recording equipment

The recording equipment you really need for your home studio setup

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Producer and audio engineer Graham Cochrane lays out the five essential pieces of recording equipment you should have when putting together your home studio setup.

So you want a killer home studio that can deliver great sounding tracks and not break the bank? I have good news for you my friend: you happen to be living in an incredible moment of history for anyone with a home studio setup.

Gear has never been more affordable and more powerful, but even so, many home studio owners have a “spend more” mentality when it comes to recording and mixing gear, and it’s easy to get confused and frustrated about what you actually need for your studio.

I’m here to try to clear things up and deliver you the simple truth about what you need to get killer recordings at home. Guess what? There are only five things I think you truly need, and the good news is you probably already have one of them.

1. You need a decent computer
When it comes to home recording, 99% of the time you’re going to want to go with computer recording. More often than not you already own a computer that is capable of being the hub of your home recording studio. If that’s the case, you’ve already eliminated one decision.

If however you need a new computer, or you’d rather keep your personal computer separate, you have a lot of options awaiting you. Let me make it easy for you.

Go with what is familiar to you. Mac or PC, laptop or desktop. What matters most is that you like the product and you feel comfortable working with it on a regular basis, not what brand it is.

I work with producers all the time who record and mix great music on both Macs and PCs, so let’s not go there right now. Instead use either what you have or what you know. My only suggestion is get as much RAM as you can afford and don’t look back.

These days, working on a laptop doesn’t mean sacrificing power, so if you like to be mobile, or intend to take your gear to other places to record, then go portable. It’s a great option. Plus, when you’re back home you can hook that laptop up to a bigger screen if you need to.

Just pick something, don’t spend too much, and move on. Plan to keep it for at least three years and then reassess the situation.

2. Any DAW will do
Once you have your computer picked out, that makes your recording software decision much easier, as not all DAWs work on both Mac and PC.

Logic is Mac only. Sonar is PC only. Digital Performer, Audition, Pro Tools, Cubase, Live, Reason, and Studio One are all dual platform. They are all fabulous programs and will get the job done for you. Which one should you go with? That’s a question only you can answer.

Most producers have their favorites, and I’ll come out right away and tell you I’m a Pro Tools guy. I’ve used most of the programs out there, but at the end of the day I always come back to Pro Tools for writing, recording, editing, mixing, and mastering. Do I recommend Pro Tools? Yes! But will it be the deciding factor in how your songs turn out? No!

Investing in a piece of recording software is indeed a big deal. But don’t over think this decision. Pick a piece of software that fits your budget and go with it. At the end of the day, when people listen back to your finished songs they aren’t going to be able to tell what program you used to record or mix. Nor will they care! All they care about is whether or not the song sounds good.

I will say this, however. If you intend to get into this business professionally one day (i.e. work in a studio, mix for big name clients, engineer music for picture in Hollywood) then you probably want go the Pro Tools route since that is the most widely used program in the industry today, by far.

But other than that, it really doesn’t matter which program you go with. People waste too much time on Internet forums debating DAW software and being big fan-boys. Don’t be one of those people; limit your options, pick a piece of recording software, and get to making music! You’ll have a lot of time left over for something more important, like finding some sort of life outside your studio walls.

3. The audio interface is your friend
Since most of us don’t have a $200,000 mixing console in our spare bedrooms, you’ll need some way to get all of your sounds (guitars, vocals, keyboards) into your computer’s recording software. This is where an audio interface comes into play.

Most DAWs work with just about any brand of audio interface. This leads to an endless list of boxes to choose from. Let me give you a suggestion: limit yourself to just 2 channel interfaces.

What I mean is, don’t buy more than you need.

Most people buy into the hype that they need a fancy audio interface that can do everything and is made with premium components that give you “that sound.” While it’s true that many of the features available in today’s high-end interfaces are great, they aren’t necessary to make killer recordings and be prolific in the studio.

