Home Recording Studio Setup: The Beginning of the Fun

home studio equipment

Several decades ago, the idea that you could get professional-quality sound in a home recording studio setup was completely unheard of. Back then, recording equipment cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy.

Heck, when I started getting into music recording, the only thing I had to work with was an old multitrack tape recorder!

A lot has changed since those days. At the start of the “Digital Era,” home recording started to become a much more viable option. Why pay hundreds of dollars an hour when you could invest in a studio that you can use all you want?

Thanks to today’s technology, creating that home studio of your dreams is closer to reality than you think. But, it’s not as easy as setting up a computer and hitting the record button! Truth is, studios are complex environments. Not only do you need the right space, but you need the right equipment to help your creativity fly.

When I was first building my recording studio at home, I had a lot of trouble getting things just right. I didn’t really know what was the basics of a home recording studio kit. It took a lot of trial and error, but I eventually got there. Now, it’s time to pass my knowledge on to you!

Finding the Right Space

Before you do anything else, you need to choose the right room.

Obviously, you might not have a ton of control when it comes to room size and layout. Unless you want to go all-in and perform some major renovations, you’re probably limited to some spare bedrooms in your home. That said, there are some guidelines you can follow to choose a reliable space.

As a good rule of thumb, choose a relatively large room. Smaller rooms with walls that are close together produce early sound reflections. This can prove problematic when you’re trying to create that pristine monitoring environment. Early reflections will cancel out some frequencies and make the overall studio image very muddy.

good and bad rooms explained

Another good tip is to choose a room that’s not too perfect in shape. This can be a bit tough to accommodate, but hear me out. Perfectly square or rectangular rooms are a nightmare when it comes to reverberation. Irregular shapes, such as an alcove or awkward closet, can diffuse some of those reflections and provide you with a more accurate sound.

Truth is, there’s no such thing as a perfect room. Those fancy professional studios are designed by acoustical engineers that charge thousands of dollars. In a home studio, you’re always going to have to deal with weird sound issues. The trick to creating a good home recording studio is to plan your space accordingly so that you can minimize those issues as much as possible. The first step in that is finding the right room.

If you do have a square room for your home studio recording and cannot really do much about it, check this video. He gives some interesting information and a solution in case the room you want to use is small and squared. Go directly to the minute 4:20 where he explains the 3rd and proper configuration for the speakers in such a room. Otherwise, watch it all as it is very interesting and full of worthy and practical Infos.

9 basic Home Recording Studio equipment

Now that you’ve chosen which room to transform, it’s time to get to the fun stuff! Here’s where setting up your home recording studio can be challenging. The professional audio industry is very vast. This has its advantages and disadvantages.

On one hand, there’s no shortage of high-quality gear for you to choose from. On the other, it’s very easy to overspend. Before you start shopping, set a budget and stick to it! You can get a pretty decent studio for only a few hundred dollars. Or, you can spend several thousand. The choice is yours.

Regardless of what you decide to spend, there are several pieces of essential gear that every home studio needs. Whether you’re an aspiring producer or you’re an established professional looking to work from home, you need the following equipment to make your music sound as best as it can.

1. Computer
the Hub of Digital Production

First things first, you need a quality computer. Your computer is going to be the brains of the operation. It’s where you do all of your work. Plus, it’s going to be the central hub where most of your gear connects to.

If there’s any part of your studio that you shouldn’t skimp on, it’s the computer! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can work efficiently on an outdated machine.

DAWs are only getting more resource-intensive as the years go by. We’ll get into the specifics of your DAW in a bit. But for now, aim for a new computer with respectable specifications.

Ideal Specs

There are no hard guidelines when it comes to CPU or RAM. All DAWs (ie. Logic Pro, Pro Tools) are different, so it’s a good idea to take a look at your preferred system and go from there. Once you find the minimum requirements, get a computer with more resources than you need. It’s better to have more wiggle room than to not have enough.

Fast processors are the best. At the very minimum, you need a quad-core processor that’s capable of giving you 2.2 GHz or more. When it comes to RAM, 8 GB is the bare minimum. I recommend bumping that up to 16 GB if you plan on recording music with tons of tracks.

Now, onto storage. Project files are surprisingly big. This is especially true if you’re recording at higher bit depths and sample rates. Thus, you need plenty of storage space. 500 GB is a great place to start. Though, more is always better.

I recommend going with solid-state drives if you can spring the extra cash for it. SSD storage is much more reliable and has faster load times. This translates to a much smoother workflow.

Mac or PC?

You’ll hear audio engineers and producers argue the merits of different operating systems all the time. For the longest time, Mac computers were much more reliable for music production. Many recording professionals still stick to Macs. However, the differences between the two operating systems when it comes to performance and reliability aren’t that big anymore. So, choose an operating system that works best for you.

