There was a time when the creation of a recording studio was not a realistic project for simple individuals. This was mainly due to the inaccessibility of the necessary equipment, but also to the high cost of acquiring it if it became available. Today the situation is quite different in view of the evolutions observed in the recording equipment.
It is indeed possible today to create your own home recording studio. The real challenge is to find the right equipment to start a home studio. These are available in several price ranges to suit all budgets.
A computer to centralize the recording studio
The first piece of equipment you need to get started in home studio is a computer. This is necessary for audio recording, music mixing, digital audio editing and music production. The mastering of the audio mix can also be done from the computer.
There are several considerations you should have when choosing a computer to get started in home studio. The first is to choose between a desktop computer and a laptop. The laptop is the right choice for a beatmaker who needs to work on his workflow at all times. He can make music on the go by carrying his computer with him.
The biggest drawback of laptops is the price to performance ratio. A laptop can cost up to 40% more than a desktop for the same level of performance. However, they make up for their high price with portability.
Desktop computers are more accommodating in the ratio of cost to performance. This is especially true if it is a computer whose parts can be chosen separately. You can actually spend more money on the components that are essential to creating music on the computer. These include the processor, RAM and storage devices.
There is also a distinction to be made between PCs and Macs when choosing a desktop computer for music computing. PCs or “personal computers” are desktop computers whose components are not restricted by the same firmware. This means that it is possible to choose every part of the PC, provided that a few compatibility rules are followed.
Macs are desktop computers manufactured by Apple in the United States. They are assembled with parts that are neither removable nor interchangeable with those of another brand. This limited possibility of modification of Macs is nevertheless compensated by their consequent power and the exclusiveness of the software that can be used on them.
PCs can also come in the form of parts selected and installed in advance by a specific brand. In this case, it is a pre-assembled or “prebuilt” PC. Brands like Alienware, Dell, Corsair and MSI can all offer prebuilt.
Prebuilt parts are not, however, restricted by specific firmware as is the case with Macs. They can always be replaced by parts of another brand, provided that some accounting guidelines are followed.
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The “prebuilt” is an interesting option for those who do not want to take care of the assembly of their PC themselves. Compatibility concerns between different parts can also be eliminated by purchasing a prebuilt. There is no guarantee, however, that you will get the best parts for your money by deciding to buy a prebuilt. By the way, manufacturers can inflate the pc budget in components that are not really useful for music production.
It is also important to characterize a computer system from a computer itself. The computer itself is the heart of the computer installation. It is from it that the computer operations are carried out. In this case we also speak of a central unit.
The other major elements of a computer installation are the monitors and the peripherals. The monitor is the screen on which the computer displays its information. Peripherals are accessories connected to the computer for the needs of its use. The most essential ones are the input/output devices, namely the mouse and the keyboard.
Laptops integrate all the mentioned elements into one piece of equipment. It is also this convenience that makes them quite expensive. Apple also offers a computer and monitor combined in one device in the form of its iMac. The iMac’s input/output devices remain independent, however, unlike a laptop.
By the way, discover also our test and opinion on the USB microphone IK Multimedia iRig Mic HD 2. It is a microphone that can work with a mobile device. This guide gives you a complete overview of this microphone, as well as its technology and our opinion of its sound quality.
The best laptops for music production
The most affordable: Acer Aspire 5
The Acer Aspire 5 is the smartest choice of affordable laptop for those who want to do music production. It comes with a dual-core Ryzen 7 processor with a 4GHz clock speed and 8GB of RAM and a 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD.
Such a configuration is sufficient for the use of the most popular DAWs, including Pro Tools, Ableton Live and FL Studio. The battery offers 5 hours of autonomy, but this can be reduced to 1 hour when the laptop is used to its full potential.
The right compromise: Microsoft Surface Pro 8
The Surface Pro 8 isn’t just a good laptop for music production. Its removable keyboard and touch control surface make it both a laptop and a touch tablet.
