Guide to Buying New and Used Gear
My goal is to give you the straight truth as I see it. I've spent years scrimping and saving for music gear and I know how it is!
How important is it to you have great state of the art gear? U know, the kind the big studios have. I can't answer that for you, but will pose some questions you might ask yourself that should help. On one hand, the gear does not write music, you do. Yesterday's state of the art gear is relatively inexpensive. It's often not hard to find a keyboard, mixer, hardware sampler or specialty synth module that retailed for 2 grand 10 years ago going for 300-400 bucks. Older budget gear can be had for often under $100. You have to work within limitations if you go this route, but few people, other than synth-heads and music fanatics are going to be able to tell if your bassline came from a $3,000 Korg Triton or a $75 used Yamaha TX-81Z. (In fact, the latter, which really can be had for about $75 used is often the bass module of choice for techno-artists).
Yet much old budget gear is very frustrating to use, especially the early digital stuff, like that TX81Z. You'll be limited. Limitations are not necessarily bad. Today we are rather unlimited. Limits force one to think of work-arounds and alternate ways to get an audio result. Some well-heeled composers actually place artificial limits on their process to keep them thinking (Such as, this piece will only be 4 note polyphonic, or only use piano, etc.) Another thing to consider is that older "retro" gear has a certain lo-fi coolness to it. You might be surprised, if you were able to poll some of today's famous electronic composers, that many of them use the same gear they have been using since 1989! In the right hands, even older, average gear can make great music. It is your interaction with the machine that makes the good buzz. The bottom line here is do you really need state of the art gear? No. But you'll work a little harder if you resurrect the relics of the 80's and 90's.
The latest gear is friendlier than ever, easier to play on. In modern keyboards for example, you will find hundreds, even thousands of instruments all tweaked and ready for your specific applications. If you want drums for Techno, DnB, Hip Hop, Country, Orchestral, you'll find them all in the box ready to go. In the early days of midi, we had to work hard to get those sounds. And modern gear sounds better than ever. Its quieter, should have no hisses and hums, usually has good support online with free patches and even operating systems you can download. Also, new gear is more reliable than old gear. You've got quite a few years before you have to start worrying about power supplies dying and battery backed Ram failing. Finally, manufacturers have learned a thing or two about ergonomics (ease of use). Some of the latest gear is the result of 2 decades of R&D by manufacturers and the effort really shows.
Once you decide that you want new or old gear you are still not out of the thick. Inevitably we have to make choices of the quality and price of the gear we want to purchase. For example, with keyboards, the decision between a flagship Fantom X vs. A Yamaha MM6. It helps to think of going to work in your car. Do you want a smooth riding Lexus or will a little Chevy do? They both will get you there. But one has a very sexy luxurious feel and the other has less of that. Do you need to spend $1200 on a premium Great River ME-1NV pre or will the preamps on your $45 Behringer XENYX 502 Mixer cut it?
Don't let the bug bite too hard.
Especially with mics, preamps, compressors, and reverbs you will find budget stuff that is garbage, budget stuff that is acceptable, mid range stuff that is good and high end gear that costs 30 times the budget gear, but gives you stellar results. One thing to keep in mind, is that hi end gear often requires more high end gear. I mean, your not going to run a $2,700.00 Neumann U87 mic through your old radio shack disco mixer you found in the alley. Nah, you'll need at least an excellent pre amp and pristine a/d converter to go along with that. This is just to say that as you approach the high end of gear, the whole studio cost starts going up astronomically. Those with deep pockets can ignore all this and just get the best. But with shallow pockets like most of us have, ya gotta keep things from breaking the bank.