analog gear.jpeg

As you may already know, I’m in the process of doing a few upgrades in my studio. I’ll be posting more specifics here on HSC, but I’ve been talking about them a bit on my Facebook page.

[Sidenote: I’m focusing more on Facebook than Twitter lately. It seems to be more conversational. If you haven’t joined me yet, go here:]

Whenever I’m looking to buy a new piece of equipment or upgrade an existing piece of equipment, I try to ask one simple question: What will help me make better recordings?

My goal isn’t to marginally improve the recordings. I’m looking for holes in my system. I’m looking for weak links. For example, I don’t currently own an actual guitar amp (I’ve been using a pretty killer amp simulator pedal, but still don’t have an actual amp). A good amp would definitely improve my guitar recordings.

Also, I’m working on upgrading my cabling. It’s not a sexy upgrade, but it makes a noticeable difference. (More on that in a future article.)

Another deciding factor when I’m buying gear is whether or not the gear is “digital” or “analog.” Buying software, plug-ins, computers, is a lot of fun, and I have nothing against those things, but software inevitably has to be updated. Computers will eventually be too slow…or will simply die.

You know what lasts a lot longer and will work with ANY recording system? Good, analog equipment.

Examples of good analog equipment:

  • microphones
  • preamps/channel strips
  • compressors
  • EQs
  • summing mixers
  • acoustic treatment
  • studio monitors, monitor controllers, headphones
  • cables/stands
  • guitar pedals/direct boxes
  • guitars (and other instruments), amps

The following don’t qualify:

  • audio interfaces
  • AD/DA converters
  • DAW software
  • plugins/virtual instruments
  • MIDI controllers

You’ll find that the list of analog gear can easily outnumber the list of digital gear. But aren’t we all guilty of drooling over the latest piece of software? The latest audio interface? Again, there’s nothing wrong with these things, but I’ve put together a small list of reasons why you should (as much as it makes sense) invest in good, analog equipment.

1. Analog gear can last decades.

A lot of major studios around the world still use the same outboard gear they used thirty years ago. Sure, they might need to be repaired occasionally, or you might need to swap out tubes, etc.

But these studios have gone from analog tape to digital tape to full-on Pro Tools HD systems. All these systems can easily use the same analog equipment.

A good piece of analog hardware is timeless.

2. Analog gear is HOW you “get it right at the source.”

You hear it all over the place. When recording, you must “get it right at the source.” The idea of “fixing it in the mix” is absurd, if you aren’t diligent about first capturing the audio properly.

Analog gear will always be the only way to properly capture an analog source.

3. Analog gear never has compatibility issues.

Have you ever purchased a new computer, only to find you needed to upgrade a few pieces of software to get them to work? Yeah, me too.

I’ve never heard of somebody needing to upgrade his LA-610 when he updated his operating system, have you? Me neither. Analog gear will always be relevant and useful.

4. Analog gear (for the most part) maintains its value.

If at some point in the next 10 years you decide you want to sell your nice solid-state preamp for a high-end tube pre, you’ll get a lot more money for a good preamp than you will for a good audio interface. ESPECIALLY if the piece in question is over 5 years old.

Imagine buying a $1,000 interface and a $1,000 microphone today. In ten years, you could get a lot of money out of that microphone. You might not even be able to GIVE the audio interface away. It would probably be obsolete. A good mic is never obsolete.

Your Turn

Where are the weak links in your ANALOG chain? Leave a comment below.

[Photo by soundweavers]

87 Responses to “4 Reasons to Invest in Analog Gear”

  1. Babalu62

    I’m thinking about incorporating an analog mixer into my recording set-up.
    The Allen and Heath new GL2400 series board. It comes in 16, 24 or 32 channels, eq’s, matrix, 6-8 aux and 6-8 busses, etc.
    I would use an Orion 32 with breakout cables to get it into my DAW (Cubase 8.5 Pro) and then back to the mixer.
    Anyway, just wanted to know what you think.
    Right now I am using a Steinberg UR824 interface for my digital set up and a Mackie MCU Universal pro as a digital board with automation.
    However, I could use the Orion 32 when I want to go through the analog board…….and the UR824 when I go digital. Best of both worlds…!!!
    So, what do you think of that set-up and the Allen & Heath Analog board I mentioned??

    • Joe Gilder

      It’s not something I would do honestly. I have a digital mixer right now, but I never mix through it, not because of how it sounds, but because it’s a PAIN to recall a mix. If you’re mixing an album for a client, and they want ANY changes, you’ve got to remember exactly where every knob and fader was. For me, there’s not enough sonic benefit to justify the efficiency costs.
      That said, plenty of people run an analog desk. If that’s your dream, go do it!


    all u need in 2016 is PROffesional AD/DA converters… Cubase 8.5 and izotope 7… then u dont ned old analog hardware…*Thats a life!

  3. John

    I’m wondering if you have thoughts on analog mixers with built-in digital converters? It seems to me that even if the digital components become obsolete, the analog aspects of the device retain their value. (It’s worth noting that such mixers seem to fetch a lot less than their purely analog counterparts. Is that because no one bothers putting a converter into a really nice mixer?)

    • Joe Gilder

      Don’t see much of a need to include the converters, since people can just choose their own converters and pair them up.

  4. esolesek

    I’m mixing 16 tracks recorded 20 years ago at a pro studio with a trident board, and the engineer pointed out that my mixes at home were way too hot, meaning I had them at the red line, instead of not going into the yellow, as he prefers (he then masters them up later, and that I believe he is doing on digital gear).

    We mixed three songs at his studio, including redoing vocals on one (and they do sound better). However, he’s accepting for mastering two of the mixes I did at home in Ableton Live using MAX reverbs and compressors and EQs, once I dropped them down about 4db across all channels. All I can say is there is definitely a difference, especially in his ability to mix some of the rock elements and drums better than me, but the difference would have been almost neglibile on two songs where the guitars were not distorted.

    I think I’m saying the quality of the vocals and songs matter more than whether you do it in a studio or not.

    Then again, we’re going to record some songs from scratch in the studio, and see how much difference that makes. I just always find that engineers want to clean everything up and separate it too much. Just my opinion. You need to keep that edge if its in the performance, not overclean it.

    • esolesek

      Here’s an epilogue. I’ve had a he77 of a time getting this engineer to listen a good part of the time. He’s fine mixing drums, being a drummer himself, and he’s good at getting a mix with vocals he recorded, so maybe I’m the problem. What amazes me though is how he has been so reticent to listen to my example mix and the try to duplicate the way the vocals are set – (volume, not EQ or compression). What is it with studio engineers who don’t listen? I will say my month there has taught me much, and vastly improved my home mix. Now I’m taking this track into another studio. The first engineer is friends with my drummer, and I like him, but I can’t keep shovelling money for him not to get the mix I want. The drums are fine, the guitars took too long to dial in, and the vocals were first dry and unexciting (I had good MAX reverbs and some delay on them) compared to the vocal mixes I did at home. The engineer should’ve listened to them at the get go and dialed it in, instead of the rigamarole we went through. Now, I’m headed elsewhere, at least for this song and another. It’s really all quite stupid.

      • Joe Gilder

        I think there are two possibilities. One is he’s just a stubborn engineer who doesn’t like the way you mixed the vocals.
        The other option (and I’m guessing here) is that perhaps what you think sounds like a good vocal mix is actually NOT a good vocal mix? If you’re relatively new to recording and audio and haven’t done a lot of mixing, there’s a good chance you just simply aren’t that good at mixing vocals. If that’s the case, the engineer is probably trying to save you from yourself, and that’s why he’s not copying your vocal settings.
        This isn’t a jab against you. It’s just reality. I thought my first recordings and mixes were amazing. I listen to them now and realize that they are really bad. Experience brings perspective. You are hiring these people to do something that they are an expert in, so I tend to lean towards trusting the engineer’s ears over yours.
        That said, music is subjective. And your vocal sound could be completely legit, and he just doesn’t like it. At some point it’s his job to make you happy. I will say, though, my favorite clients are the ones who trust me and let me do my thing without questioning everything.

        • esolesek

          I think honestly what’s happening is a volume and balance and presence issue. Plus its a rock song, so it has to have some momentum, and over separating the mix messes that up. My mix is fine. THe vocals could be always better, but they’re not distorted. I just think he’s used to doing things one way, that’s all. LIke I said, he did one mix great, and mastered two other songs. But the two songs with external vocals, he’s made mistakes I consider unprofessional. I’m trying another guy on Thurs. We’ll see then.

  5. Christian Chamberland

    Analog “files” such as tape, LPs, etc will play 50 years from now. Software files on the other hand will no longer play due to changes in operating systems, computers, etc. An example is some files that I have that are just about 6 years old. They played fine under Windows XP but are no longer playable even with Windows 7. My plan is to return to analog for serious recording. With Dolby SR or DBX noise reduction systems, you can SURPASS the best digital recording process, AND it will be playable years from now for you to enjoy.

  6. Dwayne Carlson

    Just stumbled across this nice piece and figured I’d go ahead and see if you’re still out there Joe. We seem to have a similar mindset. I enjoy my mixing console and faders and rack gear and knobs, thank you very much. My chain is from a Sountracs Topaz 24/8 to 3 Tascam DA-88s. The MDMs are like a comfortable old friend and gazillions of well known, good sounding albums were done with them………plus you can pick them up for pennies on the dollar of the old prices….. I have a good mix of mics; 6 SM57s, 6 SM 58s, 2 Beta 52s, 2 KSM44s from Shure, Sennheiser e609s, e835s, a set of the mini drum mics, a good pair of Octava condensers from the good batches, AKGC1000s, and a good number of others……I really dig my Groove Tubes GT44 tube mic for vocals. Good amps and DIs. Event TR-8s for mixing along with headphones, headphone amp, etc. I mix down to DAT and print to CD with a Tascam CDR unit. A little more rack gear is what I’m hunting down and that’s how I came across this article. At the moment I use a dbx 266xl for compression, a TC M300 fx unit, an old Yamaha SPX-90 (another old friend…….snare verb…..), and an Alesis Midiverb IV (as little as possible).
    I’m curious to hear your opinions on my purchase to do list. I feel like I need more/better compression and an upgrade over the Alesis. I’m looking at grabbing a RNC1773 compressor and a Lexicon MX300. I figure the RNC is a good solid piece of gear I’ll use for years since it’s stereo……for fattening up drum mixes or on the mains depending on the songs needs. I like the Lexicon MX300 over a few other models because it comes equipped with dbx compression elements built in to the unit which adds to the number of things that could be squashed a bit…..bass, kick, etc plus it has some yummy Lex reverbs that will put the Alesis up in the graveyard shelf. After that I feel like a monitors upgrade would probably be for the best.
    Any companies I may have missed I should be checking out, or do you feel my priorities should be switched up? Curious to hear what you think.

    • Joe Gilder

      Hey Dwayne!! Appreciate the comment and the questions, but I’m the wrong guy to ask about what you should buy. I tend towards less buying and more music-making myself. 🙂


  7. MotoChrome

    Well, I enjoy analogue, because I’m OLD. Yes, I appreciate the cost and convenience of having comps, gates, enormous amounts of E.Q., endless signal processing on EVERY channel (via menus, although they’re getting faster to quickly access), but still prefer the FEEL of the analogue consoles. They’re expensive and heavy, and you end up needing a LOT more cables, but my NEW analogue mixer will never be obsolete (in a sense).

  8. Paul Tierney

    I know I’m late, but I just stumbled upon this while looking for new analog gear, for my New Studio. I totally agree on all of the above, and just wanted to Add why i’m going 95% Analog. I left out 5% because I will be Dumping My mixes, and Stems into Pro Tools. I would like to go 100% Analog, but I don’t think handing someone a Vinyl Lp in the current state of Digital Music is practical. I think you left out 1 very Important aspect in your List. Analog Equipment makes Tracking and Mixing Easier, and Faster. Some may argue Digital is Faster, because you can cut/paste, Drag/Drop, Edit, and i’m sure the list goes on. Let me Explain why Analog in some cases (My Case) is Faster. When I first started recording into Pro Tools, I didn’t have a lot of money, I didn’t know much about Gear, and did what a lot of people do when they first start out, I bought an Mbox. It was the Cheapest way to get my music onto a CD, and digital recording was starting to take off around this time. When I went to record Beats from My Mpc 4k, I had to track 2 instruments at a time into Pro Tools. So my Recording sessions would consist of 1. Dumping 2 tracks into pro tools till I got all the tracks in. 2. Adjusting the levels of each track to Start the Mix, and Gainstaging. 3. Eq Each Track, because lets Face it you Lose something going Analog to Digital with so so A/D conversion. 4. Adding Plugins to get an “Analog Feel”. Don’t get me started on the Analog Vibey Plugins (Just Buy Analog Gear). 5. Cut/Paste for The Arrangements I’m losing in tracking 2 tracks at a time. With all the things I have to do just to get 1 song on a Cd, it gets Frustrating/Overwhelming, and it’s taking away from my Production Time. I’m a Producer First, and that’s more Important to me than Mixing. Now my Analog setup would work like this. I would have my Mpc running 10 tracks thru 10 Outs on my Mpc into a Console (Ssl XL Desk). The console has 500 series Eq’s, Dynamics, and Preamps. Then the Console would be running into an A/D Converter. The A/D Converter would Run into my Mac, and Pro Tools. The steps I would have to do to Record/Mix Analog would be. 1. Hit Play on my Mpc, and Record in Pro Tools. 2. While my Beats are playing adjust Eq, Volume, and the Dynamics. There’s No Step 4 because I don’t need Plug Ins for an Analog Vibe because it’s “Actually” Analog. There’s also No Step 5 because it’s Recording the Arrangement straight from the Arrangement in my MPC. There are a couple limitations, with Analog like Recall, but there are workarounds for that. Also the Most important thing i’m leaving out is The Price. Obviously Analog is extremely Expensive. I see it Like this though. Your paying for a “Sound” that is Truly Unmatched, and your Paying to Save Time and be More Productive and like they say Time is Money in this Business!! Cheers

  9. Ron Anderson

    I realize that this post is dated, but I thought I would try this reply first as opposed to going to a different post that’s more current. I recently inquired on a facebook group about a particular mixer or two for use in a home studio I am trying to get together. While some specified one mixer over the other, there were a few people who suggested that I not use a mixer at all (because they dont belong in home studios today). I am wanting to record drums, guitar, bass, vocals, perhaps keys too. I have several pieces of analog gear as well as a few digital components. My train of thought is this… I feel that routing, touching, recording would be a bit more simpler using the analog gear I already have. Once I do that I can progress to a hybrid and then consider digital further if I feel a need. I just feel that for the way my mind works I need to have something more tangible, and the fact that compatibility headaches, software issues, and other things, can overwhelm me pretty quickly in the digital realm. In the same way, when I look online at mixers, I dont really know what I should be looking for ideal for recording and mixing in the studio. For your info, here are some of the pieces of gear I currently have (not that I know how to use them yet, but I have been listening to podcasts like yours for SEVERAL YEARS – Now, I want to get started!)
    I have 2 Alesis ADAT’s (blackface), ART Prochannel, Alesis Midiverb 3, Alesis EQ, various guitar amps and pedals, Behringer Compressor, Misc mics (both dynamic and condenser) Presonus FireStudioProject, and a 4 track tape machine that needs repair.

    I was wanting to get a mixer (24 ch min), monitors, etc. How would you advise based on what I have described?

    • Joe Gilder

      Hey Ron,

      As far as the mixer debate goes, if you want one, get one. As far as specifics of what to get, that’s not my area of expertise. But don’t spend a year researching. Find a solid solution, buy it, and start making music.
      Once you buy it, throw away all your catalogs and don’t let yourself go to gear websites anymore. You don’t need them anymore. You need to spend time in your studio rockin’ out.
      Trust me…this comes from helping thousands of people. It will benefit you greatly.

  10. DWdrummer

    Hi Joe! I bought a dual channel pre-amp and I currently have it connected through my interface. I run a line OUT from the interface and into the PRE. I then send that from the PRE out to the interface input on the back panel of my interface. I then use Studio One 2.6+ and put Pipeline on each of the tracks that I’ll record through the interface. What this allows me to do is to basically re-amp my signal after my recording is complete. I then “bounce these amped tracks to another track with the sound that I like from the pre.

    I guess my question is… when you use analog gear like this… your solely dependent on the DAWs capability to use a program like Pipeline. I know that you use use SO2 now, but do you 1. feel that what I’m doing is logical and 2. think that most major DAWs in the future will continue to give you this type of functionality? My guess is yes, but I’d like to hear that from you.

    • Joe Gilder

      I don’t think what you’re doing makes much sense. The whole point of a preamp is to get the sound WHILE you’re recording it, with the microphone plugged into the preamp.
      Now if you’re talking about using it as an outboard EQ or compressor, then that’s a different story. That can be interesting. I personally never do it because the hassle of setting it up and recording everything in realtime outweighs any potential increase in sound quality…

  11. Stef Lo

    What do you need to record analog? A mixer, and a tape recorder? that’s the very basic right? I know about pre-amps, effects, etc, but my question is, are those 2 things(Mixer – Tape Recorder) the very basic to recording analog?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Joe Gilder

      It depends on what you mean by “analog.” If you want the actual recording medium to be analog, then you’ll have to record to actual analog tape.
      What I’m talking about in this article is investing in analog equipment on the front end (preamps, etc.) and back end (monitors, acoustic treatment)…surrounding a digital-based system.

      • Ari Sdotnerd Jordan

        yes but analog tape cost $400 a roll and require special care and a controlled temperature room

          • mariehalan

            So, under this approach, what would be the maximum amount of $ one should spend on an interface? What would you recommend?

              • mariehalan

                thank you man. right now im getting the steinberg ur22 (or the roland duo capture) because i wanna learn to do it right with little resources before moving to bigger stuff (at least at home) also because im just overdubbing all by myself now… and im getting monitors (choosing between the jbl lsr305 vs krk rokit 6 vs yamaha hs7)

  12. Matt

    what do i need in order to hook up an analog compressor oustide rack gear into my daw? how can i do that? i know how to do that while recording, but i want to be able to use this stuff as like an external insert and use it like a plugin, after recording is done, do i need a converter other then my mic pre amps? i dont have a clue on how to do this, i have some great rack gear and i want to start using it at the end of my mixing and mastering sessions, but i dont know what i need, please help!

  13. Rene Diaz

    Do i need a direct box if my pre amp has a instrument input? its a presonus studio channel

  14. Simplengog

    Great article Joe. One thing though:

    Why are AD/DA converters don’t count in your opinion? In Ronan Chris Murphy’s ebook, he emphasizes having a REALLY strong front end, and he includes getting really good AD/DA converters as part of having a strong front end.

    Aren’t AD/DA converters like the Apogee Rosetta 800 analog gear anyway?

    • Joe Gilder

      Well they’re not analog by definition because they’re digital.

      A preamp will ALWAYS have a place to go in a studio. A particular converter could be out-dated at some point. That’s all I meant.
      Converters are wonderful things. I would encourage you to upgrade everything else before upgrading the converters, though. You’ll hear a bigger difference with a nice mic than you will with a nice converter and a mediocre mic.

  15. bonestar studio

    You make a very good point on digital and analog systems. The worst downside to analog products especially mixers is the fact that they have cross talk of buzzing. either from op amps or from to thin of grounds running through the wiring. digital on the other hand can sound produced and won’t get that warm fat sound everyones in search of. but a good mixture of both is my motto (definitely more analog of course) and will be for years to come.

    • Joe Gilder

      Thanks Bonestar. When I say “analog” I’m usually referring to front end rack-mount gear and microphones, etc. Mixers definitely have a lot of opportunities for noise, and most home studio folks don’t really want or need to mix through a console.

  16. Charlie

    I decided to abandon making music on a computer for exactly this reason. I don’t have any genuine analog equipment yet, it’s analogue modelling synth gear, but still very useful for my purposes and funds. I much favour the feel of hardware. Plus, as an electronic musician, nothing looks lazier to me than seeing 2 macbooks on stage.

  17. Freaking Wildchild

    it’s not only a matter of quality, but also the experience by itself. I would never have known that much if I would only stick with computers. Delivering quality through fun while gaining knowledge of all details of a machine is by itself a great way to understand its workings and sometimes to get G.A.S. 😉 My background & studies, involving electronics, embedded devices and its possibilities has probably set the true switch inside me long ago about the true (and often hidden) value of raw hardware.

    To me, a PC is rather a limitation than a convenience. Don’t get me wrong, because I’ve used PC’s even more than I was in the studio through my life to program, design and a lot lot more but, to me, it is and stays an emulated world through an array of processors. This with the ever same audioprint, hardware-and-software bound limits in a global way.

    Not even the “software” version of many tools match the true sound and capacities of the true analog edition. For example, the software edition of the Korg Electribe never matches the real punch of the true Electribe with tubes kicking into it. A software edition of the MC-909 (essentially a mouse-friendly image template) does not offer the same experience and learning cycle as when using a true MC-909 with 10 fingers at once and there are many more examples of tools, filters & plugins which will never match their true analog edition, because they are often created to work cross-platform with a total different system and/or architecture its original was designed for. It “sounds” and looks like an emulation ; but it misses often a lot more (in matters of components) to get the true same sound which is typical to that one machine.

    I guess it’s the entire experience, together with the hunger to learn how to work with it all is not the same (to me atleast) as using software on a PC while it is unthinkable with the newer (embedded) hardware to update and configurate through usb. It also learned me through trial and lots of errors, Apple is a lot friendlier to the mv-8800 (filesystem) instead of its desctruct-happy sister Windows .. growls, already more discriminative than its older MC808 without any problem to just transfer its files …

    I am truely sure there are advantages to go (fully) digital ; I have been playing 15 years non-stop every weekend by using vinyl only (well, now and then a CD too). Since the Denon HD2500 series came out; the size, speed vs quality to deliver music to the crowd has not been better before through this digital age and there is *no way* I would take such many vinyl (crates) with me as stored on hard drives with that machine; my back would definitely kill me 😉

    on the contrary; there is now a physical link missing of the bi-weekly visits to the local record store; which got traded for a virtual link which I can download and put with the rest on the machine. A record store here in Antwerpen called USA Import has closed its doors; one of the major reasons was because the shift with mass-virtualization of a musical to digital culture which is also a bit of a shame. The networking super-changed from real events toward social sites in no time by accepting the digital counterpart as granted.

    Storage is cheap, but remembering the covers, buying the vinyl and handling the records to feel and mix ‘m in is nothing more than nostalgy; I will keep vinyl definitely as my favorite with its unique character which is not possible through the use of cd-players which is its deep warm sound and often great art surrounding it… There are always trade-offs by going bit-wise ..

    I guess I could never accept the losses of those small details the real thing could offer only because of its architecture, components or design and of’course the full tactical control and view in full size and color where applicable. That challenge is part of my addiction around music and part of my history..

    I’m not anti-PC but sure not pro-PC either; I know how to use it and what it can. I’m not convinced it has the same value and experience of which I had for over 15 years with hardware and often in the past much steeper learning path by endless complexity. Try to operate an akai S2000 or Fostex D-160 for example -vs- the machines of today..

    Maybe I am getting old .. or it’s just the ADHD not wanting to be boxed in 😉 who knows ..

  18. Freaking Wildchild

    Analog gear offers tactical feedback and to me a better oversight of control than using a computer. I am saving my analog gear already for over 18 years and banned a computer as primary machine (with exception to my mv-8800) in the studio.

    Never had the same experience through a PC – except as programmer/system administrator.

    I’m only using PC as backup medium, do quick changes to a file and to convert formats; program and occasionally play a game but do all producing through hardware .. I’ve got a small machine running a spectrum analyzer, FFT and a phasescope for convenience.

    This also prevents single points of failure and maintenance issues which do never end. Getting analog is a challenge by itself to know and learn new things by combining gear. If something breaks; you can fix it yourself; get a new one or find another model to become friends with 😉

  19. Adams4350

    i take it that more expensive gear is just better like from an LA 610 compared to an avalon pre amp
    a good friend of yours at sweetwater had told me some pre amps are not hot enough to carry some mic s i use an LA 610 with a shure sm7b he said i need something hotter is that right

    • Joe Gilder

      I think you guys are forgetting what “analog” equipment is. Studio monitors, microphones, cables, preamps, acoustic treatment.

      I’m doing a cable shoot-out soon. Just investing a few bucks in better cables improved my ANALOG signal path.

      • Chris Winter

        yeah I get it, my comment meant that buying any sort of audio equipment on by budget is an opportunity that dosen’t come by too often and that chances to use new/other equipment are rare.

        looking back at my comment, I should have been a lot more clearer.

  20. Kevin Hilman

    I am also looking for a quality tube amp for recording my electric guitar. Up until now I have been recording my electric direct using the Amplitube plug-in to get a variety of sounds. While I am impressed with what Amplitube can do, there’s not quite anything that can duplicate the sound of a guitar recorded through an amp and mic.
    Along those same lines, my recordings would also improve if I invested in a higher quality microphone. Good discussion.

  21. Todd R

    Great post, Joe.
    Analog gear has definitely crept its way up on my list of additions to my studio. It seems at first blush with my music adventure everything looked cool in a rack so therefore I wanted it. As time has gone by and the more session that I play, in other studio’s and my own, it is becoming more obvious what I “need” vs “what would be cool to have”. I’m such a sucker for eye candy! I do mostly guitar tracking with some light production and the biggest analog angle for me is a real amp signal chain vs “name your favorite plugin”. Don’t misunderstand me. I really dig my Amplitube plugin and its great to dial in for a quick overdub or that little extra in a mix. That stated, there’s just something about the beef of a mic’d cab.
    With that stated here is my purchase list for the next few months.

    Blackstar HT-20 Head
    Cascade Fathead Ribbon
    Presonus Studio Channel
    Cascade Fathead Ribbon
    Presonus Studio Channel Pre

  22. Joe Gilder

    Hey Steve – Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying you don’t NEED digital equipment. Computers, interfaces, software, etc. – they’re all necessary. I’m just saying that we need to be careful that we’re using good analog gear on the front and back ends of our digital systems.

  23. Joe Gilder

    Great points, Matt. The one thing I didn’t cover very well in the article is that regardless of how digital technology advances, a human voice (or guitar or drum kit) will ALWAYS be an analog signal. You can have the best plug-ins in the world, but if you’re not using a good mic and good preamp, those plug-ins won’t amount to much.

          • Matt

            Well, Joe, you’re right : a voice, a guitar or any other ‘analog’ instrument will always be an analog source to be recorded.

            And watching all these computer-based robot things here I scratch my head and the following thoughts come into my mind :

            Back in the 90s we had hard-disk recorders which were recording 8 tracks simultaneously at 48 kHz with a depth of 24 Bit.
            And – now listen up – this was done with a 386SX-25 Intel processor with a 24-Bit data bus running at 25 MHz (Mega !!!).
            Today we have 100+ times the speed of this processor, multiple cores and a data bus with 64 Bit width (and even more to that).
            But where is the main medium that we are buying, the CD ? At 16 Bit, 44.1 kHz

            Well, did the whole computer development miss the audio path ?

            I mean, we could have much higher sample rates with much higher Bit-depth ……. bringing us to a much better replication of i.e. a sinus wave.
            My thinking is, that the better we are able to reproduce an analog signal with numbers, the better should the quality be.

            On the other hand, there are voices that say it is not possible for us humans to ‘hear’ better than 48 / 24-Bit (don’t know exactly if it were these numbers but I guess, I’m close).

            This could lead to the conclusion that the developers of audio programs don’t have to care about signal quality and so they concentrate on ‘what can I possibly do to change the signal (good or bad – whatever this is …….)’.

            Again, the only thing, that really makes sense to me, personally, is the maximum recallable control over and automation of my (analog) signal path(s).

            In addition to that, there’s nothing more helpful as having a good musician, well placed mikes that fit the situation and a really good pair of speakers (of course, you want to know your room and your ears).

            ok – now I’m in the digital/analog thing again – no, it’s just my opinion and I have made my choices based on what I know and experienced so far.

            Two things reman to be said :
            – if it sounds great it IS great
            – analog gear is so fu****ng sexy


            • Joe Gilder

              I disagree that audio software developers don’t care about sound quality. Just listen to them. They sound great. Just because you COULD record at 64-bit doesn’t mean it will sound any better. THAT is why I focus on analog equipment if I’m looking to improve my sound.

  24. Jon Tidey

    Great post Joe. Most recently I added a “Really Nice Compressor” to my setup and I think it’ll come in handy.
    The funny thing is this is one of those few pieces of gear that you do have compatibility issues. The inputs are wired to work with mixer input jacks so you need a balanced to unbalanced cable in and unbalanced to balanced cable out or you can’t use it with a standard external mic pre. I made my own cables in a few minutes and felt real manly. haha Anyway, I don’t know if anyone noticed but I used it on the last podcast, sounds good to me.

    My Roland Space Echo is my favorite piece of analog gear I own. It has a character and authenticity that can’t be matched by software. So much fun to play into or bounce tracks through. I’d love to get a few more tape delays and spring reverbs and other fun toys.

  25. Skippydelic

    And while we’re at it, why not just throw a couple loops and beats together, get somebody who can *kinda* sing, Auto-Tune them, and make ‘world class music’ *that* way?

    It’s a *lot* easier that way, you know… 😉

    When you’re working with analog, you *will* get generational loss; that’s one of the inherent drawbacks. At the same time, though, if you grew up with analog, you’ll appreciate all the subtle things about analog that digital – even as advanced as it’s gotten in recent years – doesn’t have. Ask yourself: Why are there so many ‘analog-sounding’ plug-ins for DAWs now?

    Making the process easier isn’t necessarily a bad thing; when it becomes *too* easy, though, you wind up losing what makes it special…

  26. Ronan Chris Murphy

    Your own conclusion are certainly valid as mine, but as a guy that has worked on several hundred albums and been working with both analog and digital for close to 20 years, I have come to the exact opposite conclusions as you.

  27. Joe Gilder

    When I talk about using analog outboard gear, I’m generally talking about using it for capturing the audio on the front end. THAT’s where you’ll see the biggest difference. When it comes to mixing, a lot of the hardware plug-ins actually get REALLY close to the originals.

    • Clgrant

      What type of analog rack mount gear have you been the happiest with? I play guitar ( gibson les paul) and really lean towards rock. I wouldnt even know where to begin when purchasing something like a rack mount compressor or eq.

  28. Scott Colesby

    I think that any piece of analog equipment would be a vast improvement in my setup. When setting up my home studio, I fell into the digital will make it easier camp and went all digital. I even play a Line 6 Variax into a Pod X3 Live.

    It has had its benefits in the sense it did what I wanted it to and has fit into my limited space and budget. The analog sound was something I was willing to sacrifice for that.

  29. Julian West

    Ah the endless discussion analog vs digital can provide. Convenience of workflow w/ Digital is awesome, I agree… but with decent converters you do often see recording engineers employing analog signal chain prior to DAW, and then during mixing you may see effect bussed back out to analog equipment. It’s all sound, w/ good converters and justification for it the analog workflow can dovetail w/ ITB just fine. It’s just up to the preference of the engineer and the artist/producer’s ears. There’s no “strict” reason to embrace/dislike either pure method. I agree the recording chain can be entirely digital (well the Mic/cable/pre are analog up to the converters, of course), and the mixing itself can be entirely ITB with fantastic world-class results….but I’ve heard some interesting A/B comparisons to summed mixes in terms of color & headroom and appear to compromise very little. But, again: it’s subjective and up to the listener. No technology or workflow is “better” or “worse” in my opinion, it’s all preference of the engineers & artists. The average listener doesn’t hum or sing the preamps or the AD/DA converters, they hum the song and could care less about the nuances of which domain ITB vs OTB.

  30. Larry

    I have a tube preamp and compressor that are great. I also have a guitar amp. I find it much harder to record good sound directly from the amp than using an amp plug in. Also, an amp will always sound more or less the same. So you would need lots of amps. Guitar amps are the last thing I will buy.

  31. Joe Gilder

    Mostly outboard gear would be used for recording on the way INTO the interface, but if you wanted to use it while mixing, you’d have to simply route a signal out of one of your interface outputs into the equipment, then bring the signal back in and record it on another track.

  32. Anonymous

    I can look at my gear acquisitions and see that easily most of my money is invested in the analog half of the equation. Mics seem expensive, but as you say, they hold their value and if you don’t capture the sound cleanly and pleasantly, digital “fixing” doesn’t cut it. Also, monitor speakers (more than one pair for variety and context, if possible). This can make or break a mix. The better you can hear it, the better you can mix it.

    I’ve heard before, and I follow the axiom, that the most important part of your recording and mixing chain is at either end, where you’re dealing with capturing and reproducing the real sound energy. Furthest out, the room (both tracking and mixing). Then the mics (tracking) and the speakers (mixing). Then importance of gear gets less and less as you progress into the mic-pre and AD converter (tracking), and the DA converter and amp (mixing). Finally, you get into the center of the system, the DAW (or formerly the tape machine) where it hardly makes a difference, sonically, which system you use. Protools is fine, if you want that. I use Reaper, which I’m much more comfortable with, and it’s much less expensive and can do everything most any engineer could need it to do….and there is no –zero– sonic compromises.

    Put your money where the sound is.

    • Anonymous

      Forgot to include cabling in the chain. I haven’t spent a bunch on cabling. Probably should look at what I’m doing there that is hurting the sound. I’ll be looking forward to your post about it.

  33. fearfeasog

    hmmm, i just got a Tascam US-1641. (USB 2.0 8 mic pre interface) to upgrade from my Laxi Lambda. I wanted to be able to record a full band/drumset. I felt like that was a gap in my recording sound. I also got a midi controller, went from a Yamaha basic keyboard thing with a bunch of hit-or-miss sounds (midi yes but touch sensitive, no) to an M-Audio Axiom 25. Now, i felt that having the added ability to be more expressive on the keys would be better for the sound. and finally, i’m thinking of getting a multi-pattern LDC (CAD M179) OR another Nady SCM 900 to “match” the one i record with now.

    What do you think? I’m leaning toward the CAD. or maybe neither. maybe a headphone distribution amp, and definitely better cabling.

    great post as always, Joe!

  34. Travis Whitmore

    Nice one Joe.. Great points. My next step is probably an upgrade to a couple of nice sounding preamps, compressor and EQ. Not overnight, but that’s the plan.

  35. Julian

    Great article Joe!
    Over the past few months I set up more for more sane cabling — annnnd a summing mixer…annnd a patchbay. My Sweetwater rep told me, quote: “you can literally spend as much on cables as you do preamps & audio interfaces, even more…” He was right, though I bided my time sourced my cabling project from eBay & Craigslist to reduce my cost footprint.
    Having analog pre-wired paths into channel strips & interface pres & mixer makes life very easy if you’re old and don’t want to mess with the backs of equipment often like me. It wasn’t essential, but dang I love sitting there and being able to route something elsewhere with less effort. It leans you more toward experimenting with signal paths — I’ve already toyed w/ sending a vocal out to my ART Pro Channel and back in — sure, it’s not a Eureka or Avalon VTExpensive gear but wow what an interesting sound I could get. And w/ the patchbay, using outboard paths become almost as easy as slapping a plug-in on the track…so while the patchbay isn’t needed for my small potatoes hobby, it did reduce the effort needed to experiment like that.
    And if trying summing it’s a no-brainer to use a patchbay…but getting all the cables and everything “pre-staged” can get expensive and ridiculous. It’s a time drain to look on eBay or drive to look at some Craigslist seller’s cables to see if they’re in good condition, but it can save $.
    The neat freak side of me also loves that I can break down my mic stands & cable runs and leave the room clean when on a break….and then get right back after it without a ton of extra effort. But, again, none of the above is necessary or even remotely relevant to making good home recordings. It’s all a “wants” thing unless you’re going to have sessions there other than your own, which I plan to do.
    Sorry I got on a soapbox about patchbays. Totally nonessential to most home studios, but very fun. The patchbay journey is one of those moments where, as a hobbyist, you get to have that familiar conversation with yourself about wants/needs and if it’s worth the expense just for a hobby. YMMV

    I know, the above is all crazy and nonessential…but I’m crazy so it’s fine.
    Again, great post Joe!

    • Joe Gilder

      There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a nice patchbay setup. It’s a lot of fun, even if you don’t use it much. 🙂

      • Clayton Lewis

        Patchbays are the most sexiest thing you’ll rarely touch in a studio. Once they’re setup they just sit there. But when I want to route a vocal track out of my computer.. out of my interface… into… my Presonus Eureka or my big ugly Behringer T1953 then a simply patch cable is all it takes. And routing my interface outs into different headphone amps is a breeze too. Patchbays are the bomb!!

  36. Anonymous

    Microphones and preamps for sure are my weakest links. I have pretty good cabling. In fact, I’m waiting for a UPS delivery of some Monster patch cables (pre-amp to interface, interface to mixer, mixer to monitors). I thought I had bought ProCo cables. but it turns out that they are Hosas. I’m looking forward to that change. I still do the majority of my tracking with an AT-2020. As I compare it to other mics, it seems really muddy in the low-midrange. Compared to my buddy’s Neumann TLM 103 that he graciously lets me borrow from time to time, it’s like putting cotton in my ears. I’m certain I could get more transparency without breaking the bank on a Neumann. Any suggestions?

    A guitar amp would be great, but I end up farming out the really critical stuff to a player who is light years better than I am. He mics up his amp and makes magic for me.

    Maybe a grand piano and a Hammond B3 with a Leslie Cab are in my future! 🙂

      • Anonymous

        I’m probably looking in the Rode NT1A range. Maybe a Bluebird or a Blue Spark.

      • Mason

        Hi all,

        I recently came across this site
        A blindfold test of mics in the middle to top class category (~ NT1 – U87).
        I recommend to *everyone* to do the test blindly, and i’ll promise there will be some surprises. 🙂 (Joe, maybe we can setup a page on your site where we compare our findings/preferences ? I would love to see what the others think)

        Regarding Ronans comment, when i did the test i found some of the Sures also to sound best to my ears, definitely better than the Neumanns, but maybe something’s wrong with my ear.

        Regarding the analog/digital discussion i can see the point of both worlds. If you want any sort of “character” in your sound i’d go with analogue any time (i recently outgrew my trusty old DMP3 preamp and went on to a proper 737sp 🙂 And i also bought a couple of the old analogue Boss guitar effects (analogue delay, the flanger is great, and an absolutely incredible chorus (CE3) Again, plenty of character.

        On the other hand, while it might be true that the digital stuff loses its value much quicker, i mainly consider it as tools that get the job done – fast and clean. If i just want to reduce the dynamic range of the drums a few dB, i don’t need UA comps, a simple comp-plug (even the free ones work great these days) will do the job.

        So in summary, digital is the swiss army knife for me, and analogue the icing on the cake.

    • Ronan Chris Murphy

      Toby, The Shure KSM32 is a lot less money than the Neuman TLM103 and in my opinion a far better mic. The KSM32 often beats out mics costing many times the price.

  37. Letzter Geist

    I need a new large diaphragm condenser for sure! I have a Samson C01, and while not horrible, I am certain the quality of my vocals would improve if I had slightly better quality mic. Even some MXL mics dont seem that bad and they are in the 100-200 dollar range. I just purchased the ART Pro Channel Tube Pre/Comp/EQ and such an upgrade to my existing set up deserves a more respectable and better sounding microphone.

    Great post Joe!

  38. Letzter Geist

    I need a new large diaphragm condenser for sure! I have a Samson C01, and while not horrible, I am certain the quality of my vocals would improve if I had slightly better quality mic. Even some MXL mics dont seem that bad and they are in the 100-200 dollar range. I just purchased the ART Pro Channel Tube Pre/Comp/EQ and such an upgrade to my existing set up deserves a more respectable and better sounding microphone.

    Great post Joe!


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