Mike Propst User Experience

IKEA hacking for the studio

Any time that I spend recording these days tends to be remote, and mixing happens 100% in the box. So loading up the rack spaces in my mix desk with outboard gear doesn't make a lot of sense. Maybe it would if I had some rackmount synths, but I don't. I previously traveled to remote gigs in a giant Odyssey mixer case with 9 spaces on top and 6 on the bottom. It's ridiculous, even after adding casters, and near-impossible to load into the truck without risk of a hernia.

But even the smallest portable rack case is crazy expensive for my purposes. I'm not going on tour. I'll move it occasionally from recording location to studio and back, but it's never going "on the road." So after looking around I finally found this simple "IKEA hack." Conveniently, the Rast table is 19" wide on the inside and made of unfinished pine. Assembled as-is with some rack rails attached, it'll hold 6U worth of rack gear. But a slight modification lets it hold 8U. I added handles and a flourescent light in the back, spray painted it black, et voila, a stupid-simple case.

With the bigger items like my ART preamp, there isn't a lot of horizontal room left, but if I ever did this again I think I'd move the rack rails a little farther inside so the knobs were more protected. And for $15 at IKEA, I suppose I could make another attempt.

Cost breakdown:

  • IKEA Rast - $14.99
  • Rack rails - $6.96 x 2
  • Spray paint - $3
  • Handles - $3 x 2
  • Total: Under $45

Closest thing I could find pre-made: $130

FYI, my el cheapo signal chain, from the bottom up:

  • BBE bass EQ and preamp. I dislike the Sonic Maximizer and the "BBE Sound" in general, but this thing will even out a crappy bass guitar and give it some sustain and punch.
  • ART Pro MPA II (Gold Edition) mic preamp. ART get no love, but their black 2U tube units (MPA, VLA, Channel) sell for under $200 and they sound good. The Gold Edition swaps tubes for a less hissy gain. I mostly use it on vocals, but if you have to record a guitar direct it'll give you real tube gain, which will make any plugin amp simulator sound that much more authentic.
  • dbx 266xs compressor. I believe the "xs" stands for "extra shitty" when it comes to dbx's model line, but honestly it's still a dbx compressor. Which means it's pretty transparent and easy to use as well. For vocals I'll dial in some light compression when recording, but it's useful as a limiter as well if that's all you need.
  • Symetrix 525 compressor. I guess these things were originally for radio (duck the music as the DJ talks) but the sound is pretty darn good; I tend to use it to fatten/lengthen the sound of snares. Symetrix compressors have the distinction of being ultra-cheap (now and forever) but somehow approved by the GearSlutz community as useful tools.
  • Presonus Firestudio Project. I now have two of these interfaces because they're that good. For the money, it's almost impossible to beat the Presonus stuff. Decent gain on the preamps (could be better for vocals but that's what the ART is for), low noise, and pretty configurable and versatile. Chaining two is a breeze and gives you 16 mic inputs and 10 stereo outputs for a good bit less than a grand. I have never actually done remote recording with all 16, but in theory you could do a pretty good sized band at once.