For more than 25 years now, colleagues & clients from all sides of the industry have been asking my opinion and advice about everything to do with recording, producing and mastering. Whether they want to know about producing an entire project, improving on one aspect of the production, or simply want me to be a second set of ears, I’m always happy to give my thoughts and can talk about gear ’till the cows come home.
FWIW I thought it might be worth sharing a recent chat in the form of a Q and A session with a colleague:
Q Could you give me your opinion about RME or Apogee converters if you have had any experience with them and also your opinion about recording at higher sample rates?
GH I’ve heard them both in other studios, but there are so many variables as you know, that it’s hard to tell exactly how many individual elements combine to make the sound good. My own converter is a Lynx Aurora 16, which I love to bits. It’s just so full sounding and everything sounds really clear and defined through it.
In terms of sample rates, if you’re recording something really nuanced like solo sax, nylon string guitar or something, it might be worth taking the trouble to capture at 96 kHz upwards, but for every day general stuff I find that 44.1/24 bit is sufficient. If you’re doing very simple electronic production like dance music or pop and use ‘bit crusher‘ a lot, then anything more than 44100/16 bit is almost a complete wasted exercise – except for the bass and high ends, which really benefit from higher rates.
A really important consideration in sound quality with digital recording is also clocking. Clocking has been something I’ve been very careful to do since going digital in 1999 and it’s a massive part of getting digital recording right. Not everyone knows about it, which is probably why so many digital recordings from the 80s sound so terrible LOL! I clock the whole studio from the Lynx, as it’s the best clock in there.
Q I wanted to record sax at 192 and also piano to get the real fat. If it all gets mixed down to 44.1 is there any point of recording at these higher sample rates anyway though ?
GH Yes I think so. If I care more than usual about the quality of a recording, I usually record at higher rates. Even if you’re going to end up at 44.1, I believe you can still improve the overall quality of the production by working at higher rates and then only dither down after mastering.
Q Do you use in-the-box plugins such as Waves or do you prefer outboard gear? Is the plugins thing like emulating an SSL 4000 desks analogue character just commercial hype, or are they getting closer to narrowing the disparity between ITB and outboard in your opinion?
GH I think it’s VERY close now. Yes I do use Waves, UAD and many more. I don’t necessarily expect to get the same thing as from the original hardware, but it’s really more like using a paint palette, isn’t it? Personally I use a hybrid system, because I want to get the best of both worlds. Recording through good hardware, mixing mostly using plugins all the way until the output busses hit the Neve 8816, then feed the Neve stereo master out into a small mastering chain – the SSL G384 mix compressor and usually a GML eq. Then back into DP through the Lynx, where I might put the UAD Ampex plugin and the Slate FG-X. I can hear way more clarity, depth, definition, punch, stereo width and tonal improvements from this method over being totally ITB.
For ‘analogue character’ there are definitely some very good ITB plugins on the market. Personal favourites include the UAD Studer & Ampex plugins, the Waves NLS channel/bus and also the REDD emulations and the Soundtoys Decapitator. You’ll also see loads of UAD Studers, 1176s, Pultecs and Neve (either 1081 or 88B) plugs on my mixes.
Q Tony Maserati was on Dave Pensado‘s channel and said someone made him up a gold wired mike cable ..said the difference especially on the top end was like night and day. Says it radically transforms the sound. One of my colleagues is also obsessed with the power supply aspects.
GH Yeah I love those guys. My go to mastering guy is Andy Jackson www.tubemastering.com – he’s into expensive cabling and also swears by it. He uses quite a bit of Tim de Paravacini’s EAR gear too. I’d lay odds that he uses mains conditioners in his mastering suite, but if not, he DEFINITELY uses them at Dave Gilmour’s studio, which is where he works. I agree with a lot of these guys when they say, it’s not any ONE step that we take that greatly improves our sound, it’s a series of very small incremental steps culminating in a vastly improved end point. The same as mixing or mastering I guess! 😉