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Nathaniel Kunkel InSession: What to Buy

July 1, 2009
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This magazine is so full of suggestions on how to spend money on recording gear that I wanted to throw my two cents in, too. It's just my nature, what can I say?

If there is any advice I can give you dear reader, it would be to try to make your purchases last. Buy things you will use for a long time. Throwing away old gear that cost $10,000 sucks. It truly does. Trust me. If you know you are going to have to buy something again in three years, buy the cheapest one you can get away with. Spend your big money on the stuff that furthers the goal of building your perfect room. Know what your ultimate gear goal is and work toward that.

For me, that mainly means investing in microphones and preamplifiers. Here's why: The major hardware systems in the studio of the future are most likely going to comprise:

  1. An assortment of microphones
  2. An assortment of external microphone preamplifiers
  3. Analog-to-digital converters
  4. A digital work surface/DAW combination
  5. Monitoring systems.

The preamplifiers, microphones, boutique converters and monitoring systems won't change often, but the computer and “desk” will. That is what has been happening for the past 10 years. One scenario I see evolving into reality is high-end rooms providing around 40 channels of Neve, API or something like that in racks on the wall, and a work surface in the middle of the room. It will be a “Neve” room, with a huge Digidesign ICON in it. Ironic, no?

And boy will I love it. You see, in my experience, it's the best of both worlds. Once you go digital, it is a drag getting back out to analog in a Hi-Fi way, and audio becomes harder to route. In digital, you can always add another track, provide resettable cue mixes, and there are no noisy switches. That stuff makes such a difference when you are tracking a band — in the same way having a rack of API or Neve or GML preamplifiers significantly elevates the quality of your recording. You need the right tool for the right job. Right?

And when the new Pro Tools or Nuendo system comes out, you can upgrade the rig and possibly the desk, but your recording chain stays the same, as does your analog infrastructure. And that stuff can cost real money. So it seems likely to me that microphones and preamplifiers will be where analog equipment budgets really accumulate in the future. They will be the only analog recording investments that will be used in perpetuity.

Even if you aren't ready to buy high-dollar microphones and preamps and stuff, don't fret: There are plenty of low-priced keepers you can acquire. For instance, never buy a crappy music stand; you are going to use it forever. The same goes for mic stands and mic cables. I still have some mic cables from high school — it's spooky.

So buy a good cue system, own good speaker stands and don't skimp on your hand tools or your soldering iron. They last a really long time, and you will use them every time you upgrade your work surface.


Nathaniel Kunkel (studiowithoutwalls.com) is a Grammy- and Emmy Award-winning producer, engineer and mixer who has worked with Sting, James Taylor, B.B. King, Insane Clown Posse, Lyle Lovett, I-Nine and comedian Robin Williams.

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