Sometimes physical constraints contribute more to studio planning than budget constraints. However, for 50 grand or less, you can still pack a small- or medium-size room with enough high-end tools for professional work. Generally, the less physical space you have, the more gear you put in the box.
Avid Pro Tools|HDX + HD Omni
Our computer-centric studio uses cross-platform software for all the instrumentation and processing. Meanwhile, the additional hardware emphasizes quality over quantity, because you don’t have room for anything but the best (see Kevin Becka’s excellent column “Quality Is Cheaper” at http://bit.ly/1hfHJdt). As a starting point, you’ll need a robust desktop Mac or Windows machine—one that accommodates PCIe card expansion.
DAW Software and Hardware
When an industry standard also happens to be the best product in its class, that’s a win-win. The 64-bit Pro Tools 11 focuses on sound quality and improved workflow, and has a completely rewritten audio engine based on floating-point algorithms, giving you gobs more processing power when using the same hardware as PT 10. You’ll be able to push it hard with the Avid Pro Tools|HDX + HD Omni ($9,999, Mac/PC) package, which includes Pro Tools HD 11, one HDX PCIe DSP card, and the HD Omni interface with preamps, digital and analog I/O and monitoring all in one rackspace.
Avid Artist Control
You can get the feel of a big mixing desk for a much smaller cost of surface area and money. We’re lining up three units from the Avid Artist Series: the Artist Control ($1,667), Artist Mix ($1,399) and Artist Transport ($444) DAW controllers. These will give you lockstep control over all the mixing and navigating in PT11 and other software that supports EUCON, HUI or Mackie Control. These controllers provide a total of 12 motorized, touch-sensitive long-throw faders; 16 touch-sensitive rotary encoders; adaptive displays; touch-screen menus; and professional transport options.
Propellerhead Reason 7
You’ll probably want some creative options in workstation software, so you can try something new at the drop of a hat. We’re recommending an old veteran and this year’s debutante. Propellerhead Reason 7 ($449, Mac/PC) can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. Its infinite rack of samplers, synths and effects can be just the thing for starting fresh and focusing on writing a song or designing sounds.
Bitwig Studio 1.0
Picking up on clip-based composition and live performance where Ableton Live seemingly left off, the new Bitwig Studio 1.0 ($499, Mac/PC/Linux) workstation melds its session and arrange views into one window, includes a click-and-drag modular interface for its array of instrument and effect devices, and adds some cool workflow innovations, such as nested devices and layered editing. Get in on the ground floor with this one!
Nektar Panorama P6
Our MIDI keyboard includes tight control integration with both Reason 7 and Bitwig Studio out of the box. The Nektar Panorama P6 ($650, Mac/PC) 61-note semi-weighted keyboard is also a rock-solid board in its own right, including nine fader/rotary strips, 12 velocity and pressure drum pads, transport controls, a dynamic 3.5-inch color display and a motorized fader for DAW channels—all at an impressive price.
Keith McMillen Instruments QuNeo
No single MIDI controller has it all, so as supplemental units, why not add the most innovative, durable and portable options? Both the Keith McMillen Instruments QuNeo ($249) and QuNexus ($199) stretch the boundaries of pound-for-pound toughness. The petite units are nearly indestructible, and both offer tasty new twists: The QuNeo’s 16 drum pads can operate in quadrants, forming essentially a backlit 64-button grid, and the 25 button-keys on the QuNexus add Tilt—a new form of control sensitivity in addition to velocity and aftertouch that responds to your finger’s position on the key.
Native Instruments Komplete 9 Ultimate
Like the sequels to The Neverending Story, the Komplete bundle of virtual instruments and effects somehow gets more complete with every version. Native Instruments Komplete 9 Ultimate ($1,199, Mac/PC, AAX Native/AU/VST) packs 65 products and 16,000 sounds in 370 GB onto a pre-installed USB 2 hard drive—more than a third more content than Komplete 8. You get the Guitar Rig 5 amp studio, the highly supported Kontakt 5 sampler, the limitless Reaktor 5 synth, essential pianos and organs, and the Absynth 5, FM8, Battery 4, Prism, Razor and Monark synths. You have audio processing based on vintage analog gear, and the most bonkers special effects for electronic music and sound design.
McDSP Everything Pack HD v5
Since Komplete 9 is native-only, we’re not skimping on high-end, dedicated processing bundles that will harness DSP power. The McDSP Everything Pack HD v5 ($3,995, Mac/PC, AAX DSP/AAX Native/AU/RTAS/TDM) throws the entire kitchen sink at your HDX card. McDSP reduces the results of some of the great all-time studio hardware down to plug-in form as well as anyone. The Everything Pack’s 18 compressors, limiters, EQs, channel strips, tape emulations and assorted effects and filters are a mixer’s dream.
