Studio Pro-Audio

Audio post-production studio budgets

Mon, 24 Jun 2013 16:40

The entry barrier to putting together a competent post-production studio is now lower than ever. With computing and digital technology getting cheaper, faster and more powerful, we now see entire productions being completed on nothing more than a laptop with little hardware.

Feasibly, a meagre audio interface and a decent set of studio monitors will suffice for many applications, but is that enough? Well, maybe in the right hands, but what about setting up a professional grade studio that can cater to a variety of needs? I was given the task of putting together three fantasy studio shopping lists to outline the costs involved in assembling the core components of three different levels of audio post-production studios. Of course, you could go with the aforementioned setup of laptop / audio interface / speakers, but one would have to ask whether it would help get you any of the big jobs. As much as many of us may begrudge the fact, a professional grade studio needs to have some degree of ‘wow factor’.

All the fantasy studio shopping lists I have drawn together cater to audio post-production. They all incorporate the ability to accommodate 5.1 surround sound, have the ability to at least record one source (like a voiceover or ADR), and have some sort of external display monitoring.

Low – less than R100 000

R100 000 is not a lot of money these days and not impossible to finance. Given this perspective, I chose R100 000 and less as the first tier of our three budgets for aspirants seeking to break into the studio market.

At the heart of the studio is an Evetech i7 GTX custom PC, costing R16 741. This monster PC is based around the latest generation i7-3770, with 8GB of RAM, a 120GB SSD, two 1TB HDD’s, with two 20” AOC monitors and wireless keyboard and mouse, all wrapped up in a beautiful white Corsair Graphite 600T case. This will be more than enough power to handle even the most processor-hungry projects. For the centrepiece of the R100 000 studio I chose the newly released Behringer X32, coming in at a relatively paltry R30 000.

The X32 doubles as a DAW controller with motorised faders and many user-assignable knobs and buttons, which means you can use it as a multi-track front-end to record audio and then as a control surface for mixing. Next, for R20 000, I chose Steinberg’s newly released Nuendo 6 as the DAW of choice. Needing virtually no introduction, Nuendo has been a serious player in the post-production and the mixing sound for video world and continues to offer some of the most comprehensive features in the industry. It also mates well with the HUI and Mackie control surface protocols employed by the X32, and has some of the best surround sound features available. For monitoring I chose the Yamaha HS50M with the HS10w subwoofer to provide all six channels of the surround matrix coming in at a cost of R21 000 for the lot.

These speakers offer fantastic quality at a very affordable price point, which makes them perfect for this setup and at R21 000 for everything, you can’t go wrong. For display monitoring I chose a standard 46” Samsung LED flat panel display, which is available through Game stores for a very low R7 000. Because it is LED it has a much lower latency than other technologies, such as plasma, and has a high refresh rate of up to 240Hz. Finally, to record voiceovers or ADR, I chose the Audio Technica AT4050 LDC, which is a fantastic microphone for around R5 000. Because the X32 offers preamps from Midas and full processing on input, I didn’t include any outboard preamps or processing. This is, after all, the ‘budget’ setup

  • 1 x Evetech i7 GTX custom PC – R 16 741
  • 1 x Behringer X32 – R 30 000
  • 1 x Steinberg Nuendo 5 – R 20 000
  • 5 x Yamaha HS50 – R 15 000
  • 1 x Yamaha HS10w Sub – R 6 000
  • 1 x 46” Samsung LED flat panel – R 7 000
  • 1 x Audio Technica AT4040 – R 5 000
  • TOTAL R 99 741
  • Medium – R250 000

    Jumping into the next financial tier, we now have a budget of R250 000. This, to me, was the most difficult budget to put a list together for, as it’s easy to be frugal and even easier to go overboard. Sticking to a median often proves to be an exercise of logical constraint more than anything.

    At the core of this system I chose a Mac Pro 12-core tower, at a cost of R45 700. Quite simply put, when you buy a Mac, you know you’re buying power and reliability and the tech spec of the base model includes dual 2.4GHz Intel Xeon 6-core CPUs, 12GB DDR3 RAM, ATI Radeon HD5770 graphics, 512GB SSD, 2 x 1TB hard drives and comes loaded with OS X Mountain Lion. This machine is a juggernaut and you will have no trouble running sessions with hundreds of tracks.

    The DAW of choice at this level is, of course, Avid’s Pro Tools 10 HD|Native, the industry standard in audio post-production. As Avid currently offers a bundle that includes Pro Tools 10 HD|Native, the HD|Native PCI-e card, and the HD Omni interface for R51 300, this seemed like the most cost effective and streamlined option as the Omni also integrates a 5.1 surround sound monitoring section. But what about a control surface? Well, the Euphonix Artist series, owned by Avid, is the logical selection. Combining the Control, Mix, and Transport modules, a comprehensive control surface is achieved on the EUCON protocol, which is a best mate for Pro Tools 10, with all the relevant controls, faders and metering at your fingertips.

    For monitoring, I chose five Dynaudio BM6a’s with the Dynaudio Bm9s subwoofer, costing R43 000 in total. These monitors offer clean, accurate monitoring and with the addition of the subwoofer, no LFE will go undetected.

    Since many good post-production studios have some sort of video editing and capture facility, I thought it might be useful to incorporate a Blackmagic Design Link 2 Video Card to playback Pro Tools reference movies out to the video outputs, all in real time and for video capture, if need be. This card offers SD/HD video with SDI, HDMI and analogue connections, a built in hardware down converter, four channels of balanced analogue audio, and two independent capture and playback streams. Black Magic Media Express video capture software is also included. For video monitoring I chose the Sharp LC52LE830U professional LED display at a cost of R32 000 and for the ADR booth display, a 32” Samsung LED flat panel at a cost of R4 000.

