We’re off to see the Wizard…

He got legs. He knows how to use them.
He got legs. He knows how to use them.

Phase IV. The Studio Wizard is here. Howard is spending a couple of days living with us, doing the wiring and kit install. He has caught conjunctivitis from his pony (now there’s a sentence you don’t hear every day) so he’s in a lot of eye-drop-related discomfort, but is struggling manfully through. He’s also on a deadline (to retrieve the pony from the animal hospital) so is running on 4 hours’ sleep to get the job done in time. Hero!

Here’s the full list of hardware. This is added to the Mac & Digi002 setup I already use, plus the mics I already own (SE Z5600, AKGC3000, Rode NT4).

  • BEHRINGER ADA8000 – AD converter to provide 8 extra inputs (combines with Digi002 – so studio total is 16 simultaneous input channels)
  • TLA M1F – valve desk
  • PROKEYS88 MIDI controller keyboard
  • DBX 266 stereo compressor
  • FOCUSRITE ISA220 preamp
  • JOEMEEK MC2 stereo compressor
  • EXT DVD SUPERDRIVE (DVD burner so I can keep the Mac in the cupboard)
  • BELKIN 2X FW / 6X USB COMBINED HUB (remote hub on the desktop so the Mac can stay in the cupboard)
  • BEHRINGER HP AMP HA4700 – 4-way headphone amp
  • SE 2200A x 2 (cheap but excellent large-diaphragm condenser mics)
  • SE1A (pair of small condensers)
  • BEYER M201 (2 mics)
  • SHURE SM57 (2 mics)
  • AUDIO TECHNICA ATM250 (large-diaphragm condenser)
  • XLR-XLR – 6M (2)
  • SONOR 507 SERIES COMBO DRUM KIT – 8″ x6″ bass drum, 0″ x 8″ &2″ x 9″ toms, 4″ x4″ floor tom, 14″ x 5.5″ snare drum (steel), 2x TA 503 tom holders, 9-ply covered basswood shells, tunesafe tension rods. 00-series 4-piece hardware set containing HH-174 hi-hat stand, SS-177 snare drum stand, CS-171 straight cymbal stand & sp-273. Single bass drum pedal. Cymbal set: paiste01 series brass set 3 -14″ hi-hat, 6″ crash and 20″ ride. Extra cymbal boom stand. Set Remo pinstripe skins

There was quite a bit of ‘cost engineering’ when we realised how far over budget we were originally. For the drums, I bought some decent Sonor shells (drummers, correct me if I’m wrong!), but decided to save on cymbals and get a budget set of Paistes. Drummers reading this – I do realise the importance of good quality hammered cymbals in terms of harmonic balance etc, but don’t actually play drums (although will now start to learn), and figure that if I hire a kit player for projects s/he will bring their own cymbals to a session. So cymbals will be upgraded to pro quality one day when I become a good enough drummer to justify it.

This principle, BTW, I reckon applies to lots of music kit purchases – there’s no point in having gear that’s substantially better than you are. It’s why our MusicLab at the University is usually only used by third year students – it takes time for them to develop the quality songwriting and performance skills that mean the subtleties of room design make a difference to the quality of the track. A piece of music is as good as its weakest link, so there comes a cost point where you get diminishing musical returns if the kit outstrips your skill at using it. In my case, the weakest tool I have is my singing voice, which is why I prefer to work with proper singers.

We’ve worked out how the rack will work ergonomically, with the things I’ll use the most (ISA220 and patchbays) in the top rack, and the things I use less often (DVD burner, headphone amp) in the lower one. Howard’s pre-made all the looms, and has added a cable tray under the desktop, to which they are attached. The only thing we didn’t account for is that the M1F (being a project studio desk) doesn’t have stereo insert sockets, so Howard has rewired the insert points to two jacks so we can get all the channel inserts coming up on the patchbay.

This is Howard's full patchbay layout plan.
This is Howard's full patchbay layout plan.

The only thing we won’t get done in this phase (before Howard’s next visit) is the tie lines through to the live room. This is not a problem because I can physically throw XLRs through the the hole in the wall for now. I’m also proud to say that after a quick refresher session with Howard on soldering skills, I’ve made up my first stereo lead – the first soldering I’ve done, in fact, since about 1987 (a difficult teenage phase where, for reasons now unclear, I decided to resolder my Strat so all the pickups were wired in series. I blame Adrian Legg).

So everything pretty much works OK. We have 8 simultaneous input channels instead of 16 (the ADA8000, which supplies channels 9-16 to Logic via the Digi CoreAudio driver, still needs configuring so it acts correctly as a digital clock ‘slave’ over optical to the Digi002 – BTW if you’re reading this and have any tips on optical-syncing these items, get in touch!). But given that I’m only one person, I’m unable to generate more than 16 simultaneous musical sounds, so this can wait until I get bands or drummers in.

I’m also going to need to adapt my working methods to encompass more handshake between the analogue and digital worlds. After years of doing all the dynamic processing with Waves plugins, I’m going to make an active effort to use the outboard gear, so that when both methods (on-screen and analogue) become equally transparent ergonomically, so I can then make musical decisions between digital and outboard. Today I mixed the first track (a Techno remix of James Taylor’s ‘Shower The People’) and took stereo output pairs from Logic into the M1F so I could EQ and mix using the analogue input channels of the mixing desk. There’s something pleasingly perverse about mixing Techno using 1930s valve technology…

Cable trays carrying the looms under the desktop between M1F and patchbay.
Cable trays carrying the looms under the desktop between M1F and patchbay.
Wot, no cabling?
Wot, no cabling?
The looms go into the top patchbay.
The looms go into the top patchbay.
Headphone amp, ADA8000 and Joe Meek MC2 – gaffer taped for the moment.
Headphone amp, ADA8000 and Joe Meek MC2 – gaffer taped for the moment.
Top rack in progress – DBX compressor and ISA220.
Top rack in progress – DBX compressor and ISA220.

And that’s the end of phase IV. Howard will be back sometime in September to ‘sort out the room’ (spectrum analysis and speaker configuration etc), wire in the tie lines and XLR plates to the live room, and fix any wiring faults I find in the next few weeks. He’s now off to pick up a pony from a geezer in Norfolk.

PlansHe’s done an amazing job (he also did the overall design of the whole building) and I’m really pleased with the intelligent decisions he’s made on my behalf about the patchbay layout – and studio usage in general.

Coming soon – rugs, sofas and drums!

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