Laptop or Desktop?

Generally, it’s a good idea to stick to a desktop system for your home recording studio. Ideally, this computer will take care of your recording needs and nothing more. Desktops tend to be more robust in terms of power. Plus, they’re easily upgradable.

That said, laptops work well, too. They’re a great option if you plan on recording on the go. Just make sure to get a pro-level laptop with plenty of I/O ports to accommodate your gear.

2. DAW
Your Preferred Recording Software

So, what exactly is a DAW? Well, DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. Basically, it’s a piece of software that’s going to make recording and editing possible.

Back in the early days of digital recording, DAWs were largely used for making basic edits. Today, they are used for pretty much every part of the music creation process. It’s what you’ll use to record your music, make edits, mix, master, and print. Needless to say, it’s an important part of the puzzle!

You have many different options to choose from. Not only that, but prices vary across the board. If you’ve chosen to invest in a Mac computer, you might even already have one preinstalled on your computer. GarageBand is a basic DAW that’s perfect for beginners. Several other free DAWs are available on the web, too, but they are a bit limited in terms of functionality.

Professional DAWs are always preferred. If you plan on collaborating with other creators or working in the industry at any capacity, you will need a professional DAW.

Personally, Pro Tools is my DAW software of choice. It’s chock-full of features and has everything you’d need to make music from start to finish. Logic Pro X is another good choice. It has some strong MIDI features built-in. Here are some of the best DAWs you can try out:

A good DAW can set you back a pretty penny. Though, many companies are starting to offer unique subscription plans that make the software more accessible to home studio users. Avid, for example, offers monthly and yearly subscription plans for Pro Tools.

3. Audio Interface
The Bridge Between Analog and Digital

An audio interface is a piece of gear that acts as the middle man for your recording setup. It’s required if you want to record live music, such as vocals or guitar. The audio interface works to turn those analog sound waves into a digital signal.

Internally, a lot is going on in an audio interface. I won’t get into the details here, but basically, the interface has an analog-to-digital converter that turns sound waves into bits that can be manipulated by your DAW.

As always, there’s no shortage of interface options out there. Most connect to your computer via USB or Thunderbolt for simplicity. If you’re trying to save some money, you can get a simple interface with only one or two inputs. As your needs change, you can always upgrade to an interface that can record multiple tracks at one time.

Port Considerations

There are a couple of things to pay attention to when you’re searching for that perfect audio interface. One of the most important is the I/O setup. The interface is going to be the device you plug your microphones and electric instruments into. So, you’ll need to make sure that the interface has enough female XLR ports. The same goes for line-in jacks, which are used for electric guitars.

4. MIDI Controller
a Way to Your Instruments

MIDI controllers let you have a world of instruments right on your computer. This gear connects to your computer and collects MIDI data.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Essentially, it’s a way for you to record musical data. Many different channel messages are recorded to make instruments sound as true to life as possible. This includes ON/OFF messages, pressure, aftertouch, and more.

Once that data is collected, you can apply synth tones or instrument samples. The end product is a realistic instrument sound. You can use it to “record” solo instruments or entire orchestras. All from your computer!

MIDI controllers come in all shapes and forms. The most versatile is a MIDI keyboard. MIDI drum pads are pretty common, too. Either way, they’re a must-have piece of gear that can take your recording efforts to new heights!

5. Microphone, Pop Shield, Stand
Record Clear Sound

Whether you’re recording vocals, brass instruments, or even guitar amps, you’re going to need solid mic gear. Microphones are transducers that turn sound waves into audio signals. These aren’t the same types of microphones that you plug into your computer via a USB. They’re professional-quality mics that will pick up sound accurately.

Types of Microphones

Studio microphones vary quite a bit when it comes to design, performance, and operation.

Your most basic option is a condenser mic. These are good all-around mics that you can use for vocals and instruments. They do require some additional power though. Called phantom power, this extra 48 volts is required for the microphone to operate efficiently. Luckily, most modern audio interfaces have phantom power built right in for convenience. Like in the one in the photo below. They are particularly good microphones for singing as they can capture not only the voice but also the room sound and create more depth on the recording.

Condenser mics come in two forms. There are large-diaphragm mics and small-diaphragm mics. Larger mics are best for vocals and picking up deep nuance in music. Meanwhile, small-diaphragm mics can be used for drums or overheads.

Another option is a dynamic microphone. Dynamic mics use electromagnetism to work. They don’t need phantom power. These mics are incredibly versatile and can be used for many different sounds. In fact, most live performers use them on stage because of their flexibility. These are the type of microphones I recommend you start with.

