Category Archives: Home recording equipment

MXL MIC MATE XLR To USB Preamp for Condenser Microphone Review

MXL-MIC MATE XLR To USB Preamp for Condenser Microphones

If you are looking for a small device that can replace your recording chain then you should definitely check the MXL MIC MATE XLR To USB Preamp, a cheap device that’s specially created for standard and condenser microphones, a device that’s definitely worth the money and your curiosity. The portable USB preamp was designed with care, and it delivers so much that it appears to. Don’t get fooled by the cheap package it comes with, the Mic Mate is actually better than other solutions twice its price (or more).

The body
This little gadget is no bigger than a magic marker, having only 10 x 2 x 6 inches and weighting only 4.8 ounces. You should know that Mic Mate does not with an USB cable, so you will have to buy that separately. Although the above image may be deceiving, the harsh truth is that this portable preamp is made of cast-aluminum. Even so, after reading some of the reviews written by other customers I understood that the internal components seem to be made of quality materials. A plastic case is not a big problem as long as you don’t drop it on the concrete.

MicMate-XLR-to-USB-condenser-microphone

The features
The Mic Mate has three settings: the low setting, the medium setting and the high setting. After testing all of them, I seem to love the high setting, since it gives me more power and my voice lays better in the mix. As I said in the beginning of this review, this XLR to USB preamp comes with Phantom Power, so you can use it with a condenser microphone. I’ve managed to test it with my AT2020 condenser mic and everything went smoothly. I can also give you a tip in this regard: if you remove the end-piece from the XLR connector, you will be able insert that connector directly into the mic, without having the XLR cable in the chain. This way, the quality of your recording gets even better, because most XLR cables add their own self-noise to the recording. Just see the image above to understand what I’m talking about. The manufacturer brags about the “studio-quality” of this microphone. Not sure about that, but the low noise analog front end does seem to be well balanced. If you decide to buy this mic you will also get the Free MXL USB Recorder Software which allows you to get a 2-Track recording out of it. After testing this great condenser mic for couple of days I’ve included it in my home studio setup, as a backup for my Audio Kontrol 1 interface.

The price
Most online shops are selling this small device for $40 – more or less. As usual, I advice you to get it from the most trusted seller of them all, Amazon.

Conclusion
For a device that costs only $41.99 you get a pretty decent quality. No, scrape that. The quality is better than decent, and most of the users on Amazon seem to agree with that conclusion. Having 4 out of 5 stars, you can expect for a device that will get the job done at an affordable price. This microphone is perfect for home recording studios created on tight budgets, but you can also use it in podcasts, various voice recording projects or even live music performance. I know that I’m definitively adding it to my portable home studio setup.

Zoom R8: A standalone multi track SD recorder for your home recording studio

Although most musicians are using a computer to make music in their own home studios, there are many reasons why you should choose a classic standalone multitrack recorder for your projects. First, it provides that analog feel that’s hard to duplicate with a computer or a laptop. Second, it offers a portability and ease of use. Third, compared to making music with a software like Reason or Cubase, you will actually feel the buttons and the knobs, and you will add a “touch of real” on your recordings. Nothing beats that, right? And the fourth reason for choosing a standalone recorder for your home studio is the budget. Why pay $299 just for the software , when you can have the complete recording package for the same price?

Zoom R8 Multitrack SD Recorder Controller and Interface

Zoom R8 Multitrack SD Recorder Controller and Interface

While I was trying to suggest a list of stand alone multritrack recorders for a friend, I found the Zoom R8, a simplified version of their 24-track R24 digital recorder. I was familiar with the manufacturer, since I’ve already reviewed their Handy portable advanced recorders in the past and I know that they have a long history in creating outstanding pieces of hardware for musicians all over the world. So, while I was going through the reviews of Zoom R8, I discovered a device with features that are perfect for someone who wants a complete portable recording studio on a tight budget. And when I say tight budget, I mean it: the R8 is an all-in-one device like no other. You can create your instrumentals with it, you can record your vocals and you can export the complete songs in an MP3 format. Everything for under $300.

