We are living in a golden age of sound technology. The tools we have at our disposal today were only a dream just a decade ago. The industry has found the balance between the power and flexibility of digital and the character and nuance of analog. People generally focus on the end result, but for most musicians, producers and engineers, the process is the product and the tools are the enablers.
The following is an off-the-top-of-my-head gear list for this record, my favorite tools, created by the brilliant engineers who make what we do as recording artists possible.
I used a bunch of other things but these are the standouts, stuff I couldn’t do without. “Best” means “in my opinion this is the best I’ve used, personally” and “new” means “new to me, like I got it less than 18 months ago”. Feel free to ask questions about specific applications and I’ll do my best to answer. Would love to hear your favorites as well.
**DISCLAIMER: In this post I’m mentioning some high end (read: expensive) gear. But I want any of you who are just starting out to know that you should never think that expensive equipment is an answer to anything. All it does it add, incrementally, to your sound. A good engineer / producer should be able to produce quality recordings without the use of boutique or prohibitively expensive gear. I used inexpensive equipment for many, many years before saving up for and spending the time to understand higher level recording equipment. Of course, with the right tools a job can become easier, but it’s not impossible without them (but do invest in a good preamp before anything, that’s really the most important thing). That being said, after 18 years as a recording engineer and musician, these ended up being my go-to tools for this record.
Best New gear overall
Kemper Profiling Amp
Best New FX Unit overall: Strymon Blue Sky
Best New Synth: Korg Minilogue
Best New Old Synth: Moog New Minimoog Model D (can’t believe they actually did it. Just got it a week ago, somehow even better than my original 1972 Model D)
Dangerous 2-Bus+ (if you’re looking for analog summing, this is it)
Rupert Neve Designs Portico II Channel (the perfect balance of color and clarity, a modern classic)
Most used: Korg Minilogue
Late bloomer: Korg MS-20 (original)
Indispensable newcomer: Sequential Circuits Prophet 5
Staying power: Minimoog Model D (orignal 1972)
Deprecated: Access Virus C (we had a good run, but now I’m using the Kemper — same designer — so I feel we’re even)
Honorable mention: Korg Arp Odyssey
Rediscovered an old favorite: Universal Audio 6716
Sadly underutilized: Chandler LTD-1
Trident 80B 500 Series
Got a Gibson Les Paul after having an Epiphone Les Paul for years. Now I get why they’re so expensive.
New Favorites: Strymon Timeline and Blue Sky
Stalwart: Ursa Major SST-282
Best new output conversion: Dangerous Convert-8
Best new input conversion: Lynx Aurora 16
Best adapter: Lynx AES16e
Best mixer: Neve 542
Underappreciated: Empirical Labs Distressor EL8-X
Native Instruments Monark (as close as you’re ever going to get to a Mini in the digital domain)
Arturia Jupiter 8V (stunning clarity, always cuts through the mix)
XILS 3 (warmth)
Valhalla Shimmer / Vintageverb, U-He Presswerk, Plugin Alliance VSM-3, Arturia Jupiter 8V, , Waves H-EQ, Waves RS56, Waves Scheps 73, Eventide Black Hole, SoundToys Native Bundle, Acustica Amethyst, Empirical Labs Arousor, Sonnox Envolution, SSL Duende Drumstrip, Kush Omega N&A
Controller: Dangerous D-Box
Monitors: Genelec 8330A
Headphones: DT770 Pro 80ohm (great translation to/from speakers)
I’ve been an ISO50 reader for a long time—long before Jakub and I put on Ghostly International Roller Hockey Team jerseys and took to a rink in rural New Jersey to embarrass the label—and so when Jakub invited me to take a whack at a guest post, I naturally jumped at the chance. (Meanwhile, does anyone want my (priceless) jersey?)
I’ve since moved to California, where I work out of the Los Angeles “Vitsoe apartment,” which is both the home I share with my wife, and a unique space where we show Dieter Rams’ 606 Universal Shelving system deployed in all ways. From straightforward bookshelves, to workstations, to room dividers, kitchen shelving, and closets, it’s pretty much all represented here (we specifically chose an apartment without any built-in storage).. As a former dj and avid collector of music, my favorite use of the system is for media storage. After all these years of collecting vinyl, I’m finally able to put it all on shelves that will not bow under the weight. Vinyl collectors: contact me, it’s more affordable than you’d think!
