#1
OK, so after spending many worthwhile hours reading the FAQ's and many threads on the topic, I've got a good idea of what I'm going to need, but I have a few questions about putting together a recording rig.

As I understand it, I will need:

1. A Condenser Microphone
2. Some kind of Mixer
3. A Pre-amp (if the interface or mixer doesn't have one)
4. A Recording interface (i'm running it through a laptop, so I cannot easily upgrade the soundcard)
5. A pair of Monitors.
6. Software for recording

I plan on recording only guitar (both acoustic and electric) and vocals, by myself so I won't need a vast number of inputs, as I won't be recording loads at the same time, and to start with, I'll sample drums etc. I do however, want to go for a semi-professional quality (no sense getting more gear later on, to replace really low-quality stuff) but as a student, I am not made of money, so a balance shall have to be struck.

However, to my limited knowledge, pre-amps for recording come in both solid-state and valve varieties, correct? This, I assume, gives the recordings greater "warmth" when valves are used. Now, I see no reason for me to use an SS preamp and let the warmth of my valve amp to go to waste. If I had an SS preamp, would this be the case? (more on this later)

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The gear I have been musing over is as follows, and I am very open to suggestions and alterations:

1. Mics - The Shure SM57 seems the obvious one to start with, along with a SM58 for vocals

2. Mixer - No ideas here, although I plan on using an interface with an inbuilt preamp, so it doesn't need to have one.

3. Pre-Amp - As I said, hopefully built into the interface, but some suggestions for alternatives would be much appreciated.

4. Interface - I have looked into something like the FireWire 410 which seems to have it all wrapped in a neat little package. But, are the preamps in this SS? If so, I shall reconsider.

5. Monitors - No real ideas, but no sense going cheap and negating quality of the rest of the gear.

6. Software - With the suggested Interface, it seems that ProTools is the one I shall go with (do I have a choice?)


Is this basically everything I shall need to get started (aside from stands, cables and other accesories)? Are their benefits to having a separate preamp, or preamps in the mixer as opposed to the interface?

All suggestions and ammendments very welcome and appreciated. Thanks for you time.
Gear:
Ibanez S470 (EMG 81/S/85)
Sigma DMC-15E
Laney VH100R
Laney 4x12 Cab
Ibanez Weeping Demon
M-Audio ProKeys 88
Mbox 3 Pro
KRK RP6 G2's
Plum Team FTW!

X
#2
First, what is your budget?

Second i'm sugesting this stuff because i'm getting damn decent results with the gear i have.

I'm guessing you have a PC laptop?

Make sure you have ATLEAST 1gb of ram, 2 is better.

If your mac you have more options but i'll explain that if you say you do later.


Software/interface
Your 2 options come down to, Audacity (free) and something like that interface you showed before (SS does NOT mean its crap, Great River ME-1NV and the API 512c are 2 of the best preamps out there... and guess what... SS. That being said, the preamps will never be great without spending money.) or cubase.

OR

Get pro tools which needs something like an M-Box (there are different varieties at different prices for different things) of a Digi 002/003 (You dont need something that big though.... that being said they do sound better.) Thats if you have firewire. But pretty much pro tools NEEDS a hardware "dongle" to run so you sort of kill 2 birds with one stone. Just know the stock standard preamps on the mboxes will sound decent... but never amazing, but hey you get what you pay for.


Now onto mics,
SM57 is great for electric guitars and ok for acoustic. For acoustics and vocals i would sugest a LDC (Large Diaphragm Condenser) And for this there are so many options its not funny. I've been using an Audio Technica AT4040 and MXL v67 which you can pick up fairly cheap on ebay (under 300 unless prices have changed) I personally have been using the MXL a bit more.. its a coloured mic which means it doesnt sound as transparent which isn't bad it just has character like a guitar cab (be careful it can sound a bit harsh with the SS preamps if memory serves but i can test that for you if you think its where you wanna go), but not bad in any way. The at4040 is the safer bet IMO but both are great.

As far as preamps go.
If you want better preamps, if the interface you get has spdif (looks like RCA cable but PLEASE make sure you buy SPDIF cable not RCA there is a huge difference in quality.) My sugestions are the ART MPA GOLD Digital preamp (replace the tubes (jj's mullards sovteks or electro harmonixs should do it and yes they are easy to replace) and if you wanna get really technical the ART PRO VLA compressor which you can connect with insert cables. (once again check the tubes and replace if they're cheap chinese ones.) That would give you all your tubey goodness... but its not necesary.

