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Vintage or new? A few words about the equipment...

Fot. Marcin Matuszak

Whoever does not blink at the sight of some old studio equipment, let him first throw Pultec. That's right, seeing something in an old box, a shabby casing, the mythical inscription "made in USA", 1963, our heart starts beating faster and we consider the resources in the wallet to be something so insignificant that we decide to get rid of them immediately and replace them with something listed above. Undoubtedly, the history contained in all these devices, their age, and origin are very appealing to our imagination. However, will we really achieve results that will be beyond our reach if we do not invest in these mostly expensive "toys"? That is the question.

Unfortunately, studio equipment and not only have it to themselves that they simply wear out. The passage of time adversely affects electronic components, and these mainly consist of various devices for pro audio use. In addition, the microphones have elements such as ribbons or membranes that, even after years, may no longer work as planned by the manufacturer when he left the factory walls. Undoubtedly, microphones such as RCA R44 or all kinds of Neumann represent the highest level of quality and sound, but under one condition, namely when they are in absolutely perfect technical condition. I skip such events as the microphone falling to the floor. There are microphones about which it is said that "if you fall on the ground, it's not worth bending down for it anymore" ;) Capsules and ribbons that are several microns thick are very sensitive to mechanical damage, too high sound pressure level, improper storage can cause irreversible damage changes in the characteristics of their work, and thus, compliance with the specification, we can simply forget. I am writing here about a case in which this microphone still works. Compressors, equalizers, preamps improperly maintained for years will be just dummies, something that is only the body of a great tool for sound processing, but without a "soul", a completely useless thing.

If you have a proven source from which you buy vintage equipment and you are sure of its technical condition, there is nothing to think about. Such equipment is probably the only option not to lose the invested money in the future. With time, such gems as the original UREI or Pultec's Eq, Siemens preamps, e.g. V72 or WSW, kept in excellent condition and factory specification, can only gain in value. Unfortunately, in most cases, I call such equipment more collectors than utility. An investment in a very expensive e.g. mono equalizer will freeze large funds for years, but unfortunately it will not cause crowds to suddenly start "bashing doors and windows" to our studio. It is a bit similar today with magnetic tape recording shrouded in a mystical aura. It is clear that if we have a perfect musician playing his part perfectly, we will use a great working microphone for the recording, a great working preamplifier and send all this to a working tape recorder, e.g. Studer, which is well calibrated for the tape used at that time, the sound quality will be simply stunning. However, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Maintaining studio equipment in good condition requires a lot of money, knowledge, specialists who will take care of it. Replacing the ribbon in an old microphone that has survived many times or restoring the magnet in which this thin aluminum ribbon operates is an absolute necessity for it to work properly and provide us with the highest quality sound.

However, if we do not have a large amount of free cash that we can spend on keeping our studio treasures in full technical condition, we do not want to waste valuable time looking for parts that are often missing on the market, we do not want to tremble with fear during a recording session that, for example, somewhere in something the signal disappears for a moment or registers distorted due to a defect of this or that device, let's choose new equipment. There are many perfect replicas of classic and damn expensive studio equipment in the world. Microphones are produced which sound boldly compete with old brands without ruining our budget. There are forums that offer us enough information and a given replica where we can find out before buying what other users think about it and what their experiences are. You can't forget about plugins that successfully replace analog constructions. These digital replicas also do their job and at the same time are almost completely free of the disadvantages of their analog "grandparents". For example, since I use the Studer A800 and Ampex ATR-102 studio tape recorder emulations from Universal Audio, I have completely cured myself of having a tape recorder and struggling with buying tapes, services, checking the condition of the heads, etc. I simply focus on work and efficiency and abandon the undoubted the excitement of owning these cool but not reliable devices.

To sum up: whatever the equipment is, new, used, classic, modern, well-known brand or some niche manufacture, it's good if it is fully functional. Plugins are not worse than analogs because properly used and set up they will also do the job and will be invaluable in creating the sound. New equipment can bring us the same excellent sound effects as a vintage classic, but it will do it at a fraction of the price. In addition, it has a manufacturer's warranty that provides us with peace of mind for some time. Good replicas of classics are so close to the original that they differ only by a hair. Let's face it, currently only a "golden ear" will distinguish the sound of a plugin from an analog, or a replica from the original, although I'm not entirely sure about that either. However, nothing that is expensive or that does not have a story behind it can replace the talent of an artist or producer. If you think you'll go to Abbey Road, for example, and just because of that fact you'll sound like The Beatles, you're sorely mistaken. It is the amazing imagination, knowledge and sometimes the courage of the creators that created the wonderful sounds of the albums that have gone down in history. Whatever equipment it is, it's just a tool that won't "make" a song for us.

Ps. Anyway, I wish you such financial success in the field of sound production, so that you can invest your funds in beautiful classics and treat them as a great investment, which they undoubtedly are because there are a limited number of them and practically every day there are less and less of them and the price is still rising.

Szymon Swoboda

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