Home Studio Equipment - The Basics

4th Oct 2018

Home Studio Equipment - The Basics

Home Studio Equipment

With the huge advances in computing over recent years it is now possible to achieve music recording and production in the home at the quailty that was once confined to the control rooms of professional studios. There are a few essential pieces of studio equipment required to get up and running:

- A reasonably powerful computer
- An audio interface
- Music sequencing software
- A pair of studio monitors
- Headphones

This above list of equipment is described as a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW. You can build upon this basic DAW configration with some optional equipment depending on the type of recording and music production you will be creating:

- A vocal or instrument microphone
- A MIDI keyboard or MIDI controller
- Virtual instruments and audio effect plugins
- Acoustic treatment accessories

You can view each piece of equipment as a link in a chain. The audio interface allows you to get audio into and out of your computer so it makes no sense blow all your budget on a high quality audio interface if that means you can only afford a very cheap microphone. The cheap microphone would be the weak link in the chain and the quality of your recording will only be as good as that cheap mic. The same can be said about studio monitors or headphones. Your mission when creating a home studio is to balance your budget and split it evenly so you get the best mix of the various components of the chain.

Home Studio Equipment List

Audio Interface Options

The audio interface is the foundation of a Digital Audio Workstation as it enables you to get audio into and out of the computer. There are a large number of options to choose from and this is simply because there are many different types of recording and production. Consider who might use a DAW; a songwriter, a vocalist, a guitar player, a four piece band, a drummer, an electronic musician, a choir, a sound designer, a digital dj. Each would have different requirments.

The main factor to consider is the number of input and output channels you need. Every audio interface has at least two channels of output. One for the left output going to your left studio monitor and one for the right output going to your right studio monitor. A digital DJ must have 4 channels of output, a main left and right for the speakers and a monitor left and right so they can cue up the next track. Other applications may need even more outputs.

Home Recording Studio Audio Interface

If you have an audio interface with two channels of input you can record two audio sources simultaneously.  That might be a guitar plugged in directly into an instrument preamp of one channel and a microphone plugged into the microphone preamp of the second channel.  If you had a guitar, a microphone, a hardware synthesiser and you need to record them at the same time then you would need 4 channels of input (one for guitar, one for microphone and two for the left and right output from your synthesiser).  To properly mic up a drum kit you would need 8 channels of input, each with its own mic preamp.

The idea of sequencing software is to layer up audio tracks into a song so it is unusual to record two audio sources simultaneously.  The choice usually comes down to convenience.  If you have a number of outboard units, instruments or synths then you don't want to be unplugging and plugging in various connections.  It would be better to choose an interface with enough inputs and leave everything plugged in. 

Hopefully you can see that it is impossible to advise on what interface to get without understanding what it is you will be recording.  An audio interface with more channels is usually more expensive than an interface with less channels, but that does not mean that it is better.  You need to choose an interface suitable for your particular application, call our sales line if you need help with this.

DAW / Music Sequencing Software

Which music sequencing software you choose is the second most important decision.  There is no right or wrong answer here as there are a number of products which have been around for years that have matured and improved with every iteration.  There are also relatively new sequencers that have innovated around the great features of the more established products to create new workflows.  The best way to familiarise yourself with these sequencers is to watch introductory videos and tutorials on YouTube.

This is one choice that you might not have to jump feet first into.  Most of the audio interfaces on the market come bundled with a cut down version of one of the main sequencers.  These are functional versions of the software but with limitations imposed on what can be achieved.  They allow you to get a feel for how the software works and if you are happy with it you can purchase to the full product at a later date.  There may even be a more favorable upgrade price available.

Home Recording Studio DAW

Any of the full sequencers are suitable for a professional environment and they are priced accordngly.  However to ensure their products are accessible to all, the software companies take their main flagship product, remove some advanced features and put certain limitations in place to create cut down versions which are more suitable for smaller home studio setups.  This enables them to offer these versions at a reduced price.  Once you have made a choice as to which sequencer platform you plan to use you should investigate the differences between the versions to see which one suits your particular recording needs.

Studio Reference Monitor Speakers

You might already have speakers for your iPod, small multimedia speakers for your computer or expensive HiFi speakers for listening to music.  The one thing these have in common is that they are designed for consumers to listen to music.  Descriptions of these products online might mention deep bass, wide sound or immersive audio.  These qualities are achieved by artificially boosting certain frequencies and utilising psychoacoustics, the manner in which people perceive sound, to make the audio sound more impressive.

If you are recording or producing music then you absolutely DO NOT WANT your speakers to modify the sound at all.  Imagine if you finish a song which you mixed while listening through your HiFi speakers that are artificially boosting the bass.  It sounds amazing.  You rush the finished article to your friends house and play it on his computer speakers and suddenly that driving bassline you were so proud of sounds like a dull mess.

What you need is a pair of studio monitors.  These are speakers specifically designed for audio production where accurate audio reproduction is essential.  These speakers are designed from the ground up to produce an almost flat frequency response.  This means that no frequencies are boosted and when you are mixing you are making decisions about bass, mid and high frequencies that are actually in the audio signal rather than based on something being introduced by the speakers.  So when you take your finished song to your friends house it will sound much more like the mix you intended.

Home Recording Studio Studio Monitors

It is actually very difficult to make speakers that have a near flat frequency response curve and this is reflected in the price.  The more expensive the monitor the more accurately it will reproduce the audio signal.  However there have been great advances in manufacturing and some lower priced studio monitors are now displaying performance comparable to the higher end brands.

The other difference to base your purchasing decision on is the size of the studio monitors you need.  Some people approach this with the view that the bigger the speaker the better however it is much more useful to marry the size of the speakers with the size of your room.  If you are using it in your bedroom than a 5 or 6 inch driver will be best.  If you are in a bigger basement or large control room then an 8 inch driver would be more sensible.

Studio Reference Headphones

You've been working on a track all day and its just beginning to come together and suddenly you realise its getting late.  You might be disturbing the neighbours, or your partner might want some peace or the kids are going to bed.  How are you going to continue with your current creative flow?  You are going to need some studio headphones.

Given your learnings about studio monitors you should immediately pick up that there are consumer headphones designed for listening to music which enhance the sound and studio headphones designed to accurately reproduce the audio signal without colouring it so that you can effectively monitor your mix.  Again it is difficult to achieve a near flat response in headphones and this is reflected in the price.  The more expensive the headphones the flater the response and the greater range of frequencies they will be able to reproduce.

Home Recording Studio Headphones

The way we percieve sound through headphones is obvioulsy very different to sound listened to via studio monitor speakers.  As the majority of recorded sound is produced to be listen to via loadspeakers you should always finish mixing a recording at a suitable time using your studio monitors.  But headphones are important tools and a large part of the production process can be carried out using headphones.  The trick is to become very familiar with your studio monitors and headphones and over time you will know where to put an element in the mix no matter which device you are using.