Setting up Your Home Studio
Starting a home recording studio is easier than ever today. Professional recording gear is now within the reach of the average consumer so you can record your music and get professional-sounding results even on a budget. Here is a list of essentials to get you started.
Most likely you have a computer already and most likely the specs are more than adequate for audio recording. There are a number of decisions to make when choosing a computer for recording.
Desktop vs laptop
Desktops provide more power for a cheaper price but laptops are now more widespread and portable. I prefer larger screens and multiple screens allow you to view multiple windows simultaneously, e.g. the Mix and Edit windows in Avid Pro Tools.
Mac vs Pc
This age old debate once again arises. Mac protagonists claim their systems are more stable but I’ve used PCs exclusively and have never had an issue. The bottomline is you can make great music with either.
I like the Intel i5 and i7 CPU processors. You can check the performance of your processor at CPU benchmark. I suggest 16 Gb of RAM with a minimum of 8 Gb. Depending on how many virtual instruments and plugins you will be using, 32 Gb may be necessary, more than this may be overkill and your money may be better spent on a more powerful processor. Should you get a traditional magnetic hard drive or a solid state drive(SSD)? You’re going to need at least 2 hard drives: one for your operating system and software, and one for your files. SSDs are faster but more expensive so if you’re going to get one, it would be better to get a smaller size and use it for your operating system and DAW. A 7200 rpm magnetic drive could also get the job done. For file storage, a large hard drive, larger than 1Tb makes sense because these tend to fill up very quickly. You can decide whether you prefer an internal or external hard drive; an SSD may be to costly at this size.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
Here’s a simple rule of thumb- the best DAW is the DAW you are used to. A DAW is simply a tool to be used for your music production. Changing DAWs regularly will slow down your workflow with no advantage. To some extent, your operating system will affect your choice of DAW, e.g. Logic Pro looks and sounds awesome but I’ve never used it because it is only compatible with Mac systems.
The best DAW is the DAW you are used to
If you’re in the market for a DAW, you probably have heard a lot about Pro Tools, which many call the industry standard and is a professional software. I have used Pro Tools before but it has never been my main DAW.
Presonus Studio One has been my weapon of choice for years and I recommend it highly. I especially like its drag and drop functionality and it has great sounding stock plugins. A good friend of mine dislikes the graphics but it looks fine to me so I use it for almost every project.
FL Studio (formerly Fruity Loops)
Imageline FL Studio is also an amazing DAW, which is loop-based and particularly suited for electronic genres of music. It is the first DAW I ever used and provides lifetime version updates if you purchase it, so it will always have a place on any computer I own.
Some other DAWs I have tried out include Cubase, Reason, Sonar and Reaper. Every DAW has its passionate following and most have free trials so check them out before deciding on which is right for you.
I have used my stock soundcard before but the difference is noticeable when you switch to an audio interface. The difference between a USB interface and a Firewire interface likely won’t be (Firewire is faster) but make sure the interface you choose is compatible with your computer. There are many choices depending on the amount of inputs and outputs you need. P.S. Focusrite products are solid and work very well.
Headphones and Monitors
Studio monitors are a great investment and are what will make your room start sounding like a studio. Larger monitors mean more volume generally but for most applications 5 inch monitors are your best bet. Headphones can be used for tracking and mixing so realistically you will eventually need both monitors and headphones.
Condenser vs Dynamic: Most microphones will be either condenser microphones or dynamic microphones. Without getting into too much engineering, condenser microphones are more sensitive while dynamic microphones are usually more rugged and durable. Both are used for studio recording and dynamic mics like the popular Shure SM57 are often used. The exact microphone to meet your needs depends on what you will be recording.
Last but definitely not least. Don’t underestimate the importance of these! They may be the least expensive equipment in your studio but keeping your gear connected and “signal flow” is very important.
Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a recording studio. This is just the start of your magnificent home recording studio that will keep your music going for years to come.