In this article we walk you through how to build the best possible home recording studio based on your budget, from the audio interface to the cables, we break down how to choose the best equipment available.
[Guest Post by Leticia Trandifir on Landr and posted on Hypebot]
It’s time to build the perfect home recording studio setup.
But what does a perfect home recording studio look like? Perfect has to mean perfect for you. That means your instruments, your budget and your needs.
Building a home studio is overwhelming and expensive at first. So start with the basics. Building your home recording studio setup as your needs and skills grow is your best bet.
This practical guide will help you choose the right home recording studio equipment for your needs. Select from three categories for each studio essential:
- Beginner—Just starting out or on a budget
- Intermediate—Ready for the next level
- Pro—Makin’ a living outta’ this
- Super Pro—You want to invest in top-of-the-line gear
Ready? Here we go!
1. COMPUTER AND DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATION (DAW)
If you are reading this post, there’s a good chance you already have a computer. Nice!
It could even be time for a new computer altogether. If that’s the case, go for a Solid State Drive (SSD) instead of a spinning hard drive (hard-disk drive aka HDD). SSDs are more expensive, but also much faster, quieter and more reliable—ideal for running recording software.
Ok, so your computer is ready to rock. Now you need to choose a DAW.
Whether you’re recording acoustic instruments or producing inside the box, you need a recording software to arrange, edit, mix and bounce your creations for mastering.
To choose the right one for you, check out our complete DAW guide.
Once you’ve got your computer and DAW, it’s time to head for the headphones.
Why headphones first? Because it’s the best way to start producing and mixing music:
- In a room that isn’t treated for sound
- In an apartment where making noise is a problem (roommates, neighbors)
- When you can’t invest in a good pair of monitors quite yet
Even after you get monitors and acoustic treatment you’ll still need a pair of monitoring headphones. So it’s a great early investment no matter what your studio setup is.
It’s time to say goodbye to those white earbuds! What you need are circumaural headphones—the ones that go around and over the ear.
There are two types of circumaural headphones:
Closed-back headphones give you great isolation for recording but a little less sound quality. Open-back headphones give you optimal sound quality but have to be used in a quiet space (they’re also pricier).
Here are some headphones vetted by our audio team:
- Beginner: Audio-Technica ATH-M40x (closed-back)
- Intermediate: AKG K240 MKII (closed-back)
- Pro: Beyerdynamic DT 770 250 ohm (closed-back) OR Sennheiser HD 600(open-back)
- Super Pro: Sennheiser HD 800 (open-back)
Hot Tip: Bring a track you really like on your phone or MP3 player when you go to the music store. Ask to test the headphones before buying. Compare several pairs by listening to the same track at the same volume. Or better yet master a track you’re working on and bring it with you.
3. AUDIO INTERFACE
What is an audio interface?
An audio interface is the device that allows you to connect instruments and mics to your computer. An interface gives you the ability to record various types of audio signals (mic, line, etc.) into your DAW.
Audio interfaces use USB, FireWire or Thunderbolt to connect to Mac or PC. You usually have to install a simple driver for your interface, but then you’re good to go.
When you’re looking for the best audio interface for a home studio, a great starting point is a model with 2 Inputs and 2 Outputs.
Many interfaces come with combo jacks—XLR and ¼ inch combined into one. This gives you the flexibility to plug either a TRS/TS ¼ inch cable or an XLR cable.
If you’re not sure about connectors, read our guide on Audio Cable Types.
The quality of the preamps and converters inside audio interfaces usually dictates the price point.
Here are our favourite audio interfaces:
- Beginner: PreSonus AudioBox OR Focusrite Scarlet 2i2
- Intermediate: Audient iD14 OR Apogee Duet (for Mac and iOS only)
- Pro: Apollo Twin
- Super Pro: Apogee Quartet OR Apogee Symphony
Hot Tip: some audio interfaces come with a free DAW—often a light or intro version. This saves you some money and gets you started with production. So if you need a DAW and an interface, a combo pack is a great place to start.
4. ACCESSORIES: CABLES, STANDS, RACKS
All studio need some essential audio accessories.
The most important are audio cables, obviously—otherwise nothing will work and your sound has nowhere to go! Getting the essential cables is key for getting your ideas down quickly.
These are the basic cables most studios need:
- XLR cables for your mics and balanced connections
- Unbalanced ¼ inch cables for your guitars and pedals
- Balanced ¼ inch for your balanced synths and drum machines
- MIDI cables to sync everything together
Also consider getting:
- Mic stand
- Pop filter (for clean vocal takes)
- Keyboard Stand
- Travel cases for your gear—if you’re playing gigs
- High Quality Headphone Extension Cable (like Mogami Gold)
- Power Bars
- A proper Chair
If you are using vocals or mic’ing instruments, you need a good mic (or a bunch).
