The audio equipment (that is, studio setup) I use for what the Japanese call “DTM" is set up to produce, in a word, an “honest" sound.
You can expect that music that is made commercially available will be played in a variety of environments on a variety of sound systems. So it’s important to produce the music on a sound system with pure, unadulterated—and in other words, honest—sound.
The equipment needs to be able to accurately reproduce not only volume but the more technical aspects of the sound, such as sound image, separation, and depth. You need to be able to discern these sonic variables.
On the other hand, at home, where I want to relax—not just listen to music, but enjoy it—my sound system is set up to produce a “softer" sound.
Most of the music I try to make on the computer is the four-on-the-floor variety, but at home I’ve been listening to more and more jazz records.
Regardless of the home setting I still want to be able to play around and adjust the sound settings, so I use a mix of professional (studio) and high-fidelity consumer (what the Japanese call “pure audio") equipment.
2.CD Player and Turntable
The CD player I use is a Yamaha pro-use CD-S 300RK. What’s great about this CD player is that you can play high-resolution files via USB.
As for sound quality, you still get that clear, beautiful Yamaha sound, even at this price range.
When it comes to turntables (record players) I use Technics (old models) for DJing because you need to be able to adjust the pitch (BPM). At home, on the other hand, I use a Denon DP-500M. For those who want to go all out the DP-1300MK has even better sound, but if you’re like me and you live in a home that’s not sound or echo-proofed, the DP-500M is more than adequate.
I have the output from this turntable going into an Audio-Technica phono preamp, the AT-PEQ3, which in turn is connected to a Yamaha MG12XU mixer.
Yamaha is a manufacturer that makes quality equipment at every level—their high-end gear is great, and their entry-level models are equally well made. And this mixer is no exception—it provides great bang for your buck.
Mixers in this price range often have knobs instead of faders, and phone jack outputs instead of XLR. But the MG12XU is equipped with both faders and XLR outputs, so it gets a silver star.
The other great thing about Yamaha mixers is that you can apply a compressor to each channel with the simple turn of a knob.
Turn up the gain a bit and apply the compressor to give rock or four-on-the-floor music more oomph.
What’s more, each channel has a three-band parametric EQ. For vocal jazz or R&B, raise the mids a bit to bring the vocals forward in the mix.
For hip-hop or other music with a powerful kick, use the EQ to turn up the lows—you’ll get a “realer" sound.
My mixer’s outputs are connected to JBL 305P MKII powered speakers using Belden cables with Neutrik XLR connectors.
When it comes to the powered studio monitor market, JBL is a latecomer, but the 305P is a high quality, mature option—JBL’s done a great job.
As studio monitors, the speakers provide good imaging and resolution, while also producing a sound that is quintessentially JBL. What is “quintessentially JBL", you may ask? Speakers that have the ability to reproduce jazz with its soul intact.
Unfortunately my CD player doesn’t have XLR output—it only has RCA output. So I use a custom order Belden RCA to XLR cable to connect it to my mixer.
I use a custom order Belden RCA to RCA cable to connect the turntable to the phono preamp, and a custom order Belden RCA to phone cable to connect the phono preamp to the mixer.
The reason I made it a point to order custom Belden cables is because I wanted that Belden purity—the cables don’t color the sound at all.
Seeing as how I have Yamaha and Denon—Japanese manufacturers—at the front end of my sound setup and JBL—an American manufacturer—on the tail end, I figured I needed American-made Belden cables to bring it all together in a well-balanced fashion.
If you’re not looking to custom order, there is a range of cable makers to choose from—I recommend Canare. (I’ll post a more in-depth overview of the different characteristics of cables by manufacturer another day.)
6.Record Player Needles and Headphones
As for needles, I use a Japanese-made Audio-Technica AT33EV for listening to instrumental jazz, and an American-made Shure M44G for R&B and jazz vocals.
When I listen to music at night, I use AKG K271MKII headphones, which have a flat sound profile. And here too, I’ve replaced the original cable with a custom ordered Belden one.
The mixer is a key part of the setup, because it allows me to tweak the sound coming from the CD player or turntable using the EQ (equalizer = a tool for adjusting the balance of—equalizing—different frequencies) and balance out what gets sent to the speakers.
If you’re interested in getting together a sound system like the one I’ve described today, you’ll need to buy the components from both home appliance stores and professional audio equipment retailers. The parts in between—the cables and plugs—are no less important, and will require meticulous care.
But if you’re willing to go through the trouble to piece this system together, you’ll be able to enjoy quality sound at a decent price tag.
And if you take the time to figure out how to make the most of the EQ on the mixer, you’ll be able to find the sound that is, well, music to your ears.
Whenever BigBrother hears jazz music flowing out about town or as the soundtrack to a TV show, he has the uncanny ability to identify the musicians—who’s on bass, who’s on drums, etc.
He tells me that back in the 70s and 80s, when jazz was huge in Japan,
people at jazz kissas (jazz cafes) and in college jazz appreciation clubs were playing a never-ending game of trying to identify the musicians on recordings.
Personally, I’m interested in jazz bass, and since I’ve started regularly listening to albums released by jazz bassists as bandleader, I’ve learned to distinguish between Ron Carter, Jaco Pastorius, and Marcus Miller. That’s no accomplishment, but it’s a first step.
GEAR & BUSINESS #001
Audio Equipment for Listening to Music at Home - A Primer on Audio Systems (1)