In this chapter we will cover the 10 essential things you need to set up a home recording studio from scratch.

Setting up your very first home recording studio is easier than you think!

While professional home recording studios can run into thousands of dollars, you really don’t have to spend that kind of money to get started.

In fact, it is possible to set up a decent home recording studio on a conservative budget.

So when you first start out, you really just need…

The 10 Essential Items

A home recording studio essentially consists of these 10 essential items:

  1. A Computer (Desktop/Laptop)
  2. Audio Interface
  3. Microphones
  4. DAW Recording Software
  5. Studio Headphones
  6. Studio Monitor Speakers
  7. Microphone Stands
  8. Audio cables
  9. Pop Filter
  10. MIDI Keyboard

A tutorial diagram on how to set everything up is included at the end of this post…

First item…

Essential Item 1: The Computer

For a smooth recording experience, we recommend a computer with at least 8GB RAM and 128 GB SSD

You’ll need a laptop or PC to run your DAW software.

The most important consideration here is whether your existing PC/laptop can handle the DAW of your choice, or whether it is OS compatible.

Some DAWs such as Apple Logic Pro X are only compatible with Mac computers, whereas DAWs such as Pro Tools can be used with Windows and/or Mac.

If your budget allows, I highly recommend going for a Macbook Pro (2021) or Macbook Air (2020) with the latest M1 Pro or M1 Max chip, as these Macbooks have more processing power for recording and multitracking. With Apple’s M1 chip, the Macbook perform substantially better than other laptops with faster DAW processing speeds. They also come with considerably more RAM as compared to windows laptops.

If you are running on a windows-based DAW, the latest Surface Laptop 4 is also a pretty good choice as well, although some tests have shown that the Macbook Air M1 still outperforms the Surface Laptop 4.

Either way, you’d want to get a computer or laptop with enough processing power and RAM.

Classic Examples

I personally use the MacBook Pro for my studio recordings as it has very good CPU, RAM and portability.

Next item…

Essential Item 2: The Audio Interface

The audio interface is essentially the device that connects your computer (which runs the DAW recording software) with the rest of your instruments.

It works by converting analog signals from your instruments to digital signals and sends them to your computer for audio recording.

Pro Tip: When purchasing an audio interface, we recommend getting an audio interface + DAW software combo.

Here are some practical reasons why:

  • You won’t run into compatibility issues.
  • You won’t have to purchase a separate DAW.
  • You will save time and money.

For beginners, you don’t really have to get an expensive audio interface to get started. There are plenty of options on the market at a reasonable cost.

For example:

For beginners on a budget, go for the PreSonus AudioBox 96 with Studio One 5 combo

Some musicians prefer to use their own DAW software for recording and a standalone audio interface.

Good budget standalone audio interface:

The PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 audio interface is simple and reliably cost-effective

Next item…

Essential Item 3: Microphones

Large diaphragm cardioid condenser microphones are the best options for home recording studios

Every home recording studio requires microphones to record instruments and vocals.

And as you start to progress in your home recording studio journey, you’ll start to accumulate more and more of them…

Generally speaking, there are 3 types of microphones:

  • Condenser microphones
  • Dynamic microphones
  • Ribbon microphones

1. Condenser Microphones

For recording vocals, I would recommend going with a large diaphragm condenser microphone (LDC), simply because:

  • They are great for vocals.
  • They deliver better sound clarity.
  • They work best for high-frequency trebles.

LDCs are side-address microphones, which mean that you sing into the side of the microphone and are very convenient for studio recording purposes.

For beginners, I recommend these large diaphragm condenser microphones:

A great budget option, I personally use the AKG Pro Audio P220 condenser mic for vocal recordings

For intermediate to advanced home recording studios:

The AKG Pro Audio C214 is ideal for advanced studio recordists

An important note about large diaphragm condensers is that they require a power supply to work correctly. Check that your audio interface supplies phantom power for your mics.

For recording acoustic guitar, cymbals or piano, or other high-frequency instruments, we recommend small diaphragm condenser microphones, because:  

  • They are slightly cheaper that LDCs.
  • They are designed to handle treble frequencies.
  • They are top-address mics and can be directed at your instrument.

Some examples:

The Audio-Technica AT2021 is a top-address mic used to record instruments

For recording drums and lower-frequency instruments, dynamic microphones are the preferred option as they are cheaper and designed handle low-frequencies.

2. Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic microphones are not as detailed in the treble frequencies as a condenser mic, and can generally handle high volume levels without distortion.

