Expanding the studio

I love my music. I love playing guitar, dabbling on my keyboard, and making lots of cool riffs that never really get turned into anything. It’s a fun hobby.

The problem I have is that my music world exists in headphones. I only have a cheap set of computer speakers I bought back in the 90’s. My headphones are a decent set of AKGs albeit the lower end as far as construction goes. They sound phenomenal but aren’t adjustable.

My routing is kind of odd for my sound, mostly due to budgetary constraints. I use FL Studio as my DAW. I route my guitar in via a Guitar Rig Kontrol which acts as my AD / DA converter. The guitar plugs into the Kontrol’s analog input then routes the signal via USB to the computer. Using the Native Instruments’ drivers, the latency is so low as to be non-existent. I then do everything in the computer (effects, recording, mixing, etc.) and it gets routed back out to the Kontrol where my headphones are plugged in and life is good.

As long as I stay a) within my headphones and b) within my DAW things are fine, but anything outside of that and things get a bit more tricky. Sometimes I want to jam along with a YouTube video or a song on Spotify. I have to then go into my Window’s sound panel, reroute the system sounds directly to the Kontrol and then I’m usually pretty good.

The other way around, however, doesn’t work. If I want to listen to things on the computer speakers, the built in audio card won’t keep up for long. The ASIO driver manhandles the Kontrol just fine, but starts getting severe lag along with pops & clicks as the buffer starts messing up (switching the buffer size ‘resets’ it and it’ll be fine for a few more minutes).

So, for the time being I just lived with having to use headphones to do my work. However, with both girls now playing instruments and the fact we’ve moved everything into the office, it’s time to get my system capable of playing externally and here is where I’m having a little difficulty figuring out what I need.

I’m getting some studio monitors, for sure. The craptastical JBL computer speakers I have don’t cut it. I know from experience that trying to use these speakers to ‘mix’ will result in a sound that is reminiscent of listening to two orcas go at it in the mud. So that’s a given and I’m already 100% decided on the speakers I’m getting (Presonus, which are inexpensive, but highly rated for ‘Home Studios’).

My biggest ? in all this – do I get a mixer to route everything to the monitors or an external USB audio device? With a mixer, I can route the output of my daughter’s electronic drums, the output of the computer, and the output of the Kontrol all to the monitors so that everything can be heard at the same time. I’m not sure how well the outputs from the Kontrol work but I assume well since the headphones do great on it. With a mixer, I then can either route to the monitors or headphones or both without fiddling with all kinds of settings.

I would, however, like the option to just route the USB audio out directly to the mixer. There are some mixers like the Behringer’s that have 2 way USB, but I can’t tell if I can mix the output or if it’s more of a reference signal.

Add into all this that I can’t even remember the difference between ‘balanced’ & ‘unbalanced’ and would probably try to shove an XLR input into a USB slot and well…

Any tips?

posted by by Robb Allen @
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