While some may argue about the number of units that can be called “essential” to have, the list can be as short as three units. But we advise you to have at least 6 basic units (excluding rack) and give a solid amount of thought about whether you should invest in purchasing a multi-FX processor instead.
The 8 Essential Rack Gear for Home Studio
No rack gear is capable of working effectively on its own without a properly chosen rack. When you’ve weighed all of the options and you’re totally solid with your choice, you can start a thorough search for the gear.
There is no solid ground about whether it’s better to have a multi-FX processor or 6 rack mount units at home, as every music producer has to make that decision on their own. Our general advice would be to start with what your music composing routine, needs, wishes, and budget. Having decided on that, everything else would be a piece of cake.
The first thing that you need to obtain before going fancy is a rack itself. Here, you should choose depending on the way you commonly record your music, minding your budget.
If you travel from place to place and tour a lot, it’s better to pick a 500-series chassis as it’s lightweight, portable, and can host 500-series gear. If you’re mostly a home-based music producer but operate from a tiny studio, you can also choose a 500-series chassis or an on-top basic studio rack. But if you don’t have any limits in terms of space, you can check out standard or premium 19″ racks.
While scrolling through various options of racks, you should remember that setting the rack in the right way is equally important as choosing the right one.
So, firstly, you should check the material that the rack is made of. There are plenty of options to choose from, which include various types of wood, MDF, and steel. Objectively speaking, you should make your choice based on durability and design. If no rack steals your heart, you should know that you can always make one by yourself or contact a master that would do one based on your specifications.
After you’ve made your peace with the rack material, pay attention that the rack should have enough free space in the back of the gear for any cables or connectors. Then, you have to set the most lightweight gear on top of the rack and the heaviest on the bottom. In addition to that, as gear tends to be heated, you should have enough free space so that the equipment would not be overheated and so its lifespan will be longer. As a final point, the rack should have convenient power and illumination options so that you would manage cables swiftly.
As we talk about essential rack gear, it is a good idea to have a few preamps of different types to have the best sound possible. You should have at least one preamp that adds color and make any of your recordings sound from intimate to large. There are numerous manufacturers that present you with options that add different types of coloration, so you can choose in accordance with your taste and budget.
On top of coloration, you should have one or more preamps that give you a transparent sound. Especially if you’re a multi-style composer, you know that some styles value as transparent audio reproduction as possible.
Not only do preamps differ in sound reproduction, but they also vary in circuit design. So, it would be much more beneficial for you to have one tube preamp, solid-state, and maybe digital too.
Next, after you purchase one or several preamps, you should choose an audio compressor. The first criterion is a form factor. Audio compressors are divided into 500-series, tabletop, or rackmount. Choose in accordance with whether you have any limitations by the studio size or you can roam free.
After you’ve decided upon a form factor, you can concentrate on which circuit type of compressor you need, as there’s plenty to choose from, and each of them does compression in a different way. Variable gain compressors decrease the overall level of the signal and add a bit of harmonic distortion. FET and Diode bridge compressors provide you with non-linear compression, which gives plenty of character through harmonic distortion. If you opt for compressors that give you from transparent to very transparent sound, you should check Opto and VCA compressors, along with pulse width modulation compressors.
The next step is choosing EQ for mixing and mastering. Here, as in many other sections, you should start by choosing the form factor. When you’ve sorted that one out, we can proceed with the next phase of combing through types of EQs. Before getting into specifics about the differences between various types, you should decide whether you need a universal and highly versatile EQ, or you’re looking for something unique, or you can spend a bit extra and have them both.
If you’re looking for a tool capable of precision and surgical work, you should pay attention to parametric or semi-parametric EQs. These EQs can be easily controlled by the user and have a lot of knobs and a few sliders. The difference between parametric and semiparametric EQs is that the first ones are capable of controlling the bandwidth, while the latter doesn’t.
If you need a powerful workhorse that is capable of controlling up to 31 static bands for the channel, you should check graphic equalizers.
Aside from choosing the form factor of the reverb unit, we would like to center your attention on how many effects you plan to use during the recording stages. As you know, there’re plenty of types of reverbs that differ from one another by the way they change the sound. In order not to bore you with information that you already know, you should stick to those types that correspond with the musical material that you compose on a daily basis.
Of course, if the budget allows you to spend a bit extra to have a versatile unit that has absolutely all types of reverbs, do it. If not, make sure that you have the basics of chamber, room, hall, spring, and plate.
The principles of choosing delay for your studio are very similar to picking reverbs. There are three basic types of delays that you’re interested in, such as analog, tape, and digital. The difference between them is in the amount of echo and character that they add to the sound.
Tape delays give you a warm and fuzzy sound with some feedback trails that are gradually more distorted. Alongside that pleasant vintage sound, you get the full spectrum of noises and other analog unpleasantries, as no tape has ever been precise.
Analog delays give you sound that is somewhat similar to tape but is much darker and is capable of accurately reproducing short echoes. Also, this type of delay can be used for slapback.
Digital delays give the cleanest sound possible, and sometimes they can be a recreation of vintage tape or analog units.
As with any other gear, there are several types of limiters that you need to choose from. RMS limiters are responsible for getting the absolute maximum performance of the speakers while preventing coils from burning. Clip limiters help you with controlling the level of the signal so that it won’t go over the top, though it’s capable of distorting the signal quite a lot. Peak limiters are stopping the peaks from getting the unit. And multiband limiters are capable of dividing the signal into several bands and applying limiting only on frequency ranges that have certain issues.
Also, limiters can be coloring that change the tone of the sound and transparent that don’t apply any changes and can be used on the mastering stage.
If you’re on a tight budget or operate from a tiny space, instead of getting to know all the nuances of each of the units, you can choose one multi-FX processor. Here, the key factor aside from price is how many effects you need, which vintage gear it’s emulating, and whether you need it for live gigs or recording at the studio. In the majority of cases, you’ll stumble upon a unit that’s built like a tank, is a thorough recreation of one retro gear, and has a variety of effects to choose from.