If you’ve worked in a few studios, you’ve probably noticed that some gear pops up everywhere you go. This is because people love these pieces! They’re popular, they work well, and because of that, it’s good to know what they are and how to use them. So without any further ado, here’s a list of some gear that I’ve noticed again and again in my travels.

1. U 87 / U 67

I’m trying not to stray too much into microphone territory here, but I am going to mention this one. This is a classic condenser mic that’s used for a variety of purposes, but is especially renowned for its use as a vocal mic.  I seem to see one of these in every studio I visit.  The U 87  is the more recent model, whereas the U 67 was introduced back in the 1960’s, and used tubes instead of transistors.  A lot of people prefer the sound and frequency response of the U 67, and the tubes probably have a lot to do with that.  However, especially with the older models like the 67, you have to be aware of the condition of the mic you’re using.  They’re such studio staples, that they often received considerable wear and tear over the years.  Plus, Neumann sells new housing and replacement parts for these microphones, so be sure not to judge condition based on appearance. If you’re interested in learning more, check out this article on the U 67.  On a side note, these mics can be pretty pricey for the home studio enthusiast.  If you’re looking for something way more affordable that is also popular in professional studios, I would recommend the SM7.  You can also look into cheaper mics that are known for sounding similar to the U 67 / U 87 line.  

2. Avalon Preamps

The Avalon Pres are really popular for hip hop vocalists (Young Guru uses the 737, among others). People seem to love or hate them, but I think it really depends on the sound source and situation. Either way, they are commonly seen in pro studios, and a lot of the top engineers in the industry use them. So I’d check them out and see what you think.

3. Pultec EQP-1A

You know a piece of gear has become popular and successful when they model a plugin after it. This 2-band tube EQ unit (along with the next few items on this list) is no exception. It seems to exist in all major studios, and every beginner engineer quickly learns to recognize its iconic design and sound. It’s the type of gear that some engineers will run their audio through simply to get the sound that it applies – even with a flat EQ.

4. The 1176

The 1176 is another popular studio workhorse.  It’s a great compressor / limiter, manufactured by Universal Audio, with an iconic sound and reliability.  There are the vintage UREI 1176 models, and a series of UA 1176 modern iterations.  They’re used on all instruments and all genres of music, and are known for treating and preserving the high end frequencies very well.  There’s even a plugin modeled after them, just like the Pultec.  I definitely recommend checking this one out if you haven’t already.  

5. LA-2A

Universal Audio’s LA-2A compressor is considered to be slightly less versatile than the 1176, but is still a studio staple.  It seems to be especially fitting for vocals, but it sounds great on most things, and has a low amount of harmonic distortion.  Its attenuator is actually frequency dependent, so the compression ratio and sound varies depending on the frequency content you run through it.  If you can’t shell out the few grand for the hardware version, Waves made a decent plugin that emulates the original electro-optical tube compressor hardware.  For a really interesting read on the history of this piece of gear, check out this article.

6. SSL Compressors: The G Series

SSL compressors are great, and SSL is a broader category of gear that should really be on this list.  But I guess if I have to pick one for this list, I’ll talk about the SSL G Series Stereo Bus Compressor.  It’s a rack mount compressor that was built to emulate the compressor found in SSL’s 400 G-Series console.  It’s great for bus compression, whether that’s to glue together a sub-mix, or the master bus.  For those of you that don’t want to break the bank, Waves made a good plugin that emulates the master bus center compressor on the SSL 4000 G console.  Actually, a few companies have emulated this piece of gear in plugin form.

7. Waves Plugins

Waves might be one of the best known plugin manufacturers. They make great plugins, and if you get on their mailing list, they’ll send you a free plugin on Black Friday every year. Everyone has them, everyone knows about them, and I’m not sure what else to say here.

8. Lexicon 480-L Digital Reverb

Now, the Lexicon 480-L is an older unit. So if you’re thinking about buying one be aware that it’s very expensive to fix, and you run the risk of having a very expensive doorstop if it breaks and you can’t foot the repair bill. It also looks like some sort of weird ancient calculator. On the other hand, you shouldn’t dismiss it, because it’s an amazing reverb, and people swear by it. It’s pretty amazing that it has retained its status as one of the leading studio reverb units since it came out in 1986. It has a myriad of settings to help you get the sound you want, and if your studio has one, I recommend trying it out. Fun fact: I met a couple of the re-recording mixers for Game of Thrones recently, and they said they use this unit too.

9. Yamaha NS10 and Avantones

I felt like I needed to mention some studio monitors on this list, so I’m just going to mention a couple that I tend to see.  The NS10’s are a common one, and are definitely an industry standard despite the fact that they’re very bright speakers that don’t really sound good.  They stopped making them a while back, which has perhaps added to the desirability.  At any rate, it seems to be one of those pieces of gear that people either love or hate.  I guess the idea with NS10’s is that if you can make something sound good on them, then it should sound good on better monitors.  Plus, there’s something to be said for sticking with monitors with which you’re familiar, and these seem to be in every studio.      

Now, no one ever has just a pair of Avantones on their desk; they’re definitely used as a secondary monitor.  Avantones are little cube speakers designed to mimic the discontinued Auratone 5C Sound Cube.  The idea is that these speakers are good studio monitors that are designed to help you hear what your mix will sound like on lower quality consumer devices.  Anyone that does a quick iPhone check at the end of  their mix will understand the importance of that.  Basically, if your mix sounds good on the Avantones as well as your mains, then it’s most likely to sound good on a wide range of consumer devices.

10. Pro Tools (duh!)

It felt weird writing an article about studio workhorses and not mentioning Pro Tools at least once.  So here you go: everyone seems to use Pro Tools in professional studios, and you probably know all about it by now!  There’s so much depth to the program though.  Even if you’ve been using it for years, I recommend getting your hands on one of Avid’s PT textbooks and taking a peek to see what you might learn.  

So that’s the whole list for today. For more detailed info on gear and how to use it, check out our episodes! 

Questions? Comments? As always, please share in the comments below!