Next up, there are ribbon mics. I don’t recommend investing in a ribbon mic just yet. These devices are very finicky. As the name would suggest, they have a ribbon that’s used to pick up sound. It’s made of very thin metal. The problem with ribbon mics is that the metal ribbon can snap if too much sound pressure is applied. They are ideal for soft and light sounds. You can use them for picking up highly detailed sounds, such as the strums of an acoustic guitar.

Stands and Pop Filters

Your mic stand and pop filter are just as important as the microphone itself. When you’re recording music, unnecessary vibrations are your worst enemy. The stand helps to isolate your microphone so that it can pick up sound waves without any issues.

Pop filters have a unique job. They’re meant to dampen the airflow a bit from a vocalist’s mouth as they sing. Have you ever had to deal with sudden pops and clicks on your vocal tracks? It’s probably because you weren’t using a pop filter!

6. Studio Monitors
Neutral Audio for Mixing

Neutral audio for mixing

When you’re recording, you need to hear the music as clearly as possible. Some good studio monitors speakers will help you do just that. Let’s check which one is the best studio monitor for our purpose.

While they look like your average speaker, they are much different. Most studio monitors are active. This means that they’re independently powered. Not only that, but they provide a nice flat frequency response across all bands.

This is crucial when you’re mixing and recording. You need to hear the music without any unnecessary coloration so that you can make adjustments as you see fit.

How to place the studio monitors

Make sure to leave plenty of room in your budget for a good set of studio monitors. Once you purchase them, take some time to get the placement just right. It’ll make all the difference in your home studio.

7. Headphones
a Tool for Critical Listening

Even if you have some studio monitors, you need a good pair of cans. Professional-quality headphones can serve multiple purposes. Not only can they be used for mixing your music to perfection, but they’re also needed for recording. You can pop them on to hear what’s being fed through the mic to ensure that you sound how you want.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that any old pair of headphones will work. Consumer-level headphones have a colored tone. This means that the manufacturers fine-tuned frequency response to be as pleasing to the ears as possible. They might have a reverse bell curve to make the bass more prominent and mid-range less muddy.

While this is great for listening, it’s not good for critical listening. Remember mixing and recording requires a flat frequency response, so you’ll need to invest in cans that are designed for studio use.

Open-Back vs. Closed-Back

When you’re looking for headphones, you’re going to come across both open-back and closed-back headphones.

Open-back headphones aren’t great for studio use. They have small perforations behind the cups that let external sounds come in. They can be used in the studio if you want to stay aware of your surroundings. But, you need to make sure that you’re not using them when recording.

Those perforations can let sound bleed-through, which would ultimately be picked up by your mic. For recording in the booth, always stick to closed-back headphones with no perforations.

8. Audio Cables
Make Correct Connections

Don’t forget about the cables! You need cables to connect all your gear together. Visit any professional studio and you’ll quickly find that most have far more than they need. Cables go bad all the time, so having a nice stockpile of essentials will ensure that you’re always ready to record. Here are some cables you need to invest in:

  • XLR cables for microphones
  • TRS cables for instruments
  • MIDI cables for controllers
  • RCA cables for monitors
  • Firewire and USB for computer

9. Acoustic Treatment
Addressing Sound Issues

Remember how I said that you’d always have to deal with issues in a home recording studio? I also mentioned that the trick to creating a good studio was to address those issues head-on. Well, acoustic treatment is the tool to do that!

Acoustic foam panels are specifically designed for controlled spaces like a studio. Contrary to popular belief, they do not soundproof the room. They may have some dampening effects and prevent your music from being heard elsewhere, but that’s not their main job. If you want to block sound from escaping the room, you’ll need to invest in insulation foam.

Acoustic treatment is more about controlling reverb. The soft foam used in panels absorbs reflections and manipulate vibrations. They help to minimize the effects of your room to help you create the perfect recording and mixing environment.

If you want to get some ideas on how to make your own acoustic treatment in your studio and cut the expenses to the minimum, here a video that will help you in this mission.

sweet home studio

There you have it! Setting up a home recording studio can be a bit of a challenge. However, it’s completely manageable with a bit of knowledge. All you need is the right equipment.

With these essentials, you’ll be ready to rock in no time. The gear can help make your room sound great while giving you all the capabilities you need to record your next big hit. So, what are you waiting for? Go set up your home studio and play music!

In case, If you are in a position that already has been working in a home studio with your own set, you may want to know how to work productively at your home studio. Interesting? Take a look at this article: 5 Tips On How To Work From Home & Beat Your Home Studio Productively

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Giorgio P
Giorgio P
Music has always led the path and I’ve been following doubtlessly. After many years of recording in studios as a singer of a swing/cabaret band, I decided to create my own home recording studio and built a blog about it. It involves exactly the things I love the most which are writing, creating, and learning. And that’s why I called the blog Sounds Wow. It really does!