Building a home recording studio can be a daunting task for beginners. This is especially true if you are trying to get it done for close to under $1,000. Fortunately for you, we’ve done that before, so we are able to lay down all of the ground work for you. In this article, we narrow down the list of equipment to the absolute best and most necessary.
The following are the essentials for your first home recording studio:
Let’s start with the basics, there is a host of DAWs that you can choose from that will all get the job done.
If you are the singer/songwriter type my recommendation would be for Pro Tools Subscription. It won’t put an immediate dent in your wallet and it comes with a host of sounds and plugins in the case that you are also going to do some production in the box. Pro Tools is still a bit clunky when it comes to production, but it can get the job done.
If you’re a music producer you have a few different options, but there are only 3 that truly stand out from the crowd, Ableton, FL Studio, and Logic Pro. Choosing to use any one of these three production standards will allow you to easily collaborate with almost anyone in any genre. When it comes to bang to buck ratio, FL Studio wins by a longshot, and with their foray into the world of Apple, there is no doubt that the DAW will gain major market share from Logic users who are already native to the macOS. As a base new users should start with FL Studio: Producer Edition which generally costs about $200 dollars. The key reason for choosing the Producer Edition is because it is the first edition that allows audio recording. Regardless of what edition you buy, your money is well spent because of Image-Line, FL Studios parent company, includes free updates for life.
One of the first things you’ll want is a pair of studio headphones, or “isolation headphones” as this guide to building a home recording studio calls them.
If you’ve read any of my in-depth analysis of my favorite headphones on the market, you may know me as somewhat of a headphone snob, but you also know that my rule for any gear is that above all you should know what your equipment sounds like. When it comes to a bedroom producer’s first pair of headphones they need to be somewhat exception now that we live in an age where anyone can become a “producer.” The goal that any producer should have with a pair of headphones is that they are true enough to what a song actually sounds like, but they also sound warm enough that you can listen to them for hours on end. My pick for these would be the Shure SRH840 studio headphones. They are a great pair of headphones that translate a pretty true sound but are both warm enough in tone and comfortable enough in feel that they can be worn for hours at a time.
As a producer this is going to be one of the most important aspects of your studio, though you can use the point and click method that has worked for many a great producer before you like Skrillex, Deadmau5, and even Hans Zimmer, a keyboard controller will give you creative control to use your work in a real-time testing scenario. As luck would have it, one of the most popular MIDI keyboard controllers on the market is also the best starter MIDI controller on the market and is also the most affordable controller on the market.
Akai’s MPK Mini MK2 is a powerhouse packed into a scaled-down version of the larger MPK2 series. This 25-key MIDI keyboard controller is extremely portable and will fit in any setup. Beyond being compact, the MPK Mini has velocity-sensitive mini keys and 8 velocity and pressure-sensitive MPC-styled pads. If you happen to be a pianist or have the technical training you may want something that has full-sized keys, and a perfect match can be found in the form of Alesis’ V49. which also includes 8 velocity-sensitive MPC-styled pads.
So you’ve got headphones, that’s all good and well because you can plug them directly into your computer, but you’re about to buy studio monitors and those are going to need something to drive them and that headphone jack isn’t going to cut it, this is where your audio interface comes in. Buying an audio interface is the gateway to recording audio, but it is also the gatekeeper of between you and those studio monitors that you can’t wait to pump your beats out of. The goal in your first audio interface isn’t just to get the bare minimum, it’s to get things that you will not only be able to immediately use but also grow into, Focusrite’s Scarlett is just this.
The Focusrite Scarlett series not only has an impressive mic preamp, it also includes a line in for any instruments you may want to record in the future and a built-in monitoring system so that you don’t have to use DSP to monitor whatever audio you’re recording immediately. Within the Scarlett line there are multiple versions, but if you’re strictly going to be using it to drive your monitors I would recommend the Scarlett Solo which includes one phantom power-enabled XLR input as well as one line-in input. The only major drawback of the Solo is that it only allows you to monitor with your headphones or studio monitors at any one given moment, this isn’t a huge issue but if you don’t feel like flipping that switch back and forth the Scarlett 2i2 has got you covered, and you’ll also get 2 combo inputs which will allow you to either record with mics or line-in for electric instruments.
Best Budget Studio Monitors $200 to $300
Now we’re almost done with your setup, the last big thing you’re going to need are studio monitors. As a producer what you need out of your studio monitors is quality, they need to both sound great, give an accurate bump in the bass that will make your tracks hit a bit harder. In the best case scenario, you still have about 400 dollars left, in the worst case you have about 300, in either case, we can and will work with that.
When it comes to studio monitors as a producer or an engineer you need something that is going to “translate” a mix well so that your music doesn’t just sound good on 1 particular surface and sound horrible everywhere else, but in the end you once again need to know what your gear “sounds” and how it is effect tone and bass response. There are 2 great options for this, even if they may not have the truest bass response.
My first recommendation for your budget production studio would be KRK’s Rockit 5s, some of the most iconic looking speakers in the bedroom producer space, the Rokit 5 is a great starting studio monitor that includes a small woofer in its base. Simply put, these will do the trick. They both sound beautiful while also accurately representing what you’re creating without too much warmth.
If you’re running a bit lower on money, and can’t afford the $300 that the KRK Rokit’s are going to set you back, you should set your sites on another great option in the JBL LSR305, which are currently on sale for $99 a piece, but are always discounted as a pair at $258 on Amazon. Equally as powerful as their KRK counterparts, the JBL LSR305 is only my second choice because they’re slightly more colored than the Rokits.
If you’re going in the route of a singer-songwriter the final thing you’ll need for your home studio is a good microphone. What makes a good microphone? An accurate transparency that matches the portrayed response curve. Though different types of mics are used for different types of things when you select your first mic for your home studio, you should make sure that its frequency response curve works for what you’re actually recording.
Many budget microphones pick up far too much of the frequencies of the low-end spectrum to accurately reproduce a quality vocal recording without picking up overbearing amounts of bass. Iconic microphone company Shure has a great guide for understanding what frequency response curve is typically appropriate for what you are recording. Based on this chart, every singer-songwriter should have a microphone that is good for frequencies between 120Hz and 9kHz. It should be noted that if you are also planning on recording something like an acoustic guitar, piano or other analog acoustic instruments that you should find something that focuses mainly on your specific voice and then what is also complimentary to your instrument of choice.
A great starter mic that also gives an artist room to grow into is Rode’s NT1 or NT1a. The mainstay Rode mic is a perfect balance of functionality and value that will come with everything you need minus a stand, a perfect cardioid condenser microphone for almost any situation with a frequency range spanning from 20Hz to 20kHz.