For years I’ve been creating computer music as a hobby, using programs like Cakewalk (Sonar) and the Garritan Personal Orchestra, among others. Lately I’ve been playing with Studio One and Notion, mainly because they were just too inexpensive to pass up. And I’ve often avoided real instruments because my old tower PC makes so much noise it’s a bit silly to try and use a microphone.
Then a few years ago I got a laptop and kept saying I was going to setup a mini studio, so I finally did. And in the past few years it seems I’ve moved away from electronic music and back into sound produced by real wood boxes – guitar and violin. We’ll see how that goes. I haven’t practiced guitar seriously in 20 years, and we all know how squeeky a fiddle can sound.
Since I’m relegated to the bathroom (door shut) for my violin practice, I wanted to make something that I could roll in there when I want to practice with other music or pre-recorded tracks. This is what I made:
Hmm… reminds me of that thing you see when you sit in the dentist chair, or maybe one of those things they roll up to your hospital bed. No matter, it seems to work pretty well. Let me see if I can put together a quick parts list:
- Mobile Laptop Stand
- Lenovo Laptop with Studio One and Notion installed
- Gear Head Wireless Mouse from Fry’s
- Top section of a 30 year old AKG microphone stand
- 30 year old Yamaha Speakers
- PreSonus 2 Channel AudioBox
- PreSonus HP4 Headphone amplifier
- MXL 993 Condenser Microphones Stereo Pair
- Musicians Gear Double Microphone Attachment
- Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO-80 Closed Studio Headphones
- Various cables (as short as possible in most cases) and a power strip
- Velcro straps originally for my model helicopters
The stand itself looked pretty good on the internet, but we all know how that is. After I put it together I knew it would be a bit too flimsy for my purpose. But then again, it’s lightweight and easy to roll around on the tile floor. I would recommend getting one with four wheels for better stability, but because of lack of space in the bathroom, I needed the 3 wheel design so the laptop can roll in better over the sink.
Laptop is standard issue, and the AudioBox came with Studio One software. I’ve always used Sonar or Vegas for music, but got used to Studio One very quickly. It’s good, quality software – especially for the price. And although space is scarce on the laptop stand, there is still enough room for a wireless mouse. I have trouble using the finger pad on laptops, so this is a necessity for me. I’m not an Apple person, so this laptop is running Windows 8, which came with the hardware. Windows 8 is useless without a proper Start menu, by the way, so I use StartFinity from a guy I know – it’s only about $10 I think. Suddenly Windows 8 becomes a good OS.
At first I planned to use a separate microphone stand, but having the rolling studio, music stand, and mic stand all in the same 5×5 foot area proved too crowded. And remember there’s a sink and toilet in there too. So I took the top section off an old AKG stand, drilled a 3/4 hole in the top of the laptop stand just adjacent to the main vertical post, and simply attached the tubular stand with tie wraps. Much easier than I thought it would be. The only problem of course is that you can easily hear the vibrations of mouse and keyboard through the microphones now. That shouldn’t be a big issue because I don’t touch the laptop stand when I’m recording. But if it becomes a problem I might try an isolation support, or make something.
The speakers are 30 year-old things that don’t really sound that good anymore. But they have strong covers in case I accidently kick the bottom of the stand. These are obviously not for mixing or even listening. They are just something to play through when practicing with other music. I mounted the speakers by removing the innards from the plastic cases, screwing the plastic cases (from the inside, down) to the horizontal bar at the bottom of the stand, and then putting the speaker guts back in place.
The PreSonus AudioBox is really nice. I like how it needs no power other than through the USB cable. I like that it has just the stereo inputs I need, along with midi for my keyboard if I want to feed that to Studio One. This little box replaces all sorts of stuff I had on my old tower PC.
I purchased the headphone amp years ago when trying to setup things on my tower PC, but it works great with the DT 770 headphones, and also allows for 3 additional people to listen if we can all fit in the bathroom at the same time.
The two MXL microphones were a birthday gift last year. I have them on a dual mount, and I need to make sure the mount screws are very tight. Since the mic’s did not fit that snugly in their holders and I point them down for violin recording, I added some tie-wraps to hold them in a bit more securely. I don’t know about everyone else, but I always like to record real instruments with two mics at once. It just seems to add so much to the recording having a bit of real reverb (which the tile bathroom can supply) instead of adding computerized reverb later. Just Tom’s opinion… if you have the money or if you have a mom that still gives you money for your birthday.
The DT 770 headphones are my latest purchase. I was trying this all out using some old $25 Sony headphones and I kept hearing the click track coming through the headphones and into the mic. When I tried the DT 770′s at the Guitar Center, I knew right away that’s what I wanted. And when I got them home and started listening… Wow – these are by far the best headphones I will ever have. I bought the 80ohm brand because those are made for recording and come with a long, uncoiled cable that you can toss behind your back. But these really need a headphone amp, so consider that if you are in the market.
Cables are all over the place in this setup. I tried to buy things as short as possible instead of having a 15 foot coil shoved underneath. And there is a power bar hung on the bottom of the laptop stand for charging the laptop, and powering the speakers and headphone amp. I used Align velcro straps that I had lying around from my model helicopters to tie everything up, and they work really well.
One thing I forgot to mention. I bought a long strip of 3/4 by 3/32 steel from Home Depot, and used a vice and drill press to form some U shaped brackets which I screwed to the bottom of the laptop stand. Then with some velcro double-stick tape (also from model helicopters) I mounted the PreSonus boxes. That way they are secure and out of the way. I took a smaller portion of the steel bar and made a headphone hanger too.
I tried one recording so far, and this was actually done in my computer room near the kitchen – not in the bathroom. It’s just goofing with some bar chords (which I obviously had trouble with) and two ad-lib fiddles just to make some noise.
For that recording, I did add a little computerized reverb, but I figure once I’m in the bathroom there will be no need for that.