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Rebuilding My Studio From Scratch

Discussion in 'Your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)' started by JimmyPoppa, Aug 4, 2017.

  1. JimmyPoppa

    JimmyPoppa Senior Member

    Apr 28, 2010
    Las Vegas
    Hey Guys,

    I'm starting the process of stripping out my current project studio and building again from scratch. I'd like to know opinions/recommendations for what you would do if you had $10K U.S and an empty room to build a new studio.

    At the moment I have three old VisionDaw PC Computers (from 2005 and '08). I also have a LOT of old style sample libraries such as Sonic Implants, VSL, GOS, and many more like that. I have a very few of the more modern ones but I'm completely out of date.

    I have HR824 monitors, 2 MOTU 2408s, a Mackie 1642 mixer, a couple different mics, several MIDI keyboards, and like that.


    I've been an arranger/orchestrator for more than 30yrs and completely comfortable writing full scores and parts for live musicians up through a full symphony orchestra. I'm reasonably comfortable with Kontakt, Sonar, ProTools (a bit), and very fluent with Sibelius. My MIDI mockup skills are mediocre but I'm willing to work and learn.

    My music is Orchestral/Jazz/Musical Theatre. I have never written a film or game score. My arranging demo is in my signature if it will help.

    My goal is to create a new studio that will allow me to expand my options and keep up with the times now and moving forward. I am not emotionally tied to any particular brand or system and my budget is fairly flexible though not unlimited.

    So, the question is, if you were in my position and starting with a clean slate, what would you include?

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    Be Well,

  2. Gerhard Westphalen

    Gerhard Westphalen Senior Member

    Unless the VisionDaws are very powerful, I'd suggest replacing those with a single computer. Probably doesn't have to be a monster to beat those. I recommend the Dell XPS. Cheaper than building it yourself with an i7-7700 and 64GB ram.

    I'd suggest getting rid of the Motu and mixer and replacing those with a single interface. One of the Focusrite Saffire would probably give you a comparable sound quality but the simplicity of being a single device. If you want an upgrade then I'd go with something like RME.

    Those two things would end up being <$3000. You could get new monitors if you'd like but other than that I'd suggest investing the rest in software. Upgrading DAW, sample libraries, and plugins (depending on how much mixing you do). You can go with the popular companies like Spitfire, OT, and Cinesamples.

    This sort of core system would probably get you up to around $5000. If you're building the room itself from scratch then I'd suggest investing a considerable amount of the rest of the budget into the acoustic treatment.
  3. aaronventure

    aaronventure Member

    Apr 10, 2017
    In terms of CPU power, AMD is on the rise and the chips have great performance (for some chips, equal or 10% worse for half the price). Look into CPU comparisons and decide how much are you willing to drop here. Your CPU/RAM needs also depend on how much samples do you plan to have loaded in at one time, as well as if you'll be using softsynths.

    On top of getting a PC/MAC, do look into acoustics. This room doesn't look too big and it shouldn't be expensive. I reckon you can do at around $800 with GikAcoustics.com stuff. If you wanna build it yourself, it'll be much cheaper (get Owens Corning - density 48kg/m3 slabs).

    I think I see foam in there. Forget foam, foam is garbage and only masks the true problem which is low end decay. Even at decent thickness, foam will never go below 100hz, and everything upward will absorb up to a maximum of 75%. Fiberglass or mineral wool is the way to go. Pink fluffy if you have space.

    The first thing to do is to get the corners. Then get early reflects left and right, and the ceiling (ceiling looks like 1 panel's gonna be enough in terms of size).

    Proper acoustic treatment will have a much bigger effect on your mix quality than buying new speakers. Room this small, you can only go up to a point in terms of speaker power. I don't think getting anything more powerful than these Mackies will get you better results in this room. It's better to make them sound as good as possible.

    With that said, look into sonarworks.com studio calibration. I can personally vouch for their speaker and headphone calibration. They provide you with a calibrated omnidirectional microphone which you use to measure a mean speaker response at your listening position (takes about 10 minutes in total). The software then generates a correction profile which you load into the VST plugin, or if you use Systemwide, into the application so that all audio coming from your system is passing through that correction curve.

    But just to repeat, calibration won't mean THAT much if you're still monitoring in a room with a lot of decay and early reflections. Proper acoustic treatment, then calibration. So far we're at ~$1100(not counting computer parts).