    Speaking of ADR, a Neumann TLM103 large diaphragm condenser microphone seemed like the best choice, coming in at a cost of R12 000. The Neumann brand is a staple in the studio industry and affords great sound and fantastic reliability. Pairing it up to the TK Audio “The Strip” channel strip, high quality pre-amplification, compression, and EQ is afforded at a cost of R12 500.

  • 1 x Mac Pro, 12 Core – R 45 700
  • 1 x Avid Pro Tools 10 / HD Native PCI-e / HD Omni bundle – R 51 300
  • 1 x Euphonix Artist Control – R 17 100
  • 1 x Euphonix Artist Mix – R 14 250
  • 1 x Euphonix Artist Transport R 4 500
  • 5 x Dynaudio BM6a – R 30 000
  • 1 x Dynaudio BM9s – R 13 000
  • 1 x Black Magic Deck Link 2 video card – R 7 500
  • 1 x 52” Sharp LC52LE830U LED display – R 32 000
  • 1 x 32” Samsung LED display – R 4 000 (Booth)
  • 1 x Neumann TLM103 – R 12 000
  • 1 x TK Audio The Strip – R 12 500
  • TOTAL R243 850
  • High – R750 000

    When one has no budget, the sky is the limit. However, realistically, this never happens so instead of focusing on an unlimited budget, I chose to see how close I could stay to R750 000 while still going a bit wild and satisfying the gear acquisition syndrome within me. Once again, I chose the same 12-core Mac Pro tower we saw in the mid-level budget, however, this time with a few extras. I added two more 1TB hard drives (four total), two Apple 27” displays, and dual ATI Radeon 5770 bringing the price up to a hefty R65 700.

    The DAW of choice, once again, is a Pro Tools 10 HD|X system, centred around the new C|24 control surface and incorporating an HD 8x8 interface and the HD|X PCI-e card. This system is also offered as a bundle by Avid, coming in at a whopping R424 000 and is five times the power of the previous HD3 system, offering comprehensive routing, mixing, and editing facilities. Additionally, the C|24 offers a complete front end to the system with integrated I/O, 24 motorised faders and encoders, and a 5.1 surround sound analogue monitor section. I also decided to throw in the Avid HD Sync for R18 700 for occasions where synchronising external video machines such as Betacam is necessary.

    Looking to integrate top-shelf monitoring, I selected Focal Solo6s and a Focal Sub6 subwoofer. Focal have been making huge waves in the audio industry with their smooth, clear top end, detailed midrange, and tight bass response, so a fantastic, high-end monitoring system is achieved. With the addition of the subwoofer for an extended low end, this system can extend well below 35Hz. The five Focal Solo6s plus the Sub6 comes to a total of R76 500.

    Not forgetting that DSP is a huge must in a professional audio post-production studio, I also chose to throw a UAD-2e Quad into the mix for R22 500. This will give the already powerful system a huge boost in processing power and will supplement the other stock plugins that come with Pro Tools 10.

    Moving into the video side of things, I figured it would be a good idea to stick with the Blackmagic Design Deck Link 2 Video Card that we saw in the previous budget for remedial capture and monitoring of video. The card remains at the R7 500 price point, however, with the addition of Avid’s Media Composer video editing software for those impromptu occasions where some minor video editing is in order, a further R22 300 is required. For a main display monitor, I selected the same 52” Sharp LC52LE830U professional LED display for R32,000 along with the same 32” Samsung LED for R4000 in the ADR / voiceover booth.

    For voiceovers and ADR in this league a top shelf microphone and preamp combination is recommended so I selected a Neumann u87AI and an Avalon VT-737SP. The u87AI comes in at R36 000 and the Avalon at R23 000, making for a very expensive mono channel. However, the Avalon is a complete channel strip with a high quality preamp, a smooth opto compressor, and a fantastic sounding EQ that can only offer versatility.

  • 1 x Mac Pro, 12 Core – R 65 700
  • 1 x Avid C|24 / Pro Tools 10 HD|X / HD 8 x 8 bundle – R 424 000
  • 1 x HD Sync – R 18 700
  • 1 x Black Magic Deck Link 2 video card – R 7 500
  • 1 x Avid Media Composer 6 – R 22 300
  • 5 x Focal Solo6 – R 60 000
  • 1 x Focal Sub6 – R 16 500
  • 1 x UAD-2e Quad – R 22 500
  • 1 x 52” Sharp LC52LE830U LED display – R 32 000
  • 1 x 32” Samsung LED display – R 4 000 (Booth)
  • 1 x Neumann U87 Ai – R 36 000
  • 1 x Avalon VT-737SP – R 23 000
  • TOTAL R 732 200
  • Conclusion

    Today, an audio post-production studio can be assembled at a variety of budgets. If you’re not satisfied with merely working on your laptop and have a bit of cash to burn, there are many competitive options available, allowing one to get into the market for minimal investment. Of course, one can spend just about as much money as there is available so, as always, it is cost effective to first cater to your needs. Buying intelligently is a must as the gear you ultimately choose will have to pay itself off at some point. Of course, it is good practice to exercise reason first when making a purchase, ensuring it serves the needs of your clientele, speaks to your workflow, and facilitates good work. After all, when all is said and done, no matter how fancy your gear is, you have to deliver the goods!

    By Greg Bester