In case you’ve ever wondered whether it’s possible to make your own home studio, the simple answer is – yes. We may take it for granted nowadays, but it’s really amazing how we’re able to record, produce, mix, and master music from the comfort of our homes. In fact, the recording quality we’re able to achieve is something the musicians from the previous decades would be envious of. The entire process is now available for even the beginner and intermediate musicians. How great is that?
However, don’t get your hopes up that fast. The process requires some detailed research if you want to make it right. There are certain steps that you should follow in order to make a decent home setup. Whatever your instrument, and whether you prefer using microphones or direct inputs, there are great ways to get things done.
This is why we decided to look more into the matter, do some digging, and make a condensed brief guide for making your home studio. So here are the main components and what you need to know about them.
So the first thing to look at is a computer. In a perfect scenario, you’ll want the fastest possible one with enough processing power, a lot of RAM memory, and a large SSD hard drive. However, you’ll always have certain budget restrictions, which is the first thing you’ll need to think about.
Although things might seem complicated, there are some general guidelines that you could follow. Instead of focusing on strict numbers and flashy marketing practices, look for a processor with more threads. Since you’ll be making multi-track projects, this will make sure that things will run smoothly as possible. Overall, Intel i5 or any equivalent is a minimum.
As far as the RAM memory goes, we would advise anything from 16 GB and higher. An abundance of DAW plugins which are almost mandatory these days can take up a lot of RAM. So 16 is the lowest you’ll want to go.
Of course, SSD drives have immeasurably superior performances over the outdated HDD drives, which are practically dying out. If you’re buying a computer, whether it’s a laptop or a desktop, you should always focus on solid-state drives. Yes, they have smaller storage capacities, but they’re also slowly getting more and more affordable. A 512 GB SSD would be enough for home recording purposes, with an additional HDD or an external drive for storage.
An audio interface, or a sound card, is the center of your setup. This is the device that will do all the heavy lifting. There’s a misconception that it’s possible to record great music using an integrated soundcard. While that might be true for occasional single-channel doodling in a simplified DAW, you won’t be able to pull off any multi-track projects with effects and other plugins and expect everything to work well.
Not to get too much into technical details, using an external audio interface lets you play and record your instrument in real-time with unnoticeable latency, while also loading a bunch of effects plugins. It just adds more processing power.
What’s more, the specialized audio interface will deal better with all the digital to analog and analog to digital conversion. The analog signal of your instrument or microphone is converted into digital information, processed in your DAW, and then once again converted into an analog signal before going into the speakers or headphones. In case you’re making any digital versions of instruments, like drums or synths, then it only converts them to analog information.
For home recording purposes, you’ll need anything from one and up to four channels. If you want to record more than just one instrument at the same time, or if you want to record your amp or an acoustic instrument with more than just one microphone, then go with at least two channels. There are a bunch of great options out there, but here are some that we would recommend:
In case you think you’ll need more channels, there are plenty of more advanced audio interfaces. This is useful if you’re recording drums, multiple instruments, or entire bands in your home studio.
Note that you’ll need to think of the connection type of your audio interface. Most of them are standard USB devices, but you’ll find Firewire and USB-C as well. This is crucial to know if you need to connect them to your computer.
ADAT optical devices were developed from those old Alesis Digital Audio Tapes. Not to bore you with too many details, these are supposed to be paired with an audio interface using optical cables. Their purpose is to “expand” your number of usable channels. This way, you practically get an extended audio interface. All you need to do then is map all of these new channels in your DAW of choice and you’re good to go.
However, in order to use it, you need an audio interface that supports optical connections. For instance, you can do this with the Focusrite Clarett series, Arturia Audiofuse, Audient iD14, and many others.
ADATs are for those who are keen on making larger setups. In most cases, you won’t really need it for your home studio, unless you’re planning to make something more complex.
Of course, some of the most essential components are studio monitors and studio headphones, both for the recording and mixing processes. And your regular computer speakers, stereo systems, or any other hi-fi devices, including headphones, are not enough. Thanks to their construction and overall design, studio monitors bring a more “punchier” sound. Each frequency range is clearer and easier to pronounce. One of the reasons behind this is because studio monitors are active, meaning that each speaker has its power amplifier init.
The monitor speaker sizes are measured by their woofer speakers. For regular home recording purposes, you’ll do fine with 5-inch to 8-inch monitors.
In case you’re looking for monitor speakers, here are some things you’ll want to check out. Note that some are bought as single speakers, and not in a pair like regular speakers.
