Are you planning to set up your first home recording studio? We’ve listed five essential equipment to guarantee a good start!
The first thing to note when setting up a home recording studio is that while having high quality and expensive gear and a multimillion-dollar facility is a great asset for making professional recordings, it pales in comparison to how important the actual skills are required to make a great recording and/or mix.
Knowing what you’re doing will trump any piece of gear.
With today’s technology, you can ultimately make an incredibly professional sounding recording and mix with very little money spent on “gear” and in the comfort of one’s own home.
Before we begin, remember, this setup allows you to start ASAP with a minimal investment in both time and money. More importantly, it’s the perfect foundation to build upon later as your skills mature. Let’s get into it!
1. A computer
When starting a studio from scratch, the computer is the biggest expenditure by far. Ideally, you want the fastest one you can afford. But these days, virtually everyone already has a computer of some sort. And virtually all computers are fast enough to at least get you started. So in the beginning, regardless of your budget, I recommend using what you have for now and upgrading later on.
2. A DAW
If you don’t already know, A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is the software designed for recording, editing and mixing digital audio on your computer… It doesn’t matter which one you choose, but before you can record any music, you’ll need one.
The industry standard is Avid’s Pro Tools, and for complex audio mixing, manipulation and routing are probably the best for the task.
It used to be very expensive to get a Pro Tools rig running in a home studio, but now for around $100 a year, you can have the exact software that the pros use. Or, for around $200, you can purchase Apple’s Logic, which is the choice for most songwriters, producers, and musicians both professional and beginners who are just getting into the game of producing, recording, and mixing. If you’ve used Garage Band, Logic is a nice segue into the world of pro audio because it has a similar layout and looks.
Ableton Live—which is a bit more expensive if you buy the complete version—is another great option and is the choice for the larger percentage of producers in the EDM, hip hop, and electronic genres because of its excellent MIDI, VST, and song creation workflow.
You can explore other options like Cubase, Reaper, Fruity Loops, etc. – just remember that there is no difference in audio quality between DAWs, and no DAW “sounds” better than any other.
3. An Audio Interface
An Audio Interface is the hardware that connects your gears to your computer. It lets you record your voice, guitar, synth, etc. via a microphone or instrument cable, it also will provide you with some quality outputs for a set of speakers—or “monitors” as we call them in the audio world.
You can use the headphone output of your computer, but it is not as good as an interface, it will require adapters, and can generally be a bit of a nuisance sometimes with buzzes and other artifacts of the computer and audio converters.
The best choice
For a beginner, the best bang-for-your-buck is the Focusrite 2i2(~$150) or the Universal Audio Apollo Twin (~$700), if you can afford a mid-range end Audio Interface.
4. Studio Monitors And Headphones
It’s difficult to learn how to mix without a set of proper studio monitors. These speakers have a flat response, so you hear the mix as it is.
While your car audio system or home entertainment HiFi may be fun to listen to music on, you certainly don’t want to mix on those systems as you may make some very faulty mixing mistakes. Normal hi-fi speakers color the sound so they can up-sell the product, and tag it as “High Quality With Excellent Bass Range”– not good.
You don’t need to break the bank when it comes to buying your first monitors. However, once you get into the midrange cost of monitors, you will notice a difference and the extra money spent will help you with your recording, production, and mix decisions.
Yamaha HS8s are becoming an industry standard and you can get a used pair for as little as $600. However, you must make sure your room is acoustically treated if you use this size. If your room isn’t treated (or it’s smaller), check out the Yamaha HS5’s.
It doesn’t matter which speakers you chose, though – just buy a pair and stick with them for a long time. Learn how they sound.
You can mix on headphones alone. But only after a lot of practice and experience. Even then, it’s always worth checking your mix on monitors. So having both would be highly recommended. You have two options for headphones: closed-back or open-back headphones for your studio.
Open vs closed
Closed-back headphones are for monitoring when recording (or mixing on the fly in public places). Open-back headphones are for mixing.
For your first pair, go for closed-back headphones. You can still mix them (just remember to mix at a low volume and use a reference track).
The best choice
One of the industry standards for mixing headphones are the Beyerdynamic DT700s. These are truly incredible, flat, and accurate headphones that you can use to mix.
You’ll need a microphone to record vocals or any other acoustic instrument. More than likely, you’ll just need one microphone.
Ensuring that your vocal tracks shine in a mix is the most vital part of your recording endeavor if you’re involved with popular music.
Luckily, you can record stellar vocals with a relatively budget microphone.
The Rode NT1A is a great choice.
That’s it! Anything else you buy will be just embellishing the essentials of a fully operational recording studio. Outboard analog gear is fun and can add interesting and beautiful colors to your recording and mixing arsenal, but are not completely necessary. Better yet, purchase a few quality plugins and learn them.