Pro Audio Equipment for Recording Studio-Caliber Music Anywhere

Condensers, compressors, future-proofing, and sound-proofing—Berklee professor Benny Grotto has plenty of ideas for how to build out a personal recording toolkit.

April 14, 2022

Even though he co-owns and operates one of Boston's leading recording facilities, Benny Grotto knows the value of a quality remote recording rig.

"With today's recording budgets, it's often necessary to bring a compact, great-sounding setup to an artist's home or rehearsal space to record overdubs, after laying basic tracks in a proper studio," says the assistant professor in Berklee's Music Production and Engineering (MP&E) Department, a Boston Music Award winner who has worked with artists from Aerosmith to Weird Al. "It's also fairly common in my work to travel to and from my commercial studio, Mad Oak, with gear that I keep at home for the mixing work I do there, so ease of transportation is always a consideration when I'm looking into new gear purchases."

Headshot of Benny Grotto

Benny Grotto

Image of James Jay Fortin

The fact is, hybrid production approaches such as these have become nearly ubiquitous among professional producers and engineers—not to mention the pros who now do their work almost entirely outside of the studio. The growing popularity and possibilities of remote production are what led the MP&E Department to launch its new independent recording and production major, which trains students to produce professional-quality music outside of a traditional studio environment using their own personal recording toolkit.

At minimum, this toolkit consists of a computer with a suite of recording software and plugins, an audio interface, a set of microphones, and a pair or headphones. However, the possibilities for customizing and expanding on this framework are just about endless. So we asked Grotto to tell us about some of his own favorite pieces of remote recording gear. Here's what he said:

A Great Large-Diaphragm Condenser (LDC) Mic

"Every recordist needs a workhorse mic, and LDCs cover a lot of sonic ground, from vocals to drum kits. There exists a wealth of high-quality options these days, but brands like Lawson, Heiserman, Peluso, and others make it easy to put together a world-class recording rig on a comparatively low budget (in particular when compared to what was available even just 10 or 15 years ago). There’s often a temptation to skimp out and opt for a lower-priced option, but this is a particular area where you really get what you pay for. Saving a few extra hundred bucks to put towards that more-expensive mic is money well-spent."

A Great Stereo Pair of Small-Diaphragm Condenser (SDC) Mics

"When an LDC won't get the job done, an SDC usually will. And given their proclivity for instrumental recording, it's generally a good idea to have two! This will cover transient-heavy sources like percussion, acoustic instruments, and beyond. I look to brands like Miktek and their incredible C5, or to Rode and their outstanding TF-5 for reasonably priced tools that I use daily in my work."

A 500 Series Rack

"A 500 Series rack is a specialized enclosure featuring multiple slots that provide power and I/O [input/output] to a variety of modules, ranging from mic amps to multi-effects processors. I like larger (8–11 space) sizes, because they offer a degree of future-proofing when the inevitable 500 Series addiction takes hold. It's a perfect format for the recordist on the go: portable, affordable, and high quality."

The AudioScape 76D Compressor

"The Urei 1176 is widely considered the best FET compressor on the planet, spawning dozens of knock-offs—both analog and digital—and so-called ‘clones’ by scores of companies. The AudioScape 76D is the best I've heard, hands-down; at least, the best I've heard that doesn't require $5,000 or so to snag up a vintage unit in good working condition. FET compression is a great way to tame peaks on virtually any instrument, but is particularly associated with outstanding results on drums, bass, and vocals. It’s a relatively simple-to-operate, great-sounding, and versatile piece of equipment, making it ideal for recordists with limited space looking for a reliable means of dynamics control."

Acoustic Treatment

"Not the sexiest investment to make, but arguably the biggest bang-for-buck. As the saying goes, ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ The best signal path in the world can't fix bad room acoustics; in fact, they'll usually only reveal them in all their gory detail. Having an assortment of spot treatments is critical for both listening and recording spaces. Companies like GIK offer great premade options, but it's not too hard to build some DIY acoustic panels, or even just buy a bunch of packing blankets to hang on mic stands."

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