Unless you need more than two channels to record drums (and that’s debatable to some) all you’ll ever need is a simple two-channel USB audio interface. You’ll need it to come with at least one microphone preamp with phantom power (see the next section), line-in inputs for guitar cables and keyboards, stereo outs, and at least one headphone out. That’s it!

With that information, you can pick your budget and just find something that fits those parameters

What about external preamps, you ask? If you need more microphone preamps for the additional inputs in your audio interface, then by all means go for it. Buy an affordable preamp and get busy recording.

If, however, you’re pondering buying more preamps just to “change things up,” let me give you a piece of advice. Unless you do this for a living, day in and day out, you really have a lot of better things to spend your time and money on than building a small collection of preamps. You’re likely not going to notice an improvement in quality to warrant the purchase. Plus the preamps that come in your interface sound great already! Until you’ve explored them all, have a good understanding of what they do and don’t do, and feel a need to add something different, why look elsewhere?

4. A good studio microphone
Obviously, microphones are an essential part of the recording process and can have more to do with how your recorded material turns out than any other part of your studio. But man, do they cause so much distraction from the big picture!

Without going into too much detail, there are three main types of microphones: dynamic, condenser, and ribbon (with dynamic and condenser being the most widely used). Dynamic microphones are great for use on stage in live settings. They are very durable and can take a beating. The also tend to be very directional in that they will only pick up what’s directly in front of them (kind of crucial with a bunch of noise on stage).

Condenser microphones, namely large diaphragm mics, use a different technology to pick up audio and convert it into electricity; and they do it in a way that brings so much detail and realism to the recording that for years engineers have turned to them as the workhorses of the studio.

The $100 Rule
The popularity of large diaphragm condenser microphones has led to a surge of choices in the marketplace. And since this technology is neither new or hard to copy, prices of mics have come down tremendously (unless you’re buying classic name brands like Neumann). What does this mean for you and me? It means it’s time to pull out a little bonus principle I like to call the $100 rule.

The rule is simple: unless you’re looking to own a specific microphone for a specific reason, don’t spend any more than $100 on a microphone for your studio. That’s it. There are just too many great sounding microphones on the market for under $100. Now, if you WANT to spend more than $100 on a mic, don’t let me stop you. Some of the world’s best mics cost way more than that.

But the reality is, if you’re new to this, the $100 rule helps narrow your options so you can grab a great mic and get to it.

I still use my old Behringer B1 (retails for $100) to this day on many clients, and with fantastic results! And to think, that microphone costs less than the sales tax on many “vintage” mics. Sheesh! Save the money and take your mom out for a nice dinner. She’ll appreciate it.

5. A pair of studio headphones or monitors
Finally you need to listen to your recordings/mixes on something. That’s where a pair studio monitors or headphones comes into play. I won’t spend much time here on this because I think people way over think this part.

First, it’s OK to record and mix on headphones. Yes, it can be challenging at times, but it is totally doable. Start there if money is tight and save up for monitors.

Second, when you DO decide to get monitors, don’t buy bigger speakers than you need and don’t buy more expensive speakers than you need. If you want some more details on choosing a good pair of monitors then check this post out. It will help a great deal.

The big picture
If you simply pick up these five components, you’ll have a functional home recording studio. You’ll be able to get high quality audio in and out of your recording and mixing environment and you’ll have all the professional tools you need to sculpt a great sound.

And if you don’t get great results right away, remember that it’s never about the gear. It’s always about you. Just give yourself time, practice your craft, and you WILL get better.

Image via ShutterStock.com.

Graham Cochrane is a Tampa, FL-based freelance mixing engineer and founder of one the web’s most loved audio recording and mixing blogs, The Recording Revolution, with over 200,000 readers each month. Follow him on Twitter @recordingrev. Get your free copy of Graham’s guide, The #1 Rule of Home Recording.

