In addition to being a writer for Tech Dissected, I am also a singer, guitarist, and songwriter for the Grand Rapids, MI based band, Ars Nova. We recently decided the time had come to put together our debut record, so when the folks at M-Audio offered to loan me their Vocal Studio Pro home recording package for review, it seemed a perfectly serendipitous opportunity.
So, can a band manage to produce a record using only their instruments, a PC, and the contents of the Vocal Studio Pro package? It turns out that it can, and we did. In fact, our debut EP will be out on Google Play on Tuesday, October 21! But you, the readers of Tech Dissected, are the first to get a chance to hear a song from the record, a day before we will be previewing the full 3-song EP on October 16 on this Hangout On Air event in collaboration with My Music Hangout.
How did we manage to record a rock band, instruments and vocals, using just this setup? Well, contrary to the name, the Vocal Studio Pro was designed with more than just vocals in mind, and aside from using an electronic drum kit versus our usual acoustic kit, very few compromises had to be made. Let’s take a look at the contents of the Vocal Studio Pro package, and how we used it to make the record.
Included in the package are the following pieces of hardware: the M-Audio M-Track Interface (with USB cable); a large diaphram vocal microphone (with desktop stand, cable, and pouch); and a pair of M-Audio studio headphones. Additionally, the Vocal Studio Pro package comes with two pieces of software, Ignite by Air, and Pro Tools Express from Avid.
Ignite features over 275 instrument sounds which can be controlled with your MIDI keyboard controller of choice, and would be a great tool for solo musicians looking to produce tracks featuring multiple instruments. Pro Tools Express is a streamlined, 16-track version of Pro Tools, the industry-standard music and audio production software.
However, even if the iLok USB key copyright protection scheme for Pro Tools express wasn’t a total crime against humanity (and it seriously is, setup was a nightmare…) Pro Tools is the kind of program, à la Photoshop, that takes years to learn to use effectively. With only 60 days to review the product and do the recordings, I decided to use the Vocal Studio Pro in conjunction with a piece of software with which I am much more familiar: Adobe Audition.
With the recording environment determined, it was time to get to work. Setup of the Vocal Studio Pro is as easy as plugging it in to an available USB port on your PC. To achieve the lowest latency possible, though, it is recommended that you install the awesome ASIO4ALL driver from developer Michael Tippach. Instructions for using ASIO4ALL with your DAW of choice are included in the Vocal Studio Pro manual, so you should be able to get set up to record in no time.
The instrumental lineup of Ars Nova includes two guitars, a bass guitar, and drums. The guitars were no problem to record at all, thanks to the M-Track Interface including a standard 1/4 inch guitar/line input on each channel, in addition to the XLR mic inputs. The electric guitars and bass guitar were recorded through the M-Track in this manner.
For the acoustic guitar, we recorded it unplugged, through the condenser mic included in the package. This mic sounds fantastic, considering the relatively low price of the Vocal Studio Pro, and works for recording acoustic instruments as well as it does for recording vocals.
It was only in recording the drums that we encountered any issues. Normally, when recording an acoustic drum kit, you would mic up the drums individually with a full set of drum mics, so that each part of the drum kit can be mixed and EQ’d individually. Even if we had a good set of drum mics, the fact that the M-Track Interface only has two mic inputs means you would need to record the drums at most two pieces at a time, rather than getting the full performance in one go. Definitely not ideal.
In the end, we instead used an electric kit, with the full output of the kit on a single channel, going to the line in on the M-Track. Also not ideal, seeing as this puts all the drums on one track, with no ability to mix and EQ the individual pieces separately. This makes getting a decent overall drum sound quite a challenge, but in the end I’m pretty happy with the drum sound we managed to get despite the setup.
Recording the vocals, the primary intended purpose of the Vocal Studio Pro, was a much simpler task. This is thanks in large part to the excellent (if just a tad bit bass-heavy) studio headphones included in the package, which make it no problem at all to hear both yourself and the instruments clearly while recording. The headphones are also fairly comfortable to wear, but are just a bit on the tight side, so if you have a rather large head, you’ll want to keep that in mind.
All in all, the Vocal Studio Pro is a great package for the price. You can find it online for around $200, and this puts recording your music within the reach of nearly any band or performer. If you’re a musician on a budget looking to make a record of your own, the Vocal Studio Pro can make it happen. Highly recommended.
And now, without further ado, the premiere of I’ll Get By by Ars Nova from EP1.