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Build Your Own Studio: This $50,000 old-school studio boasts brave analog in a new digital world

It’s like a breath of fresh air to be asked to put together a setup that is, for the most part, all analog. This is going to be a powerful rig, providing a wide choice of sonic character. Whether you’re tracking and overdubbing or mixing, this tool set will give you access to a nice palette of warm and thick tonal choices.

The Engine Room

There are two components we’ll have to keep digital, as it would not be cost-effective to specify an analog multitrack tape machine. A tape recorder would require expensive tape and a high regular maintenance cost, so let’s assume you have a Mac in place and we’ll load it up with Avid Pro Tools 11 ($699).

I’ve decided to go with Pro Tools for a few reasons. It is the industry’s most used professional recording software and will allow you to carry your sessions across various setups. And it has backward compatibility, allowing you to save sessions as older PT formats (except for the AAX plug-ins). All the third-party plug-in developers are catching up quickly with AAX, so once you’re all settled in comfortably with your analog gear, you can add the plug-ins of your choice and turn this into a truly powerful hybrid studio.

The Analog Hub

API The Box

The centerpiece of any analog studio is the console. Having had serious quality time with API consoles of several vintages, I’ve chosen The Box ($17,995) as the workhorse. The Box offers four API preamps, full aux section, two classic 550a EQs and two extra 500 Series slots on the recording channels. You also have 16 return channels on faders, with the same aux sections and insert points on each channel. The console features a stereo 527 bus compressor that is routable to the recording paths, as well. And with some creative patching, you can turn it into a 22-channel console for mixdown.

The Bridge

Universal Audio Apollo 16

We need to get audio to and from our DAW. We have plenty of inputs on the console, and the interface needs to be able to handle a decent number of channels to make it worth it. Universal Audio introduced the Apollo 16 ($2,999) a little while back. This unit gives you 16 analog in and out. The extra AES/EBU and MADI connections easily allow for future expansion.

Staying on Track

Assembling a nice, versatile selection of microphones is one of the most important undertakings any studio can make. If the source material isn’t right, no amount of mixing and mastering wizardry is going to salvage the job.

Advanced Audio CM47

The large-diaphragm multipattern tube mic is going to be an Advanced Audio CM47 ($735). This mic was inspired by the famous U 47, and frequency-wise it behaves like a blend of the U 47 and the 67. A great pickup for vocals and acoustic instruments.


Ribbons have proven to be very useful indeed. They tend to be smoother and provide a nice old-school character. The AEA R92 ($765) is a true chameleon and is unique in that the front and rear lobes of the figure-8 pattern sound slightly different. The front is regarded as the crisp side, and the back is more smooth, making this a great mic for guitar amps, strings and even vocals.

Lewitt LCT 640

The Lewitt LCT 640 ($799) will bring transparency. The 640 large-diaphragm condenser offers multiple polar patterns from omni to figure-8 and everything in between. It’s a clear and crisp mic, good for vocals, guitars, percussion and brass.

Josephson C42 Cardioid Matched Pair

For stereo applications, we’ve added the Josephson C42 Cardioid Matched Pair ($975).

Shure SM57

And, of course, we could not forget the timeless, jack-of-all-trades, Shure SM57 ($99).

Out of the Box

To complement the sonic character of the API, we’re adding a nice selection of outboard EQs, channel strips and compressors so we can dial in the different sounds we want.

Manley Core

We’re adding flavor and flexibility with the brand new Manley Core ($2,000). This all-in-one unit delivers a mic/DI input, ELOP compressor, EQ, limiter and the Manley sound.

Rupert Neve Designs 517

One of our free 500 Series slots in The Box will be filled with the Rupert Neve Designs 517 ($850), adding another mic pre/DI and gentle compressor. The RND’s variphase makes it extremely useful when you’re combining signals, like a couple of mics on the guitar cab.

