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Next Logical upgrade..

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Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2018 2:26 pm
by drummersteve
Hello everyone,

This question probably asked many times, but given everyones individual needs are different, figured it was worth posting my own..

I'm a composer, largely centred around MIDI composition at the minute. My scores do get recorded, but I usually go to a different studio to track the stuff (usually strings). However quite often (and I find this is increasing) I am recording various bits at my home setup - solo violin, vocals, acoustic guitar, etc) and I feel that this element of my setup could be improved. Question is, what first/what order?

Current setup is:

MacPro 2009 5,1 (i.e. NO thunderbolt)
Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP
AKG C414
HifiMan HE400i cans

I do mix at my home setup w/ my cans (I have some Genelecs but its not an ideal scenario to mix with speakers), and I've found with these headphones using the Sonarworks Reference 4 plugin, I can get good results (I usually check all my mixes in a full 5.1 setup in a studio I used to work at, so I know my final mixes are translating well).

Ideally I'd have a proper room to mix w/ monitors, but right now thats not an option. So the recording chain is what I want to upgrade..

My feeling is that 2/3 upgrades will help:

- PreAmp
- Compressor
- Interface (converters)

The preamps on the Focusrite are OK, however one channel is pretty noisy now. One of the headphone outputs is also problematic (low/no level, and other times one sided, and also bleed between the two outputs). I guess the converters in it are pretty standard as well..

I've been looking into either the Apogee Ensemble, or the UA Apollo. Great converters, all the IO I'd ever need, decent pre-amps in them both, and extras such as guitar re-amping (in the Ensemble at least). Time will tell which I go for (not necessarily wishing to buy into the UAD plugins), but the downside is that the newest devices are all Thunderbolt (my machine isn't). So I'm feeling like until I upgrade my Mac (waiting for potential 2009 release of new Mac Pro), I'm going to patiently wait. I could go Firewire, but I don't want to be buying into an old technology which seems to be being phased out. Plus, using those FW-TB converters is annoying.

So, preamps. At the studio I previously worked in, they had a couple TubeTec pre's which were great. I was thinking something along the lines of that. Again some more research is needed for me to decide what'll work best for me. However.. with the consumer-standard converters in the Focusrite, and given that it feels like it may be on its way out, am I wasting my money (at this time) by upgrading the pre amp, the I'll still be passing it through the Focusrite?

I'm sure the answer from everyone will be yes, but unfortunately I can't afford to upgrade everything at once. And as the new interface entirely depends on a new Mac, that will have to wait for now. So I could invest in a new preamp. Im sure the quality will improve, but will it improve enough to justify spending the $1k now? Or should I just wait until I have the interface sorted, so I can really appreciate the difference?

Worth noting that the recording space I use gets a good sound - at least, its nice and dead, with some DIY treatment, no ugly reflections.


Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2018 3:07 pm
by Sam Spoons
You've answered the usual first question which would be "Is your recording space treated?" So all good there.

WRT Preamps have a read of this (if you haven't already done so.

The best option, these days, is probably to go for a USB interface. USB C is, AFAIK, backward compatible with USB 2 and most interface manufacturers seem to consider USB 2 more than adequate so are not migrating, mob handed, to USB C just yet. That way your present MBP could have a new lease of life (especially if you upgrade it to a SSD). The one potential nag is that a mid 2009 MBP can only upgrade as far as El Capitan which may limit your choice of interfaces (I got caught out with a much older 'cheesegrater' Mac Pro and my Pro 24). If yours is a late 2009 MBP it can run up to Hi Sierra which would keep you going for a while I guess.

Welcome to the forum BTW :thumbup:

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2018 3:17 pm
by James Perrett
If your acoustic treatment is really as good as it can be then I'd look at changing your interface to something that will be compatible with your next computer upgrade. Given that you are talking about UA and Apogee I would strongly suggest that you look at the RME range. Their support and stability is legendary which, as a professional user, is possibly more important than boutique sound quality (although their sound quality is also very good).

You may also benefit from an alternative microphone choice - maybe a small diaphragm condenser would work better on acoustic guitar and violin.

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2018 3:35 pm
by Dan LB
James Perrett wrote:You may also benefit from an alternative microphone choice - maybe a small diaphragm condenser would work better on acoustic guitar and violin.

Or a nice ribbon.

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2018 3:44 pm
by MOF
Hi drummersteve, I posted a reply earlier but it didn’t appear, might need clearing by admin first.
I wouldn’t wait for a new Mac Pro in 2019, get an iMac with an i7 processor and 32GB RAM or top spec’ Mac mini or iMac Pro.
The UAD interfaces will allow you to try out different preamps and compressors while recording or at mixdown.
This setup will give you loads of tracks, virtual instruments and plugins, more than you appear to need now.

