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Improving home recording quality

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by Judas101, Jul 18, 2007.

  1. Judas101


    Apr 12, 2007
    Dublin, Ireland

    started recording some stuff at home a few months back and am reasonably pleased with the results. I'm looking to improve my setup to get a higher quailty of instrumentation on my tracks.

    I'm using a line 6 toneport into cubase. i have decent mic's and equipment. i was originally thinking of getting a tube preamp to put eveything through before the sound card (does this make sense? :help: ) but am starting to think that the toneport might be the weak link. i do like the toneport and some settings are very useful so that's why i want to keep it despite the fact i know its not a high end soundcard.

    another option would to buy a new higher quality soundcard but am unsure how much of a differance that it would have. if i go down this route i will have to get reverb rack effect as i use reverb on the toneport a lot.

    oh and one more thing, when you guys are recording guitar and bass at home do you plug straight into the soundcard or mic up the amp? :confused:

    any advice is greatly appreciated! thanks! :hyper:
  2. daren_woodall


    Jun 11, 2007
    Austin, TX
    I'm afraid you are going to hear a lot of varied opinions. Before I jump in with some half-baked suggestions I thought I would ask some question that may help us understand where you want to improve the sound. In what ways are you dissatisfied with the current results? Is it the tonal quality of the instruments and/or vocals; are your mixes muddy and the different parts blurring together; is the sound dull and lacking presences; is it just not as “loud” as commercial music you typically listen to. Is there a sample of your work that would offer us a frame of reference?

    I feel I can offer some views as I am also doing home recording using a comparable approach (although the brand names are different). The TonePort isn’t my favorite amp modeler but I’ve heard some good sounds produced with it and am not inclined to jump to conclusions and say that’s this issue.

    Oh, yes I do record everything direct, no amps. Mic'ing amps is completely impractical for me. I rely heavily on amp modeling. My interface is a little different then yours as I use a DigiDesign MBox that connects to the PC over USB.

    You can sample one song I recorded with this setup here: http://darenwoodall.com/songs/TheWayThrough.mp3 I'm largely satisfied with this sound. There are a wide variety of guitar tones used and about twelve mono and stereo tracks in this mix. I get many complements on the production. I can relay to you all kinds of recording tips I learned while doing this one.

  3. Judas101


    Apr 12, 2007
    Dublin, Ireland
    thanks for the advice there.

    maybe i'm being a bit to hasty in wanting to dump the toneport.

    i think i'll invest in a decent set of monitors and explore the world of virtual instruments a bit more.

    with regards what i dont like: sometimes i feel i'm not capturing the tone i really want. i'd love to recreate the live sound i get out of my tele/rick ect.

    i'm coming around to the fact that it might me due more to my relative inexperience with cubase rather than a shoddy soundcard or whatever.

    any more tips anyone?
  4. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    If you post a clip or two, your fellow TBers would be able to give more directly useful advice.

    Short of clips, here's a litmus test: use your usual gear, but instead of recording your tracks to live drums, use a drum loop. Now how do the other instruments sound?

    Drums are perhaps the most difficult thing for most beginners to record, and sloppy drum sound can make it hard to hear what other issues might be happening in a mix.

    I will say that a pretty experienced engineer/mixer can get great results out of fairly pedestrian equipment. Given reasonable pre-amps and monitoring, the most important upgrades most home recordists can make are to their ears and their experience.

    At least, I found that to be the case when I was learning; and even now, learning some new tricks often makes more of a difference to my mixes than buying new gear.
  5. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    That's seldom an issue of gear. A lot of modern home recoridng gear is light years beyond the stuff used on recordings of the 60s and 70s yet so many people complain about getting lousy sound. It's all about knowing how to use what you've already got.

    Like daren, I tend to go direct using amp modelers for guitar and just DI for bass. For me it's just convenience, I get good results with no fuss.

    Listen to this and tell me what you think. The guitar was run through a $70 Behringer V-amp modeling pedal and the bass was straight in...I didn't even use a DI box. It's not the world's greatest guitar and bass tones, but it's clean and clear. Like derrico1 suggested, I used sampled drum loops.
  6. Judas101


    Apr 12, 2007
    Dublin, Ireland
    thanks for the info guys. this has been a real eye opener.

    i'll try lash a clip up somewhere if i can.

    ill stick with the gear i have except maybe some new monitors and some nice plugins for cubase.

    as far as drum loops go what would you guys recommend? a friend of mine as fruity loops but i didnt really like it when i was messing around on it. the sound i get out of the electric drums is quite good but a tight drum track is a pain in the arse to put down for drummer who's still learning the ropes.

    cheers for the tips guys!
  7. daren_woodall


    Jun 11, 2007
    Austin, TX
    I currently use loops I sourced from Beta Monkey Music and I use Acid to sequence them (info here: http://darenwoodall.com/misc.htm ) and I feel this delivers exactly what I need for my application.

    I must admit to being limited in my exposure. I've used a garden variety drum machine and drum machine like freeware.

