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Music Studio

Well calling it a "Studio" is an exaggeration, since this room also doubles as my office (where I also sit when developing software, occasionally play a game, or what else I do with my computer). A few years back I decided to add some Acoustic Treatment to my studio (broadband absorbers and bass-traps). In stead of buying pre-made broadband absorbers and bass-traps, I did my own DIY (Do It Yourself) project where I simply made these from 2 by 2 wooden-frames (planed to 45 mm), containing rockwoll and covered with a dark-blue/black fabric (if you have not done any acoustic treatment to your studio i can highly recommend you do it - even just a couple of broadband absorbers can have a big impact, when "put in the right place"). In the past I had a lot of hardware synths and groove-machines as well, but they have all been sold of.


Computer

When it comes to a computer used for Music Production, there is no such thing as a too powerful computer. The cheapest way to maximize the potential of your computer is to maximize the amount of memory in it, especially if you are into using big sample libraries, but memory can also be used to pre-load audio tracks from disk to put less strain in your disk. If you got a Mac don't buy the official apple Ram, as it is about 10 times as expensive as you can otherwise get it (and it is not better in any way or form). If you are into using many virtual instruments/effects the more CPU-cores and the higher clock-rate the better. Personally I would go for a system with 4 or more cores, and not less than 8 GB of memory (preferably 16 GB or 32 GB if you using huge orchestral sound-libraries) . If possible I would use 2 harddrives, perhaps a SSD containing the operating system and the programs, and then a SATA disk (more capacity) holding my projects and my sample libraries (if you can afford it - naturally a 2nd SSD would perform better). Make sure you back up everything (both your projects and the libraries you might purchase). I have an account with CrashPlan, so any changes are updated nightly.

For the first many years I was running my music software on PCs, but I later moved to apple (an 27" iMac with 12 GB of memory and a core i5 processor running at 3.1 GHz). I have since moved back to using a PC (i7, 3.5/3.9 GHz, 4 HT cores/8 virtual cores, 16 GB of memory) , as upgrading a PC is a lot cheaper. Also when I got Ableton Live I could no longer switch between my PC and my iMac (which I can do with both Reason and Cubase) as this would require an additional Live license. So when forced to pick sides the PC ended up as the winner. Thanks to Live's Link-technology this means I can (to reduce CPU load) run Live on my PC, synced to my iMac running Reason and/or various VST plug-ins loaded into Cubase (if I choose-/need to do so).

Yamaha HS80M (Active Monitors)

For many years I was simply using a set of consumer speakers, with 2 small (2 unit) satelites and a passive subwoofer. This setup was not half bad, but as with all consumer speakers they would color the sound, so for a long time I had a pair of nearfield monitors on my wishlist. But every time I had a little money to spend on music equipment other things than monitors appeared more interresting to me - so little I knew :-)

It wasn't until after I had dome some acoustic treatment to my studio (installing broadband absorbers and bass-traps) I decided it was finally time to get a pair of good monitors. I had several alternatives in my sight (e.g. Genelec or KRK) but finally I went with Yamaha. I was both looking at the HS50M and the HS80M. To me the HS50M are too weak in the bass range by themself, so if I had gone for them I would also need the HS10W active subwoofer. But in the end I desided to go with the HS80M, as I think they sound great on their own (without the subwoofer). I am very happy with my choise and glad I finally moved on from my consumer speakers. The HS80M sound absolutely great, and they have a very flat response curve (don¨'t color the sound).

The Yamaha HS80M is an Active (Powered) monitor, meaning it has a build-in 120W amplifier. Actually it is bi-amplified meaning there are two separate amplifiers. There is a 75W amplifier driving the big 8 inch come, and a 45W amplifier driving the 1" dome. On the back of the HS80M you find a lot of controls to let you better set them up to fit in your room if it is not treated (but for the best result you should acoustic treat your room). You can simply connect the monitors directly with your audio-interface, but then you have to control the volume on the computer or reach behind the monitors(where there is a volume control). In stead I bought a Nano Patch+ which is connected between the audio-interface and the monitors. The Nano Patch+ has a big knob for controlling the voume and a mute button which is handy when the phone rings.

Nektar Panorama P4 (MIDI Keyboard/Controller)

Over the years I have had many MIDI-keyboards. I started out using my Yamaha MOTIF6 (synthesizer), but it was offset 90 from my seated position so eventually I got a Roland D10 (synthesizer) I could put on top of my desk in front of me (sitting between computer-keyboard and screen). I was missing having more controls (faders and knobs), so the D10 was replaced by a Novation ReMote SL37, but their automap-system never lived up to my expectations (and the pad-controls on the ReMote are really bad). I had my eyes set on a Nektar Panorama P4 for a long time, and eventuraly I got it. I had looked at Arturia's KeyLab MIDI-controller and Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol, but I chose the Panorama P4 over the other because of its (super) tight integration into Reason and the (relative) new integration into Cubase (working with the P4 you rely less on your computer-keyboard and mouse, as many of the operations can be performed only using the controls and the display of the P4).

