violinist recording in a home studio

Home Recording Studio Setup: 11 Essential Items

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Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

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If you aspire to be a recording artist, chances are you are considering creating a home studio. Home studios can be as simple as recording on your phone or as complicated as any world-class professional studio; most of the great jazz recordings of the ’50s were recorded in Rudy Van Gelder’s living room. Since most artists fall somewhere in between, it’s good to be aware of the options available to create a solid home recording studio setup that won’t break the bank.

Billie Eilish’s album When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was recorded in a bedroom in her parents’ house and her brother Finneas won two Grammys for engineering and producing it. Their studio cost less than $3,000 to assemble. This is a perfect example of balancing cost efficiency with high-quality production; with decent microphones, recording equipment, and a good interface, you can make home recordings that, when professionally mixed and mastered, can hold their weight with anything in the world.

Space for your home recording studio setup

If you’re recording a full band, you’ll need far more space for your studio than if you are just tracking by yourself. The prevailing school of thought is that you want your recording room to be as dead as possible — acoustically speaking — so nothing is added to the sound unintentionally; there’s tons of advice online on using blankets and such to deaden sound reflection. But this ignores the long tradition of musicians using the peculiarities of their spaces, like recording vocals in the bathroom for the reverb.

Legendary engineer Shelly Yakus discourages recording vocals on carpeting; he suggests using a room with a hard surface or having a 3×3 piece of plywood to stand on to give the vocal body in the audio recording. Experiment with the spaces in your house; learn what each room has to offer in terms of natural sound.

Computer

When choosing a computer for home recording, make sure it meets the specifications of your chosen DAW. The requirements of most DAWs have decreased as technology has advanced so you don’t need as expensive or powerful a computer as in the past. It is suggested to buy more computer space than you need (faster processor, larger hard drive, more RAM) so that it lasts you longer and doesn’t age out as quickly.

Macs used to be superior to PCs for recording but there is no longer any discernible difference in quality between them. It’s best practice to record to an external hard drive, as recording on your system drive can slow down CPU performance.

Digital audio workstation (DAW)

Avid’s ProTools is the industry standard for DAWs, but there are many options, depending on your computer and needs. Most music production software is available for both Mac and PC, with the exception of Mac-only Logic and GarageBand. The main players in the market besides Logic and ProTools are Cubase/Nuendo, Ableton Live, FL Studio, Reason, and Bitwig. Each one has different features that cater to different needs, so learn as much as possible about each.

If you are an indie musician looking to use a DAW mainly as a tape recorder, then you’ll want to pay attention to the compositional tools they offer; Logic leads in this department, though the others are starting to catch up.

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Audio interface

For any home recording studio setup, you’ll need an audio interface to route sound into your computer. These range from simple in/out boxes to expensive multichannel HD interfaces. Select an interface based on your needs; the requirements of one person recording alone are very different from a band using multiple inputs and outputs. You’ll want to research which interfaces have the best microphone preamps as the mic preamp is a key component of how your final track will sound.

Studio monitors

Many aspiring home recordists aren’t aware that the speakers used for home stereo sytems are all pre-EQ’d, usually with boosted bass response. When recording music at home, you’ll need a pair of flat studio monitors that will play you the sound as is, exactly the way you recorded it, without any additional “coloring.” This is important! It’s crucial to have that flat frequency response so that you are hearing what you actually recorded. Also, it’s a good idea to invest in monitor stands so the studio monitor is an appropriate distance from the wall to decrease unwanted vibrations.

Microphones

The microphones you use are often the most important part of a great recording, regardless of the space recorded in. Microphone choice is an art, and the great engineers are masters, but an aspiring recordist can still get a great sound quality from what they have with a little knowledge and willingness to experiment.

The condenser microphone will be a staple of any home recording studio setup. They are the most responsive and faithful to the sound source, excellent for vocals. Dynamic microphones, the kind most used live, are great for recording louder sounds like drums and guitar amps. Educate yourself about microphone patterns and diaphragm size. All microphones are tools and it’s good to have more than one tool in the toolbox to vary your sound palette. But if you can only afford one recording mic, start with a large diaphragm cardioid condenser.

Headphones

A dependable set of studio headphones is key if you are recording vocals and don’t want your studio monitors bleeding into your tracks. Bluetooth wireless headphones can introduce more latency (unwanted delay), so it can be frustrating to use them for recording. Most studio professionals say wired versions of studio headphones sound better anyway! Make sure they are comfortable, as you will be wearing them for long hours.

Remember, while you can use headphones during your mixing process, consumer models are EQ’d the same way stereo speakers are, so you should invest in flat-response studio headphones.

MIDI keyboard

Home Studio HandbookMIDI keyboards are versatile tools for home recording which give a wide selection of sounds to enhance any recording. Having MIDI functionality will allow you to make detailed edits on your DAW so that your parts can sound great without having to be an expert player. You’ll need to have an audio interface with MIDI capability in order to use your MIDI keyboard.

Accessories

Make sure you have all the peripheral equipment needed so your home recording studio setup is ready to function. This will include all cables (microphone, instrument, and speaker) and any mic stands you might need. Purchase cables of appropriate length to allow recording in multiple rooms and invest in sturdy mic stands that won’t shake or fall apart easily.

Furniture

In the modern home studio, work consists of long hours staring at a computer screen. To make this as easy on your body as possible, have a good studio desk and a comfortable chair. The whole setup should be ergonomically tuned to your body so you don’t develop physical problems, like carpal tunnel syndrome. Make sure your feet can be flat on the floor and that the chair has proper back support.

