Workshop: Recording Equipment

I was asked about what sort of recording equipment I use for the soundclips. This is it! -- pretty much. Just add MacBook, GarageBand, and stir. I keep my EQ very flat for the soundclips and move the instrument and mic around until it sounds most like how I hear it with my ears.

I've used a first-generation MXL 990 condenser (phantom powered) mic for general vocal and acoustic instrument use for a long time. These first-gen ones seem to be a lot better than the subsequent generations which I've owned (and been frustrated) with. They have a rich, full sound that's pleasantly neutral. I've heard a lot of good mics and this particular one gives many fancier options a good run for their money. Except for short amounts of time where I'd switch to try out others in my mic collection, all my soundclips have been done with this mic.

In January I got this Apogee Duet2 (USB interface) to replace my old Alesis mixer as my audio interface. I'm glad that I did: it's dead-silent, easy to use, sounds fantastic, has 70db of preamp (!!!) as I recall, and runs entirely off the USB bus which means: no friggin power supply. This also means that with my laptop (and older MacBook) I can run two phantom powered mics (if I want to) in an environment entirely without external power and thus with essentially zero noise on your line. This makes it easy to unplug from noisy wiring in a house to record tracks and whatnot.

These come with a "breakout cable" which has 2-in, 2-out and the 2-in can be either a line, instrument, or mic (either XLR or 1/4") on either channel. There's a headphone preamp built in (sounds great) and you can of course use this to make tracks coming off your computer (just for playback, through iTunes or whatever) sound brilliant.

I'm not particular with headphones: these are cheap ATH-M45 Audio Technica phones that have a good, balanced, neutral sound. They don't have a full bass, but then again I don't want throbbing bass when I'm recording albums... to save my ears. I always adjust my mix later through studio monitors when recording albums so these are fine as a "reference" pair to leave in the workshop.

This is my old Alesis Firewire MultiMix8. It's a great unit, but a little noisier than the new Apogee. It's also much older and a lot less expensive. It's now retired to small gig use where it's happy in its 2nd life. I was reluctant to move over to a USB unit until I tried the Apogees as many USB-in units just aren't as powerful or as fast as this standby old Firewire mixer. The Apogee doesn't lag but a lot of other USB units I've used sometimes do have a bit of lag here and there when recording which can spoil a take.

When I'm working on albums I use a PreSonus TubePre to add a bit of warmth and tube vibe to vocals and also direct-in instruments (like electric guitar or acoustic pickups used for effect). I also use this as a bass preamp for live work from time to time when I don't want my bass amp around to fill stage space.

The other mics I've used for demo soundclips from time to time are the bullet-shaped MXL 991 (also first-gen and better than subsequent versions) and the stereo V67Q which adds a lot of depth to a clip but also removes a bit of up-front presence. I also like the stereo mic for capturing live sound.

For recording albums I have a bunch of other vintage mics of varying quality and style for specific sounds and for live use I prefer Sennheiser e835 units to just about anything else.