It also offers the most decent configuration for computer music. This includes a Core i7 processor, 8 to 32 Gb live memory and 128 Gb to 1 Tb SSD storage. The battery also has a consistent battery life of 16 hours.
Most expensive: Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch M1
The Apple MacBook Pro is one of the most expensive laptops for music creation, but the benefits it brings are worth it. It starts with its 8-core Apple M1 processor, 8GB to 16GB RAM and 256GB to 2TB SSD.
The battery can last up to 20 hours versus 10 hours of heavy use. The laptop also runs on macOS, so it is possible to use Logic Pro and other macOS-exclusive software for music production.
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A computer-assisted music software
Having computer music software, or CAM software, is essential for getting started in the home studio. At least, this is the case if you don’t want to bother with a mixing console or mixer for studio recording.
MAO software provides all the mixing and mastering functions that a sound engineer needs to work on an arrangement. Analog mixing is managed by the computer’s external sound card.
The choice of operating system determines the type of computer music software that can be used on a computer. There is a wide range of computer music software on the market. Some of them, however, may be designed to run on a specific operating system rather than another.
Most of today’s computers can have one of the following three operating systems on it, namely Windows, Linux and Mac OS. Windows and Linux are mostly used on PCs. Mac OS is an operating system reserved for Mac computers.
Ableton Live, FL Studio, Protools and Logic Pro are the most popular options for computer music. The first three programs are available for both Windows and macOS.
The Logic pro software is however only available for macOS. The advantage of one DAW over another depends on the features offered. This includes the virtual instrument library or Vst and the extensibility of the software with a list of plug-ins.
See also : Test and review of the t.bone RB 500 microphone. In this guide you will find an overview of the directivity and the many applications of this ribbon microphone, its sound quality, as well as its technical characteristics and our opinion on its use.
The best computer music software
The most accessible: Logic Pro X
Logic Pro X is offered at a very reasonable price considering all the features it offers. This includes the usual music production features, but also direct integration with iCloud.
You can save and access your creations at any time from Apple’s popular Cloud. Logic Pro X is also easy to use and has low latency in handling recordings, even those in Wav format.
The right compromise: Pro Tools
Pro Tools is the best choice for a DAW if you are a sound engineer. It provides more features than Logic Pro X for workflow management.
Most professional studios use Pro Tools as part of their business. Pro Tools works on a subscription basis. You can subscribe to the software for a whole year and pay a monthly subscription fee for its use.
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The most expensive : FL Studio
FL Studio is the most versatile computer music software. It offers a large gallery of melodies and loops that you can work on for your musical creations. FL Studio also stands out from other DAWs because of its great extensibility through plug-ins. This includes such popular plug-ins as those from Native Instruments or IK Multimedia.
A USB audio interface
The USB audio interface converts analog signals into a format that is recognized by a computer. Analog signals can be generated by studio microphones or musical instruments like an electric guitar.
The USB audio interface or controller is an external sound card in essence. However, not all external sound card models are USB audio interfaces. The difference lies in the type of connection used to connect to a computer.
A USB audio interface is connected to a PC using a USB cable. However, there are external sound cards that connect to the computer using other types of connections. These are essentially Thunderbolt, Firewire or RJ45 ports.
So it is not essential to use a USB audio interface if you want to get started in the home studio using a single microphone for your recording studio.
It is still necessary that the microphone used which is a USB microphone. However, an external sound card is essential if you are going to start a home studio and use more than one microphone at a time in your music studio. This is also the most likely scenario for a professional studio.
An external sound card is also more accommodating for monitoring speakers due to the built-in volume controls. The jack port of an external sound card also delivers better sound quality for monitoring with headphones. It is even possible to have several headphone and speaker inputs on one sound card.