Room acoustic treatment

There’s no need to worry much about room treatment when you are starting; if you’re getting a good sound from your microphones and interface, run with that and worry about room treatment later on. But as you start working more deeply, you might start hearing unpleasant resonances in your main room. For mixing, especially, you want the least amount of reflection in the room as possible. If you are finding your room too live, it’s easy to put acoustic foam in the corners (bass traps), curtains on windows, and deaden reflective areas with blankets.

Tips for cost-efficient studio setup

The most important components of your home studio are your microphone(s), interface, DAW, and computer. If you’re working with a limited budget, you’ll want to carefully divide your money between the four to maximize each one. You’ll never go wrong with a great microphone, but you’ll need something to plug it into.

Budgeting for your home recording studio setup

Used gear saves you money initially but if it breaks, you have no warranty to replace/repair it. That being said, you can sometimes find great deals on Craig’s List or Facebook Marketplace. Also, there are plenty of budget-priced options that mimic higher-priced counterparts. ProTools offers multiple affordable versions, plug-ins can be invaluable, and companies like StudioProjects make budget versions of high-priced microphones. Knowing where to spend and where to save will help build your home studio on a budget.

Connecting your equipment

Read all your user manuals before connecting your equipment. Knowing your home recording studio setup connections backwards and forwards is crucial when it comes to troubleshooting. Make sure there is plenty of room to maneuver behind your desk to plug/unplug connections and keep all cables out of the way of your main recording space.

Outsource when necessary

Knowing what you do and don’t want to try to accomplish in your studio will also help keep your costs streamlined. Mastering is one area that you can leave to expert mastering engineers, and recording a full drum kit or choirs may also be out of the scope your space and expertise can accommodate, so find local resources to tackle the elements of the recording process your home recording studio setup won’t.

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Chris Huff

About Chris Huff

Chris Huff has been a professional singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer for over 25 years. He has worked as a sideman with Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul, and Mary), Echo and the Bunnymen, Chuck Hammer (David Bowie, Lou Reed), and Tom Kitt (Broadway composer of Next To Normal). Chris also wrote liner notes for David Bowie’s ,em>Live And Well CD, and his full-length album, 'bout Time is available on iTunes.

9 thoughts on “Home Recording Studio Setup: 11 Essential Items

  1. Second vote for Reaper! Even though I’m quicker with Ableton. Also worth mentioning that.with Ableton, you get to hear the effect of applied FX, automations, etc INSTANTLY, you don’t need to wait for a render, this wait I found unworkable on other tools. I think especially beginners would find that hearing changes in real time speeds learning.

    Also worth mentioning that some vocalists will need a dynamic mic, at least some of the time. I had no luck at all with any form of condenser mic – but I’m a rock singer, used to singing live. Capturing that energy needed a dynamic mic. Screens, distance or modified technique killed the life from my performance. Of course I can sing more quietly, more controlled, but sometimes you need that full power – like overdrive!

  2. Acoustics is far more important than this article suggests. If you do not treat your room, and let’s face it most home recordists don’t, you absolutely cannot judge what you are hearing, one of the main reasons amateur mixes sound so amateurish. Bass traps and absorption panels are very useful. Gear may be more fun to spend money on but you’ll get more professional results if you treat your room. Note that tuning/treating your room to fix resonances and nulls is a far cry from, and often counter to, sound proofing your room so your neighbors can’t hear. That latter is the realm of big bucks studios and can cost 10’s of thousands of dollars to build, but tuning your room that you have so it sounds good in the space is done with much more modest finances.

  3. Does anybody know of an outboard digital 8-track similar to an ADAT that instead of tape, records on a flash drive, and a stereo mixdown deck that also records on a flash drive that we can upload to a PC with a CD burner?

  4. Audacity is a solid DAW and free. I used it on multiple projects to mix and master. I record on a zoom R16 and dump the tracks to the computer. My computer is 9 years old and I’ve never had issues with audacity. The zoom r20 has replaced the r16. Both are portable enough to record tracks in your practice space and then do overdubs elsewhere. Unfortunately the r20 has only two 1/4 inch inputs so you might need to get creative to get to XLR.

  5. A) Mixcraft is also an option worth considering for PC users. B) Your interface only needs a MIDI, um, interface for five-pin MIDI. Many keyboard controllers have direct USB connections onboard which will go straight to your computer.

  6. Another low cost but feature packed DAW is Acid Pro 11.
    I have used it for all of my productions and songs since 2000.
    Acid Pro and Acid Music Studio include many useful Plug-Ins and allow for import of Wav files to enhance and further alter your own tracks.
    I have used many third party Plug-Ins and loops such as Roland Cloud, Big Fish Audio and Drums on Demand and they work flawlessly .

  7. You didn’t list Studio One from Presonus in your list of “main players” in the DAW market.

    I asked ChatGPT for a list of the DAWs with greatest comparative sales and it replied:

    “As an AI, I don’t have access to real-time sales data or comparative sales numbers for specific products like Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs). Sales figures can also vary depending on the source and time period considered. However, I can provide a list of some popular DAWs that have been widely used and recognized in the music production industry up to my last update in January 2022:

    Ableton Live
    Pro Tools (Avid Pro Tools)
    Logic Pro (Apple Logic Pro)
    FL Studio (formerly Fruity Loops)
    Cubase (Steinberg Cubase)
    Studio One (PreSonus Studio One)
    Reason (Propellerhead Reason)
    Reaper (Cockos Reaper)
    Bitwig Studio
    GarageBand (Apple GarageBand) – Often included with Mac computers and iOS devices.”

  8. I’m shocked you didn’t include Reaper in the list of DAWs. Reaper is by far the least expensive of the lot (excepting GarageBand), and the equal of any of the premium options. For those starting out on a budget, Reaper is a great choice. Especially when you consider the vast amount of free tutorials and helpful groups on the web.

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