    Haven't used the MOTU. All I ever dealt with was either RME or Focusrite. Can't go wrong with RME. But if your current setup can work, no point in wasting money.

    For VSTs, Slate Digital subscription is $15/month. That's the best deal you're gonna get in the entire industry. There's nothing more valuable than that at the moment, by a multitude of 10. If you want to buy their stuff, it'll cost considerably more (current total is $1400, which is 7.5 years of subscription) The only other thing I'd consider mandatory is iZotope Ozone. They currently have a Mixing bundle on offer for $500 which is a STEAL, as you get Ozone 7 Adv, Neutron Adv, Insight, Trash 2, Nectar 2. That alone can give you superb mixing results guaranteed.

    I personally cannot live without Fabfilter stuff, but that's just me.

    As for sample libraries, best head over to Sample talk. A lot of it depends on a personal preference. But you can get a full orchestra (percussion, woodwinds, brass and strings) for around $2000. If you can wait for November sales, you can easily get almost twice as much stuff for that amount.
  4. chillbot

    chillbot Forum Bot

    Feb 6, 2014
    La Canada Flintridge, CA
    Room treatment for sure... can you move the computer to another room or closet? Those 3 vision computers sitting there must be loud!

    We have had this "what to start with" sample library discussion before... hard to go wrong it's just amazing what you can get these days for the price. For $2,000 you can get Albion ONE, Omnisphere, and Komplete Ultimate. Holy shit that will keep you busy for a year! Or longer. Then when you learn how to use all that and get your production skills better and get your ears used to your new studio you can add to the orchestral samples later on.
    Farkle likes this.
  5. storyteller

    storyteller Senior Member

    Dec 27, 2015
    Here's a good starting point... Starting From Scratch, $20k . I know you are targeting $10k, but this thread has a lot of good info in it. :thumbsup:
  6. OP

    JimmyPoppa Senior Member

    Apr 28, 2010
    Las Vegas
    Thanks Guys for this great info. I will look into everything said here. Storyteller, will definitely check out that thread - thanks. Any other thoughts are also welcome.

    storyteller likes this.
  7. Publius

    Publius Active Member

    Jul 27, 2017
    Since I know more about computers than composing, combining and updating those old computers will position you for the future and reduce your electrical bill and fan noise. As to interfaces/mixers, I am partial to the most recent stuff from motu. They have a web based virtual mixer that is a beast to learn initially but really cleans up the desktop. Maybe $2000 for a nice powerful pc and another $1600 for a motu and you have a big improvement. I had some of the Mackie 824s, Mackie doesn't get much love among your pro types, but I thought they were nice. One thing, the 824 has some significant time-domain issues on the low frequencies due to its passive bass radiator in the back with lowers the resonant frequency. I have a couple dynaudio bm5a that I liked better due to the smoother high end and controlled bass due to closed box. Looks like these are no longer available new. I got some dynaudio bm15a monitors and did not like them at all--the bass reflex probably part of the problem there. My personal opinion is that for a nearfield, closed box is really important. Bass reflex look good on freq response charts, but at the cost of bass resonance and loss of control thereof. I see dynaudio has a new 5 inch nearfield, but sure looks like a bass reflex design to me, so of concern to me.

    Well, not saying this is the best, but I can only speak authoritatively about what I have used. Still way under the 10 grand level at this point.

    Don't know what you are recording, but recently I decided my home studio had more large diapgram condensers than I needed and no small diaphragm. Since I plan on recording instruments, I picked up a pair of lauten audio SDCs that sounded pretty good on solo violin-to my ears at least. So, if investing in better quality mics, I suggest considering SDCs and not just LDCs as I had been doing myself. Sold a couple of LDCs and came out money ahead.

    I have a thought here that beyond what I have suggested, it may be a good idea to upgrade a few things and see where you are at and how you like it. I find that if I do a big spend, I may make some sub-optimal purchases simply because I didn't have a firm idea where I was going, and then later I wished I had the money to get what I discover I want instead.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2017
  8. synthpunk

    synthpunk Senior Member

    Mar 3, 2015
    Hell's Kitchen-Orlando
    You need a salt and lava lamp and then everything else will fall into place after :)
    steveo42 and Silence-is-Golden like this.
  9. Publius

    Publius Active Member

    Jul 27, 2017
    No Persian rug? :0

    For a minute, I thought he owned the worlds smallest strat, but then I realized it was probably a book cover. ;)

    Oh, and Jimmy, might want to take a complete and systematic look at your samples daw and instruments to see what can be upgraded for a good price or perhaps completely replaced. For orchestral matters, others here are much more qualified to opine.

