Setting up a home recording studio is much less complicated than you may think. When you think of the term home studio you may be picturing a room jam packed with recording equipment, mic stands, multiple instruments and a price tag equal to a new car.
However, home recording studios can be as simple as a laptop, a microphone and some acoustic treatment. They don’t need to be complicated, and you don’t need to be a recording engineer to use one.
Studios can take years to build and will always be constantly improving. If you’re just starting, this article will introduce you to the basic equipment you need to get things off the ground. Here’s what you’ll need:
-Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
-Basic room treatment
You can do amazing things with just the equipment listed above. Start simple and add the gear you need one step at a time.
Let’s begin with microphones.
The Mic Selection
There are a few different types of microphones up for grabs. To keep things simple, let’s consider the two most prominent types: condenser and dynamic.
You’ll find that in a majority of cases a condenser mic is the best option for home recording. They are built with lightweight diaphragms that respond well to low sound pressure levels (think vocals and acoustic instruments). The downside of this sensitivity is they tend to pick up any unwanted background noise.
The alternative is a dynamic microphone. These microphones are typically less sensitive and work well at high sound pressure levels. They are great for recording amplified sounds or for use onstage. They are much less sensitive to background noise and thus tend to be less susceptible to feedback.
Here are a few options for your consideration:
–Behringer C1 – $74
–Rode NT1-A – $229
–Sennheiser MD 421 II – $379
Behringer C1 – This microphone is among the most popular choices in the “Under $100” category. It delivers a clean and flat frequency response and a crisp sound profile.
Good price/value ratio. This is not a high-end piece of hardware, so we need to keep our expectations reasonably low.
Rode NT1-A – is more expensive by a few notches, yet still at the limit of decency. This is another example of an excellent price/value ratio.
Among the features that are worth highlighting are the fantastic noise reduction, an excellent nickel build, and impressive frequency precision. These microphones have gained a very laudable reputation with professional singers over the years.
Sennheiser MD 421 II – in case you’re looking forward to spending a little over $350, you might as well purchase what is considered to be “the world’s best dynamic microphone.” The MD 421 II is known for its feedback rejection and an impressive directional pickup.
This mic handles loud noises “professionally,” and does not distort the signal. The sound profile is “crisp” rather than “warm.” The only downside to this microphone is its price, but people rarely complain about it once they try it out in the studio.
The next piece of the puzzle: desktop audio workstations. This is the software you will use to record, arrange, mix and master all of your tracks.
Your choice of DAW follows the same reasoning as microphones. What’s your existing equipment, budget, genre, technical confidence? While I won’t cover every option available, I’ll introduce a few of the top players:
–Ableton Live – $570
–Logic Pro – $199
–Audacity – Free
–Garageband – Free
Each DAW promotes specific behavior through its design and workflow. If you’re into more experimental music and you’re all about pushing boundaries, try Ableton Live.
Ableton is very popular due to its workflow and its enormous spectrum of instruments and effects it can offer when paired with its famous add-on called “Max4Live”.
Once combined, the two will provide you with a myriad of very odd, yet beneficial and creatively engaging effects that can be downloaded for free on the M4L website.
Logic Pro is another state of the art DAW that has been around for quite a while. Logic’s interface is very intuitive, and comfortably arranged, so using it for the first time won’t seem like rocket science.
Keep in mind that Logic Pro can only be used on the Macintosh operating system.
This software is famous for preserving fantastic mix quality after exporting your tracks. So if impeccable audio quality is on the top of your list, try Logic out.
If you aren’t sold on the price, the entry-level option of Garageband is a great beginner alternative. Just think of it as the lite version of Logic Pro. The workflow remains very similar, but you are missing a few of the more advanced features.
There are a few other free options that you can look into in addition to Garageband.
Audacity, for instance, is a top-rated open-source audio-editing program, that you’ll find in most “top 10” lists.
It gives you access to many devices that will help you remove noise and distortion from your audio clips.
The simplicity of its interface can lead you into thinking that it’s a very basic and rudimentary tool, but it will be a great starter option for anyone looking to get the ball rolling.
Some say that room treatment is as important as a microphone in the process of recording, and this is undoubtedly true to a certain extent.
There are multiple reasons we need to treat our recording studios, but the central one is naturally occurring reverberations. As the sound is reflected off of the walls of your room, it combines with the source and creates phasing issues.
An untreated room will have a less natural and more metallic sound profile, which can be damaging to your final mix. You can kill unwanted reverberation by using acoustic foam or other absorbent materials.
You can look into the following options:
Foam Wedge Tiles can be purchased in bulk. A pack of 48 tiles that are 12 square inches each can cost you around $50, which is an excellent deal.
Acoustic Panels are an excellent option as well, and you can get a pack of 24 12-square inch panels for around $30.
Acoustic Screen Panels have become very popular over the last 5 years. They are slightly more expensive but are very efficient in combating excessive reverberation. Acoustic panels from GIK Acoustics cost around $300.
There are also free options for room treatment that you can look into. Household items that will help you cancel out unwanted frequencies. Try breaking blocking the corners with pillows, mattresses, blankets, and so forth.
An audio interface is what you will use to connect all of your recording equipment (microphones, keyboards, and guitars) to your computer. They are also used to control your monitoring speakers you will use for mixing (optional for beginners).
They range from being simple to complex. Here are a few options I’d recommend:
–Lexicon Alpha – $48
-Focusrite Scarlett Solo – $99
–PreSonus AudioBox – $129
The Lexicon Alpha audio interface is intended to be a very compact and an easy-to-use product that comes at a very affordable price. It only offers basic features. If you are only going to record vocals in your studio, this is all you’ll need.
The Focusrite Scarlett Solo
is a trendy audio interface known to have the best price/value ratio among devices in its price category. Besides delivering great sound quality, it’s cased in aluminum, which makes it extra resistant to damage.
The PreSonus AudioBox
has arguably the best sound profile of the three. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.
It’s totally possible to get a decent home recording studio under $300. This will allow you to learn the ropes without having to dig around in the couch cushions.
Budget equipment will give you the background experience necessary to make the correct choice when upgrading your gear.
You will be pumping out professional recordings in no time!
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About the Author: Glen Parry has been a musician for over 15 years. He’s done everything the hard way so you don’t have to. You can find more musical and audio gear advice over at AudioMastered.com .