What are the pieces under $500 that come up on here over and over as the must-have, bang for your buck pieces of gear? I'm not talking for any specific task or something that will magically make me a better engineer or musician or anything, just well performing, lesser known (not ubiquitous stuff like SM57, SM7bs) gear of high VALUE and low cost.
To start the list:
Not looking for answers like "I really like the pres in this Kelsey board I bought for $2 at a garage sale. Super old school sounding." Looking for stuff that you can find and that a dozen people or more on here can/have agreed about. The "Value" gems you've found in your research.
For what it's worth, my Hakko FX-888 doesn't pass audio but it's saved me literally thousands of dollars, and the $80 price tag is well worth it over the radio shack soldering irons I'd used in the past. In my opinion, if you're trying to put together a low budget studio, you're missing out on a huge opportunity if you don't have a workable soldering kit and know how to use it.
-if you're counting used gear, I picked up an Overstayer FET comp for a little under $500, and I'm really liking that.
-misterpatchbay.com again, used and not a manufacturer, but this should be the first stop of anyone considering a patchbay install
Disclaimer: I am only slightly above noob status when it comes to recording. It's been a hobby of mine for a few years but I don't have a very broad sample of gear to compare from. These are just a few of the pieces that I've found to be reliable and worth their cost.
ART Pro MPA II - It's not hard to find these for a bit over $200 and it's a great way of adding a pair of extra preamps to a recording setup. I'm happy with mine and the general consensus seems to be positive.
Avantone CK-6 - At about $180, this is a solid microphone choice. It's gorgeous, well built, and sounds good. Paired with the MXL 4000 in mid-side configuration, I'm laying down some great (for my standards) solo acoustic tracks. I haven't encountered a lot of discussion on this mic so, for all I know, there are better options for the money but I'm in no rush to ditch the Avantone.
Focusrite Scarlett 18i6 - I've gone through a handful of low-budget interfaces (Presonus Audiobox, Presonus Inspire GT, TASCAM US1800, TASCAM US800) and the Scarlett has been, without a doubt, the best of the pack. I am tempted to recommend the Scarlett 2i2 but, by comparison, the 18i6 just offers a significantly better value. The expansion opportunities are unlike anything I've come across in a sub $300 interface, and in a small package. As an added bonus, they include the Scarlett Plugin Suite that has one of my favorite compressors. Pound for pound, the Scarlett 18i6 gets my vote for best bargain in the interface category.
ART Tube MP - Heck, it's $30. There aren't a lot of options for adding cheap channels to your rig at this price point. Even when I added the Pro MPA II to my rack, the Tube MP still finds a way to be useful. If you're desperate, give it a shot. There's not a lot to lose and you may be surprised at what it is capable of. I like mine quite a bit.
GLS ES-57 - The original post mentions that the SM57 is an obvious choice (and I agree) but, in terms of value and low cost, this copy is a winner. I wasn't expecting a lot from a $30 mic but it does a great job on guitar cabinets. Another worth mentioning is the Audix i5, which costs the same as an SM57. There's almost always a place for this breed of mic, regardless of whether it's the genuine Shure or the ultra-affordable GLS knockoff.
My next $500 will probably be going toward some preliminary room treatment and a pair of competent monitors but the temptation to grab a compressor or a new preamp is fierce. It's probably best if I stay out of this thread for a while.
IMHO the thing to watch out for on these kinds of threads are well meaning suggestions of "one trick poneys". Like there's an offbeat AKG microphone that's terrific-for less than $60!-used (cost vs. sound quality) for my voice, but YMMV.
Another (maybe 3 trick Pony) IMHO is Blue's Baby Bottle, cool vibe on me when tried, but have noticed some quite varying opinions among end users.
I think Sound On Sound mag has some good advice as far as starting out generally with neutralish mics/gear, and adding "mojo" later.
But then I LOVE mojo!
P.S. Also think it usually takes an intermediate (or better) home recordist to make good demo level recordings of mics like SM57/58 and SM7.
If you are not the ebay flower pot guy... then I will contribute a bit. (thought I know he is watching)
Scratch the RNP off the list, like I mentioned earlier.
Klark Teknik DN500 DN405/410 (built like tanks originally cost thousands. A steal)
EV RE20 (it can fly)
A mic from M. Joly (Superb customer service)
Steinberg MR816x (Nice preamps and conversion for the money. Good latency)
SCA Rack w/ two T15's (if you cant solder) or C84 (if you can). Better than RNP
ART Pro VLA II (GR 5db or more and instant color)
PM1000 Channel strips (not 1 trick but they are colored, so I put them here)
The old IKEA Jerker (adjustable computer desk)
PBC-a (Its not for everybody, but if you like what it does, you really like what it does)
Little Labs VOG (My son. Comman the drums to do thine bidding)
A lunchbox (I finally got one, this time for good. I think. I hope. Maybe. I dunno)
ZED14 for the pre's
EHX 12AY7 tube mic pre
EV N/D 767
Groove Tubes DI box
AT or Whirlwind XLR to 1/4" impedance transformers
Tape Sim plug like PSP Vintage Warmer or Cakewalk's Tape Sim
Damn good pickups on your guitar (i.e., Bill Lawrence, Lollar's or Kinman's...)