Starting a home recording studio can be a daunting task, and it can be a considerable investment for those who are serious about making music. This article will focus on the most basic, most essential pieces of equipment that will make sure you have a working recording studio at home without stretching your budget unnecessarily.
Home studio equipment checklist
To start a working recording studio at home, you will need:
- A computer
- A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
- An audio interface
- A microphone
- XLR cables
- 1/4 inch cables
- A mic stand
- Studio monitors
Your computer will probably be the most essential equipment in this studio set. It will serve as the recording, editing and composing centre for your music.
Modern personal computers are generally fast enough to process signals from the DAW. However, it is recommended to get one with the best processing power and soundcard you can afford. Due to this reason, many recording artists prefer Macs over PC’s, since the former tend to have better performance -especially when your recording software demands really fast processing- and better soundcards. However, many recording artists find that PC’s are adequate to make professional music too, so do consider your options with care.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
A DAW is the software that allows you to record, edit audio and MIDI files, as well as compose original music. There are an overwhelming number of DAWs in the market, and not all are created equal.
If you don’t know how long you will stick with making music, a simple, intuitive DAW will do the trick. The most recommended DAWs for beginners are:
– FL Studio
– Acid Pro
If you are serious about making music and are willing to invest a bit more of your budget into a more versatile and powerful DAW, these software listed below are for you. Chances are once you get one of these, it will be the only DAW you will ever need to purchase:
– Logic Pro
– Ableton Live
– Avid Pro Tools
– PreSonus Studio One
An audio interface converts the electric signals from your guitar or bass pickups and microphones into digital signals to be manipulated inside your DAW.
Number of input channels
When choosing an audio interface, pay attention to the number and types of inputs, as audio interfaces with more inputs usually cost more, which may go to waste if you do not need that many inputs anyway. For instance, if you are only recording at most a microphone for vocals and an acoustic guitar at a time, choose an audio interface with two, or if you want to be sure, four inputs.
Another important factor to pay close attention to before purchasing your first audio interface is whether a particular interface is compatible with the DAW you will use or already are using. While most industry- standard DAWs work well with audio interfaces currently in the market, conficts do happen. Be sure to find as much information as you can online, or if possible, purchase a DAW- audio interface combo.
Some brands that produce DAW- audio interface combos are:
– Presonus (a copy of Studio One is provided with some models of their AudioBox audio interface)
– Avid (a copy of Pro Tools is provided with their Avid Fast Track audio interfaces)
A downside to the combo option is that some combos only come with the free edition of the DAWs, which may be extremely limited depending on your standards. And as there are only a few companies offering combos, you are left with signifincantly fewer options to choose from.
The most recommended type of connectors for beginners is USB connectors, which means you can connect the audio interface to your computer via its USB port. While this option offers great portability and flexibility, USB connection is the slowest among audio interface connections.
Other connection options include FireWire and Thunderbolt, which are significantly faster than USB connections, but may require additional ports on your computer. In the case that your computer does not have these ports, a converter may be required.
A microphone is not only essential in recording vocals in the studio, it is also extremely useful in recording surrounding sounds for atmospheric and realistic music.
Dynamic vs condenser mics
Dynamic mics generally are less sensitive and pick up signals from primarily the direction of the vocalist. These are ideal for recording clean, uncolored vocals.
Condenser mics are generally much more sensitive and can pick up the surrounding sounds as well. They are ideal for recording atmospheric music and rich vocals, such as a choir.
Some of the most popular microphones for beginners are:
– Shure SM57
– Audio Technica AT2020 USB
– Rode NT1-A
You can check out our reviews of the best mics for recording for 2016.
These cables are required to connect microphones to the audio interface or mixer. It is recommended to keep at least one of these cables if your studio has a microphone.
1/4 inch cables
These cables are required to connect instruments such as guitar and bass into the audio interface, or a guitar amplifier into a mixer, or the audio interface into a mixer. It is always handy to keep a few of these in your studio.
Although it seems redundant, a solid mic stand is indispensible when recording vocals, making sure you get minimal noise from the movement of your fingers. A mic stand is also extremely important in case you want to mic your acoustic guitar to record it.
Studio monitors offer a more honest and uncolored sound to your mix, which helps you judge your sound more objectively when mixing your tracks. For beginners, the Yahama HS80M and the Behringer 2031A are good options to consider. The former is slightly more expensive but you should be able to get one in the USD500 range if you scour Ebay for deals. It is packed with more features but most importantly, it is very accurate in giving you the readings you need for a good mix. The Behringer can be a bit flat when it comes to frequency response so you need to watch out for that.
Headphones are extremely useful when composing or editing your tracks. Investing in a good pair of studio headphones will make a huge difference in the music you can produce.
A home studio can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. This article focuses on the most basic, yet essential equipment that you enable you to produce serious music for years to come.