Read More

Home studio recording tips – Join the Disc Makers Twitter Chat with Scott Wiggins
How to get a great vocal sound in your home studio
Limit your takes and make better recordings
Essential gear to get your home recording studio off the ground
Home Studio: Gear from Shure, Mackie, and PreSonus That Won’t Break the Bank
Choosing the right recording software
How to Stay Productive as a Music Composer
Home studio recording tips: Scott Wiggins #DMchat recap

Build your own home recording studio

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51 thoughts on “The recording equipment you really need for your home studio setup

  1. Pingback: Buy the Home Recording Studio Equipment You Need Online | Buy Sound Recording Equipment
  2. I have to totally agree with this. The $100 rule is a great idea. It won’t be the microphone holding you back from making quality recordings as much as mic placement ,technique and mixing skills. Any pro could take a recording from an inexpensive mic and work with it. Bottom line is learn how to utilize what you have at first because gear isn’t always what makes great music. I’ve made successful music with an affordable setup like what is explained. Besides why buy a super expensive mic just to pick up the crappy acoustics of your room

  3. Oh so I need a computer & DAW if I think that D D Digital sounds like A A Ass & only want to record analog ? Oh Thx Grahm or Grahame or …

  4. This is so confusing. I am trying to build my first home recording studio but I am having so many problems finding the RIGHT equipment. I already have a computer, DAW interface but I need to buy a mic and headphones. I was thinking that Shure would be a good bet and maybe beat’s headphones? What you think of that choice?

  5. Reading and reading blogs, my eyes ready to pop out…so porta like my Tascam 2488 MKII vs DAW/Computer ehhh? CAN I USE THEM BOTH TOGETHR? AFTER RECORDING ON TASCAM, I CAN ENHANCE IT FOR FINAL MIXING?

    Please I need a road map here. Thanks.

    Mike

  6. Hey folks, went to a real bad 8 track studio back in the 80s and had used porta studio and decades later I just bought Tascam2488 MKII. SO THE QUESTION FOR THE AUTHOR & YOU ALL FOLKS…..WHAT ABOUT MY TASCAM 2488?? HOW DOES IT FIT IN ALL OF THESE ….THE ONLY 5 THINGS I NEEDED. Anyway/how… I am basically retired and getting back at it. Why others are just using TASCAM 2488. I WANT THE BEST QUALITY, so it would be good enough to be played and compete, I mean quality wise. Your 2 cents are appreciated.

    Mike

    1. Hey Mike, I’ll take a stab at your question. Your ears are the most important tool in your arsenal.
      The TASCAM will record a signal as well as any computer and as long as the source signal is good quality (that’s where mics and acoustic treatment come into play), you can indeed make great recordings.
      You can also always (USB) transfer the tracks to a computer and manipulate using any program listed in the article (or Mixcraft’s FREE download). If your ears are in good working order and have sorted out the monitor part of the formula you have the tools you need.
      Many, many great recordings have been made with less.

      That’s my $.02 worth.

  7. Some good tips here. However I wonder whether it is worth paying to use a professional recording studio if you’re not partially tech-savvy? May save time and money in the long run?

  8. I have been a recording artist since 1981 and had a 5 year contract with EMI, so I’m not new to recording. At some point I even had a pretty upscale private recording studio with good equipment and all. However…much later in life, I scaled down to a guest bedroom type studio and minimal equipment – and I was still able to record good quality songs. I have a Audio Technica AT3035 studio microphone; a Lexicon Omega in-box and the rest I do in my PC. I have Sound Forge 10 for track editing and a mastering bundle by Izotope that came included.

    My advice: Always get the best equipment you can afford and learn to work with what you have. Your own abilities and talent will do the rest. Look up “how to” recording advice online and/or YouTube. There’s plenty of that available for free. One piece of equipment I wouldn’t want to do without is my BOSE Wave Radio w/CD player. It has no knobs to turn, no “enhancement” buttons, nada, nix! That’s my ‘benchmark’. If my recordings sound good on that, it’s good, period!

  9. This article is awful. The ‘advice’ seems as if it’s designed to ensure your recordings suck. But on the flip side, at least you didn’t spend too much money (though it was likely a waste).