Sorry for the long post, not long to go.

The advantages of standalone preamps is think about it, a standalone preamp has what a much larger space to spread out electronics and stuff in comparrison to this small little unit that also has to do more than JUST the preamp job. Follows the old, if a thing does one job, it does it better than something that does many jobs.

MONITORS!
Ah ok well that REALLY depends on your budget. KRK makes amazing monitor speakers (the rp5s may not have quite enough bass but they still do the job pretty damn well, i have rp6's and they are amazing.) Or Yamaha NS10s are the everyone has em sorta monitors. You can get some good deals on ebay, and dont be afraid of second hand (also make sure they're active as in you need to plug them into power, but if they aren't you need an amp to run them.)
Your interface should have the option to plug your monitors into it but if not i'm not sure about others but i know that the KRKs have rca outputs so you can get a rca to 1/8 jack (headphone) to plug into your computer.

Just be careful where you place your monitors, best place is in the center of the room about a few metres from the wall your facing. Obviously sometimes thats unrealistic, but due to reflections etc you can get a bass boost out of whatever speaker is closest to the wall etc. If your up against the wall thats still ok, your not out producing a million dollar record. If you can get in the middle of the room thats great, if not its ok, just make sure you listen with headphones after you think your finished mixing and then go listen on car speakers, home stereo, whatever you have lying around. If it sounds pretty much the same then your fine but just be mindful of that.

Also alot of people will tell you you need to acoustically treat your room which is sort of true. For truly professional stuff and drums as well you DO need to do it but walk around your room with your acoustic playing and get a friend to listen and see where the best spot in the room is. (Sounds stupid but different places in the room will sound COMPLETELY different. So get a friend who actually can hear the difference between a vox and a mesa to tell you where your guitar sounds richest or fullest or whatever your desired effect is and mark that place because thats where you want to record) But try clapping your hands and see if you can hear any strange reflections in the room (metallic noises etc).

In my experience lounge rooms sound good because of the amount of stuff absorbing sound waves. Not that this is the best acoustic treatment, it works.


Sorry for the long post but hey.
Last edited by doommaker at Jan 7, 2009,
#3
Wowee! Thankyou so much for you truly monstrous (in a good way) post. This basically covers everything for me.

Budget wise, I'm planning to build this rig as I go, and I can't really give an accurate figure but I'd like to keep the price for everything under 700GBP (by as much as possible!). Initially, I would go with the basic stuff that I need to get started, then more onto the better (and more expensive) things.

I have a pc, which has an adequate amount of ram (4gb), so I'm covered in that aspect. I definately wont shy away from SS preamps now, which keeps more options open for me - at the moment I'm leaning more towards something like an M-Box which I can then use with ProTools, even if the preamps are only decent, but not amazing - and as I said, I would then be able to purchase a superior preamp later on, so I'll look out for an interface with an spdif cable, which will allow for flexibility later on.

In terms of monitors, unfortunately it looks as if I'd go with whatever I can afford after getting everything else, so I can't really say what kind of budget I'd be on.

As for the mics, I'll take your recommendations and see if I can try some of them out, and unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to acoustically treat my room, but I know that I'm not going to be able to achieve truly professional results on a budget like mine.


Thanks again. That seriously has to be the most helpful post of all time.
Gear:
Ibanez S470 (EMG 81/S/85)
Sigma DMC-15E
Laney VH100R
Laney 4x12 Cab
Ibanez Weeping Demon
M-Audio ProKeys 88
Mbox 3 Pro
KRK RP6 G2's
Plum Team FTW!

X
#4
Quote by BobMarleysGhost
OK, so after spending many worthwhile hours reading the FAQ's and many threads on the topic, I've got a good idea of what I'm going to need, but I have a few questions about putting together a recording rig.

A++
Most people here dont read the FAQs before posting and it gets annoying seeing the same questions over and over again...

As I understand it, I will need:

1. A Condenser Microphone
2. Some kind of Mixer
3. A Pre-amp (if the interface or mixer doesn't have one)
4. A Recording interface (i'm running it through a laptop, so I cannot easily upgrade the soundcard)
5. A pair of Monitors.
6. Software for recording

Actually you dont need a mixer, interfaces today act as the mixer and have plenty of inputs if you get the correct type. The FP10 from PreSonus offers 10 ins and outs as well as great preamps and phantom power. The sequencer is used to mix the levels.

