Geared

Posted in hardware by szachname on 25 April 2018

A wise man once said "It's the ear, not the gear", but I can take it to the next level - "It's the ear and how you use your gear".

My setup can be considered to be a modest one if we narrow it down to budget. I only spent €4000. I am a pianist, and since synthesizers with key-beds are usually larger and heavier than "Albeton setups" or modular rigs, since I plan to easily travel with my gear I did not buy the top shelf products, but I focused on comfort, simplicity and something I can rebuy, if someone would pour beer on it. I also noticed that a lot of products which cost more are far more complicated and often require menu diving or focusing (like Elektrons or Dave Smith synths), yet they have much more to offer sonically. Anyway, the fact of using a piece of hardware already makes the sound superior to computer ones. I recently jammed in a professional studio with some excellent PAs installed in every corner, you could hear every little thing, hiss, bump coming from your gear, and I could not believe how cheap and shallow any bass drum or bass would sound, coming from my friend's Ableton setup. At the same time, every synthesizer uses the same techniques of sound shaping and routing (well, it is very similar at least), so I believe that if you spent time learning every little part of your synth, experimenting with different techniques, will lead to better results, than buying more expensive gear where you can achieve the same results by diving in more complicated menus. Also the compressors, mixer's EQ, this is what you should focus on, while the source should remain simple - like in jazz ensembles. The sound comes from instruments which have everything at hand, no hidden aspects, you not only play but also experiment, using it in a different way, than intended (eg. playing drums on a double bass case). Then, here is this guy sitting at the stereo sum, who can add spice, like reverbs, different EQ settings, add a compressor etc. In my case everything is done by a single person - me.

When I started playing techno and live electronic music in general, back in 2017, my knowledge of how things work club and dance wise, was very basic. I think I had a lot of self-confidence, frankly speaking. Every month when I play or not play, but simply hang around a turned on gear with a sustained chord, I learn that many things I did previously, were wrong partially or totally. I started minimizing my setup, focusing on using very little synths, to achieve a comfortable flow. I started using my mixer as a sound-shaping tool (the magic of equalization) by using the audio levels more properly. Then I noticed, that even a TB-3, which is a digital, very basic (limited controls) bass synthesizer, can sound unique, fat and juicy and be better, than a possibly overrated, Moog synthesizers. Yes, I wrote that :) Some synth freaks might consider it as heresy, however, every sound can be shaped and amplified in such a way, that without visual reference, just by hearing the sound, you might think - Damn, that must be a fine piece of bass synth. Now, I understand how the Ableton productions sound often so well - it's the engineering, the mastering process.

Keeping in mind, that complicated equipment leads to frustration and slows down the flow, and that learning and experimenting with your sound-shaping tools, like mixer's equalization, appropriate effects application, leads to a point, where not the number of gear matters, but the skill.

I stopped using the Arturia's Minibrute as additional lead synth leaving only one bass, one drum and one lead/pad synthesizer + ES2 as drum sampler and KP3+ for effects processing. I might limit it, even more, leaving ES2 out or the TB-3.