My Small Recording Studio Success

I started recording with Cubase LE two years ago using a Focusrite 2i2 and I had no idea about mixing and just used headphones. I liked Cubase so much I purchased the Pro edition. Here’s what I finally ended up with – a zero latency home studio with great monitoring and mixes:

  • Cubase Pro
  • SSL2+ interface
  • Yamaha HS-5’s for stereo mixing
  • Avantone Cube for mono mixing
  • Fender Mustang 50 watt amp
  • Royer R10 and Shure SM-57 on the guitar amp
  • SE Electronics VR2 for vocals

That’s it – very simple. I had done shootouts on all of the sub $500 interfaces and tried all of the decent microphones in the $500 ish or less class, and these won hands down.

Mike Seniors Mixing Secrets for Small Studios was the major breakthrough. Once I carefully read his book my home studio went from schmoe to pro.

The SSL2+ is quite a bit better than the UA Volt 276 that I have. While I like the Volt 276 ergonomics better, the SSL2+ preamps are the cleanest out of all of the budget interfaces. The MOTU M2 is pretty nice too, but even though the SSL2+ has a few things I feel they could have done better, nothing came close to it’s clean sound.

UPDATE

I finally settled on using the SSL2+ on the Fender GTX-50 Mustang amp with the Royer R10 and d booster and SM-57 and for vocals the SE Electronics Voodoo plus Rode NT-1 through the UA 276. Because with Cubase I can switch between interfaces in the software, I have Bern using this set up now for 8 months and love it.

Bottom line – experiment a LOT!

Avantone Mixcube: Pure Mixing Magic!

This little (but hefty) powered mono speaker is the absolute key to better audio mixes. (And yes, Audio Engineering is a real thing!). In fact, without the magic of audio engineering and mixing, you wouldn’t hear your favorite music.

There are three absolutely critical things with mixing:

  • Mix for the “lowest common denominator” which would be midrange on small crappy speakers. Taking it one step further – mix for mono. Hence why I bought only one Avantone Mixcube. Sounds that have phasing problems or noise show up clearly in this little gem of a speaker – and these problems don’t show up on any headphones, or my previous monitors, the iLoud. I have replaced the iLouds with Yamaha HS-5’s. But yeah, when a mix sounds good on the Aventone, it sounds great on a good system – like the HS-5’s
  • Use the right Mic and place them correctly. I was smitten with ribbon mics, but they have to be used judiciously. Each mic is a specialized tool
  • Be very careful and judicious with effects. Between the stereo frequency field – where sounds compete and rob each other in their use of that fields headroom – and phasing issues, some effects cause serious noise. I’ve learned chorus can be replaced with vibrato and reverb with delay

I’m amazed at what skill you have to have to be a good audio mixer and also what an art and science it is.

Here’s my new workflow:

  1. Use the right mic with the right placement
  2. Record using the Volt 276 and Yamaha HS-5 – as I’ve always done – I get a really rough stereo mix at the end
  3. Mixing starts by setting levels and panning using the SSL2 and Aventone speaker
  4. Set master to mono
  5. Reduce masking with EQ using a parametric equalizer
  6. Eliminate phase cancellation using a correlation meter plugin. Use an invert phase or delay where necessary
  7. Check panning and levels in stereo
  8. Add spatial and time based effects
  9. Check the stereo mix levels and balance again
  10. Listen on a cheap device like a cell phone

I just went back and followed this workflow to fix what was a terrible mix – Ten Tin Heads. Its light years better, but I can see my choice of microphones wasn’t the best. But the magic of mixing mono is very clear, and I was able to salvage that song.

Now that I understand this approach and process, I’ll use it right from the start and check recorded tracks as I record them. If something is wrong I’ll fix right away.

Fixing My Mixing – Finally Making Progress

The book and link I posted earlier today are the two resources I’ve used to solve the Mystery of the Muddy Mix.