    So, if you’re considering bulding your own studio, keep reading. There are many more articles out the which actually contain some valid guidance.

    1. This article could be great for songwriters and/or starters.
      IMO, a good mic pre and a good mic can make a real diference.
      Acoustic Treatment is overlooked, and mic placement.

  10. I can’t believe how many people applaud this article!? There is no real insight or guidance offered. It’s generalized, wishy washy PC sitting on the fence. Tell people some REAL information on what quality equipment and room design in truth makes a tremendous difference in how a recording sounds. Some of the suggestions are frankly irresponsible. Alot of mediocre to aweful sounding recordings will result in following this advice. If you can’t tell that $100 mics sound like $100 you have no business writing advice columns!

  11. I am attempting to setup a home studio in order to create some crisp clean promo videos and possibly do some live streaming, live audio shows that I record while talking over Teamspeak. I found some information on what I would need and purchased what I thought I would need. However, now that I have it all setup, I am getting massive feedback (HUM, Reverb, Echo) from everything in the room. PC Fans, A/C, Floor Fans, squeaky chair – EVERYTHING is literally picked-up by my studio mic. I’ll tell you what I have so far and I am hoping you can help me figure out what to do to fix this.

    I have Adobe Audition CS6 and It seems to work great for post production work. So, I have no problems eliminating sounds AFTER I’ve recorded something. But I can’t find anything to help me with my live audio sound and it’s terribly awful for others to listen to me.

    I have several Studio Headphones, two that I prefer to use, one with a head mic and one without.

    Then I have a Neewer NW-700 Condenser Studio Microphone, that I have in a Shock Mount, with a Pop Filter and a hands free, desk mounted, arcing mic stand.

    I also have a Behringer Xenyx 802 Mixer (non-USB) and a Behringer UCA-222 USB U-Control to connect the mixer to my PC.

    I have the Studio Mic plugged into the first XLR Channel on the Mixer, while I have the basic Audio input & output running into the U-Control and the U-Control is plugged into the PC via USB.

    I have a Realtek HD Soundcard, internal on my PC, however I do not run anything to it, this may be my problem. I’m just not getting the control over my mic / sound that I need to go live. If there are any suggestions you can give about how to fix my problem, please let me know.

    Thank you,

    -Steve

  12. This is a great article. One thing I would add to this, get an external hard drive to keep your files self, because if your computer ever crash, you still have your files. This is very important! Don’t be a victim like I was. I found a great article about setting up acoustic after purchasing all this great stuff from this article. Hope this help http://www.greensborostudios.com

  13. Contrary to a few others, I think the $100 mic rule is a good one!

    By all means, spend the cash on a really really good one if you can, but don’t sneer at some of the cheaper mics.

    In fact, I recently bought some Aldi karaoke mics for $5 each, and I doubt you’ld pick an audible difference between them and a SM58 – and the build quality’s pretty rugged. (In fact, I’m pretty sure I could drop a 58 capsule straight into these if I needed to.

    I occasionally come by really old mics that are about to be thrown out – (have been left behind by contractors, slammed in car doors, etc…). While some of them are beyond repair, I can usually bring them back to life with a bit of TLC & jiggery pokery. I’ve even had to re-glue diaphrams back in!, or make short versions of gooseneck mics.

    While some of these mics may not sound the greatest, they can be very cool as a special effect mic, or even for miking harmonica. I’ve actually used the cut-down gooseneck ones to record several orchestra’s (XY Technique, with the mic’s above/behing the conductor), and the recordings came out beautifully!

  14. Thanks Graham for great article that can help new comers to the field. I picked up a nice condenser mike that sells for $200+ new for $80.00 on craigslist. Works great. In the beginning I used SM57/58 and a 4-track Fostex machine. I am still selling CDs and records produced from those days. I have learned that technique and experience go a long way with minimal equipment.

