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:
- A Computer (Desktop/Laptop)
- Audio Interface
- DAW Recording Software
- Studio Headphones
- Studio Monitor Speakers
- Microphone Stands
- Audio cables
- Pop Filter
- MIDI Keyboard
A tutorial diagram on how to set everything up is included at the end of this post…
Item 1: The Computer
You’ll need a computer to run your digital audio workstation (“DAW”) and recording software.
The most important consideration here is whether your existing PC/laptop can handle the DAW of your choice.
Some DAWs such as Apple Logic Pro X are only compatible with Mac computers, whereas more established DAWs such as Pro Tools can be used with Windows and/or Mac.
One very important consideration at the initial stage is – if you are working with multiple musicians, consider which DAW they are using (or what the community for your music genre is using).
For example, if you record alot of EDM music, then Reaper or Pro Tools is your go to DAW. You’ll want to have as little compatibility issues as possible when recording tracks separately with other musicians and combining them later.
Having the same DAW system for the entire team definitely helps when mixing tracks!
While I recommend sticking to your existing PC / laptop if you already have one, there are some pretty good budget options out there.
Classic examples of laptops/computers for studio recording:
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.
Some musicians prefer to use their own DAW software for recording and a standalone audio interface.
Good budget standalone audio interface:
Item 3: Microphones
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:
For intermediate to advanced home recording studios:
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.
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:
You might be wondering if you can use dynamic mics for vocals…
While I don’t usually recommend dynamic mics for vocal recording…the ONLY exception is when you have a room with poor acoustics.
This is because dynamic mics are not as sensitive as cardioid condenser mics when it comes to poor room acoustics and standing sound waves, hence your recording will ‘technically’ sound better.
But this should really be your last resort if you don’t have the budget for acoustic treatment.
For a complete guide on recording studio microphones, check out this post:
Item 4: DAW Recording Software
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:
To learn more about the best DAWs for music production, check out this post:
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.
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:
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:
Item 6: Studio Monitor Speakers
Studio monitors (speakers) are designed to provide well-balanced, accurate sound representation with a flatter frequency response.
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:
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.
Item 7: Microphone Stands
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:
Item 8: 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.
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:
Although I work almost exclusively with Marshall XLR cables, there are plenty of other good options available for mic recording.
Item 9: Pop Filters
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.
For a detailed list of the best pop filters, check out this post:
Item 10: MIDI Controller (optional)
Although this is optional, I decided to include it on this list because almost every musician will eventually need to use a MIDI to add sound effects 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:
The budget home recording studio
In summary, here is the list of all the essential items to set up a budget home recording studio.
- Lenovo IdeaPad 3 (AMD 3500U Processor, 8GB DDR4 RAM, 256GB SSD)
- ASUS F512JA-AS34 VivoBook (Intel i3-1005G1 CPU, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
There are many laptops you can use for DAW software. I normally try to get one with at least 8GB RAM at the lowest cost.
2. Audio Interface
- PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 – An all-time classic for budget home recording studios and very beginner friendly to use
- Samson C01 – This is a large diaphragm cardioid condenser mic which is easy to use and delivers crisp and clear sound for vocals
4. DAW Software
- Pro Tools (Windows) – This is the leading DAW for Windows users and most professional mixers use this software
- Apple Logic Pro (Macbook) – 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
- Reaper (Windows / Mac) – One of the more customizable and affordable DAW options
5. Studio Headphones
- Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphone – These are budget friendly home recording studio headphones with neutral sound and great for beginners
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
- Cable Matters XLR to XLR Microphone Cable 10 Feet – These are 10ft quality mic cables with decent length for manoeuvrability
8. Mic stand
- On-Stage MS7701B – A good budget tripod microphone boom stand with flexible mounting options for different recording positions
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
10. MIDI controller
- Midiplus, 32-Key Midi Controller – A multi-functional MIDI controller with decent built-in functions and memory keys
For more on how to set up a budget recording studio step by step, check out this post:
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…
You should apply acoustic treatment for your home recording studio!
To learn how to do this, check out these posts: