The 5 essential components of a home recording studio
The bare minimum amount of gear you need to create great digital recordings at home
If you’ve read my post about New Year’s Resolutions, you know I’ve been spending some time putting my home recording studio back together after a long break.
Some of it came back to me like riding a bike. Some of it (like Pro Tools) did not! Which brought me, of course, to YouTube, searching for online tutorials — where I found a video that appealed to me for completely different reasons…
Part of the beauty of recording in a small home “studio” (mine is basically just a bedroom filled with gear) is that you can use limitations to your advantage. So I’ve been obsessing lately over the basics, wanting to break my gear, my signal path, and my creative process down to something that allowed for quick tracking and decision making.
One of the “back-to-basics” videos I came across was by producer and audio engineer Graham Cochrane (who runs the Recording Revolutionblog and video series). In the video below he does a great job explaining what gear you need, what gear you don’t need, and why.
A couple days after I watched the video, Graham wrote a guest post for the Echoes Blog on the exact same topic. Strange connections! Anyway, I thought I would summarize his points below — and if you want more in-depth explanations, watch the video above or read his full article HERE.
What do you need in order to make great digital recordings in a home studio?
1. A good computer
For me this is like probably the most important thing. It’s gonna be your most important investment. Additionally, you’ll need something with solid power if your’e involved in big projects.
I could go on and on about computers as the pertain to home studio recording. If you’re using large virtual instrument libraries like say, a piano, or real bass guitars, you should consider having a solid state hard rive installed. I’ve recently converted all of my computers to solid state drives and man, it’s been a world of different. Here are a few reasons you’ll want to get a solid state drive for your studio computer.
- Computers can boot up in under 15 seconds!
- Virtual instruments load 10 times faster into ram.
- Latency. Due to how fast the data is loaded in to ram, you’re able to use extremely low latency settings with your digital audio workstation.
- Power consumption: Solid State Drives don’t require a fraction of the power your normal old school drives would use up. If you have many hard drives running Virtual Instruments and change them over to solid state, you’ll see your electric bill go down!
- Solid State Hard drives rarely crash do do sudden movement of your computer. Or if it fell. There are no moving parts in a solid state hard drive!
Graham says, “More often than not you already own a computer that is capable of being the hub of your home recording studio.”
Mac? PC? Graham says you should go with what you know. Great music is being made on both. His one specific recommendation is to get as much RAM as you can afford.
2. Any DAW (digital audio workstation)
Well, maybe not any Daw. But I do get where they’re coming from. Some DAWs are simply bad in my opinion, but he’s including basics in his post. You could really do some damage if you understand the Digital audio workstation you’re already using. After many years of producing I have stilled found little secrets that would’ve have save me tons of hours producing music. Take just a little time everyday learning as much as you can about your music software program. There’s so much more than just simply pressing play and record. You would be surprised! As was I!
This is the program which you’ll be using to record and edit (and sometimes mix and master) your music.
Graham believes that Sonar, Audition, Pro Tools, Cubase, Live, Reason, and Studio One are all great — so just get one that’s compatible with your computer (and in your price range) and get started!
3. A solid audio interface
Now, there are some audio interfaces that are better for certain things, like mobility and pre amps. If you’re recording say, a vocal mic into your interface, my advice is to have an interface with a good sounding pre amp. Or better yet, purchase and affordable pre amp from say, amazon, and go from the pre amp into the interface. Tube pre amps are the best in my opinion. If you’re recording vocals please use a pre amp!
You need a way to turn analog or acoustical sounds (vocals, guitars, etc.) into a digital signal. That’s where the audio interface comes in.
Graham says, “Most DAWs work with just about any brand of audio interface. This leads to an endless list of boxes to choose from. Let me give you a suggestion: limit yourself to just 2 channel interfaces. What I mean is, don’t buy more than you need.”
4. A quality studio microphone
I couldn’t agree more. A good pre amp for your mic too, as said before. It makes a world of difference! Although you can still record with a basic mic, It’s always best to get a decent mic. They’re not that expensive these days and you can make magic with even some of the more basic “studio recording mics out there.
Mics are important. BUT… if you’re working mostly by yourself, or tracking instruments one at a time, you don’t need more than one or two mics.
Also, Graham cautions that because there are so many quality mics on the market now, you shouldn’t spend any more than $100 on a microphone, unless you’re looking to own a specific mic for a specific reason.
5. A pair of studio headphones or monitors
Definitely make sure you’ve got studio monitors and not just headphones. No – “and or”- it’s a must! That being said, I think from a mixing perspective, you should use headphones to better capture gain peeks. Also, reverb tends to appear louder with headphones. Differentiating between your studio monitors and headphones should help you make better mixing decision. I’ve been using the Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphones and they’ve done years of solid work for me! You can get them here on amazon.
For good sounding compact studio monitors we’d go with the KRK RP5G3-NA Rokit 5 Generation 3 Powered Studio Monitors. Even though they add a bit of color to your sound, I think the’yr nice and compact and have a sound great!
… because you have to HEAR what you’re recording! Only own headphones? Great, start recording and mixing on headphones. You can always listen to your mixes on other people’s systems, or in the car, or wherever, in order to get a reference for how the headphones are positively or negatively shaping the mixes.
And when it comes to buying monitors, don’t spend too much.
Clearly the theme throughout much of Graham’s advice is to keep it simple, start small, don’t spend too much, get to work, and have fun!
As you record more and more at home, you’ll discover ways to solve problems WITHOUT spending money or adding gear (though a nice preamp does sound pretty good about now). Ahhh! OK. Back to work.
For a similar take on what you need in order to create great-sounding tracks in your home studio, watch the video below:
Do you agree with these recommendations? Did Graham miss any essentials?
How do you create your home recordings? What’s your go-to piece of gear?
Let me know in the comments below.
A few other things he didn’t mention: A solid midi interface and a studio desk if you can afford one.
I’d also like to include:
6. Studio panels and foam.
Having something to damper down the acoustics are essential in my opinion. Prices for these have come down over the years. Additionally, they are very home studio friendly! Put a few of these up on the wall and ceiling. You’ll notice the difference. Take my advice. You don’t want to have acoustics bouncing all over the place when you’re tracking songs. It’ll take a whole lot of work to clean that stuff up later.
To wrap things up, I wanted to follow up on the need for certain brands. Since there is so much out there to choose from regarding things like your computer, your sound interface, your midi interface, and you digital audio workstation.
Let’s keep in mind that many of the basic sound cards and midi interfaces out today should work fine if you know what you’re doing. I’ve been through hell and back again when it comes to computers. I believe your computer needs to be solid. Especially if you’re recording live audio rather than just producing. Additionally, backup and sync software are things I would’ve added to Chris’s post. The last thing you want to do is loose your work after being in the zone.
You can read the original post by Chris Robley here.