  8. well, i believe darrens example in the first post after yours was a good example of what 'can be had' out of a relatively simple setup. however that sort of music, while not easy to mix as such, can get away with having very clean straight-to-soundcard style recording, because the finished result is so clean and balanced.

    so what sort of music are you doing?

    if i'm recording quite dynamic, earthy (for want of a better word :) ) music such as jazz, rock, blues folk etc I would always go for the micing cab option, mixed with a bit of DI for clarity. micing a cab adds factors into the equation which make the whole process a little more difficult, but it adds an organic quality to the sound. its can be less 'perfect' and clear but the trade off is that you get (or CAN get, it takes some learning) a more lively sound. of course, you will not need this for some genres!

    I would definately advise getting a set of monitors and spending some time really learning to mix. essentially thats where you will make the biggest difference. there are downpoints of using something like the tone port, but if you can't mix or record well then you are unlikely to be restricted by them.

    when you start getting your mixes really nice and balanced, to the stage where you are doing tiny tweaks that seem to make all the difference in how something sits, then you may start thinking about how it would have sounded with a better converter on the front end. but untill then get the basics down, ie a good set of monitors, a knowledge of how and when to use a compressor and an eq, when to use reverb, and how to record with a mic.

    reminding myself of your post, I see that your after the live sound of your gear, in which case I would definitely recommend
    experimenting with mics and placement, as the live sound of your instrument that you are used too comes from the air pushed from your cab, your amp and all the variables in between, not from simply the voltage that goes down your jack! so give it a try.

    to summarise, dont worry about changing soundcards just yet, get a good book on mixing and get too work, i produced quite a few ok mixes (as in just about releasable but not mold breaking) on a budget level soundcard. its a big subject, its been my job (or a part of it aside from playing :) ) for years and im still getting better everyday!
  9. Judas101


    Apr 12, 2007
    Dublin, Ireland
    thanks for being so helpful.

    the stuff i record would be rock along the lines of interpol so muddyness is a problem due to mulitple trebley guitar tracks. i need to look more into EQing to sort this out me thinks.

    my mixing technique could use a bit of work and i suppose that's one of the main elements in sound quality.

    i'm a fan of reverb and use quite a lot of delay in places too. i use pedals and modeling effects to achieve these but have been told that have reverb on the signal going in is a no no as it will cause terrible problems in the mixdown. is this true? i tried to use the reverb in cubase itself but cant get the effect i want. is it a case of persisting with the cubase effects and eventually ill perfect it or is there an alternative? :confused:

  10. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    The problem with reverb on the track itself is you can't remove it once it's down. That's all.

    Haven't heard the stock reverb in Cubase, but I tend to use outboard plugins because they sound better. The Waves plugin collection is a favorite of mine.

    As for mixing to where everything can be heard, the way I do it is to give the bass drum, the bass, and the rhythm guitars their own frequency ranges. bass drum will get a boost around the 50 hz mark if it needs it, bass around 700-800 hz, guitar at the higher freq's depending on each song's needs.
  11. Deacon_Blues


    Feb 11, 2007
    I don't have very much experience yet from different soundcards etc, but I just wanted to say I bought a TC Electronic Konnekt 8 firewire sound card a few months back and I'm extremely happy with the sound quality I get from the built-in preamps. I just plug in the bass, guitar or mic into the Konnekt and use amplifier modeler plugins. They sound incredible these days (Amplitube 2, AC Box Combo & Plexi Combo, Ampeg SVX etc...)
  12. Judas101


    Apr 12, 2007
    Dublin, Ireland

    I take it the decent quality ones arent free :ninja:
  13. well, waves isnt free but there are allot of good free ones out there, try


    sorry for the long link, thats a list of free reverb plugs, if you go to their search page you can look for any amount of free vst's, as well as try demo's of all the priced ones.

    also, look out for stuff by Kjaerhaus audio, voxengo, Acustica etc, they do some world class plugins for free, that I would sometimes use over the waves ones.

    as Jimmy M says, if you record with reverb you are stuck with it. reverb is a mix effect as well as a creative effect. ie you use reverb to settle a mix as well as make a sound how you want it. if you record quite a few tracks with 'verb allready on them then you might find things are sitting back too far, or things are indistinct once you have recorded everything, but you are stuck with it then!

    so use little bits of verb to get your sound, but always be wary of making a big mix decision before you even have all the tracks down!

    jimmy m's on the right lines with eq too. a technique I use to get students to understand the eq process is to have them literally divide the spectrum into blocks and have just one instrument per block, normally without drums to start with.

    it also means you have to make decisions about where things are gonna sit in the mids, the highs and lows are easy, but straight away you get used to things like choosing between haveing a rhythm guitar as a low filler churning away, or a higher more prominent sound.

    it forces you to listen to sounds, work out how you want your mix to work and then rearrange them around so that the you are using the ranges of each sound where the best features of that sound are present. so for example

    bass > rhythm 1> pad/BV > lead > Vocal > acoustic

    as a very rough idea (the acoustic would be very quiet, and working like a shaker)

    of course in 'real life' you would rarely mix so clinically, but it gets the process of eq to allow things space, and to simultaneosly let the best bits of each sound shine. once you get it sounding very clear then you can back off your eq a bit and getting the sounds blending a bit, and you'll start to get a workable mix. over time you will not have to strongly eq it first, as you'll know what sound you want and can achieve from the offset!

