In this fast pace consumer world that we live in, it’s very easy to get lost in buying the best, the fastest, the newest. But it’s always far more important what one does with all that expensive gear, once it’s bought.
Jean-Michel Jarre recorded his Oxygene album in his kitchen, using mono synths and some very basic equipment, but because the music was very good it proved to be a great hit, anyway.
One should never think that expensive hardware will automatically produce good music, or vice-versa.
So with that in mind, let’s delve into what kind of gear I use these days.
I say “these days”, because when I started Arhythmology, I was working on a Pentium 4 PC, with 2.1 Logitech speakers and the cheapest Behringer soundcard available. :)
Yes, that was in 2015 :P
So anyway, let’s start. :)
7th Generation Intel i7
Today, the most important piece of equipment for making music is the computer, and more precisely the CPU. It’s important not to cut any corners here, because if you don’t have enough processing power your workflow will greatly suffer.
To give you an example, when I worked on my album, because I only had a Pentium 4 and later a 2009 Intel Dual Core, I had to split my projects into smaller ones. So I had a Strings project, a Percussion one, a Synths one and a Piano one. And only when it came to mixing, did I get all the tracks together into one. Needless to say – quite a hassle.
So once I decided on the Intel 7700K, I could go on looking for the rest of the parts. I opted for making my own workstation, because it’s much cheaper than getting a Dell or Hp system already packaged. Don’t even get me started on iMac or MacPro. Laptops are also not as fast and cheap as a tower workstation.
So a workstation it was.
– 16 GB DDR4 RAM at 2.4GHz
– 120 GB SSD for the operating system
– 1 TB HDD for work
– Fractal Design Define S Case – good airflow, super silent and nice to look at :)
– and an expensive power source – another place where not to save on money
Steinberg UR12 USB Audio Interface
It’s true, the UR12 is a bit on the small side. But if you don’t have any complex recordings to do, this really is all you need.
It’s capable of 24bit / 192kHz, stats that we’ve come to expect even from the most budget of sound cards. And plus, it’s equipped with a great D-PRE mic pre-amp from Yamaha. Rugged – it’s case is made of metal – and portable, it’s just great and does the job.
Presonus Eris E5 Studio Monitors
The Eris E5 Monitors sound great, especially when you consider their price range. Been using them for half an year or so, and I can say that I’m very happy with them. The sound is balanced, but not too dry or boring, and the hiss level is very low, compared to other brands.
Add to that the multitude of inputs and knobs on the back panel – including an Acoustic Space switch, it means it’s quite a bargain.
Korg LP-180 Digital Piano
The Korg LP-180 is like the IKEA of pianos – very compact and light, and with a kind of minimalist design. It actually looks very good next to my IKEA furniture :)
The keys on this piano feel great, just great, but don’t expect the sound of a concert Steinway – this truly is a home piano.
That being said, it works for getting your ideas out, or for practicing and the like.
And for recording I just connect it to Native Instrument’s The Grandeur.
Alesis V49 MIDI Controller
The V49 is just your standard 49 key MIDI Controller. Very pleasant design, I must say.
And for an added bonus, it has 4 knobs, 4 buttons and 8 pads – all programmable.
A pitch wheel and a mod-wheel means you can play live orchestral strings with no problem.
Cockos Reaper 5
Reaper is one of the best DAWs there are. Right up there with Cubase, Logic or Pro Tools. Some people don’t like it when you tell them you use it, but that’s only because it doesn’t get enough coverage in the online media. Just use it for a few weeks, I guarantee you’ll be impressed.
It can do everything, and some things it can do better than other DAWs. And it’s much cheaper and much much lighter on the resources – the installation executable is around 10 MB.
Yes, it doesn’t come packed with a huge sample library and VST instruments, but really, how many times do people really use the included plugins when they purchase a DAW?
Native Instruments Komplete 11 Ultimate
The HUGE library of Komplete 11 Ultimate has every instrument there is. Period.
There is no need for an introduction when it comes to Native Instruments, or Komplete, for that matter.
The bundle comes with most of NI’s synths, like Absynth, FM8, Reaktor 5 and 6, Massive, Battery 4 etc and with most of their sample libraries. In fact I’m pretty sure the only ones not included are the full versions of The Symphony Series. You do get the Symphony Essentials, though, so that’s pretty cool.
This is about 400 GB of samples and synths: from pop/rock instruments, to orchestral or cinematic, to world instruments and everything in between. Oh, and there are some pretty nice effects there, as well.
Symphony Series String Ensemble
The String Ensemble library just sounds wonderful. And I love that I don’t have to load 100 patches, one for each articulation. They’ve kept the same design philosophy from Session Strings – the library I used for Arhythmology, but they’ve made the product much better.
I can’t wait to use this for Neptune. Btw, here’s a preview / demo:
The folks from Waves make very professional plugins, and pretty cheap as well, especially if you buy one of their bundles.
I have the Platinum bundle installed, and it comes with everything you need: from linear phase processing, to analog emulations of some really nice hardware.
I also have the CLA compressors of course. What mix would ever be complete without the LA-2A? :)
Variety of Sound Plugins
Yes, the Variety of Sound Plugins are free and quite old. They’re not even 64bit.
But they make some really really good analog type of effects, like The Density MK III, pictured above, which is a sort of Fairchild type of Mix Bus Compressor / Limiter.
And Some Nice Accesories
Korg NanoKey 2
This little guy will help you when you just need an extra note here or there. It even has velocity sensitivity.
I know, right? :D
This was my first ever sound card. It was made especially for guitarists who just want to use some virtual FX. Still better than plugging the instrument directly into the Line-In port of your PC. :P
I still use it today for monitoring through headphones. This way I can crank up the volume and I don’t have to turn off the E5s all the time.
Just your regular not-to-boomy headphones, for light monitoring work.
They sound flat enough to give you a basic idea of what’s going on, and they’re pretty comfy on your head. So yeah, nice. :)
This is a great portable recorder. I’ll use it for sampling for the new album, Neptune. It records in 24bit WAV or MP3 and it’s just great for field work, being very sturdy and portable.
But in the end all you need is…
…Inspiration and the courage to create.
John Williams probably writes his music on paper, with a pencil, and his music is still genius.