All About Audio: What incoming AET students should bring to Belmont
Are you an incoming audio engineering technologies major coming to Belmont this fall? The following is a list of some key pieces of equipment and gear you’ll want to make sure to bring with you.
1. A Computer
Whether you’re a Mac or a PC kind of person, your computer is going to be one of the most important elements you bring with you to college. Beneficial for both academic work and digital audio work, your computer is an obvious and necessary thing to bring.
2. A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
The standard DAW that we use at Belmont is Pro Tools 12.3, and it’s a fantastic program (it’s not widely used in the industry for nothing). Apple’s Logic and Adobe’s Audition are both great DAWs as well – it really depends on your personal preference, but you will definitely want to get used to the layout and workflow of Pro Tools. If you want to get a head start on Pro Tools before taking Intro to DAW your freshman year, Avid released a basic edition of Pro Tools in 2015 called Pro Tools First that helps new users get familiar with its elementary functions. Click the link to above to get to the free download page. Who doesn’t love free stuff?
3. Monitors and headphones
You’ll definitely want to hear whatever you’re working on, so be sure to pack your best headphones and monitors. If you don’t have some already, great equipment can be found almost anywhere online. I recommend browsing Craigslist – you can find some great gear on there, especially here in the Music City. For good mixing headphones I’d recommend Audio Technica’s ATH-M40x or M50x. They’re overall very flat and have great isolation, so you can record with them without hearing that annoying click bleed in your mic.
4. Audio interface
Most headphones and speakers can be used right out of a 3.5mm port on your desktop or laptop, but for legitimate recording and playback purposes you’re going to want an interface. Focusrite makes great interfaces at good prices. A nice, portable, bus-powered interface that I recommend is the Scarlett Solo — the one drawback being unbalanced outputs, but that’s a lesson for another day. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, the Scarlett 2i2 offers an extra mic preamp. My personal setup includes a Focusrite Saffire Pro-40, which is great, but still uses FireWire, which has since been surpassed by Thunderbolt. If you can afford to get a Thunderbolt interface, it is worth the investment. USB 3.0 will work just as well since the comparative speeds are not that much different.
5. External hard drive(s)
Speaking from personal experience, having a backup of your data is an absolute must. Technology may fail at any time for no reason at all, so ensuring that your information is safe and backed up is vital. Glyph manufactures great external hard drives that are optimized for studio use – I own a 500GB Glyph hard drive and it’s been working great for almost three years now. For generic storage and backup, Seagate has a great line of USB 3.0 hard drives with massive storage capacity for good prices. I also recommend having a thumb drive on you at all times. I keep a SanDisk 128GB thumb drive on my keychain everywhere I go, because you never know when you might need to store important data or grab a quick backup.
6. Cables, instruments and microphones
High-quality cables will last you a long time, and low-quality cables will not. Spending a little more up front for good cabling will save you troubleshooting headaches later on down the road. If you are a musician on top of being an engineer, obviously make sure to bring your instruments, since you will have plenty of opportunities to record in your room. Along the same line, bring microphones that you’d like to use because the computer’s built-in microphone won’t sound so great comparatively. If you don’t have any microphones, you can find great, but cheap entry-level mics both new and used if you Google around for a bit. Again, spending some more up front will be more beneficial in the long-run, since it won’t need replacing as often as lower end gear will.
7. External computer monitor
Perhaps less important than the other items on this list, an external monitor is something I highly recommend bringing along. It’s nice to see your edit window on a 13.3-inch laptop screen, but it’s even better to see it in high definition on a 32-inch screen. Plus, if you have it set up so that you can use two monitors at once, your mix window can be open on one and your edit can be open on the other, increasing your workflow.
8. External keyboard and mouse
The last thing you want to do is feel cramped and restricted by the size limitations of your laptop (if you’re using a desktop you can skip this step, pass Go, and collect $200). An external keyboard and mouse can be really helpful in setting up a comfortable work environment. Bluetooth works great, but I prefer a USB keyboard and mouse since I like to switch between my laptop and my desktop fairly frequently, and switching one cable between the two is much easier than pairing and unpairing the devices each time I switch.
This is a list of the gear I like to use. Feel free to take some inspiration from this when getting your own equipment! I’ll be doing another write-up soon covering live gear as well, since audio isn’t studio-exclusive.
Computers: Macbook Pro 13.3” mid-2012 w/12GB RAM & 750GB SSD, Mac Mini 2016 w/8GB RAM & 1TB HDD
DAWs: Pro Tools 12.3, Logic Pro X, Adobe Audition CS6, Tracktion 6
Monitors and headphones: Presonus Eris 4.5s, JBL LSR308s, Fostex PM0.5 MKIIs, Audio Technica ATH-M40xs, Sennheiser HD-201s
Interfaces: M-Audio Fast Track (for mobile recording), Focusrite Saffire Pro-40, Digidesign 002 console
External hard drives: Seagate 5TB USB 3.0, Glyph GPT50 500GB FireWire & USB 3.0, SanDisk Ultra Flair 128GB USB 3.0, Avastor HDX 500GB USB 3.0
Microphones: Rode NT2-A, Shure SM58, Sennheiser e835
External keyboard and mouse: Apple magic mouse & keyboard, Apple wired mouse & keyboard
Other: OWC Thunderbolt 2 dock