When it comes to setting up your own basic home studio, there are endless and affordable ways to do so. It may seem difficult at first to know where to begin given the varieties of gear and tools available. This article will guide you in deciding what you need for setting up a home recording studio.
Where to Set-up
Having your own domain to store and set-up your equipment is essential. If you have a house, you have more options to pick out one out of two or three rooms with a maximum space for your growing collection of gear and instruments. Regardless of which room you choose, it's important to set-up in a location that happens to be the quietest room in your home where you can't hear any external noises, such as cars passing by, construction, bad weather and neighbors.
By default, if you have a single room unit that acts as your home studio, such as an apartment, it's highly suggested to place your recording equipment that's close to the center of your room for less noise. In that way, you're far from windows or ventilation where external noises can pass through.
Treatment of the Room
Part of improving room sound involves taking things out, such as furniture, to make room for equipment needed. This also helps avoid unwanted sound absorption and reflections from objects that would affect recording quality. You may not be able to clear it out completely if it doubles as a bedroom or living room.
To have better room acoustics, it's recommended to get tools that absorb unwanted frequencies such as bass traps. Bass traps are tools to absorb lower frequencies, and are mounted in the corners of the room. They are more effective in absorbing low frequencies if they’re distanced from each other off the wall or are built-in really thick.
A more convenient option is using a reflection filter, which are more affordable and saves a lot of space. It's intended mainly for vocal recording and is meant to reflect some of the sound that would hit the rear of the microphone. This is a good alternative if you rather save time and money in treating your room or making a vocal studio booth.
Regardless of your budget, it is best to stick with the computer that you have at the moment. If you have a desktop computer, it's an advantage because they are easy to upgrade and you can opt for a big monitor for recording sessions with multiple tracks. A laptop, on the other hand, is more portable if you plan on using them during shows or to work on the road.
You may take into consideration the processing speed and memory of the computer. Recording software tends to heavily consume RAM if you use a lot of soft synths and effects, or even record a lot of tracks. This would result in latency issues which would affect the timing of your recordings. Upgrading your RAM can help with the current computer you are using.
Mac vs PC
Producers tend to favor Mac computers because they have easy plug-and-play capabilities and there's usually no need for installing drivers. PCs often require installing drivers for gear to work. The upside of PCs is that they are more affordable and easier to upgrade compared to Macs. As long as you check if your equipment is compatible with these platforms, you're good to go.
Using an iPad for making music is more common than ever since there are many recording apps for iOS. One of the advantages of using an iPad is portability, where you can access your session files anywhere you go. There are manufacturers that make connectors and gear that are compatible to the iPad. The downside of using this device would be the limited tracks provided by third party recording apps. In the end, it depends on what type of music or production you want to create in order to maximize or limit the use.
Choosing a DAW
A digital audio workstation, or DAW, is software used for recording, playback, mixing and editing audio in your computer. They all function in similar ways, though some of them contain extra features to make your workflow more productive. If you are unsure of which DAW to choose, it’s recommended to download the demo versions of these DAWs to see which works well with your system.
Audacity is a great choice if you are simply after recording and editing audio. FL Studio and Reaper are inexpensive choices for beginners that have full multi-track audio and MIDI capabilities. Both are compatible for Mac and PC platforms. Garageband, though exclusive to Mac and iOs devices, is also another free and built-in software that has both audio and MIDI features, effects, sample loops, and virtual instruments.
An audio interface is an essential tool for connecting microphones, speakers, headphones and instruments to a computer or device. It works by converting the audio (analog signals) to ones and zeroes (digital) to your computer, and vice versa. Although your computer, phone or tablet have the ability convert analog signals to digital ones, audio interfaces are designed for producing better clear quality audio.
Some audio interfaces provide "hybrid" inputs that can accept both XLR and 1/4" line input, meaning they can accept either microphone, instruments or line signals. Outputs, on the other hand, include headphone jack and speaker outputs give you a choice to monitor or mix your recordings either with headphones or speakers. It's important to make sure that your audio interface can accept output connections either with a XLR, 1/4", or RCA cable. If you plan to record vocals and an instrument together, two inputs and two outputs are enough. Plus, it’s highly recommended to get an interface with good quality built-in pre-amps and phantom power, which are a convenient power source used for condenser microphones.
Here are some helpful guides on this topic
Type of Microphone
There are a number of affordable options when it comes to choosing a good quality microphone for recording. If you only plan on getting one, a large diaphragm condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern will get the job done. They are quite versatile for recording different vocals, acoustic instruments, and percussion since they are able to pick up a wide range of frequencies enabling them to capture the full tonal range of sounds.
In terms of real-time multi tracking, having two microphones is useful, particularly if you plan to record multiple audio sources at the same time. For instruments, such as woodwind, acoustic guitar, piano, and cymbals, a small diaphragm condenser microphone is a considerable option to capture the rich high frequency ranges in these instruments.
Here are some microphone guides to get you started:
Headphones and Studio Monitors
A good pair of closed-back headphones will get you by during the recording and monitoring process. Mixing and mastering has traditionally been done with the use of studio monitor speakers. Studio monitors are great at providing real representation of your mix for you to accurately monitor and alter later on. These are generally recommended if you want to have a better judgement of stereo width of a track. Theyu're also better to use in conditions where your room is well treated since the room acoustics can affect how you hear the audio, which will affect the quality of your mixes. In any case that you haven't had your room treated or sound proof, open-back studio headphones are a better alternative option to use for mixing. They still provide flat frequency responses and allow you to hear more details in a track. Additionally, they are certainly more affordable than studio monitors.
Check out these guides:
- Cheap Studio Headphones Under $100
- Closed-Back Headphones for Recording
- Open-Back Headphones for Mixing and Mastering
- Studio Monitors
Accessories that are essential for your home studio include cables, stands and filters. One of the standard analog cables you need are XLR cables to connect mainly your microphones to your audio interface. Other types of cables that carry audio signals to binary code are USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt, Optical and Ethernet (Cat5e) cables. A lot of the present MIDI and audio gear allow you to connect to your computer or any device via USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt, although USB is the most common.
When it comes to microphone stands, the ones with a three-legged base are more stable and flexible to adjust than a round base . Another tool needed for your microphones is a pop filter, which suppresses unwanted sibilance and plosives, such as "s" and "p" sounds, while recording vocals.
Here are some good recording accessory guides:
Investing in a MIDI controller is a good move if you plan work with virtual instruments. This is a better option compared to sequencing on your computer keyboard because a MIDI controller can improve your workflow with keys, knobs and buttons being easier and faster to use than scrolling through computer menus. They also allow you to capture more expressive parts with subtle variation in timing and volume of individual notes.
MIDI controllers vary in design, yet the most common one would be a simple keyboard with faders and knobs for controlling volume or effects once plugged to your DAW.
Here are some guides to introduce you to the kinds of MIDI controllers found in home studios:
This has been a basic primer on the topic, so if you have any unanswered questions about home recording please post them below and we'll try to help.