Beside a 4 octave (49 keys) keybord, it features a single motorized fader, 9 (non-motorized) faders and several knobs and buttons. It comes with 12 (drum) pads that are very nice to work with (I will never learn to "play drums" with a keyboard). The P4 sits in front of me between my computer keyboard and my monitor, so it would have been nice if you could tilt its display just a bit, but its not a major problem for me. If I work with the P4 for prolonged time I swap the placement of the P4 and the computer keyboard, so the P4 is right in front of me.

Ableton Push 2 (MIDI-Controller)

I was a devoted (Propellerhead) Reason user for years, but many times I though about getting myself a license for Ableton Live. But it wasn't until Ableton released their Push 2 controller, where it was love at first sight, and I a week after I saw it for the first time I had bought a bundle consisting of Ableton Live Suite and Push 2. So I was in for a steep learning curve, both getting up to speed with Ableton Live and on top of everything else, also learn how to use the new PUSH 2 controller. I like the session-view of Ableton live where I can layout my ideas before I start to put it all together into "a song", and interacting with the PUSH 2 controller is great both for drums, and laying down melodic parts and chords. The push controller is sitting right in front of me, the mouse to the right, and the keyboard just behind the PUSH controller. I got a colleague to 3D print a set of "feet" for my keyboard to raise it a few centimeters (to allow room for the wires/connectors on the backside of the PUSH) and this means my keyboard can be placed flush behind to the PUSH.

KORG padKONTROL (MIDI Drumpad)

Using a standard Synthesizer-/MIDI-keyboard for programming drum-tracks is not the most ideal tool for the job at hand (to me its the same as if you have to play on a keyboard wearing gloves). My old Novation SL Remote keyboard/controller had som "drum-pads" but I never used them, as they sucked big time. Until you actually tries a pad-controller you won't believe how much improvement it is over a keyboard. I looked at various pad-controllers (e.g. AKAI MPD16, MPD24 and M-audio's Trigger Finger), however my choice ended up being KORG's padKONTROL. Beside the "standard" 16 velocity-sensitive pads (that can be configured to different velocity-curves) it also features an intuitive XY-pad that can be used with either the Roll- or Flam-keys to quickly fire Rolls and Flams. The best part is that your favorite setups (Scenes) can be configured/loaded/stored directly on the unit or using the included Editor/Librarian software. Anyway I have since started to use Ableton Live with the PUSH 2 controller, and my new MIDI-keyboard/controller (Nektar Panorama P4) have 12 nice pads, so these days the padKONTROL has moved into the background (but I do keep it around).

RME Fireface 800 (Audio Interface)

Having outgrown my mixer (several years ago) I had to plug equipment -in/-out when I wanted to use it. Finally I decided to replace my Mackie mixer and Audiophile 2496 with a RME FireFace 800 which has 10 analog inputs/outputs and (4 of the inputs also accept XLR-connector and are able to feed phantom-power to microphones). Beside the analog connectors you can connect additional equipment via 2 ADAT interfaces. It connects to the PC both using FireWire-400 and FireWire-800 but since I planed to add 2 ADAT interfaces (totaling in 26 Input/Output) I decided to connect it to the PC using a Lacie FW800 module (more bandwidth than FW400). In the past I had connected 2 Behringer ADA8000 devices, so I had enough inputs for (at the time) all of my hardware synths and groove-machines.These days I use the RME by itself. Its still connected to one of the ADA8000, but I actually don't need any more inputs/outputs than my RME has on its own.

Bad connectorsWhen I got a new/bigger desk in my office/studio I decided to discontinue my old 19 inch hardware rack. Taking the RME out of my rack I noticed many of the connectors were very corroded. After googling the problem it turns out that RME apparently had a bad batch of phone/jack connectors (leaking some orange liquid, causing the corrosion). Many of the affected customers got their device repaired/replace for free by RME (even if it was a couple of years over the warranty), however when I noticed this problem, my FF800 was 10 years old, so I never tried to contact the reseller nor RME. In stead I found out where I could purchase replacement phone/jack connectors, and then I had a colleague of mine (working in the Electrics-department where I work) replace the connectors, and now my RME is once again in pristine condition :-)

MOTU MIDI Express (MIDI Interface)

I started out using the single MIDI port on my then PCI-based audio-interface, then I moved on to a (4 channel) Midisport 4x4. When I outgrew this MIDI-interface, I wanted to purchase its "big brother" (the Midisport 8x8) but at the time M-Audio had stopped producing it. I therefore went for the MOTU Midi Express XT. It provides 8 MIDI In/Out (128 channels) and it can be programmed to double as a MIDI Patchbay as well. I have discontinued using my Midisport 4x4,  so today my only MIDI-interface is my MOTU (well my RME Fireface 800 audio-interface have a single MIDI-port as well. However these days I almost never use my MOTU as I have sold of most of my hardware synths and groove-machines.