Dynamic microphones examples:

The Audio-Technica M8000 is a classic dynamic mic available on a budget

When most beginners start out, they usually go for something like the Shure SM58-LCs. These dynamic mics are generally good for recording vocals and are not as sensitive as condenser large diaphragm mics.

One thing to consider if you are thinking between getting a dynamic mic or condenser mic is the amount of environmental pickup that you want. Condenser mics record much clearer vocals, but are sensitive enough to pick up side instruments or even unwanted environmental sounds (such as cars passing by, rain, or outside noises).

Dynamic mics, by contrast, are generally better for louder vocals and do not have a sensitive pickup. They work better if you are recording in a noisy environment so that you can reduce the amount of surrounding pickup.

With that said, the Shure SM58-LCs are almost universally regarded as the “go-to” microphones for home recording studio setups, and you won’t go wrong with these.

For a more in-depth guide on recording studio microphones types, check out this post:

Next item…

Essential Item 4: DAW Recording Software

In the music industry, the PreSonus Studio One DAW software is one of the best for beginners

The DAW, or digital audio workstation, is the software which you will be using to multitrack and mix your recordings on your PC or laptop.

Most DAWs come bundled with software and plugins, including:

  • The DAW program (this will be installed on your computer for recording and production)
  • Effect plugins (for reverb, compression or EQ)
  • Virtual instruments (MIDI-controlled sounds for piano, strings and drums)
  • Loops & Samples (software to loop audio files to be added to your recording)
  • Samplers (you can use this to record or edit music samples)

While the best music engineers will spend thousands of dollars on DAW software, you don’t have to go to this extent to get a good DAW…

Most musicians think that a high-end DAW is going to solve your recording problems. But the truth is that poor recordings tend to be caused by poor acoustic treatment.

If you are not getting your DAW bundled with your audio interface, here are some good DAWs for beginners:

The Image Line FL Studio 20 DAW Software package

To learn more about the best DAWs for music production, check out this post:

Next item…

Essential Item 5: Studio Headphones

Headphones are the staple of home recording studios…

Studio headphones are designed to provide an accurate representation of how your recording sounds. This is because they have a flat frequency response, and provide a more analytical and detailed sound signature. They are crucial to ensuring that you can hear the other tracks/instruments that you are singing with, while isolating your voice from different sounds.

There are essentially two types of studio headphones:

  • Closed-back studio headphones
  • Open-back studio headphones

The main difference is that closed-back headphones focus more on sound isolation, whereas open-back headphones provide better soundstage and a more ‘spacious’ acoustic feel.

1. Closed-back headphones

For beginners, I recommend starting out with closed-back headphones.

Here are some reasons why:

  • They are generally cheaper than open-back headphones
  • They provide better sound isolation
  • They don’t require amplification

For beginners, we recommend these closed-back headphones:

Universally considered the best studio headphone for beginners, the Sennheiser HD280PRO is provides very flat and analytic sound for studio monitoring

2. Open-Back Headphones

Open-back headphones are often more expensive and require an additional headphone amplifier to power them due to higher impedance.

This is an added cost which you don’t really need for starter home recording studios…

While open-back headphones aren’t recommended for beginners, here are some good examples:

Although the Sennheiser HD 600 open-back headphones sound spacious and detailed, they have a 300 ohm impedance and require additional amplification from a headphone amp

Next item…

Essential Item 6: Studio Monitor Speakers

Studio monitors are speakers with a flatter frequency response for analytical clarity

Studio monitors (speakers) are designed to provide well-balanced, accurate sound representation with a flatter frequency response. This helps you to make better mixing decisions when you edit your tracks down the road.

If you are mixing sound by yourself, you would probably be the only person listening to your mixes in your control room on the studio monitors.

There are essentially two types of monitors:

  • Active monitors (powered).
  • Passive monitors (non-powered).

Powered monitors have built-in amplifiers and do not need a dedicated amplifier. You can plug them straight into your computer output to get started.

For home studio recording, we’d recommend sticking with powered monitors to keep things simple.

Here are some recommendations:

Presonus Eris E3.5-3.5″ Speakers are great budget options

Separately, it’s generally a good idea to have a cheap computer speaker to reference your music as well – this will let you know how your recordings sound on other speakers.

Most professional mixing engineers such as Michael Brauer and Chris Lord-Alge use this technique to make sure that their recordings sound good. 

Next item…

Essential Item 7: Microphone Stands

A boom mic stand provides the most versatility and positioning

If you have done any recording before, you would know that a microphone stand is one of the most essential components of a recording studio.

For beginners, it’s a good idea to invest in a decent boom mic stand rather than the standard vertical mic stand.

Some reasons why:

  • It provides access to more spots and positions than a vertical stand.
  • They are sturdy and less likely to be damaged easily.
  • They are numerous reasonably priced options.