Zoom R8: The body

The device is not as large as you may think, but it is made of high quality materials. With dimensions of 10.1 x 7.5 x 2 inches and weight 2.7 pounds, it will easily fit in your backpack or your bag and it can be used at any time, since it’s powered by 4 AA batteries. The main side of the R8 has various hardware knows, buttons and levels for various options, controls and functions. There is also a basic display in the center that allows the user to perform complex tasks and functions like creating music patterns or sampling various sounds.

Zoom-R8-Multitrack-SD-Recorder-Controller-and-Interface-2

Zoom R8: Audio quality, audio effects

This digital recorder allows you to playback up to 8 track simultaneous and record using 2 channels at the same time. The device can record audio files at 24-bit and a sample rate of 48KHz, but if you are using it as an audio interface for a computer (yes, it can be used in that manner!) you can record at a sample rate of 96 KHz. When it’s used in standalone mode, the audio files are recorded on the SD card you choose to use (it supports SD cards up to 32GB). Another cool feature that’s present on-board is the possibility to add various effects (pan, reverb, EQ) during or after the recording.

Zoom-R8-Multitrack-SD-Recorder-Controller-and-Interface-inputs

Zoom R8: Inputs and outputs

You can use the built-in stereo microphones to record your vocals or you can use one of the two XLR inputs with Phantom Power support to connect a condenser microphone. Also, you can use one of those inputs to connect a guitar. You can use the USB port to connect the device to a computer and use it as an audio interface. Also, there is an jack output for headphones and one for the studio monitors / speakers.

Zoom R8: The price

As I said, the R8 is far from expensive. You will find it on Amazon for $299. If that price is not convincing enough then you should know that the package includes the Steinberg Cubase LE DAW recording software.

Conclusion

It will take me forever to explain the functionality of every button and know that’s present on the board, but if you do get this device you don’t have to worry about that. YouTube is packed with tutorials on how to use the R8 when you create a song. If you are not convinced yet, just check the following video with a short introduction to this digital recorder.

How to insulate a home recording studio

When folks start making a plan to build a home studio, they usually miss a component that’s really important for the way you record and you mix songs. I’m talking about the acoustics of the recording and mixing room. The online stores are packed with audio foam panels, but buying two or three such panels and placing them behind the condenser microphone is not enough. If you want to build a quality studio, you need to learn which type of panels to buy and where to place them. The final goal of insulating your studio is to have a recording/mixing room with a dead sound (where audio waves does not bounce around, where is no reverb), so you can manipulate it later in the mixing sessions.

Recording-Booth

The recording booth

The recording booth is a closed space (usually a small room) where the actual recording is performed. There, we have the microphone, headphones, other acoustic instruments and… that’s all. For most types of music, this room needs to be as quite as possible, and most musicians prefer to add common acoustic foam panels on 100% of the surface. Since this room is small, you will not use too many such panels. If you don’t have two rooms for your recording studio, you can always build a small recording booth in a corner of your mixing room by adding to fake walls. Just look at the image above to get the idea.

The mixing room

The mixing room is usually larger than the recording booth, and placing the acoustic treatment here is more difficult. If you mix your own songs, you will spend a lot of time in this room and the acoustics need to be perfect, so you can create the perfect mix. Basically, you need to treat the most important areas of the room: the space behind the studio monitors, the side walls, the corners and the back wall.

mixing room

The computer area should be the first place to start your work. Place some panels right behind the studio monitors in order to cancel the early reflections that are causing the cancellation and filtering effect.

bass trappers for recording studio

Next, you need to take care of the bass reflections in the room. For this, you should use bass trappers and you should place them in the upper corners of the room. This way, you sill still have enough place in the lower corners to use it for anything else.

side-walls-acoustic-treatment

The sidewalls are also important, and you should place the foam panels at the ear level. Let them breathe, by allowing some space between them, just like in the picture above.

diffusion panels

For the back walls, you should use two or four diffusion panels placed in the exact middle of the wall. Don’t place them in the same pattern, but rather use a pattern that’s similar to the one in the image above. If you are on a tight budget, you can skip the diffusers and get common foam panels.

If you plan to insulate your recording room so your neighbors will not hear any noise, the typical egg crate foam panels are not enough. They are great when you need to cancel the reverb of the room, but they are not so great at stopping audio waves from getting past the walls. For that, you need a material with a larger/denser mass. Maybe I’ll talk about this topic in a future post.