    If you like the Mackie and want to keep it, motu has some nice line-level only interfaces as well. If I had the room on my desktop, I would like to keep using a Mackie mixer--more fun to touch a real mixer than fuss with the web based one--but the web based mixer has many more configuration options.

    I keep thinking that if you have such an old setup and you have accomplished so much with it, it could be disruptive to replace everything at once. You did say 'clean slate' but I just wanted to mention it.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2017
  10. OP

    JimmyPoppa Senior Member

    Apr 28, 2010
    Las Vegas
    Thanks again everyone. All of these responses are very helpful.

    Be Well,

  11. wst3

    wst3 my office these days

    Apr 2, 2010
    Pottstown, PA
    Building a studio from scratch is a lot of fun - and a lot of frustration, and a lot of money, and a little more tearing of hair, and then you have a place that is perfect for your workflow. What's not to like?

    I don't know squat about your workflow, and I've only seen one picture of your space, so I can only offer very general thoughts. Here goes:

    1) address power - you need enough clean power to operate all your gear, and you need a good clean ground. There are dozens of solutions, the one that has worked best, for me, is a "separately derived sub-panel" fed from an isolation transformer, with isolated ground outlets. It's not terribly expensive, and any good electrician can get it set up.

    2) address HVAC and lighting - mostly you want to make sure that both are sufficient, and neither makes noise.

    3) address noise isolation - some folks tackle this first, heck, sometimes I address this first, but it appears, from the picture, that you may be limited in the steps you can take to mitigate noise, so we'll address the other noise sources first and then tackle this. One easy, cheap, and very effective step is to build a separate space for noisy equipment. You don't even need an fancy KVM switch anymore, you can do almost all of that in software.

    4) Lighting and Ergonomics - again there are some limits to how much you can do about this, so I'd probably worry about ergonomics before acoustical issues, probably easier to work around equipment placement than to place equipment to meet acoustical requirements, but you may need to flip steps (4) and (5).

    5) Acoustics - part 1 - placement of loudspeakers and ears. There are tools to predict behavior, but they take a while to learn, and they are not inexpensive, and if you aren't designing rooms for a living it probably isn't worth it. So just experiment. Place the monitors roughly where they are best ergonomically and listen. Move them in one axis or another and listen for changes. It usually doesn't take too long to find the best placement this way, although it can get a little tedious.

    CAVEAT - this, of course, assumes you've already settled on at least one set of studio monitors. If you haven't then you'll need to, but how do you pick monitors without a space to audition them? Beats me, this is one catch-22 I've never really resolved to my satisfaction.

    6) Acoustics - part 2 - by starting with placement you will probably have already addressed some of the geometry/dimensions issues that plague small rooms. Now it's time to address geometry, or more appropriately, "bad" reflections. There's been a ton of (conflicting) stuff written about this. Your ears are, once again, your best tool. I can write more on this step if you like, but I'm feeling lazy!

    7) Acoustics - part 3 - since you are not building the room from scratch you will need to mitigate low frequency problems with traps. Advice posted already is pretty good, that is, you'd need really DEEP foam to get the same effect as rock wool panels. And don't be afraid to use tuned traps as a last resort. The problem with tuned traps is that they can cause as many problems as they solve, broadband trapping is just easier.

    8) Acoustics - part 4 - not sure if your room is large enough to benefit from diffusion, but this is an often overlooked tool. And it doesn't have to be some fancy mathematically calculated grid (although they are cool), look for information on poly-cylindrical diffusors, they are easy and inexpensive to build, and they can work well in smaller spaces.

    All told, the work listed above should not cost you more than a few hundred dollars.

    At which point you can start to spend money on computers, libraries, and audio gear! And yeah, I have thoughts on those topics too!
  12. Markus Kohlprath

    Markus Kohlprath Senior Member

    Mar 3, 2013
    You apparently watched to much of junkie xl videos. Didn't you?
  13. mc_deli

    mc_deli Senior Member

    Feb 22, 2015
    I think the big decision is which DAW...

