I plan to review a bunch of recording equipment on this blog in hopes that I can help you in your buying decisions.
And I thought it would make sense to start with the stuff I own and use every day.
So here goes — my reviews of each piece of equipment/software I use to record.
Table of contents:
- Audio-Technica AT2035 large diaphragm condenser microphone
- Bluebird large diaphragm condenser microphone
- ElectroVoice N/D 257 dynamic cardioid microphone
- Realistic Radio Shack 33-1070c omnidirectional microphone
- Akai Professional LPK25 (25-key MIDI controller)
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface
- Acer Aspire Microsoft laptop
- Sennheiser HD280PRO headphones
- Harmon/Kardon HK395 Dell 7E840 speakers
- Addictive Drums 2 drum plugin
- Reaper digital audio workstation
Audio-Technica AT2035 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
I bought this mic years ago at the recommendation of an engineer friend in Nashville. At the time, it was a great buy.
For just $150, it’s the perfect mic for beginner producers, and Audio-Technica is a reliable name.
It has a switchable 80 Hz high-pass filter, which will cut out lower frequencies (like rumbling noises or unwanted bass sounds). And the -10 dB pad switch reduces the input level by 10dB, which is good for recording anything loud (like a screaming vocalist or percussion).
I use this guy on just about everything — vocals, acoustic guitar, piano — and he picks up nice sound. Of course, if you spend more money, you’ll probably get a higher quality mic.
But the AT2035 is a great place to start for DIY musicians on a tighter budget.
Bluebird Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
This is possibly the nicest mic I’ve worked with (sorry, AT2035). It captures clear and crisp sounds that I dare say are beautiful.
This thing will run upwards of $300, but I would say if you have the buck, you’ll get some nice bang. (Full disclosure: I don’t own this mic, I’m borrowing it from a friend).
It’s got a 100Hz high-pass filter and a -20dB pad for even more control over your audio recordings.
For those with a not-so-tight budget, I highly recommend the Bluebird.
ElectroVoice N/D 257 Dynamic Cardioid Microphone
Not on Amazon, but more details here
I took this mic off of a karaoke machine at Goodwill and acted like they were selling it on its own. The cashier asked someone how much it was — I think I ended up paying maybe a few bucks.
And because I got it at Goodwill, I always treated it like a no-good backup mic. I never gave it a shot. It just sat in a box somewhere.
But recently, I looked it up to see what kind of reviews it had. And boy was I happy with what I found. Engineers on the forum website GearSlutz.com (trashy name, classy people) praised it.
One person said the N/D 257 was better than the SM58, which is the standard for dynamic, hand-held mics.
“I did a A/B comparison with the SM58 and the EV 257,” this person wrote. “I was amazed on how much better the 257 sounded. The 58 was all mid range, while the 257 gave a much better representation of my voice.”
I don’t have an SM58 to compare my 257 to, but I’ll say this — I’m surprised by how good the 257 sounds. It’s clear and crisp and my acoustic guitar sounds beautiful through it.
They’re hard to find, but if you just Google it, you can find a 257A or 257B.
Realistic Radio Shack 33-1070c Omnidirectional Microphone
Not on Amazon, but more details here
I forget to mention, I bought two mics at Goodwill. This was the other one. I’m not sure I spent more than $10 on that trip.
Shure made the Realistic 33-1070c by request of Radio Shack. And this was their attempt at mimicking the ElectroVoice RE50/B, which is a $180 mic that has five stars on Amazon.
The only context I have for this mic is we once used it to mic a cajón for the recording/filming of my song “Work Hard.” And it actually sounded decent.
So if you’re in the market for a very cheap omnidirectional mic that sounds decent on percussion instruments, the 1070c could be a good option.
Akai Professional LPK25 (25-Key MIDI Controller)
After running into issues with my piano-tuning software, I decided to use my piano plugin, Addictive Keys, which lets me record real piano sounds with a keyboard. So I bought an Akai Professional LPK25 25-key MIDI controller for about $80.
And I love it.
The keys are smaller than regular keys, but still a good size for my fingers (which some have called “fat”). And you get two octaves at once with the option of shifting the octaves up and down the piano.
There is a sustain button that works like a sustain pedal, but it has taken practice working it with my pinky so I can play chords and the bass note(s).
This controller plugs into my computer via USB, and one thing I noticed is that the playback method you use affects the latency. So if I plug headphones right into my laptop, there’s a good amount of latency, which makes it nearly impossible to use the controller. But when I plug my headphones into my audio interface and use that for playback, there’s zero latency.
It’s a great little MIDI controller for an affordable price (and super fun).
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface
I’ve recorded almost all of my music through this little guy. I haven’t had any problems. He’s been reliable since day one.
It has two XLR/quarter-inch inputs, gain knobs for both, and a monitor knob for live monitoring. The sample rates are good too (192kHz / 24 bit). Plus, you’ve got two quarter-inch outputs in the back for a right and left speaker.
And here’s the awesome part — it’s only $150. I got this one at someone’s recommendation, and it was a great decision.
One potential downside is that it has only two inputs, unlike many interfaces that have 10 or more. This means if you need to record, say, drums, you won’t get as professional of a sound with two mics as opposed to 10.
But other than that one limitation, you’ve got nothing to worry about using this interface.
Acer Aspire Microsoft Laptop
Again, this laptop came at a friend’s recommendation, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s affordable yet efficient. Maybe I’m overly cautious or just paranoid, but the only thing I use it for is recording because I don’t want to clog up the hard drive.
With a 15.6-inch screen and 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of memory, I’m all set to record away (I have the Core i7-7500U, not the Core i5-7200U).
Definitely a good buy at a reasonable price.
Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphones
Another item some recommended to me. And again, a smart recommendation.
Sennheiser is a reliable and trusted name and for good reason. I’ve had these for roughly eight years and every year I appreciate them more. They deliver beautiful, balance sound. Perfect for editing and mixing.
At just $100, these are solid pair of headphones to start (and continue) using.
Harmon/Kardon HK395 Dell 7E840 Speakers
Okay, so I know these are not the best speakers on the market, but they were free. My brother picked them up at a garage sale and gave them to me. Like, you could grab these on Amazon for like $30.
But here’s the thing, when you mix, you should listen to the mixes on as many types of listening devices as possible. Your nice headphones, your average monitors, your earbuds, in your car. Everywhere.
Besides, I’ve heard people say if you can mix a song so that it sounds good on crappy speakers, then you’re golden.
So if you’re on a tight budget and want some basic speakers, these are a decent option.
Addictive Drums 2 Drum Plugin
I started using this drum plugin in 2017 for my new album, and I’m not sure I want to go back to recording my own drums (unless the arrangement screams for it).
I can drag and drop each and every single hit of the drum set, all pre-recorded by a professional drummer in a professional studio with professional engineers.
If you professional sounding drums on your next album, I highly recommend Addictive Drums 2.
I’m addicted to Reaper. I don’t need the expensive Pro Tools or the fancy Logic Pro.
Reaper is not only affordable (free download then $60 for personal use), it’s simple and does pretty much everything the big guys can do. At least, it does everything you really need it to do.
You can get your free download here, try it out, and just see what you think.
Hope this review helps! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll be updating this post as I get new equipment and use new types of software. I’ve listed the link to this post down below in the footer under “Musician Resources.”