Starting a home recording studio can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to begin. Even after you get your basic setup up and running, you might not know what to do to take it to the next level. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right place.
There are countless advantages to building a home recording studio. If it’s done right, you’ll be able to produce a lot of high-quality audio for a lot less than a professional studio would cost. Having the right equipment is key. Here is our big list of things you need for your home studio.
Will I Need a Good Computer?
In a word, yes. Your computer is likely where you’ll be recording and editing your tunes. This places a lot of demand on your machine and requires a level of performance that you’re just not going to be able to get from a low-end computer. You also don’t want to be using an old computer and will want to keep it well up to date. Bugs and glitches can be really obvious on a recording.
Keeping that in mind, the next thing to think about is whether you should get a laptop or desktop. If you need to do any kind of work on the go, a powerful laptop can do the trick. That said, a desktop is going to be more powerful and give you more for your money.
Desktops also last a lot longer than laptops do. Laptops overheat more. Plus, if you’re carrying your laptop with you from place to place, it’s much more likely to get damaged than a solid desktop that stays in one spot.
Are you a Mac or PC? Does it matter? Most of the software you’ll need is compatible with both. Macs tend to be more reliable in general and are more widely used for home recording.
Does that mean if you’ve been a PC person your whole life, you need to embrace a Mac? Not necessarily. If you have a strong preference for PCs and feel comfortable using them, it’s not hard to make it work.
What Specs Should I Look for in a Computer?
This is actually a really important question because there’s a lot to consider. There are four key specs to look for and they are:
- Central Processing Unit or CPU. It’s responsible for some of the computer’s memory, data input, executing an instruction, and processing all the information in every program you’re running. If you’re going to be multitasking, having one with multiple processors is a good thing to have, too. So, what should you look for? A CPU with 2.6 GHz dual-core is adequate, but if you want something superior, go for a 3 or more GHz quad-core.
- Random Access Memory, or RAM, is next. This is basically your computer’s short-term memory. According to the Joe Gilder at Home Studio Corner, RAM is where the magic happens. More RAM keeps your programs running fast and smoothly. How much RAM do you need? 8 gigs is good; 16 is better.
- Hard Drive. This is your computer’s long-term memory and where your final recordings will be stored. Space and speed are equally important. You want something with enough space to hold large recording files but look for a solid state drive, too.
- What’s so special about a solid state drive? It uses flash memory like a USB drive. Plus, there are no moving parts to slow it down. For the best performance, look for at least 500 GB with a solid-state drive. If you’re using a mechanical drive, get 7,200 RPM.
- Ports. You’ll need enough to plug in your audio interface (more on that later) as well as any accessories you’re using. Make sure there are enough ports to plug in everything you need.
What Kind of Software Do I Need?
Once you have the right computer, you need to find the right digital audio workstation (DAW). We like how Rob Mayzes puts it: finding the right one is like finding a partner. You won’t be using a new one every time you sit down to record. You’ll learn this software inside and out.
Imagine an old recording studio or think of one you’ve seen in an older movie. There’s always a large console full of slides and buttons and a lot of gauges and meters. DAWs have replaced these. Now, you record, playback, edit, tweak and manipulate everything digitally.
As you’re essentially looking for a partner, it’s a good idea to do some research before you commit. Try some free trial versions if you can. Don’t just buy the first one you see. But, remember, they all do the same thing so the most important thing is to find one you’re comfortable working with.
What was that about an Audio Interface?
We promised we’d get to that and here we are. But we should definitely try to explain what an audio interface is in a way that’s easy to understand. Once you have your software, you need an audio interface to get the signals from your equipment into a digital form that your computer can decipher.
At its core, an audio interface is just a router. There are various slots to plug in your microphones and speakers and other equipment. It changes the input into a language your computer can understand. A good audio interface won’t add anything to or take anything away from the sound.
The more mic preamps you have, the more mics you can record at the same time. So, if you’re only recording vocals, you can probably get by with one. Recording with a full band? Then you’ll obviously need multiples.
Quality matters. Getting the most preamps you can afford isn’t the best strategy. Why? A low-quality audio interface will interfere with the sound that’s being recorded. Plus, it’s not something you can edit out—it’s always going to be there. Investing in a better quality audio interface is the way to go.