Don’t forget to get some type of foam panels adhesive. You will find everything in your local music store, or you can check my recommendations from the slider above.

source:  home studio foam

image source: auralex.com

How to build a rap / hip hop home recording studio

These days it’s easier than ever to become a music star. Of course, there is a lot of “politics” in the background, but it’s never been easier to propel yourself from someone who is making music in the bedroom to a world wide phenomenon. The music industry knows it, the TV stations know it and ultimately, the music fans know it: the future of music is on the Internet. But don’t get the story twisted, in order to become famous on Youtube, you need talent and a way to record your music. I get many questions on music equipment and many of them are asking me to suggest equipment for building a hip hop home recording studio. As you know, I like to please my readers, so I decided to put together a low-budget setup that will get you started. This setup is great for other music genres, but especially for rap music.

Hip Hop home recording studio

How to buid a rap / hip hop home recording studio?

I will recommend a minimum setup of $300 that will get you started in your journey to build a hip hop home recording studio. This setup does not include the computer/laptop, since I guess you already have one. Also, you should know that this recording setup does not include the acoustic treatment of the room. If you want to go the extra mile, you should check this article on best acoustic foam products. So, let’s get started…

The microphone – $125
This is the first item in the hip hop home recording studio chain and you should not go cheap with it. For this type of low-budget recording setup, I usually recommend AT2020 as the best choice. But since its upgraded version, the AT2035 got so cheap recently (only $125 on Amazon.com), you should definitely consider the latter as the best choice for your home studio.

The audio interface – $109
The best possible choice for a low-cost audio interface is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 ($109.00 on Amazon). I have reviewed this interface in a previous post and let my give you the short version of that review: it’s an awesome interface at a cheap price. Focusrite is known for its award-winning preamps that offers transparency and crystal clear analog to digital conversion.

The monitors, cables, mic accessories
Unfortunately, the $300 budget is too low to consider a pair of actual studio monitors, so you’ll have to work with the ATH-M30 Professional studio monitor headphones from Audio Tehnica ($39). They can also be used when you record your vocals, but also when you mix the songs. Also, don’t forget the mic stand ($15), the 20 foot XLR Microphone Cable ($5) and the pop filter ($7).

Other stuff that you can get for free
You can make your own recording area from large egg crates that are usually free. They work great as audio insulators. For recording, you can use the Ableton Live Lite 8 software + Focusrite plugins that are included for free in the interface’s box. Don’t get too mad because you don’t have the proper monitoring speakers. You can mix the songs on the headphones, export the song to mp3 and listen to it everywhere you can (in the car, on your sound system, give it to your friends and ask for opinion). You will notice what’s missing and what needs to be adjusted in order to make it perfect.

Promotion
Right now, Youtube is the main website to promote upcoming artists, but there are other alternatives like SoundCloud that are worth taking into consideration. Once you have a dope song, share it on Facebook, create a fan page, ask your friends to share it to their friends. If the song is good enough, you are one step away from celebrity. As Dr. Dre said in a commercial, “Good things come to those who work”. Don’t be disappointment if your first attempt doesn’t become a hit on the Internet. Get back in your studio and work harder, work later and put your soul into your music. That’s the ultimate recipe for success.

What’s your favorite rap studio setup?

Akai Professional EIE USB Audio Recording Interface Review

AKAI EIE audio interface

If you’ll ask me to make a quick recommendation of a great audio interface, I will probably have to pick Focusrite or M-Audio products. Although there are many other audio interface manufacturers out there, I really trust the products created by these two. Few months ago I was scooping in a music shop and I saw this USB interface with unique design. I’m not sure if it was the reddish design or the brand, but I wanted to learn more about it. So, here is my quick review on Akai Professional EIE, an audio interface like no other, with great features and affordable price.

The Body
Compared with other similar devices, the Akai EIE has a strong body made from durable metal that will endure drop shocks or scratches. The build quality is fantastic and you will agree with me once you get the chance to hold it in your hands.

