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How To Setup A Home Recording Studio On A Budget

If you want the creative freedom and control of recording your own music then a home recording studio is an amazing option.

When you break it down, there are really only 5 essential components you need in a home recording studio to get started.

At the bottom of this post I also reveal my recommended home studio gear setups to suit different budgets (updated for 2019!).

1. Computer

The first piece of equipment you need is a computer. Most of us have a computer already that we use for life admin, and if it’s less than 10 years old the chances are whatever you have is capable of recording audio. I still record and mix remotely on my 2010 MacBook Pro!

However, depending on the spec of your computer you may hit performance issues when you get to higher track counts. But if you’re just recording a couple of guitar and vocal tracks then most computers will do a good job.

Mac vs PC

Forums are ripe with Mac vs PC debates which I don’t want to get into here, but what I will say is that I’ve used both Mac and PC desktops and laptops over the years and they were all capable of producing great results!

What specs matter?

What matters more than whether you have a Mac or PC is the processor speed, RAM and hard drive.

From my experience if you are planning on using a lot of virtual instruments or have large track counts in your productions then you will want to make sure you have plenty of RAM (My current iMac has 16GB which is plenty for most home studio productions).

In terms of hard drives you should use a minimum HDD speed of 7200 rpm for recording your audio. Alternatively SSD’s are a great option and usually have faster read/write speeds than standard HDD’s.

But you definitely don’t need to splash out on the latest models and specs to make music!

2. DAW

Next you will need a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to record your audio and midi in to. Modern DAW’s have so many features that I can’t go into in this article, but there are a few considerations you will need to keep in mind when choosing the right one for you.

Firstly, not all DAW’s work across both Mac and PC so you need to check compatibility with your computer.

What’s the best DAW?

Each DAW has its strengths and weaknesses, so you need to know what features are important to you.

Pro Tools is often a favourite for people mainly recording live instruments due to its editing features, while Logic is often selected for its great sounding virtual instruments. 

There are also DAW’s such as Ableton Live where the workflow is geared towards electronic music. You can easily find full feature lists for each DAW online.

Don’t get caught up in forums discussing which DAW sounds better than the others, the truth is the difference in workflow will have a far bigger impact on the overall sound than any sonic differences with summing coding.

A lot of the major DAW’s offer a free version for you to try and often have enough features to cover everything you need for small productions. 

This also gives you the opportunity to try a few out and see which best fits your workflow and preferences.

Having tried many of the popular DAW’s over the years from Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase and Studio One, I can honestly tell you any of them will do a great job. 

Whichever DAW you decide to go with just stick with it and learn it inside out.

3. Audio Interface

To get audio into your computer you will need an audio interface. 

You don’t need to worry about understanding all the Analog/Digital conversion happening under the hood, just that the audio interface will allow you to record audio into your DAW and play back audio through your monitors/headphones.

Audio interfaces have built in mic preamps which boost the signal of the mic to a useable level. Typically they include either 1, 2, 4 or 8, and if you’re only going to be recording one instrument at a time then I recommend going with 2 mic pre’s which allows mono and stereo recording. 

If you plan on recording drums then you may want to go for 4 or 8 pre’s.

Audio interfaces have come a long way over the last 10 years, and the stock preamps and converters are more than capable of producing commercial quality results without the need to upgrade anything.

4. Microphone

If you want to record vocals or any acoustic instruments then you’ll need a microphone. 

While they can range drastically in price, the sonic gap between budget and boutique mics is now a lot less than it used to be, which is great news for home studio owners.

If you read mic reviews on forums you quickly realise there a lot of divided opinions, which are mainly down to personal taste. The best advice is to go and try a few out and decide for yourself.

What mic to buy

In home studios we don’t typically have access to a large mic locker, so it makes sense to choose a mic that works well in a lot of scenarios. Large Diaphragm Condenser mics (such as the Rode NT1) are a popular choice for this role, and are regularly used on Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Amps, Strings, Piano etc.

Another consideration is the polar pattern of the mic. For home studio recording I recommend starting with a Cardioid pattern, as it picks up sound mainly from the front of the mic and won’t pick up as much of the room sound as other polar patterns. This is useful because most home studios are not in ideal spaces (garages, spare bedrooms etc) so you don’t want to capture too much of the room sound.

When buying a mic you’ll also need an XLR cable to plug the mic into your audio interface, a mic stand, and depending on the mic choice you may need a shock mount.

5. Headphones

The final essential component of your home recording studio is headphones. These will allow you to hear your music playback and also monitor the sound while recording without introducing bleed in to the signal.

Flat frequency response

When choosing headphones for this purpose I would go for a closed back design, which will reduce any bleed from the headphones while recording. I also recommend choosing headphones that have a relatively flat frequency response. If they have a big bass or treble boost you’re not going to be able to hear the music accurately, which will affect your decisions when recording and mixing.

If you have the budget available then some studio monitors are the next purchase you should make. Both the Yamaha HS5’s and KRK Rokit 5’s are great options that won’t break the bank. However, they’re not a critical purchase to getting started with making music in your home studio.

My recommended home studio setups (updated 2019)

Don’t waste any more time!

It’s tempting to believe that you’re just one gear purchase away from achieving amazing results in your studio, but the truth is that you’ll only get great results when you put in the time to practice. Don’t get sucked in to chasing after the latest gear and wasting your hard earned money.

The best advice I can give is to just pick some gear that fits your needs and budget, and start making music!

My 2 recommended example home studio setups to suit different budgets:

Setup 1: Approx. £300

DAW: GarageBand (Free – Mac Only) / Pro Tools First (Free) / Studio One Prime (Free)

Interface: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (£108)

Mic: Lewitt LCT 240 PRO (£140)

Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M30X (£54)

Setup 2: Approx. £700

DAW: Logic X (£199 – Mac Only) / Studio One 4 Artist (£85) / Pro Tools (£20 p/month subscription)

Interface: Audient iD22 (£299) Audient iD14 (£180)

Mic: Lewitt LCT 440 Pure (£247) / Rode NT1 Kit (£202)

Headphones: KRK KNS 8400 £122 / Audio-Technica ATH-M50X (£109)

*Prices correct at time of post

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