Rather than do a ‘best of’ style post, every year I’m doing a rundown of what home studio gear I’ve used this year, and why.
This year, I’ve put a lot of effort into improving the quality of the sound that I can capture at home. I’m very happy with the results. I’m not so happy, though, with the problem that was lurking behind all the things I’ve sorted out.
A New Central Component For The Home Studio
I’ve redesigned my home studio around the Fractal Audio Axe-FX 3 rack unit.
Everything is wired up to either go into the Axe-FX 3 (guitars, amp attenuators, and pedals), or get a signal from the Axe-FX 3 (pedals, amps, audio interface). At the push of a button (and moving a couple of patch cables around in my patch bay), I can go between using pedals, my Synergy rig, or other real amps like my Tweed Deluxe or Marshall Origin.
The convenience that this has brought was worth the cost. The sound quality, too.
I’ve got a lot to share about the Axe-FX 3, and I’ll put it all into a new series of blog posts for 2023.
Everything Has Been Rewired
When I introduced the Axe-FX 3, it helped me hear that my old cabling was sucking tone out of my setup. My (mostly) self-made cables both were losing treble and adding plenty of extra noise 😱 They had to go.
I ended up rewiring pretty much everything, using premade cables from StudioSpares. It took a couple of months to work through the knock-on problems, but it was worth it. Noise is largely gone, and all the treble content that I’ve complained about for years is finally there.
G2 Went For A Service
Part of my treble-loss problem seemed to be with my Gigrig G2 unit too, so I sent it off to them for a service. They took it apart, put it back together, and let me know that everything was actually fine with it. They were an absolute pleasure to deal with from start to end.
Grounding Issues Are Proving Stubborn To Solve
Fix one problem, and another one becomes more obvious. In my case, it’s now clear that there’s a grounding problem somewhere here. It’s the source of my remaining noise: a buzzing when I touch the laptop while the amps are on, and a clicking noise when I touch the strings and tuners on guitars like my PRS Paul’s Guitar.
I’ve done my best to try and isolate the cause, but so far I haven’t been able to track it down.
The Synergy SYN-5050 Power Amp Is Now Redundant
Towards the end of the year, I learned how to dial up some useable power amp emulations in the Axe-FX 3. (Counter-intuitively, these are done using the Tube Preamp model. The Fractal world has its own way of doing things at times.) This allows me to use my Synergy preamp modules without having to fire up the Synergy SYN-5050 power amp.
That begs the question: is it worth keeping the SYN-5050? I’m tempted to keep it, just because rack-mount power amps in general are pretty rare. They’re also very heavy and fragile, making it difficult (at best) to send out to a second-hand buyer. We’ll see.
The Kemper Is Still Here
I’ve barely used it, but the Kemper is still here, and still taking up 3U of rack space that could be used by something that would actually get used regularly!
Why is it still here? The Kemper is, first and foremost, a piece of professional gear aimed at pro studios and touring musicians. I feel that, by eventually learning how to get sounds I want out of the Kemper, it’ll somehow teach me how to do audio engineering “right”. If that makes any sense?
Now that I’ve got my Synergy rig sounding great through the Axe-FX, I’m hoping to achieve the same by running the Kemper through the Axe-FX. If that proves promising, then maybe I’ll have another go at profiling my signal chain with the Kemper.
The One I Almost Forgot
I picked up a Native Instruments Maschine Mikro MK3 to use for recording MIDI drum tracks. That led me down the rabbit-hole that is non-mappable MIDI hardware (I can’t change which MIDI note each pad sends out) combined with very poor MIDI instrument support in my DAW (Universal Audio LUNA does not support remapping of MIDI notes, and does not support multi-channel MIDI instruments).
I did find a third-party piece of software that will sit between the two, and do the remapping for me. It works well, but I’m worried that it’ll stop working one day, and I’ll be left without a solution.
Oh, and finger-drumming is properly hard to learn and do well. Maybe that’s why the MMMK3 has a thick layer of dust on it atm …
Any Plans For 2023?
There’s three things that I’d like to do.
- I’d like to replace the Focusrite Clarett Octopre with an Audient Evo 16. Why? It’ll basically be more convenient, because the Evo 16 is a far more modern design that’s intended to be fully-controllable from desktop software. I figure I’ll use the extra preamps more if things are less effort to setup.
- I’d like to explore reamping using the Axe-FX 3. While the Axe-FX 3 itself makes that easy, my DAWs of choice (Reaper and UAD Luna) don’t like / support taking inputs from multiple devices at once. To make this work, I’ll need to revamp how the Axe-FX 3 is wired into my overall setup.
It’s also time for me to start looking around for another DAW.
- Reaper has all the features I want, but it’s become a usability and accessibility nightmare in recent years. I could put the effort into making my own Reaper theme to overcome this, it’s true. Problem is, we’re not talking an hour or two, or even a whole evening; that’s an undertaking that will take days to do, weeks (if not months) to bed in … and until I try, I don’t know for certain whether I can fix all the problems from a custom theme in the first place.
- UAD LUNA gives me the low-latency that I need, but it lacks essential features and is too focused on eating ProTool’s lunch to care about anything else. The pace of improvement is also very slow. UAD clearly don’t have many people working on it. LUNA’s tied to the Apollo hardware; it literally doesn’t work without it. In 5 years time, will I still be able to open projects recorded in LUNA, once UAD’s hardware has become obsolete (thanks to native plugins)?
I just want to record some music, damnit! I just want one DAW that does everything I need, without getting in the way.
Right now, possible solutions are Presonus Studio One and Apple Logic Pro. I’m off to learn more about them both.