About DIY Recording Equipment

Who’s behind all this?
My name’s Peterson Goodwyn, I’m a drummer and recording engineer out of Philadelphia who stumbled into DIY because I couldn’t afford the gear I wanted to record with. When I found out I could build that gear for a fraction of the price, I kind of freaked and became obsessed with cataloging every project I could find. This website is an attempt to organize those projects in one place and make it easier for newbies to get started successfully.

Find me on Google, Twitter

Philadelphia filmmaker Cory J Popp made a great short feature about DIYRE:

Philly Makers – DIY Recording Equipment from Cory J Popp on Vimeo.

Why build your own gear?

  1. To obtain vintage gear you’d never get your hands on otherwise. Just because Neumann doesn’t make the U-47 anymore doesn’t mean you can’t!
  2. To save money on gear. Ex: An original Fairchild 670 Limiter costs around $50,000 (if you can find one). It costs about $3,600 to build one with a PCB from Drip Electronics.
  3. Build cool stuff that doesn’t exist on the commercial market.
  4. Deepen your understanding of the tools of your craft.
  5. Build something amazing from scratch.

Is DIY gear really as good as the commercial stuff?
Yes, sometimes better. If the design is good, the components are good, and it’s built relatively well, the gear you build yourself will be every bit as good as a similar commercial unit. While every manufacturer would like us to believe their gear is magic, at the end of the day they use the same basic components and are subject to the same laws of physics as the rest of us. I said “sometimes better” because commercial manufacturers often make design or component-quality compromises to meet a certain price point. As DIYers we have the luxury of setting our own price points, and so can choose to use an over-rated power supply, boutique components, a heftier chassis, etc. The bottom line is that doing one of the DIY projects listed here is not equivalent to making a “kiddie version” of the real thing, it’s doing exactly what the pros did back before (most of) the pros outsourced their manufacturing to China.

Ok, so if it’s really just as good as the commercial stuff, why is DIY so much cheaper?
Two reasons.

  1. Commercial gear makers do lot more than just put components together. The brilliant people who design great pieces of gear and invest their time and money to bring that gear to the market deserve to be well compensated. If you want a piece of gear that’s currently on the market, buy it from the person or team who designed it.
  2. If you are counting your DIY time in terms of dollars, it’s often not any cheaper than buying retail. The real savings tend to happen at the extremes of the spectrum, with cheaper stuff like mic cables, which are really cheap to DIY, and the really pricey stuff, such as the Drip 670 which costs roughly $45,000 less than the original.

How do I get started?
Funny you should ask.

What does a resistor do? What’s a BOM? Etc.
Check out the post “The Newbie’s Guide to DIY Jargon” and the simple guide to passive components.

I don’t even know how to solder! How do I get started?
First of all, get quality tools and practice your soldering a bit while you decide which project to tackle first. I’ve curated a DIY Tools Store from Amazon based on the tools I found most commonly recommended at GroupDIY, Gearslutz, etc. Once it’s time to choose a project, take a look “21 Newbie Friendly DIY Projects” where I rank projects on a 1-10 difficulty scale. You can do it! Start small to build your soldering skills and confidence, and you’ll be building that Fairchild in no time.

Did you make all of these projects?
Lord, no! I merely saw a bunch of people doing really cool things and set out to document it. I have no commercial affiliation with 99% of the projects listed here, but I nonetheless encourage you to buy many things to keep this community alive and growing. If you do want to support my work, you can use these links to shop on eBay or Amazon, click the ads, or buy one of my kits.

You didn’t answer all of my questions! Can I put API opamps in my mixer? How do I make a mic splitter? What kind of transformer do I need for a DI box? Where do I get cases for my projects? Etc.
Questions like these are posed and answered on the Q&A Board.

DIY Discussion Forums:

  • DIY-Racked: The administrator here creates excellent front panels and cases for DIY projects. Discussion is centered around the enclosure side of DIY.
  • GroupDIY: The GroupDIY forum is where most of the projects on this site were born. There are some brilliant engineers among it’s denizens, so discussions can get quite technical.
  • Geekslutz: Tech-oriented section of the (in)famous Gearslutz discussion board.
  • Lunchbox Hero: Discussion of 500-series related projects.
  • Pro Audio Design Forum: A small, but extremely knowledgeable community that discusses DIY and pro audio circuit design.
  • Sound on Sound: Less active than other boards with only one or two posts a day, but searching the archives can yield some great projects.
  • TapeOp: TapeOp Magazine has always been about applying the DIY ethos to recording. The posters here apply it literally to their gear.

Project/Brand Specific:

  • Drip Electronics: Support and discussion of Drip’s projects as well as some general DIY banter.
  • JLM Audio: Support for JLM’s bountiful kit selection.
  • Seventh Circle Audio: Obsessing over which SCA preamps to build? It’s OK, there’s a home for people like  you.

36 thoughts on “About DIY Recording Equipment

  1. Can I just say how grateful I am to have happended upon this website, with everything so cleary laid out, I’ve been planning on and off to start a project and this website has re-inspired me to get cracking. It’s got it all under one space awesome !

    Great work !!!

