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What have I got in my studio?

I thought I'd start the blog with a post about equipment and the studio. I'm not geeky about what I use, but it can be interesting to have an insight into where I spend a lot of time and what bits of kit get used in there.

Here's a picture of my workspace. I love my chair. It's a Steelcase Think. I suffered some acute back pain a few years ago and the muscle spasms hurt so much I thought I was dying, so much so that, for that time, I overcame an extreme fear of needles and visited the GP who, of course, insisted on taking blood. At the time I was making music on a temporary set-up working on my laptop to make music in another room at a table sitting on a drum stool and it was this poor posture that caused my aches and pains. I saved a fortune on the chair by buying from an online refurbished office furniture store.

I use Apple Logic Pro X. I'm used to it and how it sounds and looks. It suits my way of working. I am amazed at what people do with Ableton Live and I enjoyed using Reason and Cubase in the past but Logic is what I've ended up with for the moment. It runs on a mini mac with a quad i7 processor and 16GB RAM. I tend not to use 3rd party plug ins, but only recently I received some Focusrite Red EQ and compressor plugins as part of a deal and I needed to purchase an audio restoration plug in so opted for this Izotopes package.

I've had my Event ASP8 monitor speakers and speaker stands for about a decade. 10 years is a fairly long while to keep speakers running every day but despite one of them being accidentally knocked off the stand onto the floor during the first week of ownership they have been trouble free. I'm dreading the day that they need replacing! I bought them for my old commercial studio Loficity and they stayed with me. There is a slight scoop and bass hump, but they sound smooth and I "know" them. They are probably a bit overkill for my very small room, but somewhat luckily this hasn't affected my mixes and I don't have to compensate in any way when mixing. I do have two broadband/bass traps on the right hand wall and the room is constructed so that the walls vibrate and the low frequencies are absorbed by a thick slabs of acoustic grade mineral insulation in the cavity between the bricks and board walls so that helps.

I purchased this Audient iD14 only 3 or 4 weeks ago. It was out of necessity as I was without an audio interface temporarily. This thing is amazing. It's function is simple and there's no bells & whistles, but it does what it is meant to do without any fuss. It's USB bus powered, has two mic/line inputs with 48v phantom power. There is also an ADAT light pipe input so it can be connected to an external pre-amp unit. The pre-amps are fantastically smooth. I've owned an Apogee Duet which was more than twice the price new and wasn't as user friendly ("iD", Audient's control software is super easy to use) and although it's subjective I think this Audient's pre-amps are superior. It was less than £200 new. Highly recommended if you are looking for a small footprint desktop audio interface that can be expanded.

I picked this up in the local cash convertors store for £60. It's an important bit of kit because it stays on my desk and allows me to play stuff into Logic without fuss. I also have a Roland Juno 61DS which tends to stay in its bag until I need a keyboard for playing in a group. I tend to rely on the synths in Logic - probably because it's quick and more convenient, but the majority of the sounds are decent and some are better than hardware equivalents. The idea of having a real analog synth appeals to me, but at the moment without space and wealth, I don't think it'd be money well spent.

My microphones (left to right, top to bottom):

  • Sontronics STC1S (matched pair with Omni capsules) - not got to know these yet, but they worked well as drum kit overheads the other day.
  • Sontronics Apollo (stereo dual ribbon) - this thing is amazing - only used it a few times and I'm already totally convinced. Like all of my Sontronics mics, it is new to me.
  • Audio Technica ATM33a - this is one I've kept but don't pull out much - it was always excellent for acoustic guitar that sat in the mix like glue
  • Oktava MK012 - I love these, I bought this one because it was an easy way of getting more out of the 6 capsules in the matched pair box
  • Sontronics Aria (cardioid valve) - oh my goodness how good is this? - like the Apollo I've only used it a handful of times so far but it is now the primary microphone for me - I've recently recorded an EP for a singer songwriter and used it on everything (apart from guitar amp - used a SOLO for that). It was also recommended as an excellent choice for cello so I look forward to recording my friend Alice play.
  • Oktava MK219 (case and electronics modded by Michael Joly) - this was my first serious microphone purchase over 20 years ago - Joly's mods got both matched and they are superb all-rounders. I love having them in the collection as they are an unusual choice. They started off dark and a bit rough, but after the mods they have a sound reminiscent to Neumann U87, but darker perhaps.
  • Oktava MK012 MSP6 - my favourite capsules are the omnis. These are fab for acoustic guitar, stereo field recordings, snare/tom/hats/overheads on drums - I can rely on these as they are great all rounders and generally they exceed my expectations every time.
  • Shure SM57 - really old, this must be from the 70s/80s - i swapped it with a friend when I was 18 for a similar dynamic mic made by Beyer (might have been an M01).
  • Audix D6 & Earthworks Kickpad (underneath it) - I'm still undecided whether the mic is best with or without the Kickpad (the kick pad is good for when I don't fully trust the sound engineer!!!) - it tends to depend on the bass drum. In the past I've had AKG D112 and a Beyer TGX50. I've also used a Beyer TG88, Sennheiser MD412 and AKG D12 in sessions. I think the D6 is a good compromise. I've no intention to replace it as it does what I need it to + I have other options here (MK012, M219 for example do an excellent job) but I'd be interested to try an Audio Technica ATM25 and the Sontronics DM1B is available to me easily.
  • Sontronics STC6 - this is a hand held condenser discontinued by Sontronics - I picked this up on eBay for £50 - it's good, but I much prefer the 
  • Sontronics SOLO - I have three of these.  They are amazing.  If I could only buy one mic for the majority of applications (live, studio, guitars, amps, drums, vocals - not sure about bass drum, but I will try recording soon) with less than £200 this would be my choice.  I have recommended this microphone to so many people since I got them a few months ago.
I don't really have favourites, but if pushed I could replace the STC1S, ATM33a, SM57, D6 & STC6 with alternatives. The others are irreplaceable as far as I am concerned I would not choose any other mics. over (in no particular order) the Apollo, MK012s, Aria, modded MK219s and SOLOs. With these 4 I have everything imaginable covered.