  15. Dear Graham,
    Enjoyed reading your articles and sharing your honest ideas with us .Hopefully sometime in March I will be converting my garage into a work studio/office away from the interuptions of family/TV /Friends etc .I shall follow your 5 tips sounds good to me and hopefully start recording my own compositions therafter. Can I rack your brains at a later date if I need too ???
    Have a fab New Year, and keep up the good work we need you.
    Johnny

  16. Totalmente de acuerdo con todos los planteamientos de no gastar mas de lo necesario. El artículo está muy bueno, es de mucha ayuda y aunque tengo hace años mi estudio sigo aprendiendo, cosa que nunca termina. Con cada grupo que viene a grabar aprendo. Todo mi equipo es como el artículo sugiere, económico lo mas costoso fue el “interface” de 8 canales y lo necesitaba. Si alguien lee esto solo de mi parte les digo: busca y aprende de los que saben no uses, me dijeron que…. yo escuché que… y haz tus propias pruebas. No te apasiones con un solo maestro. en Disc Maker saben de lo que hablan, así que tal vez esta sea la mejor fuente de información que tendrás a cero costo.

  17. The article is good “common sense leg up” but the author ignores entirely the recording and mixing environments. While I agree, generally, with Mr. Foxe’s comment about close miking, good mixing room characteristics are crucial for a good final product. I will certainly admit this is a subjecit way too deep for detailed coverage in the article, Mr. Cochrane should have at least broached the subject, advised it needs attention and suggested an appropriate source of information on room acoustics. After all, all the technonogy and talent in the world can’t make a mixing environment that sounds like a large tile bathroom or an empty warehouse a good place to make important mix judgements. (However, if you have one of those types of structurees at your disposal, it might make great reverb creation source and a good place to use a couple of those $100 mics!)

  18. I’ve been able to produce some very professional sounding results with my Tascam 2488 portastudio; eight individual simultaneous recording tracks and 24 total tracks available, many effects built-in, CD burner, etc. The tracks can also be downloaded to pro tools if you want to master them there instead of using Tascam’s mixing software.

  19. I’ve seen at least 1 interface often on sale at $200 with 8 clean XLRs (with pre and phantom on each), 6 line-ins, (with enough converters to use all 14 simultaneously), digital in-out, MIDI, headphone out, 4 mixable outs, etc., so it seems the need to scrimp on a 2-channel interface has pretty much disappeared if you do a bit of shopping. The one I described just barely covers a group that I’m considering working with that has 6 instruments and 6 vocals, that will probably give a better performance playing together, but whether or not you’ll record a group of this size, for this money, I can’t see limiting myself to a couple of channels…

  20. Trouble with this article is, it only applies to the solo artist or songwriter who is going to do all the tracking themselves (or one instrument at a time) in their bedroom (or other live space). Jazz musicians react to EACH OTHER while playing and need to be playing in the same space at the same time. Unfortunately, all of the even moderate budget solutions nowadays are aimed at that single person recording tunes in their bedroom. To get to the next level (four or five people playing simultaneously in a real space) is a HUGE jump.

  21. I appreciate the article but the computer specs are critical to the type of DAW that you are using. RAM is important but most DAW’s require at least a decent 2 core processor, but quad-core is preferred. As a beginner quite a few years ago, it was not even possible to load the current FL Studio on an average home computer, and that goes for most DAW’s. The hard drive rpm is also an important spec. to be aware of, and refurbished computers are risky no matter what the specs show.

  22. First, this is a great article! I can’t confirm your point about the $100 mic because I read other articles and spent $1K on a vocal mic–not top end, but nice. I suspect there’s some truth in that point of yours’–but vocals are so critical to my projects, I don’t regret that investment. I cannot mix with headphones, however. I do rough mixes with an inexpensive set of much-loved Audio-Technicas with a flat presentation, but I predict I will always have to do final mixes with monitors. My monitors are 8″–but because I don’t have that acoustically perfect studio, I mix–review on 2 or 3 crappy sound systems–and tweak. ‘Appreciate your perspectives–and your article. Thanks!