The following features should be considered when choosing an external sound card:
- The type of connection supported by the computer: USB, Thunderbolt or Ethernet
- The use of several microphones in the mastering studio
- The need for volume control for speakers and headphones
- The need to generate separate feedback for a person in another room
- The presence of an integrated digital sound processor or DSP
- Recording the song at a high sampling rate: between 96 kHz and higher.
- Phantom power generation for devices without external power supply
- Preamp outputs for use with a turntable
The best external sound cards for your computer
The most accessible: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
The Scarlett 2i2 from Focusrite is a very good choice of audio interface in terms of the features it offers for the price. It starts with two XLR/TRS combo inputs which each deliver 48V phantom power.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 also has a dynamic range of 110.6dB, making it a performer in many ranges of sound. Its most distinctive feature, however, is its Air mode for emulating the ISA preamps that made Focusrite famous.
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The good compromise: Solid Stage Logic SSL 2
The SSL 2 Is one of the best products offered by Solid Stage Logic in the audio hardware market. It comes with an XLR input, a ¼ port, and a USB-C input to simplify the connection of many types of microphones.
You also get two headphone outputs, an RCA port for speakers and a MIDI input/output interface. A Legacy 4K mode preamp switch is also available for optimal sound reproduction from different instruments.
Most expensive: Apogee Symphony Desktop
The Apogee Symphony Desktop is the equipment to choose if you target the best audio quality without compromise. It comes with 2 ¼” outputs, 2 headphone outputs, 2 XLR ports and a ¼” input on the front. So you won’t have any connectivity issues with this sound card.
Symphony Desktop also offers 2 microphone preamplifiers with Apogee Alloy emulation technology, a digital sound processor and a touch screen.
A MIDI sequencer for the creation of arrangements
The MIDI sequencer is a kind of mini synthesizer specially designed for use with computer music software. It allows you to compose all aspects of a beat from a single interface. This includes the melody, bass, rhythm section or percussion and effects of each instrument.
It is even possible to record vocals directly into a mix from the sequencer by connecting it to a microphone. This makes this mini MIDI keyboard an essential piece of equipment for all composers who want to speed up their workflow.
The technology of a MIDI sequencer differs from one model to another. However, it is important that the MIDI sequencer includes the following features:
- Real-time and step-by-step recording
- Functions for editing an audio recording
- Quantization and transposition of the mix
- The cut/copy and paste functions
- Arrangement of an audio mix
- Muting the sound
- Looped playback
- The cancellation function
Realtime recording means that the device can record the sequences you play on it in real time. However, the concept is more extensive than with a cassette recorder. You can change the tempo of the music or transpose the mix.
Step recording consists of playing one note at a time on the arrangement. You can also decide the location of each note and the length of their respective playback.
Quantization is a function through which a note can be moved to the most accurate and closest subdivision of a bar. It is usually necessary to play on the internal metronome base in the sequencer to use the quantize function.
Transposition allows you to transpose a note by any amount without affecting its length. It is then possible to move an entire composition or a section of it to another note.
The best MIDI sequencers for your arrangements
The most accessible: Arturia Keystep
The Arturia Keystep is the best sequencer for beginners in music production. It is a single track sequencer with 32 keys and 8 polyphonic voices. This makes it very convenient to use with a synthesizer.
The Arturia Keystep can also be used as a simple MIDI keyboard. Its capacitive touch and arpeggiator are compatible with both vintage and modern modulation equipment.
The right compromise: Akai Professional MPC One
The MPC One seems smaller in comparison with the MPC X. Nevertheless, it retains all the quality you would expect from an Akai Professional sequencer.
The MPC offers all the features expected of a digital audio workbench. This includes easy chopping and programming of beat sequences. The MPC One also replicates the familiarity of the MPC X pad and can be used for different sections of the arrangement.
Most expensive: Elektron Octakrank MKII Black
The Elektron Octakrank MKII Black may look intimidating for its price, but its features are well worth it. It is designed as a sequencer, sampler and DJing tool in one. The sequencer offers 8 audio tracks and 8 midi tracks with respective 64 step patterns.