If you want to record an electric guitar or bass without an amp, make sure your audio interface has ¼” input. This is the only way to record without using an amp and it allows you to use software to enhance the tone of the instrument.
You need to be able to hear music coming out of your interface, too. A headphone jack is essential because it lets you listen without any interruptions. It’s also a good idea to make sure your speakers are compatible so you don’t have to bother with an adapter.
What about Microphones?
That’s a great question since microphones are the main thing you plug into your audio interface. Microphones convert sounds from instruments and vocalists and turn them into electricity that can be utilized by your interface.
There are a few mics you need to consider and one is a style you’re likely seen before. We often think of a large microphone with a large round filter or shield over it.
It’s tempting to think this image appears so often in film and television because it just looks great. In reality, that microphone is probably a large diaphragm condenser mic and it’s the best kind of recording vocals. This is usually the first mic recording studios look for because it’s so important to the process. The one I like for my studio is the Samson C01. It’s affordable, easy to use and they’ve been making it for years (it’s battle tested).
Small diaphragm condenser mics are important, too. These are the long thins ones that are sometimes called “pencil microphones.” They have a small diaphragm and are the perfect complement to a large condenser mic. They’re perfect for recording live music because they are incredibly sensitive.
Technically, you can do almost anything you need to with these two mics. It may mean recording different instruments and layers at different times and put them all together with your software. But it can be done. When you’re ready to upgrade, there are a few things to consider.
E-Home Recording Studio really does a great job of breaking down what’s available and whether or not you need it. Here are a few things that they suggest:
- A dynamic utility mic for recording electric guitar, drums, and more intense rock vocals
- A bass mic to get a more authentic sound when capturing those really deep tones
- Multi-pattern mics when you’re ready for something omnidirectional and versatile
How Important is the Right Studio Monitor?
Once you know what a studio monitor does, you’ll understand how important it is to your studio. You might be surprised to find out that they look a lot like regular old stereo speakers but they’re actually a lot more advanced than meets the eye.
Like StudioGearExperts puts it, they’re designed to provide honest feedback on what you’re recording. What you’re hearing is as raw as it gets. It will almost force you to fix everything and anything that might be off with your recording before you share it with the world.
Think of your studio monitor as that one friend who always lets you know when you have something in your teeth. It’s coming from a place of love and appreciation because, in the end, it helps you better yourself. It’s essential if you want to put your best face (or music!) forward.
Jason Moss has some great recommendations for the four things that really matter in a studio monitor.
- Active vs. Passive. This is pretty simple. To make sound, speakers need an amp. If the amp is built-in, it’s called an active speaker. If you need to use a separate amp, it’s passive. Active amps are recommended because they’re so simple to use. All you have to do is plug them in.
- Near Field vs. Mid/Far-Field. Near fields is what you want for a home studio. Mid- and far-field monitors are designed to be set up further away and are for large, open spaces.
- Frequency Response. The most important thing to consider here is how low a frequency the speakers can go. If they don’t go low enough, you might not be hearing all the aspects of your recording. Look for speakers that go to 40 Hz or lower.
- Connectivity. Obviously, you want your speakers to be compatible with your interface. If they’re not, they’re useless. You can get an adapter if needed but it’s best to get the right fit.
If I Have a Good Studio Monitor, Why Do I Need Headphones?
Even StudioGearExperts admit that headphones and studio monitors do the same thing but still recommend a good set of headphones. Why? Simply because it’s not always going to be possible to use your speakers.
Think about it. How much of your editing, mixing, and over-dubbing are you going to be doing at night or into the early morning? How many of your neighbors are going to be alright with listening to your recordings throughout all hours of the night?
But that’s not all you need them for. Headphones not only spares your neighbours or family a constant display of your talent, but they are essential when recording because they isolate precisely what is being recorded and block out any background noise.
What should you look for in a pair of headphones? Closed headphones are the best for recording because they fully enclose your ears so that no sound gets in or out. Not only does this let you hear everything without interference, it prevents playback in the headphones from being picked up by a mic.
I Have all the Basics. How Can I Take my Home Studio to the Next Level?
If you have more money to invest in the beginning or if you’re ready to go bigger, there are some great things you can add to take your home studio up a notch. These things aren’t necessary but they will make things easier and run more smoothly.
Do I Really Need a Studio Workstation?
