Quick question: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about building a home recording studio at home? More than likely, the answer would be: “How much will it all cost?”
It’s no secret that recording gear can be pretty expensive, and the cost quickly mounts the more cool stuff you add to the pile. But as we have said many times in several articles on this site, you can put together a pretty respectable rig without breaking the bank.
And there are many reasons why you might want to do your recording at home. We’re not going to go into all of them here as that isn’t the scope of this article. We will say that a home recording studio is a viable alternative to a commercial recording facility.
But back to the subject of cost. Here we answer some of the most common questions regarding the prices of crucial pieces of recording equipment. If you’ve ever wondered how much you have to shell out to produce your own tunes at home, you’ve come to the right place!
What can I buy to begin recording right now?
Let’s say you’re starting at the bottom of the barrel, with the bare minimum of a budget. You have nothing but your songs and a burning passion for getting them recorded for the world to hear. Where do you begin to build out a home studio?
A computer would be the ideal place to start as it performs multiple roles in a recording setup. Even if all you have is a computer, a USB mic, and a pair of headphones, you could get started making recordings at home.
But if you can’t afford even a modest desktop computer, you could consider picking up a handheld recorder that lets you lay down basic recordings on digital media. The Zoom H1n will set you back about $120 on Amazon and possibly less if you look around.
This handy device lets you record two tracks at a time and overdub subsequent tracks. Plus, you can transfer your recordings to a computer for editing or add more tracks.
What’s the least I can spend on a building a home recording studio setup?
The next step is to put together a workable recording rig that is closer to a fully-equipped setup but still within the boundaries of a budget system.
The core of your setup will be a computer, which will essentially serve as the hub of your recording setup. It will run your recording and editing software, let you add effects, and assemble your raw recordings into full songs.
You will also need a microphone to capture your voice and instruments and headphones or speakers to hear what you are doing.
These three components (computer, mic, and speakers/headphones) form the core of most recording setups, even high-end ones. A step up from a single handheld recorder, this is the bare minimum you need to record music.
Should I get a laptop or a desktop computer?
Desktops and laptops have their benefits and drawbacks for recording and music production. Desktops generally offer better value for money‒for the price of a mid-range laptop, you could usually get a more powerful and robust desktop that smokes the laptop in terms of performance.
Desktops also allow you to install PCI audio interfaces and DSP cards that take some of the load off your processor. These add-ons let you work with more tracks and more effects before you run into the limitations of your CPU.
Where laptops win out is in portability. Going for a laptop would be the better option if you frequently need to record or mix on the road.
We recommend going for an I7 processor or an I5 at the very least, and as much RAM as you can afford. It is also a good idea to get a sizable hard drive‒at least 1TB. Better still, get a 500GB SSD for your operating system and applications and a second 1TB drive (IDE is fine) for your project files and recorded audio.
Mac or PC?
There was a time when Macs were preferred by most music and video professionals. That isn’t necessarily the case anymore, as pro facilities are turning to Windows-based PCs in droves. If you are on the fence about which one to go for, you could pretty much go by your personal preference and be assured of a useable computer.
Of course, the same recommendations apply with regard to CPU, RAM, and hard drive size. It is also advisable to choose your computer based on the software you want to use. While most DAWs support either platform, Logic and GarageBand are available only for the Mac platform.
What are the essential pieces of software I should get?
You will need a digital audio workstation (DAW) to record and assemble tracks into full songs. Some of the most popular come with full versions that include a host of professional features and slimmer cut-down versions with limited features.
You could also get dedicated audio editing software and effects processing suites that allow you to polish your recordings further. But these may not be necessary as most DAWs come with some editing and processing capabilities built-in.
Ableton Live 11
How can I save money on software?
Admittedly, recording and music production software can be pretty expensive. But there is plenty of free and almost-free software available for those on a budget, many of which can give you quality results.
Reaper is an excellent DAW with a very reasonable price tag, but you can also use it on an unlimited trial. For audio editing, Audacity is the best free option available by far.
Most audio interfaces also come with lite versions of flagship DAWs for free. Plus, most of them have reasonably-priced upgrade paths if you want to move up to the full versions later.
What’s the first piece of professional studio equipment I should get?
Assuming you already have a computer and a decent set of headphones, the first piece of recording gear you should get is an audio interface. These allow you to bring sounds from the outside world into your computer so you can arrange and mix them into songs.
We’ve covered audio interfaces extensively on this site, so be sure to check out these articles for more detailed reviews:
What’s kind of microphone should I get?
Microphones are the next piece in the puzzle as far as getting sounds into your computer goes. You will generally want a dynamic mic if you will be recording guitars and drums, although many will work nicely with vocals as well. Condenser mics are usually preferred for vocal work.
Keep in mind that you will have to plug your mic into a preamp to get the signal to the proper levels needed for recording. Audio interfaces generally come with onboard preamps and phantom power, which is required by most condenser mics.
You could also get a USB mic that allows you to plug directly into the USB port of your computer. These types of mics will work even if you don’t have a dedicated audio interface.
What headphones should I get?
Even if you already have monitor speakers, headphones will be useful for listening to the finer details of your mix. The best studio headphones have a fairly neutral response that doesn’t add excessive coloration that can throw off your mix.
What monitor speakers should I get?
On the flip side of the monitoring issue, monitor speakers will give you a much more balanced and accurate reproduction of your recorded music. Ideally, you will want to do most of your mixing on monitor speakers and check the stereo image and finer details with headphones. You really need both to make informed mixing choices, so here are our recommendations:
The final take
As you can see, there is a pretty wide variance between a barebones solution that allows you to begin recording immediately and a fully-equipped home studio setup that lets you produce nearly pro-level recordings. You can spend the equivalent of a guitar pedal on a handheld audio recorder or thousands of dollars on a pretty impressive rig. Both would fall loosely into the category of a “home recording setup”.
If there is one lesson to be learned from all this, it’s this: whether you have a complete studio setup or all you have is a handheld recorder, your skill and creative vision are what matter the most at the end of the day.
If you have a good song, a decent voice or instrument, and passion, you can come up with something worth recording. It might take some time before you create something worthy of the Spotify Top 10 or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it’s a start. As you pick up more knowledge and amass more equipment, your recordings can only get better.
Good luck and happy recording!