Updated: Dec 22, 2021
Whether your experienced with this stuff or not, if you're thinking of investing in a home recording set-up, it's best to keep things simple. Getting your home setup right ain't easy. Trust me when I say things can get quite stressful... especially when trying to determine what to spend your hard earned $ on. The gear trap is real, confusing and can easily cost you a fortune!
This blog is a guide to help you determine exactly what you require for your specific needs, as well as guide you through the bare essential home recording equipment that you need to start being creative.
First step is to clarify what style of studio are you wanting? Whats the purpose?
Many of these will share similarities, but it is a good idea to figure out what you're wanting to do with your studio, as some pieces of equipment will differ depending on your goals.
Below is a list of recommended gear basics that most home setups require to get the ball rolling:
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Software
1 . The Computer - A no brainer in todays modern climate... It's essential to have a machine that can handle the requirements of a DAW. Most recent computer models won’t have any issues running a DAW or the associated software in a home recording setting. One thing to be mindful of is when you start adding tracks, soft synths, effects, etc. All this extra 'load' on your CPU means things can slow right down. Once you start adding tracks, plugins and virtual instruments your CPU and RAM will suffer resulting in frustration, a lumpy workflow and software crashes. Having a fast and juicy machine means you can keep your flow and stay creative.
Recommended Minimum Specifications for Music Production:
2ghz+ Intel® Core™ i5 processor or faster recommended.
8GB RAM or more.
1080p or 1440p display.
256GB SSD or larger
Windows 10/OS X 10.12 or later.
2. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) Software - Avid Protools, Apple Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, FL Studio....heard of these? These are DAWs. All different... but essentially they all do the same thing. It's just a matter of finding what works for your style, situation and budget, but ultimately just choose one and stick with it.
Your DAW is essentially the brain of your studio. It's a platform to support and control the audio editing, plugins, VSTs, and MIDI.
You’ll be spending most of your time working in this software and you’ll be learning everything there is to know about the DAW that you chose. which is why it's important to ensure that the one you choose is easy enough for you to wrap your head around. Most will have support networks and communities you can lean on for information, and all vary in budget. So do you research here before purchasing.
I highly recommend staying away from Free DAWs as they are usually limited to beginner/novice standards and workflows. Free DAWs can be the gateway to your DAW of choice. For example, GarageBand is a free entry level DAW compared to it's advanced and more sophisticated bigger brother, Logic Pro X.
If you have access to a Free DAW, great! Don't be afraid to dig around and make mistakes, however, professional use will require procedures and functionality that the Free DAWs just won't offer you.
3 . Audio Interface - One of the more complex pieces to the studio puzzle is the Audio Interface, or Sound Card, or AD/DA Converter (Analog to Digital/Digital to Analog). It's the conversion you need to turn any analog sound, like a sound captured by a microphone, into a binary or digital format. This is so you can have complete malleable control over your audio in your DAW. This device then converts it from digital back into analog form (Speaker Output) so you can hear it.
Too man technical factors to wrap you head around here, however, you don't need to dive too deep into this. Just choose a device that suits your budget and application. So what does it do?
You plug your microphones and instruments into it.
You connect it to your computer via USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt.
You connect your headphones and studio monitors, as it can also act as an output amplifier.
There are two varieties of Audio Interface, desktop interfaces which are the more popular for the home studio, and they usually only house between 2 and 6 channels, which is enough to get you going.
For more intermediate studios, most producers/engineers require at least 8 channels, so they will usually opt in for a rack mounted device. More channels means less configuration during your recording session.
For more insight into Audio Interfaces, click here.
4. Headphones - More specifically, Studio Headphones. There is a difference. I'm not saying your iPhone ear buds aren't great headphones... most music consumers use these, it's the modern standard... what i'm saying is, a nice set of powered studio headphones can make or break your mix, and can help you track ideas without disturbing your neighbours on those late, creative nights.
There are two different types of studio headphones. One being Open-Back, and the other, Closed-Back.
Closed-back headphones have a speaker mounted against a solid cup which helps with noise isolation. These types of headphones are great for monitoring and recording audio. The benefit comes from greater noise isolation when recording tracks.
Open-back headphones have a perforated ear cup allowing sound to move freely in and out. These headphones won’t block outside noise. With open-back headphones, you’re more likely to experience a natural airy sound. Open-back headphones are most useful when mixing tracks.
So what should you buy?
If you're just starting out, get some Closed-Back headphones. This will get you moving on your creative production journey.
For some product comparisons, check out this page.
5. Studio Monitors - the speaker kind, not the screen kind. Studio Monitors are necessary to help you reference your tracks in your home studio. The aim of a good studio monitor is to give you a completely accurate/flat frequency response when mixing and referencing. And by switching between your Headphones and Monitors when listening back or mixing, you can assure you'll get an even better balance. The more references you have the better your mixes will be.
