I’m ALWAYS being asked about what gear I recommend. Sometimes (particularly in the arena of microphones) I encounter so much grey area, so much subjectivity, and so many individual-specific needs that it’s hard for me to say, “You need THAT!”, unfortunately. I can’t think of one mic that blows my mind all the time, no matter how much I’ve spent.
Other times, however, I have no problem flat-out recommending a piece of gear. That’s what this page is all about. This is gear that I flat out have no problem endorsing as an absolutely exceptional product.
Website: More Info On Soniformer
Voxengo Soniformer is one of those tools that let’s me sleep better at night. I can now deal with random, intermittent mud without excessively thinning out my tracks. I can make a track as bright as I want without sibilance problems (although I still like a hardware La3a for that). Soniformer has the ability to catch the narrowest peaks in ways that I had never seen before in a multi-band compressor and is the kind of tool that EVERYONE should have around. Outstanding plugin!
Audio Technica ATH-M50s Studio Monitor Headphones
Note: I just bought 4 more of these. They have changed and are not nearly as good as the older versions. My older version had a coiled wire and sounded great. These new ones….let’s just say I regret buying them.
As anyone who’s read Killer Home Recording knows, I believe studio monitoring is that one single step/piece of gear/whatever that is holding back practically every home recorder. While headphones aren’t 100% perfect for monitoring, they rule out the room acoustics factor. This suddenly makes them a lot more perfect, particularly as a second listening device.
These particular Audio Technica headphones are outstanding for mixing and not a mix goes by where I don’t at least double check a mix on these. They are nice and bright, which means that sibilance and excessive brightness will be highlighted and you can make sure you never crank out a thin mix again.
The best $109 I’ve ever spent. I liked them so much I ended up buying 5 of them and use them for tracking.
Superior Drummer 2.0
When it comes to the world of drum recording, things have changed in a big way in recent years. There’s no excuse for lame drum sounds at home. In fact, I’m hearing many, many flat out pro sounding recordings of drums that were done in ridiculously unideal conditions.
There are many great drum samples out there. The Steven Slate stuff is absolutely brutal. The Ocean Way Drums stuff is cool. However, when it comes to absolute flexibility, reliability, ease of use, and speed of use, nothing I’ve used beats Superior Drummer 2.0.
I’ve never had the program crash on me even once….and I’m REALLY great at getting programs to crash! Their proprietary method of sample loading is the fastest I’ve ever seen. Interfacing with electronic drums is a breeze. The included MIDI loops rock. Basically, this company has their crap together. Period. Hell, they are descendents of vikings. What do you expect!
As for sounds, I’ve found Superior Drummer 2.0 to be excellent for everything from metal to country. If the stock sounds aren’t enough, their add on packages offer a wide variety of tones at very reasonable prices. Even their Electronic EZX is awesome!
I use Superior Drummer 2.0 by MIDI programming, electronic drums, and sample layering. Superior Drummer 2.0 is AWESOME for sample layering. When a real drum kit is almost there, using something like KtTrigger to get MIDI data out of a human performance and triggering Superior Drummer, is about as powerful as it gets. The less-comprehensive sample packages work well when you need simple, but when something is missing in your real drum sound, it’s hard to find a one-size-fits-all sample that will always solve the problem. Superior Drummer 2.0 gives access to all mics. Let me explain.
Let’s say are snare has plenty of meat, but is a little lifeless. By layering in a snare via Superior Drummer 2.0, we can pull down the snare close mic (with all the chunk) because we already have it and use more snare bottom to add the high end sizzle. We can forget the close mics entirely and use just the overheads and room mics. We can ditch the overheads and use just the close mics and the room mics. We can compress each portion of this individually to get exactly what we are missing in are drum sound. This is one of the best features of Superior Drummer 2.0, but one I find that isn’t talked about enough.
The best part is the price. I’ve seen this thing dip down to as low as $149, which is insultingly low considering how damn good this thing is.
Native Instruments Komplete 6
Not everyone has needs for comprehensive virtual synths and samples. Those of us that do often struggle to find one single package that does EVERYTHING. Well, I’m not entirely convinced that Komplete 6 does every single thing under the sun. You could certainly find SOMETHING it can’t do. However, for a person that does a huge range of styles, I think you are going to have a hard time covering all your basis any better than this.