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2018 6:43 pm
by Jack Ruston
Some thoughts in no particular order

IF your interface is genuinely on the way out, you’re going to have to prioritise that. An Apollo twin mk2 is probably a good choice, but lots of things will work very well. An Id44 for example.

If you’re recording acoustic instruments, your equipment priorities should be...

The instrument
The environment
The mic
The interface

You’ll get a great recording from the right instrument, in a space that isn’t causing problems, using the right mic. everything else is a distraction.


Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2018 10:33 pm
by Bob Bickerton
It's already been said, but really there's no point in looking to esoteric preamps until everything else is sorted (and even then you may not notice a difference).

So it looks like an interface upgrade may be on the cards and in terms of a computer the new Mac minis will probably eat anything you throw at them, especially if you go for a higher end model. I'm a UAD Apollo user and I really like the platform and use their plug-ins almost exclusively.

In terms of making a difference to the sound of your source material (and assuming your room treatment is pretty good) then as has been said, after the performance and quality of instrument is taken into consideration, then you would be well advised the consider a range of microphones. A ribbon option if you're recording strings, plus a nice dynamic wouldn't go amiss.


Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2019 5:44 am
by drummersteve
Hi All,

Thanks for your replies, sorry for a delayed response, Christmas and all that!

Loads of useful advice. What I’m gathering is, unless my interface has ceased to work, it’s probably the least influential piece of gear on my list to upgrade right now. However.....

Ok so saying the room is ‘treated’ is perhaps a bit extravagant. Unfortunately I don’t have a properly treated room, it’s an old bedroom that I’ve converted into my work room (appearances can be deceiving). There’s a small cubicle-shaped alcove which I’ve deadened with bed quilts/egg boxes, to surprisingly good effect (4 walls, ceiling, and floor) It’s not a properly treated space, but the acoustic is as dead as any other properly treated space I’ve recorded in. Given the circumstances I can’t do any more with it. Instruments I use are always top too, so that’s aside.

In reality, my computer, despite being an early 2009 tower, is still rock solid, it seems stupid to upgrade it when it’s the one bit of equipment that actually runs flawlessly, and isn’t compromising sonic quality? However, the outdated technology does stop me from upgrading to the ‘latest’.. Are the new Minis really that good? I’m often running large logic projects with many sample libraries running, and in Pro tools often dealing with massive orchestra multitrack sessions with multiple record passes (track counts of over 300 regularly, using Pro Tools Ultimate native).

I’ve looked into the UAD stuff some more, and the idea of being able to switch pre amps is exciting. Especially the new Apollo X units that have the impedance matching capabilities, which leads me to my next, essentially negating the need of buying an external pre.

I’m aware that with the older silver face Apollo units, I can buy a thunderbolt card for future proofing with new machines. But, would buying a FireWire version be a bad move? As far as I can see, the main difference between old and X versions are:

- More chips in the X (6 rather than 4 unless mistaken)
- impedance matching
- some other tweaks like talkback etc, but these are minor.

Ribbon mic also sounds like a great idea. It’s a world I’m not familiar with, but I feel with the current pre’s built into the Saffire unit, I wouldn’t get the results I could were I to upgrade to an Apollo first?

Given all the above, my thoughts are..:

1st upgrade to Apollo FW (if getting the FW unit is a good idea), thus giving me great converters and many options for pres, hopefully improving the quality of recording with current C414 etc.

2nd get a new mic (such as a ribbon)

3rd upgrade computer as and when this one gives in (probably never given how it still performs)

And IF getting a FW is a bad idea, maybe first get an upgraded machine for the sake of future compatibility, and then continue as above.

Thanks again for your thoughts!

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2019 4:42 pm
by Mike Stranks
Hmmm.... I think you need to get serious about acoustic treatment.... Egg-boxes are most definitely not acoustic treatment, whatever you perceive that they've done to your sound.

I'd recommend that you read through all of this thread before you make any upgrade decisions. Fudged acoustics can never be compensated for with upgraded gear.

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2019 6:33 pm
by The Bunk
drummersteve wrote: The preamps on the Focusrite are OK, however one channel is pretty noisy now.

Quick question without wishing to hi-jack this...
Is this a common or known thing to happen? Because I'm currently experiencing what might be similar issues with my Focusrite 2i2 which I must have had for 5 / 6 years plus. I just can't seem to eliminate "noise" which sticks out like a sore thumb on individual guitar parts when isolated.