I plan on recording only guitar (both acoustic and electric) and vocals, by myself so I won't need a vast number of inputs, as I won't be recording loads at the same time, and to start with, I'll sample drums etc. I do however, want to go for a semi-professional quality (no sense getting more gear later on, to replace really low-quality stuff) but as a student, I am not made of money, so a balance shall have to be struck.

Well with only a few things to record I suggest a smaller interface. People at the Studio-Central board seem to love the PreSonus FireBox as it has a lot of features and is at a great price. On the other hand, for just $100 more you can get a new FP10 and could probably get a used FP10 for just $300...

However, to my limited knowledge, pre-amps for recording come in both solid-state and valve varieties, correct? This, I assume, gives the recordings greater "warmth" when valves are used. Now, I see no reason for me to use an SS preamp and let the warmth of my valve amp to go to waste. If I had an SS preamp, would this be the case? (more on this later)

Yep there are both valve and SS preamps however most preamps under $500 sound just about the same so it may not be worth going for a tube unit.

See THIS LINK.


The gear I have been musing over is as follows, and I am very open to suggestions and alterations:

1. Mics - The Shure SM57 seems the obvious one to start with, along with a SM58 for vocals

2. Mixer - No ideas here, although I plan on using an interface with an inbuilt preamp, so it doesn't need to have one.

3. Pre-Amp - As I said, hopefully built into the interface, but some suggestions for alternatives would be much appreciated.

4. Interface - I have looked into something like the FireWire 410 which seems to have it all wrapped in a neat little package. But, are the preamps in this SS? If so, I shall reconsider.

5. Monitors - No real ideas, but no sense going cheap and negating quality of the rest of the gear.

6. Software - With the suggested Interface, it seems that ProTools is the one I shall go with (do I have a choice?)


Is this basically everything I shall need to get started (aside from stands, cables and other accesories)? Are their benefits to having a separate preamp, or preamps in the mixer as opposed to the interface?

All suggestions and ammendments very welcome and appreciated. Thanks for you time.


1 - The 57 and 58 are both very similar but a few members here prefer the sound of the 57 for vocals. Without a very nice preamp, the 57 and 58 may not be a great choice for acoustic guitar. Have a look into the Rode NT1A condenser mic. It's a great all around condenser and will work well for vocals and guitar. With its price being higher you don't really have budget for other mics but at the same time, this one mic may be all you will ever need.

The MXL 990/991 set was reviewed by me and bill here at UG. They are great for acoustic guitar but not so great for vocals as they can be a little harsh. They do work well for the price though...

2 - As I said, you wont need a mixer with a proper interface.

3 - At the price range you are looking into, stick with the preamps built into your interface. They will be fine.

4 - M-Audio makes nice interfaces and the preamps on it are ok. I feel PreSonus makes better interfaces and preamps though so you may want to go with that brand instead. Check the studio central board for a poll on interfaces by price range.

5 - KRK makes some great monitors at the lower end of the price range. Look into the 6 or 8 inch ones.

6 - A higher end sequencer is nice to work on and will generally come with a lot more features than the lower end ones. I am a fan of Sonar as its easy to learn and use for me. Others prefer ProTools but I personally cant stand the interface and suggest new members to recording stay away from it for a while as it's got a huge and steep learning curve.

Download some 30 day trials of different sequencers and see which you enjoy working on. Once you find the one you like, stick with it and start learning it. Knowing how to use this piece of software is the key to great sounding music.
#5
Just to add also, you don't NEED great monitors. They help a hell of alot when you do a mix but they wont change the recorded sound. You can always come back to your recordings and remix them when you can afford too.

Spdif isn't the be all and end all though, it does work for me because of the preamp i have so just make sure any preamp you do wish to look at in the future has a spdif out otherwise you may just have a feature you dont use (my preamp is a digital preamp which means it converts the analogue sound signal into digital, most preamps dont). You can also get pci cards for your pc to add spdif to your computer but i dont think this works with pro tools.
#6
Unfortunately, if your mixes suck, it doesn't matter how well recorded your source material is.

Good monitors are critical. Check out the Yorkville YSM1's.

CT
Could I get some more talent in the monitors, please?