Again, there are two difference types of Studio Monitor, Near-Field and Far-Field Monitors.
Near-field Monitors are best for a close listening range. 1 meter - 1.5 meters is generally a good distance from your listening position, or 'sweet-spot'.
Far-field Monitors are larger speakers that mount in the studio, behind the console. These speakers are great for high volume and for testing the low end of your mix. Sometimes a sub-woofer can be added to the equation here for more low-end focus.
Different monitors are used in different spaces. Knowing your room response is essential here. Don't be afraid to seek professional acoustics help if this feels a bit beyond you. Acoustic treatment can help balance your monitors response your room, giving you a controlled environment to make music in. As a rule of thumb, no Monitor is perfect. It all comes down to how your room treated and how far away they are from you. This is a learning curve in itself.
Here's a buyers guide for the best Studio Monitors of 2020.
6. Microphones - The weapon of choice on the front line... the microphone. But which microphone you ask? There's hundreds out there, and the prices range from $80 to $15,000?!
Well yes, there are many mic types to decipher.
Large Diaphragm Condensers
Small Diaphragm Condensers/Pencils
Standard Dynamics/Moving Coil
Large Diaphragm Dynamics
Large-diaphragm microphones are best used for solo instruments or vocals. They are a good starting microphone as they are very versatile and can record anything.
Small Diaphragm Condenser microphones are great for producing a detailed sound image. You’ll get way more detail recording an instrument with a small diaphragm. There is no “padding” of your sound. The results will be very real.
Dynamic or Moving Coil Microphones are usually used for live sound. It’s pretty rare to see a dynamic microphone used in a studio. They’re great to have when setting up microphones for an amplifier.
My recommendation for those just starting out would be the Shure SM7B or Electro-voice RE20. Both very versatile mics and fairly priced, ranging from $500 to $1000. Both these mics will be suitable for just about any application. I've recorded everything from vocals and kick drums, to room captures. Every producer should own at least one of these in their kit. You won't be disappointed.
7. Microphone Stands - The first of the accessories list. Use these to stand-up your mic and position it anywhere. A better choice than asking the vocalist to hold the mic the whilst tracking. There are a few different types of stands to consider for different applications.
Tripod Boom Stands are one of the most common stands. Mostly seen in a live situation. Best for a long reach between the subject and the microphone.
Tripod Stands are what you think about when you think about a microphone stand. It’s a straight stand with the microphone attached at the top.
Round Base Stands are great for live sound when you have a small stage. The small base will prevent people from tripping over it or cables getting snagged. The base is usually quite heavy and weighted to minimise tipping.
Low Profile Stands are exclusively used for setting up microphones for guitar amps, kick drums, anything that's positioned low to the ground.
Desktop Stands are great for bedroom studio setups. Common among the podcast community and smaller studio spaces.
Overhead Stands are mainly used for recording drums or getting a better room sound. They are usually the largest stand, allowing a large reach.
Choosing a microphone stand isn’t as difficult as buying the microphone itself. Just look into what other studios are using and go for that.
8. Pop Filters - Essential for anyone recording vocals or aiming to capture high SPL applications. It's a great tool, and cheap too!
A pop filter is a foam or mesh screen that goes between the microphone and the singer. If you’re setting up a home recording studio to record vocals, you need one of these. Trust us.
Pop filters prevent unwanted noises. It will filter out all of the “P”, “B” and breathing from your recording. I've worked with artists that have very high sibilance levels in their vocal, and used two pop filters, one in front of the other, to minimise the output of sibilance when tracking. This worked like a charm! Pop Filters also work well if your aiming to record an open kick drum with a more delicate mic, like a Ribbon. It helps disperse the hard hitting SPL output and allows you to capture a more focused sound. No EQ required!
9. Acoustic Treatment - I previously spoke about how some good acoustic treatment can help balance your listening and recording environments. This can be a real 'can-of-worms' if you approach this unknowingly, and each environment will require different treatment. Research and testing will be the only way forward here. But to start wrapping your head around this concept, here is a great article.
10. Cables - Again, many different cables for different devises and applications. You'll find the more gear you start adding, the more cable you'll need to connect things. Most microphones will require balanced XLRs. Most instruments will require TR or TRS cables. Some studios get custom looms made to wire up each room, connecting live room drop-boxes to the control room. Another 'can-of-worms', but quite easy to figure out as you start purchasing gear.
If you buy a microphone, you'll most likely need to purchase an XLR as well.
If you buy a UAD Apollo 8 interface, most likely you'll need to purchase a firewire/thunderbolt cable to connect it to your computer.
The best thing to do is research what the product requires, or just ask your dealer when purchasing. The more you dive into this world, the more you'll learn what you'll need.
A quick message from Steve: