Forgive the ‘clickbait’ approach, but this is important! Whether it’s a spur-of-the-moment purchase or something you’ve been saving up for, new gear often brings with it great hopes of revolutionising the quality of your future productions. However, this new machine is going to occupy a place in your personal audio set-up, and therefore the quality and coherence of the whole ensemble will affect it. And it’s how the different elements fit together that will determine the success of the whole investment.
For recording, a top-class microphone with a bottom-of-the-range preamp will never be able to show its true colours, and vice versa – the preamp won’t shine without the help of a decent mic. And this also goes for everything from the acoustics of the studio booth to the converters.
When mixing, we face the same issues. If you only have cheap converters to split the multitracks using a desk that isn’t very well maintained, even if you suddenly buy outstanding compressors, you will still be limited by the elements already in place.
Any future purchase needs then to be part of a global vision rather than just focussing on a single element. The examples above assume there is an existing set-up, but this applies equally to a first purchase. In both cases, you need to know what your budget is and whether it’s available immediately or in various phases and on what time scale. You also need to establish a clear aim for the investment. Is it mainly to record overdubbed tracks or to record a whole band at the same time? If you’re mixing, you’ll need to know how many tracks on average you want to mix per session and how many outboards or plug-ins you’re going to need.
Next you can start to organise the order of priority for your purchases. In my opinion, the three essential areas are the acoustics of the control room, the monitoring system and conversions. They all affect the recording and the mix, so they require particular attention.
The acoustics of the control room in symbiosis with the monitoring system, including the monitoring section and the amp/speakers combo, will be your ears to control your entire production from start to finish. Another critical aspect is conversion. Working in a digital world, the signal is systematically converted at some point sooner or later in the audio chain. This part therefore needs special care. You can have the most amazing mic or preamp, but if you can’t hear their quality, or if they’re affected by poor conversion, it’s like crawling along in the slow lane in a Formula 1 car.
This same analysis could also help someone who doesn’t have access to big mixing studios, who is always asking the eternal question of in the box or out of the box for mixing. I don’t have a categorical answer to that one, but hopefully this can begin to answer a few key questions…
Laurent Dupuy is a double Grammy Award-winning engineer based in London.