I thought it might make sense to do a first post about some of the songs that have been keeping me going while working out of the apartment—and since it’s a Vitsoe apartment, share some images of the shelving put to use for various media, plus the beautiful Dieter Rams equipment we listen to it all on.
Lorn – Weigh Me Down (Illum Sphere Remix).
Unbelievably beautiful reworking of one of my favorite tracks on Lorn’s new album “Ask the Dust.” I’m huge fan of his heavy hitting beats, but this is a nice change of pace, skillfully re-tooled by Illum Sphere. For a taste of Lorn’s own softer side, check out ‘Pause’ from his ‘Self Confidence Vol.2’ unfinished / unreleased / demo tracks over at the Brainfeeder site. A strange anomaly in a very dark oeuvre.
Yppah – Blue Schwinn.
I’m a huge fan of Joe Corrales’ work as Yppah, it’s sort of a shoegazy version of Bonobo, a combo that is pure win in my book. This track is from his third and most recent release on Ninja Tune, “Eighty One.” Anomie Belle’s vocals are a great addition in an instrumental sense, I love how she’s just swirling around in the background and I’m unable to make out the words.
Lost Twin – Soothing Words.
There’s no shortage of great producers in Brighton these days. I can’t remember exactly how, but I found him via Bandcamp, and to my pleasant surprise, he’s offering the whole ‘Birds’ album for free. I would have no problem paying full price (and then some) for his work. Although obviously entirely different in tone, there’s something a little Burialesque about the auto-tuned quick vocal snippets.
Dextro – Ring Cycle.
I’m not sure exactly why Dextro has stayed off most people’s radars for so long: He deserves far more exposure in my opinion. His first release was on Border Community, then the subsequent releases were through his own imprint, 16K Records. Maybe that’s why. I don’t know. What I do know is that his sound manages to successfully bring together elements of Ulrich Schnauss, Slowdive, and dare I say it, BOC. His last album, Winded, from 2009, is a real gem. I’m hoping he follows it up soon, it’s been too long.
A Sol Mechanic – [Almst(Touching)].
I’ll never tire of a good “Everything in Its Right Place” sample. In his own words “it’s less of a remix and more of a branch off. N E Ways.” That’s a good way of describing it, because after that amazing initial drop, the sample gets filtered into the background and the minimal stutter beat takes over.
Geskia! – Melamine.
Geskia’s sound is unabashedly Scoott Herren influenced, and most of his work occupies a space dead center between Prefuse and the long gone DeLarosa & Asora projects. This is a compliment, as he pulls off what so many other fail to do successfully.
Jai Paul – BTSTU.
There’s been a lot of buzz about this kid from London, and deservedly so. I saw a tweet from Four Tet that said simply: “that Jai Paul track,” which of course sent me into a Google frenzy. What I discovered is that there are literally only two tracks under his belt to date. It sounds like he’s in good hands over at XL, in a recent NPR spot I heard them describe how they are giving him loads of space and time to do what he needs to do, because that’s just how he rolls. He really has a grasp on the “Less, but better” approach.
Autechre – See On See (Pixelord Remix).
The thing I like about this unofficial Pixelord remix of ‘See on See’ from 2010’s Oversteps is that it brings me back to the Tri-Repetae days, when the tracks were grounded in dark emotion, and they would hit you in the gut with crisp, hard beats. They lost me long ago, but it’s nice to be brought back if even for a few minutes.
Many of us artists/designers/musicians love dreaming about our ideas becoming a physical piece that you can hold, touch, gift or make available for others to have. I really appreciate the printers, warehouses and studios that have to deal with our minds and files. So here’s to CutLaserCut, a well branded youthful laser cutting company that I dream of using someday soon, check out their Flickr and keep these physical type of companies close, I hope to see more creative uses of what they offer in the future and thats up to us.
Found a few great shots of Abbey Road Studios, the legendary London studios where the Beatles recorded almost all of their albums. I particularly love that first one which is apparently a shot of the control room in Studio Three as it looked during the 70’s. I am betting it’s considerably more boring now. Studio One (second shot) on the other hand, hasn’t changed at all.