Michael James Part II — His 138 Studio Tools for Mixing Hits

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When we last saw Michael James, he had just given us can’t-miss information from his Simi Valley, CA studio.

Fresh off his double #1 hit of the song “Estrellas Rotas” from Kalimba’s latest Cena Para Desayunar (Sony Music), James shared his 5 can’t-miss-mix tips and a lot more in our “Making the Mix Room.”

James feels a consistent instinct to share, which is why we’re following up with Part II: an in-depth breakdown of the gear in his room, where classics and new blood alike — germanium compressors to MoogerFoogers — are inside. James details not just what he’s got, but often why it’s there – inspiring insights on how a smart studio setup can hone your mixes.

Get oriented: Michael James explains exactly how he uses his tools.

Get oriented: Michael James explains exactly how he uses his tools.

And if you want mucho mas mixing tutorials from this platinum mixer, head straight to his blog at MichaelJamesProducer.

Mix Room Equipment List

Mixing Console

Sterling Modular Plan B 72 RU Mastering Console set up for mixing.
Dangerous Music 2-Bus 16×2 Analog Summing Mixers. For Bus A, B, C submixes.  Mastering quality, pristine neutral coloration.
Dangerous Music 2-Bus+ Next-generation 16×2 Analog Summing Mixer with added assignable Harmonics, ParaLimit and X-former tonal effects. Amazing crosstalk specs!
Chandler Mini Rack Mixer. 16×2. For analog summing of Busses A, B, C. Classic Neve-esque tonal coloration. Technically, EMI is a more accurate descriptor, but its vintage British either way.

The Dangerous Liasion is "instant gratification."

The Dangerous Liasion is “instant gratification.”

Dangerous Liaison. Instant gratification when auditioning vocal and mix buss chains.  Six programmable inserts.  Tons of headroom and clarity.
Patchbay. Comprehensive.  150 Mogami TT patch cables.

 Analog EQ

24 Tonelux EQ4P. These are so good that you need to hear them yourself.  Just do it! You can boost with impunity.

Avalon AD2055 EQ 2-channel. Excellent surgical EQ with a unique character. Powerful tone shaper. Typically used on my vocal buss.

Dangerous Music Bax EQ 2-ch. The filters alone are worth the investment. I use them on “bass & drums” and “guitar & keys” busses.

Massenburg GML 8200 2-channel EQ w/8355 power supply. The original, the classic.  I use the MDW plugin now, mostly for cuts.

An epic collaboration of audio giants: the Focusrite ISA 110 Limited Edition

An epic collaboration of audio giants: the Focusrite ISA 110 Limited Edition

Focusrite ISA 110 Limited Edition . George Martin and Rupert Neve collaborated on the 110.  Very useful filters; hard to recall.

DBX 215 2-channel graphic EQ. I have no idea how they actually sound.  I only use them to filter compressor sidechain inputs.

Analog Dynamics

Tonelux TXC Compressor. Versatile. Internal parallel routing and “Tilt” sidechain filter. Bass, drums, mix buss–even at 20:1 if you dare…
Manley Labs Stereo Variable Mu Limiting Compressor. Mix bus monster! Mine has HP sidechain filter. I use it unlinked, dual mono, calibrated.
Manley Labs ELOP Levelling Amplifier 2-channel. Opto magic on vocals, bass, acoustic guitar…and even mix buss when a 3D effect is desired. Sidechain filter version makes it versatile.
Dangerous Compressor 2-ch. Ultra low distortion.  Mastering quality. Can be transparent or grabby.  Mix bus and drums!
Chandler Limited Germanium Compressor. Very versatile and vibey, with mix blend for parallel compression.  Hip blue LED GR meters.
Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor. Swiss Army knife of compressors.  Great knobs make it super easy to recall. Parallel drum compression.
Purple Audio MC76 Limiter. Painstakingly modeled after 1176 E revision. Lots of character. LED meter light upgrade is a godsend.

The Universal Audio 1176LN Limiting Amplifier: How do they match up with vintage?

The Universal Audio 1176LN Limiting Amplifier: How do they match up with vintage?

