The bad news: with fall approaching, colder temperatures will be upon us soon. The great news: being inside means spending more time in the studio, whether for commercial projects, education, or our own enjoyment. So let’s make our lives easier, and more productive, with a bunch of inexpensive—and very useful—studio accessories.
Take the Most Direct Route
There’s no shortage of direct boxes: active, passive, transformer, no transformer. But Radial Engineering’s Pro48 has some standout features: it’s a phantom-powered, active direct box that can handle the kind of huge transient peaks associated with acoustic guitar and bass. However, it also has a 220k input impedance, making it suitable for electric guitars with passive pickups. Other features are a ground lift to help minimize hum issues, -15 dB input pad, and a thru jack—ideal for situations like feeding a bass amp while simultaneously taking a direct feed. And of course, since it’s made by Radial Engineering, it’s pretty darn close to indestructible…so you can feel comfortable with it for touring as well as in the studio.
Measuring the Truth
Is your room just one giant filter? Are your speakers still telling you the truth once the sound interacts with your listening environment? Where will acoustic treatment do you the most good? To answer these questions, you need a mic that’s not designed for vocalists or instruments, but measurement—and that’s where the phantom-powered Behringer ECM8000 comes in. Its omnidirectional polar pattern and flat frequency response are ideal for feeding real-time analyzers (or for that matter, the room-tuning feature in QSC’s TouchMix-16) to find out what’s really going on with the frequency response of acoustic spaces. Does the ECM8000 outperform products costing over 10-20 times as much? Well, maybe not…but it comes so close that for $59.95, this analysis microphone should be part of every toolkit when you need to tune a room or run SPL tests.
Zero-Latency Effects for Your DAW
Sure, you have some great plug-ins for your DAW. But then the singer wants to hear some reverb in the headphones. Or the bass player needs to hear the effect of compression while playing. Or the guitarist wants some chorusing while overdubbing…but as soon as you add plug-ins, you’re dealing with latency issues and unhappy musicians. The solution: insert a simple, inexpensive, fine-sounding hardware processor like TC Electronic’s M100 in the cue out to give players what they want. It’s stereo, with 16 presets that cover reverb, delay, chorus, flanging, phaser, rotary speaker, pitch shifter, and several multi-effects. At this price, it’s tough to beat.
Give Me Your Hand
Back in 1979, AT&T said, “reach out and touch someone.” But in the studio, we want to reach out and touch a physical control. Unfortunately, control surfaces tend to be pricey—nor are they generally laptop-friendly, and they usually fight for space with the QWERTY keyboard you use with your DAW. But the USB-powered, Korg nanoKONTROL2 MIDI control surface is different. It can fit in front of or behind your keyboard and is a great complement to a laptop-based recording setup. The control set includes eight channels of faders, panpot, buttons for solo/mute/record, and transport controls. It’s freakin’ convenient, as well as cute, and can really help workflow in the studio—especially if you’re tight for space.
Take a (Mic) Stand for Better Vocals
Often the biggest problem in a vocal recording is the room itself, so the sE Electronics RF-X was designed to create what’s essentially a mini vocal booth. It helps absorb your voice, which keeps it from going out into the room, and also prevents reflections from getting into the mic. When set up properly, it can also provide some isolation from computer noise (like hard drives and fans). You do need to position the mic carefully; too far into the filter alters the tone, and too far away diminishes its effectiveness—the placement shown in the image (and no, the mic is not included) is about right for most mics. The RF-X won’t necessarily take the place of a vocal booth, but fortunately, where it works the best is with rooms that need it the most. That’s pretty convenient!