So this year I am doing a lot of multi-track recording on location. For the money, sound quality, ease of use and customer service there was only one choice really: Focusrite Clarett. Using Thunderbolt instead of firewire and USB has been a revelation as I can set up a mix within Logic that can be used for headphone holdback and there's no noticeable latency. The headroom on the mic pre-amps is phenomenal and the AIR circuit on each one can be used to simulate the revered Focusrite ISA pre-amp. These live in an amazing SKB case that also safely houses my MacBook pro. I use a 2012 MacBook pro with 8GB RAM and has a SDRAM drive (the most solid MacBook in my opinion, great value for money and before MacBooks were designed to be non-user upgradable).

My lovely guitars (left to right):

  • G&L ASAT deluxe customised with 1st generation Line 6 variax 500 circuit built into it - I thought I'd use the variax stuff more because I replaced an original Line 6 variax500 with this, but I really love the pick-ups on this guitar, the neck is superb and it's far more convenient to just plug it into the amp/audio interface than messing about with the line6 power supply and triple pole cable.
  • Line 6 varibass - this is really good bass guitar - like the variax I can dial up about 20 or so different basses including upright/acoustic/synth simulations. I find the power supply and extra leads a faff so I'm wondering about getting one decent bass - maybe a precision or jazz - not decided on that really.
  • Furch OM25SR - this is my favourite ever. So in love with it. It is the guitar that re-kindled my love of music making. It is tuned to DADGAD and is the best guitar I've ever played (and I've been into all those shops in Denmark Road, Thomann in Germany and Richard's guitar shop - where I got it from - and played so many high-end guitars before choosing this). When I lift the lid of its case I can hear it singing!
  • Tanglewood TG73RP - I wanted a guitar to keep in Nashville tuning and I picked this up for £200 last Christmas on eBay.  I toyed with selling it recently and had many people ask, but I've decided to keep it.  It's strung with standard strings and tuning and is actually a great guitar for me to take out performing - it plays nice, the pick up is pretty good and if it got nicked or broken it's not going to upset me much.  It's also found itself providing a different tone in the studio - everyone loves it because of it's size and appearance.
  • Furch D23SM - this has replaced my much loved Takamine EN18 (which is at the auction house waiting to be sold - something I procrastinated and had heart ache over for a long while - it took buying this Furch first to convince me that the EN18 was surplus and that I had wrung all the music out of it and it was time for someone else to love it - it paid for itself many many times over).  Anyway this Furch is also beautiful and lovely to play - I'm not as precious about this one as the OM, but it is one of the best dreadnoughts I've every played.  I'm very lucky to have two guitars as good as these Furches.  I can highly recommend them over Martin, Gibson and Taylor - they are not obvious choices but because they are hand made made in the Czech republic they are much much better value than the big brands.  The attention to detail and build quality are world class and the sound is as good as you can get from an acoustic guitar.  These are both £2k or thereabouts, but if they were branded as Martin, Gibson or Taylor I wager that the price tag would be close to £5k.

I used to be a massive fan of guitar effects. I still am, but these days I'm a bit more comfortable with my playing ability to get a good tone and express myself without effects. What effects I do have are do-it-all solutions.

Zoom Multistomp - this thing can set up several instances of effects along with guitar pre-amp sim and cab sims - it is a swiss army knife of pedals - sound quality isn't too bad either

Line 6 M5 stomp box modeller - loads of pedals in one box - I think there are 100 different models - you can only dial up one instance, but that's enough for me before I get flustered in a live context and in the studio I tend to rely on post-processing if I want to get radical with effects. I got this by selling a Line 6 Delay pedal for more than the cost of this new despite that the M5 has the exact same model of the Line 6 delay pedal in it.

Joyo American Tone - this is a chinese clone of Sansamp Fender Tweed pre-amp simulator - it's great for £30 new. I plug my guitar into a keyboard amp with this in between and you wouldn't know it's not a proper guitar amp.

These are sitting on top of my Fender Champion 110 amp. People love or hate these things. I think it's a good 2nd hand buy. I'm planning to replace the stock speaker at some point as that will definitely improve matters, but only increase the weight (which is why I've not done it yet!). It's got a killer clean sound for less than £100 2nd hand.