You’ve found the perfect group of people, everything is clicking, and you’ve put in the time to craft a great song. Now it’s time to release it to the world and let everyone hear it. But wait… how are you going to capture it? It may be time to build a small home recording space of your own. In this article, I’m going to review three different home studio equipment setups that will work for just about any musician.
I’ve designed these specifically for the home studio, around equipment I’ve worked with in the past. I paid special attention to getting the most “bang for the buck”, focusing on budgets between $600 to about $2500.
Often times it doesn’t make logistical sense to book time at a recording studio only to record one song. But even if that’s something that you do end up doing, it is always a good idea to record a solid “demo” ahead of time, so you have something to go off of once you’re in the recording studio. This makes a home studio all the more invaluable.
Financially, it makes sense to have at least a basic recording setup. But, there is a lot of gear out there and it can be quite difficult to sift through and separate what’s good and what’s garbage.
We’re going to go over three different cost effective home studio setups so you can get in the game no matter what your budget is.
I realize an entry point of $600 is not a small amount of money, but this is an investment into the future of your music career. Each of these options (with some caveats in option 1, explained below) are also structured so they can be built upon, rather than having to get rid of equipment to move to the next level.
Note: all of the options below are under the assumption that you already have a computer that satisfies at least the minimum requirements for your software of choice.
A Brief Explanation Of Recording Equipment Utilized
Before we actually dive into our options, let’s review the basics of what each piece of recording equipment will be used for. We’ll start with the instrument itself and follow the flow of the signal, explaining what each piece of gear does.
- How you will capturing your instrument or voice, This will either be a microphone or can be, in the case of electric instruments such as guitars, basses, and keyboards, a DI (“direct inject”) box.
- Microphone Preamp, which in many cases is built into the recording unit.
- Recording Unit, which in all the options below will be a computer interface.
- DAW (digital audio workstation), which is just a fancy term for recording software.
- Studio Monitors (and stands if they won’t fit on your desktop).
- Headphones, for monitoring and to use while recording.
There are also some accessories you’ll need to get everything going: cabling, which includes an XLR cable for your microphone and cabling to connect the computer interface to your studio monitors, and a stand for your microphone.
Now let’s dig in.
Home Studio Tier 1: $600
This is a bare-bones setup that will allow you to record signals into your DAW (Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Cubase, etc).
The main compromise here is the recording interface, but this list is designed so that everything else will be able to grow with your home studio recording setup and be useful in the future.
Microphone: Shure SM57 or Audio-Technica AT2020
Depending on the whether you think you’ll be capturing more acoustic instruments or more percussion and electric instruments, there are two options.
A tried and true staple in both the recording studio and live sound world. The Shure SM57 dynamic microphone sounds remarkably good on a wide range of sources, particularly guitar and bass amps and percussion.
The Audio-Technica AT2020, being a condenser microphone will generally have a bit more natural sound with acoustic instruments. It is usable for capturing vocals but is not recommended for critical vocal applications.
Either way, we have our microphone.
Remaining budget: $510
This is where we’re making a bit of a compromise in order to stay within the given budget. This recording interface is not bad, it just doesn’t have any room for growing the number of inputs and outputs later if you end up wanting to record more than one source at a time.
It does contain a built-in mic preamp and instrument DI which is very convenient.
Another upside is that it comes with Steinberg Cubase LE. Cubase LE is a perfectly capable DAW, and by saving money here we’re able to spend more on studio monitors that should last you for quite some time.
You could spend a bit more on a recording interface and less on studio monitors, but you won’t get much “more” interface without spending quite a bit more money. Also, the monitors we’re recommending here, in our opinion, are the best you can do for under a thousand bucks.
Remaining budget: $410
These KRKs sound great and, out of all the monitors I’ve heard in this price range, they are easily the best.
In fact, I’ve worked with some highly successful engineers that use them as their “traveling” monitors because they know how good the sound is and know that these monitors are compact and built like tanks.
Remaining budget: $110
Sennheiser makes high quality/durable headphones in a range of prices. This particular pair is a solid choice.
While I probably wouldn’t use most headphones that I’ve listened to under about $100/pair for making critical mixing, these sound great and are perfectly adequate to use while tracking your overdubs. They will remain useful even if you make an upgrade later.
Remaining budget: $70
Accessories: Cables & Microphone Stand
Every home studio needs cabling and a mic stand!
There are lots of myths out there in the audio world regarding the magical qualities of cables. While it’s true that ultra-cheap cables are going to use low-grade cabling and connectors that will likely start having connectivity issues fairly quickly, there’s no reason to spend $50 or $100 on a microphone cable.