  23. Great article and its ALL TRUE – even the $100 microphone rule! And I own some expensive mics. I really like the AKG Perception mics but there are many others.
    The main reason studios need a lot of the stuff they have is so the potential clients will be convinced.
    I do like to have at least two inputs in the interface for recording stereo things.
    Today’s powered monitors are awesome. I like 8″ monitors and I have an old sub just to occasionally check the far bottom end.
    For quick easy demos I master the stereo mix on Audacity, a free program that has some useful volume-boosting compression plugins.
    The acoustic environment you record in is barely a factor when you are close mic-ing, and you normally are.
    Last thought- best tip for making commercial sounding mixes is to choose a great sounding commercial track that is musically similar to the one you are mixing, and make your mix sound as near as you can to it. Do A-B comparisons every twenty minutes or so while mixing. Match the bottom end, top end, vocal prominence, reverbs, guitar tones etc. It is amazing what you can learn.

  24. my dream is to have my own home studio. i use garage band. there is an option to download to a cd. im wondering if the cd would be more for just home listening and not to be copied to be distributed?
    another thing, i hate software companies, as soon as i get really used to one, there is a new “version”. like garage band for instance, completely free, but my 6yr mac cant download the upgrade, with the os on it, and i cant update the os until i buy a newer computer, so i can still use my mac for daily things; web, email, net flix, older vid games etc. and the older version of garage band, same with my 6yr old Dell laptop, but cant upgrade. in some cases, i can do more with my iphone 4. ill get my studio im sure, just need to get off my butt.
    when i was about 10, (about 35yrs ago, late 1970s) i used to record myself on one cassette tape, then have another cassette player tape it while i played “live”, not knowing what tracks were at the time, but it was fun as hell. its what i wanted to do “when i grew up” for a living.
    miss my 4 track tascam with a cassette tape, cant even find them now. had one about 20yrs ago, then got a black lab pup, and she proceeded to rip every wire and cord apart. so recording has been put on the back burner for quite a few yrs. so much more info on web now too.
    I went to a recording arts school, but dropped out, too many people in the class to be able to have a turn on the console. needless to say, since then, i have met many self taught musicians, producers, engineers etc. seems the only folks i know that cant find jobs are those who actually graduated from Berkeley or North Eastern her in Boston.
    Thanks for all the info !!!

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  26. I applaud you intentions to advise folks to keep it simple at the start, but I’ve got to disagree on some of your points.

    Sub-$100 microphones will sound not so good, and they will waste your time trying to make them sound ok. That $100 doesn’t even cover an SM57 these days. Microphones are like instruments; yes a $100 guitar is still a guitar, but it won’t get you very far and it will be much harder to make it sound good than a $300 guitar. Same with mics.

    If someone is starting out but is serious, they should probably get a mid-priced microphone.

    Mixing on headphones pretty much universally sucks when played back on speakers, especially for the inexperienced. Maybe this isn’t true with electronic music where there is no real world reference as to what its supposed to sound like, but for recordings of performed sound… headphones distort bass perceptions.

    And as an aside, both Digital Performer and Audition have been cross-platform for a while now.

    1. As mentioned in other comments, I am really not sure about the sub $100 microphones thing, especially for vocals. I have yet to hear a good vocals recording on a sub $100 mic. As for preamps, a SM57 through your sound card is not a SM57 through a Neve 1073. Night and day.

      Bottom line, several microphones to choose from, a killer preamp and an OK computer and sound card is what you need for solo artist recordings. I have wasted hundreds of hours trying to fix bad recordings, when what was needed was a clean recording through a good preamp and the right microphone. Going the extra buck can save you hundreds of hours, especially on mics and preamps (that you will keep all your life).

  27. Great article! I agree that often times we can overthink things, however one thing I would have included is Acoustic Treatment, where you record matters! 🙂 you know the old saying, bad in, bad out. Thanks for such an insightful article..will be sharing with my following.

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