Flux Mastering Pack Plus 1.1
For mastering, the Flux Mastering Pack Plus 1.1 ($1,149, Mac/PC, AAX DSP/AAX Native/AU/VST) delivers the DSP-exploiting goods. The Solera v3 dynamics processor, Epure v3 equalizer, Pure Limiter v3 transparent limiter and Elixir v3 peak limiter give you finely tuned control over your finished sound and support up to eight channels of simultaneous processing for surround-sound.
Zynaptiq Pitchmap 1.5
A couple of one-off plug-ins tie up some loose ends. The most versatile pitch processor available, Zynaptiq Pitchmap 1.5 ($399, Mac/PC, AAX Native/AU/RTAS/VST) handles the normal auto-pitch correct and transposition tasks. Things get crazy, though, when you use its unique ability to spread the individual parts of a mixed audio signal across the screen and adjust or silence each part. You can play new melodies and harmonies using the audio material from a MIDI keyboard in real time.
iZotope RX 3 Advanced
For high-level spectral audio repair, we love iZotope RX 3 Advanced ($1,199, Mac/PC, standalone/AAX Native/AU/RTAS/VST). RX has long been the go-to for ridding audio of clicks, pops, hiss and hum, but RX3 Advanced steps it up with improvements that rock for video post-production and live performances. A new Dereverb module can do away with unwanted room tone, and the new Dialogue Denoiser can remove background noise from dialog in real time. RX 3 Advanced also includes the iZotope Insight metering plug-in.
The HD Omni’s eight analog outputs and flexible routing can handle 7.1 surround or fold-down mixes to any configuration, and PT11’s new video engine lets you play and edit HD video formats without transcoding. We chose a 5.1 system, with an alternate set of stereo monitors for the Omni’s remaining outputs.
Genelec 8030.LSE Power Pak
The Genelec 8030.LSE Power Pak ($7,150) includes five 8030A near-field monitors and a 7060B powered subwoofer with 120W amp. It’s optimized for surround monitoring in small spaces; each of the bi-amped 8030As delivers 40W x 40W in a compact speaker with built-in IsoPod mounting stand.
Yamaha’s back with a successor series to the legendary NS-10s. Sporting similar white cones, the HS8 ($998/pair) bi-amped monitors have clear, detailed frequency response and low coloration. The 8-inch LF cone woofer delivers 75W and a 1-inch HF dome tweeter adds 45W for a little extra umph when monitoring stereo.
AKG K712 Pro
For long studio sessions (are there any other kind?), you need headphones that match accuracy with comfort. The AKG K712 Pro ($699) nail it on both counts.
For the HD Omni’s two mic inputs, we’re endorsing two equally yummy, yet functionally different mics. There may not be a more sensitive job than recording vocals. With the Telefunken U47 ($9,995) large-diaphragm tube condenser mic, you have the closest thing possible to the vintage Neumann U 47 that was the favorite of Sinatra, the Beatles and so many others. The cardioid/omnidirectional U47 takes SPLs up to 138 dB, so you can use it on amps, drums—basically anything.
The Royer SF-12 ($2,895) can fill in the blanks for stereo recording and distance miking. Two high-end matched ribbon mics in one body can record dual figure-8, Blumlein, and mid-side stereo. You’ll get great clarity and imaging from suggested applications like plucked string instruments or overhead drums.
Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5012
Let’s support those pricey mics with a little slice of a classic Neve board. The Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5012 ($1,895) 2-channel mic pre utilizes Neve’s own custom transformer I/O with selectable phantom power, phase, mute and a sweepable highpass filter.
Primacoustic London 16 Room Kit
We’ve still got money to burn and no desire to invest in large-cap derivatives. So if your studio needs some acoustic treatment, try the Primacoustic London 16 Room Kit ($1,499). The 42 high-density fiberglass panels in the kit—designed for rooms up to 200 square feet—are fabric-coated in beige, gray or black, come with all mounting materials and can address problems in your room such as standing waves, flutter echo and primary reflections.
Glyph GT062E 6TB
Glyph has earned its reputation for reliable external hard drives. The GT062E 6TB ($599, Mac/PC) hits a good multipurpose sweet spot. Its two 3TB 7,200 rpm drives offer FW800, USB 2.0, eSATA connectivity and RAID compatibility.
Zoom H6 Handy Recorder
Finally, everybody wants the Zoom H6 Handy Recorder ($499) handheld 6-track recorder. It includes four combo XLR/TRS inputs and XY and mid-side stereo mic modules. You can record straight to SD card (up to 128 GB) or use it as a portable 24-bit/96kHz USB audio interface.
Total cost (MSRP): $49,725
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