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!

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.

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.