Over the years I’ve built a few home studios and I started my most recent studio from scratch. I’ve written this article to show what is vital for a beginner studio so that you don’t have to fumble through it as I did.
Follow this guide whether you are an indie rock artist, an EDM producer, or a budding film composer. All of this home studio equipment is the basis for recording in multiple genres.
Here’s the equipment list
Keep reading to find out what you need to get started on your journey.
#1 – Computer
This is going to be the HUB of your music production. So it is vital to have a computer that can handle all that is necessary. Most of us already have a computer at our disposal, but it is essential to make sure it is capable of what we want it to do. The first thing to do is check the minimum requirements of the software you are going to be using for music production. Then you want your specs to be a little bit higher than the minimum. Pay close attention to the CPU and RAM because all Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) are going to be utilizing a lot of both. You can never have too much RAM, so get as much as you can afford. We recommend 8GB of RAM as a minimum.
You are also going to need a lot of storage. If you are used to saving documents and some photos, you are going to be surprised by how much storage is eaten up by your music production. A reasonable place to start is to have 500GB of storage. Purchasing an external hard drive for backup is ideal because you don’t want to lose all those hours recording and mixing.
When it comes to the monitor, you are going to want as much real estate as possible. Use a large monitor, like an ultra-wide or even opt for a dual monitor set up. This makes navigating the DAW easier.
PC or MAC? Honestly, it is up to you. There really isn’t much difference in today’s machines so use what you are most comfortable with and can afford to get the specs you need. There is one caveat to that and that is if you want to use Logic Pro X, then you need to buy a MAC.
#2 – DAW
So you’ve got your computer setup and now you need the program that enables you to record, edit, mix and master your music. This is called a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW for short. Since the 90s DAWs have been improving and new ones have come into the marketplace. All this to say, that there is a variety of really great options out there for everyone. So how do we make a decision?
Thankfully, all of the major DAWs have a trial period where you can try most or all of the features for a limited time for free. This is good to see what the learning curve is like. Some are more intuitive than others, so take note that there will be a time of learning. Here is a quick list of the major players:
- Pro Tools
- FL Studio
- Ableton Live
- Logic Pro
- Studio One
All of these DAWs have stock plugins for virtual instruments (synths, pianos, drums, etc) and for effects like reverb, EQ, compression, distortion, etc, so you will have everything at your disposal for making the music you want to.
#3 – Audio Interface
This is the piece of equipment that connects everything to your computer. They contain analogue to digital converters. That means that they take the sound from voice or instruments and convert it to bits so that your computer can recognize it and be able to manipulate it.
Your musical goals will determine what features you will want. If you want to record a full band simultaneously then you need an interface with multiple inputs. If you are doing most work by yourself then a simple 1 or 2 input device is enough. Most USB interfaces now are an all in one solution that contains mic preamps, headphone amps, analogue to digital converters and multiple outputs for speakers.
Prices vary on the quality of mic preamps and digital converters. In the end, better preamps and converters mean you get a better sound. Many of the low-end interfaces have low-quality mic preamps that can cause unwanted distortion and pops that will stay on your recording. It is worth it to spend a little more to get good mic preamps.
#4 – MIDI Controller
MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. This is basically a piece of equipment that gives you the ability to control virtual instruments and some functions of your DAW. If you plan to use virtual instruments like synths, pianos, etc then this is a must. It can save you from spending a lot of money on analogue instruments. Of course, if you like the sound of analogue gear then by all means get it.
There are different types of MIDI controllers for different purposes.
- keyboards – these can range from tiny 25 note keyboards to full 88 note digital pianos with the feel of a real piano.
- drum pads – these are small pads that you can program samples to be triggered with your fingers or with sticks depending on the type you buy.
- faders – these can have from 1 fader channel all the way up to a full board. You can control volume, expression, dynamics, etc.
- all in one – there are some MIDI controllers that contain all of these features in one package. These are a great start for those who want to venture into all of these types of controllers.
MIDI Controllers can also be programmed in your DAW to control the transport functions like play, stop rewind, record, etc. This gives a major workflow upgrade when recording and editing.