    If you are getting a new PC then your choice of DAW will impact whether Mac or PC. A new PC with new OS means it's not cheap to go with Pro Tools. How old is your Sibelius? Can you still upgrade?
  14. Publius

    Publius Active Member

    Jul 27, 2017
    The lava lamp and Persian rug are cliché items for many years, but the salt lamp definitely dates it to recently. I still want to know what sort of pc junkie xl is using to run that setup of his--has to be a monster of some sort.
  15. OP

    JimmyPoppa Senior Member

    Apr 28, 2010
    Las Vegas
    I have both Sib. 7.5 and Sib 8 (on different computers). Definitely questioning which DAW. Most familiar with Sonar but not wedded to it. Thanks.
  16. Wolfie2112

    Wolfie2112 Senior Member

    The last time I did an upgrade I bit the bullet and went to Mac, and was a 20 year Cakewalk user (from Cakewalk 20. to Sonar X3). I then moved to Cubase (which I preferred over Sonar) and Logic Pro. I honestly can't imagine going back to PC. No particular reason, just personal preference and it's kind of like using a big iPhone. So if you've been on the fence, now would be a good time to switch platforms and/or the DAW. You have a sweet budget, so you could get a nice Mac. And if that's the route you want to take, I'd hold out and see what's in store for the new Mac pro lineup. And as mentioned already, get rid of the mixer and buy a good, solid interface along with something like a Mackie Big Know audio control center (I love mine).
  17. mikeybabes

    mikeybabes Only the good die young....

    Essential Studio Equipment:

    4121492466.jpg mcmc.jpg
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  18. Farkle

    Farkle Senior Member

    Dec 20, 2008
    Philadelphia, PA
    Honestly, nowadays, they are all very powerful and responsive. I would say, use the DAW you're fastest with. I did television work with Sonar 6 back in 2010, and it worked fine for TV animation. Chillbot uses Sonar Platinum, and does a ton of TV work. So, if you're familiar with it, I say, try the 30 day free Sonar Platinum upgrade, and if you like it, stick with it.

    Regarding the 10k bill... if you put aside 2-3k, you can get a great, super powerful Windows 10 PC with 64 GB of RAM that will take care of all of your needs. Vision DAW makes great ones, so does Jim Roseberry at Studiocat; I think ADK also makes great ones.

    Make sure you get 1-2 SSD drives to hold your samples, they are immensely fast. I have 2 500 GB SSD drives to hold my samples, and they make a difference.

    Native Instruments Komplete Ultimate (1000 dollars) will really take you far, it has drum kits, basses, synths, a lot of samples, legitimate FX plugins, ethnic drums, very versatile. Supplement that with Omnisphere for 500$, (the world's greatest software synthesizer, with synths, choirs, strings, sound design, you name it), and you have a lot of core sounds to work with. So that puts us at 5500$ at the high end.

    Chillbot is right, getting a general orchestral palette like Spitfire Albion, or Project SAM Symphobia, is a sensible step. THey both sound great (I prefer Symphobia, chillbot prefers Albion, they're both good), and will give you a TV level palette. They're both about 600$.

    So, now we're at 6100$, plus the Sonar upgrade, and that will upgrade your computer and software to completely competitive places.

    The Motu's should be fine... if you want super low latency on your software, I would purchase an RME interface (maybe the Hammerfall, about 1000$). It's very low latency, fast response. Now we're at 7100$ or so.

    I like the Mackie's, some others don't. If it's working, stick with it.

    Lastly, please please please, keep all your old instruments/Cd's of instruments (Sonic Implants, VSL, etc), even if they're in Giga format. Many of them still sound great, and you can easily convert them to Kontakt, and add some free scripts to make them very competitive. I programmed the Dan Dean Brass to be competitive, and it was recorded better than most current brass out there. I retired my Cinebrass, Dan Dean simply sounds better.

    I hope this helps a bit. 10k is definitely a great budget to put out for a studio revamp; completely do able, and you'll be very happy with your new sounds and synths!

    Lastly, listen to Bill (wst3) and chillbot; those guys are studio gurus. :) I'm sure there are others on this thread, but I know them personally, and they have chops. :)

    Have fun with your new toys!

  19. chillbot

    chillbot Forum Bot

    Feb 6, 2014
    La Canada Flintridge, CA
    I prefer Albion for shorts and Symphobia for longs. Get both.
    Farkle likes this.

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