Included synths and samples:
GUITAR RIG 4 PRO
If you have anything you choose to get robo critical about (particularly real instruments in which you would use samples), you will want to purchase an over-the-top package that comprehensively nails it. Otherwise, Komplete 6 is incredible.
On the synth front, the combination of FM8, Massive, and Absynth 5 is going to cover pretty much everything I can think of for techno, trance, hip hop, rock keyboards, techno movie scoring, and just about anything else I can come up with. Absynth 5 does the ultra modern thing from the prettiest stuff imaginable to something that belongs in the movie Seven or a Nine Inch Nails production.
Battery 3 offers tons of electronic drums, real drums, and everything in between. I prefer Superior Drummer 2.0 for real drums and I really like Electronic EZX for techno drums, but Battery has some awesome sounds I’ve not heard in either that are very useful. It’s a straight forward little gadget and super fast and easy to use.
Guitar Rig 4 is one of the two guitar emulators I consider ready go to go (for 95% of us). Is it going to replace recording your real amp? My answer: maybe.
Reaktor 5 is a sound design thingy that can get ultra complex but allows you to do some ultra ridiculous processing in ways most of us would never imagine. This is very cool for techno stuff.
Kontakt 4 is the latest generation of what I consider to be the top sampler on the market. You are SUPPOSED to go out and buy the samples you want and load them into Kontakt 4, but the included samples sound exception and give me a nice foundation of sounds to play with that is bigger than you may think. Again, you may want to add your own, but this is a great start.
I find the Native Instruments stuff to be great sounding, reasonably priced, and very very reliable. They take excellent care of their previous customers. (I upgraded from Komplete 3 to Komplete 6 for $80!)
My #1 Microphone Recommendation For Home Recorders
Before we dig in, I want to lay a few ground rules:
Rule #1: The mic can’t cost a million dollars. In fact, I’m setting the limit at $300. I own mics like the Soundelux U99, Peluso 47, Peluso 251, Royer R121, etc that a hobbyist or a college kid would have to be a total moron to buy. In fact, I’m not sure that not-being-a-hobbyist excludes me from the moron category.
Rule #2: The mic has to be ultra-versatile and work well on vocals, acoustic instruments, loud assed guitars, quite assed guitars, voiceover, and just about everything else. I’m assuming you are a person looking for one great all-purpose microphone to use on pretty much everything.
So what is my #1 pick?
My #1 mic for all-around use in home recording land on a budget is the Audio Technica AT4040. It’s very neutral and balanced, is reasonably priced, and highly reliable. The only thing I hate about it is the damn shockmount.
Then again, I hate the MXL shockmounts, the Soundelux shockmounts, the Cascade shockmounts, and pretty much every other shockmount I can think of other than the Peluso shockmounts. (The Mormon church didn’t formally recognize black people as human beings until the 1960s, the upside down ketchup bottle method didn’t come to be until the early 2000s, and mic companies are still using shockmounts that just BEG for the damn mic to fall out. The human race has a ways to go.)
Why I Don’t Use The Audio Technica AT4040
Yup, I don’t use it. I COULD use it and make it work in just about any situation if I really had to, but I don’t. Why? Because the AT4040 is neutral.
Your buddy who’s exceptional at smashing beer cans on his head or jumping out of moving cars is probably not the buddy you take with you when you need a bank loan. In short, versatility is only good when you only have one tool. When you want to max out an acoustic guitar sound, you don’t care what the mic sounds like on electric guitar.
I’m at a point in my recording quest where I have specialized mics for most things. For acoustic instruments my Gefell M930s or Neumann KM184 is going to beat the AT4040. I can pretty much count on it. On electric guitar, a Royer R121 or Shure SM57 is going to be more fun. On bass cabinets a 421 or my Peluso 47 is going to win. On vocals it’s always a crapshoot (usually between the Shure SM7, Peluso 47, or Peluso 251) but rarely do I go with anything else anymore.
It takes a special mic in every single situation to beat out the AT4040 and special mics rarely work on everything as well as the AT4040. If you don’t have a dozen special mics, start out with the AT4040.