from going into the red, but it can bring the
softer and louder levels of an instrument
closer together, and help them to stand out
in the mix. It’s especially useful on vocals and
other acoustic instruments, and can help glue
an overall mix together. Budget-conscious
versions come in mono, two (or more) channels, and stereo versions. Some two-channel
versions can be linked in stereo. Alesis’
3630 and FMR Audio’s RNC (Really Nice
Compressor) are great affordable options,
along with several dbx models.
For every microphone you use on a session,
you’ll need a mic stand. Boom stands make it
easy to place a mic where you want it, especially those with telescoping booms. Tripod
bases can support more weight on the boom
arm, but be careful to always position one of
the legs under the boom arm to prevent the
stand from tipping over.
It is amazing how a mic cable can improve or
degrade the sound quality of your recordings,
even if it’s a short cable. This is not the place
to skimp if you care about sound. Have at
least one pair of good quality cables. If you’re
recording vocals, get a pop filter. It’s a good
idea to have a bunch of audio adapters: 1/4”
stereo to 1/8” stereo phone plugs; XLR to
1/4” phone plugs (male XLR and female XLR);
RCA female to 1/4” male plugs; and a Y-cable
with a 1/8” stereo plug on one end that splits
into RCA plugs. As manufacturers cram more
features into small boxes, the 1/8” plug is
becoming more common.
Although most interfaces have 1/4” D.I. inputs
(direct input on the US side of the Atlantic,
direct injection on the other; it’s often referred
to as “going direct”) to plug in electric guitars, keyboards, and other electronic instruments for mic-less recording, it’s a good idea
to have a direct box. Make sure to buy one
with a ground lift switch to deal with ground
hum problems that can arise when taking
signal from the instrument directly and from
an amp at the same time. Many records have
been recorded taking the bass guitar direct
only. These days, guitar is often taken direct,
so as to process the sound through software
virtual amps and effects, or to “re-amp” later.
Pro users favor units from Countryman, Radial,
and Whirlwind, among others, and there are
tube versions available as well. You should
also have a few three-prong to two-prong
plug adapters to solve ground hum problems
with guitar amps (and other gear), especially
with vintage amps that may or may not have
functioning ground lift switches.
If you want to record different microphone
signals to one track in real time, you will need
a mixer. If you want to equalize a signal before
you record it, you’ll need an outboard equalizer or a mixer. Of course, these things can be
done after they’ve been recorded, but having
a mixer can make things easier. Even if your
interface only has two mic and two line inputs,
you could plug the left and right outputs of a
mixer into the line inputs and record a set of
drums live to two tracks.
In a professional studio, the mixer is the hub
of the control room that, among other things,
allows the engineer to send the mix to different sets of speakers and control the volume.
This feature alone has spawned a new category of gear: monitoring stations. These can
range from simple, external volume controls
so you don’t have to hover over your interface
to submixers, multiple speaker pair selectors
with mute, dim, and mono controls, to multiple mix outputs with sample rate converters.
Rather than buy a complete console, you can
buy a channel strip that can combine a mic
preamp, EQ, compressor and output control.
Some have extra features, like an additional
de-esser and output limiter. If you’re only
intending to record one thing at a time, this
can be a useful addition.