So you came up with the crazy idea of recording your songs at home.
Thinking of buying the musical equipment needed to build your first home recording studio?
In this guide we’ll list which are the 5 pieces of audio gear we think are a “must-have” for beginners who want to record their music at home!
Please note: this guide is designed for people which have a low budget to invest in musical equipment.
Which are the main things to know about Home recording?
Some people might say “you can’t record at home”, or “you’ll never get a high recording quality as in a professional recording studio”.
These claims are not true at all.
A little secret: a high recording quality surely depends on the right musical equipment, but it also depends on the audio recording knowledge of the musician or recording engineer that is producing the music. In other words, technology and gear will never be as important as the knowledge needed to make the best of what is currently possible with consumer technology.
Obviously, there are also some practices and tools that should not be underestimated when building your home recording studio:
You should try to control the natural reverberation of the room.
To do this, there are several solutions.
Naturally, given the low budget, we can’t propose to isolate or treat your room with acoustic panels, which would be a costly solution, more suitable for professional studios which can afford such an investment. Nevertheless, you may think of buying a microphone diffuser isolation absorber, such as the one showed in this picture.
You can buy it from here: https://www.amazon.com/Microphone-Diffuser-Isolation-Absorber
You should have good quality speakers and headphones.
If you don’t have good speakers or headphones it is almost impossible to get away with something really decent.
Like i said, almost, because – as we’ll discuss later – it depends on the musician’s capabilities.
The Home Recording Studio equipment list: 5 “must-have” pieces of music gear for beginners
So, we selected 5 tools you really must have to start recording at home:
- A computer (Pc or Mac)
- An external audio device
- A set of monitor speakers and headphones
- DAW (Digital audio workstation)
1) Which computer should you get for music creation?
Now we know that because of the rapid development of new technology, the more time passes the greater the choice is regarding the “perfect model” to buy.
If we’re looking for a perfect computer to record music, play video games and maybe editing photo and video, we may be on the wrong path. You should consider to get a computer optimally configured for music production.
As you may have heard, Apple products have a good reputation for being able to offer high performance “out of the box”, freeing you from many issues about drivers, latency or configuration that a custom PC could give you.
You can’t afford a MacBook or iMac? Don’t be sad! Any decent computer with a minimum of basic features can be used to start recording your creations, it all depends on your workflow!
So what computer should you get?
Among the features required from a computer for home recording we have, in order of importance:
- CPU: the more the computer processor is powerful the better the yield during you recording and editing sessions will be, especially regarding the capacity to process many effects and plugins and to perform faster mixdown operations.
- RAM: according to searchstorage.techtarget.com “RAM (random access memory) is the place in a computing device where the operating system (OS), application programs and data in current use are kept so they can be quickly reached by the device’s processor.”
Put simply, the larger the RAM the more programs can be opened simultaneously.
- Hard disk: The hard drive is the computer storage device. At this point in the development of technology, however, the so called ‘hard disk’ has been replaced by a better performing class of memory devices, known as “Solid State Disks”, or SSDs.
We recommend to replace your hard drive with an SSD to improve the performance of your PC, in particular for audio reading and writing operations
When choosing the right computer for music production, always look for the best combination of these three characteristics. On the web, you can find many sites for measuring the performance of each combination, so try some out and test them all!
2) What is the best external audio device (audio card) to start recording my songs?
The audio interface is an important part of our home recording set, although in some cases may also not be indispensable. In some forms of electronic music or MIDI composition, for instance, you may be creating all your sounds ‘in the box’, and do not need a dedicated device for capturing high quality audio signals from mikes.
You can find audio devices in 3 price ranges:
- Cheap: $50-150
- Standard: $200-400
- High: $400-up
If you’re just starting with recording, 100 bucks should be enough to get a decent quality interface. What tends to make the price increase are the number of inputs and outputs of the device, the A/D and D/A converters quality, sampling frequencies supported, MIDI capabilities or advanced connections as ADAT or S/PDIF.
If you just need to record some vocals or a guitar 1/2 inputs may be enough, but if you plan to record a drumkit you will need at least 4 or more inputs.
Depending on your budget, try to get the device with the best A/D and D/A converters, that will ensure you the best audio quality entering in your computer and coming out of a recording.
Please note: If you’re planning to use a condenser microphone, make sure that your sound card has the 48v Phantom power.
3) Monitor speakers and headphones: which to choose?
The choice of monitors and headphone is also important for the success of your work in terms of quality!
Obviously both headphones and monitors are important, but in two different different phases of your recording flow:
The importance of headphones is distinguishable during the recording process, especially if you are dealing with recordings made through a condenser microphone.
Do not be impulsive, weigh up the features of the headphones you want to buy before actually purchasing them.
Among the most important characteristics that the headphones should have you should certainly consider their ear-isolation capacity and the frequencies that they’ll be able to reproduce.
Choosing the best isolating headphones is one of the things we need to do before starting to record.
Ear isolation – that is the protection from any external sound source or ambient noise other than the signal we are monitoring – is critical during the recording phase.
If you’re using a condenser microphone, under-performing headphones might create unwanted noise leaks from the headphone to your microphone, and at worse even cause potentially dangerous “feedback” loops.
Those who already have some recording experience know how annoying it can be to hear the click track (metronome) in the background of an audio track you just recorded!
Although this also dependant on the intrinsic characteristics of human hearing, good headphones should be able to reproduce the frequencies present in the audio signal as “flat” as possible, that is without neither emphasizing or attenuating some frequency ranges.
One word to explain this concept better: balanced.
Monitors are important in the second phase of our workflow: the mixing phase.
A good engineer / record producer will usually confirm this assertion: you shouldn’t be mixing with your headphones!
Similarly to the when choosing headphones, when choosing monitor speakers you should look for a flat frequency response, or a set of monitors that colour the sound as little as possible, by not enhancing or attenuating certain frequency bands.
Follow this guide to find out what are the best monitors on the market suitable for your budget.
4) Choosing the best microphone to record vocals for beginners
If you’re a singer or you want to record acoustic instruments, then you probably need a good condenser microphone.
Also in this case, you can check out our quick guide on finding the best microphone according to your budget.
What is the difference between a dynamic and a condenser microphone?
Condenser microphones are essentially composed of two plates (armor), one of which is mobile and sensible to the pressure changes that the sound generates in the air. A condenser mike will ensure a fuller frequency response, particularly on the higher end of the spectrum, and it’s generally the best choice to record vocals or acoustic instruments in a studio or controlled environment.
Dynamic mikes generally have a lower frequency response than condensers, but at the same time are more resistant to high sound pressure levels. They’re usually better when used to capture rhythmic/percussive sounds or instruments with a high sound pressure, such as distorted guitar sounds coming through an amp. For these cases, great classics are the Shure SM57, Shure Beta52 or Sennheiser MD421, all good to capture the sounds of congas, kick drums & snares, as well as electric guitars.
5) Which DAW to use?
A DAW (digital audio workstation) is the piece of software that allows musicians to record, edit and mix their music via a PC or a Mac.
Usually the use of a DAW is complicated and can be daunting for beginners. In some cases installing and setting up your DAW may take hours of studying and testing.
From a few years things have changed! The affordable and cross-platform DAW n-Track Studio, for instance, is designed for both first time and experienced users, and has a very approachable learning curve compared to other alternatives on the market.
For instance, n-Track automatically detects your external device and prepares it for immediate use, so you don’t have to go trough configuration operations that often a DAW will require in order to work properly with your hardware.
With n-Track Studio all you have to do is plug in your musical equipment and press the record button to start laying down those tracks!