Cartec EQP-1A

In addition to our musical 550a EQs, we’ll add the Cartec EQP-1A ($2,799), a modern-day replica of the classic Pultec—it will add that exact character, really. The occupant of our last spare 500 Series slot kind of straddles the EQ and dynamics section.

Manley Massive Passive

Manley’s Massive Passive ($5,040) will probably end up taking on most mix and final master EQ duties, but will also provide surgical tweaks on individual channels.

Moog Ladder

Moog’s Ladder ($769) is described as a filter, but it is so much more than that. Used creatively, the Ladder will turn into a sort of dynamic EQ, allowing you to sculpt the sound and mess around with the envelope—an extremely useful tool.

Dave Hill Designs Titan

Even though we have a dual-channel API bus compressor onboard, we’re adding a pair of Dave Hill Designs linked Titans ($3,398 for the pair) to handle the situations where you need more control and snappier compression behavior. The Titans are versatile and will also tackle some heavier limiting jobs.

Little Labs Pepper

For all re-amp applications and those times when the guitarist turns up with a bunch of pedals, I’ve spec’d Jonathan Little’s Pepper ($601). The Pepper turns pedal levels into pro line signals; it’s also a DI and impedance matcher.


You could have the best gear in the world, all the best source material, but if you can’t hear what you’re working on, there’s no point.

Unity Audio Boulders

The Box accommodates two sets of monitors. As our main near-fields, I’ve selected UK-designed and made Unity Audio Boulders ($7,183). The Boulder is a Corian-fronted three-way enclosed monitor with a coaxial midrange ribbon tweeter. Don’t expect these babies to be all nice and sweet; they are brutally honest and will give you a clear perspective on your work.

IsoAcoustics ISOL8R200

Our Boulders will sit and sound nicely on a pair of IsoAcoustics ISOL8R200s ($149.99) to decouple them from the surface they’ll rest upon.

Avantone Active Mix Cubes

The alternative monitors will have to give us a more varied “look” at the sound. This is going to be the reference as to how the rest of the world may hear the mixes. Avantone Active Mix Cubes ($469) are based on the classic Auratone design, and will give you insight into how things may sound on computer speakers, radios, televisions, etc.

Grado Labs SR325is

It’s always a good idea to check your work on a nice set of headphones, and the Grado Labs SR325is ($295) are comfortable and sound amazing.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50

The Grados are not fully enclosed, so they won’t cut it in the live room. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50s ($398 for the pair) are fully enclosed, have a great low-end response and are comfortable during long sessions. I’ve added two of these, just in case you end up recording a couple of players at the same time.

Avenson Audio Headphone Amp

Avenson Audio’s Headphone Amp ($750) will drive the headphone mixes from the cue sends.

Oster Old Fashioned Red Theater Style Popcorn Maker

Working in our industry should be fun, creative and passionate. We work long hours, and there’s always a need to chill out for a bit. To provide some light relief, I’ve added in an Oster Old Fashioned Red Theater Style Popcorn Maker ($59).

Total cost: $49,826.99. And I’m donating my leftover $173.01 to Markkus to put toward a piece of analog gear.

Long live analog!

**Click HERE to read Build Your Own Studio $50K: In-the-Box**

API The Box: $17,995

Avid Pro Tools 11: $699

Universal Audio Apollo 16: $2,999

Manley Core: $2,000

Manley Massive Passive: $5,040

Dave Hill Titan: $1,699 (x2)

Cartec EQP-1A: $2,799

Little Labs Pepper: $601

Moog Ladder: $769

Rupert Neve Designs 517: $850

Advanced Audio CM47: $735

AEA R92: $765

Lewitt LCT640: $799

Shure SM57: $99

Josephson C42 Matched Pair: $975

Unity Audio Boulders: $7,183

Avantone Active Mix Cubes: $469

Grado SR325is: $295

Audio Technica ATH-M50: $199 (x2)

Avenson Audio Headphone Amp: $750

IsoAcoustics ISOL8R200: $149.99

Oster Old Fashioned Red Theater Style Popcorn Maker: $59