Each track has its own duration and time signature. The MKII Black also comes with a stage crossfader for a seamless transition from one track sequence to another.
Monitor speakers are used by a sound engineer to check the signal quality in an audio recording. The monitoring speakers can take three forms, namely stage, studio and in-ear monitors.
The studio monitor or reference monitor is the type of monitoring speaker you need to complete your equipment for starting out in the home studio. This type of speaker reproduces the sound of a mix in its raw quality so that the sound engineer can work cleanly on it.
It is important not to confuse studio monitors with hi-fi speakers in a home audio system. Hi-Fi speakers have passive technology which means that they need to be connected to an external amplifier to work.
The studio monitors have an active technology (as for example the monitoring KRK Rokit 5 G4), which means that the amp is integrated into the speaker itself.
Monitor speakers are also built to have three types of drivers in the same enclosure. These are the woofer for bass, the tweeter for treble and the midrange driver for midrange. The separation of frequencies across these three types of drivers allows for a cleaner and more detailed sound for monitoring.
The first aspect to consider when choosing a studio monitor is the size of the woofer. Larger woofers deliver more low frequency feedback. This can be useful if you want to hear the lowest octaves in your audio recording. However, a 6-inch speaker is sufficient to hear frequencies as low as 20 Hz.
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The second factor to take into consideration when buying a monitor is the number of amplifiers it is equipped with. This will determine the number of speakers built into the speaker. At the very least, you should look for a bi-amplified or two-way speaker. This means that it has a separate amplifier for a woofer and another for the tweeter.
The most accommodating solution, however, is a triamplified or three-way speaker (such as an Adam S3V monitor for exemple). This means that the speaker has three built-in amps for the needs of 3 types of speakers.
These are the woofer for bass, the woofer for treble and a midrange speaker. The most expensive models of monitor speakers are often three-way speakers.
All studio monitors also come with a graph to indicate their frequency response. The flatter the curve on the graph, the more accurate the sound reproduction on the speaker.
It should be noted, however, that the results provided on these graphs are indicative only, as they are the result of laboratory tests. The performance of the monitor can be greatly affected by the configuration of the recording room.
Remember to check that the monitor is equipped with a bass port. The latter is a kind of hole strategically integrated into the design of the speaker to enhance the resonance in the low frequencies. The results are much more satisfying than with the classic woofer of a monitor speaker.
It is also advantageous if the studio monitor is equipped with its own equalizer. The purpose of the equalizer is to adjust the operation of the studio monitor to counteract the acoustic irregularities of the recording chamber. This is achieved by means of equalization functions such as bass reduction or room control.
Finally, check the distance at which the studio monitors should be placed to reproduce the sound optimally. There are two types of monitors, if any. These are near-field and far-field monitors.
Near-field monitors (such as the case of the Avantone MixCubes monitoring) should be placed at a listening distance of a few meters to be clearly audible to a person or two. Far-field monitors, on the other hand, deliver a very accurate sound throughout the room.
For far-field monitors, they are most useful for large recording studios and are mounted on the wall. It is unlikely that you will have that much space to start out in the home studio. So it makes more sense to use near-field monitors for a home studio or a home studio.
The best monitor speakers for your studio
The most accessible: Presonus Eris E3.5
The PreSonus Eris E3.5 is the right choice for those looking to buy a studio monitor without breaking the bank. Its frequency response is much more neutral than other models in its price range.
Its Kevlar low frequency driver also ensures an excellent transitional response. The speaker is not also limited in connectivity since it has two balanced TRS inputs, 2 unbalanced RCA inputs and an auxiliary 1/8 input.
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The right compromise: KRK Rokit RP5 G4
The KRK Rokit RP5 G4 is the 4th generation of a series of monitoring speakers that are highly regarded by sound engineers around the world. Its 5-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter, both made of Kevlar, ensure optimal reproduction of highs and lows.