I know it sounds crazy, but try to learn to inhale your voice. www.thebelcantotechnique.com

Chris is the king of relating music things to other objects in real life.
#7
Ok, thanks a lot guys. You've all been really helpful. I'm going to start some further reading into all the things you've suggested.
Gear:
Ibanez S470 (EMG 81/S/85)
Sigma DMC-15E
Laney VH100R
Laney 4x12 Cab
Ibanez Weeping Demon
M-Audio ProKeys 88
Mbox 3 Pro
KRK RP6 G2's
Plum Team FTW!

X
#8
i don't think anyone has said this before, but if you are looking for semi-professional recordings without a high pricetag, i would say to consider a multitrack recorder. They have the preamps, mixers, software, and most have burners now, so all you need is a mic and monitors. For recording guitars and vocals only this seems to me like a perfect solution. It is much simpler too. you can also upload the tracks off of the multi-track recorder onto the computer to do your mixing if you want.. just something to consider
My Guitars:
Gibson Les Paul Studio
Epiphone AJ
Ibanez Strat Copy

Amps:
Orange Tiny Terror Head
Old beaten up Peavey cab
Marshall MG30DFX
#9
I don't mean to pick a fight, but just be careful with multitrack recorders as they dont have as many mixing options. They are really good for portability though.
#11
I did consider a multitrack recorded, but I personally would rather have a setup in which I could interchange the individual elements, should I buy some later upgrades. Also, portability isn't really an issue for me, I wont be shifting my gear around often.
Gear:
Ibanez S470 (EMG 81/S/85)
Sigma DMC-15E
Laney VH100R
Laney 4x12 Cab
Ibanez Weeping Demon
M-Audio ProKeys 88
Mbox 3 Pro
KRK RP6 G2's
Plum Team FTW!

X
Last edited by BobMarleysGhost at Jan 10, 2009,
#12
You'll be fine then. Just come back here if you need any more help, thats what we're here for. When you feel really comfortable with you recording and your pretty confident with most of the stuff you have to do you may wanna head over to gearslutz or something and just stay here to help others.
#13
This is almost a sticky in itself it seems, so I must pile on. The answers seem to be all over the place about monitoring, especially since this is a one man show and includes vocals and acoustic guitar.

That alone means you need headphones and want the room quiet as possible and no bleed through from your monitors during recording as you are both the performer and recording engineer at the same time. So you might initially get good headphones up front, and get good monitors later, which is more important for mixing and mastering.

In the old days studio grade headphones were mostly about sound isolation and had poor frequency responses for mixing. But many current ones are now much better, including the bass response. But for professional grade mixes you need professional grade monitors. I use HD 465s as a compromise and they are cheaper than 280s. They are not don't have as much sound isolation, but they are better monitoring headphones and bleed through from them is acceptable. Using live monitors of any type would not work at all.

Plus the monitoring to me is where a mixer comes in very handy with real knobs and such, as well as for live use. A mixer can hook up to about any type of monitor system you have (PA, home theatre, headphones), plus your computer for recording. I use SPD/IF which is rock solid-firewire can be quite squirely, if you have an older PC, plus you may need a firewire card. The one I tried never worked with my PC. Its Works great for video...
#14
Quote by BobMarleysGhost


The gear I have been musing over is as follows, and I am very open to suggestions and alterations:

I didn't read the thread in depth, so I'm not sure what else has been suggested, although I thought I'd just add my recommendations here.


1. Mics - The Shure SM57 seems the obvious one to start with, along with a SM58 for vocals

The Shure SM57 is a great mic, especially for guitar amps (amongst other things). It's a great workhorse mic for any general use really. Another option which is very similar, which some people prefer, is the Audix i5.

The SM58 isn't the best option for vocals, IMO. I'd prefer a large diaphragm condenser mic, which also works well when recording acoustic (a more detailed sound). For quality on a budget, try something like the Studio Projects B1. For a higher budget, the RODE NT-1 is a great choice.


2. Mixer - No ideas here, although I plan on using an interface with an inbuilt preamp, so it doesn't need to have one.


As others have undoubtably mentioned, you probably won't have any use for a mixer. An audio interface should be all you need to connect the mics to your computer.


3. Pre-Amp - As I said, hopefully built into the interface, but some suggestions for alternatives would be much appreciated.

Again, you won't really need it. The preamps on your interface should be more than adequate, particularly for an entry setup.


4. Interface - I have looked into something like the FireWire 410 which seems to have it all wrapped in a neat little package. But, are the preamps in this SS? If so, I shall reconsider.

