By Dave Simons
If your mail is anything like mine, every week you probably receive at least a few circulars from well-known music suppliers, each one loaded with all sorts of audio must-haves at cut-rate prices. Of course, if your studio budget is anything like mine, you’ll immediately use the catalog as kindling in order to avoid making more foolish purchases of unnecessary items using your spouse’s credit-card number.
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with looking for the kind of equipment that will actually help make your music projects more efficient, fun and stress-free. This shopping season, consider the following universally accepted, bona fide studio essentials:
1. Studio headphones
If you like to record at night long after everyone’s hit the hay, you’ll need a set of headphones that are both comfortable and practical. Particularly if you want to hear yourself clearly while shutting out all extraneous noises, a good pair of closed-cup phones is absolutely essential. Three models that come to mind are the closed-cup Beyerdynamic DT770 ($190) or Sennheiser HD-265 ($180) studio-monitor headphones, as well as the semi-closed AKG K-240 DF ($125), each one featuring “diffuse-field” equalization for emulating a monitoring-room environment. For decent-sounding cans on a budget, consider the Koss R-80 closed-cup headphones, at around $40 a tremendous deal indeed.
2. Headphone amplifier
If your mixer doesn’t have multiple headphone outputs - and assuming you won’t be working in complete solitude - at the very least you’ll need a basic 1/4-inch stereo headphone splitter, a passable solution for two headphone users. However, the real way to go is with a standalone headphone amplifier, which provides a dedicated input and gain control for each member of the recording entourage. Products include the five-input Samson Q5 Headphone Amplifier, as well as the four-input, rack-mountable Behringer HA4700 Powerplay Pro XL Headphone Amplifier, both selling in the $100 range.
3. Solid mic stand
They say every home studio should have at least one really good microphone - and if that’s the case, it should also have one really good microphone stand. A rugged boom stand with a heavy base and counterweight is essential for suspending heavier mics used for overhead drum and room miking, but it makes a dynamite vocal-mic stand as well. If you can dig deep enough, consider the pro-quality Atlas SB-11WE Studio Boom Stand ($250), which will let you hang your pricey condenser with confidence. For more modest budgets, Sound Professionals and On-Stage offer plausible models for around $50.
4. Quality cables
There’s nothing more frustrating than a having a loud unidentified buzzing noise suddenly appear just as you’re preparing a final mix. To help prevent such atonal emissions from ruining your next session, set aside some funds for an assortment of high quality, extra-thick gauge cables outfitted with stress-resistant connectors. Companies such as Monster, Pro Co, Hosa, PreSonus and Whirlwind offer a range of microphone, instrument and monitor cables for all your patching needs.
5. Adequate back-up
Burning CD copies of your work is fine, but discs aren’t infallible. On the other hand, computer storage has never been cheaper than it is right now - which means you have no excuse for not maintaining a proper data back-up system for your song catalogue. While there are numerous options - including USB standalone disc drives, even Internet-based storage - perhaps the easiest route is to use a computer outfitted with a hard disc large enough to accommodate your long-term WAV needs (but keep making your CD back-ups just in case).
Finally, here is a list of additional life-enhancing gadgets for the studio that you can pick up for just a few extra bucks:
* A pair of wireless intercoms, one at the mixing desk, the other attached to the wall in the main recording area, for talkback
* An exterior light switch with red pilot light - lets others know when you’re rolling
* A set of inexpensive hanging hooks for instrument/mic cables
* A set of cheap plastic totes or portable storage draws to store track logs, cables, guitar strings, picks, cleaners, etc.
* A cordless phone - so your loved ones can reach you on occasion