Improving the signal chain

Out of curiosity, what microphones are you all using and on what sources? What’s your signal chain for these mics? I’m thinking of adding to my very modest mic collection for tracking my acoustic and electric guitars.

Lots of ribbons for drums and guitar amps- Coles 4038.

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My favourite mics that I own are:

  • Ev RE20
  • Beyerdynamic M201 and M88
  • Shure KM44
  • Michael July mod MXL 990

My favourite mic rentals for specific sessions:

  • Royer 121
  • Coles 4038
  • Neumann U87

I also often rent preamps when I need to do serious recording… otherwise I just use the preamps in my audio interface (which has changed a number of times over the years).

I have a few outboard compressors and things, but tend to record uncompressed/effected to digital and then add things after based on the piece.

I also tend to use all sort of things on all sources. Lots of experimentation… Generally I love the RE20 on bass, vocals, and low frequency drums… but have also used it for electric guitar, room ambience, and lots of other things.

The Beyer M201 is an amazing all around dynamic mic. Sometimes described as “if the SM57 was a real mic”…


More RIP comparisons please!

If you buy a really good pre it’s a one time for life purchase. After I got my Chandler TG2 I never looked back, it’s been used almost daily for over a decade now, and it always just sounds right. I tried a GML in its place once but still preferred the Chandler. I use it for loads of things, mastering (make up gain for the passive EQ), stereo DI for synths, stereo mic pre for all sorts etc. On the hardware front end side, good mics, good pres/DIs, good conversion, and you can’t really go wrong.


Happy to but it might be a little bit, got a few projects I’m trying to finish up before I go back to album mixing mode.

Own a pair, can confirm. So good.


here is a shootout of a few different things I’m exploring running a mix through. It’s all out of order (I’ll post as spoiler text or something in a few days mapping them to what they actually are) one is the raw mix, exported by ableton. one is the mix ran through uad’s oxide tape simulator. the others five are ran out of the interface, into veils, into rip, and then back in to the interface gain being brought up by one of five options:

  • uad clean preamp
  • uad ua 610 unison
  • uad neve 1073 unison
  • uad api vision unison
  • uad ssl e unison

In all cases (rip, preamp, tape sim) I tried to push inputs as far as they would go without hearing like real obvious distortion. no eq’s or comps on the channel engaged on the channel strip plugins that have them. I tried to gain stage the wavs I uploaded as close as possible.

Definitely curious to hear people’s thoughts. I haven’t decided what I’m actually gonna do for this record so I will definitely take people’s thoughts into consideration when I listen and make a decision. Also any mix notes or constructive feedback anyone wants to give me, feel free, would greatly appreciate it!


Anybody using the Overstayer Modular Channel or have some experience with this. There is a lot of good being spoken about this unit and I am almost ready to drop the cash for it but would love to hear from any peeps on lines using one as its my first piece of high end audio processing gear and I have a lot of hopes for it to put that finishing touch on my recordings before release. Just want some more insight into how this is a good decision :slight_smile:


Hello. I’m also in the process of updating my home studio. I’ve got a decent setup already (Chandler Germ pre, A Designs REDDI (2 channel), AEA TRP), UA Apollo x8 (decent amount of plugins). Decent mics…121, 414, some SDCs.

Working on a record with synths (keys and modular) acous/elec guitars, elec bass, piano, drum machines/samplers. Shooting for Thom Y meets Carrie and Lowell type vibes.

I’m looking to get a few more pres. I’ve warmed up to UA plugins in the last year or so. That being said, I still think even just an ok hardware mic pre will smoke any plugin I’ve tried. The technology just isnt there yet. Real mic pres just sound better and give you SO much more to work with once/if you do go “into the box”.

But…Im still obsessing about having a few pre flavors at my disposal. As well as a good colored EQ, and a colored compressor.

I’m leaning towards old, well regarded pres (512v, 1073), that I can also use with guitars, elec bass, piano. The CAPI stuff is indeed intriguing and I’m seriously considering buying a few “pre-made” 512 clones as my soldering skills are…just ok. And they’ve been recommended by a few different people I trust now. Even if I didn’t solder them myself they’d be significantly cheaper than even most used ones I see listed.

I love my REDDI (2 channel tube based direct box) for almost anything synth based, as well as with my Elektron Octatrack and Digitakt. Highly recommend it for anybody looking to warm up your synths into your interface.

