2019 Review: Home Studio Gear

Rather than do a ‘best of’ style post, every year I’m going to do a rundown of what home studio gear I’ve got, and why.


My studio decisions this year were driven by two things:

  • I wasn’t getting any recording done with the gear that I already had, and
  • I was concerned that recent price rises were going to make the next tier of gear unaffordable, and that Brexit is going to make imported gear both even more expensive and unobtainable

I started the year with the Universal Audio Apollo Twin, and upgraded to a Universal Audio Apollo x6 AND a Focusrite Clarett OctoPre in the autumn. That took me from two mic preamps to ten, which should be more than enough for the foreseeable future.

I bought an affordable studio rack, added a Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1 patchbay, added an Art Pro Audio P16 XLR patchbay, and got everything racked up and permanently wired in. Now everything’s ready to use whenever I need.

I added a Roland SPD-SX drum pad and the official remote for the Kemper. The Roland will (eventually) help me improve my drum programming, and the remote makes the Kemper more convenient to use (although the oft-delayed official Kemper editor is the better solution to that problem!)

There’s a few more items that I want/need: studio monitors (which may need their own dedicated amplifier), and some sort of Impulse Response unit to sit between the Two Notes Torpedo Captor and the preamps on the Apollo.

Missing Home Recording

In September 2018, I uncabled everything so that I could replace most of the furniture in the room where my gear lives. Afterwards, I never cabled any of it back up. I was simply enjoying just playing for myself.

Fast-forward a year, and I started missing it.

Before I had the Origin, I didn’t have speaker cabs. My rig went from the Blackstar HT-100’s FX send straight into Reaper on my computer. It meant that the only way I could hear anything was by listening to the output of Reaper. That setup had the side-effect that it was always ready to record.

I decided that I wanted to get back to that level of convenience again.

Equipment Is Becoming Unaffordable …

I’m going to talk about this in more detail later in the week, when I talk about Brexit and what it’s been like to buy equipment in 2019.

Essentially, devaluation of the British currency plus the end of the era of ever-cheaper tech means that musical equipment is up to 30% more expensive than it was in 2015. That’s a huge price increase at a time when wages are growing at 1.9% in real terms after a decade of no growth.

I felt that, if I was going to revamp my home studio, I had to get it done before I couldn’t afford to do so.

It wasn’t just the price rises that spurred me into this.

… And May Be About To Become Unobtainable

In 2019, we’ve had two cliff edges (in March and October) where there was a real risk that the UK was going to crash out of the EU and therefore lose access to all of the trading agreements that it currently enjoys.

Practically all musical equipment in the UK is imported, and what little is made here relies on parts and materials that are imported. Every single order I’ve placed in the UK in 2019 was delayed by waiting for stock to arrive from overseas. And we haven’t even left the European Union yet!

If the UK Government doesn’t secure equivalent trading terms for the future, there’s going to be less equipment available to buy … and it’ll be even more expensive than it already is.

I felt that I had to bring purchases forward to 2019, and get just about everything I need while it’s still available. There’s a few items that I didn’t pick up, and going into 2020 I’m worried that I made a mistake by not getting them too.

Getting More Mic Pres

At the start of the year, I had two combined mic / line preamps thanks to my Universal Audio Apollo Twin. It wasn’t always enough to record band practice, and it wasn’t enough to mic up my twin 1×12 speaker cab setup at all.

I traded my Taylor T5z to upgrade up to the Apollo x6. And then realised I’d screwed up. For some reason, I thought the Apollo x6 came with four mic preamps (it only has two). Fortunately, it’s also expandable using ADAT, and the Focusrite Clarett OctoPre delivers eight additional studio-quality preamps for less than the difference between the Apollo x6 and x8p.

That gives me a total of 10 mic preamps, plus the additional 4 line-level inputs on the Apollo x6. I’m very happy with that.

Racking Everything Up

To make sure that I got back to the point where it was easy to record at home again, I needed to get everything wired up once again. As most of it is rack gear, it made sense to buy an actual rack, put everything in it, and then put in the effort required to wire it all up permanently.

It took a lot more effort than I understood in advance, but it was worth it.

Now I just need to get my finger out and actually make use of it.

Writing Better Drum Parts

I’m crap at programming drums. Given the choice, I’d much rather play the drum parts on an electronic kit, and then edit the MIDI afterwards to fix mistakes and the like. I just don’t have anywhere to put even a small electronic kit.

I compromised, and got myself one of those Roland percussion pads instead.

It takes up more space than I’d like, and I’m finding it harder to play than an actual kit, but hopefully with enough practice I’ve solved my drum-programming problem this year.

Adding A Remote For The Kemper

Yes, I still have the Kemper. And after an accidental reset of the unit during a firmware upgrade (Kemper’s software quality is not the best), I’m happier with it than I was two years ago. Certainly happy enough to want to get the Remote foot unit for it.

Those foot controllers aren’t cheap. Fortunately, Kemper launched their new Stage model this year, and that helped drive down the price of second hand Remotes just enough for me to pick one up.

The upcoming Kemper editor will largely make the Remote redundant for what I do. It’s still nice to have access to the built-in looper (although it is disappointingly basic), and I can finally explore the Performance (ie live) mode of the Kemper.

I’m hoping to make a lot more use of the Kemper in 2020.

Mission Not Yet Complete

There’s two things I didn’t sort out in 2019, and I’m wondering if that was a mistake.

I still don’t have proper studio monitors of any description. In the past, I’ve done mixes using a mix of desktop audio monitors, headphones, and then checked them on my hi-fi and in the car. I wasn’t doing any serious recording, so it didn’t really matter.

I feel I’m at the point where it matters now.

The other thing I didn’t sort out is my signal chain order. While it’s convenient to run impulse responses in a plugin in Reaper, it means that the speaker emulation is happening at the wrong place in the audio chain. Traditionally, the speaker’s effect on the audio would happen before the signal is coloured by the preamps on the interface.

Does it really matter? I need to figure that out in 2020.

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