In the many years of owning a studio, I have upgraded equipment time and time again. I only wish someone had shared this knowledge with me, as it would have saved a lot of time and money. Below I have listed a few areas of studio upgrades that will dramatically improve your sound. I know they did for me.
UAD Card Or Interface
The reason I would recommend buying one of these interfaces or cards is simple. It’s the closest you will get to a high quality professional analogue sound whilst staying in the box. UAD are known for supplying the best plugins money can buy. They are not cheap but damn they are good.
Analogue Summing Console
Analogue and digital summing are far from comparable in quality. A cheap analogue summing console such as a behringer or mackie will not improve your sound a great deal, if any. A top quality summing console such as an SSL x desk or Neve 8816 will dramatically increase the quality of your sound. An analogue console will allow you to output your digital stems through your interface into the channel inputs on the summing console and then summed to the master bus. By doing so you create space in your mix along with giving your mix an analogue glow unachievable In the digital domain. You will not even need to insert analogue EQs and compressors on each channel to notice a considerable difference.
A/D D/A Converters
Digital to analogue converters are so important. I can’t stress this one enough. A good quality converter on your monitor output is a must have. You could have the best monitors in the world but if your converters are budget your monitors will not be receiving the best quality audio available from your daw and resulting in a low quality audio signal being outputted from your monitors. An upgrade in converters when comparing myself increased the quality outputting from the monitors by half. It was like getting a monitor upgrade too. It works both ways too. You could have your mix being sent out through the best digital to analogue converters and through the best analogue hardware, monitored on the best speakers money can buy. Sounds amazing to your ears but then if you are recording back in through poor quality analogue to digital converters what you record will then be recorded not as you hear it.
An SSD hard drive will do wonders for your computer. Running sessions off the SSD will dramatically increase how your session will run. Export audio quicker, import audio quicker, stems and samples are able to be read faster. All in all a great upgrade to any music computer.
A Second Monitor
A second monitor will really help with productivity. I personally wouldn’t be able to cope with one monitor. Plugins blocking the view of the edit window, analysers minimised and not being able to have them on show at a glance when I need them. With a second monitor in your setup you can always have your edit window open and all plugins and vst’s open on another window. Workflow will dramatically increase.
A DAW controller is something you may overlook as being worthwhile for the money. As far as mixing goes it’s essential. Using a mouse to mix is frustrating at the best of times and can really decrease your creativity and workflow. A daw controller if you know how to use it well will remove the mouse from mixing altogether. Control of plugins using pots, control of pans using pan pots, control of mix levels using motorised faders. Basically control of everything in your daw using the daw controller.
Instead of having 100 ok plugin EQs buy 3 good plugin EQs you know inside out. By having less selection you will be able to pick the right EQ for the job, rather than searching though various different EQs, many of which sound the same.
Monitors are very important in a studio setup, by far one of the most important pieces of equipment. How your mix sounds is dependent on what you can hear. The way you balance your mix is dependant on your monitors. For instance you can nearly always tell if a producer is using krk rokits as the mix will be very bass heavy and inaccurately balanced. This isn’t down the mix engineer not being good. It’s down to the fact that you will find using these monitors that you won’t hear your mix correctly and end up over compensating for different frequencies you do not actually have to.
Treat Your Room
A well treated room, treated correctly not just throw a few tiles up here and there in random spot, will do wonders for your sound. Mixing is a lot about having an accurate mixing environment. If what you are hearing is accurate to how the mix actually sounds you will be able to obtain a great sounding mix. A lot of the time I will sit down and listen to a producers music with them at Audio Animals Studio and they will say to me their reference mix sounds totally different here. This is partly down to the quality of monitors and D/A converters but is also down to how accurate the room is that we work in. A mix that is mixed down in an inaccurate room will compensate for all manner of frequencies that may not need compensating for.
Written By Paul Ashmore ( Audio Animals Mixing And Mastering Engineer )