In the first Gearhead on Youtube video interview, we are going to get to know Dave Greig of Dead King FX, a company that specializes in custom guitar pedals.
My friend, fellow composer, and new recording company partner Brian Garbet and I recently did some recording sessions for an upcoming CD for Redshift New Music, which (finally) gave me the chance to really test out some gear. Specifically, the MOTU Ultralite Audio Interface, the ART TubeMP Microphone Preamp, and the ART HeadAmp4 Headphone Amp. So, without any further delay, here is what I have to say, starting with the MOTU Ultralite, my current audio interface.
I purchased the M-Audio Keystation 61es a long time ago, but haven’t written a review for it until now. Not sure why, but anyways, this keyboard is a 61 key semi- weighted USB MIDI controller. What is a MIDI controller you may ask? Well, the keyboard is a controller. All it does is you assign the keys to certain sounds, and when you play it, it’ll play those set sounds. So you can make it seem like a real playable piano and play in real-time instead of having to manually plot out the notes or play the set instrument on your keyboard. If you do any sort of recording, owning one of these is a must. This may not be the best model, but depending on what you use it for, it could be very useful. Let’s take a closer look at this controller.
A lot of times when audio equipment doesn’t work, it becomes really frustrating especially when it’s after you’ve set up everything for an event. In situations like these, it could really slow you down because the problem could be anywhere. This inexpensive piece of equipment could save you hours of frustration of trying to figure out why certain equipment aren’t working. Before you head off to your gig, spend the extra minute or two checking your cables to make sure they’re working.
Pro Tools–the industry standard software for audio recording. I had the privilege to buy the Digidesign 003 Rack+ last summer, and I must say that I’m quite impressed with it. For a while, I was forced to use Garageband and other programs to record because I didn’t have the money to buy recording equipment. The more I used those programs, the more I realized I needed Pro Tools because they just slowed me down in the recording process and didn’t do what I want it to do. This got frustrating really quickly.
During the summer, I decided to pick up some recording gear. Figuring out which pre-amp and software to buy was probably the easiest part – Digidesign 003 Rack+ & Pro Tools 8 LE! I chose the 003 Rack+ because it has 8 inputs which is a really good start for recording a lot of things. The rack also comes with Pro Tools which is the industry standard when it comes to recording and mixing audio. Now let’s get to the goods!
Front panel: First thing you’ll notice when you look at the front side of the rack is there’s 8 gain knobs which means you can have 8 different things plugged into the rack at once which is really nice. Each input line has 4 different switches on the front of the rack for easy access:
- “Line/DI” – lets you select either the XLR input or 1/4-inch input in the back.
- “48V” – enabling or disabling phantom power for microphones.
- “Pad” – gives a -20dB pad to the selected channel
- “HPF” – a high-pass filter that filters out anything 75Hz or below to eliminate rumbling noises or AC hums.
The only downside to this is only one line could be selected at a time when selecting one of these switches. Next you’ll notice on the top left, there is a 1/4-inch input which gives easy access for plugging in an instrument straight into the rack instead of having to reach over the backside of it – really handy! Another great thing about this is the two headphone jacks with individual volume knobs. There is also a main monitor knob which controls the volume of the monitors you hook up to the rack. Below these knobs there are 6 buttons:
- “Aux In – 7/8” – lets you route another input signal (ie: CD player) straight into Pro Tools.
- “3/4 – HP2” – normally in Pro Tools, the default output is through pairs 1-2, but with this switch, you can change headphone jack #2 to output pairs 3-4. So now you listen to two different things on 2 pairs of headphones.
- “Aux In” – routes whatever is plugged into the Aux-In pair directly to the monitors and headphones outputs.
- “Alt CR” – mutes the main monitors and routes it to the Alt CR output. This makes it so you can have, for example, a comparison of sound between two pairs of monitors.
- “Mono” – combines output 1-2 into one channel which can help to see if there’s any phase problems.
- “Mute” – mutes the main and alt monitors.
Once you flip over to the backside of this rack, you’ll notice that there are a lot of input/outputs. You can either plug in 8 microphones or 8 DI/Line inputs (1/4-inch inputs). There’s also 8 analog outputs, a set of main and alt monitor outputs, aux in, midi in and out, a footswitch jack which lets you connect a footswitch pedal to control either playback start/stop, or recording punch in/out. There is also an optical I/O, S/PDIF I/O, and a word clock.
Overall, there are a lot of options for the rack. This makes it a very useful piece of gear to own if you don’t have over $5,000 to spend on an 8-input pre-amp. It’s definitely a good starting point.
When I picked up this rack, it felt really solid. The front is made from hard plastic, and the knobs have a bit of the rubber feel to it so it’s easier to grip and turn them. The rest of the casing is made of metal, which makes it really sturdy. Unfortunately, for some of you, the rack only connects to your computer via firewire. I don’t know about PC’s, but Macs are already equipped with firewire ports. This is really nice because you get a faster transfer rate – a lot better than USB.
If you’re carrying this thing around a lot, I would suggest picking up a Gator case for it. I paid $135 for mine. It’s a 3 slot case, so there is a bit of room to put a few cables in there, or in the future I can put another rack in there. But in the long run, it’s worth the money to protect your gear.
After recording a few projects, I was quite satisfied with the quality of the recordings. Mind you, it’s not going to sound as transparent as a $5000 Millenia pre-amp, but with a nice pair of microphones, a little bit of EQ’ing, and a few other recording tricks, I’m sure you can get a really nice clean sound out of it. For my recordings, I’ve used a variety of microphones – Apex 460, Neumann TLM 103, AKG C414B, and Mojave MA100. They all had a pretty clean sound to them. I guess this rack is kind of a middle ground when it comes to recording – not terrible, but not amazing.
If you’re on a somewhat tight budget, and don’t know where to start, then the 003+ rack is perfect for you. It comes with Pro Tools, so you can learn how to use an industry standard recording program! And with 8 inputs, you can go a long way when it comes to recording. You might not be able to mic a full band simultaneously, but you can definitely mic a whole drumkit. So any kind of studio work would be sufficient and smaller live recording gigs.
Apex 460 $275
Large-diaphragm tube condenser mic
Recently I have purchased some recording equipment to get me started on recording my own and other people’s music. Finding the pre-amps and software were easy, but finding the microphones weren’t. Throughout my studies at U-Vic and work study at the Banff Centre, I was spoiled and was able to use $1,000+ microphones. So now that I have a small budget for purchasing equipment. I didn’t even know where to start looking. After many hours of research and talking to people at various music stores, I decided to purchase a pair of Apex 460 tube mics.