As long as you get quality cable such as Mogami, Canare, Gotham, or even Redco, that utilizes high-quality connectors (Neutrik, Switchcraft, or Redco), you’re going to have a quality cable that will last you years.
Personally, I love Redco cabling and have been using it for almost a decade without any issues. They even make custom cables for you at a very reasonable price.
Below are links to cables for your microphone as well as connections from the recording interface to your studio monitors.
If you want to customize the lengths or order different cabling/connectors, you are free to do so, just make sure you get the same connectors that I’ve chosen so all connections are properly made.
Those two will cost about $50, depending on shipping.
This leaves us with $20, which we will use for an Ultimate Support microphone stand:
As you can tell, Home Studio Tier 1 is nothing fancy, but it does get the job done!
Home Studio Tier 2: $1,520
At this tier, you get both microphones listed under tier 1, an upgraded recording interface, upgraded digital audio workstation, and a better pair of headphones.
I’ll rehash anything that was already included in tier 1.
Microphones (From Tier 1):
You’ll be able to capture acoustic instruments, such as acoustic guitars plus just about any percussion and electric instruments, spending only $200:
- Shure SM57, which is a tried and true staple in both the studio and live sound
world, and sounds remarkably good on a wide range of sources, particularly amps and percussion.
- Audio-Technica AT2020, which is a condenser microphone, will generally have a bit more natural sound with acoustic instruments. It is usable for capturing vocals but is not recommended for critical vocal applications.
Remaining budget: $1,320
Although this is a substantial jump in price from tier 1, you with gain a multitude of capabilities. Plus, this recording interface still includes built-in mic pres and instrument DI.
The Universal Audio Apollo Twin SOLO connects via Thunderbolt to its own “Console” application. The Universal Audio Console application allows you to track and overdub, with near zero latency, while you monitor or print UAD plugins/effects directly into your DAW.
It also has two mic pres with “Unison” technology, which lets you use software emulations of preamps and EQs (such as the UA 610-B, Neve 1073, and API Vision, during tracking). Keep in mind, the UA 610-B is part of the software bundle included with the interface, the Neve and API are an additional cost.
Speaking of the software bundle, UAD has arguably some of the best software emulations of hardware available. They all run on their own DSP, meaning you have to have a UAD Apollo interface or processor to use them.
There are plenty of options available for separate purchase, but the interface comes with 1176, LA-2A, Pultec, a reverb, Softube amp simulator, channel strip, and the 610-B preamp/EQ. All of these are great plugins to start off with and using them in conjunction with the Console app during tracking allows for an amazing workflow.
Lastly, you have the option for additional input and output expandability. Multiple Apollo units can be chained together via Thunderbolt (noting only one Apollo Twin can be used at one time since they only have one Thunderbolt port). There is also an ADAT input letting you add 8 more channels of simultaneous recording (we explore this in tier 3).
Remaining budget: $620
I want to make a point here that any major DAW will work, so if you already have a preference then go with that. We’re recommending Apple’s Logic Pro X because it comes with a ton of great effects and instruments at a very reasonable price-point. When you combine these with the UAD plugins you’re getting with the Apollo, you have a ton of phenomenal processors to work with.
Remaining budget: $420
These KRKs sound great and, out of all the monitors I’ve heard in this price range, they are easily the best. In fact, I’ve worked with some highly successful engineers that use them as their “traveling” monitors because they are compact and built like tanks.
Remaining budget: $120
These Audio-Technica headphones are a bit of an upgrade from the Sennheisers in the home studio tier 1 list and will be more usable for critical listening while mixing as well as tracking.
Remaining budget: $70
Accessories: Cables & Microphone Stand
We already discussed that there is no reason to spend $50 or $100 on a microphone cable.
Just follow the recommendation is the tier 1 home studio setup and you’re good to go!
Home Studio Tier 3: $2,513
This level is basically the same as tier 2, but adds the capability to record a drum kit, so I’ll just go over the additions here:
This will add 8 channels of mic preamps and digital conversion to the UAD Apollo Twin, giving you a total of 10 simultaneous recording channels.
You could potentially record a five-piece drum kit, a bass plugged into the DI of the Apollo, and guitar amp with the SM57, and a vocal with the AT2020, all at the same time!
That’s pretty powerful capability at this price-point (note that to record the bass, guitar, and vocal you would need to add more stands, cables, and potentially headphones on top of what is listed here).
Audix makes really solid drum mics that don’t break the bank. This will give you all the microphones you will need to record a five-piece drum kit.
Additional Stands and Mic Cables:
Now Start Tracking
So that’s it! Any of these options will get you into recording and give you the capability to, at the very least, start creating demos of your songs. All of the gear listed in any of these tiers (with maybe the exception of the recording interface in tier 1) will be able to grow with your setup and be useable for years.
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