With a huge amount of recording equipment on the market, it can be a daunting task picking out what you’ll need to start your home studio. However, there are essentials that every studio needs, so put on your blinkers and focus only on the most important and fundamental pieces of equipment that you’ll need to start your studio.
Here’s a list of what I consider to be the key ingredients of a home studio:
- Audio Interface (external USB/Firewire sound card)
- Recording software (often referred to as a DAW)
- Studio monitor speakers
- Microphone (with pop filter & stand)
The computer you use for your recordings must be of a reasonable specification. As with all equipment in the studio, you should buy the best you can afford. Macs tend to be the most reliable computers and will generally outperform PCs of the same specification, as they are designed primarily to run media applications. However, PCs are widely used and don’t generally cause any issues if they are configured properly. Aim for a minimum RAM of 4gb and a dual-core CPU. Most modern computers will perform well, but avoid netbook PCs as they don’t have sufficient power for recording.
Not only does the internal sound card in your computer lack sufficient inputs for instruments and microphones, but it cannot work fast enough to provide you with a decent recording system. Therefore, a high-performance sound card is in order. The most common choice is an external USB or Firewire audio interfaces, which offer instrument and microphone inputs and headphone/speaker outputs. These units process the input signal and output signal very quickly, so there is no delay (or ‘latency’) in the recording chain. They’re available inexpensively and usually come with recording software.
Choosing your recording software or ‘DAW’ (Digital Audio Workstation) is kind of like choosing a car; there are lots on the market, they all do essentially the same jobs, but they’re all different to drive. As mentioned above, the audio interface you buy will usually come with software that is more than sufficient to produce music with at home. You’ll eventually come to settle with a program and stick with it. I am a Pro Tools user, but many studios run Cubase, Logic, and other DAWs – it’s all about preference and application.
When I say headphones, I don’t mean the ones you use for your iPod. I mean those giant over-ear things you wouldn’t wear whilst jogging. Headphones and speakers are one of the most important things to the home studio, and as such you should get the best you can afford and make your choice carefully. You will need over-ear, closed-back, high-quality headphones for tracking (recording instruments and vocals), and checking your mixes. Avoid hi-fi and general consumer headphones, and go for headphones designed for studio use. Brands to look for include Shure, Sennheiser, and AKG to name a few.
Studio monitors are basically speakers designed to give a completely flat, colourless representation of your music, and will therefore tell you exactly how your music sounds. Hi-fi and PA speakers are not recommended as they will add frequencies to the music due to built-in equalisers, speaker tuning, and the physical properties of their cabinets. This means that you won’t really know what your music sounds like, only what the speakers sound like. Studio monitors are your only window into how your recordings sound, so spend as much as you can afford. Some of the more popular brands include KRK, Mackie, JBL, and M-Audio.
Unless you plan to only record instrumental music with electronic instruments, you’ll need a microphone. Recording studios have tons of different microphones for different applications, but when you’re starting out, it is best to consider what you will be recording (i.e. vocals and maybe some acoustic guitar) and choose one microphone that will do a good job at each application. A good compromise would be a large diaphragm condenser microphone, as they tend to produce good results across the board. You will obviously need a stand, but you will also need a pop filter when recording vocals to stop plosives. As usual, if you buy a cheap mic, don’t expect a good recording.