Most musicians create their first few pieces in a rented studio before getting access to fancier gear provided by record labels. But you’ve probably entertained the idea of building your own at some point. A home recording studio allows you to choose your own equipment and work in your own time. Unfortunately, it can also be very costly—unless you’re a smart shopper. Here’s how you can build a decent home studio on an amateur’s budget.
Audio interface: A good signal chain is essential to any home studio, so if you’re going to splurge on any part, this should be it. You’ll need onboard analog-digital converters and preamps, and in and out jacks to connect to your computer. Make sure you have a compatible DAW program; ProTools, Sonar, and Cubase are some of the most popular. A good audio interface should cost somewhere between $200 and $500.
Microphone: A mic is one of those things you can just upgrade as you go, so don’t spend too much on it just yet. You’ll find that everyone has their opinion on sound quality, but any diaphragm microphone over $100 is usually pretty good. One feature worth spending on is shockmount—not only does it reduce vibration and taps; it also makes the mic itself much more solid. You may also want to get a pop filter, which keeps plosives (letters that pop, such as p and t) and sibilants (letters that hiss, such as s and sh) from overpowering the vocal.
Headphones: This is another fairly cheap investment. It’s mostly a matter of preference—if you’re not bothered by ambient noise, you can get a good pair for just $50. Otherwise, you can look into closed-back headphones, which cancel out background noise and can go for over $200.
Keyboard controller: A MIDI controller sends a code to your computer, which then translates it into corresponding sounds. You’ll need one to input sounds directly when you start putting patches of music together. Again, you don’t need to splurge on this one; a budget of $200 should get you a great unit.
Studio monitors: These are professional-grade loudspeakers, designed to mimic the sound you make as closely as possible. You’ll hear a lot of jargon when you shop for them, but the most important terms to look for are near-field and active reception. Near-field means the speaker can be placed close to you so that the sound doesn’t get distorted by bouncing off surfaces, and active just means they don’t need an amplifier. Invest in a good one; the best models are usually between $350 and$500.
Cables: Most shops will sell cables by the foot. For an average studio, expect to spend $70 to $100 on these. There are pricier cables that will set you back hundreds of dollars, but they don’t make much of a difference. They may last longer, but even changing your regular cables a few times would be cheaper than buying “signature” ones.