What home recording studio gear do you actually need? Let’s look at the essential recording equipment you absolutely must-have with this list of 7 things you need.
What Equipment For a Home Studio Set Up is Essential?
Home studio setups vary by a great deal in terms of size and complexity. On the one hand, there are huge, complex setups that look more like a NASA command center than a music production or recording facility. On the other, there are barebones setups that consist of little more than a computer or a standalone recording machine, speakers, a mic or two, and some odd bits of musical equipment lying around.
Between these two extremes is probably where most beginner home studios lie. If this is your first time to set up a home studio, you probably won’t have a full-blown setup right off the bat.
And you probably shouldn’t. As enjoyable as home recording and music production are, they can also be confusing and oftentimes, bewildering. Even if you could afford to put together a state-of-the-art recording rig, you will likely end up getting frustrated due to the sheer expense and technicality of it all.
With that in mind, here are our recommendations for some of the most essential pieces of equipment you will need to start up your home studio. Keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list.
There is always a particular gadget, a specific piece of equipment, or some new example of technology that you can add on. Nevertheless, this list will give you a solid foundation upon which to build a more comprehensive studio, while enabling you to put together quality recordings right away.
For better or worse, the modern recording studio nowadays is likely centered on a computer. From the most modest bedroom studio to the largest multilevel recording facility, you will likely see a computer used in some capacity, if not serving as the central hub of the entire rig.
Why are computers so ubiquitous in a studio setting? For one thing, computers can serve a great many essential studio functions. They can record your audio, sequence your tracks, perform a multitude of signal processing tasks, and even serve as an all-in-one mastering suite.
Computers also provide you a means to get your recorded music out on the Internet, which you will probably want to do at some point.
The Mac versus PC debate is bound to come up, but this isn’t the place to tackle it. The fact of the matter is that Macs and PCs have their own advantages and disadvantages, and computers from both camps can be reasonably relied upon to perform well in a studio context.
You will also have to decide whether to go with a desktop or a laptop. Again, both have their advantages and disadvantages. If your priorities are portability and a smaller footprint, a laptop is the obvious choice. But if power and compatibility are more important to you, a desktop would be the better option.
Many laptops today are powerful enough to meet the demands of a typical home studio setup. But keep in mind that power often comes at a price. All other factors being equal, a laptop will always be more expensive than a similarly spec’d desktop computer. Laptops are also more prone to heat due to their slimmer and smaller casings.
Regardless of the type of computer you choose, it is important to ensure that you have a) a powerful processor, b) sufficient RAM, and c) a large enough hard disk (or two).
The processor will perform the bulk of your studio functions including managing the operating system and your music applications. At the very least, you should go with an i5 or i7 processor, preferably a third-generation model.
Eight GBs of RAM is about the minimum you should go for. This will give you enough memory to handle multiple tracks of audio and large sample libraries, so you don’t slow your system down by constantly streaming them from the hard drive.
A 1TB drive should provide you with enough space for your operating system, DAW (digital audio workstation) software, recorded audio, completed tracks, sample libraries, and whatever else you wish to store.
However, you might want to consider getting an SSD drive to serve as a system drive in which you will install your operating system and various music applications. You can then get a larger secondary drive in which to store your audio recordings, sample libraries, and project files. This will keep your system drive clean and uncluttered, thereby speeding up most processes.
Best Studio Recording Recomendations
- Apple iMac Pro 27”
- Dell Alienware Aurora
- Apple MacBook Pro 15
- Dell XPS 15 9570
While there are many computers to choose from, and we even have posts on how to record with a Chrome Book, if you are going to invest in anything, a good computer that can handle the many plugins and effects in your recording software is going to be a worthwhile investment and give you the best results for your dollar.
2. Audio Interface
To get audio in and out of your computer, you will need an audio interface. This can be a PCI, firewire, or Thunderbolt card that you install into the appropriate slot on your desktop computer, or a USB, firewire, or Thunderbolt unit that you plug into your desktop or laptop.
Audio interfaces enable you to record audio and to play software instruments with low latency. This ensures that there is as little delay as possible between the audio as it goes into the computer and as it goes out, and that software instruments are played as close as possible to real-time. They really do work to make your life a LOT easier in recording!
You should get an audio interface with as many inputs as you need. For most project studios where you will be recording only one or two instruments at a time–ie. a vocal and a guitar track–a two-input interface should be sufficient. If you want to record multiple tracks of audio simultaneously, you should invest in an interface with more inputs.
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i4
- Presonus AudioBox 22VSL
- Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD
- Behringer U-Phoria UMC204HD
- Steinberg UR22 MK2
- Yamaha AG03
- PreSonus Studio 2|6
- Steinberg UR242
If you don’t yet have an audio interface, be sure to read our post on the best audio interfaces for detailed specs and reviews – we’ve also made a round-up list of the best audio interfaces you can get for under $200.
3. Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
The DAW or digital audio workstation is possibly the most important piece of software you could get. This is what you will use to record and create music, and mix and master tracks prior to release. Most DAWs also come with a suite of audio editing tools. They also typically support one or more types of virtual instrument and effects formats, which give you the software equivalent of synthesizers, drum machines, and effects processors.
Most DAWs do pretty much the same thing: record audio and enable you to arrange them into completed songs. It is a good idea to check out as many demos as possible to find out which has a workflow that ‘clicks’ with you. Many audio interfaces actually come with demo or ‘lite’ version of full DAWs, so you can try them out before deciding to spring for the full version.
- Logic (Mac only)
- Pro Tools
- Studio One
- Ableton Live
While there are many free DAW programs such as Audacity or GarageBand that is bundled with Apple operating systems, you are not going to have the ability to do a lot of major effects or mixing or mastering with these programs. These programs are fine for hobbyists and seeing if you enjoy recording at home, but eventually you will want to go with Logic or Pro Tools as they are the industry standards.
Cakewalk, Ableton, and others are good options if you are on a tight budget, but it’s still worthwhile to choose Logic or Pro Tools if you want to create music professionally.
4. Studio monitors
A decent set of studio monitor speakers is essential. They will enable you to monitor audio as it is recorded, and to listen to what you have recorded afterwards. Good monitor speakers will also enable you to mix your tracks down properly. This is essential for optimal playback quality over a wide variety of listening systems and environments.
At this point, you probably won’t have the budget to spring for a costly set of ultraprecise and neutral monitors. The good news is that there are some pretty decent options in the budget range, many of which will suffice for basic home studios.
The most important characteristic to go for is neutral frequency response. Speakers that hype up the bass and treble (ie. most home listening and consumer systems) will give you a less than accurate representation of what your music actually sounds like. This can result in mixes that sound great in your studio, but less satisfactory elsewhere.
Some would argue that proper room treatment is more important than getting the very best set of monitors that you can buy. There is more than a bit of truth to this idea, but again, most budding studio owners probably don’t have the budgets for proper room treatment.
One thing that might help compensate for the absence of room treatment is to get as familiar with your monitors as possible. This will involve performing several mixes and comparison listening on other systems. Over time, you should be able to know how your monitors affect your mixes, and what you have to do in order to compensate.
- KRK Rokit 5
- Yamaha HS8
- Event 20/20 BAS
- Dynaudio BM5 mkIII
- Mackie HR824 mkII
Microphones come in a few different varieties. The most common are dynamic mics and condenser mics. Within these two categories, there are literally hundreds of options, ranging in price from less than hundred to a few thousand dollars.
You don’t necessarily have to spring for an ultra-expensive mic right off the bat. There are many good mid-priced mics available on the market, and even quite a few in the budget range.
For recording vocals, acoustic guitar, and other acoustic instruments, condenser mics are generally considered preferable. For loud instruments with pronounced transients – such as micing drums, for example – dynamic mics are generally preferred. To start with, you might want to invest in a good dynamic mic and a good condenser mic, which should cover you for most home recording tasks.
- Shure SM58
- Rode NT1A
- Shure SM7B
- Sennheiser MD421
- Rode NTK
- Neumann TLM 102
Headphones are another essential piece of studio equipment…which may lead you to wonder why they aren’t mentioned in the same section as monitor speakers. The reason is that speakers generally provide a more accurate representation of your recorded audio as it will sound in the majority of listening environments. You could therefore say that they are more important in a studio context.
But headphones do have some value in a home studio as well. They enable you to hear the high end more clearly and give you a pronounced stereo spread, both of which are essential for proper mixing. Although you would still have to complete mixes on proper monitor speakers, referencing them on headphones will give you a better overall ‘picture’ of your recording.
Studio headphones basically come in two types: closed-back and open-back. Open-backed headphones have vents or openings on the outsides of the ear cups, allowing sound to pass through. These are generally considered to provide more accurate sound reproduction than closed-back headphones, which tend to distort audio.
Closed-back headphones are more commonly used in tracking than mixing. This is not only because they are less accurate at reproducing audio than open-back headphones. Because closed-back headphones prevent sound from leaking out, they are better suited for tracking scenarios wherein sound from headphones could ruin an otherwise good take.
- Sennheiser HD280 Pro
- Sony MDR-7506
- Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro
- Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro
- AKG K 701
The thought of investing in cables might not seem terribly exciting, but they are actually among the most important components of any studio. Good cables will pass audio through reliably and in optimal quality, which is essential at various stages in the production chain. Bad cables will not only have a detrimental effect on the quality of your audio, but could actually get in the way of you working efficiently.
You will need a few different types of cables for connecting the various instruments and pieces of equipment in your studio.
TS (tip-sleeve) cables are commonly used for plugging in instruments to amplifiers and mixing consoles or audio interfaces.
You will also need XLR-equipped cables for plugging in mics to preamps, mixers, and audio interfaces.
Then there are speaker cables. Depending on the connectors on your speakers and what you will be connecting them to, you may need XLR cables, TRS (tip-ring-sleeve), or TS cables.
Needless to say, you will need to determine which cables are appropriate for specific pieces of equipment. We will go over the different types in a future article, but for now, suffice it to say that investing in the best quality cables you can afford is highly advisable.
- Microphone: Mogami Silver XLR 25ft
- Monitor speakers: Mogami Silver XLR 6ft
- Audio interface: Mogami TRS/XLRM 6ft
As you can see, all of that is a pretty formidable pile of gear already…and that’s just the beginning. There are many other things that you can–and should–purchase, all of varying degrees of importance. Once you have the basics and must-have essential home studio equipment, you’re ready to move onto our next list of 7 Worthwhile Additions for your music production Studio.
Nevertheless, what we have presented above will give you a good start toward building your studio setup and will help get you covered for having the home recording essentials every DIY studio needs.
With time and practice, they will enable you to produce decently recorded material even as you continue to work towards a fully-equipped studio setup.