Building a recording studio at home seems to be quite complicated. But actually it is much easier to get started with producing music than you might think.
All you need is just a few basic items.
This guide is focused on getting you started with making music. The different items are prioritized after how essential they are and the budget you have.
The devices recommended here had to meet certain requirements in order to be listed here. The requirements will be explained further under the respective headings.
Nowadays a computer is the center of the studio. In our digital world, all audio processing can happen inside the box. This is extremely beneficial for us bedroom producers as we get granted access to a lot of software that is capable of things that would only be possible with really expensive hardware.
Of course, a computer can be quite expensive as well and you want to have the fastest computer you can afford. But since nearly everyone already has a PC that at least can get you started, I would suggest you first work with what you already have.
If you want to upgrade to a better computer, later on, here are some things you should be aware of.
When talking about computers there is always the question of which operating system you should use. In my opinion, you should just go with your favorite OS whether it is Windows, Mac, Linux.
But if you already know which software you want to use make sure it works on your operating system. Logic Pro X, for example, is only available for Mac.
Apple products are very popular among creative people because of their ease of use. That’s why the Apple Macbook (Amazon) might seem like a natural choice.
But although a powerful computer is important you can even use older machines to make music. For example, I revived my old PC to use it as a music workstation. You can check out my $600 workstation in this video on YouTube.
2 Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
A digital audio workstation is a software that allows you to record, edit and mix music with your computer.
If you have a limited budget you can get a lot of amazing high-quality DAWs for free. If you cannot/don’t want to pay for your DAW check out this blog entry.
Often you also get lighter versions of music production software when purchasing hardware like an audio interface (next item on this list) or a MIDI keyboard. So you don’t need to buy Pro versions of DAWs in the beginning.
Nevertheless, here are some of the best DAWs:
Logic Pro X (Apple)
Personally, I use Cubase Pro by Steinberg, but I also own the Lite version of Ableton. Both are high-quality products. I like Cubase because I am quite used to the system and workflow. The GUI of Ableton may seem a little bit outdated but Ableton really inspires me while creating new music.
3 Audio Interface
An audio interface works as a connector between your instruments, microphones, etc. and your computer.
You can get a great audio interface for less than $200. But there are a few things you should consider when you buy your audio interface:
Recording Quality: Most audio interfaces nowadays are capable of 24bit bit depth and a sample rate of 192kHz. Your computer might can only handle smaller sample rates like 44.1kHz or 48kHz, because the higher the sample rate the higher the needed processing power.
Number of inputs & outputs and types: You should know how many audio sources you want to record simultanuously and how many outputs you need. Most audio interfaces have mono XLR/Jack line inputs. Maybe you also need a MIDI input/output to connect a MIDI device or synchronize over a MIDI clock. However, most modern MIDI devices also support USB.
Phantom Power: Some microphones (e.g. condenser mics) need an external power source to work properly. Like the ones I mention here most audio interfaces support 48V of phantom power.
Compatibility: Check whether the interface works with your operating system and DAW.
Here are a few starter audio interfaces I would recommend:
I started with an old M-Audio interface that I bought from a friend of mine. It only cost me $50 back in the day. I upgraded to a Steinberg UR44 (Amazon / reverb.com / thomann) and now I use an Apollo Twin Duo (Amazon / reverb.com / thomann).
When you make music you need proper monitoring of your sound to get a transparent feedback of what you are creating.
Especially when you have a small bedroom studio it probably will not be acoustically treated. In this case monitor speakers do not make a lot of sense, because they are most of the times quite expensive and their sound will be influenced by your room.
In such an environment it makes more sense to use headphones. This alternative is also cheaper most of the time.
There are different types of studio headphones. Closed-back headphones and open-back headphones (I’m not going to include semi-open-back headphones). If you want to use your headphones as a source for playback while recording you should choose closed-back headphones. Closed-back headphones are good for recording audio since the playback cannot bleed into your microphone and affect the recording.
The DT990 PRO (Amazon / reverb.com / thomann) are the open-back equivalent and I own them as well. They have a really detailed and clear stereo image. This might be a little bit weird at first. Again there is a better version called DT1990 PRO (Amazon / reverb.com / thomann).