But there’s so many different ones out there. So let’s get the basics down.
You’ll come across two main types of microphones: dynamic and condenser.
What is a Dynamic Mic?
Dynamic mics are sturdy—they’ll withstand a few beer stills and epic mic drops. This makes them the perfect stage microphones. They usually don’t require extra power. Just plug it with an XRL and you’re good to go.
They have an acceptable frequency response, but it’s not the most accurate. Dynamic Mics best for live vocals, drums and loud guitar amps.
What is a Condenser Mic?
Condenser mics are more sensitive and their output is louder. They have an excellent frequency and transient response. This means they’re best for catching all the variations especially in the high end.
These mics are best suited for the studio—they’re more fragile and sensitive to loud sounds. They also require a power supply or ‘phantom power’ to work.
Condenser mics are categorized by the size of their diaphragm: large or small. Large diaphragms are best for lower frequency (cellos, vocals, etc). Small diaphragms are best for fast, higher frequency sounds (solo flute, acoustic guitar, etc).
Here’s some microphone options to check out:
- Beginner: Shure SM58 (dynamic) OR Audio-Technica AT2020 (condenser)
- Intermediate: RØDE NT2-A (condenser)
- Pro: Neumann TLM 102 (condenser)
- Super Pro: AKG C414 (condenser)
Hot tip: the Shure SM58 is a classic for live shows, whether you’re just starting or you’re a legend. All the venues have those, so it’s a wise investment.6.
6. MIDI KEYBOARD/CONTROLLER
Anyone using a DAW to make music eventually needs a MIDI controller.
Your DAW software comes alive when you control all your favorite VST plugins and soft synths using a MIDI keyboard. Tweak those knobs! Touch those faders!
A MIDI controller becomes a hardware (more fun) version of your DAW.
To help you choose, go check out our guide to the best MIDI Keyboard controllers out there.
7. POWERED MONITORS
Ok, so you’re ready to go beyond your headphones. Headphones are great, but they’ll tire you faster when you’re producing for hours. Plus, not everyone listens to music in headphones.
It’s best to mix on a variety of playback systems to get a good sounding mix.
Now you need studio monitors. Powered monitors don’t require an extra amp and they’re standard in most home recording studios.
What’s the difference between regular speakers and monitors?
Speakers are made to enhance the sound in particular ways that sound good for listening. That means that the low end might be boosted. Those speakers color the sound a lot.
Studio monitors on the other hand are flatter. They allow you to accurately hear your mix. Studio monitors are a must if you get serious about producing and mixing music.
Here are the most popular monitor models:
- Beginner: M-Audio AV42 OR PreSonus Eris E5
- Intermediate: KRK Rokit 5
- Pro: Adam A5X
- Super Pro: Genelec 8030B
How to choose your studio monitors?
The best way to choose your studio monitors is by going to a music store that lets you hear all their available models.
Bring a track you know very well on your phone or MP3 player.
Position yourself in the middle of the two monitors at ear level. Your head and each monitor should form a perfect triangle (see image below). This is the optimal monitor placement.
Play your track. Compare how the same track sounds like at the same volume on each pair of monitors. Ultimately pick the ones that sound closest you know your track sounds like.
Good monitors sound flat, have a nice present low end and a clear high end. Of course, the room will also affect the sound coming out of your monitor. So the next step is acoustic treatment.
If you want that extra oomph (and you have no neighbors) get a subwoofer too. Here are some great options under $500 USD:
8. MUSIC PRODUCTION BOOKS
Finally, instead of more gear we suggest you get some literature.
Start with the manuals!
It’s good to have a big book on hand when you’re wondering how to do something specific. These books are very detailed and useful for sharpening your skills.
Here’s our favorite music production books:
- Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies by Jeff Strong
- The Audio Expert by Ethan Winter
- The Studio SOS Book: Solutions and Techniques for the Project Recording Studio by Paul White, Hugh Robjohns and Dave Lockwood
- The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinsk
And of course, we’re always here on the blog to make sure you get all the info you need! Sign up to our newsletter by scrolling down to the bottom of this page.
MAKE YOUR PERFECT STUDIO A REALITY
Building an awesome home recording studio can seem daunting at first.
But remember that you don’t need to jump right into the most expensive gear. Your studio should be perfect for your needs. So do your research and find the perfect setup for your sound.
Start small and tailor your setup to you. Then build it up as you evolve.
Do it right and let your studio grow right along with your music.
Leticia is a DJ and music maker with a love for 303 basslines and hangouts at the library. Content Creator at LANDR.