The original version of this article appeared in the first issue of Vintage King's Playback. If you haven't subscribed digitally to our new magazine, you can do so right here.
Here at Vintage King, we often get asked, “How do I build a studio for _____ amount of money?” This question is an interesting one, and we can certainly help you find an answer that fits within your budget. The starting point is most likely a question that you must ask yourself: “What is the goal for my studio?”
In upcoming issues, we’ll be tackling how to build out several kinds of studios on a budget, but for the purposes of this article, we thought it best to start out with the essential gear needed for a basic recording and mix room. We’ll be covering three pieces of gear in particular: microphone, interface and monitors.
To help, we teamed up with three Vintage King Audio Consultants to guide us on our journey with their expert advice on building out a space. Learn a little more about our Audio Consultants James Good, Jacob Schneider and Joe Dickinson below and continue reading to see what gear they would pick at the budget they were asked about.
With more than 15 years of experience working in pro audio, including designing and building some of the best studios in Los Angeles and around the world, James knows a thing or two about setting up a studio.
Jacob, one of our longest-tenured Audio Consultants, honed his production skills in the Detroit music scene. He’s known as the “do everything man” since he knows the answers to many common studio problems.
Joe has been an Audio Consultant for over three years now. He has also worked live sound for touring artists and as an audio engineer at the Grammy Award-winning Circle Studios in Birmingham, England.
James' Picks: BUDGET TIER 1 (AROUND $2K)
Universal Audio Apollo Solo Heritage Edition Thunderbolt Audio Interface ($699), Mojave Audio MA-301FET Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone ($999), Focal Alpha Evo 50 Studio Monitors ($349/Each)
The key to building a quality studio at around $2,000 is to focus on products that will offer a variety of different flavors. For a versatile, high-quality interface, James recommends the Universal Audio Apollo Solo Heritage Edition Thunderbolt interface. The Apollo Solo offers the same class-leading sound and plug-in compatibility as the rackmount Apollo series, but with a smaller footprint.
“I really love the Apollo Solo as a portable, two-channel interface,” James says. “It gives you the ability to use Unison preamps and UA plugins. Excellent sound quality and bang for the buck!”
For a versatile mic with a balanced sound that works well for any sound sources, James suggests the Mojave Audio MA-301FET. Inspired by classic FET studio microphones, the MA-301FET features a high-quality Jensen audio transformer and a military-grade FET for a focused, punchy sound.
“This is an excellent microphone, the best multi-pattern microphone on the market under $1,000 in my opinion," James exclaims. “Every mic is assembled at Mojave’s workshop in Burbank, California. They also just introduced new color choices, which is a really nice aesthetic upgrade to an already amazing sounding mic.”
When it comes to monitoring your work, Focal has a long history of creating innovative studio monitors used by professionals all over the world. With punchy lows and crisp, clean highs, the Focal Alpha Evo 50 studio monitors deliver impressive sound.
“These are all excellent options and make this set-up a really nice starter kit," James says. "It ensures you’re spending your money in the right places. If I had $2,000 to spend, this is how I would do it.”
Jacob's Picks: BUDGET TIER 2 (AROUND $6K)
Universal Audio Apollo x6 Heritage Edition Audio Interface w/ 10 UAD Plug-Ins ($3598), Gefell MT71S Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone ($1228), Shure SM57 Cardioid Dynamic Microphone ($99), Focal Shape 40 Studio Monitors ($599/Each)
In the $8,000 price range, we’re looking to create a studio that delivers impressive quality and offers room for growth. With this set-up, you’ll be able to create professional recordings and mixes for a wide range of genres, but you may not have a microphone for every color in the rainbow just yet. There’s always more room in the mic locker, right?
At the heart of this rig is the versatile Universal Audio Apollo x6 Heritage Edition Thunderbolt audio interface. With six mic pres (two Unison-enabled) and unparalleled AD/DA converters in a compact 1u rack space, the Apollo X6 delivers studio-quality sound with plenty of room to expand with additional gear.
“The centerpiece of my studio would be an Apollo x6 with Pro Tools. This gives you two preamps with six total inputs and the UAD platform. The X6 is a really solid interface, but still gives you room for growth,” Jacob states. “I would also suggest a plug-in bundle with the Apollo. These plug-ins are trusted by many top mixing engineers in the industry, so investing in a few key compressors, effects, and buss processors can really help your mixes along.”
By adding on your choice of 10 world-class UAD plug-ins modeled after legendary analog signal processors, you can capture the sound of your favorite vintage gear. Universal Audio offers up not only emulations of its own classic gear, including the 1176, LA-2A, 175-B and 610-A, but they have a wealth of other options like the Neve 1073, Pultec EQP-1A and API 2500.
When using the Unison-enabled mic pres of the Apollo x6 with UAD’s Unison plug-ins, the preamp adjusts its analog impedance, gain stage sweet spots, and component-level circuit behaviors to match the gear the plug-in is based on. Thus, when using the Manley VOXBOX, Ampeg SVT-VR or Raw Distortion plug-ins, you're able to dial in the sounds and get that much closer to the real thing.
With microphones, it’s always nice to have a range of sounds to choose from. Since Jacob’s bundle had a little wiggle room left, he included both the Gefell MT71s condenser microphone and the Shure SM57 dynamic microphone. The Gefell MT71s features an original M7 capsule, delivering classic vintage warmth to any recording, while the SM57 delivers the perfect midrange bark and bite for electric guitars, snare drums, and more.
“For mics, something like the Gefell MT71s is a great all-around option. It all starts with the classic M7 capsules, which were used on flagship mics like the Neumann U47. The MT71s has a really smooth and accurate sound. Pair this with the Neve 1073 for a little more coloration and you’ve got a great input chain,” Jacob says. “I would also add an SM57, which can be used for capturing electric guitar and other instruments. If you wanted to record drums, you could add a simple kick mic and you can capture a nice three-mic drum recording.”
Clarity and transparency are key when it comes to studio monitors. That’s why Jacob recommends a pair of Focal Shape 40s. This is the most compact in Focal’s Professional line and will work perfectly for nearfield monitoring.
“For monitors, it’s important to look for something with a balanced sound that can translate to any system," Jacob explains. "That's where the Focal Shape 40 studio monitors excel. They’re not too expensive, but you can really hear the details of the sources you’re capturing.”
With that, Jacob has created a starter kit for a new studio that offers powerful sounding mic pres, tremendous plug-in processing power, two different microphone options, and steadfast monitors for playing back your creations. This rig ensures that you are able to work seamlessly on your own or bring in multi-piece bands and track and mix with ease.
Joe's Picks: BUDGET TIER 3 (AROUND $20K)
BURL Audio B80 Mothership BMB1 Audio Interface ($2099), 2x BURL Audio BAD8 A/D Daughter Card ($2699/Each), 2x BURL Audio BDA8 D/A Daughter Card ($1799/Each), BURL AUDIO B22-ALPS Orca Daughter Card ($2099), Soyuz 017 FET Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone ($1999), Barefoot Sound Footprint01 Studio Monitors ($3950)
If you’re looking to build a world-class studio and produce chart-topping records, you need gear that delivers unparalleled quality. From hand-crafted designs with precision-engineered components to innovative digital tools, this package has everything you need to bring your dream studio to life.
While not every engineer is looking for a large-format analog console, there is a lot of gear that employs similar analog components and harmonic distortion as the classics. The BURL Audio Mothership combines the best of both worlds, giving you all the warmth and richness of analog recording equipment alongside the streamlined workflow of digital audio.
The Mothership is a customizable, self-powered chassis that can hold a “motherboard” and up to ten 8-channel “daughter” cards for audio conversion. In his suggested set-up, Joe includes two of the A-D converter cards and two of the D-A converter cards for 16 channels of AD/DA conversion. Each channel is equipped with a custom transformer that emulates the sound of classic analog recording gear, imparting just the right amount of harmonic distortion on your tracks.
In addition to the AD and DA daughter cards, Joe has also included the B22- ALPS Orca Daughter Card, which acts as a monitor level control with four-channel DAC, custom op-amps, and a direct-coupled, all-discrete Class-A analog signal path.
“The BURL Mothership offers some of the coolest-sounding conversion for tracking and mixing music on the planet,” Joe says. “Treat it nice and you have a great stereo image and tons of depth. But dig in deep and hit it hard and you’re in a different ballpark altogether! And since the Mothership is completely customizable, I can lay it out in a way that makes sense for my workflow.”
To complement the all-mighty analog power of the Mothership, you need a world-class microphone. The Soyuz SU-017 tube mic is hand-crafted with a gold-sputtered one-inch diaphragm, delivering sound that is rich and balanced with an open top-end. The SU-017 has quickly become a favorite for such artists as Coldplay, Radiohead, and Paramore, as well as producers like Nigel Godrich, Sylvia Massy, and Butch Walker.
“The Soyuz 017 tube is a modern classic that stands up to highest scrutiny,” states Joe. “It belongs on the top shelf of the mic locker next to 47s and 251s, despite being an original design.”
In order to monitor every detail of your recordings, you need a pair of studio monitors that deliver class-leading clarity. Joe recommends the Barefoot Footprint 01 studio monitors. These three-way active monitors utilize Barefoot’s patented Dual-Force technology to eliminate cabinet vibrations and reduce unwanted distortion for pristine sound.
And with Multi-Emphasis Monitor Emulation, or MEME technology, you can quickly reference your tracks on three additional monitor profiles and ensure your mixes will translate to any environment.
“Barefoot Footprint 01 studio monitors are a great purchase for an expanding studio,” Joe states. “The MEME switch gives me various styles of voicing for referencing material. Plus, if I move into a larger space that requires a bigger main monitor, I have the option to keep the Footprints as nearfield monitors.”