Choosing the correct equipment for your home music studio can be tricky, especially if you are new to creating music. In this section, we will cover the necessary equipment you need to build a home music studio and the helpful information you need to know before buying your equipment.
The Essentials To Building a Home Recording Studio
Below is a list of all the major key equipment and hardware that is used to produce a home music studio:
- A Working Computer
- Digital Audio Workstation
- Microphone Stand
- Audio Interface
- Studio Monitors
- XLR Cables
Choosing Your Computer
It’s vital to have a working computer that is capable of running the digital audio workstation (The music creation software). The digital audio workstation or DAW for short is the program you use to record and mix your music. Most DAWS will have built-in instruments, so if you don’t have the money for lots of instruments, do not worry.
Apple Mac computer seems to have taken over the music creation world. The majority of professional music studios will be using an Apple computer, but that doesn’t mean you have to use one. A windows computer that is paired with a good digital audio workstation will be perfect for creating music.
Each and every DAW will have and require different computer specifications. My computer recommends would be to have at least:
- 120GB Storage
- 8GB Ram
- 2GHZ Dual Core Processor
Music files can take up large amounts of space, so having a 120gb hard drive or solid state drive might not be enough if you’re looking to produce music regularly in the long run.
I would highly recommend getting an SSD (solid state drive) as they have much faster read and write times compared to the traditional hard disc drive. A solid-state drive is also another way to give your computer that extra power boosts. When running your operating system on it, it will dramatically decrease your boot up time, program loading and read and write time. The only downsides are that solid state drives are more expensive than a stand hard disc drive.
If you don’t know what those specifications mean, please don’t worry.
Most modern day computers will be capable of running the required software, although if you’re planning to buy a computer, look at your DAWs specification first as that will give you a solid recommendation on the specifications your computer is going to need. Read the next section of this guide for insights of what digital audio workstation you should use.
Choosing Your Operating System
Please note that depending on what operating system your computer is running will hugely define what music creation software (DAW) you will be able to run. This is because some digital audio workstations are built primarily for a certain operating system. For example, Logic Pro X only runs on Mac OS and Cakewalk Sonar is built only for the Windows OS.
The main two operating systems for creating music are Apple Mac OS and Windows. Each operating system is different and has been designed for different purposes. Neither of the operating systems is better than another, they all do different things.
Apple Mac OS will generally be more expensive to set up and buy due to them being branded under Apple. Especially, if you live in Europe as on the top of the price of Apple machines you have to pay a 20% VAT. It will depend on your countries VAT taxes. This is why in the United States apple machines are considerably less.
Although Apple machines seem to have taken over the music producing world, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a Windows operating system. In fact, music production on a windows machine is just as good. There are many digital audio workstations that are built for windows and they work fabulously, just as good as an Apple machine.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your personal preferences and how much money you are looking to spend. I work with both Apple and Window machines for music creation and they are both very similar.
If I had to pick an operating system, I would have to go with Apple’s Mac OS. Just because their machine’s outer casing is durable, the operating system works how I want it to and Apple’s customer support is very good, but just because I would buy this machine, doesn’t mean you need to. Windows is just as good as Mac OS for music creation.
If you would like a more in-depth guide on choosing your operating system, please read our in-depth article here.
Choosing Your Digital Audio Workstation
A DAW or digital audio workstation is the software that you use on your computer that creates the music.
The digital audio workstation will hugely depend on your computers operating. Depending on what operating system you are using will determine what digital audio workstation you can. For example, Logic Pro X only runs on Mac OS and Cakewalk Sonar is built only for the Windows OS.
It’s important to mention that the majority of digital audio workstations all work the same. They all have very similar functionality and can produce very similar results. Rather than how good the software is, it’s usually dependents more on the person behind the computer and their skill set that determines the quality of the end results.
Just like any other piece of computer software, digital audio workstations can take a while to get your head around, especially if you have never used one before. It may take many hours before you understand the layout of the DAW you are using.
DAWS have many functionalities. They can record your voice, instruments, make beats, add EQ, compression and much more. Therefore the time required to learn the ins and outs of a digital audio workstation is going to take many hours. What is important is that you learn the basics of the software and take it from there, otherwise, it can be very confusing and overwhelming.
In the next step of our guide, we will go over the different digital audio workstations. This will give you insights to help you choose the right DAW.
Choosing Your Microphone
Dynamic and condenser microphones are the most popular… and Ribbon microphones are coming back in style. With all these different names of microphones, it can be confused to know which microphone does what. We are here to help.
For your first home recording microphone, we would recommend you buy a large diaphragm condenser microphone if you’re planning to record vocals and a Dynamic microphone if you are planning to record vocals.
Dynamic microphones can handle higher SPL (Sound Pressure Levels) before the sound distorts, which makes it ideal for instruments.
