Recording is great, but we can always make it better with some well-chosen accessories. Anything that helps with workflow, convenience, or sound quality is a beautiful thing—so let’s look at some affordable goodies and gadgets can make your studio life easier, better, or both.
Now You Really Can Mix with Headphones
Mixing on headphones is becoming more common for mobile applications (like podcasting), in smaller studios where noise is a consideration, or to mitigate problems with room acoustics. But there’s a problem: Headphone responses are rarely flat (although the Sennheiser HD 650 comes close), so you don’t know if you can trust your mixes or not. However, there’s also a solution. Sonarworks has analyzed virtually all headphones currently in use for studio applications and created the Reference 4 Headphone Edition plug-in for Mac and Windows. This inserts in your master bus and provides a compensation response curve to flatten the response of your particular headphones. When it’s time to render your mix, you bypass the plug-in. It’s genius, but most of all, it really works.
And Speaking of Headphones…
Engineers tend to prefer open-back headphones because they’re more comfortable, allow for longer exposure if you monitor at high levels, avoid the possibility of internal resonances, and subjectively give a more “open” sound quality. But you also need a good set of closed-back headphones. When “proofing” your mixes and masters to make sure there aren’t any little glitches, closed-back headphones cut out distracting noises from the outside world. Even more importantly, when tracking vocals and monitoring on headphones, sound can leak out of open-back headphones into the mic, and it’s virtually impossible to get that sound out of a track once it’s in there. Fortunately, Beyerdynamic’s DT240-Pro is a respected, closed-back reference headphone that’s designed specifically for professional recording situations—and luckily for us, just makes it under the $100 mark.
Rack ’Em Up!
If your first thought was “8-ball pool,” no, we’re not going there. Instead, let’s talk about a home for your rack-mount gear, because recording isn’t only about software and plug-ins. The On-Stage RS7030 is a tabletop, 12-unit rack stand with all-steel construction and a weight capacity of 75 pounds. It’s more compact, less expensive, and lighter (6.62 pounds) than the enclosed types of rack shells—and even though it’s perfectly at home on tabletops, it can also hang out on the floor for holding AC power conditioners and other devices that don’t require much user adjustment. Even better, the price is right, and the gentle slant makes it easy to see and manipulate the rack gear’s controls.
Solve the “Not Enough Line Inputs” Problem
No matter how hard you plan ahead, there always seems to be that day you run out of inputs. Maybe it’s because you’ve added a couple of keyboards, or a drum module with multiple outputs…or you want to sample several sounds, but your keyboard has only a single input for sampling. Behringer’s MX400 Micromix, with four mono ins and one mono out, is designed for adding those extra inputs. It’s also great for guitar pedalboards when you want to provide a balance of clean and dirty sounds, or to accessorize a powered-monitor-based PA that needs more inputs. Although the MX400 comes with an AC adapter, for zero noise you can even omit the adapter, and run the MX400 as a passive summing amp. The only tradeoff is you can’t adjust levels because there’s no active stage to provide gain.
Be Upfront About Your Mic Inputs
A lot of interfaces and rack mixers mount their XLR mic inputs on the rear panel. That’s fine if you’re always going to leave your mics plugged in and never have to patch in different mics or switch them around, but it’s so much more convenient to have front-panel mic inputs. The bad news is that a lot of gear simply isn’t designed that way, which usually means grabbing a flashlight, and communing with the back of your rack whenever you want to switch around mics (or outputs from other XLR devices). The good news is that ART’s P16, a16-input XLR patch bay, can connect the inputs directly through to your other gear, and passes phantom power as well. It’s only one rack unit high, so when combined with a typical audio interface, you’re still not taking up a lot of rack space—and now you can switch mics around with total abandon, while also minimizing wear and tear on your expensive rack gear’s connectors.