You’d want to get a mic stand that works well for you. Having a good mic stand makes a HUGE difference in the long run.

For home studio recording, go with the following options:

The Samson MK-10 are decent boom mic stands you can get on a budget

Next item…

Essential Item 8: Audio cables

Get an XLR cable for your home recording studio mic

One often overlooked essential item is the audio cables…

Cables are dime a dozen, but for basic home recording studio setups, you only need the following cables:

  • XLR cable for microphone
  • TS cable for connecting instruments (if applicable)
  • Speaker cables for your studio monitor
  • Audio interface cables

Many interfaces contain one or more XLR inputs with a built-in preamp, allowing you to connect your microphone directly into it.

It really helps to purchase your audio interface in bundles with cables, so you don’t have to buy each individual cable separately for your mics and instruments.

For XLR cables, you want to get all-cooper cables with at least 10 feet length for room to manoeuvre around.

I recommend these XLR cables for home recording studio setups:

Cable Matters 10 ft mic cable

Although I work almost exclusively with Marshall XLR cables, there are plenty of other good options available for mic recording.

Next item…

Essential Item 9: Pop Filters

Pop filters removes plosive sounds which improves audio quality

Every musician will know how a pop filter looks like in studio…and that’s because they are really an essential item for studio recording.

Pop filters guard against ‘plosive’ sounds when singing words starting with ‘P’ and ‘B’. This creates a ‘popping’ sound that leaves a large recording burst in the audio recording.

Here are some reasons why Pop Filters are essential:

  • They filter out plosive sounds for audio.
  • They eliminate popping sounds on the microphone.
  • They make sound editing much easier.

While strictly not required, pop filters will almost certainly improve the quality of your audio recording and are a good addition to any beginner studio.

Some examples:

For a detailed list of the best pop filters, check out this post:

Next item…

Essential Item 10: MIDI Controller

A MIDI keyboard can be used to add sound effects and virtual instrument sounds

If you are recording at home, almost every musician will eventually need to use a MIDI to add sound effects, synths and virtual instrumental notes to the recording.

A MIDI electronic keyboard can be used to add virtual instruments into sound production.

These are especially useful for producing various types of sounds, including:

  • Keyboard sounds
  • Orchestral sounds
  • Synthesizer sounds
  • Drum sounds

Pro Tip: To connect your MIDI keyboard with your computer, you should get an audio interface with a MIDI I/O and a pair of MIDI leads to save costs.

Otherwise, check if your MIDI keyboard already comes with a USB port to connect directly with your PC or Mac.

The classic MIDI keyboards for home recording studios:

Now that you have a general idea of the essential items required to set up a home recording studio from scratch, here is a summary of the equipment that you need…

Home Recording Studio Essentials List

There are some good budget options for setting up a home recording studio

In summary, here is the list of all the essential items to set up a budget home recording studio.

1. Computer

Macbook Pro (2021) model – when it comes to raw processing power, nothing beats having the M1 Pro or M1 Max chip in Apple’s latest Macbook Pro models. This is especially true if you intend to use Logic Pro as your primary DAW to do multitracking and synths. Check them out here.

Macbook Air (2020) model – The Macbook Air (2020) model is a great choice if you want to take advantage of Apple’s latest M1 chip. The Macbook Air has enough processing power to run Logic Pro, albeit slower than the Macbook Pro, but still works well for solo home studio recording. If you are running on a tight budget, the Macbook Air (2020) model is a very decent option. Check out the Macbook Air here.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (2021) model – if you are looking for a Windows-based laptop that’s highly portable, with plenty of RAM and reasonable processing power, the Surface Laptop 4 is a good choice. The latest models come with minimum specs of Intel Core i5 chip, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. The AMD versions of these laptops also come with the AMD 6-Core Ryzen 5 chips which deliver faster multicore processing. If you are going with a Windows based DAW and are running on a budget, the Surface Laptop 4 is a pretty decent choice.

2. Audio Interface

Focusrite Scarlett Solo – this is a class budget home recording studio audio interface that works with virtually any audio application that you can throw at it. It is a high performance amp that allows you to record and mix up to 24-bit/192kHz and also includes some free DAW software and plugins to help you get started. Check them out here.

PreSonus Audiobox USB Interface – This budget USB audio interface comes with 2 high-quality Class-A mic preamps and 2 high-headroom instrument inputs to record guitar, bass and other line-level devices. The built-in studio grade converters allow up to 24-bit/192kHz recording and playback. Check them out here.

