Studio Hardware Walkthrough

In this post, I detail the physical hardware I use for my desktop studio setup. Rack, mixer, music devices, audio interfaces, audio analyzers, monitors, speakers, power supplies and desktop configuration.

Rack

The rack is custom-built from two red IKEA tables. I stacked them and keep them in place with two “L” brackets. I then installed rack rails, cutting the metal rack rails with a dremel tool.

At the top and bottom of the rack shelves are hangers to hang headphones. The bottom portion of the rack shelve holds a storage box used to store wires, headphones and other studio-related things. Next to the storage shelf is the sustain pedal (on the floor obviously)

Power

Power is supplied by two ADJ PC-100A’s (labeled “Power 1” and “Power 2”). These are used as surge protectors, power splitters and for easily turning devices on and off. For instance, both “LG 29″ ” and “LG 34″ ” monitors are turned on or off solely by the switches on “Power 1” instead of having a screen saver or auto-sleep function. “Power 1” is also the sole on / off switch for the rack light, “Rack LED”. These physical switches are one of the best things about the rack setup.

At the bottom is a LiveWire PC900 (labeled “X-Touch”). The PC900 acts like the PC-100A’s above with the exception that it also “conditions” the power. Having a power conditioner in a modern studio is not needed. However, my apartment (from the circuit breaker) has some kinda’ dirty power issue… it effects no other devices except the motorized-touch sensitive mixer, a Behringer X-Touch (“X-Touch”). So the PC900 is used solely to power the mixer.

Audio interface

The audio interface for the desktop (“Neocomp”) is a Tascam US-322 (“Tascam”). Audio going out from the US-322 is fed back into itself to allow Reason to record its own audio, audio from anything else happening in the computer and allows the some of the spectrum analyzers to function. An XLR cable is also connected for the microphone for recording vocals.

I placed a strip of console tape and marked a position on the massive line out knob . This knob needs to be placed exactly as it is so that the RCA Dimensia (“Dimensia”) and other devices always display the correct levels.

Audio splitter

Before audio can be routed, the output needs to be split. To avoid audio levels dropping, a semi-real-world analog to Reason’s Spider Audio Splitter / Merger is used; a rare half-rack Ocean Matrix OMX-7020 audio splitter (labeled “Output Split” / “OMX-7020”). It splits one stereo RCA audio source out to 5 (powered) stereo RCA audio sources. (Why I use RCA cables instead of 1/4″ towards the end of this linked article.)  The audio output from the Tascam US-322 (“Tascam”) goes into the “Output Split” to the Teac PB-64 (“Patch Bay”) and, from the patch bay, then is routed to Behringer MS20 (“MS20” / “Behringer”), RCA Dimensia (“Dimensia”), Samson C-Que 8 (“Headphones” / “C-Que 8”) and the Teac EQA-22 (“EQA-22”).

Patch bay

A Teac PB-64 (“Patch Bay”) is used as the patch bay. The audio cables have been painted green to better match Reason’s cables. The patch bay is used to more easily connect and disconnect connections without having to craw behind the rack.

Speakers

Behringer MS20 speakers (“MS20”) are mounted on speaker stands. Most of the audio is handled via headphones and turning audio on or off from the speakers is done via the power switch of “Power 1”. The speakers are very important for auditioning sounds with moderate bass.

Headphones

Headphone audio output is handled via a headphone splitter, a Samson C-Que 8 (“Headphones” / “C-Que 8”). This allows multiple headphones to be connected. This means audio doesn’t lower when additional headphones are connected. This also allows independent control of headphone levels, which is very important. The main headphones I use are a pair of Sony MDR-7506.

The Teac EQA-22 (“Headphone EQ”) is used as an EQ for the headphones. The EQ is not turned on for music production but for gaming.

Stereo meter

The RCA Dimensia (“Dimensia) is a vintage amplifier but it’s not being used as an amplifier. It’s being used solely for stereo metering. The desktop monitors are suspended via heavy-duty monitor arms and this allows the “LG 34″ ” monitor to hover over the Dimensia.

