Anyone who wants to produce music or record audio should have a home recording set up.
You can dedicate a room to the studio or set up a bedroom studio.
A home recording studio will allow you to do your recording and producing in the comfort of your own home, so you won’t have to rent studio space.
The good news is that setting up a home recording studio is easier than you might think.
To make digital music or record sound, you’re going to need some of the following essential gear:
- Studio Monitors
- Audio Interface
- Studio Desk
Depending on your studio’s desired capabilities, you may only need some of the equipment. At a minimum, you’re going to need a computer, an audio interface, and studio monitors or headphones.
When choosing your studio gear, you’re going to need to select your gear based on your needs.
The following sections will help you narrow down the requirements for your gear.
A computer is one of the critical pieces to your home studio setup. There are a ton of decisions to make when choosing your computer, so make sure you take your time and make the right choice.
Desktop vs Laptop
The first decision that you need to make is whether you want a desktop or a laptop.
Desktops are generally more powerful and have more internal storage, but as technology gets better, laptops are getting closer to housing the same amount of computing power and storage.
Laptops are more portable, which can make them ideal for producers who are constantly on tour. If you choose to produce on a laptop, automatically backing up your hard drive is critical, because laptops are frequently stolen or broken.
When creating your projects, you’ll quickly find that high-quality audio files take up a lot of space, and laptops might not have enough internal storage to handle all of your work. Desktops allow you to house many hard drives, which can give you virtually unlimited space.
The CPU will be responsible for running your DAW and plugins. If you’re making music that will use a lot of plugins, then a powerful CPU is a critical.
If you’re planning on only using your computer for recording or mixing and mastering, then you could get away with a less powerful CPU.
When choosing your CPU, look for the ‘clock speed’ and go for a high value that you can reasonably afford. Most audio processing doesn’t take advantage of multicore technology, so a higher core-count won’t drastically improve your performance. However, multiple cores can help process all the background tasks to distribute the load and take load off of the core that’s processing your audio.
RAM is important because that’s where samples get loaded when they are being used by the DAW.
In recent years, RAM has become extremely inexpensive, so you can get 16+ GB of RAM for under $100, which is way more than you’ll need.
Possible connections to the computer for peripherals include USB, FireWire, Thunderbolt, PCI, PCI-e, and others.
Your connection requirements will depend on what you’re planning to use for your audio interface and other peripherals that you might need, like a WiFi adapter, graphic card, external hard drives, and adapters. It might be best to look at audio interface options before choosing your connections to get an idea of how many ports you will need.
It’s always a good idea to have extra ports of all kinds because you might need to add more gear later.
Some producers prefer to use multiple monitors for their setup. If that’s something that you’re planning on using, then you may need a graphics card if your motherboard doesn’t have multiple built in display ports.
A graphics card will typically use a PCI-e port on the motherboard. If you’re building your computer yourself, be sure to check that there is are enough ports on your motherboard to support the graphics card.
Storage is important because you need to store your songs, recordings, and samples on it. Your options are Solid State Drives (SSDs) and Hard Disk Drives (HDDs).
HDDs are the normal oldschool hard drives that we all grew up with. They’re slow, but cheap and have a lot of storage.
SSDs are much faster at retrieving information than HDDs, but are much more expensive.
One strategy for balancing the cost of is to have multiple drives. You can store your core application files on the SSD so the programs load fast, and your samples and projects on a HDD. Using a desktop computer, rather than a laptop, will make this much easier.
Studio monitors are specialized speakers that are used in music studios. These speakers are used by the audio engineer to clearly hear the sound that is being referenced. Studio monitors are meant to reproduce sound with a very high accuracy and not add any extra ‘color’ to the sound.
If you’re a music producer, you’re going to need either studio monitors, headphones, or both. Normal speakers don’t reproduce the sound coming from the DAW as clearly and may have areas of the frequency spectrum that are too loud or too quiet. Studio monitors are meant to give a ‘flat’ response (reproducing the whole spectrum at an even level) so the every frequency can be heard at the proper volume. This flat response will help in sound design, mixing, and mastering.