When it comes to the best headphones for your home studio you should choose the ones you can relate to best. If you can, go to a local store and test them out with tracks you are familiar with. In the end the only thing that is important is, that you can understand a mix with your headphones and that your headphones show you all the required details of the music you are listening to.
5 MIDI Keyboard/Controller
If you want to play virtual instruments you might want to think about getting a MIDI device. While you can program chords and drum patterns by clicking in the MIDI data, your songs often loose naturalness. Also it is quite time consuming and annoying, in my opinion.
Some DAWs have some kind of virtual keyboard which allows you to play MIDI notes with the keyboard of your computer. This can be handy if you want to record drums or simple melodies, but for chords and complex stuff a real musical keyboard is more suitable.
MIDI controllers come in all kinds of ways. Besides the normal keyboard, trigger pads are quite popular. There are also controllers with only knobs and faders to control your DAW.
Depending on your purpose you should choose the right MIDI controller for you. As a beginner who maybe wants to have a keyboard, drum pads and control knobs there are special devices available.
Small MIDI keyboards with additional knobs and drum pads are already available for less than $100. Here are some suggestions:
M-Audio Oxygen 25 MK4 (Amazon / reverb.com / thomann) – a nice 25 full-size key MIDI keyboard with 8 assignable rotating control knobs, transport controls and 8 trigger pads. It comes with Ableton Live Lite (a great DAW) and Sonivox Twist (a software synthesizer).
Komplete Kontrol M32 (Amazon / reverb.com / thomann) – is a little bit more pricey and has no drum pads. Therefore it comes with 32 mini keys and a bunch of great instruments and a version of Ableton Live Lite. With the Komplete Kontrol software you can shape sounds with the control knobs seamlessly.
Novation Launchkey Mini (Amazon / reverb.com / thomann) – perfect for Ableton users. It also comes with Ableton Live Lite. But, to completely make use of its integration feature you might need the Standard or the Suite edition of Ableton.
Personally I bought the M-Audio Oxygen 49 (Amazon / reverb.com / thomann) a few years ago and never regretted it. I later also bought a used Native Instruments Maschine (Amazon / reverb.com / thomann) to have some drum pads and more software instruments/samples from Native Instruments.
6 Acoustic Treatment
Acoustic treatment is one of the most crucial factors of a music studio. Especially in a home environment, it is often neglected. For beginners, its importance might not be that obvious, but your room acoustics influence your production in several ways.
An untreated room will color the sound in your room. Examples for this are reverberation and so-called room modes, which are the collection of resonances.
Furthermore, the feedback of your speakers may deceive you and lead you to bad mixing and mastering decisions.
Furniture like a soft couch and a bookshelf with some books can absorb and diffuse the sound. If you want to improve the acoustic treatment of your room you can add special absorbers.
With a little bit of craftsmanship you can also build better absorbers yourself. There are many tutorials out there. I might also make one myself in the future. But here is a very simplified explanation: You build a wooden frame and fill it with rockwool. Then you cover it with an air-permeable fabric and mount it on the wall, where the sound from your speakers hits the wall.
7 Microphone (Shockmount, Stand, Pop Filter, Mic Screen)
If you want to record audio yourself you obviously need a microphone. But which microphone is the right one for your home studio?
Vocals normally are recorded with a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. However, these microphones are really sensitive. This is another reason why acoustic treatment is so important.
An alternative are dynamic microphones. They only pick up sounds close to the microphone itself.
It already comes with a really good microphone with 5 years of guarantee, a shockmount and an integrated pop filter.
8 Studio Monitors
Studio monitors can give you a good feedback of what you are creating. Even though you might already have headphones studio monitors might can give you a better picture of your tracks.
Cables can easily be overlooked when building up your home studio. But using the wrong cables can be quite a problem. First there are a lot of different connectors but there is also a big difference between cables that is not this obvious. Some are balanced/symmetrical while others are unbalanced/asymmetrical. Balanced cables have two phases to cancel out possible noise.
You also need cables for your studio monitors. This is a bit tricky because it depends on your audio interface and your studio monitors. Make sure to check which output slots your audio interface has and which input slots your studio monitor have.
Also make sure to use balanced cables to have the noise cancelation feature. A common cable that can be used is a cable for a jack output on the audio interface side and a XLR input on the monitor side.