sE Electronics X1 (Microphone)

I am no singer and I will never be a singer - there is no audiotune able to turn my voice into something that is plesent to listen to :-) In stead I'd much rather would invite a beautiful female vocalist with a set of huge ... ehhh ... brown eyes into my studio to sing :-)

When I started making music in 2003 I got myself a (+/-) $75 dynamic Cobalt Co5 microphone, but I have since replaced it with a sE X1 microphone in stead. Most of the time I use it for voice-over, and vocoding/sampling. Being a condenser microphone it has a wider/more detailed frequency range than my old Cobalt, but this also means it needs a quieter/better (acoustic) treated room, to ensure you are not picking up a lot of unwanted sounds.

 

Shure SM 7B (Microphone) / Cloudlifter CL-1 (active gain)

I was/am happy about my sE X1, however it do pick up more unwanted sounds (e.g. the sound from the PSU- motherboard- and cabinet-fans of my computer), hence I most often needed to clean up my recordings afterwards (not a big problem, but still one more task to complete). So at a time I had a few extra bucks burning a hole in my pocket (after having sold of a few hardware synths), I decided to go shopping for an extra microphone. The choice ended up being the Shure SM7B, which many sees as a pure "broadcaster" microphone (its used in many radio-studios around the world). However the SM7B works equally as well recording artists singing (e.g. most of Michael Jacksons voice was recorded for the Thriller album on a Shure SM7 - the predecessor to the SM7A/B). Consider its heritage in the broadcasting industry this microphone is perfect for voice over, and mounted on a RØDE PSA-1 table-stand/arm you can easily place it in front of your mouth. The foam windhood doubles as a pop-filter and the microphone has a build-in shock-mount. According to Shure it can handle over 180 dB SPL (human pain threshold is around 140 dB SPL), so it will work equally well recording a heavy metal "singer" screaming into the microphone, or recording the sound of a Boeing 747-400 spooling up its engine to max - I don't care much for heavy metal - I think my pain threshold is around 40 dB SPL when it comes to heavy metal - so I would actually prefer the sound of the 747 :-)

Most dynamic microphones are more quite compare to condenser microphones, and the SM7B is notorious quite (it needs 60 dB of pre-amp). My RME fireface is cable of delivering 10-60 dB of gain, but then you need to ride the gain by fully turning up the gain-knop. You should never ride the gain like this, as it will cause distortion and bring noise into your recordings. So between my SM7B and my audio-interface I have placed a Cloudlifter CL-1. The SM7B being a dynamic mic it don't need phantom-power, however the Cloudlifter does. The Cloudlifter uses this power to add a fixed (very clean) 25 dB amplification to the signal from the SM7B, and it will then send this amplified signal to the audio-interface, meaning you can dial in a much lover gain in your audio-interface (and thereby avoid the problems associated with riding the gain). All you have to do is to insert the Cloudlifter into the signal chain between the SM7B and your audio-interface, and enable phantom-power in your audio interface (the Cloudlifter will use this phantom-power, but will not pass it on to the microphone).

 

Shure SRH 840 (Headphones)

Normally I use my Yamaha HS-80M monitors, however when you want to listen to your own voice, along with music and or effect, while you record with a microphone, you need a pair of good head-phones (or in-ear monitors). These headphones needs to be closed so sound will not spill out from the head-phones and make their way into your microphone recordings. Over the years I have had a few different sets, but my latest choice is a set of Shure SRH 840 which I like. They don't color the sound too much, and they are relative comfortable to wear for some time.

Many will tell you to never mix on headphones. When you listen to a pair of speakers both of your ears will pick up a sound even when when the sound is panned fully to one side (e.g. your right ear will pick up all of the sound, whereas your left might only pick up 30% of the sound). However as soon as you put on a headset (in stead of using your speakers/monitors) you will only hear that fully paned sound in one ear. Likewise I only have 2 speakers (Yamaha HS-80M monitors) so I can't fully hear a surround mix (e.g. 5.1). To deal with both problems Waves have created a 2-part product, The first part is Nx Virtual Mix Room which is a software plug-in, and the second part is Nx Head Tracker which is a hardware device. You attach the hardware device (Nx Head Tracker) to your headset, and it connects to you computer via Bluetooth. Once calibrated this device tracks your move, so the computer will always know the position/direction of your face. The software plug-in (Nx Virtual Mix Room) is placed the master channel of your DAW (e.g. Cubase/Live) and it is fed the feedback from the Nx Head Tracker, hence it knows the "position/direction" of your head. It than feeds the sound to your headphones in such a way, when you wear your headphones it sounds as if the sound were coming from monitors in stead.

 

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