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.

The Case of The Muddy Mix (solved)

This book should be required reading

The Mike Senior book is the cats meow. Every word and sentence is good advice. Notice how his title includes “For the small studio”.

David Miles Hubers book is also fantastic. However, notice how it does not specify “For the small studio”. He does mention small ” project studios “, but the book isn’t based on the #1 problem with small studios – Heavy Compromises – in room treatment and budget.

I decided to try double miking and double tracking every track. That’s great if you have stereo pairs of really good mics, (which this book discusses), but I tried mix and match using lesser mics. Fail!

When I got the Avantone Mixcube, I instantly realized I had two many tracks, too many effects (plug ins) and I was using arbitrary Mic pairs. I also fell in love with the Universal Audio Volt 276 because if its awesome ergonomics. Turns out, the ugly duckling SSL2 has cleaner, clearer and crisp sound.

Then I really tested all of my mics and two posts back, you can see what I experienced.

Today I used the VR2 on vocals and Royer R10 and only had 4 tracks. No double tracking! No double tracking because that’s what caused all of my mixing problems, and with bad Mic choices.

The mixing time I spent with the Mixcube today was maybe 10 minutes. The whole experience was so much better and the end result is what I’ve wanted for many months.

Small Studio Mic Shootout

objective

I want a very clean mix where everything sounds true – like they are being played in a small intimate club or cabaret setting. I want to add effects sparingly, but only after a clear and clean recording.

vocal mic winner

SE Electronics VR2 – my favorite mic

I just finished testing all of my microphones first with vocals, then guitar and cello played through a Fender Mustang modeling amp and finally, a mandolin played acoustically.

The clear winner was the VR2 for vocals. I didn’t even test it on instruments because the VR2 now graces my vocal mic position. It wasn’t even close.

instrument mic winner

Best guitar amp mic – Royer R10

The Royer R10 did a fine job on vocals, but not up to the VR2. However, it was clearly the best on the guitar amp and on the acoustic mandolin. It absolutely needs the dBooster and set at 12 dB gain. At 20 dB gain it “motorboats” with some nasty oscillation – which I’m not that happy about to be honest.

best bang for the buck

Golden Age R1 Active

The Golden Age Project Active R1 in many situations sounded as good as the Royer R10 and (when you add in the fact that the dBooster is a must for the R10), the R1 is 1/3 of the cost of the R10.

maybe mic – SM-57

The Shure SM-57 is a legend, but I would use it only when I want a more raspy / grungy sound or when I set the amp to a distortion model. It also really needs the dBooster.

the losers

The Rode NT1A’s color the sound too much for my liking. Previously, I thought they were great. But since I have started mixing using the Avantone Mixcube, I can hear that a clean clear and natural mix is needed more than anything.

The SE Electronics SE7’s are great little mics, but forget about them on vocals. However, they are better than the NT1A’s on the guitar amp and are a close second to the R10 in miking the acoustic mandolin. They are also a best bang for the buck, but didn’t make the top spot.

ssl2 beats the UA Volt 276!

I also tested all mics through these two digital interfaces / preamps, and the ssl2 was a clear winner. The 276 is a much better interface as far as layout and looks go, but these are for the ear, not the eyes.

Finally, my upgrade from the iLoud monitors to the Yamaha HS-5’s and the Avantone Mixcube means between my better mics and monitoring, I just upgraded from beginner to intermediate. That holds true for quality of sound and cost. Because my studio is tiny and while treated it never will be good enough for more than the gear I have now. If I were to move into our spare bedroom, then yes, I could treat the room and then go to the next level. That’s a really big if though.