The Art Of Testing In The Studio (And Why It Pays Big Time)

2014 Jun 09, 2014

Let me ask you something: on your next recording session or mix, are you going to try a few new things?

Perhaps a new preamp, higher sample rate, different mic technique, and set of new plugins?


As exciting as it is to try out a bunch of new gear, tips, and techniques, it’s a completely horrible way to work. In fact, it will only keep you from progressing in your craft.


Via Horia Varlan Flickr

Only Change One Major Thing At A Time

To get great results in the studio and to truly learn this craft, you need to master the art of testing.

And the secret to great testing? Only change one major thing at a time.

It’s that simple. (But ironically no one does this).
On your next tracking session, if you’re interested to see how a new microphone performs, don’t change out your preamps or converters or sample rate. Just use the new microphone and proceed like you normally would.

That way you get a proper view of what the new microphone added (in either a good or bad way) to your recordings.

This principle applies to EVERYTHING you do in the studio mind you.

How Most Home Studio Owners Test

But here is how the typical home studio owner “tests” their gear and techniques. They change it all up, every time.

Maybe on his last recording session, Joe Studio (not a real person mind you) didn’t get that clarity on his vocals that he really wanted. So this time around he has a few changes he wants to make.

First he’s purchased a new (“better”) microphone. One that got really good reviews on Gear Slutz!

Second, he’s borrowing a friend’s tube preamp to test it out. Thirdly he’s going to record at a higher sample rate than he normally does.

Oh and for good measure, because Joe watched my video on recording better vocals in two simple steps he’s going to back off from the microphone when he sings.

Now let’s assume for the sake of this article that Joe tracks his vocals with these changes in place and he absolutely LOVES the results. He got a killer vocal recording.

I’ll be the first to say that he should be happy. He accomplished his goal.

But the real question is, can he repeat his success in the future?

You see, what Joe Studio doesn’t know is WHY he got a better vocal recording.

Was it the new mic? The new preamp? The higher sample rate? Or was it simply because he backed off the mic a few inches.

Clearly it was a combination of all four, but which one had the MOST impact on his sound.

Unfortunately Joe will never know. He didn’t properly test.

Why Testing Pays Off BIG In The Long Run

In real life (the life that just about all of us home studio owners live), time is a premium. It’s in short supply.

When we get a chance to record, mix, or master (many times late at night) we really want to maximize our time and get the best results we possibly can.

In order to do this, we need to really know our gear and methods well. We need to have some time tested and proven techniques and pieces of kit that we simply trust and know well.

This is where testing pays big dividends.

When you’ve tested gear and techniques out strategically (focusing on one change at a time) you can quickly learn what of the equipment and training you have is going to produce the results you want.

No more guessing, no more hoping.

No more blindly trying something without any inclination of whether it will bring you the results you crave.

Instead, you become like most of the top engineers in the world in so far as you now have a collection of favorite pieces of gear and go-to methods and techniques for achieving the sounds you hear in your head.

And these aren’t informed by other people's’ opinions (even guys who write blogs like me). Rather they are informed by YOUR EXPERIENCE and testing.

What Will You Test Next?

So the question today is this: what are you going to test next?

Will it be a new piece of gear or a new technique? Will it be a new plugin or a mix move? Or will you simply re-arrange your studio and put your desk on a different wall?

Leave a comment below and tell me what you plan on testing on your next session!

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