    edit - the nebula2, second reverb down on that list, is an amazing program, not just for reverb but eq and compression etc as well. it truly is stunning, however, my computer can only run 1 at a time, and it doesnt like doing that either! I look foreward to the day when ive got one on every track :)
  14. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    Three tips when layering rock guitars:

    (1) To give distorted guitar tracks some clarity & definition w/o having them loud in the mix, blend a clean track with the distorted track to taste.
    • (A) You can record a clean guitar and re-amp or use a plug-in to get the distorted version after tracking.
    • (B) You can split the signal from your guitar (w/ a DI, say) *before* your distortion and record both the gritty and clean to separate tracks.
    • (C) You can use a pre-amp that gives you pre- and post-processed outs and record both.
    • (D) You can overdub.

    2. EQ is your powerful friend. Give each major guitar voice a little chunk of the spectrum where it shines. Guitar EQ can be tricky, leaving you w/ honking or lifeless tracks.

    A. If you're just starting, try working with the high and low pass EQ filters. You'll clean up your recordings a lot if you roll off high and low end to let multiple guitar (and other instrument) tracks. Depending on the style and arrangement, you might EQ a backing distorted guitar track for a chorus to roll off everything except b/w 300 -1250 Hz, for example. Using different cut points for these filters can let individual layers of your wall o' guitars peek out a little from the crowd.

    B. A parametric cut on multiple guitar tracks can be *really* helpful for leaving room for the lead vox and for other instruments. Again, at first this might feel like swinging in the dark, so you might want to start w/ a technique where the results will be easiest for you to hear. After you've used high and low pass filters on you individual guitar tracks, try this: send all the guitar tracks to an aux or mix them to a stereo track. Now use a parametric EQ to cut out a little space for lead vocal (try 2-3 dB centered somewhere b/w 600-850 Hz as a starting point). This doesn't have to be radical EQ, and it will let your guitars feel louder w/o burying the vox.

    3. Variety. Beyond giving each guitar its own EQ, using different levels of distortion and reverb/processing can give your individual tracks a space of their own. Also, track using different guitars/amps if you have them on hand, matching the instrument to the EQ space you want it to occupy.

    Just a couple of beginner tricks to get you started.
  15. Judas101


    Apr 12, 2007
    Dublin, Ireland
    great stuff, thanks alot. cant wait to get home from work and implement all this advice.

    sorting out the frequencies the tracks occupy is something i really have to concentrate more on. I find EQing can be very tedious. often i spend a long time trying to get everything sounding nice and fitting together and then when im happy with it, i often compare it to the raw recordings i find it loses a lot of presence. i guess i need to practise more!

    so ive decided to get a nice new set of monitors, a few new pedals and some nice VST's. that and lots of practise should have me sounding better!
  16. daren_woodall


    Jun 11, 2007
    Austin, TX
    This is a good tip and a fact I stumbled on through experimentation. I wanted to offer you an additional option for achieving this (how I do it anyway)...

    The Amplitube 2 plug-in allows me to create multi-amp rigs. This will take your mono input signal, split the signal and run that signal through two separate sets of stomp-boxes, amps, cabs, mic's and then through a final set of rack mount effect, all in one plug-in. The result in this case is a stereo (or mono) track with a nice blended combo. My favorite distortion rhythm guitar combo is this:

    - Ibanez TubeScreamer, Marshall JCM800, Marshall 4x12 lower closed cab, Shure 57 mic placed close and off-center
    - Fender Super Reverb Combo w/6" speaker, Neuman U87 placed far and on-center

    All this done with one send effect of which any aspect can be tweaked with during mixing! I'm still amazed by this stuff. :cool: TonePort may also have a similar modeling approach.

    There are also unseen advantages to this. If you use Pro-Tools LE as I do, you'll be aware that tracks are limited to 32. This is actually mis-leading in that you are limited to 32 "voices". A stereo input signal uses two tracks. This Plug-in will produce, using one voice, what would conventionally take four voices. A good thing for the home studio.

    I'm not meaning to sounds like a sales guy, but more to reinforce derrico1's sound advice. :rolleyes: No pun intended.

    The EQ points are also excellent and lessons I learned after doing some Internet research. I saw a graphic once which, in a single image, summed up creating instrument separation with EQ and made it instantly understandable. I'll post it as soon as I find it again.

    Edit: I found the article: http://www.musiciansfriend.com/document?doc_id=102420&src=3NL7GC1&

  17. gerri-m@tiscali


    Aug 13, 2007
    Any one using the Boss br 900,like to hear theyre comments,I am struggling with the drum side of it,any tips would be very welcome, frustrated .
  18. gerri-m@tiscali


    Aug 13, 2007
    One of my problems with the boss br900 is, can you set up a drum track and play along with it or can you only record to a click track then add the drums, just cant get my head around it,only had it a couple of weeks....... or three.anyone help??

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