I don’t know why, but a lot of people like to see things in black and white. Maybe because it’s easier to have an opinion without all of those grey areas? I can’t explain it, but for most people it’s either yes or no. Good or bad. Best or worst. In almost every scenario of music we want to know what the “best” one is, yet truly there is no “best.” Well, there is, but it changes often and will totally depend on the circumstances.
“What’s the best signal chain to use in the studio?”
Well, what are you trying to accomplish with your recording? Edgy rock? Hi-fi pop? Lo-fi garage band? Clean jazz? The sounds of the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s? Depending on the sound you’re going for there will be a “best” preamp to use, the “right” compressor, the “correct” amount of eq, matched with the suitable bass/strings/amp/DI/microphone that achieves the sound you want.
Let’s just go ahead and replace all of these words that I’ve place in quotations with the word “appropriate.” It’s a much more efficient way to think of this stuff, as truly there is no “best” in the music world; only “appropriate.” I think you will find more often than not that there are multiple products, techniques, trains of thought, and points of view that sound good and work well. But which one is the most APPROPRIATE for the music you are creating? When you start asking yourself that question you will find the “best” answer. It’s like asking, “What’s better, a screw driver or a hammer?” Neither one is better, just different for what it can do.
And you’ll be surprised how often the expensive items are NOT the right tools for the job. Just because you paid a lot of money for it, and it really is an incredible sounding unit, does not mean that it’s the best one to use for every scenario. Maybe that $4,000 Neumann microphone sounds great, but you know what? This $70 SM57 sounds better on this singer. That $3,000 custom shop guitar sounds amazing! But that beat-up Squire leaning in the corner with dead strings sounds perfect for this track.
I think you see where I’m going with this… It’s not about how much you spend, or how “good” someone else told you it was. There’s just no such thing as a one-size-fits-all for the creation of good music. It’s about using the right tools for the right job. Sometimes that means breaking the bank and sometimes it doesn’t. So don’t be afraid to try things out. Don’t be afraid to experiment because quite often using the right tools in the “wrong” way can sound cool too!