SS isn't a dirty word in preamps as much as it is in guitar amps. You'll find that if you get something with decent pres (like a Presonus Inspire, or Mackie Onyx Satellite) then you won't lose any of the warmth of your valve amp.

5. Monitors - No real ideas, but no sense going cheap and negating quality of the rest of the gear.

Monitors are important. You'll need them to get the best out of your mixes and to hear what your music really sounds like. As much of a flat response as possible is desired to get a good reference. For a budget, try one of KRK's offerings.



6. Software - With the suggested Interface, it seems that ProTools is the one I shall go with (do I have a choice?)

Pro Tools is definitely not the software I would opt for. The program isn't the most pleasant or easy to use, the hardware is overpriced for its features. I'd opt for Cubase or Sonar, which are both great programs which are easier and more enjoyable to use than Pro Tools in my opinion. A cheaper option is Reaper, which can definitely hold it's own against the more expensive programs.

.

..
There is poetry in despair.
#15
ozarkracer is right, its funny to think something so vital could be overlooked but good headphones are essential. People say you can mix on headphones, which is true, and it can sound good... but its a bit of a recording 101 rule not to, and if you have to use headphones like the sennheiser hd600 series which are open back... and will also set you back a pretty penny and then some. I started mixing on my hd280s before i got my monitors and i did get decent results.

Also you can do all your mixing with protools, it has inbuilt eq plugins, compressors etc etc etc, and those plugins will sound 10 times better than any mixer you pick up for 100 bucks.

I'll say again, pro tools isn't the be all and end all, but it IS the industry standard and if for whatever reason you go pro or go into a proper studio with you as the engineer, you may get lost. There are alot of cheaper and alot of interfaces have cubase LE bundled, its up to you.
Last edited by doommaker at Jan 11, 2009,
#16
Why does it sound dodgy? It's a good quality, two input interface from a respected name.
There is poetry in despair.
#17
I know it's a bit of a step up but i have actually compared the preamps of the motu 828mkii which are ok, they can sound a bit harsh, but they're ok, and the presonus that my friend bought. Frankly the presonus just sounded lifeless and a bit dull, oh its useable, its not CRAP, but there are much better options if you are willing to pay a bit more. Don't get me wrong, its GREAT for the price, it just depends on what the user is looking for.

All this however is my personal opinion however and it may just have been my friends cab compared to mine. I'll remove that side note because like i said, for the price it is an amazing deal.
Last edited by doommaker at Jan 11, 2009,
#18
Quote by doommaker
Frankly the presonus just sounded lifeless and a bit dull, oh its useable, its not CRAP, but there are much better options if you are willing to pay a bit more. Don't get me wrong, its GREAT for the price, it just depends on what the user is looking for.




Well a good preamp ideally will be transparent, not add tone to the sound like an amp would. If it was lifeless, I would blame your amp, playing, the mic or any post processing rather than the preamp.

What would you suggest over this unit?
There is poetry in despair.
#19
For close to that price range? ART MPA Gold Digital, though it only has spdif out, or the apogee duet seems to have some supporters. Maybe even the M-Audio Fast track, i love the MPA and so do alot of other people, the others i'm only going by research i did a bit back.

Ideally i would suggest a standalone preamp and A/D converter that can record at atleast 96khz 24 bit. That being said that would set you back 3 grand for something like a Great River MP2-NV and apogee ad converter.

We did however record on seperate cabs (same amp though and same mic and mic positioning or as close as possible.)

It may have been the difference between 44.1 and 48 i can't say but that could very well have been it. Not everyone has the money nor need to spend more that what's needed.

Not to cut you down but the Avalon 737sp is a ridiculously coloured preamp and people still love it. That being said, some people hate it.
Last edited by doommaker at Jan 11, 2009,
#20
Well the Fast Track is very much at the bottom of the spectrum of audio interfaces. It doesn't get much cheaper than that to be fair.

Obviously, the route of a really nice preamp (lol, not the actual Really Nice Preamp) routed to a 96/192kHz A/D converter is the best option, but this isn't feasible in the home studio, and isn't needed. The man's talking about a setup costing 700 quid.
There is poetry in despair.
#21
very true, i'm not 100% sure how the american dollar translates to the pound but thats what... 1500 US? If He decides to go the protools route... he's getting an mbox... which means only OK pres... useable, but definately nothing to wow over. so whats that 500 us for the mbox2pro or whatever that is? 100 for the sm57, say 500 bucks gets him the krks (unless the economic crisis has really screwed things over i got my rp6s for 450 AU including postage) 100 gets him the headphones and then 300 USish gets him an at4040 or MXL v67i. There's the budget and a good start to a studio.

