Hello, and welcome back to the JZ Mics blog! This week, we tie off the end to a month dedicated to growth with a perfect topic to do so with; investments that matter. The word investment sounds to many when they first hear it, as something to do with stocks and shares, but investments generally come in two forms - money and time.
But whether that investment of either time or money is a wise investment is harder to determine, so today I want to throw my advice out there for anyone that might be at this moment in their career.
Let’s dive in.
Interfaces and Preamps
It sounds like an obvious thing to the average engineer, but these two things are invariably going to be 2 of the most important parts that, when upgraded, you’ll notice a stark difference in quality. The interface is the first priority and when upgrading anything, it needs to be for good reason. A lot of people will start out on an interface with limited capacity regarding the inputs and outputs of the unit. They’re great as a starting point, but once you’ve nailed the basics of recording like vocals, or DI guitar or bass, naturally you want to move on to multiple microphone recordings such as an entire drum setup.
Now, usually you won't find an interface that by itself has more than say 10 inputs that you can plug in XLRs to directly. So an interface that has a large amount of connection both on the unit itself, and the option to expand is imperative. That expansion can come in a few different ways as well, but if I was to recommend one to focus on, it would be ADAT as it’s the most easy to get along with, and the most affordable one to start with. If you need more than what ADAT can provide in future, then D-SUB connections are the only viable option, but that’s more for working on a mixing desk in my experience.
The second area of exploration is not only the preamps in the interface but also making the investment into at least one dedicated preamp external to your interface. Interface preamps of a good quality are relatively commonplace now thanks to years of research and design from many companies, but you’ll often come across a company that excels on what they class as their standard for interface preamps; in my case, Audient and Arturia are at the top of their game when it comes to preamps within an interface that is both expandable and affordable.
A dedicated preamp is more so you can start to build up the quality even further from there. As much as I love the preamps on the two interfaces examples above, when I started to invest in external preamps that had components that you just simply won't find in interfaces, it became clear to me what the difference in circuits and preamp designs could bring as a result of that. Transformers and valves will rarely be found in an interface with the exception of maybe some more recent announcements in the music world, and so the only option is to invest in an external preamp with that capability. In my humble opinion, there’s nothing quite as good as the real thing when it comes to valve or transformer harmonic saturation; and although some software can get close to it, there’s still a wide gap between the physical unit and emulations of that, and so having at least one dedicated preamp is a must for investments that can improve the quality of your recordings.
The Audiofuse line-up has various options to start from, and then further upgrade to example the capacity of your I/O and move into larger amounts of microphones recording at the same time.
Your Microphone Locker
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this as one of the main things you need to keep in mind while you’re starting to invest. But there’s really only a couple of reasons why you should invest in a new microphone at first, so we’ll explore those for now!
If you only have say 1 or 2 microphones to choose from when recording, or if you predominantly have one type of microphone (such as dynamic mics), then versatility is a must for any aspiring engineer. Having variety to choose from is of utmost importance when choosing the right mic for any sound source, as not everyone will play an instrument the same, and no two voices sound the same and thus not every microphone will work on every sound source. Simply put, having just one workhorse mic isn’t enough, you need variety in choice to give yourself the opportunity to record at the best quality you can.
When starting off, it’s very easy to fall into the habit of choosing to invest in lower cost items as well, but until you invest in microphones that are out of the lower price range, you start to really hear a jump in quality that is impossible to ignore. As a good example, I remember the microphones I personally had prior to working with JZ, and although I write this blog, I’m unbiased towards other brands as I have a varied mic locker, and I love the sound of many of the mics in my collection. However, as soon as I started to work with the mics that JZ Mics create, innovate, and pioneer with their technology such as Golden Drop Capsules; many of the mics I had been using religiously for years now collect dust as the difference in quality between them is unparalleled.
If you’re in this position at all, then a great place to start is with our vintage series microphones, or our Black Hole series mics. Not only do they share in having the same quality components, but they also all feature the same technology we instill into every capsule, as well as the range in tonal options being varied across the board. You can also find the perfect mic to fit your situation by visiting our FAQ that’ll show you all our mics ordered from the darkest, to brightest sounding we have available.
Our incredibly versatile Black Hole Series mics, capable of excelling on any source, and a great option to have within any studio looking to expand their locker further.
Lastly, now having upgraded the physical tools to improve your overall recordings, software is the next avenue to invest in, in my humble opinion. A great recording will do 80% of the overall work for you, but engineers have moved to software over hardware to mix their records, as it's much more affordable than having the hardware versions of every classic piece of vintage gear we know and love that have been responsible for the records we all love.
The good news is that many of the plugin software companies have a range of plugins to choose from depending on what you need, but they also more commonly now offer a subscription service so you can access many more at a time than you typically would from purchasing one or two at a time. Waves plugins, Slate Digital, and Plugin Alliance are some of my personal favorites that I too have subscribed to in order to benefit from having a range of plugins all at the same time, as opposed to making hard choices on what to buy individually one at a time.
Another avenue to explore in software, that arguably is even more important if you’re just starting out or still learning the fundamentals of mixing, is your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Each DAW is very different from each other and there’s a bunch to choose from, each great in its own right - but making sure you have the most up to date version is imperative to get the best out of the tools included within them. If you, for example, are on an earlier version of Logic, then you may not have access to their Flex-Pitch tool that was a total game changer for me when it first was revealed.
Cubase, Pro-Tools, StudioOne, Reaper, and all the others available will usually offer a much lesser cost to upgrade rather than purchasing outright for the first time, helping you to always get the best out of one of the most fundamental tools you need in order to record and mix in the first place - so make sure you’re always staying updated to the most recent version; it’ll only benefit you more in the long run!
My DAW of choice is Reaper having worked on many in the past. It's affordable, and fully customisation, such as this version of the House of White Tie theme to encourage better workflow.