Studio monitors are typically placed on the studio desk or stands. They should be placed far back from any walls or corners, especially if they are rear-ported (aka have holes in the back to let the air out). If they are placed near walls, the air from inside the monitor will reverberate off the wall and decrease the clarity of the sound.
When you’re looking to buy studio monitors, you need to decide on the following options:
- Woofer Size
- Connection Types
- Front-Ported vs. Rear-Ported
The most common sizes of studio monitors are 5 inch and 8 inch, but some companies offer larger, smaller, and in-between sizes. The larger the monitor woofer, the better the speaker will be at reproducing bass sounds. For advanced and professional producers, 8 inch speakers are recommended. Beginners can get away with 5 inch speakers, but they will eventually need to upgrade to 8 inch studio monitors.
Inside the studio monitors, you’ll find power amps that deliver sound to the speakers. Studio monitors are usually bi-amped, but they can be single- or tri-amped as well. The amount of power delivered to the speaker will affect how well the speaker can reproduce the sound, especially the transients. If you’re mixing loudly on low-powered speakers, the transient may peak above the limit of the speakers and the detail of the transient will be lost. When you’re looking at bi- or tri-amped studio monitors, you want both of the power ratings to be as high as possible so both the highs and lows will property reproduced.
Check out our buyer’s guide to get more details and find a pair that’s right for you!
Headphones can be used as either an alternative to studio monitors or in conjunction with studio monitors. Some people choose to use only headphones if they have noise restriction, like living in a shared dorm room or with parents.
The main factors to look at when choosing headphones are:
- Closed-back vs Open-back
- Circumaural vs Supra-aural
Closed-back vs Open-back
Closed-back and Open-back refers to the back side of the phone. If it’s closed, air won’t be able to escape and will keep the pressure inside the headphone. Open-back allows the driver to move more freely and more accurately reproduce the sound.
Closed-back can be prefered for consumers who like the extra low-end. DJs may also prefer closed back if they rely on the deep kicks to mix.
Open-back is generally the preferred option for studio producers because it gives a flatter response.
Circumaural vs Supra-aural
Circumaural means “around the ear” and supra-aural means “above the ear”.
Supra-aural are more similar to the old style headphones that rest directly on your ear with a piece of foam over the speaker.
Circumaural headphones are what most people normally think of when they imagine DJ or producer headphones, where the cup goes around the ear. Circumaural are the preferred option when it comes to studio headphones.
An audio interface is the piece of equipment that allows the computer to connect to the studio monitors, microphones, headphones, and more. It’s essentially the ‘hub’ of your studio.
Most producers will put their audio interface on their desk or in a rackmount directly in front of them. This give the user easy access to the volume controls, which are used very frequently.
When choosing an audio interface, you have a couple of questions to answer:
- How many in/outs do you need?
- Do you need a built-in microphone preamp?
- Do you want USB, FireWire, Thunderbolt, or PCI?
The number of inputs and outputs is determined by the amount of hardware, acoustic gear, and studio monitors that you have. If you want to record five microphones at once without using a mixer, you’re going to need 5 XLR inputs on your audio interface. If you have 2 sets of studio monitors that use TRS, then you’re going to need 4 TRS outputs.
Some audio interfaces come with built in preamps. If you want to record an unpowered microphone, you either need a built-in preamp, or an additional hardware preamp.
The most common audio interface formats are USB, Thunderbolt, FireWire, and PCI. USB has the highest latency, but is the most common port type, and easy to install. FireWire and Thunderbolt are faster, but your computer may not have either of these ports installed. Make sure that you either get a PCI adaptor, or already have a built-in FireWire port before buying a FireWire audio interface. The last type is PCI, which is the fastest interface type. Make sure that your computer has a free PCI port before trying to install the chip.
If you're more of a hands-on kind of person, then hardware synthesizers might be your preferred method of making music.
Using hardware synthesizers will still require an audio interface and computer to record. You'll just run the line-out from the synthesizer to your audio interface or mixer to record the audio from the synth.
There are many types of synthesizers that have many different capabilities so it's important to choose the best hardware synthesizer that fits your needs.