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2019 7:09 pm
by MOF
I just can't seem to eliminate "noise" which sticks out like a sore thumb on individual guitar parts when isolated.
Is this a DI or mic’ed up recording? If it’s the former it could be noise from the screen being picked up by the pickups.

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2019 2:49 pm
by drummersteve
No idea if its a common problem, but I've had this unit for a good 7-8 years now. Before this early in my days was an M-Audio Firewire box, which just stopped working one day. This Focusrite has been extremely reliable, solid, and great for the rough £200 price tag. But I feel that its time for an upgrade.

Since previously posting, my living situation is imminently about to change (i.e. I'm buying a house!!), and we are setting a room aside for a studio, and will in the meantime be building a dedicated space on the terrace. This will give me the opportunity to truly solve the acoustical space, ticking off everybody number 1 suggestion.

Which brings me back to the original topic - what to upgrade next. I do feel a new interface is on the cards, and given my desire for a nice pre-amp, the UA range seems like a great way to get into that without having to spend thousands on individual ones... regardless of what I go for, everything these days uses thunderbolt, and my cheese grater does not have it.

I had a thought, I've been holding out on upgrading my machine until the new MacPros drop, which may be this year, but may not be until 2020. And when they do, I'm sure they'll carry a hefty price tag. Similarly, the new iMacPros look very nice, but at £4k+, its just too far right now.

So, I thought what about buying a second hand trashcan? Reasonably spec'd ones are going for £1600, which right now is more affordable. It'll solve the Thunderbolt issue temporarily, and I'm not dumping £3k+ on a redundant model which will soon be replaced by something far superior one suspects. I can sell it on as and when I decide to upgrade, make a bit of a loss, but I'm sure it'll be worth it, what do you guys think to that?

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2019 4:01 pm
by Sam Spoons
I refer you back to my earlier post ;)

Plenty of USB audio interfaces out there which will work with your Mac Pro and whatever you replace it with......

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2019 7:52 pm
by drummersteve
Hi Sam,

Yes I read your post, interesting that there is such a huge industry built on preamps, yet not a huge difference could be discerned. I feel like the differences between the preamps and combination of various preamps and microphones goes beyond just those variations. Instruments, rooms, and other outboard gear no doubt bring out other qualities between various pres. interesting nonetheless.

For some reason, I’ve always felt like USB is a bit of a consumer technology, I guess because if the wealth of other tech that connects via USB. Thunderbolt somehow feels more pro, and in definitely past the lower-end stage of my gear. I’m interested in getting properly kitted out with the top end equipment, within the constraints of my needs.

I’m fully aware that companies such as RME do top-quality interfaces over USB (among others too). I realize that my thinking is not at all the reality, but that’s what I’m thinking.

If I’m honest, I’ve done quite a lot of research and I’m really into the idea of the UA world. The Apollo x6 is perfect for my needs, and it covers any amount of preamp tomfoolery I might need for now..! Not to mention all the other plugs available on the platform. And a new machine wouldn’t be a bad investment, even if it is only temporary. I’m sure it’ll have good resale value in a few years too...

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2019 8:14 pm
by Sam Spoons
A new computer is never a good investment, they depreciate faster than cars but if you need one.........

WRT USB, few AI manufacturers have bothered going to USB3 'cos USB2 is good for dozens of channels of I/O, like you I thought firewire was 'more professional' so bought into it early on (and before that did the same with SCSI). FW has pretty much disappeared now but USB still going strong (I suppose it's the old Betamax/VHS thing). I suspect Thunderbolt will go the way of firewire in a few years, and long before your UA interface is showing it's age.

After a studio refurb last year, am firmly convinced that good acoustic treatment is far more important than preamps or interfaces, or even microphones. I run an X32 in the studio and, with care, I expect it to exceed my ability to perform, record and mix.........

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2019 10:20 pm
by drummersteve
Yes I see your thinking. I’ve been doing some reading, and whilst the technical aspects are a little
beyond my understanding, it seems that Thunderbolt is being integrated more fully into the build of chipsets overall, fronted by intel of course, and therefore may gain more traction than with the other types. Plus it’s crossover with USB-C, my completely uneducated gut feeling is that maybe it will stick..?

It’s a shame UA don’t do a USB version, I suppose there is a reason why.

Oh and yes given my living circumstances are imminently changing, I’ll be holding off on this purchase until I’ve got the new room properly sorted (I’ve got another thread on here talking about a glass-walled studio!) so much for taking care of acoustics :bouncy:

By the way, in your first post you got the impression I was on a MacBookPro. It’s actually a MacPro (ie the cheesegrater tower).