Spectrum analyzers

There are three spectrum analyzers. The first one is the Behringer BCR2000 (“BCR2000”). The BCR2000 is normally just a universal control surface, but I created a custom mapping layout, setup with the virtual rack within Reason along with the hardware of the physical rack, to make the BCR2000 become an 8-band spectrum analyzer for all audio going to or from the studio (not just Reason’s audio).

Mounted to the rack is a Behringer X-Touch Mini (“Spectrum”). This device is setup the same as the BCR2000, functioning as an 8-band spectrum analyzer. The reason for two spectrum analyzers is for viewing the spectrum from different angles. For instance, when standing or sitting at the studio, the rack is not visible yet the BCR2000 is. Or when sitting at the couch or kneeling by the rack, the BCR2000 is not visible yet the X-Touch Mini is.

The X-Touch Mini also has a few other important features. It comes with a sequencer so a song can be controlled directly from the rack, which is useful when kneeling or making changes behind the rack.

The other important feature of the X-Touch Mini is its single fader is mapped to switch which spectrum is displayed; all audio or just Reason’s audio (important to verify no changes to the physical rack setup has changed loudness levels). This is also linked to the Flower Audio Loudness Meter, making it so I can compare the loudness levels of any source of audio going in or out of the studio.

Located in the rack is the Teac EQA-22 (“Headphone EQ”). This device also has an 8-band spectrum analyzer. This device functions as the third spectrum and only displays direct audio output, useful as any discrepancies between spectrums means a problem in the signal chain has happened (unlikely, but still useful).

Behind the rack

Behind and inside the rack is a light (“Rack LED”), controlled by a switch on “Power 1” which is helpful when having to get behind the rack.

The side of the rack has walls that are removable via Phillips screws. The walls were made from the transparent plastic panels that are used for overhead lighting, cut to shape and spray painted black. I installed walls to make the rack look less cluttered since it’s placed in the corner of the living room. The side of the rack that is closer to the wall has no side walls because it’s not visible.

When something serious needs to be done with the rack, the rack itself can be moved out from the desk a few feet and the walls removed in less than a minute. But because of the patch bay, this only has to happen when adding, removing or rearranging devices. Normal connections are mostly handled via the patch cables.

Mixer

The mixer is a Behringer X-Touch (“X-Touch”). The X-Touch replaces the Behringer BCF2000 mixer. The map layout’s been heavily modified, by myself, in order for the mixer to work correctly with Reason.

The mixer is configured to control every aspect of Reason’s mixer, including insert (Combinator) patches. Most of the sequencer’s functions are controlled via the X-Touch, including functions like undo and redo.

The digital scribble scrips aren’t visible when the mixer is laying flat on a table, its intended position. But positioning the mixer nearly vertical not only saves precious table space but makes the entire mixer much more visible and useable. This layout feels far more intuitive and natural than the typical flat-down styles of mixers. Behringer didn’t design the X-Touch very well for its intended flat-down position, but the X-Touch functions perfectly in an upright position.

Music devices

The drum pad is a Korg PadKontrol. The PadKontrol is running interface software RpK by Retouch Control. The pads light up in sync with the Kong or Redrum. The PadKontrol is always locked to the main drum machine of each project, so even when the drum machine isn’t visible on screen, the PadKontrol always shows what the main drum machine is doing. This is so important because it really makes the studio come alive when a song is playing.

The Ableton Push (“Push”) is also running interface software PushR by Retouch Control. Although the Push is used to play notes, it’s primary purpose is to act as a general controller for all Reason devices. The Push can control nearly every parameter of a device. For instance, filter 1 frequency slider of the Subtractor, detune knob of the UN-16, AHD button of the Hydronexius, everything is controllable.

This is actually doable, as opposed to using something like the Behringer BCR2000, because all functions are labeled on the digital scribble screen. The BCR2000 is impossible to use in this way because, even though its got 24 knobs, it does you no good if you don’t know (and can’t memorize) what each knob will control.