Mainly unsure as to what would make a nice addition EQ and compressor-wise with synths?Though so far I’ve found that the gear I like for everything else, usually works just as well for synths. Again, mainly interested in options that can add character more than utilitarian, as I think plugins work well enough in that way.

Im considering a couple things:

EQ: API 550b (though now leaning a stereo set of CAPIs), Neve 1073LB, Kush Electra (this thing sounds kind of insane on guitars at least).

Compressor: Retro Doublewide, Distressor EL8x, or Fatso EL7. (Empirical Labs stuff just seems hard to beat for a first comp to get).

But I also really need to get some better monitors. I’ve heard great things about the Barefoot stuff for electronic music. But they are pricey. May have to go with some Dynaudio for now.

Thanks for any experience you’ve had with these or any other outboard gear you’ve used.


Based on some of the gear you listed that you have and are considering, you seem to have a budget for high end stuff. What about Elysia for coloring / character? Their XPressor is also a highly regarded stereo compressor. In a similar vein, I recently built up a pair of hairball audio lola mic preamps and plunked them in the small case from (they also could have some stuff that you might be interested in). These preamps are meant to be more transparent than characterful, which would put them in line with API 512, I think. To be frank, they’re probably too transparent for me to really tell anything, but I think they make a difference. I’d say in general, since putting them into service, my recordings are sounding cleaner, and fuller. That could all be in my head, however! At any rate, I’d venture to say that you are already light years ahead of a lot of the rest of us when it comes to a quality signal chain.

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Thanks for the reply. The Xpressor was on my radar for a while. I think it looks like a quality compressor, quite versatile, and QUITE affordable. But I wouldn’t necessarily put it in the “colored” category. More in the utilitarian side I would say. But I think it would thrive at that.

I’m pretty close to pulling the trigger on a stereo pair of Distressors. Just seems like the most affordable/versatile option for a stereo mix without going into insane $$$ territory.

Honestly I was pretty torn between the Distressors, a UBK Fatso, or a pair of Retro Doublewides. Fatso is tempting (2 channels…a little cheaper than 2 Distressors), but I’ve heard different opinions on whether it really qualifies as a compressor, or more akin to the Overstayer MAS2 mentioned earlier. So I think the Distressors will be a safer bet for tracking. But I do think the UBK Fatso would be sick on synths.

I’ve got a pair of CAPI on the way. If they are as good as everyone says, I’m pretty excited.

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Ive recently got a pair of the louder than liftoff mister focus modules that each have 2 colour card slots… started of with the Royal blue(neve-ish) and Implode(1176 recreation) cards.

And gotta say i really dig the vibe! Its my frist time playing with transformer stuff and the implode is actually really really gr8…ive never heard compression quite like it. its like it imparts a movement in the dynamic of the track…I can hear now why the 1176 is such a staple… Ive since ordered a bunch more of the colour cards like the tube one and an api transformer type and now awaiting delivery. I believe they are working on an SSL G comp card as well.

Its early days but I feel like these are a lot of fun and give you alotta different flavours of high end analog audio processes for a fun price to boot. Im probs gonna get some Chroma preamps eventually
as they have the colour slots too…

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Which CAPI preamps did you choose – they have so many different types!

I got the VP28. Looks to be their take on a API 512v. Very glad to have had heard about these being well regarded. A friend mentioned them to me early on in my quest and I forgot about them until reading this thread. Basically cost anyone less than half as much as their API equivalent. The quest for a true analog stereo recording channel (pre/EQ/comp) isn’t for the faint of heart. Ugh. But if these things are as good as their reputation I’m def getting two of the EQs next.

Truthfully, I am still torn on the right direction to go with the comps. And there is no lack of options these days. Honestly I’m looking forward to finally being done LOOKING, and back to making some music. Enough is enough.

The Xpressor IS quite alluring. Price is right. Size is RIGHT (2 spaces in my 8 space lunchbox). Honestly I was about to do 2 channels of the Retro Doublewide but then half my 8 space rack would be gone.

Tempted to just go that route for my stereo channel and then have enough loot left over for a SUPER colored/ more $$$ mono comp like the Retro STA or even the CL1B. The sound of those 2 (STA & CL1B) on elec bass is hard to forget. But I’m thinking I could just go for a Warm WA2A and I’ll be 90% there for less than 1/3 the price.

Sometime I need to reality check myself that obsessing about having the best Phillips head screwdriver is kind of insane. If you have a sound in your head, 9/10 you can make it happen by not worrying about where the real deal’s knobs are set compared to a cheaper clones or even the plug in. There are so many upsides/downsides to deciding about these things…at some point you just got to pick one and commit.

Like I said earlier. I’m pretty convinced at this point that the plug ins out there will get you 80-90% of the way there. But I still can’t help but hear that annoying elusive 10% on most mic pres and a few tube based things (LA2s, CL1Bs and the like). Luckily those very expensive comps seem to shine the most on vocals and bass. I play bass a good amount. But my singing can’t be saved no matter how much I spend on a comp. If on the other hand either of those two really shined on synths…likely I’ll go down that rabbit hole again once I’m getting towards the mixing stages.

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I recently read an old TapeOp interview with David Rawlings and Gillian Welch and the process for recording Time (The Revelator). In the interview, he recounts how he purchased an old BCM-10 Neve chassis and when they would come back from a tour, he would buy a module for it (Neve 1084). When they recorded … Revelator, he had not yet filled the chassis but they only needed 4 or 5 modules to get the job done so they were able to make-do. They recorded straight to 2" on a Studer A800 they pieced together over time. They used M 49 mics and a C37, primarily. When the album was complete, they mastered it straight from tape - no compression, EQ, etc.

Now, it helps to sing like Gillian and play like David (and have RCA studio B for your room) but that is amazing to me. Obviously, for an acoustic duo, this setup seems very appropriate and adequate but might not work for other genres or larger groups.

This just got me wondering if its time and money well spent to develop a great signal chain slowly rather than a more conventional approach (8-16 channels, generic preamps, generic EQs). I certainly don’t have $30-40k to roll up in a custom Neve console but I wonder if its worth it to start with a focused, high quality signal chain (even just 1 or 2 channels) than to expand too quickly. Maybe at the least, you know what you have is worth something if you decide to go in a different direction?

EDIT: To the question, has anyone consolidated their setup for a smaller, higher quality chain? Lessons learned?


I’d say yes.
That’s how i went with field recording gear, dividing the chain in parts and progressively buying for each part the “best” available stuff that fits my use case; trying to get first the parts that impact the signal the most significantly.
In my case, first microphones (and the mandatory wind protection accessories), then preamps, then recorder. I used some cheap-but-not-awful “placeholder” gear for months/years before upgrading them.
For studio gear, it might be a little more difficult to make firm choices on gear as there are way more options. But it might also be easier to turn to high quality DIY builds and the market is slightly larger (for resale as well as for buying used).

I guess it has been said before in this thread, improving the signal chain begins with great interpretation in a nice space. (this plus a properly placed pair of microphones and a top-end recorder is all that is needed (and used) for many baroque/classical recordings.)

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Yes, also, the first component is typically a microphone and quality comes at many price points (ie, an SM57). Maybe take a look at the specific chain, I guess.

For instance, my current typical setup:

  • SM7B
  • Chroma Preamp
  • UAD Apollo Twin converter
  • DAW (Ableton or Reaper)
  • UAD plug-ins

I could probably do well with a nice mic addition as I don’t own a nice condenser or ribbon (the SM7 will definitely stay in the collection). Then maybe look at a better preamp? The UAD converters should be fine for a while, I would think (maybe move to dedicated converters like a Lynx once I’ve got $3-5k wrapped up in a signal chain, if I ever get to that point). But even before changing converters, it seems like adding outboard processing in the form of analog compression would be the next step - at least for bus processing. The list goes on…

This is the hardest part. In some regards, the SM7B may be the right choice for someone with a limited or less-than-ideal room.

That’s cool!

I have listened to that stuff and it does sound great. But yeah, I think she could sing into a 57 and still sound amazing.

I read the same thing about Neil Young’s “Harvest” album (at least the songs done in Nashville). No compressors. I still don’t know if I believe that, as it just sounds like there is. But the engineer swears there wasn’t. Regardless, it’s def my top 5 sounding recordings of all time.

But I have found that the best/easiest way to get a good recording: nice space, quality instrument into a good mic, into a good preamp. If that’s going into an old Studer 2” tape machine…AND you are Neil Young and crew…yeah. It’s going to sound great.

Tape compression goes a long way. Sadly I’m too far gone with my DAW for that.

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Agreed on the tape. I think I also read that Neil took a lot of care in finding the perfect spot in the living room to record the acoustic guitar. Like, maybe in the middle of a doorway or something?

Either way, I think I’m more likely to hit the record button if I know it’s only going to cost me temporary space on a hard drive rather than $$$ worth of tape. But if I won the lottery…