As some of you may already know, I’ve recently ventured with my friend Kyle Bassett to invest in some entry-level sound recording equipment. I’ve recently had to inventory the equipment as normal maintenance, and figured I would take the opportunity to explain what exactly we have at our disposal, and what our current setup is capable of.
Before we spent any money, we took some time to figure out what our goals for the setup were. We wanted a relatively-low-cost system that would give us CD-quality, multichannel audio recording capability. Putting our minds together (…and our wallets,) we put together the following system which we thought would suit our needs.
After some discussion, we figured we’d want to go with a combination of dynamic and condenser mics, to be able to get the quality of the condenser and the affordability of the dynamics. I spotted a $20 mic/stand/XLR cable combo on Amazon.com which we agreed was an amazing deal. Even if the mic was garbage, the stand and the mic clip and the cable for $20 was unbeatable! We ended up buying four of these packages. After doing some looking on zzounds.com, I decided the condenser for the job was the Marshall MXL V57M. It got good reviews all around, and at $70 including shock mount, I figured I couldn’t go wrong.
- 1 x Phonic Helix12FW 12-channel Firewire Mixer – $300
Once we had decided on the mics and preferred mic placement, we started looking at what mixer would be right for what we wanted to do. We both liked the idea of being able to hook the mixer directly up to a computer and record realtime. Looking at mixers that could do this, we selected the Phonic Helix12FW, due to its good reviews, being able to record 10-channels in realtime over Firewire, and the fact that it was in our price range.
- 1 x MacBook Pro, [free]
Any computer that had a IEEE1394 port and could keep up with the recording process would suffice for what we’re doing. While testing the setup at TCNJ, we hooked it up to my computer, Tulip, as well as Kyle’s MacBook Pro. They both detected the board perfectly, and it was a breeze to select the different channels in Audition/GarageBand. We ended up using Kyle’s MacBook to record Immacuata’s Christmas Concert, but the setup is flexible enough to accommodate any decent computer.
- 2 x MiniDisc recorders, ~$40
As per my insistance, we also invested in backup recording, just incase something were to go wrong with the mixer, the computer, the connection between the two, or whatever. At a concert a few weeks earlier, I had spoken with the guy running sound, and he had suggested MiniDiscs as a cheap, high-quality recording solution. Having heard other people’s recordings using MDs, I decided it was worth a try. I picked a few recorders and discs off eBay for about $20 each, and hooked them up to the Pre-outs on the mixer, so that we could capture the raw inputs for reference/backup, in case we needed to.
- 10 x 20′ Whirlwind MC20 XLR Cables, $70 total
- 6 x 20′ Whirlwind MGC 1/4″ Patch Cables, $40 total
- 1 x ART Tube MP Studio Microphone Pre-Amp, $50
Having already planned our first gig (the IHS concert), we realized the 4 XLR cables that came with the mics weren’t going to cut it. We invested in 10 20′ XLR cables, figuring we’d over-shot it alittle, but that we’d use all of them eventually. We added 6 1/4′ patch cables to the order because we didn’t have any, and we figured we’d use them also.
I actually had bought the Tube MP preamp before we put together the rest of the system to buy. I was using it to hook an SP1 mic up to my computer (which gave me pretty decent results, actually), and added it to the arsenal once we bought the rest. We figured we’d need it, because we were now in possession of a total of 5 microphones, but a mixer with only 4 mic preamps. Therefore, we’d probably have to hook up the preamp between the 5th mic and the mixer at some point.
TOTAL SYSTEM COST – ~$690
We under-estimated how fast we use XLR cable. At IHS, after we had set up the first 4 mics, we realized we only had one 20′ cable to run the last (and farthest) mic, which was about 80′ away. We had never thought we were going to use that many cables, and thought we were buying in excess.
Redundancy was a good idea. The computer/mixer interaction acted weird once we actually got on location. This took us by surprise, as we had worked with it all week without any problems. Luckily, we did fix it before showtime, so nothing was lost, but we were lucky we actually knew what we were doing. When the computer started giving us errors, I at least had some comfort in the fact that we had the MiniDiscs to record onto. So far we’re blaming the mixer misbehavior on a dirty power source. We’re going to invest in a surge-protector or power-regulator, and hopefully that will solve any future problems.
It turned out surprisingly well. When I first took a listen to the recordings of the Christmas Concert, I almost couldn’t believe how good they sounded. The mic placement provided a good stereo-separation, and the combination of the dynamic and condenser microphones gives a nice, warm sound to the overall recording. All-in-all, the recording sounds alot better than I had originally anticipated, and I was happy with our performance.
So far, I’m extremely happy with what we’re now capable of doing, and how we did at our first job (the IHS Christmas Concert). We’re currently mastering/producing the CDs, and we hope to be able to do future IHS recordings. Also, we’re looking for more recording opportunities, not only to gain experience, but to make back some of the money we’ve invested in the system. If we make back the cost of the system, we’ll consider expanding our capabilities. One notable area that we both expressed interest in was the capability to DJ parties and such. That might be alittle in the future, but we’ll just have to wait and see!
If you’re interested in having me record a performance or anything at all, the system is flexible. Before the concert, I recorded a single instrument to make an audition CD for a friend. I was actually able to sit down with him and do all the editing and burning of the CDs right there, in no longer than an hour. (link) So if you’d like something recorded, get in touch with me!