Producer Club #5 – What gear is getting you through lockdown?
With many studios unable to open due to Covid restrictions, we ask seven audio professionals what equipment they have relied on to keep them working through lockdown...
Apple MacBook Pro + Nektar GX61
Like many people, when the first lockdown happened at the end of last March, one of the first things I did was set up a basic rig at home. I’d been lusting after the new MacBook Pro for a while and it seemed like the perfect excuse. An LG Ultrafine 5k monitor and Apple bluetooth keyboard and mouse made it look and feel like a desktop and a cheap, but surprisingly good, Nektar GX 61 note midi keyboard completed the setup.
UA Apollo Twin Duo + Focal Shape 65
I already had an UA Apollo Twin Duo and a pair of Focal Shape 65's that had been in my assistant’s room, so I brought them home and placed the whole lot on a £40 IKEA desk that wasn’t nearly wide enough.
New Sample Libraries
With the prospect of very little work for the foreseeable future, I suddenly found myself in the creative position of being commissioned to write dozens of tracks to replace all the library music in nine seasons of Taskmaster, which had just been sold internationally. This meant working in myriad styles, from full choral to 80's synth pop, twangy 60's guitar, ska and just about anything else you can think of.
With limited resources at home, I began to collect yet more sample libraries of things I’d previously turned my nose up at... Looking beyond my go-to Spitfire sounds, I found some absolute gems: the Cinesamples Tina Guo Acoustic Cello, the Virharmonic Bohemian Violin, 8dio’s Lacrimosa, Realitone’s Fingerpick 2 and many more.
Waves SSL, ValhallaDSP and Altiverb
What I found I didn’t need was more compressors, EQs or reverbs - the Waves SSL channel strip still being my favourite eq, the Logic compressor and Valhalla reverbs or Altiverb covering almost everything else and just the Waves L1+ limiter on the stems, for light mastering.
But the real revelation of lockdown was mixing at home on the Focals. I’ve got Barefoot MicroMain 27's at my studio and I had limited expectations of these little monitors, but oh was I wrong! I absolutely loved mixing on them, especially at very low levels and I was amazed at how well my mixes translated elsewhere: in the car, on the phone (the ultimate test!). Best of all, my clients complimented me on the quality of my work, not realising I wasn’t in the studio, and everything just felt easy and natural.
Genelec 8351B Monitors
There were two things that kept me going through lockdown, one was I upgraded my monitors to the new Genelec 8351B's - and I couldn't be happier! Learning them was a joy and I now trust my monitoring so much more than ever before. The bottom end I feel is so even and extended for a speaker that size and my mixes are translating better than ever, so that was a big win!
The other thing that kept me in the studio a lot was Acustica Audio plug-ins. They really feel like a leap forward in software technology and are completely interchangeable with the hardware I use. My current favourites are Taupe (tape machines), Cola (Cadac console), Jade (Maag, Focusrite, Clariphonic), Cream (TG & REDD), Purple (Pultec) and El Rey... but really all of them are astounding!
I was lucky enough to have a few mixes to do at that time and having these plug-ins and the Genelecs made it almost seem like cheating - I was trying to make them take longer so that I could feel busy but they all came together easier than ever before. It was a silver lining in an otherwise horrible time!
With the introduction of Zoom just prior to the first lockdown in Spain we started a series of online Masterclasses from our studio in Mallorca, utilising the comprehensive range of outboard, mics and equipment we have here. With many people using Zoom for communication and office meetings, we've used it to open up our studio to creative learning - making it easy to connect with people around the world. This allowed us to demonstrate the way we integrate the studio in the workflow of recording, and talk face to face with groups of engineers, writers and producers remotely.
Loopback Audio + UA Apollo x6
Loopback Audio by Rogueamoeba was essential! The Universal Audio Apollo x6's UAD Console, together with Pro Tools, Ableton Live and Logic Pro X allowed us versatility across all the courses, providing workflow techniques and tips no matter what the DAW of choice.
