With the increasing popularity of home studios and independent recording artists/records having a professional or semi-professional grade studio in your home is now more affordable and doable than ever before. Everyone knows that it helps to have the correct gear, but may people don’t know where to start. So from one engineer, writer, and music-lover to another, here is an essential guide. Whether you are a live performing artist or an aspiring producer collecting a list of equipment you would like, it is vital to know what you are using and why. 

Most audio set-ups whether it be an arena-sized concert or a home studio consist of a few basic parts: 

  • Computer(s)
  • I/O
  • A Control Surface
  • Speakers
  • Effects
  • Microphones/Instruments
  • Cables

To begin, you will need something to record. Whether it is a midi controller, built-in sounds on a DAW (digital audio workstation), a vocal or a guitar, you need something to turn those soundwaves going through the air into a digital signal. Thankfully there are a variety of microphones that can help with this. 

If you are just getting started, I recommend the following microphones for the following applications: 

Vocal: 

General Instrument Applications/Highly Versatile Microphones to Start: 

  • SM57 (snare top, general acoustic guitar, percussion, general instruments)
  • MD421 (vocals, guitar cabs, bass-heavy instruments, etc.)
  • RE20 (overheads/cymbals on drums and vocals)

From there, you will need a cable to get the signal to your studio rig. The vast majority of microphones take XLR cables. You may also want some 1/4″ instrument cables if you are playing guitar to connect them to an amp or a guitar directly into an interface. 

Next, you’ll need an interface to serve as a way to get the signal into whatever you are using as a control surface. An interface is essentially a pre-amp that can also supply phantom power (required for condenser microphones that aren’t self-powered). An interface is a unit that provides hardware inputs and outputs. Once the interface connects to your DAW, it allows the device’s hardware inputs to record into your software. Likewise, when listening to a final mix, the device’s hardware outputs can be connected to studio monitors or headphones. The number of inputs and outputs you need is dependent on the number of channels you will be recording. For example, the I in the Scarlet 2i2 stands for how many inputs you can record at one time. You may also see this information labeled as I/O, which reads as the number of inputs over the number of outputs. 

Here are some recommended interfaces if you are beginning to build your first studio

Since you now have your interface, you will need a control surface. In most home studios, this is a computer with a DAW (digital audio workstation), which, for lack of a better term, is audio editing software that has mixing, mastering, and producing capabilities. Think of it as a digital mixing board with some extra tools. Most DAW software will also allow you to use plugins or built-in features to create effects, as well as edit and effectively “produce” your recordings. 

The two most common industry-standard DAWs are Logic and Pro Tools, but recently with Pro Tools moving to subscription-based many people are also beginning to branch out into using Cubase and Reaper as well.

Once you have your control surface or DAW in place, you will need some way to hear your mix. The most common options are studio monitors or headphones (sometimes referred to as cans). If you are planning on using over the ear headphones, I recommend using a closed-back model.

  • On a personal note, I have enjoyed using my Sure SRH440 headphones for years. I’ve always traveled with them, and they have held up surprisingly well. 

If you are someone who has the space for studio monitors, I would highly recommend getting a pair in addition to headphones. Over the ear, headphones are diverse in that you can always use them as a personal monitoring system when you are recording, but studio monitors free your ears from something sitting on them for hours on end while you are mixing. 

Finally, pick your favorite desk, and you should be good to go! Best of luck building!

  • Sam