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Next Logical upgrade..

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Next Logical upgrade..

Postby drummersteve » Wed Dec 05, 2018 2:26 pm

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.

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Re: Next Logical upgrade..

Postby Sam Spoons » Wed Dec 05, 2018 3:07 pm

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:
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Re: Next Logical upgrade..

Postby James Perrett » Wed Dec 05, 2018 3:17 pm

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.
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Re: Next Logical upgrade..

Postby Dan LB » Wed Dec 05, 2018 3:35 pm

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.
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Re: Next Logical upgrade..

Postby MOF » Wed Dec 05, 2018 3:44 pm

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.
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Re: Next Logical upgrade..

Postby Jack Ruston » Wed Dec 05, 2018 6:43 pm

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.

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Re: Next Logical upgrade..

Postby Bob Bickerton » Wed Dec 05, 2018 10:33 pm

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.

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Re: Next Logical upgrade..

Postby drummersteve » Fri Jan 11, 2019 5:44 am

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!
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Re: Next Logical upgrade..

Postby Mike Stranks » Fri Jan 11, 2019 4:42 pm

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.
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Re: Next Logical upgrade..

Postby The Bunk » Fri Jan 11, 2019 6:33 pm

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.
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Re: Next Logical upgrade..

Postby MOF » Fri Jan 11, 2019 7:09 pm

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.
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