The Songwriting, Music Production and Vocal Recording Masterclasses started last June, and these software platforms have worked flawlessly. The ability to stream good quality stereo sound to clients has been a life saver.
Arturia AudioFuse Studio
The AudioFuse saved my bacon with excellent preamps, great conversion, built in loopback for streaming, built in bluetooth input and inserts on each pre so I could track with my Roger Mayer 456 units. I also use the aux outs to put the 456 on my mixbus. It has two sets of speaker outputs so I could route to my Geithains or to the SPL Phonitor/Audeze headphones combo in one click. I can't recommend it highly enough!
These are my nearfield choice for years now and really upped the game when I was forced home during lockdown. These just sound great in small spaces, right up close to you.
Roger Mayer 456HD 500
This is the only outboard I use! The wave-shaping properties of this unit and the results post-conversion are the single most important part of my tracking chain now. However, I also use this all the time when mixing on many different elements as well as the mix bus, for the crazy peak control, general tone and character.
SPL Phonitor + Audeze LCD X
This combination is clear, balanced, un-hyped and just beautiful to use. Everything translated really well from my mixes with these. Aside from being an extremely high quality headphone amp, the SPL Phonitor matrix combined with the Audeze often made me forget I was wearing headphones.
Just before we locked down, I traded my 8 I/O Merging Horus for the new Anubis (4 I/O) which is a small - dainty even - touchscreen-controlled interface, with two mic amps, two DI's, two headphone amps, two sets of stereo outputs and the ability to control a whole Ravenna system over ethernet.
The first thing to say about it is that the sonic quality is just about the best there is! It's quite shocking when you compare it to some other really very expensive options. The earlier Merging converters were also stunning sonically, but lacked some of the software features that are commonplace in the midrange of the market. That's a common theme when you look at the very best converters. With Anubis, Merging moved the goalposts - they've included an onboard mixer, with zero-latency monitoring, and all that stuff that we, as producers, want to see. They have shrunk the whole thing into a form that fits in the palm of your hand. They've retained, or even perhaps marginally bettered the sonics, if that's even possible.
And they've done it all at a far more affordable price: A Horus with 8 I/O will set you back around £8k. But a pair of Anubis, (Anubis's? Anubi?) provide the same number of I/O (albeit with fewer mic amps) for only around £3.5k. If you have two, you can put one in another room with an artist, keeping the other with you, and have the ability to control their setup from yours, over a single ethernet cable. In this new world, where we're setting up in all sorts of unexpected places, this represents an awesome advantage.
The Anubis has proved so useful because it provides two stunning mic amps, world-class headphone amps and this exemplary conversion - both at tracking and mixing - in this tiny little portable box.
Unity Audio Rock Monitors + Apogee Element + UAD Plug-ins
The gear that was most valuable to me was my Apple laptop, Avid Protools and Universal Audio UAD plug-ins. This was all run through a small Apogee Element interface with my Unity Audio Rock MK2 monitors which was my home setup during the height of lockdown, when I couldn’t go to my studio. I mixed three albums and a few singles at home on that setup.
Audeze LCD X
My recently acquired Audeze LCD-X headphones I found really useful for checking mixes when I can’t get to my main monitors.
Pioneer Toraiz + Roland SPD-SX
I also used the first lockdown as an opportunity to really learn a few bits of creative gear, mainly the Pioneer Toraiz sampler and Roland SPD-SX sampling pad.
iZotope RX8 + UA Apollo Twin
During lockdown I found that learning iZotope RX8 was something that really helped my workflow. It's been something I've been meaning to get into for a while and I was able to take the time to learn all the incredible things it can do! I think I've just scratched the surface of it, but it was great to be able to discover how to use it properly.
Having my UA Apollo Twin was also really helpful for staying creative, as it allowed me to do some work from home and still have a quality sound to listen to. Being able to run some UAD plug-ins was also a nice bonus as I'm a huge fan of them.