I had some money to spend really working on my musical hardware over 2011, but I haven't really had the motivation, time, etc to actually use it. I decided, for 2012, I need to get a bit better about things. I thought I'd write where I'm at about a few things, as a point of reference.
The goal with my setup is to make something that's useful for recording solo in an apartment. This means that big instrument amplifiers, spare rooms, extensive remodeling, real drums, and special-purpose gear is to be avoided.
It's important to have a space that's reasonably good sounding, without too many noisemakers or weird reverberations. This turned out to be a bit tricky, because I have a firewall with an absolutely ancient 7200 rpm drive that's worked continuously for at least a decade. And it's one of the early 7200 rpm drives, so it's really noisy. So eventually I had to work up the nerve to replace a perfectly good piece of hardware with an 8GB SSD. I also went through my desktop and tried to replace as many of the fans as possible with high-quality super-quiet fans instead of stock noisy fans from a case that's also a decade old. So I can now close the doors and windows and turn off the air filter and have a quiet room. Which is an adjustment after years of clatter.
The room has bookshelves, which seems to create enough of a diffusion pattern that I don't hear any objectionable echoes. I'm sure I could do better, but I'm not serious enough about it.
I don't have a mixer. This was a deliberate choice. I wrote about this earlier.. but there's a world of difference between a *good* mixer and a cheap mixer.. and if you start to compare apples-to-oranges, you realize that most of the "good" USB mixers that aren't just a standard mixer with a two port audio interface bundled in result in you paying significantly more per channel. And, since I'm not doing live work nor am I going to be twiddling with the knobs since I'm mostly recording myself, I decided against getting one. Instead, I have the US-1800 and run things through the computer.
The routing is fairly simple. All inputs go directly into my US-1800. In lieu of a monitor controller, I plug the US-1800's out into the inputs of my soundcard and out of my speakers.
Pretty much, if I want to do anything, I need to fire up REAPER. I tried Ableton but it wasn't sufficently fast or flexible to make any real difference. And I realized that I had to set up a pre-set 'practice' setup in REAPER to get things moving quickly.
I do have a guitar effects processor.. a Digitech Legend 21. I'm not sure how much I'm going to be continuing to use it. This is a point of continuing debate, because I'm presently happier with the sound I get by running straight into one of the low-impedance ports on the US-1800 and processing things through a chain of VSTs instead of the Digitech's sound, so I haven't been using it. I'm debating if I need to scour the used market for a newer rackmount FX processor, get a brand new guitar FX processor, or continue to just use the Legend 21.
For my bass, I'm still having some consternation about tone. A big part of it was putting nicer strings -- DR Strings High Beams -- on it. And I keep thinking there ought to be amp simulators or something, but apparently it's fairly common to go straight into the board.
Usually, I set things up so that I use one low-impedence input for the guitar and one for the bass, which makes managing the tracks and effects easier.
I've also got an Axiom 61 II as my keyboard controller. I'm sure there are better keyboards to be had. The feel is very much 'keyboard' instead of 'piano', but that's OK. It has knobs, buttons, transport control, and drum pads. I was surprised about how awesome having drum pads is.
I don't have any hardware synths. If I see a Yamaha TB-77 or Roland D-550 or a few others at the right price, I might make an exception to that rule. But unless I'm using a legendary vintage synth, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to spend a bunch of money for a keyboard that just replicates what I can do with VSTs. So far, the VSTs are friendlier because they aren't constrained to a tiny screen.
I did purchase IK Multimedia SampleTank and some expansion packs, which pretty much gives me a general purpose set of useful samples and I'll write about some of the nifty little freeware VST's I found at a later point.