Condenser microphones don’t typically handle higher SPL as well as dynamic microphones but are very good at picking up quieter, lower sounds very clearly. Which is why it makes it perfect for your first vocal microphone.
Before you purchase a microphone you really need to check the ‘self-noise’ of the microphone. Some microphones have up to around 22 DB – which is really loud! And you will be able to hear it back in the recordings. So before you take the dive and purchase a microphone, always check how much self-noise that particular microphone gives off.
When buying something that expensive, always check out the reviews! Reviews are from people who have bought the microphone and have an insight into them. Always check out the microphones reviews before buying one.
Choosing Your Microphone Stand
We already have numerous posts about microphone stands, but this is a point I can’t exaggerate enough and is a mistake many musicians make when they first start out.
“Do yourself a favor and buy a good quality microphone stand.”
Cheapish microphone stands are flimsy, less reliable and are more likely to break. At the end of the day, it is the microphone stand that is holding up your $200+ microphone. If it were to fall over, that’s your precious microphone falling with it!
Another reason to why you shouldn’t cheap out on a microphone stand is because every time you hit the studio to record, you will most likely have to adjust the microphone stand at least once. Less well-built microphone stands are much harder to unscrew and adjust. You can really tell the differences between the quality of microphone stands.
Choosing Your Audio Interface
If you’re using a USB microphone you will not need an audio interface, although we DO NOT recommend using a USB microphone for professional recordings there are a couple of good ones out there. Such as the Rode NT-USB.
When choosing an audio interface there are a few things you should look out for.
- How many inputs and outputs do you need
- Daw compatibility
- 24 bit resolution
If you need to plug in more than 1 XLR microphone or instrument at once then you’re going to need an audio interface with more than 1 input. That will narrow down your search right away.
Another thing to watch out for is DAW compatibility. You will be fine in most cases, but if you’re going to spend your hard earned money on an audio interface it is wise to make sure its compatibile with your music creation software.
Do you need to travel? Then you will need a portable audio interface, and not an audio interface that slots into your desktop computer.
Make sure the audio interface is compatible with 24 bit resolution. 18 bit resolution is still good but there is no reason not to get a interface that supports 24 bit resolution.
Choosing Your Studio Monitors
If you’re new to producing music, you may not know what studio monitors are, or what their functionality is. Studio monitors are a stereo pair of speakers, but they aren’t any normal pair of speakers like your regular Sony speakers you would buy in your local PC World.
Studio monitors have a completely flatlined EQ. This means no additional effects such as a bass boost or tremble has been added. You are hearing the sound exactly as how you recorded it, or if you were listening to music you are hearing that sound how the artist intended you to hear it.
You may ask yourself, what studio monitors should I buy?
Most modern-day passive monitors will do just fine, but no matter how expensive or good your monitors are. If your room acoustics are bad, your audio is going to sound terrible too!
It’s important to acoustically prepare your room if you want to build a serious home recording studio.
If you are choosing to build a bedroom studio or you don’t have to money to pay for the acoustics, you can still get great sounding audio if the room doesn’t have any echoing or comb filtering effect or if the room doesn’t produce any background noises, but if you want to take your sound quality to the next level. You should invest in some Rockwool or sound insulation for your studio.
You need to break them in! When you first buy studio monitors, the ‘spider’ (part of the insides of the speaker) is very tight. You need to play around 50 – 60 hours of sound through them first to get the sound the manufactures intended for them to sound. This will loosen up the spider. It is best to play something very base heavy through the speakers.
Here’s a video explaining that:
Choosing Your Headphones
There are two types of headphones. Closed Back Headphones and Open Back Headphones.
They both have different purposes and are used in different scenarios.
Closed Back Headphones
Closed back headphones are used in the studio and are what the artist would wear when recording. They are great because they have very low isolation, which means the microphone shouldn’t be able to pick up any sound bleeding/leakage.
When an artist is recording, they will most likely have the soundtrack as well as their voice being played back into the headphones. Therefore a pair of headphones that don’t leak sound is vital for top quality recordings.
Open Back Headphones
If you wanted to mix on headphones, these are the headphones you should use.
Mixing with headphones on is never recommended, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid. You might have to work late at night and your family probably won’t want to hear the same bars looping, or perhaps your studio has really bad sound acoustics and it causing comb filtering or an echoing effect that is interfering with the sound quality.
What headphones should I choose?
It is recommended to at least have 1 set of closed back headphones for your home music studio. Although if you are building a budget studio, you can always use a pair of earphones that you have lying around at home. It isn’t recommended but it will do the job.
If you’re looking for a more serious home music studio, then buying a good-ish paid of closed back headphones should be one of your top priorities. They prevent your microphone from picking up the playback and this can really help improve your recording quality and get the best possible sounds.
There’s plenty of closed-back headphones on the market today, it is best to do your research before jumping into the deep end and buying a pair of headphones.