Not really. Honestly, any large tabletop or desk can be used as a workstation. But, if you want to have the best and most convenient setup you can get, a workstation made for a home recording studio really is a great investment.
StudioGearPros recommend getting a workstation that’s large enough to hold all of your equipment without looking too cluttered. You have to be able to get to everything easily so the last thing you want is a lot of congestion.
Another thing that’s really important is to make sure your workstation is strong enough to hold everything without wobbling. The last thing you want is a workstation that rocks from side to side when you sit down to use it.
One of the biggest differences between a flat workspace like a desk or table and a studio workstation is the different level tiers that are available. You can easily raise your monitor to a more comfortable level and arrange everything into the perfect space.
In addition to a good workspace, a comfortable chair is a great investment. You’ll likely spend hour after hour recording and mixing and editing. You don’t want to do it sitting in a chair that doesn’t have enough support. A nice chair will prevent back pain and help you work longer more comfortably.
What Can I Do if I Don’t Want to Get a Studio Workstation Right Now?
A studio workstation can be quite expensive so it’s understandable if you aren’t ready to make that investment. Don’t worry. There are still things you can do to make a desk or table more conducive to your needs.
Like the StudioGearExperts suggest, monitor stands can really make a difference. These are simple stands with a small tabletop. What’s great about them is that they’re adjustable in height. You can tailor them to your needs and place your monitors at the perfect level.
The great thing about stands like this is that they do more than free up room on your workspace. They also keep them off of the surfaces and eliminates a lot of vibration. You can even add an isolation pad if you need to dampen the vibrations even more.
Is there Anything I Can Do to Improve the Acoustics of the Room?
This is such an important aspect of recording that a lot of people overlook. In fact, Joe Gilder at Home Studio Corner believes that people will often upgrade their equipment to fix the sound of their recordings with the problem is actually the acoustics of the room.
If you’ve ever seen a real recording studio, you know that they’re soundproofed with foam and padding and are rarely rectangular or square in shape. In contrast, your home studio is likely in a spare room or your basement and with no insulation and parallel walls.
The shape of the room really changes the sound. It might be a little hard to believe, but even just recording in a box-shaped room with parallel walls can cause all kinds of manipulations in sound waves. These can completely change the sound of your recording.
So, what’s the solution? If you can afford it and are really serious, you can have professional companies come in and analyze your space. They’ll give you different suggestions as to what you can do to improve your space.
It’s not a stretch to say that this would cost a significant amount of money. If you were hoping to improve the acoustics without a significant financial investment, there are a lot of things you can do.
How Should I Place Panels in my Home Studio?
Philip Mantione of Pro Audio Files gives a great explanation of how sound travels and even provides diagrams for how to organize absorption panels in your home studio. Here are some of the things he recommends:
- Put your workstation along a short wall with a speaker on either side. Make sure to leave about one-and-a-half to two feet of space between the speaker and the wall.
- Place bass traps in all four corners. Bass traps are really important when it comes to acoustics because they even out the low-end frequencies. That may seem like a small thing but it makes a huge difference in the sound.
- Placing absorbent panels on the wall behind your workstation can be effective. Something that might be a bit of a surprise is that they’re actually more effective if they’re spaced four to six inches away from the wall.
- Use the mirror rule to place addition panels along the side walls. Home Studio Corner explains this process in a way that really helps you visualize what’s actually happening with the sound waves. Sit in your listening position and have a friend move a mirror along each wall. Anytime you can see your monitors in the mirror, place a piece of foam. This really gives you an idea of how the sound reflects around your room.
- Place a diffusion panel at the back of the room to help spread everything out evenly.
- Finally, add an angled panel above your seat at your workstation.
It’s worth mentioning that you don’t have to do all this at once. If you want your studio to eventually be professional quality, you’ll need to tackle all this eventually. But you can start out by just placing bass traps and positioning some panels. You’ll notice a difference in the quality of your recordings.
If I Make a Lot of Upgrades to my Equipment, Will I Also Need to Upgrade my Computer?
Don’t worry, if you’ve already invested a lot of money into a high-quality computer, you won’t have to buy a new one. What you probably should do, though, is get an additional hard drive.
Home Studio Corner suggests getting an external hard drive that you use only for streaming audio. The hard drive on your computer will work but because your computer’s operating system and all the other software you have is on the same hard drive.
