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Every musician dreams of recording their music in a professional studio like Abbey Road or Electric Ladyland, but few of us ever get the chance. Luckily, you can create your own recording space as part of a home office, basement, or spare room. You won’t have quite as many options as you would in a professional studio, and there won’t be an engineer standing by to answer your questions about microphone positioning, but you can still get really nice sounding results.
I bought my first piece of recording equipment over 10 years ago, and have steadily learned about what gear is actually worth having. To help you avoid my mistakes, I’ve put together this collection of hardware and software to turn a part of your home into a fully-featured recording studio.
1. Acoustic Paneling to Reduce Echoes
Echo is the enemy of any audio recording, but it’s hard to avoid in a square (or rectangular) room because sound will hit the flat surface and bounce directly back at your microphone. You can reduce the impact by treating your room with acoustic panels, which will absorb the sound instead. ATS’ Acoustic Panels are 24 x 48 x 2 inches, so you’ll only need a handful of them to make a big difference. Space them a few feet apart if you have to, and hang them on every wall in the room for the best results.
2. The Right Computer For The Job
We have an entire guide to help you find the best laptops for music production, and Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 tops that list. It got our high recommendation because of its versatility: it’s both a fully functioning laptop, and a tablet. It’s got a 15-inch touch screen display with a resolution of 3260 x 2160, 256 Gigabytes of storage, a 4.2Ghz 6-core i7 processor, and 16gb of RAM. That’s the base configuration; if you need more power, you can upgrade different components to suit your needs.
Microsoft says the Surface Book 2 gets up to 10 hours of battery life per charge, which is enough to get you through a long recording session with power to spare. It has two USB 2.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port, so you can connect multiple pieces of recording equipment to it at once without needing a dongle.
This laptop’s power and versatility make it an excellent choice for people who really want the latest and greatest in their home studio. You can record several tracks of high resolution music on it simultaneously without running into any issues or slowdown. Plus, it’s only 2.38 pounds, so you can take the centerpiece of your studio with you wherever you go.
3. An Audio Interface to Record Your Music
If you’re recording digital music, you’ll need a way to connect your instruments or microphones to a computer. The most popular way to do this is by using a USB interface. An interface takes the analog sound from your instrument or vocals, digitizes it, and sends the audio to your computer’s recording program.
There are a lot of interfaces out there, but I really like Focusrite’s Scarlet 2i2. It has two inputs, which allows you to record two tracks (two instruments, two vocals, or a mix of both) at the same time. Each input has its own gain knob, so you can adjust their volume separately, and buttons to change between an instrument setting and Air, which digitally replicates the sound of Focusrite’s original mic preamp. There’s also a volume knob and headphone jack, so you can monitor (listen to) your music as you’re recording it.
The Scarlett 2i2 can record music at a resolution of up to 24 bits and 196kHz, which is considered high resolution (better than CD quality), and works with both PCs and Macs. I’ve found my Scarlett 2i2 to be really reliable, and capable of recording really great sounding music. It’s been easy to use, and has never given me any real trouble.
4. A USB Mixer For Recording With Physical Controls
USB interfaces are the most common way to record music, but you can also use a USB mixer. The big difference is that USB mixers have a bunch of physical controls on them that let you adjust the amount of bass, midrange, and treble in your recording. These settings are all available digitally through recording software, but a USB mixer will give you a tactile response.
I’m recommending this one from Yamaha because I’ve had good luck with the company’s hardware before. The MG10XU has 10 inputs, so you can record up to 10 instruments at once, and 24 digital effects, so you can add delay, flange, a phasor, or tremolo to your instrument or vocals without an FX pedal. Like the Scarlet 2i2, this mixer can record music at 24 bits and 192kHz.
Mixers are traditionally used to balance audio for live performances, and the MG10XU is no different. It has a pair of 1/4 inch and XLR outputs, so you can connect it to a pair of PA speakers for live shows. You can also use it to record your concerts, which is what it’s really built for.
5. A Dynamic Microphone for Vocals and Acoustic Instruments
Music trends come and go, but Shure’s SM57 microphone has been a staple since its original release in 1965. The Red Hot Chili Peppers used it to record the drums on Sex, Blood, Sugar, Magik, and the vocals on Californication. Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsay Buckingham’s solo on Go Your Own Way was recorded on an SM57, and Quincey Jones used it to record Michael Jackson’s vocals on Thriller. Plus, every president since Richard Nixon has used this mic to deliver speeches. There are several reasons this mic is so popular.
First, it’s a dynamic microphone, which require a lot less power and gain (volume) to capture sound. Turning up the gain on a microphone or amp introduces a lot distortion and buzzing, which isn’t ideal when you’re recording music. Second, Shure tuned the SM57 with a unified cardioid pickup pattern, which captures the sounds you want while isolating ambient noises around you. This makes the microphone well suited for recording both vocals and acoustic instruments. There are many styles of microphone out there, but if you want a single, all-around choice, Shure’s SM57 is hard to beat.
