z Gear Stories episode 21

Gear Stories #21  Take your recordings to the next level!




Hey there gear Stories fans!  It’s that time of the month…


As always, if you don’t want to get this monthly piece of wisdom, insight and intelligence, let me know!  I’ll take you off the list… but give it a try first, you might like it.


As I’m sure most of you know, I am what we call here at Sweetwater, a “Studio Guy”  My background is in recording, from Graduate school on up to the present, and I have clocked just shy of twenty years as a professional recording engineer… and though I try to make sure I speak to everyone in my readership, this month, I am focusing on those of you who make recordings…   From professional engineers to the guy with the Mac in his bedroom, rocking Garage Band…  This Gear Stories is for you!


As usual, I start with something that we could all reasonably afford, and then move on to something that is a bit higher on the economic continuum, but is very cool, and this one is VERY COOL!



The Apogee One (and the Duet)  Champagne conversion on a soda pop budget!



One of the most important steps of the signal chain in recording these days is the Analog to Digital conversion… if you’re not familiar with recording, that is the step where the sound that is coming from your microphone or keyboard or guitar changes from Analog into Digital signal that can be manipulated and stored in your computer.


A lot can be lost at this stage if you are using cheap converters… Like anything that comes in a standard computer sound card… or even a high end computer sound card…  You need an interface with professional converters to really get a pro sound.


Bad converters can take a sound that is rich and full and make it sound thin and pale and … (describing sound is so subjective)  … “papery” is the way my ears hear it… like it was recorded on paper and then played back… kind of brittle and cold.


In the early days of Digital recording (WAY back in the 1980’s!) ALL the conversion was bad, and the records that came out back then that proudly proclaimed “RECORDED DIGITALLY” generally sounded awful!  No wonder Digital got a bad rap right out of the gate…   But great strides have been made in the last thirty or forty years and I must say that as a recording professional, while I LOVE the sound of a well recorded analog record, Digital has surpassed the quality of analog at this point… IF YOU HAVE HIGH END CONVERTERS!.


If you are trying to make home recordings through your sound blaster card, however, you are still back in the 80s, or worse!  But now the high end which used to be WAY too expensive for any of us normal people to afford has finally come into range!


Enter Apogee!


Apogee is one of the few companies that make truly high end, professional grade conversion…  In fact, for many years now, everything I record in my commercial studio has gone through the Apogee AD16X  (  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/AD16X/  )  But Apogee has heard the cry of the masses… or at least the Mac computer recording masses, and they have released two interfaces for the average guy.  First was the Duet, ( http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Duet/ )  and now they have reached out even farther and released the “One”  (  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/One/  )


The Apogee One is a singe input, USB interface with stereo line out for monitoring that brings the quality of Apogee converters into a price range of less that $250!  And face it, most home recording these days never needs more than one channel of input and stereo outputs.


If you ABSOLUTELY need to record two tracks at the same time, like you singer songwriter guys with a Macbook and an acoustic guitar, who record your vocals and guitar at the same time, then you need the Duet…  It is a firewire interface with TWO channels of that sweet Apogee conversion… and a stereo line out.




They are good… Top Notch, in fact.  They are simple and no frills, but they are clean and transparent, as we would expect anything from Apogee to be.


So if you  are recording in Garage band, or Logic, or Digital Performer, or the Mac versions of Cubase or Ableton Live or Propellerhead Record… (Have I forgotten anybody?) and you want to take your sound to the next level… CALL ME, and I’ll get one of these fine interfaces out to you.


Your music is worth it!




SPACE DESIGNER, by Russ Berger Designs….  Please allow ME to PAY YOU ten to fifteen THOUSAND dollars to take your studio to the next level.



It is an age old question… well, at least a half a century old question….


What is the difference between recording in a big pro studio and recording in my home studio or small project studio?


Especially nowadays when there are people with Apogee Converters in their Home Studio and hit songs like the ubiquitous “Umbrella” by Rihanna were recorded using Garage band… what is the appeal of going to the big pro studio?


One simple answer…. THE ROOM!


Certainly, if you have  a single seater bathroom covered in Auralex foam, you have a decent dead booth to capture close mic vocals…  (But take it from me… these rooms get really HOT, really FAST!  Your vocalist will hate you for it!)