#5 – Microphone
If you plan to do any recording of vocals or acoustic instruments you are going to need a microphone. The place to start is to buy a cardioid large-diaphragm condenser mic. These are great because they are directional, meaning that they cancel sound coming from the rear. This is good if you haven’t treated your room yet. It will help alleviate the unwanted reverb.
The large-diaphragm allows the microphone to pick up a wide frequency range and so they are great for vocals, acoustic guitar and virtually any acoustic instrument. They require a power source but fortunately, all modern audio interfaces have this. It’s called phantom power. It is usually just a small button that says +48V.
When recording vocals with these mics it is essential that you use a pop filter to deal with plosive consonants like “P” and “B”. Because these mics are so sensitive these vowels can leave your recording a mess with low-frequency booms.
If you want to record amps, drums, etc then you will want to get a dynamic microphone. Something like an SM57 is a good choice and they are relatively inexpensive.
#6 – Headphones
You are going to need a good pair of Studio Headphones for tracking vocals and instruments as well as critical listening in the mixing stage.
There is a big difference between regular consumer headphones and Studio Headphones. Studio Headphones are designed to have a flat frequency response while consumer headphones often have enhanced bass and such in order to make the listening more enjoyable. They are NOT good for critical listening and making mixing decisions.
Studio Headphones come in two different categories:
- Open Back – Open-back headphones are for mixing. They allow sound to bleed out through perforations and this gives a more spacial feel to them. Consequently, they are bad for tracking because there is little to no sound isolation.
- Closed Back – Closed-back headphones are used for tracking vocals and instruments because they have good isolation. The sound will not bleed into the microphone while tracking.
For your first pair, it’s good to get a pair of closed-back headphones especially if you are recording live vocals or instruments. You can still mix on closed-back headphones. If you do, it’s a good idea to use a reference track. Make sure you check out how your low-end and your stereo field sound compared to a commercially polished track. This will help you make a better mix in the end.
#7 – Studio Monitors
You can do a lot on a good pair of headphones but it is better to mix on speakers. They are a more realistic way of listening and can help you make the right mixing decisions.
Much like studio headphones, Studio Monitors are specifically made to have a flat frequency response. Regular multimedia speakers have tonal enhancements to make the sound more pronounced. This is not good for mixing as we want the most neutral sound we can get so that we can make accurate decisions.
Just know that your room will colour the sound of the monitors. So it is important to look at the acoustic treatment of your room. There is a tool that Sonarworks has made to give you a flat response if you have a less than perfect environment.
Most of the Studio Monitors that are in the price range for Home Studio users are Active or Powered, meaning that they have the amp and crossovers put right into the speaker housing. This is great because you can just plug into your audio interface and to the wall and you are ready to go.
Whatever monitors you decide to buy need to placed in your room properly. They need to be at least 10 inches away from the wall to stop the bass from building up. They need to be placed in a way that forms an equilateral triangle between your ears and the speakers.
The last thing you need to do with them is to isolate them. By this, we mean to put them on to some acoustic isolation pads. This will do wonders in getting rid of sympathetic reverb from your desk or speaker stands.
#8 – Cables
These are not exciting but they are very important and should be factored into your overall budget. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on cables, but don’t buy the cheapest ones because they will break down a lot quicker.
In the beginning, you will probably only need to buy one XLR cable for your microphone and two cables for your speakers. Speaker cables will be XLR or TRS depending on what speaker you have chosen.
#9 – Acoustic Treatment
Acoustic Treatment is often overlooked by first time home studio builders because it is an added expense and let’s be honest, it’s not gear. However, this one thing can make your recordings sound so much better. Your vocals and instruments will be cleaner and your mix will sound better because it is more accurate.
The goal of treating your room acoustically is to get a balanced sounding room that you can record a variety of instruments and also mix. There are many ways that you can treat your room that aren’t going to break your bank account.
Check out our guide on Acoustic Treatment for more details.
What to do next?
Be sure to set yourself up with a budget. Give yourself a little wiggle room as you look at different products. Make sure to include the acoustic treatment. Check out our guide on acoustic treatment to get an idea of the scope.