Studio Equipment

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This page attempts to answer the question, "What do I need to build a studio?"

If you can buy equipment from a local mom and pop DO IT! Try to get some of the purchase offset by in-kind on-air underwriting. You are also helping to support your local economy and that is where your funding is going to come from. Sometimes the prices are just too outrageous on individual items to make sense so look at it as a package deal.

Everyone has opinions on equipment. Some of that is audio preference, some is familiarity but this page should 'try' to stay based on fact and experience. There can be a LOT of snobbery around audio equipment and the 98% of your listeners and volunteers are not going to notice the difference. They are used to earbuds, iPods, and crummy digitally compressed music anymore. FM radio also has limitations in what it can transmit and reproduce for sound. Today's 'decent' stuff is still usually light years beyond the high end stuff that recording studios were running just 15 years ago.

Although this page applies to stations of all kinds, some opinions have been added in italics that apply especially toward community radio stations and their specific needs.


Studio Console

Also know as a mixer, this is the heart of your studio and is where everything is controlled.

Production Mixers

What you really want is a broadcast console, not a production mixer! In community radio, volunteers are going to mess up all of the settings on a production mixer and you will constantly be fixing them and chasing production pieces that sound like poor. On air you need simplicity so that you can quickly deal with changes and problems. This is exponentially more true with volunteers! Production mixers can be used as a stop-gap to get a station on the air quickly, or when funds aren't available for a studio console. When they are then replaced, they can be moved to a production room, or used for extra audio inputs for additional guest mics, or live music performances, etc. If you use a production mixer do yourself a favor and make a cover for all of the mic pre-amp and EQ settings etc. AND the main output fader(s)! They will get bumped and played with and you will be having to deal with it constantly. If you are really tight on cash, make sure to get a mixer that has a good, open source compatible, usb connection. You can use this connection as a high quality audio interface for your studio computer playback and input for your studio to transmitter link and web stream encoder until more funds are available for those also!

Broadcast Console

Broadcast consoles are a LOT more simple on the surface than a production mixer, but can actually be much more complicated under the hood. The key here is simplicity for use while on-air! These should have a single fader for each input audio channel. There is usually no output level fader, as this is set to simply give good output signal strength and prevent levels from being too high, and not adjusted again. There should be an on and off (or single dual function button) for each channel. Other features include a mix-minus channel for telephone input/output but this can be accomplished in other ways as well. An opensource compatible USB audio interface can also be a great feature in the modern studio and save the cost for a professional audio card in your studio computer. A tally control is also important so that you can trigger an on-air light whenever there is a microphone turned on.

My short list of broadcast consoles in order of price, NOT preference...
 * Arrakis Arc8 $800
 * Al Davis starting at $1300?
 * AudioArts Air 1 USB $1800
 * AudioArts Air 4 $3800
If you must use a production mixer I can't recommend the Peavey PV-USB series enough. Stay with
the PV-10USB or larger so that you get linear faders and mute buttons. The new offering from
monoprice.com also looks appealing and I hope to be able to test it soon.
~TFW

Audio Sources

Microphones

SM58

What an iconic mic! The SM stands for Studio Mic. That said, by today's standards it is known more as a stage mic. These mics work quite well for remote broadcasts. They have quite good resistance to handling noise for a directional. Some consider them to be really not suited for studio work. These are a good option for getting on the air quick with very small budget and can be re-purposed as good quality remote broadcast mics later. The dollars saved on the knock offs (everyone has one) just aren't worth it in my opinion. ~TFW

AT2035

This is a condenser mic and priced just a few bucks higher than the SM58. It is very lively with a quite flat frequency response for the $$. The real extra cost over the sm58 is that being a condenser microphone a phantom power source is needed. If your planned mic pre-amp, broadcast console, or processor has phantom power already it is not an issue.

RE-20

If you like this mic, go with the neodynium version! You really want all the extra output you can get from it. I have not been impressed with the RE20, I feel like the dynamic range just isn't there and they sound flat. Although a good mic, I feel that they are quite overpriced. WDRT has 8 of them. Because of how they mount, the bodies like to start coming apart. This is due to some hidden screws loosening and is fixed easily in a couple of seconds. It is very hard to get much color out of them as an on-air personality. The RE20-ND is probably my favorite high dollar dynamic mic with the Sure equivalent in second. ~TFW

Pre-Amplifier

Microphones have very weak outputs. Therefore, we need to use an amplifier to boost their signal to the level that all of the other equipment uses. This level is known as 'line level.' Some studio consoles and mixers have microphone pre-amps built in. For others you will need to add one between the mic and console. Condenser mics also need a voltage source known as a phantom power supply. Most, but not all, pre-amps and consoles with built in pre-amps are capable of providing the phantom power for condenser mics.

Microphone/Voice Processor

This is a device that is used to change the sound of the person speaking on the microphone. It can be a simple dynamic compressor that serves to give the speaker a bit more authority and presence, especially when speaking over music, to something that makes you sound non-human. Most microphone processors have a pre-amp and phantom power built into them. Some are capable of digital signal output. Check out the Open Source Radio project for an open source microphone processor that does it all!

Stands and Booms

CD Players

In general, MANY broadcast stations have had issues with slot loading CD players. It can probably be said that the ones that haven't are the ones that haven't tried one yet. Unfortunately the manufacturers have fewer and fewer tray loading models. There are also very few models that have remote start/stop capability that is almost necessary in a broadcast environment so that when you press the 'on' button at the console the player starts. The things to look for when shopping for a cd player for the broadcast studio are:

  • Balanced audio output
  • Remote start capability (this is from wiring NOT a handheld remote control)
  • Rack mountable
  • Dial or knob for quickly selecting the track number
  • Single play mode that will play one track and stop

Denon DN-C635

Perhaps the best CD player ever made for a broadcast studio. Unfortunately it is no longer in production :( If you can find a used one in good condition, BUY IT! ~TFW

Stanton C.402

Stanton is making better and better equipment all the time. As some of the older manufacturers are dropping certain products they seem to be entering those niches. This looks to be a friendly tray loading CD player with balanced audio outputs and remote start capability. Time will tell if the durability is there, but the price is quite reasonable. I would give this one a hard look, and can't wait to torture test one. ~TFW

Denon DN-501C

This is Denon's current offering with balanced audio output and remote start/stop function. Unfortunately it is a slot loading player. As stated above, slot loaders are usually nothing but trouble.

Tascam/Teac

Teac is now owned by Tascam. Tascam has been openly hostile to the opensource community with some of their products, policies, and statements. As an opensource community we should avoid their products for this reason. Fortunately it is easy as they have no current CD player offerings that stand out as being well suited for broadcast studio use. At this writing the only offering that meets the above list is a CD recorder/player and as such is VERY expensive.

Auxiliary Inputs

for MP3 players, Laptops, etc.

Turntables

Turntables have a low level signal and need a pre-amplifier like a microphone. Usually a turntable pre-amp will have an EQ adjustment (RIAA compensation) built in to correct for the way that the sound is intentially changed during the manufacturing process. This is necessary for 33 and 45 RPM materials but can be detrimental to 'some' 78 RPM albums. Many of the newer turntables will have this pre-amp and compensation built in, and some models allow you to switch it off or on.

Stanton ST.150/STR8.150

The 150 series is a great replacement/improvement for the good old Technics and built like a tank. They will bring a 78RPM to full speed in a quarter turn! They also have the weight to resist skipping when someone bumps the counter. But they are expensive. The 150 series can easily be modified for remote start/stop by the button on the broadcast console. This is one of very few turntables that has a head from the factory that is capable of using a 78RPM needle.

Stanton T.52 and T.62

The 62 is a good economy(not cheap!) table at a good price. The downside is that it can't take a 78RPM needle without changing the head, doesn't have anti-skate adjustments and does not have the weight or fast spinup of the 150 series. I have not had a 52 or 62 apart to see if modification for remote start is possible but would like the opportunity to examine one. It is well worth the money to step up from the 52 to the 62 and get the direct drive motor IMHO. ~TFW

Automation System

- depends on which system is used and how

Studio Computer

Production mixer

- this becomes a source for additional mics, guitars, etc.

Telephone system

Remote broadcast system

Audio Outputs

Studio Monitors

Studio monitors (speakers) can quickly become wasted money for a broadcast radio station and ESPECIALLY for community radio stations. You are NOT mastering the next great rock album and do not NEED 'reference' quality flat frequency response studio monitors. They also don't need to be 100 watts and ultra low distortion. This is not just opinion but fact. The purpose for studio monitors in a broadcast studio are simply for monitoring playback while not on mic, and for linear editing of production pieces. In a broadcast studio you do not spend time changing the 'sound' you are simply mixing volume levels while on air. Whenever the microphone is on the studio monitors should be off to prevent feedback. In community radio production, if you do need to clean up some audio during editing it is much more simple and cost effective to use a good quality set of headphones for those situations.

For community radio a good set of computer speakers, or old bookshelf stereo system works great.

Distribution Amplifier

Distribution amplifiers are very rarely necessary with today's equipment. Most of the broadcast audio equipment available has plenty of excess headroom and high input impedances, which means that relatively long cable runs and splitting an output to two or three devices is no problem at all. While there are a few cases where one might be necessary it is much more likely that what is needed is simply a two channel line amplifier if anything at all.

The move towards digital audio also means that there is less of a need for distribution amps, and with open source solutions moving audio around digitally becomes very inexpensive.

Headphones

Headphones Amplifiers/Splitters

Recording devices

On-Air Lights

These are not audio but important none the less.