Front controls
If you take a quick look at this interface you will immediately notice a feature that’s not encountered in similar products in this class: the inputs. Akai EIE has 4 front-facing XLR + 1/4-inch combination audio inputs along with mic/line switch and gain for each channel. Also, there is a 48+ Phantom Power switch for 1/2 inputs and 3/4 inputs. Instead of control LEDs, the manufacturer decided to implement to VU meters for input or output. Under the meters you will find the master volume, the mono/stereo switch, the headphones output and the headphones volume.

the back

The real panel
Here we’ll find the USB port, the MIDI In/Out, the DC controls, 4 audio inserts and 4 audio outputs. There is also a Power button that will switch off or on the interface. A cool feature of this interface is the three-port USB hub that allows you to connect various USB devices.

Features and functionality
Once you will see the features of this interface you will understand why it was priced so cheap. The maximum sample rates of 44.1kHz sampling rate @ 16-bit resolution are a bit outdated, since similar interfaces record at least at 96kHz and 24-bit resolution. The preamps are quite clean, even at maximum levels. The input/output meters are illuminated with white light that turns reddish once the signal clips, and this feature is really helpful when you record at high audio levels. The audio monitoring has zero latency thanks to a simple input/output balance control. The AD/DA convertors seem to work just fine considering the recording specs.

Price
As I said, the specs are a bit outdated, so the price was discounted from $300 to $150 on Amazon.com

Conclusion
Akai Professional EIE USB is an audio interface with a sturdy design and few pros and cons. I loved the 4 inputs, the metal case and the VU meters, but the audio recording sample rate is definitely a con. The overall quality of this product is not bad for its price, but if you don’t need to use 4 inputs at one time, you will find better products on the market. If you need to record at better audio quality, you should check the upgraded version of this interface, the Akai Professional EIE Pro 24-bit ($190 on Amazon)

A list of useful accessories for a home recording studio

Although in the last months I’ve recommended a lot of items that can be acquired in order to build a home recording studio, they are merely the core of it. Buying the proper recording equipment is not enough. If you want to create a complete studio, you need to get your hands on various accessories that will make the difference between a portable rookie studio and a real home studio.
Continue reading

A complete portable studio setup: Rode NT1-A Cardioid Condenser Microphone Recording Package Review

If you need a portable studio setup or you plan to build your own recording studio on a tight budget of $500 while still keeping audio standards up, you should probably take Rode NT1-A Recording Package into consideration as one of your best options. This package features everything you need for making music independently: one of the best microphones for a home studio, the Rode NT1-A cardioid condenser microphone, the Presonus Audiobox USB, Sennheiser HD 202-II Studio Headphones and an adjustable mic stand.
Continue reading

Blue Yeti USB Microphone Review and Price

If you read my previous article on how to choose the proper home studio equipment then you know that the microphone is the first piece in the recording chain and you should choose it carefully. If you decide to go with a USB microphone then you probably are on a tight budget or you need it for limited projects. Don’t get your hopes down yet, there are still few budget USB mics out there that are perfect for a small home studio, and Blue Yeti microphone is definitely in the top of the list.

Continue reading

How to choose the equipment needed for setting up a home studio

If you ended on this page you are probably just like me, in love with music. I bet that ever since you can remember you wanted to make music, you wanted to make your voice heard and get some credits for all that dormant creativity that’s inside you. But before becoming a worldwide music star (or at least a local star) you need to have your own recording studio where you can transform the musical ideas in your head into beautiful sounds. In this article I will tell you about the best way to choose all the equipment needed for setting up a basic home studio.
Continue reading

How to fix audio interface buzzing, clicking and popping sounds

Some audio interfaces that use the USB or PCI port will add strange noises to the recordings or to your playbacks. This is a common issue for most USB audio interfaces, and there are some things that you can do in order to fix this the problem.

The problem
When you use your audio interface, there are a variety of reasons that can create pops, clicks, dropouts, crackles or distortion when you record or when you playback. Usually, this happens because the digital recording uses too much resources from your computer. Other times, it happens because there are other components on your computer that interfere with the audio interface, creating unpleasant sounds.

The fix
As I said, there are many reasons for hearing buzzing, clicking and popping sounds on your audio interface. I’m going to start with the simplest fixes, and finish with the most complex ones. You need to “try and test” every one of them until you spot the actual problem.

Continue reading