In case you need (or just prefer) headphones…
Connecting monitor speakers to an audio interface
Unlike regular computer speakers that are connected via an aux cable, studio monitors have individual connections to an audio interface’s designated outputs. You’ll need to use speaker cables with the regular 1/4-inch connectors. In some cases, you’ll need XLR cables. You need to connect the left output to the designated left speaker, and the right output to the designated right speaker.
We’ve been mentioning DAWs all throughout the article. DAW is just short for “digital audio interface,” which is actually a software that you’ll use for all the recording. Back in the old days, everything was done using tracks and very robust machines. These days, you have just a regular DAW where you can use as many tracks as you want.
There are plenty of great products out there, and it usually comes down to personal preferences. Most are made both for Windows and macOS operating systems. Some are even available for free. Examples of some good DAWs are Ableton Live, Audacity, Pro Tools, Garage Band (macOS only), Logic Pro (macOS only), Steinberg Cubase, Reaper, Bitwig, and others.
These are basically like your “working surfaces” where you’ll be laying down all the tracks, cutting them, setting the tempo, adding effects, adjusting the levels, and anything else that you need. While we’re at it, you’ll always want to use some additional plugins for processing your recordings.
In case you’re recording instruments directly into an audio interface via audio cables or midi connections, like electric guitars or keyboards, then you probably won’t need a microphone. But if you need something for vocals or your instrument amplifiers, there are some things you need to consider first. The basic division is on dynamic and condenser mics. Condenser microphones are usually used for vocals, acoustic instruments, and cymbals in drum sets. They focus mostly on higher frequencies and usually have a wider capture radius. Sam Ash Music posted an in-depth article discussing the differences between the two types of microphones. Below are some great affordable examples to choose from amongst the hundres, if not thousands, of varieties.
As for dynamic microphones, they’re more “directed” and focus more on the mid-range frequencies. You’ll often see them used for instrument amplifiers, acoustic instruments, drum components like snare and tom drums, and, in some cases, vocals. Here are some examples and their most common uses:
- Shure SM58 (vocals)
- Shure SM57 (guitar amplifiers, snare drums, acoustic guitars)
- Shure SM7B (vocals)
- Sennheiser MD421-II (vocals, amplifiers)
Preamps further boost and enhance the microphones. This is not something mandatory for a home studio, but it’s a good idea if you’re relying mostly on microphones. Many of the microphone amplifiers feature instrument connectivity and can come in handy for basses, keyboards, and even analog synths. We’ll just share a few examples, both single and multi-channel ones.
- Cloud CL-1
- Golden Age Project PRE-73 MKIII
- PreSonus Studio Channel
- Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre
- Warm Audio WA12-500 MKII
Acoustics can be quite an issue if you’re recording music at home and using microphones. If things are not under control, you’ll end up capturing a lot of unwanted sounds. But instead of spending tons on isolating your room and adjusting everything by adding absorbers and diffusers, it’s sometimes a good idea to buy portable vocal booths. Below are some great cost-friendly options:
Planning out the setup
Average rooms are far from perfect settings for studios. However, it’s up to you to make the best of it. The first thing you’ll want to do is find the right place for your desk where all of the equipment, including monitors, will sit. Most of the rooms are more or less rectangular in shape. You’ll want to place the desk next to one of the shorter walls, if possible. This way, the sound from studio monitors will “bounce” less off the walls.
Since recording and mixing music requires a lot of sitting, you’ll need a quality studio or a computer chair, as well as a good desk, which will serve as a working surface. In addition, it’s not a bad idea to have monitor stands to reduce any unwanted transfer of vibrations onto your desk. You can either use the floor or desk stands. When it comes to home studio settings, this is not mandatory. But if you’d really like to have something, then go with desk stands.
In case you’re having electrical issues in your home, it’s a good idea to have everything hooked up through a power conditioner. This way, you’ll not only keep your equipment safe but will also get rid of any unwanted hums in the signal.
What you also need to know…
In this brief guide, we did our best to include mostly budget-friendly options, as much as it’s possible. But in the end, you’ll first need to know what you need with your setup. If you’re recording one instrument only, the setup should be as simple as possible. For any other instruments, you can get VST plugins for your DAW, and you won’t need more than two channels on your audio interface. A great choice for this is Focusrite’s Scarlett 2i2.
However, if your idea is to record entire bands in your home studios, it’s good to have at least eight channels, especially if you’re recording full drum sets. In this case, you can even get a 4-channel audio interface and an ADAT with 8 additional channels.
The main thing is that you have an appropriate computer, an audio interface, a DAW, and a good set of monitor speakers or headphones. The rest of the components that we mentioned come down to some specific cases. But most of the setups will require these four things.