6. The Right Cables That Won’t Break
Connecting your instruments to your audio interface or USB mixer is easy, but you’ll need the right cables. Most microphones use an XLR cable, which has three prongs on one end, and three holes on the other. Connect the end of the XLR cable with the holes into your microphone, and the end with the prongs into your recording hardware. Instruments use 1/4 inch cables, which have the same connector on each side — one end goes into your instrument, the gets plugged into your recording hardware.
I’ve used cables from several companies over the years, but I’ve settled on exclusively using ones from GLS Audio. The cables feel solid, from their braided tweed jacket, to the rubber that covers the terminations on both ends. I’ve never seen the cable’s outer layer break, but I’m also comforted that the cable inside is shielded by copper, so it won’t break apart or fray. Both of these cables are available in several sizes, but the ones I chose should work well for a smaller home recording setup.
7. Studio Monitor Speakers
Your computer’s built-in speakers aren’t going to cut it when you’re listening for subtleties in your recorded music, which is why you need a pair of studio monitors. A good pair will allow you to scan your recordings for imperfections, and hear your music the way your listeners would. I really like the Eris 3.5 Near Field Studio Monitors from Presonus, a US-based audio company that’s been making hardware and software for 25 years.
They’re only 6.4 x 5.6 x 8.3 inches, which means they won’t dwarf your desk, but there’s a lot of audio hardware packed in this small package. The monitors have two drivers (the part of a speaker that produces sound; the bigger, the better), a 3.5-inch woofer that handles midrange and bass frequencies, and a one-inch silk-dome tweeter to handle the treble. The Eris 3.5s have a peak volume of 100db, which is overkill for casual music listening, but a good opportunity to test whether or not your songs distort at high volumes.
In terms of connectivity, the Eris 3.5s are well-suited for every situation. You can connect a computer to them via an aux cable on their front, or RCA inputs on the back. There are a pair of 1/4-inch inputs, so you can connect them directly into a mixer, too. Finally, there’s a headphone jack, so you can monitor your music without disturbing the people around you. These monitors are a great all-in-one package for casual musicians building a small studio. If you have more space, or want more power, you can step up to the Eris 4.5s, which have the same features in a bigger body.
8. Studio Monitor Headphones To Listen Carefully To Your Recordings
Sony’s MDR7506 has been a go-to headphone for audio mixing since it was first released in 1993. It’s known for its fold-up design, 40mm drivers, and more importantly its neutral sound profile. Unlike most headphones, the MDR7506 were designed for audio engineers who needed to hear the smallest details in the music they were recording. There’s no boosted bass or sizzling treble; it’s just you and your music.
I’ve used these headphones before, and really liked them for both music listening and recording. The folding design allows me to stash them in a backpack without taking up too much space, and their large earpads make them comfortable to wear for hours at a time. Most importantly, I love the way audio sounds through them. I’ve heard nuances in my favorite songs that I never knew were there (think background instruments), and mistakes in my own recordings.
The MDR7506s terminate into a standard 3.5mm connector, which can be plugged into a computer, but they also come with an adapter that lets you plug them into a 1/4 inch port on a USB interface or mixer. If you’re serious about recording music, this is the pair of headphones you’ll want to use.
9. A Desk For Your Recording Gear
Having the right audio gear will allow you to record music, but it’s not very useful if you don’t have anywhere to put it. I recommend Wayfair’s Rainey Writing Desk, which I use every day in my home office. The desk is 30 x 47. 2 x 23.6 inches, which is large enough to hold all of your equipment, but not take over an entire room. Its thick manufactured wood top looks nice, and is soft to the touch, while its metal base is surprisingly stable. Your recording studio desk isn’t the star of the show, but it doesn’t hurt to get one you’ll actually like sitting at for long recording sessions
10. An Adjustable Stand For Perfect Microphone Placement
Whether you’re recording a vocal track or acoustic instrument, every home studio needs a good microphone stand. I use this foldable one from Pyle, which is very simple but gets the job done.
The stand sits on a tripod, which keeps it from tilting over if you bump into it, which has saved me from my own clumsiness. Its height can be adjusted between 37.5 and 65 inches, which I appreciate, as someone who’s 6’1″. Posture can really impact my vocal performance, so it’s nice to be able to sing without being hunched over.
As its name suggests, this stand can be folded to record acoustic instruments when you’re sitting down. The stand’s range of motion has allowed me to get the perfect microphone positioning while I play, and it never slumps over from the weight of the mic. It may be simple, but this microphone stand’s stability and versatility make it a great home recording studio staple.
11. A Stand That Makes It Easier to Grab Your Guitars
This guitar stand was the most recent piece of equipment I purchased for my home studio, and I can’t believe it took me so long to get it. It’s 24.8 x 27.9 x 4.3 inches, which is fairly big, but it’s worth every inch. The stand holds three guitars, cradling them with soft foam on the bottom, and a plastic holder on top.
Guitars in the stand can move a little, so they’re easy to grab, but will never bump into one another because of a stopper on the bottom bar. Four rubber feet keep the stand from moving around too much, and its metal bars feel rock solid. I’m very protective about my guitars, so I’ve traditionally kept them in a case, but I trust this stand enough to display them all the time.
I appreciate the convenience of being able to grab a guitar to play rather than opening up a case every time I look at this stand, and can’t recommend it highly enough.