Setting up my mixing place – making choices

Apogee

The chance

After a few years mixing with my white MacBook, Apogee Duet 2 and AKG K501 headphone, I wanted to get more serious. To achieve this, I attended to a governmental economy development program and after a long procedure I got selected to get a financial support to start my own business. As a result, among a lot of other project elements like this very homepage, I got the chance to invest around 5300EUR to develop my mixing place. I don’t use the word “studio” here as I didn’t want to have a live room to record, I would like to deal with mixing only. So, this post is about the equipment I chose from the money above and why I chose them – all this considering that mixing is the primary usage. I do this because if you are thinking about buying gears for yourself you might find some new aspects here reading my “true story” :)

What I had to think over

By the time I started the project I could buy a late 2012 iMac and Pro Tools 11. This was the core to build a system around.

The point was obviously to get the most possible out of 5400EUR. Of course I wanted to get the best possible sound quality and the most convenient workflow and place. So, what I chose to buy was a studio monitor speaker pair, sound card, DSP card, external hard drive and LCD monitor and I hired my old classmate to plan and make the acoustic treatment. Further aspects were the connection types and limits of the iMac, overall stability, expandability. It was also clear that for this money we can only talk about mixing In The Box which is totally fine with me.

Studio monitor at last

The biggest improvement was to set up my first studio monitor ever. I made my previous mixes basically on my AKG K501 headphone and checked them on my custom made floor standing Dynaudio hifi speakers. I loved the neutral and open, transparent sound of the AKG and I got so used to it that I was also looking for the same “character” choosing the monitor speakers. After a lots of reading of forums and reviews I had a list in my head about what to listen to in the local store. What I already knew was that I wanted a nearfield monitor and something I could use for mixing mainly acoustic music. The list contained Dynaudio BM5A MK2, Dynaudio BM6A MK2, Neumann KH 120 A, Genelec 8030B, Adam A7X and we also picked up Genelec M040. I liked the Neumann by far most, though interestingly Genelec M040AM had pretty similar character (totally different than 8030BPM). Neumann has a very detailed, open sound and a really flat frequency response. Furthermore, it’s bass reflex port is on the front which is a huge advantage if the back wall is close to the speaker. It is also possible to fine tune its sound in the room with the level and EQ adjustment opportunities on the back.

Neumann KH 120 A ~1300EUR / pair with stand.

Sound card and DSP

Apogee is without doubt considered to be one of the best converters for the price and I had the same experience with the Duet 2. Though I could keep the Duet as sometimes even the best engineers mix with that at least when traveling, something still bothered me – its brakeout cable. Also, I was sure that I wanted to introduce UAD powered plugins in the system. So, the question was whether to buy an Apollo interface to have an integrated solution or a separated sound card and UAD-2 Satellite.

While iMac doesn’t have firewire port, only thunderbolt Apollos could have played. Apollos biggest advantage is Unison technology which allows you to use and even record with preamp simulations on the inputs real time. As I would mainly focus on mixing I wouldn’t have needed Unison. Also, I didn’t need as many inputs and outputs, the most important was the D/A conversion with the same or higher quality as Duet had. Based on these I could have chosen Apollo Twin. However, considering the newer UAD plugins ever increasing processor demand, it is better to buy a DSP with at least quad core. So, what I finally chose was Apogee Quartet and UAD-2 Satellite Thunderbolt Quad Custom. I found Quartet has a slightly better conversion quality than Duet, some say because it has power supply over Duet’s USB powered solution. Quartet has 6 outputs which allows you to use up to 3 different pair of monitors – expandability -, and its flexible, configurable control surface makes it even to a monitor controller. Seamless integration with Mac, built like a tank. Furthermore, Apogee and Waves had (still have) a promotion and as a result, I could buy a B-stock Apogee Quartet with a Waves Gold Bundle and a UAD-2 Satellite Thunderbolt Quad Custom (includes a choice of any three individual UAD plug-ins) for a little less than the price of the Apollo 8 Quad. I was very lucky :)

Apogee + UAD ~2400EUR

Convenience

Working with audio tracks, one of the first advices you will get is to use external hard drive to store the audio. The point here is to use a different drive than the one running the OS. I changed my older USB-2 WD MyBook to a G-Tech USB-3 G-Drive.

If you have ever worked with any DAW you probably know that one of the most annoying and time wasting thing is to continuously switching back and forth between the edit and mix window. To avoid this, I bought a 25” Ultrawide LDC for our dear mix window.

LCD + HDD ~370EUR

Last but not least

Acoustic treatment. I will write a detailed post about the process containing some very interesting results we found here. The first step was a measurement to be able to calculate different acoustic elements to use. It contained an analysis from the listening position and from near to the speakers (~15cm). The latter confirmed my choice as it showed that Neumann’s has a totally flat frequency response from around 50Hz up to 20KHz and the two pieces are totally equal.

Acoustic treatment – analysis, acoustic elements ~1230EUR

Stability and the chain

Though, I already mentioned this in the second section but I repeat here. When you are about to set up a working environment for yourself you want a solid system from any point of view. You want to work and not working on your system to get work, right? This not only requires stably working individual equipment but elements working stably together, this is where compatibility gets very important. Apogee and Universal Audio devices are top in compatibility with Mac. Also, very important to check your DAW’s system requirements and interoperability with different OS X versions. Yosemite 10.10.3 with Pro Tools 11.3.1 run here without any problems or freezes.

What I also think is very important to consider your system as a chain. What I mean is that you will have the best results if the individual quality of your elements are in balance together. So, I could by a pair of ATC SCM20A from the money and plug it to the audio output of the iMac and set them up in the untreated room, using stock Pro Tools plugins. Wouldn’t have made too much sense, right? But with the way I went, the given elements are in the same league serving each-other well.

I hope you could find something new to ease your own choices.

 

János