3. Microphone

Shure SM58LC Dynamic Mic – these microphones are the classic staple of home recording studios and probably need no further introduction. The have a frequency response tailored specifically for vocals, with brightened midrange and nice bass rolloff. Check them out here.

Audio-Technica AT2020 Condenser – if you plan on recording alot of vocals, these microphones are a great budget alternative to the Shure SM58LCs. The AT2020 connects directly to your audio interface and has a very low noise level of 20db SPL. It also features a cardioid polar pattern which is great for recording frontal vocals and reducing side instrumental pickup. Check them out here.

4. DAW Software

Pro Tools – This is still the most widely used DAW in the professional recording studio industry, and comes with all the tools you need to multitrack, add sound effects and synths and mix your audio. That said, this DAW probably has the steepest learning curve out of all the other DAWs. You can’t really go wrong with Pro Tools, but bear in mind it takes time to fully master it. Check them out here.

Image Line FL Studios – One of the best DAWs for home studio recording, FL Studios is great for those who prefer a simple patterned-based way of recording and multitracking, with plenty of stock sounds and synths to choose from straight out of the box. Check them out here.

Apple Logic Pro – Created by Apple, the Apple Logic Pro is the software you should use for Macbook as it is intuitive, seamless and very easy to operate. If you are already using a Macbook, Logic Pro is by far the most convenient and easy to use DAW designed for the Mac. Get Apple Logic Pro here.

Reaper – One of the more customizable and affordable DAW options. This is a great DAW to use if you are on a budget, and comes with plenty of customization options that rival that of Pro Tools. Although not all musicians use Reaper, it has started to gain alot of traction with EDM and pop artists in recent years. Get Reaper here.

For more information on the best DAWs for beginners, check out this post.

5. Studio Headphones

Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphone (New model) – Long considered the staple headphones for home studio recording, the HD280PROs are great for mixing and mastering music with their neutral frequency response and crystal clear vocal reproduction. Check them out here.

Audio-Technica ATH-50X – Although these headphones have slightly more bass and midrange, they are still widely regarded as the industry-standard for home studio recording and professional recording purposes. Check them out here.

6. Studio Monitors

Presonus Eris E3.5 – These are 3.5″ near field studio monitors and the classic favorite for home musicians on a budget – they deliver clean, flat and neutral frequency response and are ideal for solo recording. They are also easy to integrate with a basic audio interface like the PreSonus Audiobox. Check out the Presonus Eris monitors here.

Mackie Studio Monitors (3 inches) – Personally we prefer the Mackie Studio Monitors because they deliver really clean and flat frequency response, and comes with more input options such as 1/4″, RCA inputs and wireless Bluetooth. The volume knob and power controls are located conveniently at the front, which makes it very easy to adjust the sound settings during recording sessions. Check them out here.

7. Cables

Cable Matters XLR to XLR Microphone Cable 10 Feet – These are 10ft quality mic cables with decent length for manoeuvrability. Quality cables actually do make a big difference when it comes to signal noise and feedback – and the cables from Cable Matters work nicely with any home recording studio setup with minimal feedback. Check them out here.

8. Mic stand

On-Stage MS7701B – You don’t really have to worry too much about mic stands in a home recording studio, but I recommend getting a boom mic stand which allows you to adjust both the height and position of the mic angle. Ideally, you should get a budget tripod microphone boom stand with flexible mounting options for different recording positions. Check out the On-Stage MS7701B here.

9. Pop Filter

Neewer Professional Microphone Pop Filter Shield – This is a decent pop filter you can get on a budget, although there are many other options available that does a decent job. Check them out here.

Auphonix Mic Pop Filter – This is a nice pop filter you can get on a budget with double layer mesh to reduce plosive sounds. Check them out here.

10. MIDI controller

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3 – The industry classic, the AKAI MK3 is one of the most widely used MIDI keyboards in home recording studios. It has a classic 25 MIDI keyboard layout and a 4-way thumb-stick for dynamic pitch and modulation control. Check them out here.

M Audio Keystation Mini 32 MK3 – This is another good budget MIDI keyboard with 32 expressive velocity sensitive keys with customizable response. They connect directly to your PC or Mac with no additional power supply required, and are great for budget home studio recording. Check them out here.

Both the AKAI MK3 and M-Audio Keystation MK3 are classic home recording studio setup keyboards that are widely used in the industry, so you can’t really go wrong with these.

For more on how to set up a budget recording studio step by step, check out this post:

Wiring Diagram

Now that you have all the essential items you need, the next step is to connect them together with your audio interface and computer…

Set up everything together like this…

Once you are done…

Next Steps

You should apply acoustic treatment for your home recording studio!

To learn how to do this, check out these posts: