Moving On Up: Taking Your Student Home Studio To The Next Level!

Welcome back!

Maybe you already have a basic setup like the kind of thing we talked about in our ‘Basic Student Home Studio Setup’ post and you’re looking to take the next step as you move from school to college or uni. Maybe you don’t, and you just think your crazy skills and obvious talent deserve the very best (you’re right!).

In both cases – we’ve got the ideas to help you step up your game.  Read on….

Software
Audio Interface
Microphones
Speakers & Headphones
Controllers

Cubase – we talked before about Cubase Elements, but it’s time to expand and there are 2 further options:

Cubase Artist – the ultimate Cubase package for home and project studios, this gives you loads of tracks, a ton of software instruments and effects and almost everything you might need

Cubase Pro – this is basically a pro studio ready to go.  It takes everything you get in Cubase Artist and adds even more tracks, thousands more instrument voices, and absolutely all the tools and mix functions you would expect to find in a proper recording studio

Ableton Live – moving on from Live Intro there are (again) another 2 options:

Ableton Live Standard – a great step up from Intro with 20% more instruments, 50% more audio effects, and over 10GB of sounds for you to use

Ableton Live Suite – the full package, the whole world of Ableton Live software, Suite gives you 300% more instruments than Standard, 60% more audio effects and over 70GB of sounds for you to build the ultimate tracks and take them straight to the gig

Pro Tools – we didn’t really cover this one in much detail before, but it is essentially the industry standard software package for both music studios and video post-production houses.  Incredibly powerful, it basically represents the very best for music & mix processing. The downside is that for composition/production, you may want more than the included virtual instruments.  There are many, many incredible plugins available but, of course, the 3rd party ones do add to the overall cost. Many studios and producers often actually rely on combinations of software such as Pro Tools + Ableton Live.  Essentially, Pro Tools is it for sound engineers, while Ableton and the others may be better for creators, and combining them gives you the very best of all worlds!

Audio Interfaces

By this point in your career, you may want to record with the very best quality available and/or record more than 2 things at once, so here are some of the best options around:

Universal Audio Apollo Twin mkII – the choice of many professionals across the world, Universal Audio provide some of the very best pre-amps and A/D converters around.  The Apollo provides 2 mic/line combo inputs, one of which can be accessed by a high impedance guitar input on the front. The 6 outputs are monitor out (L/R), 2x line outs and headphone out (L/R).  Absolutely one of the best units around, the Apollo is available in SOLO, DUO and QUAD versions using 1, 2 and 4 processors respectively to power the incredible plugins that come with it.

Audient iD44 – Audient may not be a name you know that well but the company has deep roots in the recording industry – the founders used to build some of the best mixing desks in the world as DDA.  The iD44 uses the same mic pre-amps as the incredible Audient ASP-8024HE recording console and the quality continues throughout. The iD44 gives you 4 mic/line combo inputs (2 with dedicated DI instrument outputs), 2 sets of stereo outputs & 2 separate headphone outs

*** BONUS FEATURE ***
Want to record even more channels at once – like a full drum kit or even a whole band?  YOU CAN!!  Both of the interfaces mentioned above can be expanded using optical inputs.  You can add 8 channels to the UA Apollo and a full 16 extra channels to the Audient iD44.  Mind-blowing. All you need is a pre-amp unit with optical outputs such as the incredible Audient ASP880 or the ever popular Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre, both of which use the same great pre-amps you’ll find in each company’s interfaces

Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 – with 4 inputs (2 combo and 2 line inputs) and 4 outputs, this is a lovely step up from the interfaces in the Basic Student Setup post, with the same brilliant pre-amps as the smaller units.  It also adds full MIDI in/out capability, which means you can add tonnes of MIDI capable external instruments and controllers without having to take up any more USB ports on your computer

Microphones

As a step up from the last post, we’ll only be talking about studio mics here and – again – there are so many mics available, there will be as many opinions on which ones to use as there are engineers to ask.  The ones below are industry standards and/or tried and tested favourites of ours over years of studio experience.

AKG C414 XLS – one of the most successful mics of all time, the 414 has been around in various forms since 1971!!  A multi-pattern mic and versatile in the extreme, this little beauty is every bit at home in front of a singer, a guitar amp, inside a piano, over a drum kit…pretty much anywhere you’d want to use it.  If had to only have one mic, this would be it.

Neumann TLM 102 – Neumann will always be one of the biggest names in the recording industry and mics like this are the reason why.  More affordable than many of Neumann’s offerings, this cardioid mic is renowned for rich low end and silky highs.

sE Electronics sE4400a – founded as recently as 2000, sE Electronics have been producing brilliant mics ever since.  Although similar in appearance to the AKG mentioned above, the technology in the sE4000a is really quite different.  It also offers multiple pickup patterns and many other features, including an innovative shockmount that allows very precise, close positioning for an array of applications

Aston Spirit – another fab offering from Aston.  Designed and built in the UK, the Spirit is a lovely vocal mic, which is flexible enough to also give a great sound on acoustic instruments.

Speakers & Headphones

Before you message us to complain that your favourites aren’t on this very shortlist, it’s like microphones – there are way too many on the market to include everything.  The list below are well-proven examples of absolute standards (and staff favourites) that you will find in project and pro studios alike.  They’re all speakers with both bigger and smaller alternatives in the same range, so just ask us if you’re unsure on extra options.

Speakers

Adam A7X – unique among the speakers on this list, Adam use ribbon tweeters instead of the traditional domed diaphragms.  The A7X is an updated version of the original (and popular) A7 speaker and manages to balance a natural low end with detailed, airy highs.

Focal Shape 50 – not only do these amazing speakers sound incredible, they also look really good.  The Shape range have 2 features unique on this list: flax woofer cones and passive radiators.  Without going all the way into the science, this means the cones are both strong and very light and there’s no need to build the speakers with ports to extend the bass response, which can cause their own sonic issues.  Incredibly well-balanced, transparent, detailed sound and stunning looks – these speakers should be on everyone’s list

Genelec 8010A – the smallest speakers on this list, these wonderful little units still deliver that brilliant Genelec sound, beloved of sound engineers the world over.  Hyper-portable, they’re easy to take from one studio to another and even as references for live recordings. The only downside is that you may want to add a sub if you need that deep bass…

KRK Rokit RP7 G4 – the next installment of the best-selling Rokit series from KRK, apart from a redesigned, stylish cabinet, these actually feature 25 different presets to adjust speaker performance to your studio environment and even have a graphic EQ on the back showing exactly how the sound has been altered.

Headphones

Closed-back  – these are isolated enough for recording near sensitive mics and for mixing without everyone else having to listen, but the closed shells can often flatter your low end, so be careful mixing!

Shure SRH-940 – the SRH-840’s bigger brothers, they refine the already great sound even further, offering stunning detail and accuracy with a smooth bottom end.

Focal Listen Pro – a great offering from renowned French manufacturer Focal, taking their knowledge and experience from years of studio monitor manufacturing to the headphone world.  A very detailed sound that won’t flatter too much, but also won’t fatigue the listener at normal volume levels.

Fostex T40RP MK3 – one of the legendary names in recording studios, Fostex produce another winner with their TxxRP range of headphones.  Great sound and great build quality, super-comfortable for those long sessions, the T40RP’s also provide all the isolation you’ll need for sensitive mics without unfavourably colouring your sound.

Open / Semi Open

While this type of headphones are no good for recording (they will spill sound onto sensitive mics), they are very hard to beat when it comes to mixing, giving you a more open, natural and neutral sound.

Shure SRH1840 – near the top end of Shure’s headphone lineup, these cans continue to be some of the top performers available.  Crystal clear, detailed sound and very comfortable build make them hard to beat.

Sennheiser HD650 – one of the classics of the mix engineer, the HD650 is a mainstay for good reasons.  The balanced sound is stunning in its detail and you’ll notice things in your mixes you might otherwise miss.  Comfy for long sessions, too.

AKG K712 – with wonderful accuracy and an improved bottom end over any other model from the same AKG family, these are a great pair of reference mixing headphones.

Fostex T20RP MK3 – very similar in sound to the T40RP above, the T20RP is the open-backed version, bringing you the more natural, neutral sound that’s so good for mixing.

Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro – a little different to others on this list, the DT880 Pro’s are semi-open backed, giving a really good balance of the characteristics from both sides of the open/closed equation.  Lush detail and natural sound combined with accurate and rich (but not enhanced) bass have kept these a studio classic for years – and rightly so!

Controllers

This is where the real fun starts!  Leaving behind the utilitarian, we’re going full-on creative with tools to help you compose, perform, produce and amaze!

Control Surfaces

Ableton Push 2 – the pinnacle of Ableton’s own hardware solutions, the Push 2 is designed specifically to work as fully as any piece of kit ever could with Ableton Live.  With 64 velocity sensitive, colour coded pads, a host of other controls, and incredibly solid build quality, Push is a controller, an instrument, a performance tool, a sampler and so much more.  It can be used to access, select, and control almost every function, instrument, and effect in Live, providing an unrivalled depth of interfacing with this incredible software, leaving you more time to be creative.

Novation Launchpad Pro – arguably the best of the 3rd party control surfaces, the Launchpad offers much of the same control over Ableton as you can get with the Push.  It doesn’t go into the same depth as the Push but is an exceptionally powerful tool in its own right. It has also spawned a whole new world of ‘Lightshows’ with MIDI feedback controlling the lights of the 64 velocity-sensitive pads and creating thousands of sensational YouTube performances.  An incredible tool that won’t break the bank!

Keyboard Controllers

Novation 49SL mkIII – part Launchpad, part keyboard, part synth, part controller.  The 49SL mkIII is ready to become the hub of your musical world, giving you access to many of the functions of your chosen software, letting you spend less time staring at a screen and more time creating.  Velocity sensitive pads, transport controls and programmable faders combine with the 49-key semi-weighted keybed and easy hardware integration for external instruments/synths to bring you creative musical freedom on a whole new scale

Akai MPK249 – everyone is familiar with the industry-leading MPC series of products from Akai dating all the way back to the 80’s.  Now they’ve combined many of the features of MPC samplers with software synths, DAW control and a 49-key semi-weighted keyboard to bring you amazing creative versatility

Arturia Keylab Essential 49 – famous the world over for synthesizers since 1999, Arturia have added seamless DAW and virtual instrument control, packaged it with awesome software like Analog Lab and produced a real winner when it comes to creative functionality and ease of making music

So there you have it – suggestions for just some of the many products available to upgrade your basic home setup into a studio and performance rig the many pros would be jealous of.

Don’t forget that we offer Educational discounts where possible for you and your school, college, or University so get in touch today at [email protected] and we’ll get your course kitted out with the latest and greatest kit!