Why does that matter? For one, you have less space because some of what’s available is already being used. But more importantly, it’s already working pretty hard. The harder it’s working and the more it’s responsible for, the more likely it is that you’ll start getting error messages and your system will freeze.
Getting an external hard drive alleviates this pressure from the one on your computer. That means that it can run its operating system and software more efficiently because it won’t have to also stream your audio files.
You don’t have to use an external hard drive necessarily. If you’re computer savvy, you can add a second internal hard drive to your computer. Internal drives are a little more efficient since they work directly with your computer but an external hard drive is more than effective for this purpose.
There are some perks to external drives, too. Primarily, you can simply unplug them and take them with you if you want to work remotely or take your recordings to another studio. Plus, if it runs out of memory, you can just get a second one.
What Things Will I Need When I Start Taking on Bigger Projects?
The StudioGearExperts have a lot of suggestions when it comes to moving up to a top-tier home studio. One of the first things you’ll need is a multi-channel microphone preamp. Why? It’s the best way to record bands or multiple musicians at the same time.
There’s a chance that the audio interface that you bought initially won’t have enough microphone channels. A multi-channel microphone preamp is the easiest solution to this problem. In addition to more channels, they also offer more features that you’ll need as you grow.
An external mix preamp can include things like phase reverse, pad switches, and low-cut switches. Plus, they offer superior sound quality and are great at eliminating any noise that you don’t want to show up in your audio.
We need to point out that this isn’t something you need to buy initially. Your audio interface will work just fine for basic home recording studio projects. But, if you want to grow and develop into more of a professional studio, you’ll want one eventually.
Should I Get Any Virtual Instruments?
One of the best things you can get if you think you want to add virtual instruments is a MIDI controller. MIDI stands for “Musical Instrument Digital Interface.” MIDI is used in a lot of ways in your computer, but there are very specific applications for recording.
MIDI gives you a lot of control over what you’re producing. You record it just like normal audio, but you can make easily erase mistakes after it’s recorded. You can add notes in, too, without re-recording the whole thing. They don’t make the sounds themselves. But they do control them.
You can also change the sound of the MIDI notes. If you started with a piano but changed your mind and now you want a guitar, all you have to do is change the instrument that’s playing those notes. It’s pretty remarkable, actually!
Do you need it? Not when you’re first starting out. This is one of those things that you should consider adding if you grow your studio and want to take it to the next level.
Is there Anything I Need to Consider When Adding All This Equipment to My Studio?
Assuming that your goal is to grow your studio, you will be continuously adding more and more equipment that is often more and more expensive. One of the things you should think about is power-related issues.
A single power surge could cause a lot of damage. One way to avoid that is to get a power conditioner. Basically, they consolidate all the power you’re using from all your equipment. They usually have various filters that remove noise from the powerline and keep it from your equipment.
Are There Any Extras or Accessories that Would Come in Handy?
Yes! There are some things that you can get that will make your time in your home studio more efficient and more effective.
- Good cables. Don’t use cheap cables. Cheap cables will add noise and interference that you don’t really want in your recordings. Think about it: everything in your studio is going to connect to your equipment with a cable. It makes a huge difference. High-quality cables will last a really long time so, in the long run, they’re likely more cost-effective. If they do wear out, most of them come with really good warranties.
- An equipment rack. Having a nice rack that has a place for everything will help you stay organized and look a lot neater.
- A stash of flash drives. They make it so easy to move files around without a lot of fuss.
- Speaker stands. Getting your speakers off of your workspace can lead to significant improvements in sound.
- A pop filter. This is such a simple little addition that can really make a difference if you record a lot of vocalists. All it is a mesh screen that sits between the singer and the microphone. It diffuses the air produced by certain consonants and makes the recording clearer.
So… Is that All?
For now! You’ll always find some new piece of equipment that you want to add. What we covered here is a great place to start and some ideas for how you can take your home studio to the next level.
The best way to start a home recording studio is to do it slowly. Don’t feel that you have to buy all the best equipment right at the beginning. Building a home studio that is close to professional level should be done piece by piece over time.
Remember, every home studio is different. As you grow yours, you’ll figure out what you need and what you don’t. It really depends on what you’re recording and what you’re trying to accomplish.
We hope that we gave you some great ideas that you can use to develop your own home recording studio. It might seem overwhelming at first but if you follow our suggestions, you’ll be off to a great start.