Settings can be made from a mobile app through the speaker’s Bluetooth connectivity. The RP5 G4 also comes with foam insulation to decouple from the surface where it is used.
The most expensive: Neumann KH 120 A
The Neumann KH 120 A is the ultimate in monitor speakers. All the expertise of the Neumann craftsmen is reflected in the design of this studio monitor. This is reflected first and foremost in the speaker’s dispersion waveguide, which has been mathematically modeled.
This results in a horizontal directivity with the narrowest vertical dispersion. This prevents the sound from reflecting off the surface of desks or mixing consoles.
Studio headphones for listening to the arrangements
Studio headphones are a monitoring accessory just like studio monitors. It is then legitimate to ask what the use of studio headphones is if there are already studio monitors. The answer is that studio headphones are not useful to the sound engineer himself. Rather, they are needed by the people who work with him in the recording of a song.
These people may be singers or musicians. They need the studio headphones to hear their performance in real time when they are working on a song. The sound engineer can also hear the performance in real time, but uses the studio monitor for this purpose.
A good studio headset should have good sound isolation. The sound should not escape from the headphones during monitoring. Otherwise the microphone may pick it up, which will compromise the recording. Sound leakage is particularly problematic when recording cymbals, a bass drum, a guitar, a piano or a wind instrument.
The appropriate design for studio headphones is closed back. It is not appropriate to use open-backed headphones for studio work because of the risk of sound leakage. Sound isolation is not, however, an important criterion if you are working with already recorded sound. For this reason, open or semi-open designs are available for studio headsets.
The neutrality of the sound is another criterion which deserves to be taken into account in the choice of a studio headset. It is a question of finding a headphone with a minimal coloration on the delivered sound. Coloration refers to the addition of effects on a sound by a given equipment.
These effects result from changes in frequency response, harmonic distortion or dynamic compression. All of these effects must be eliminated by the headphones to deliver the purest sound possible.
The solidity of the design of a studio headset should not be neglected, especially concerning the connection cable. The cable must be able to withstand multiple twists and turns and be detachable, making it easy to replace if it stops working.
This criterion should be considered well before the quality of the finish or other aesthetic aspects of the headphones.
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The best headphones to listen to your recordings
Le plus accessible : Audio-Technica ATH-M50X
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50Xis the best choice for those who are looking for a high performance studio headset at a good price. The cable is detachable, so it can be replaced if it gets damaged or you are dissatisfied with its signal transmission.
The cushions are neatly designed horizontally and vertically for an optimal comfort on the ears. The sound response seems a little weak on the highs, but the global restitution remains satisfactory on various types of music.
The good compromise: Rode NTH-100
The Rode NTH-100 is the ideal studio headset for those who aim for a transparent, accurate and reliable sound when listening to a recording. It is very comfortable to wear even over long periods of time, which sometimes gives the impression of using wireless headphones, although they are wired.
Its cable is detachable by the way so you can replace it easily. The headphones also come with a ¼ size adapter for use with stereo equipment.
Most expensive: Beyerdynamic DT-1990 Pro
The Beyerdynamic DT-1990 Pro delivers premium studio headphone features. Its design makes it very comfortable, even when you use it for several hours at a time.
The listening experience is very accurate on both highs and lows thanks to the Tesla driver of the headphones. The Beyerdynamic DT-1990 Pro comes with two detachable cables, one of which is looped while the other is straight. It also comes in a sturdy and stylish box for storage.
Microphones for a variety of recordings
There are two considerations when choosing microphones for a home studio vocal or instrument recording. The first relates to the transducer technology of the microphone. The second is the type of directivity offered for picking up sound with the microphone.
A microphone can have a dynamic, ribbon and condenser transducer. A condenser microphone contains two condenser plates. One of them is in motion and reacts to vibrations of the diaphragm to create electrical signals.
All types of condenser microphones need phantom power to operate. They are mainly used for voice and musical instruments recording.
A dynamic microphone contains a rigid coil which is used as a transducer. The coil moves in a magnetic field. The disturbance created generates an electrical signal. Most dynamic microphones can operate without phantom power.They are useful when harmonizing guitar and drums.
Ribbon microphones are similar in principle to condenser microphones in the creation of an electrical signal. However, the moving coil is replaced by a pleated aluminum ribbon in the form of an accordion. Newer models of ribbon microphones have a plastic diaphragm with a conductive alloy to make the system less delicate.
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It is rare to find ribbon microphones for those who want to start a recording studio. They can however be useful for recording the sound of harmonicas or brass instruments.
The directivity indicates the mode in which the microphone picks up sound waves. Most studio microphones offer five types of directivity. These are omnidirectional, cardioid, hypercardioid, supercardioid and bidirectional.
Omnidirectional microphones pick up sound at 360 degrees. They are useful for picking up ambience or recording a choir. Cardioid microphones pick up sound only from the front of the diaphragm. They are not very sensitive to background noise or spatial reflections. This type of microphone is very versatile and is very useful for recording voices and instruments.
A supercardioid microphone (Like the T.Bone SC 400) is very sensitive to sounds in front of the diaphragm. Sounds behind the diaphragm are also picked up at low sensitivity. Hypercardioid microphones have a low sensitivity to sound from several modes. However, sounds are most noticeable at the front of the diaphragm.
Bi-directional microphones have a high sensitivity to sound at both the front and back of the microphone. However, they are insensitive to sounds generated within 90 degrees of the microphone. Bi-directional microphones can be used for duet voice pickup.
The best microphones for voice recording
The most accessible: MXL 770
The MXL 770 is among the best cardioid microphones you can find at an affordable price for voice pickup. It still delivers very decent performance for sound recording.
This is made possible by its -10 dB attenuation switch combined with a 150 Hz high frequency filter. The MXL 770 is also built in a solid housing and comes with a shock mount to reduce vibration during use.
The right compromise: Rode NT1
The Rode NT1 microphone is a microphone with a 1-inch condenser capsule and a cardioid directivity. This special design results in a personal noise level of only 4.5 dB, which is remarkable for its price range.
A custom suspension kit and a double-layered stainless steel windscreen are included with the microphone for a small additional cost. This makes the NT1 the most serious contender for any mid-priced vocal microphone.
The most expensive: Neumann TLM 170R
The Neumann TLM 170R is well worth its high price considering the advanced features it offers for voice pickup. This starts with its large diaphragm and condenser transducer, which allow it to have a multi-pattern directivity.
It can be used as a cardioid, hypercardioid, omnidirectional and figure-of-eight microphone. A special setting called “R” also allows you to control the pattern from the supplied power unit.
The best microphones for musical instruments
The most accessible: Audio-Technica AT2020
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is not the most impressive of microphones in its design, but does a remarkable job for instrument recording.
It must be said that Audio Technica has limited its design to the essentials in order to deliver the best microphone with cardioid directivity on a budget. It features a high sensitivity of 144 dB for good sound pickup and a design that is both elegant and robust.
The right compromise: Rode NT2-A
The Rode NT2-A brings the technology of a multi-pattern directivity microphone to a mid-range price point. In particular, it can be used as a omnidirectional microphone, a cardioid or in figure 8.
The picked up sounds are very accurate thanks to the 0 dB high pass filter for 40 Hz and 80 Hz and the 0 dB to -10 dB pad. The Rode NT2-A comes with a shock mount and a pop filter for more stable handling. An XLR cable is also provided for connection to a sound card.
The most expensive: Neumann TLM49
The Neumann TLM49 offers only a cardioid directivity, but the rest of the technology justifies its presence among the high-end microphones. This starts with its ability to reproduce the lowest frequencies without generating any sound coloration.
It is also equipped with an elastic suspension to filter out unwanted noise such as vibration and airborne noise. A pop screen is also provided for use of the microphone at close range.