Here is a list – on what made the biggest difference:

  1. Microphones – I switched microphones around and figured out what is best and where. I use an NT1A and SM57 on my guitar amp cabinet. The SE VR2 and SE7 didn’t cut it. I use an NT1A and Royer R10 for vocals. The two SE7’s will work for miking my mandolin and VR2 for voice and maybe mandolin.
  2. I try to use as few plugins and effects as possible. I have been way over doing it for two years
  3. I concentrate on the mid tones and mix with my cheapie cell phone speaker in mind. If I can hear all tracks clearly, then I’ve succeeded. If it sounds good enough on my crummy cell phone, it will sound great on a better system
  4. While I record using two mics per track, I always mute the lesser of the two. This also cuts the Number of tracks in two. This really helped a ton – the mix gets much cleaner and crisper
  5. I turned my monitors to have low cut set and favoring the mids
  6. I thought my EQ settings needed help, but the mics were much more important
  7. I had treated my room acoustically, but I don’t think that made a huge difference because my studio is tiny
  8. My favorite Arturia Piano patch emulated an old upright piano, complete with the banging of the keys. That really created weird thuds in the mix. I switched to one that doesn’t include that thud
  9. I set two mics to low cut, but that doesn’t seem to necessary, given the other things listed above
  10. I ordered Yamaha NS-5 speakers and a single Avantone Mix Cube. The judge is out on this one. I suspect the Mixcube will be a serious surprise hit.

Magic Box

YOWZA! I finally am in control of my mixes. I even figured out why the Cello was so muddy as well as other recording and mixing problems. I hope to share these in another post soon.

I thought the mics used on the guitar cabinet were the SM57 and NT1A, but it was actually the SM57 and SE7 small diaphragm, with the low cut switch on and the mic pointed at the right side of the speaker. Happy accident – this is my best mix yet.

For those who hear
Imagination
Into the ether
Communication

For those who see
Imagination
Through the lens
Communication

For those who say
Imagination
Into the Mic
Communication

Chorus
A slight of hand
A magic box
The golden age
Opportunity knocks

in a nutshell

  • Most major modern inventions between 1822 – 1922
  • Camera, bicycle, radio, automobile, home electricity
  • Small simple boxes that seemed like magic

discussion

My father was born February 12, 1922, so I thought it would be cool to Google the Modern Invention Timeline. Sure enough, I would argue the most important modern day inventions all happened in the 100 years before my father was born. I’m also reading a fascinating book on Photography that has both the cultural as well as technical aspects of photography.

theme

My favorite inventions are the Camera, Bicycle, Radio and Microphone. It took many other inventions leading up to each of these, but all these years later, these inventions still are extremely important. Fun fact – the first mechanical computer was invented the  same year as the camera – 1822. Today, the Smart Phone has a camera, radio, microphone and computer built in!

conclusion

I’m still blown away by inventors and what they invent. The human imagination is such a gift and wonder. It is magic!

Ten Tin Heads

Ten Tin Heads hide
In shadows they lurk
They come out at night
That's when they work

They steal metal shovels
They steal metal rakes
If it's not bolted down
Then that's what they take

Their lust and greed
Smelted down from tin
Their pointy metal heads
Their creepy little grins

They say that they are DJs
They say they play the hits
Then smack you real hard
On the places that you sit

They won't play my songs
They won't play my rhymes
They lack common sense
And commit many crimes

When they're not lurking
At night in the dark
I'll play my music
And climb up the charts

Chorus
Tin Heads
Steel eyes
At the mic
At radio KRY

in a nutshell

  • The KRY theme just won’t quit
  • I found out some doll heads used to be made out of tin
  • Its always fun writing about pure nonsense

discussion

Guitar, Cello, Piano, Solina and vocals. I started working on my mixing. I think I need to work on this one some more. I record everything in stereo using an SE Electronics SE7 small diaphragm Mic and a VR2 Active Ribbon mic. I need to look at each stereo track and maybe pick one of the two. I seem to have some phasing issues – and low noise rumble – especially on the Cello.

I also need to re-record the vocals. Its funny how you need to sing a bunch of times to flesh out the vocal melody – its quite different than playing a melody on one instrument. You need to fit your voice and it’s inflection and accents accordingly.

theme

Pure nonsense, fantasy, dada

conclusion

My daily dose of fun. I’ve been playing open chords on the guitar and changing one note in the chord to see what progressions I can come up with. Laying down a rough mix, then listening and re-recording (at least the vocals) seems to be a good workflow.

Best in Show

I had written lyrics – but then I found this cool Buchla Easel synth patch and just started riffing – do there’s little room left to sing. I’m also starting to concentrate on creating better mixes – I’m going to use my cell phone as the ultimate terrible sounding device – meaning – if it sounds at least clear with good levels in each track – then it should sound better on better systems. Thenn I try it on my Kindle – which has cheapy Panasonic ear buds that are actually quite great for $7.. I’m reading a great book on mixing – so fingers crossed that I can create better sounding MP3 files. Todays remix: