Changed Priorities Ahead

If I was to ask you What’s on your wish list for your studio?, would you have an answer for me? Of course you would. 🙂

You probably have a laundry list of gear that you’d like to add to your current setup. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Heck, it’s a lot of fun to dream up the perfect studio setup (as long as you’re careful to avoid Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

But how do you take that massive list of yours and make sense of anything? How do you determine what you would get next?

Here’s what I try to do.

Identify the Weakest Link(s)

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you should upgrade the area of your studio that has the biggest need. If you’ve got a handful of good microphones, getting one more microphone might not make as much sense as perhaps upgrading a preamp.

If you’ve don’t own any studio monitors or decent headphones, it might not make sense to buy that new plug-in bundle.

If you’re still using the built-in sound card on your computer, almost any other upgrade you could think of wouldn’t make sense. If you upgrade your mics or pres, the crappy converters in your sound card won’t be able to reproduce the difference. If you upgrade your monitoring, you probably won’t hear a huge difference.

Cables – These are usually the weakest link in the chain. Make sure you’re not using really cheap cables.

Don’t “Over-upgrade”

Some of you may have heard me tell this story before. When I worked at Sweetwater, I had a customer who insisted on running his Neumann U87 into his computer’s built-in mic input. There are a TON of things wrong with this, but the main error is this: He over-upgraded.

A $2,000+ microphone doesn’t make sense for a lot of home studio owners, at least not at first. I’m a firm believer that the components of your studio should make sense together. For $2,000+, you could buy a mic, interface, software, cables/stands, and acoustic treatment.

The 2-Year Rule

As difficult as it may seem, don’t by gear just to “tide you over.” It’s a waste of money. My general rule of thumb is to only buy equipment that I can see myself STILL using 2-5 years from now.

If the plan is to replace it in 6 months, you might as well just hold off and buy the nicer version in 6 months.

I did this with a small USB mixer I bought for creating my tutorial videos. I got the cheapest one available, and it worked okay, but now it’s developed some noise, and I need to replace it. I only bought it a year ago. #waste

What do you think?

Do you have your priorities straight when it comes to buying gear? Leave a comment below.

[Photo by Redvers]

21 Responses to “Prioritizing Your Gear Upgrades”

  1. Connor

    Are you still around??? I’d love your input(haha) on where I might head in the future with recording. 1 have around 2g’s to spend and feel like im at a four way stop, unsure of where to go. I’m running PT 9 through a 002(weak), API 3124 pre, JBL 4326p reference speakers, 2008 MAC PRO(please don’t die) and a bunch of dynamic mics(58’s, beta 58, 57, sm7b, SH drum mics). I thought an interface was going to be the next thing I should upgrade but some friends have suggested that a mic would be a more noticeable step. Particularly a Peluso 2247. lots of great reviews. Thing is, I’d love to go straight analoge. Reel to reel. ya know. there’s a tascam 388 for sale for 1200$.

    what do you recommend?

    • Gabe Swart

      I didn’t hear a good set of headphones in there. Sometimes phones can reveal things in a mix that you won’t hear through the monitors. “Your source material can be impeccable, but if you can’t hear it in the mix, it was a waste.”

  2. Stian Sylta

    I´ve been adding and subtracting to my studio set-up lately and feel I´m simply streamlining it.

    I´ve wanted a new Mbox since they where released.
    The built in DSP will make my iMac last longer. I plan on using the onboard dsp effects all the way up to the final mixdown. (even further if this is possible.)
    I do not have phantom power on my two current audio interfaces, so this has definately been on my todo list. Using preamps on a mixer without proper line-outs, then going via inserts and such has given my mic audio lots of stages to go through and I feel that the audio comming back from Pro Tools is not as nice as when I monitor the mic directly through the mixer. It´s been my bottleneck @ home for a long time.

    ALso, getting an mbox with all the built in mixing functionality will allow me to sell both my old mixer, and two audio interfaces and thus leaving me with less clutter, a cleaner workspace, better quiality pre`s and A/D D/A, a longer lasting iMac and more.

    Sounds like I have my priorities right? 😉

    (I`m currently renovating the walls in my home studio. Sound proofing materials are waiting in the shed, my guitars and amps are nice. (Gibson Les Paul and Marshall+Music Man tube amps), a nice affordable condenser mic, + a few dynamics, nice headphones, se reflection filter, and new monitors.
    All in all a pretty sweet home set-up. Only this one part in the chain has had me really annoyed.)

    So whaddaya think guys? Am i prioritizing my upgrades? (For once?)
    I guess the real culprit is that I should have done the sound proofing a long time ago… 😉

  3. Letzter Geist

    i’d like to think that i have my priorities straight with what i need and in the order i should get it. my number one NEED is studio monitors. mixing through headphones and my roommates computer speakers isn’t cutting it. i’m gonna get a pair of the KRK rokit 8’s. plenty loud, nice flat frequency response, and they look really sharp. after that will be new cymbals, specifically the SABIAN xs20 super pack, cause a few of my cymbals are cracked. and eventually a decent outboard preamp (the preamps on my tascam us1641 and on my behringer xenyx mixer are sufficient for now.) this list will keep me set for awhile.

  4. Christopher w

    I was going to get PreSonus AudioBox USB Portable 2×2 USB Recording System for Christmas (pointless getting monitors if I’m using a eurorack plugged into the 3.5′ input of a macbook pro)

    but then I heard about protools 9… I don’t know weather to wait for a while and get them bundled together, for a lower price most likely (I’m not recording any audio any time soon).

    also I was/am going to get Audio Technica ATH-M20 headphones, know if there any good anyone? and will the be okay just plugged into the mac directly or would it be the difference on night and day if I get the PreSonus AudioBox.

    basically I have three options:

    wait and get the PreSonus AudioBox with protools 9.
    get the PreSonus AudioBox with the headphones.
    just get the headphones and save up for a mbox (or something similar… with protools)

    which one do you think I should go for guys and girls?

    ps my wish-list is well over £20,000

    • Matt

      Hey Christopher
      I don’t know anything about the ATH-M20 phones but, I do use the ATH-M40fs phones in my studio. They are comfortable, sound GREAT and very durable. I’ve never had a complaint from any musician, in fact, many bring in their own phones, try the M40fs and prefer the M40fs. I also use them to check my mix as I feel that the bass representation is very true and not hyped or lacking.
      Best wishes on your G.A.S !!!

    • Alex

      Christopher, I don’t know if you have purchased headphones yet, but I thought this might help. I was shopping for headphones a while back and listened to several back to back in that $100 price range. I’m fairly certain that model of AT headphones was one of them. They sounded good, but not as full and balanced as the Sennheiser HD280 pros. I know you have probably read Joe praise them, and they really are great headphones for the money. Its what I bought and have been really happy with them.

  5. Matt

    I think you nailed it when you mentioned cables being VERY important. I’m thankful that my Sweetwater rep got me using ProCo and Monster cables right from the start.
    However, when I very first started recording I had leftover gear from my years of playing in bands. Most of the cabling was a mix of cheap cables of all sorts. Being new to recording, I would read magazine articles about this mic or that mic pre or this pristine compressor, et cetera. I thought, “oh, I’ve gotta have that”. I did go out and buy a nice mic and an outboard mic pre. At first, I thought I was either doing something wrong or, my ears just couldn’t discern the difference between my mic and mic pre recordings with recordings done at a friends house where he used a Shure SM58 right into a Behringer board. That’s when I found Sweetwater. I spoke with my sales rep and that’s when I purchased good cables. I immediately noticed a difference in the sound of my recordings. Since that time, I’ve never purchased anything other than the better quality cables. Even if that means I have to wait to buy that groovy new FX unit.
    After wasting some money very early on in my studio, I’ve learned that anything I purchase for the studio has to be something that will weather the changes in studio technology and will serve its intended purpose until I’m ready to retire. Put your money into the basics that form the foundation of your studio…… good cables, good monitors, acoustically treated mix room, a system that is intuitive for YOU and works for YOU (which may not be what you would see in a multimillion dollar studio), well made instruments, great musicians and great music. Most important, great musicians and great music.
    Listen to a Robert Johnson or Leadbelly. No real expensive, exotic instruments. The recording set-up was absolutely bare bones. However, the music is amazing and the performances are heartfelt and REAL. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyways? The music and the way it makes you feel? I think so.

  6. Shawn

    This is good sound advice. I purchased an Alesis SR16 drum machine then later purchased FL Studio in which case I produce all my beats from. I feel dumb to have spent $149.00 for a piece of equipment that I didn’t need, and now I have to find ways to implement it in a project to justify its place in the studio. I have tried to trade it in for an Akai mpd 16 but there is not a huge market for a vintage drum machine. Since then, all my purchases have made since mainly because my wife helped me out. I have one (1) of everything that I need in the studio. 1 mic, 1 set of monitors, 1 keyboard, etc. You are so right about purchasing cheap cables. I have had to replace some HOSA rca to 1/4 inch cables. So my next big purchase will be in the cable department specifically monster cables. LIFETIME WARRANTY sounds like a rocket science idea.

  7. Vinnie

    That 2 year rule is a good one. I just bought a mixer and changed my interface from an Apogee Duet to a Profire 610, and I’m already looking at bigger interfaces and mixing desks. I think I did it JUST to have a mixer, and it is really nice having faders and having my turntable/iPad hooked up to my monitors.

    So I probably should have thought of the two year rule and resisted the urge. But…faders…I finally have faders…and that makes me slightly happy XD

    Still have to constantly remind myself to prioritize properly. Acoustic Treatment is priority! But mixing desks are so pretty…

  8. Cush

    I just put up some acoustic treatment in my studio, and in my bands practice space, which is long over due because of the # of places I’ve lived in the last year, but Im really happy with it. However, the big new is…

    I actually just bought a StudioLive 16.4.2. recently (EEEEK). I’ve started doing sound at a couple of watering holes that I’ve spent way more money than I should’ve over the last few years, and it’s nice to be able to run things through my own mixer that I know in and out. Also, the ablility to record all these shows is something that most of the bands are really stoked about. And this gives me tons of live recordings to practice mixing on (1 of these places is a nightmare acoustically).

    Not only that, but a lot of the bands that I come into contact with are of the jam variety and really like the ability to track their album live. I’m now able to do this via a couple of wonderful rehearsal spaces that are available around me.

    I’m also able to save my hearing by giving my band accurate mixes via in ear monitors when we’re practicing.

    All good things. I didn’t really plan on dropping a lot of money on my studio until middle of next year, but I have the money now…and it would be a shame to miss out on great opportunities because I don’t have the resources.

    Next upgrade? I haven’t a clue.

  9. Toby Baxley

    Cakewalk just came out with X1 Producer, Studio, and Essential software. It ships on Dec. 8 and they’re offering a free upgrade to anyone who purchases Sonar 8.5 Producer/Studio or Sonar 7 Home Studio before then. After that the price goes up. I’ve been on the HS version forever and decided it was time to step up to the flagship. Cakewalk makes it really affordable to keep up with the upgrades so I just upgraded to Sonar Producer 8.5 Producer edition in anticipation of the free upgrade to X1 Producer when it ships.

    The problem (that I knew going in) is that Sonar 8.5 PE will work fine with my 5-year-old computer (even though it is showing its age as my productions get more complex), X1 requires a multi-core processor and more RAM than my current computer has. Also, my current computer runs on Windows XP Pro, so making the jump to Windows 7 will allow me to take advantage of 64-bit recording and effects. I don’t know what that means, but it can’t be bad, right?

    All that to say, I’ve upgraded my DAW in the past week and next I’m upgrading my computer.

    Next is the interface. I have the Delta 44 from M-Audio and it’s working great, but I would like to have an interface that I can take with me and record on my laptop; maybe something with 8-10 inputs so I could record a band without doing a bunch of overdubs.

    I know it sounds like I’m a poster child for G.A.S., but I have hit the ceiling of what I can produce with my current setup. The difference between me and someone with G.A.S. is that I didn’t let those limitations keep me from producing some great recordings. Ain’t gonna lie, though. I’m excited yet nervous about upgrading.

    • Dan W.

      I am a HS 7 user also and have been thinking about the X1 offer. Have you looked at X1 compared to pro tools. I can’t decide if I want to jump to pro tools or take the upgrade path you did. Any words of wisdom for me? Sounds like we are in the same boat as far as computer goes. Only difference is I have a Tascam Fireone interface.


      • Toby Baxley

        Dan – Nice to see another HS7 user out there. I’ve really enjoyed working with it. I haven’t been able to find out what all PT9 offers, but here’s what I’m excited about with my upgrade to Cakewalk Sonar 8.5 PE:

        *64-bit audio engine (will mean more when I get a 64-bit operating system)
        *Session Drummer 3 with exclusive content from Steven Slate, Ocean Way, Sonic Reality, and Groove Monkee
        *Perfect Space convolution reverb
        *PX-64 Percussion strip
        *VX-64 Vocal strip
        *Dimension Pro soft synth
        *Cakewalk is owned by Roland, who knows how to make good sounds and make stuff sound good. (IMHO)
        *Speaking of Roland, how about the Roland V-Vocal pitch/time editor
        *AudioSnap 2.0 – the ability to quantize audio is awesome. I know that PT has that with Elastic Audio. Also, I make custom click tracks from pre-existing recordings. Audiosnap will create a tempo map automatically, which is something I used to have to do manually. Cha-ching!

        I’m sure you’re already using Boost-11 on your mixes. I don’t send out a project without it.

        I’m even more excited about upgrading to 8.5 PE than I am about X1 even though it looks great. I never really gave PT9 a consideration. I’ve been using Sonar so long that it just works for my workflow. From what I’ve seen of PT8, it takes three clicks to do what Sonar does in one. Version 9 may be different. Also, Cakewalk has really great customer loyalty through their online store. The fact that I could jump on each upgrade of HS for only about $60 was great.

        I think the bottom line is to stick with a DAW and learn everything you can about it. Jump ship if it is not working for you. Just because something is hailed as the “industry standard” or a “game changer” doesn’t mean it is universally better.

        Joe – sorry to hijack your blog to count the ways I love Sonar. But hey! We’re here, right?

  10. Doyle

    I put away 25$ a paycheck for my studio. That gives me all year to think/debate/research gear that I’m going to buy. It also helps me make sure I’m getting at least ONE good Christmas present. This year I’m going to get Ableton Suite. I’ve out grown Ableton Intro with it’s 2 inputs and I’m excited to be getting all the virtual instruments!

  11. Scott Waldrep

    Great advice Joe. I’ve been trying to build my studio with nice solid outboard stuff (mics & pres) that will stay with me no matter what DAW or Interface I will use. Cables are a perfect example of people going cheap and it’s just not worth it. I’ve been making my own and it saves a ton. Although I must admit I did have my sales rep on the phone within five minutes of hearing about Pro Tools 9. Even though it didn’t fit into my plan to focus on great mics and pres, it was well worth the upgrade.

  12. Rick Gerken

    Being on a budget always makes you think before you buy. That said my next big purchase will probably be a set of Roland TS 4 V-drums. I usually start with a drum loop when I write but being a drummer I really like to go back & actually play the parts I want on my songs. To top that off, now they’ve just release Pro Tools 9, a must have. Does it ever end? G.A.S.?


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