Friday, June 09, 2006

The Basic Studio

OK, here's what I want to wind up with for my podcast production:

ElectroVoice RE20 dynamic microphone: about $400

FocusRite VoiceMaster Pro: about $600

Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) 828 Mark II FireWire audio interface: about $700

Music Accessories MA-UQSF4 Switchable Rack Fan $120 (the VoiceMaster runs hot)

Monster Power PowerCenter Pro 2500 $200 (rackable power filter with 8 outlets)

SKB SKB19-1006 10U rack about $250

I'm not sure about the configuration of sound-insulating foam I want, but a good place to start might be with some 2' x 4' foam wedges, mounted on the walls, perhaps 4 of them to start, at about $25 each, perhaps $100 for acoustic insulation.

Other interface choices are possible; I'd seriously consider a FireFace 800 (more expensive, but it gets raves for audio quality) or new 400 (not available yet). I want a rack A/D with MIDI included, so that I can use a keyboard controller or guitar synth at some point, but I don't really care about the included mic preams; my ideal unit would not have them. The MOTU gets a lot of recommendations for audio quality and reliability; MOTU has been around forever.

I'd also happily try out an Aphex 230 voice channel strip as well, about $700, but I have a specific recommendation for the VoiceMaster Pro, and the EQ section sounds promising in making my voice sound a little bit better.

I would, for the time being, do without additional software, preferring to master DSP Quattro. That application has nice editing capabilities and can certainly handle the relatively simple voice over mixed with sound effects or background music that I envision.

The whole bundle above stands at about $2,500, which seems pretty reasonable. I might be able to pick up the individual pieces on eBay for 50% to 75% of their new prices; probably not a lot less than that. The microphone might go for $200, but MOTU 828 Mark II and TrackMaster Pro units seem to be holding their resale value quite well. I could pick up a MOTU 828 Mark I for much cheaper, as I don't necessarily need or want to record at 96 KHz, but the buzz on those units' audio qualiy is not very positive by comparison to the Mark II. Best case, maybe with aggressive use of eBay and some shopping around I could get the above used for $1500.

This bundle is lacking the most important part, though: the computer. My PowerBook is not reliable for recording anymore, and give sme audio glitches when trying to use an external USB or FireWire drive. I could try to put in a larger internal hard drive and use that, but I'm just not sure that machine is ever going to be reliable with a new FireWire recording interface. So, I need to pick a new computer. My inclination is to find a new or new-ish "SUVBook," the 17" PowerBook G4, with a 120G internal drive, and make sure it has at least 1G of internal RAM. Another option would be to find a new or new-ish 17" or 20" G5 iMac.

The lowest-cost option might be a Mac Mini, if I could find a new-ish G4 unit with 1G of RAM. I'd use this with a VGA switch box and my existing CRT monitor. That actually might be the most flexible option. I'm not interested at the present time in an Intel-based Mac, although maybe in another year. The other big advantage of the Mac Mini G4 is that it is cheap, maybe under $500. That's considerably cheaper than the 17" PowerBook G4, which would go from a dubious refurb at about $1,000 to up to $2500, or the iMac, which would go for somewhere between $1000 and $1750.

For the Mac Mini: I'd want the 1.42 GHz revision B units, part M9687LL/B. The CPU speed differential is not that important to me, but the 80G internal hard drive is. These units shipped by default with 512 MB of RAM; if possible I'd like to find a unit that was built-to-order by Apple with 1GHz, but I would also consider a machine with stock 512 MB RAM and get my own putty knife and put in some Crucial RAM.

I don't want or need an AirPort card or SuperDrive; I can pick up my own keyboard and mouse. Tiger (10.4) would be nice, but I'd be willing to purchase a copy myself if necessary. I have queried a couple of eBay sellers, asking them to confirm whether they have rev. B units and the amount of RAM as shipped from Apple. I'm watching five different auctions for Mac Mini units that meet my requirements, but I have not placed any bids as of yet.

So let's say I could only do part of this at a time; in what order would I do it? A couple of schools of thought are possible. If I got the mic first, which is one of the lower-cost items, I'd have nothing to plug it into, and that would be a reminder to me to get on with the next items. But if I got the computer first, maye I could at least do some further recording with my existing Snowball mic without the strange audio glitches, and then set aside money for the audio upgrade. Although the Snowball, being a slightly down-scale 16-bit device, just doesn't give me that much to work with in terms of clean signal. In particular, if I get loud during a recording, it peaks out, and there is only so much I can do to compress or clean up a digitally-clipped signal after the fact. Hmmm...

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