2021 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 used this year, and why.

Previous posts in the series: [2019][2020]


I’ve got the gear (but some of it isn’t keeping up with the times). Early experiments suggested that I might even have an idea.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that nothing actually got done this year.

New Microphones For Recording Acoustic Guitar

The year did get off to a positive start.

I finally unboxed the Rode M5s that I bought back in 2019(!!) and gave them a damn good go. The results were very encouraging, and convinced me to invest in a matched pair of Neumann KM184 small diaphragm condenser mics. I felt very lucky to get these; they were just about the only matched pair I could find in the country, and we didn’t know if the shortages were going to ease later in the year or not.

With the KM184s, I really feel that I’m sorted now on this front.

Around the same time, my Neumann TLM49 finally gave up the ghost. That was a real shame, because I was enjoying including an over-the-shoulder microphone for recording acoustic guitar. (It’s a fantastic vocal mic that suits Tess’s voice really well. I’ll get it repaired at some point.)

It worked out cheaper to order a Roswell mini K47 than to send the TLM49 off for repair. The mini K47 is also widely considered to be a great microphone for recording acoustic guitar. Again, I got lucky, and found somewhere that still had stock.

That’s about as good as it got in 2021.

Recording Ground To A Halt After That

The idea for 2021 was to have a serious effort at recording my old Phase 1 material: the music I wrote for guitar around 1991/2. Although it was all written on the Charvel, those old songs are far more interesting as acoustic arrangements. Well, I think so 😉

The only problem with mic’ing up acoustic guitar is environmental noise.

That’s been a significant issue for most of the year. I should have anticipated it; I didn’t. It was serious enough to disrupt day-to-day life at one point, never mind stopping hobbies like home recording. Happily, it seems to be sorted now, which I’m very grateful for.

Now I just need to muster the enthusiasm to get back to it.

Goodbye To The Roland SPD-SX

I gave it a go this year, but in the end the Roland SPD-SX didn’t suit me.

I played drums for a time while at university. Badly, granted, but enough to gig as a drummer. I was getting back into it in 2008/9 before someone else’s careless driving disrupted things for quite a while.

I just wasn’t able to get comfortable with how tight I felt whenever I played the Roland SPD-SX. My shoulders were always hunched in, instead of being open, and that left me feeling constricted when I tried to play. When I used to play a real kit, the movements were somewhat big and circular. On the SPD-SX, every movement felt small and stabby.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been a problem if I’d been able to play it standing up, I don’t know.

So yeah, I’ve moved it on, and am still looking for a solution for writing drum parts for music recordings – one that’ll fit into a room where there wasn’t really space for the SPD-SX.

The Recording Industry Is Struggling With Apple Silicon Transition

Whether you’re recording at home or professionally, you’re going to have at least:

  • an recording interface of some kind
  • a collection of plugins for processing your recordings
  • and a DAW where you use those plugins

There’s a good chance that you’re plugging that hardware into an Apple laptop, and that your DAW and plugins are running on Apple computers.

We’re now about 18 months into Apple’s move from Intel CPUs to their own Apple Silicon SoCs, and significant sections of the recording industry has yet to get their products ported over to Apple’s new machines.

I use Universal Audio’s Apollo system. Originally, I got it because my Mac mini just didn’t have the horsepower to cope with recording much at all. Then I fell in love with just how good their hardware-assisted plugins sound.

But as I’m writing this at the start of December, Universal Audio is still fixing issues so that their plugins work under Apple’s Rosetta2 emulation technology. They haven’t released native M1 / Apple Silicon support yet. And they’re not alone.

These new Apple machines deliver one of the largest leaps in year-on-year performance that I’ve ever seen. They can comfortably run everything that these hardware devices used to be needed for without breaking a sweat.

There’s a genuine opportunity there for a nimble audio company to make these dinosaurs obsolete. In 2022, we might find out if anyone can pull that off.

Any Plans For 2022?

In terms of gear? There’s a few microphones that I’d love to try:

  • Pete Thorn recommended the Audio Technica AT-4050 as a great mic for guitar cabs. Unfortunately, they’ve been impossible to find here in the UK this year.
  • I’ve just come across the Stellar X2, and would love to try this as a vocal mic for recording Tess. Again, alas, it’s another mic that’s currently impossible to find here in the UK atm.

I still need to solve my conundrum over drumming. That’s only going to get more and more critical as time goes on.

The big decision in 2022 though has to be my Kemper: either I start making more use of it, or I accept that it’s time to move it on. Right now, that could go either way. I’ve kept it mostly because I feel that I should be able to use it to learn good audio engineering. There’s a reason you’ll find one in pretty much every professional studio in the world.

Away from gear, I still want to get my Phase 1 songs recorded. If I get to the end of 2022 without any progress to share, I’m going to be very down about it.

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