give you proper I/O via a mic input, headphone out and also a built-in omnidirectional condenser mic.”
Some Other Ideas
We’re going mobile on this one and assuming you as a band want to get some ideas down on the move – so we’ll continue the theme with Auria Pro (£39), probably the best recording app out there. “Auria Pro is the best-specified iPad DAW around, with a featurelist worthy of any computer DAW – recording up to 24 tracks of audio simultaneously (there’s no theoretical project track limit), audio warping, transient slicing, waveform editing, sample rates of 44.1, 48, and 96kHz, and 24-bit audio,” we said.
If you have a PC tablet, we’d recommend you blow the budget on Bitwig Studio (now v2). It’s the best touch experience we’ve had in music production. It would be £350 of your £500 budget, but still leave you with enough for a mic…
www.wavemachinelabs.com (Auria pro)
Option 2: £1,500 or less
Software Apple Logic
We’ve upgraded you to Logic for this price range. Again, for the band, there is so much onboard in Logic that you’d be almost stupid not to take advantage of it. We’re pairing it up with a decent interface, too, so you can record multiple instruments in and use Logic’s many and varied plug-in effects to process signals – guitars, vocals and so on – as you record or afterwards. Bang for buck, for any musician or band, Logic is hard to beat…
Speakers Genelec 8010A
Portable monitors don’t get any better than these and if you have Logic running on your laptop, you can easily take a Mac output and plug these in. For their size and price, we described them as ‘extraordinary’, so they’re a great set to take on the road for a spot of hotel recording inspiration. In our review, we said: “The promotional shots showing a user putting a pair of 8010A monitors into a shoulder bag are entirely plausible. Just like the pictures, the sound belies the actual size. Only this time, it’s way bigger than you would ever expect. Admittedly, our listening room isn’t especially large, but the 8010A filled the space with crystal clear and wide-open sound. A remarkable set of monitors that provides a professional quality reference in an effortlessly portable format.”
Interface/Mixer Soundcraft Ui16
Although we’re not so much a magazine for the live musician, we can certainly see the benefits to bands of a great piece of technology like this mixer from Soundcraft. You do all of the actual mixing on your computer, while the interfacing for your band is taken care of in the hardware. It’s as solid as a rock – you could probably drive your tour bus over it (don’t try that at or away from home, though) – and there are loads of inputs for it to work seamlessly with your DAW. We said: “On the road, the possibilities are many and varied. Small venues can have a mixer that anyone can plug into and use, and bands have something they are used to taking anywhere, which can easily plumb into a venue’s PA. But the best bit is to see new tech being used in such a zero-fuss and downright useful way. Top marks go to the designers, as it’s hi-tech, practical and easy – not always ingredients that mix so well.”
Microphone Audio Technica AE2300
By our maths, you only have about £300 of your budget left for a good microphone, so we’ve chosen this versatile mic from Audio Technica. The AE2300 has been voiced as a more flexible ‘instrument’ mic, which Audio-Technica claims “excels on guitar cabinets, brass and percussion”. We agreed with the claim: “The AE2300 is particularly versatile, and the addition of the switchable low-pass roll off makes it a perfect candidate for guitar cabinets. The mic is going to be hard to replace, and might find its way to the front of the queue for guitars in our studio from now on. It has the makings of a modern classic.”
One piece of kit to rule them all?
Conspicuous by its absence here (or should that be Konspicuous?) is Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol system, a hardware and software bundle that, well, does everything. We could have lazily suggested it as an option in every category, because if you go for an S Series keyboard, you’ll get an essential selection of plug-ins that covers most of your needs. Go for Komplete Ultimate, and you literally get every plug-in you will ever need (plus several you won’t!). It obviously demands hard-drive space, but Native Instruments’ Service Centre allows you to pick and choose and tailor it to your needs. We can’t recommend it enough, whatever music you make.
Komplete 11 Ultimate: £959
Komplete Kontrol: £299 to £799 depending on keyboard size (includes Komplete Select bundle)
Option 3: £1,500 or more
Software Avid Pro Tools
If you’ve got the cash, you may as well blow it on Pro Tools. There are those who say it’s the best software for mixing and recording and still has the best plug-ins for doing such actions. We’d probably argue that you can get as good from cheaper alternatives but, hey, we don’t have time and you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket.
Speakers EVE SC3010
Now we’re talking. Okay, at this level, we’re not talking mobile music making for a band – this is quite definitely the recording engineer’s studio in which the band are recording their next opus. And that engineer is doing very well career-wise, as these are an expensive – but great – option.
We said: “A versatile and extremely capable full-scale monitoring system able to honestly present your work for lengthy periods of time without causing listener fatigue. At just shy of five grand, the EVE SC3010s offer outstanding value for money, giving you so much in terms of advanced technology, thoughtful design and, above all else, superb sound reproduction. A superb choice for those lucky enough to have a large mixing room.”
Interface/Mixer Allen & Heath Qu-24
This engineer who is doing rather well career-wise and who can afford those Eves probably needs a mixer with plenty of inputs for the various bands they are recording (and making so much money from)… and one of the best is the QU series. We use the QU-24 in the MusicTech studio and it is pretty amazing, with a host of effects, flexibility and great software control and iPad support. “The Qu-24 is an incredible desk and one we hope find its way into small- to medium-sized venues. It’s not as intuitive as an analogue console, but all the extra features and the fairly fast learning curve mean that it will be a huge improvement in the sonic quality of performances in these sized venues.”
Microphones From AT to Shure
£417 to £2,399
You’ll need some good mics to record all of those instruments and we have a couple of options here. For vocals, the Shure KSM8 looks as good as the company’s legendary SM58. “Vocal microphones are very much a personal thing, and every professional vocalist should try out several before picking the one they want to use. And even if that is just an SM58, you should still purchase and tour with your own – you don’t want to know what’s been up close to the venue mic in the past. With the KSM8 now battling for your attention, you owe it to your voice to give it a try.” For multi-instrument tasks, you could do far worse than a couple of Audio Technica AT-5045s. “If we had a pair they’d be amongst a handful of our go-to microphones. An outstanding all-round instrument recording mic that shows how Audio Technica is now making some of the world’s finest mics.”
The Headphone Option
We’re not snobby here and while monitoring is ideally done with proper speakers, we do realise that there are cost and noise implications for many producers that mean headphone monitoring is the better option. Luckily, we’ve looked at loads of them over the years. Current recommendations? Well, obviously our Gear Of The Year winners the Beyerdynamic DT1770 Pro (€599) get a recommendation as do the company’s DT 1990 Pro (€599). At the cheaper end, you could do a lot worse than the Fostex TR Series (£159), and the KRK KNS 8400 (£150). A little more expensive option is the Audio Technica M-70x (£299) while right at the top of the budget, the king of studio headphones the AKG K812 (£1200) take some beating (and cash).
And so we come to the end of our budget studio series. We hope you’ve picked up a lot of ideas and inspiration for your soon-to-be studios. Be sure to share them with us and maybe you’ll be featured in our next #showoffyourstudio!