Home Recording Studio Essentials: Beginner to Professional

Whether you want to build a home studio from scratch or want to upgrade your setup, there are a few crucial pieces of home studio equipment you need.

As there are many different options out there, varying in specs, quality, and price, we’ve decided to make things easier and offer some of the best pieces of home recording studio equipment in different quality and price ranges.

Beginner – The studio essentials which will get the job done but  won’t bust your budget
Intermediate – A home studio setup for more advanced users
Pro – Recording studio gear for professionals
Super Pro – Top of the line music recording equipment

Home Studio Essentials

Let’s get right to it

1

Laptop

As building your own desktop computer can get pretty complicated fairly fast, we’ve decided to focus on laptops.

So, which components should you focus on?

  • Processor Power – In order to run a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) without any lag, you will need a somewhat powerful processor. Intel Core i5 and i7 are good options, but can also be pretty expensive. AMD CPUs often offer great performance but a slightly lower level of stability. It pretty much depends on how much you’re ready to spend.
  • RAM – Handling multiple channels and plugins can get resource- heavy. You can count on either 8 or 16 gigs of RAM to do the job just fine.
  • SSD/HDD – SSDs work noticeably faster but are a bit more expensive. A good option would be going for an SSD and saving up for an external HDD to store all of your projects.

Having these components in mind, it’s not easy to find the perfect combination as a home recording studio setup. Take a look at our pick:

Beginner – Acer Aspire E 15
Intermediate – Dell Inspiron 15.6”
Pro – Asus ZenBook Pro
Super Pro – Apple MacBook Pro 15”

We’ve also written an extensive buying guide and review of the best laptops for music production, which you can check out here.

2

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

Now that you have the crucial piece of hardware, it’s time to choose the home recording software you’re going to use.

There are various different DAWs you could use, with the main difference being the level of expertise needed to truly use their full potential.

Beginner – Fruity Loops
Intermediate – Propellerhead Reason
Pro – Steinberg Cubase
Super Pro – Ableton Live

Do have in mind that some audio interfaces come with included DAWs, so you might not necessarily need to purchase one as a standalone product.

If you’re interested in reading more about the best DAWs on the market, click here.

3

Headphones

Studio Headphones Getting a good pair of headphones will differentiate your music recording studio from the simple studios out there. You need to have a clear image of the project you’re working on.

For beginners, it’s enough to just get a pair of decent sounding flat response headphones. This means that the headphones project the sound as it is, without any exaggerated basses or cut mids.

As you advance as an audio engineer, you will start to see the difference between various models and will build your own taste and preferences.

Getting headphones before studio monitor speakers for your home studio is a better idea, as you will have the freedom of working late without bothering your neighbors.

Headphones are also generally less expensive than speakers, an important factor to consider when on a tight budget.

When it comes to different designs, you have two options:

  • Closed back – Good for tracking, isolation is better
  • Open back – Less isolation, but sound slightly better

We prefer closed back headphones as, unlike open back ones, you can use them in fairly loud environments, such as your home studio.

Beginner – Sony MDR7506
Intermediate – AKG K 240 MK II
Pro – Sennheiser HD 600
Super Pro – Shure SRH1540

Getting a solid pair of headphones will definitely improve your studio setup and overall performance.

For a more detailed look at the best studio headphones, head on over to our buying guide and review.

4

Audio Interface

In order to connect your various devices to your laptop, you will need an audio interface.

Building a studio should be more or less oriented around your choice in this category, as it will dictate the number and type of different pieces of equipment you can combine.

Having that in mind, here are the most important features to consider when buying an interface:

  • Type of Connection – USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt and PCIe all have their pros and cons. Going for USB will give you a solid speed as well as optimal compatibility.
  • Number of Inputs – The more inputs, the more expensive the interface. Think about the type and number of instruments you will record most of the time, and choose accordingly.
  • Form Factor – Desktop, mobile, or rack- mounted? If having enough space is a problem, go for a more compact, desktop interface. On the other hand, rack- mounted interfaces offer a handy option of organizing multiple devices in an ergonomic manner.

As we’ve mentioned, some companies include DAWs with their interfaces, which is a great way of saving up money and having guaranteed compatibility between those two.

Beginner – Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Intermediate – Avid Mbox 4×4
Pro – Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6
Super Pro – Focusrite Saffire Pro 40

If you need more info about the best audio interfaces on the market, check out our in-depth guide and comparison.

5

Powered Studio Monitors

No home music studio is complete without a pair of solid monitor speakers.

Sure, you could use the headphones you just bought, but there are a few advantages you get by using speakers:

  • Your ears don’t get tired as they do when using only headphones
  • You will get a better image of the audio you’re dealing with
  • It’s easier to show your progress to the people you’re recording

But what makes powered studio monitors different than just regular old speakers?

First of all, powered means that the speakers don’t require an additional amp in order to work.

Second, as with studio headphones, you need a flat response setup.

The whole point of getting studio- grade gear is the ability to have a natural and true sound, in order to mix and produce the tracks as you intended.

Besides just getting a pair of good monitors, positioning them is a key factor as well.

You can get the most out of your studio setup by placing the two speakers in a fashion that completes a triangle, with you at one point, and the two speakers at the other two.

By doing this, you will be able to hear both of the two speakers at the same volume and with the same level of clarity.

Other than that, the acoustic properties of the room also play an important factor in the audio you’re going to hear. How to deal with that issue will be covered later in this text!

Beginner – Mackie CR4
Intermediate – KRK Rokit 5 Gen 3
Pro – Yamaha HS8
Super Pro – Adam Audio A7X

Do have in mind that some monitors come in pairs, while others are sold separately.

There is sometimes an option of getting a subwoofer as well. If your budget isn’t too tight, and you plan on working on bass- heavy music, investing in a 2.1 system isn’t a bad idea.

For more of the best studio monitors, check out our full review here.

6

MIDI Keyboard/ Controller

Chances are you won’t find a music studio without at least one MIDI keyboard or controller. Why are they so important?

The main reason you shouldn’t forget a MIDI controller on your home recording studio equipment list is the fact that using one makes your job way, way easier.

Think of it as more than just a keyboard. Besides using it for inputting piano and similar instruments, it allows you to control a good portion of settings, options, presets and plugins in your DAW.

The whole point is to minimize the use of your mouse and to achieve a steady workflow by mapping various controls in your DAW to the numerous pads, buttons, knobs, and sliders on your controller.

There are cheap synthesizer options you can consider if you need more of a controller than a regular piano keyboard.

So, depending on the genre of music you’re working on, and your overall style of recording, mixing and producing music, you can choose a controller oriented towards piano key performance, or, on the other hand, the number of switches and buttons you can map.

Here is our choice of the best recording studio MIDI keyboards/ controllers by categories:

Beginner – Midiplus AKM320
Intermediate – Behringer U- Control UMX610
Pro – Alesis V49
Super Pro – Akai Professional MPK249

To learn more about the best MIDI keyboards on the market, read our full buying guide and review here.

7

Microphone

A studio setup for recording isn’t complete without a good microphone. Well, not just one, you need a couple in order to record drums or multiple vocals/ instruments at the same time.

No matter how good your audio interface and skills in a DAW are, your recording isn’t going to sound good if you don’t use a solid microphone.

There are two main types of microphones you can get:

  • Dynamic Microphones – Chances are that all the microphones you’ve used so far (if you don’t already have a home recording studio) are dynamic.

These are used for multiple purposes on stage and are very sturdy and long lasting.

The frequency range these microphones are able to cover is wide enough for performing live, but not accurate enough for recording sessions.

  • Condenser Microphones – As you might have guessed, this type of microphones is more suitable for recording needs.

They are capable of capturing a much wider frequency range and provide a very clear and natural audio image.

The downside of these microphones is that they tend to be fragile and have to be used with extra care. They also require “phantom power” to work, so if you plan on using them, make sure your audio interface has that feature.

Beginner – Shure SM58
Intermediate – Rode NT1-A
Pro – Neumann TLM102
Super Pro – Manley Reference

Click here to read more about the best microphones on the market.

8

Accessories: Cables, Stands, Racks

Now that we’ve covered all of the devices needed for building a recording studio, let’s take a look at some of the accessories you need in order to connect and organize your gear!

Cables – You can never have enough of them. They get lost, break, or get accidentally taken by mistake by people coming to your studio.

Make sure that you have enough cables for connecting every piece of your equipment, as well as a few extra ones lying around, just in case.

Don’t forget to keep them organized and in place, as untangling can get pretty hectic when handling 10+ cables!

Stands – You’re going to need microphone stands as well as stands for your studio monitor speakers if you want to save up space. Make sure that you’re not getting the cheapest ones, as they too can break pretty fast.

Racks – If you’re just a beginner, you probably won’t need racks anytime soon. However, they are a great way of keeping things organized and in place, if you own and use a lot of different interfaces or similar devices.

9

Studio Desk

Building a home studio from scratch requires a lot of money. Chances are that you’re going to end up using a desk that you already have.

If that’s not the case, and you want to invest in a good studio desk, there are a couple of things to have on your mind.

  • Size – You will need a lot of space. Don’t go all out and get a dining table, but do keep track of the devices you plan on having on your desk.
  • Cable management – It’s a good idea to get a desk which offers some kind of cable management. Things can get pretty tangled up when you have an audio interface with numerous channels feeding into it.
  • Consider standing desks – Though they tend to be pretty expensive, standing desks are a great idea, especially if you plan on recording and playing at the same time. Not only is it good for your health (especially your back) to stand up from time to time while you’re working, but it makes handling your DAW while having your guitar around your shoulders way easier.
10

Music Production Books

Yes, it is the 21st century, and yes, you can get almost anything you need online. But that doesn’t mean you should completely forget about books.

There are truly amazing ones you can get, which allow you to progress very fast with your recording, mixing and producing.

From the basic things to more complex ones, having a book to guide you with any problems you may encounter is crucial if you plan on seriously taking up audio engineering.

Conclusion

After reading about all the home recording studio essentials, all this may seem as hard work.

To be honest, it isn’t easy, but at the end of the day, it’s definitely worth it.

It’s crucial to plan out your every move before getting into the world of audio recording and mixing, and we hope we helped you with this article.

Just remember, having and managing a home studio should be something you’re having fun doing, and you will see progress in no time!