But when you listen to the big time records and the  acoustic drums sound HUGE, and the guitar amps sound like they are ringing out in Carnegie Hall… it’s not the mic, the pre-amp or the converters that give it that ambience… it’s the room!


When I was building the expansion to my studio back in 2001, I checked out books on acoustic engineering from the library.  I studied up and made my design.  I explained to the framers and dry wall guys what I wanted and they thought I was NUTZ… Making a room within a room with staggered studs and non parallel walls…   I tried all the tricks… but my math wasn’t perfect…  (Like Einstein, I was never good at Math, so I’m in good company!)


Despite my most careful planning, there was still a build up of bass in the back of my control room, and the main room was bright as a 100 watt bulb until I got tons of Auralex…


Of course, lets compare that to the awe inspiring experience of walking into the main recording room of Sweetwater’s Studio A…   ( http://productions.sweetwater.com/ )  You tread carefully, quiet as a mouse into the Hardwood sanctuary, and pull the thick glass sliding panel shut noiselessly behind you, and then stop and listen… and you hear it… perfect nothingness… (Which I think is the definition of Nirvana, … not to be confused with Kurt Cobain’s band… which was NEVER quiet.)


I have ben involved in sessions in that studio, and everything from heavy rock drums to Ukuleles sound GREAT there!  WHY IS THAT?


THE ROOM!   It was designed to be acoustically as perfect as possible, by one of the world’s foremost acoustic designers, RUSS BERGER  (Check out his company’s site http://www.rbdg.com/ )


Generally, for a small studio design, Russ and his accomplished crew charge Fifteen to Twenty thousand dollars to do a design to give your space that high end studio sound… and people pay it!  Many of the greatest studios around were designed by Russ.   It’s a real feather in the cap of any studio to be able to tell their clientele that Russ designed their acoustic space.


The GREAT thing is that Russ UNDERSTANDS Sweetwater and how we work with our customers.  He knows that unlike any music retailer out there, we are professionals here, striving to help you get the most out of your musical gear.  So Russ met with Sweetwater, and together, we came up with a product that can help you get that Russ Berger Designed sound in your own studio, wether it’s a bedroom studio, or a professional project studio!


Here’s how it works… the first part is the Field Kit… this is the entry level, low commitment package that helps you get going.  For $149, you get the package and it has in it a VERY detailed questionnaire, a list of tips for measuring and sketching, and TONS of information on how to figure out the needs of the space you are in.  Even if all you ever do is get the field kit and go through it, you will learn a LOT of what it takes to treat your room right!


After you go through the questionnaire and measure and sketch your rooms and even take photographs, you send that package back to Sweetwater, and it is gone over by Russ and your sales engineer together.  We schedule a call when Russ is here at Sweetwater, and we go over the preliminary plans and issues.  And at this point, you can decide whether to move forward.


If you have Russ design your space for you, the charge is $5000.


It may seem like a lot, but remember… his normal charge for this work is $15 to $20 THOUSAND dollars!  The big money saving thing in this program is two fold… first, YOU do the measuring sketching and photographing of the space with Russ’s instructions, and second, you have your Sweetwater Sales Engineer… ME… to be the go between and make all the processes smooth…  So in effect, if you were planning on getting a professional design, going this route is like ME paying YOU ten to fifteen THOUSAND dollars to fill out a worksheet!  Figure that out hourly, and it probably pays better than JURY DUTY!


The $5000 fee is for design of an area around 400 square feet… of course, a special package can be arranged if your space is larger.


It may be a big commitment, but it’s not a big commitment just to get your feet wet with the Field Kit, and see what you might be in for… worst case scenario, you have paid $149 for a GREAT deal of info about the acoustics of your own studio, which as my experience back in 2001 shows, could be invaluable!


If you would like to get started with Russ, give me a call and I’ll arrange it for you!


And of course, I’ll talk to you again next month in Gear Stories!


Be well, my friends!


I look forward to being of service.


Jon Gillespie, Sweetwater Sales Engineer


800 222 4700 x 1352

260 432 8176 x 1352 (outside the U.S.)

260 432 1758 FAX

[email protected]


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