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2019 10:41 pm
by CS70
drummersteve wrote: For some reason, I’ve always felt like USB is a bit of a consumer technology, I guess because if the wealth of other tech that connects via USB. Thunderbolt somehow feels more pro, and in definitely past the lower-end stage of my gear.

Sometimes I wonder where people get those ideas from. :D

You’re a drummer: what would you say to someone stating that they feel that wooden sticks are a bit of a consumer tech and using graphite ones will make them more pro?

In all seriousness: usb is as pro as they get (and by this time uncountable records have been made using it, not to mention any kind of computer based productions), and switching to a different interface (including one with sligtly better preamps) will bring absolutely zero improvement to your records. Thunderbolt is different (and certainly better for some uses, as usb is for others); but for pure audio recording (where preamps have an use) it’s not only just fine but likely more than you’ll ever need unless you want to mike your drums with 150 mics (and even then). It’s like worrying if your racing car has a blue or red paint: it makes no difference to your lap times. If you want to improve, you gotta look elsewhere. It’s an illusion.

Don’t get me wrong, don’t say this to bash you at all, but the idea is to make you a favor.

If then you want to blow your cash on an expensive bit of kit because of the fun it’s a perfectly valid reason .. heck, I just used an unholy amount of thousand pounds on a guitar myself, in the perfect awareness that it won’t make my playing a single iota better :) But for the love of all that is good, don’t fall for nice illusions and snake oil. . UAD has tons to recommend and I use one myself, but for any conceivable situation where a drum recording is needed, you’ll be miles better off working on your acoustics, your mic selection skills, your mic positioning skills, your drumming technique (including if you are the reincarnation of john bonham).. even better headphones to hear the sound nuances when you place your mics would be a better investment than worrying over usb and preamps. If your interface is dying, buy a good one from a reputable brand and don’t agonize over preamps, musical cables and stuff like that. Rather agonize over your listening and recording environment which for drums is paramount.

Best of luck!

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2019 10:54 pm
by drummersteve
Thanks for your advice! Yes I realize fully how stupid my conviction is, I think it has something to do with the sheer amount of crappy USB stuff that can be bought in comparison to the high-end thunderbolt-only stuff (I’m talking in general outside of the AI world). Makes me feel like it’s somehow less pro, when obviously that isn’t the reality...

Despite my name (I am a drummer), I do zero drum recording. I used to a good 10 years ago, but I don’t even have my kit with me out here in Ecuador...!

I’m a film composer, so mostly midi vsts from day to day, with bits of recording (violin, ac guit, elec guit, bass, vocals). I do a lot of vocal recording with my wife for her work, so if anything, this purchased is more geared towards improving the vocal sound. I’m my new space I’ll be building a vocal booth, so that’ll take care of that, as well as treating the space for the other acoustic instruments to record. That’s where this whole thing sprang from, as well as the interface dying. That’s why the UA seemed a good fit - definite upgrade on interface, with great converters/clean pres, with the ability to have a variety of preamps in the box without putting down a load of money on One preamp, which may not suit everything I ultimately need!

Any recommendations on USB interfaces? I’m aware of the RME stuff already.

Re: Next Logical upgrade.

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2019 11:12 pm
by CS70
Fair enough, and yeah - paradoxically one of the advantages of usb. Is that’s so widespread that, when the application envelope is appropriate, it’s the absoltely cheapest way to get the job done with same quality.

I use UAD and RME so can’t be much help on others. My experience with RME is not so much about the technical proficiency (that is there, but arguably you may find marginally better dedicate niche kit, for example in AD/DA conversion... usually for a hefty surplus) but the support longevity- they make their chipsets and their drivers so you don’t depend on some unknown third party suddenly stopping evolving or supporting a chipset and thus forcing the interface producer to kill it (like, alas, focusrite or steinberg to name 2). Heard here that MOTU does the same but have no personal experience.

When it comes to recording, while it’s far easier than drums, the same chain applies for vocals: assuming modern decent kit, performance, room acoustics, mic positioning, mic (and recording skills), in that order, make 99.9% of the result quality.

Re: Next Logical upgrade..

PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2019 12:09 am
by James Perrett
I'd echo Mike's suggestion to take a really good look at your acoustics. The mere mention of egg boxes is a big red flag.

One other alternative, if you really want to play around with preamps, is to look at the Audient range. The reason I mention them is that they have selectable input impedances which does make a difference to dynamic and passive ribbon mics although it is unlikely to make a difference to your 414. They're good quality preamps at a sensible price. You could add one of their 8 channel preamps to your existing setup via the ADAT input on your interface.