Like i said, i've never tried the fastrack i just saw somebody say the fastrack pro (if its a diff model) sounded a bit nicer than the normal mbox.

EDIT: wow just looked at the exchange rate, so i was 500 off, cut the LDC and he's close.
Last edited by doommaker at Jan 11, 2009,
#22
Yeah, but I would strongly suggest against the Pro Tools route, personally. The Digidesign hardware is very overpriced for what it is.

And for the record, the rates are a lot worse than that at the moment. Online results are showing 700 British pounds = 1 059.52 U.S. dollars. That's shocking.
There is poetry in despair.
#23
Thanks again everyone, I'd totally forgotten about headphones, so I'll be looking into them further too. It's is true how shocking the conversion rate is at the moment, but then I'll just have to work a bit longer to get the money.

I am reconsidering going ProTools (for now, at least - it clearly isn't a beginners program). Sonar does looks good for the price, and I'm going to get hold of some free trials and experiment a bit more. How do the cheaper home versions of Sonar compare to the bigger, more expensive ones?

If I opted for say, the Presonus Firebox, it comes with Cubase LE 4, which would at least get me started.
Gear:
Ibanez S470 (EMG 81/S/85)
Sigma DMC-15E
Laney VH100R
Laney 4x12 Cab
Ibanez Weeping Demon
M-Audio ProKeys 88
Mbox 3 Pro
KRK RP6 G2's
Plum Team FTW!

X
#24
If you're not going to sell your products then you can get the pro quality with REAPER as your DAW for about 50$. The commercial version is around 200$. I've never used it but all I've heard is good things about it, even the pros recommend it. I don't think pro tools is a good idea if u are on a tight budget. And it won't be easy to get the most out of it only as a software. You'll need to buy the compatible hardware too. It won't go smooth if u try inexpensive other hardware stuff with it.

And try to get another mic(different one along with the 57) or two for the instruments. Specially for the guitar. Since u're from Europe u can get a Thormann for your setup without messing ur budget.

BTW ask post your question in gearslutz.com to get some pro input on this so u won't regret about what you bought with your hard-earned money.

Good luck!
#25
Just for the record, I always stand by the notion of saving whatever money you would otherwise spend on high-priced headphones and saving a bit longer for proper monitors. You really can't appreciate the importance of this, or the significant difference if you have never mixed on proper monitors. They are no more optional than a microphone.

About preamps... the m-box have very usable preamps, but as you know, not all preamps are not created equally. The Digi002 and other Digidesign models that I can't remember right now use upgraded ones from Focusrite.

Sometimes, clarity and accuracy are what you want. Among the top of the 'perfect clarity and transparency' pile are the Grace preamps. Pros are continually amazed at how precise they are.

So why don't they use them? Pros choose preamps for similar reasons they choose microphones. Sometimes it is for clarity and precision. Do you choose your guitar amp for clarity and precision, though? No. You choose it for the character of sound that you like.

You start getting into preamps from the likes of Avalon, SSL, Neve, etc. and you're into a league of audiophile gear that is chosen for their character. That's the point. They're NOT transparent! Just like a Fender Strat has a very distinctive character, so does a Neumann U87. People just love them, and when they hold up an ideal in their mind as to what gear is 'supposed' to sound like, that is what they measure it against.

This also explains why a pro studio might have a Neve console, but might also have some outboard pres from the likes of Avalon.... or maybe even Grace.... depending on the sound they are - or are not - looking for.

CT


CT
Could I get some more talent in the monitors, please?

I know it sounds crazy, but try to learn to inhale your voice. www.thebelcantotechnique.com

Chris is the king of relating music things to other objects in real life.
#26
The firebox is leaps and bounds ahead of the inspire and cubase LE is pretty much all you need at the moment.

I'll also +1 the gearslutz suggestion. Those guys are amazing.
#27
Yeah, it's always hard to figure out where can you get the best bang for your buck and doing your homework takes time but it is necessary.

This is a descent review of the new protools 8 if you are still considering this route:
http://general-sequencer.digidesign.en.audiofanzine.com/products/reviews/index,idproduit,135507,mao,pro_tools_8.html

Otherwise, I second that gearslutz option, also maybe KVR forums...