Universal Audio 1176LN Limiting Amplifier. A bit cleaner than vintage units.  Just as good, if not better.
Universal Audio LA-3A Audio Leveler. The curve more than makes up for the noise.  These are classics for good reason.
Avalon AD2044 2-ch Opto-Compressor. Great for drums, bass, vocals and mix buss…variable attack and release make it very versatile.
Empirical Labs EL-DS DerrEsser + EL500 powered chassis. My favorite de-esser ever! Very musical and surgical.
SPL 9842 4-ch Transient Designer. Paul Wolff was correct when he said it should have been called The Ass Saver.
SPL 9629 2-ch De-Esser. Works quite well on 9 of 10 voices; not so effective on the other 10%.

 Mic Preamps and DIs

A second set of ears is essential to James' workflow.

A second set of ears is essential to James’ workflow.

Avalon AD2022 2-ch. Punchy, clear, modern sound. Vocals, guitars and Fender basses come alive through it.  Variable impedance is useful.
Chandler Limited Germanium Preamp/DI. Old school thick Neve tone.  Adds rock attitude to guitars and bass. Makes acoustic guitars sound like ’70s recordings.
Focusrite ISA 110 Limited Edition. Tough to go wrong with these.  The EQ is very useful.
Apogee Duet2 USB. For laptop field recording.  Sounds pretty good.
Radial JDI passive direct box. Excellent direct box.
Radial X-Amp. Excellent reamp box.
Little Labs Redeye 3D Phantom. Idiot-proof DI & reamp device.  Sounds great!

Outboard and Pedal FX

Eventide H8000FW 8-channel Harmonizer. Can do anything you can imagine!  Used every day.
TC Electronic M3000. Natural sounds; can be used subtly to good effect.
Lexicon PCM60. Crunchy old school reverb.  Rarely used in recent years.  Saves feeble snare drums.
Yamaha SPX90. Haven’t used it in years.
Yamaha D1500 Delay. Cool modulation FX. Almost never powered up, but once a year, it’s just the right thing.
MoogerFooger MF-101 Lowpass Filter. Not for the uninitiated–this is a serious tweaker’s pedal.
MoogerFooger MF-103 12-Stage Phaser. Wide range of sounds.  Excellent.

We'll say it every change we get: MoogerFooger MF-105 MuRF

We’ll say it every change we get: MoogerFooger MF-105 MuRF

MoogerFooger MF-104 Analog Delay. Dark tone is nice for vocal slapback effects.
MoogerFooger MF-105 MuRF. Multiple Resonance Array Filter with sequencer.  Awesome!
MoogerFooger MF-107 FreqBox. Moog “synth” tracks guitar playing.
Fulltone Soul-Bender. Makes Strats ooze with character.
Fulltone Full-Drive 2. For slide playing. Adds sustain without masking the tone of the guitar and amp.
Fulltone Clyde Deluxe Wah. Sounds credible right out of the box.  No mods necessary.
Fulltone Tube Tape Echo. Love it on vocals. Sold it to a friend, but listing it to remind me to buy another one.
CAE Freddy Fuzz. Strats dig it.
CAE Black Cat Vibe. Coveted by many, possessed by few. Studio quality UniVibe.
Chandler Limited Germanium Boost. Boutique boost for discerning tone fanatics.
Chandler Limited Little Devil Colored Boost. Boutique boost for discerning tone fanatics.
Chicago Iron Octavia. Hendrix-esque octave fuzz. Requires finesse to dial in the sweet spot for different guitars.
Demeter Compulator. Opto in a pedal.  Changes your tone for the better, even without gain reduction.
Demeter Tremulator. Ry Cooder-esque tremolo.  Instant vibe.
Boss DD-5 Digital Delay. Has reverse mode.  Lives in a dedicated bypass loop box because it has to.
Boss FT-2 Dynamic Filter. Old-school envelope filter.
EBS Octabass. Octave below.  Tracks well-enough for guitar.
Sho-Bud Volume Pedal. Vintage pedal steel volume.  Very sweet tone when it’s working.
Ernie Ball Volume Pedal. Basic, bomb-proof.
Ernie Ball Jr. Volume Pedal. Basic, bomb-proof.
Maxon AD80 Analog Delay. Short maximum delay time, but warm and sweet.
Rocktron Banshee Talkbox. Won’t blow up your guitar amp!

"My favorite tuner": Sonic Research Turbo

“My favorite tuner”: Sonic Research Turbo Tuner

Sonic Research Turbo Tuner. My favorite tuner. Tune to the attack…unless you’re playing a slow ballad with long tones.
Peterson Strobo-Flip. Handy strobe tuner with Buzz Feiten Tuning offsets.
Custom Audio Electronics Power Supplies. Very clean and reliable.

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