Now, I know there are a lot of people out there who keep on clamoring about ‘the good ol’ days’ way back when rock was at its peak and the go-to cure for just about everything involved either leeches or some creative blood-letting. And while there’s simply nothing like having a leech stuck on your leg to cure what ails you, there is simply no better time to be a studio-minded musician – well, that’s if you don’t take the ever competitive current state of the music industry into consideration. Still though, through the steady growth of technology, the average musician has never had so much fire power available to them at such a reasonable price. What once took hundreds of thousands of dollars and specialized construction – along with the backing of a huge company – can now be attainable at by just about any musician (with a steady job). Not only that, specialized equipment is also of a much better quality and built with ease of use in mind. We’ve all heard about how the average car today has more technology than that tin can that first took man to the moon, and the same thing goes here. Back when the mighty Beatles first broke into the business, any and all effects had to be done completely manually and recorded on nothing more than a four track.
I Make More Money, But Everything Costs More Too!
Today, you can buy more technology than used to record the mop tops and those Apollo crafts combined – all for less than the average price of rent (which here in California is five three to four grand a month… but I guess you don’t have to live in Beverly Hills). Anyways, things are cheaper and better now and the older generation will just have to deal with it, but things simply being more affordable won’t do you any good unless you actually use them. Sure, certain things like the instruments themselves have risen in price right along with inflation (sometimes faster) and are as affordable now as they were in during the early years of rock but one thing that continues to expand in quality while keeping things in relative affordability is the home studio setup. While this doesn’t mean that one day soon you’ll be able to pickup speakers, a DI box, preamps, DAW software and everything else for a couple of hundred bucks, advances in technology and software means that if you blew one month’s worth of pay now on this equipment, you will certainly be getting much better quality and specs than if you spent the same amount even ten years ago. But enough about all that; how about we take a look at some gear?
The Home Recording Studio
Now that we have firmly placed the idea that today’s home studio can rival even the best equipment available a few decades ago, we can take a look at what exactly a home studio setup consists of. While there are certain things that are pretty much required for any studio setup to actually be considered a studio setup, other pieces of gear are completely optional. Either way, let’s take a look at the gear used in a home studio.
DAW Software and Computers
You don't need to break the bank for Direct Input
In order to make your recordings sound as good as the professionals, how about using the same software as they do?! The gap in quality between that possible in a professional recording environment and that created in a home studio has never been so small now that DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software has been thrown into the mix. Sure, this isn’t just some PC game we’re talking about and software such as the popular Pro Tools will run you upwards of $600 to buy brand new, but think about it; for less than a thousand dollars (for most DAW) you can use the exact software used by some of the filthiest rich of studios. Sure, their physical equipment and personnel skill might be at another level but the digital end of the work is essentially on a level field as long as the user knows how to take advantage of it. Also, you can’t run DAW software without a computer to run it on, and your computer can’t run it unless it meets the correct specs. Luckily for us, computers are stronger and cheaper than ever so buying one compatible with the software shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg, that is of course unless you’re buying an Apple.
Check the specs requirement of your desired software to make sure. Check out some great DAW software at the lowest prices guaranteed right here.
Mixers, Recorders and DI Boxes
In order to have a home recording studio setup, you might (read: you do) need something to record and mix with. While most (if not all) DAW programs let you record and mix straight on the computer (with the help of a compatible direct input box and a mic), dedicated recorders and mixers have the advantage of being much easier to use (in that you don’t need to point and click to do everything, which gets tedious) and don’t require your computer’s specs to be off the charts in order to keep everything from getting painfully slow. Heck, you don’t even need a computer to actually record on some of these all in one models, but regardless, most of today’s recorders and mixers do come with computer compatibility such as Zoom’s line of portable recorders (read the review for the R24 here) which can be used directly along with popular DAW programs.
As far as direct input boxes go, you will need one if you want to connect either an instrument or an amp to your computer for direct recording via the DAW software. For those of you unfamiliar with DI boxes, they allow for direct input of an instrument’s signal or amp to either a recorder or PA system. They can come in several different forms. Sometimes they are built in along with amps and preamps but can also be purchased as a standalone piece of equipment. DI boxes are especially popular with bass players as this allows them to directly record their bass to the mixer or, during a live performance, play off of the PA speakers instead of a bass amp. This allows for a more consistent and cleaner sound that is able to be better controlled and mixed than if simply played from a bass amp. Same benefits apply when recording with DI boxes. It should be said that guitarists tend to prefer recording off an amplifier instead of DI as this allows the natural color of the instrument along with the signature sound of the amp to be a part of a song's overall feel. Essentially, while you won’t specifically need a dedicated recorder or mixer, you need something to plug those microphones and guitar cables. Whether done though DI boxes, a recorder or a mixer is up to you.
Depending on what type of recording will be done, you will need the right microphone for the job. Also, depending on what type of instruments you are trying to record, you might need more than one (at the very least three for drums, but 4-6 is more common). The same mics used for a live show will probably leave you wanting more if used for a final pro grade recording. Sure, they will get the job done but you will get much better results from a mic made specifically for recording in mind. Also, they usually start off at a reasonable price – reasonable enough to warrant its purchase over simply using a live show mic. To check more about the different types, check out our feature on microphones right here.
Speakers and Monitors
In order to be able to create the best possible mix on your home recording studio, you will need a pair of monitors that can best correlate the balance of your tracks. Unfortunately, the best possible mix depends just as much on the setup of your monitors as it does on their quality – more so even if you take into account the huge problems with sound balance that can be caused by an improperly stationed pair of speakers. Good news is that we have you covered. Check out this article on proper speaker placement and this one on the different types of home studio monitors for more detailed info. If you don’t want to bother with setting up monitors, deciding whether you need them powered or unpowered or things of that nature, another popular choice is headphones. There are plenty to choose from that come with their own set of pros and cons. Check out our detailed guide on all sorts of pro level headphones right here.
Have enough cables to connect all of your mics, instruments, speakers and amps? How about a sound screen to take care of those annoying Ps? Ambient sound filters? And don't forget about that phantom power. Check out our home studio accessories page to check out some of the stuff you might have missed.