The Case For One Good Channel Strip

2013 Apr 19, 2013

The most important thing about recording is to get it right at the source. Don’t assume you’ll create the sound you want later in the mix. Use the tools at your disposal to capture something that actually sound amazing and compelling in its raw form.

Thinking strategically about the room you record in, the instrument you use, the performance, the mic choice, mic placement, gain staging and the use (or non use) of effects is critical to getting your desired sound. To be added to that list is one super helpful tool I want to make the case for today: the channel strip.

Your Miniature Console

I think every home/project studio could benefit from at least one good channel strip. When I say a channel strip, I’m referring to an outboard microphone preamp that also has an EQ and compressor built in. It’s more than just another preamp to choose from, it’s like having your own miniature recording console.
One of the great things about a recording console is that you have EQ and compression available on every channel to help sculpt your sound before it ever hits tape. After you’ve found the ideal mic placement (and mic choice) you can still enhance the track a bit more with a touch of EQ and compression, polishing the sound up on the way in. If you don’t have a recording console, then a channel strip is the next best thing!

It Forces You To Think

If you record through a channel strip it gets you to think critically about your sound. Does that kick drum sound the way you really want it to? If not, why? The simple fact that you have tone sculpting tools like EQ and compression right there in front of you forces you to make some decisions. By not touching the knobs you are in effect admiting that you are content with your recorded sound. Otherwise you would dial in some changes, right?

It’s seems somewhat silly to think of it like this, but it’s true. When I am recording a vocal and I know that it is a little muddy and not as up front sounding as I would like, if I’m just hitting a preamp with no channel strip features, then there’s not much I can do about the sound. Mic choice and placement might help. A channel strip, however, sitting in front of me serves a reminder to do what is in my power NOW to make the vocal sound great NOW, not later.

It Is A Lot Of Fun

So here is a subjective reason for why having a channel strip is a great idea: it’s just plain old fun. Having knobs to turn and fancy VU meters goes a long way in the “fun” column for me personally. As much as I love compact audio interfaces and recording with a DAW, you just don’t get the same feeling as sitting infront of a console. Having a channel strip that you can reach out and grab to help sculpt the sound just feels right.

And as I’ve written about before, there’s something to be said about having psychological hacks to helping you feel more confident in the studio. Inspiring pieces of gear that make you think: This is a real studio! Don’t laugh. It’s powerful.

Final Thoughts

Now, you can spend a fortune on a channel strip. Don’t go and do that. That’s not what I’m advocating. What I’m suggesting to the average home/project studio owner who only has an audio interface with built in mic pres is this: put an affordable channel strip on your list of gear upgrades one day. Preferably before a redundant plugin bundle “upgrade.”

There are a handful of solid ones for under $300. You likely only need one in your studio because you are probably overdubbing anyway (recording one track at a time). This way it’s like you tracked your whole band through a console. You get the benefit without the cost.

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