Sequencer controls that aren’t controllable via the X-Touch are controlled via the Push. This also includes useful tool controls, such as “Snap”, “Arrow”, “zoom horizontal”, etc.

There are two areas the Push (via Retouch Control) isn’t that effective and that’s drum playing and mixer changes (limitations of the Push / Reason itself, not Retouch Control). But this, ironically, works out because the Korg PadKontrol is already being used to play drum machines. The Push is used many times to make individual drum changes on the Korg or Redrum itself (panning, tone, volume, etc), but the Korg PadKontrol is far superior for playing drums (much more sensitive, too). And controlling the mixer is far superior with the Behringer X-Touch (being that it is a mixer, after all). So the end result is that all three devices have such fantastic synergy together. It really is hard to explain how well they improve workflow of everything.

The switch on “Power 1” controls if the Push (“Push”) gets brighter (by connecting the power supply, the Push brightens up by default).

On Windows, a program called LoopMIDI is required for Retouch Control to control the Push and PadKontrol. Using this much hardware together isn’t without its hiccups, however. I’ve had a crap load of compatibility issues that take quite a bit of trouble shooting to figure out. Each time I add a new piece of hardware, it causes something else to stop working. So just be warned, using this much MIDI hardware, you’re bound to run into something needing troubleshooting. And sometimes things never seem to work, such as the Oxygen49.

The last music device is the M-Audio Oxygen49. It’s a pretty standard keyboard; the knobs, faders and buttons have never been useful for controlling even the simplest of devices because Propellerhead mapped their placement in such a bad way. This is why, without having digital displays for the knobs, controls on the Oxygen49 are useless if you don’t know what you’re going to control ahead of time. I’d choose the Push (running RetouchControl) over any single keyboard on the market for producing music simply because of the versatility and universal control it enables.

The M-Audio Oxygen49 isn’t being used at the time of this post because it’s not working at the moment. It may have died and, right now, I’ve been using the Ableton Push for any key playing needs.

Monitors

The main monitor is an ultrawide LG 34″ (“LG 34” “) and the second monitor is an ultrawide LG 29” (“LG 29” ). The second monitor is turned on its side and it’s dedicated to showing Reason’s rack. Both monitors are held-in-place by heavy-duty monitor arms.

Desktop

The desktop (“Neocomp”) is a custom built computer running Windows 10. It’s optimized for gaming, hence the multiple GPU’s. In short, it’s far more powerful than anything I could ever need to do for music producing. However, when creating songs, I try to keep the virtual hardware minimal to ensure I can still open projects from my MacBook Pro Retina (the Neonote).

The interior is custom painted and the lighting is custom… even the front case lighting is custom (the ones that came with the case were crappy and didn’t work right).

Extra

The desk is a stainless steel surface (same kind used in kitchens) mounted to custom-built legs. This allows me and others to stand at the desk, but I also have a barstool-height chair that I use when sitting at the desk.

The Ableton Push and X-Touch are propped up by frame holders-type braces. The M-Audio Oxygen49 and Tascam US-322 chill on a custom-made keyboard-like slider drawer. The drawer is slid in most times. Behringer BCR2000 and Korg PadKontrol are held up by a custom-made mount that I created out of metal mic stand music sheet holders. And finally, the little white thing chillin’ on the left corner of the desk is one of the four thermostats for my apartment’s AC.

Wrap

Studios and people’s lives change all the time. This setup may stay like this for years or may change a month after posting this or may be discontinued if circumstances for creating music change. After all, this studio is only two years old and the last time I had a setup like this was over ten years ago, pictured below (notice the same Korg PadKontrol and RCA Dimensia are still being used).

But this article should be interesting for those into music hardware for Reason. For years, nearly all of my music creation has been done via laptops. But with the introduction of Reason rack extension devices, interfaces for bridging hardware like the Push with Reason and affordable, motorized mixers, using Reason with hardware has become crazy fun.

Later. – MJ