I've often been asked to talk about what equipment I use, or make a video tour of my studio. I've been hesitant to do so because things have frequently changed over the years - I used to acquire and jettison used gear on Craigslist on a near monthly basis. More importantly though, when it comes to creative tools, I've always believed that it's not what you have but what you do with it.
That said, having spent all of 2014 on the road with absolutely minimal kit, I've pushed far past my fever for trying new toys and instead have been whittling down to just the items that provide what I most need. Today I want to share my top 7 home studio essentials:
1. Shure SM7B.
I bought this mic before going abroad because a friend of mine was raving about it - in particular, how it was better than anything else at picking up what was in front of it without a lot of ambience from the room. It has since become my favorite mic for vocals and acoustic guitar. The sound is clean and sweet, as long as you have a good preamp, which brings me to...
2. Universal Audio Apollo Twin + UAD plug-ins.
The Twin is everything I need in an interface right now - great sounding preamps with lots of clean gain, and it powers the UAD plug-ins that I use on literally every project. They've got my favorite vocal compressor (the Teletronix LA-2A), an awesome selection of reverbs, and I've used the Precision Mastering Series to put the final touches on everything I've produced for the last decade.
3. Tannoy Reveal 802 Monitors.
I think the 802s are the best monitors in their price range. In fact, they've replaced a pair I had which were significantly more expensive. The sound clarity is impressive, and the bass response is super solid. As an added bonus, I really like the Monitor Link feature which saves me from some cable-related annoyances.
4. Ableton Live.
If you're doing anything more than just basic multi-tracking, Ableton should be your DAW. It's touted mainly as a tool for electronic musicians and DJs, and there are certainly features which make it particularly useful for musicians in those camps, but having worked with about ten different recording programs I can vouch for its absolute dominance in just about every area. It has the most flexibility for playing with sound, and tasks can generally be performed faster than any other software doing the same thing.
Every studio needs it. I've got sound blankets hung up like curtains which I can pull across every wall of my room, and a thick rug on the floor.
I also use a RealTraps Portable Vocal Booth for extra absorption when I'm tracking vocals. You don't necessarily need the fancy stuff though - everything I recorded while traveling last year was done with makeshift padding that did the job just fine, from couch cushions to old duvets to an adult-size mouse costume. (Search #huangmobilestudio on Instagram for a look at some of my more interesting setups. And if you want to hear the results, I'm talking about all of my vocals on Comet, Alloys, Last Lights, Interplanetary, and Food & Drink.)
6. Ikea Bekant sitting/standing desk.
Maybe I'm just getting older and my back can't handle it anymore, but I feel like this desk is changing my life. I can push a button to adjust it to the perfect height for typing, which is actually different from the perfect height for hitting drum pads. And while standing to do vocals, I'm not hunching over between every take to do all those fiddly computer things you need to do between takes.
As you can see, I've also started to keep a minimal color scheme, which I find helps with mental focus. It's pretty much monochrome, but the gold accents remind me of sunlight and keep things from feeling too bleak when I'm shut away in here for days on end.
7. Teenage Engineering OP-1.
This is the latest addition to my setup - I've actually only had it for a month - but I already know it will be with me for life. This beautifully designed all-in-one synthesizing + sampling + performing + recording device is the most inspiring little tool I've ever worked with. It provides endless sonic possibilities, but also limits you to the kind of workflow that forces you to focus on making musical choices rather than technical ones. Even when you have to do something boring like cut and paste a loop for 16 bars, the shiny graphics and satisfying push-buttons keep you excited to work.
What are your essential gear picks? Leave a comment and let me know!