    Matt

  2. Hello,

    I’m looking for a source for the Calrec PQ1549 EQ DIY project boards. Single channel or dual. I have six channels I am working on now and will be forced to drill my own rack cases (which I really don’t want to do) if I cannot find a case maker. Please help me if you can. Many Thanks, David

    1. David, I have an extra prototype board in 500 series format that I have laying around if you want to purchase it from me. I’m working on a newer revision that incorporates some aesthetic improvements. I could sell you the pots, relays and face plate that go with it too to make it easier. Let me know. Thanks, Jason

  3. Hey Peterson,
    this blog is really great. I have a suggestion for a (maybe) interesting topic: What makes clean sounding pre amps sound so different from a “colourful” sounding pre amp? Perhaps you could make a podcast that “solves the mystery” how transformers does impact to the sound. It must be more than just distortion….

  4. hi im interested in starting a api 312 project i need all parts, and could use some help with a parts list i def need a pcb and and op amps and all the goodies for it, what would you suggest?
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Austin, have you checked out ClassicAPI.com? Even if you’re not interested in a full kit, taking a look at Jeff’s projects will give you a good idea of everything you need. If you’re going for a rack-mount version, one of Dan’s basic cases from CollectiveCases.com is a good place to start. Best of luck!

  5. Hi Peterson,

    I heard you in the Home Recording Show and think you are the man to ask. 😉 I have a specific question about active DIs. I have an active DI box, which is quite sufficient for my applications. I would like to use it as DI box for direct guitar signal, which gets reamped later. Unfortunately the mic input on my Terratec audio interface sucks (too much noise for reamping via distortion channel) and I don’t want to buy another mic preamp. I have one, which is normally used for different purposes and it is not necessarily neutral (it’s a tube pre). I had the idea that it would be cool to modify the active DI box in a way that it outputs line level signal instead of mic level. the XLR output is directly connected to the transformer. That seems to be standard. Would there be a way to simply replace the transformer with a different one, which has a different turns ratio and I’m done? Getting a suitable transformer is a different story, but I’m curious, if it was that easy and what turns ratio I would need to look for. Would appreciate your response to this topic.

    Thanx & take care!

    Frank

    1. Hi Frank, given that your DI is active, it may have enough output level to go right into your interface’s line-level inputs.

      I recommend this “easy way out” because there is no simple way to bring the DI output up to line level with out adding a gain stage. Your idea of replacing the output transformer is resourceful, but keep in mind that when a transformer steps up gain (voltage) it also steps down current by that same amount. In other words, it would increase the output impedance of your DI by the square of the amount it increased gain, compromising the DIs ability to drive the line input.

      Thanks for the question, hope you find something that works for you.

      Best,
      Peterson

  6. Mods for yamaha hs80m: op amps burr brown and caps low esr panasonic and wima polypropylene caps

    Do you have plans or a schematic for this showing what to replace and where can you buy these parts ?
    Thx!

    Matt

  7. Hi Peterson.

    Thanks for providing all the info and everything. I was trying just now to order the Line2Amp kit now that I finally have the money for it, but it appears it doesn’t ship to the UK. I triple checked but I might be wrong. Is there anyway you might ship to the UK?

    Thanks,

    Nathan

    1. Hi Nathan,

      Thanks for your interest. We absolutely ship to the UK! When calculating shipping, you simply need to select “Great Britain” or “Ireland”–there is no shipping selection for the UK.

  8. Why is the passive summing box not available for the foreseeable future? This product is just what i need! The new one doesn’t suit my needs, and I have no idea how to drill holes in a blank rack panel without a press. Please build more of these or at least pre-drill panels!

  9. Hi Peterson. Saw your name on the Drip Electronics discussion board. I’m planning on building the Fairchild 670 and someone there said that you had created the front panel (and possibly rear panel) graphics layout and had printed them on a chassis for them – if I understood correctly. I am a graphic artist and amp builder of 30+ years experience and was looking at doing this myself and paying a shop to silk screen the control graphics. However, no point re-inventing the wheel if you’ve been through this drill and might have something already created along those lines. Let me know if this is the case and/or any thoughts you might have as to the best way to get a replica case printed.

    – Kris B

  10. How difficult would it be to make a harness for wiring one of the Color units like in the video (don’t have a 500 chassis).

  11. Hi there. I am looking to get into DIY audio. The first tool I will obviously need is a soldering pencil. I have read a bunch and haven’t came to any real conclusion as to which one to buy. Don’t have $300 to blow on a top of the line unit. What would be your recommendation on one that will stay hot enough to work with boards and not burn out after a few dozen uses. Thanks a ton

  12. Is it possible to use a passive DI in reverse? Or do you have to design the transformer for directional current flow? Yes to the last question meaning that a transformer for DI would be different from a transformer for re-amping.

    1. Good question. It’s not idea to use a passive DI in reverse; however, current will flow both ways and you won’t cause any harm by doing so. The transformers for reamping and DI boxes are different in a few ways:

      -A DI transformer puts out a very low, mic-level signal, so it must have robust noise shielding in the form of a mu-metal can.
      -A DI transformer typical has a ratio of 1:12.
      -A reamp transformer typically has a ratio in the range of 1:1-4:1.

  13. I am looking for a price for two (2) Samar 1:36B transformers with shielding. I also would like ordering information.

    Thanks!

  14. I’m confused about finding the podcasts on this site. Is there not a section just devoted to the podcasts somewhere or are they just in the blog and you have to search them out?

  15. I am a huge fan of your Colour modules for recording, but I also get great tones out of it with guitar. Is there a way to implement these modules into a stomp box to inject some of the great analog flavors of your modules into a live pedal board environment. Any ideas?

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