The 9 Pieces of Audio Gear You Need to Produce Great Studio Recordings from Home
Most songwriters want to start a home studio but don’t know where to begin. There are so many differing opinions and recommendations that it can be overwhelming when you’re trying to figure out what audio gear is right for you.
To help take the guesswork out of building your own recording studio, we’ve put together this guide of equipment you will need for creating professional music from home.
Editor’s Note: While building a home studio is extremely rewarding, it isn’t the right move for most songwriters. This article will suggest tools that will get you great results, but it will require about $5,000 of investment (on the lower end).
If you are looking to release more professional music over the next 6-12 months, then don’t buy the lie that home recording is easy or inexpensive. It will cost you both time and money!
Most songwriters will be better off investing their money into music professionals. Those who have already spent years on audio gear and developing the skills needed to help you bring your vision to life. Building the right team is genuinely the only shortcut to your dreams. (you could pitch Supreme Tracks offer here and help people skip the article)
#1 A Powerful Computer
You likely own some type of computer and have already tried to record some music on it.
Most computers these days are more than capable of handling music production software. However, things get a bit more tricky when you try to take things to a professional level.
Now the scope of this article is not to get into an Apple vs. PC debate. Both computer manufacturers are more than able to produce high-quality music production machines.
However, if you want a brand that is going to be compatible with most major plugins and DAWs that simply work out of the box, then you should be looking at an Apple.
Suppose you want your computer to handle running a professional DAW with multiple plugins, virtual instruments, and tracks. In that case, you’re going to want to buy a computer with at least 16 GB of RAM, 1 TB of Storage, and multi-core processing.
While Apple’s new M1 technology can get you a mighty machine for music production at a reasonable price, you still will spend a pretty penny.
However, even with a great machine, you still can run into issues even with a computer with fast specs. There are issues like loud fans that bleed into my recordings, a crashing computer, and long bounce times.
All of these issues can easily take you out of your creative flow.
However, without a solid computer, the rest of the audio gear mentioned in this article will not matter.
#2 Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
There are plenty of free Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) available for users (check out a comprehensive list here).
While many free DAWs can produce great recordings, be aware that most of them are limited in their features. A common limitation is a reduced track count, making professional production almost impossible.
Suppose you’re serious about producing high-quality recordings from the comfort of your home. In that case, you need to invest in a professional DAW that will give you everything you need to make incredible music.
DAW’s like Logic Pro X comes stock with every mix plugin, virtual instrument, and mastering tools you could need to produce a radio-ready track.
However, it’s worth mentioning; learning a DAW is like learning a new musical instrument, and it takes time to get good with it. A lot goes into working with this type of software, so make sure that you invest in a platform that has lots of tutorial videos to help you get up to speed quickly.
#3 Audio Interface
The most basic function of an audio interface is to take an analog signal and convert it into a digital signal to send to your computer. Also, it takes the digital signal and turns it back into an analog signal to playback out of your speakers or headphones.
This is called audio conversion, and the quality of converters in an audio interface can vary drastically.
Almost every audio interface also comes with a pre-amp. Pre-amps are also essential equipment because an audio signal coming from your microphone is extremely quiet. The pre-amp will boost the signal, so it goes into your computer at a healthy level.
Audio Interface technology has come a long way over the years, and you can get some really great ones for not a lot of money.
While most entry-level interfaces will suit any hobbyist trying to record their own music from home, there is still a noticeable difference in the converters’ quality, the pre-amps, and feature sets of a higher-end model.
The best way to describe the difference is like cutting food with a dull knife compared to a sharp knife. Better converters have a “sharper” image and make the entire recording process more straightforward.
There are also different connectors for audio interfaces like USB, Thunderbolt, and PCIe. So when shopping for an audio interface, make sure that it will connect to your computer.
Price: $150 – $1,500
#4 Closed-Back Headphones
You’re Airpods aren’t going to cut it when you’re trying to record high-quality music from the comfort of your home. You will need studio-grade headphones that come with a quarter-inch jack.
These types of headphones come in two different styles, open-back and closed-back.
Open-back headphones generally have a more “open” sound stage and can replicate the feeling of listening through monitors. However, they let a lot of sound out that will bleed into your recordings.
On the other hand, Closed-back headphones have a more “mono” sound to them but have less sound leakage. These types of headphones are perfect for recording.
Generally speaking, closed-back headphones are cheaper, but a good pair will still cost you.
Average Price: $50-$150
#5 Studio Monitors
What good is the music you record if you can’t properly hear it?
While it’s possible to record, mix, and master from headphones, it wouldn’t be my first recommendation for crafting high-quality, balanced mixes.
A good pair of studio monitors will take you a long way in making better music production decisions.
If you have never listened to music through a high-quality pair of studio monitors, you are definitely missing out.
It’s like listening to music in 3-D. You will hear details and elements you have never heard in your favorite music. Sometimes these elements make you love the song even more, and sometimes they magnify flaws in the recording.
Either way, the purpose of great monitors is to accurately hear the music you are recording so you can make a great recording, mixing, or mastering decision.
Average Budget Price: $500 for a pair
Average Pro Price: $1000+ for a pair
#6 Acoustic Treatment
Before you invest all of your money into the adio gear mentioned in this article, think first about where you will record and mix your music.
Often, this is going to be the same room.
Now, if you try and work in an untreated room, you will soon find that your room plays tricks on what you’re hearing.
Without getting too heavy into the physics of sound, you will have issues with high-frequency sound waves reflecting back and forth a low-frequency build-up known as standing waves (1).
These high-frequency issues will wreak havoc on your recordings, making them feel less defined and “smeary.” While the low-frequency will make you pull your hair out when you are mixing and mastering music in your room.
Now properly treating your room isn’t cheap. In fact, it could involve a full re-model by an acoustic specialist to get it right.
However, for most home studios, this would be overkill. The fastest and easiest way to get acoustic treatment is to buy a kit from Auralex or similar brands. These kits give you everything you need to control high and low frequencies, and from my experience, they do the job well.
However, these kits aren’t cheap. They often can run you into the $1,000 range if you get a complete kit.
If you know your way around a table, you could make your own acoustic panels and bass traps out of mineral wool insulation for a fraction of the price.
Whichever you choose, acoustic treatment is crucial for producing consistent and high-quality studio recordings.
Average Price: $800-$1,000
#7 Quality Microphone
Microphones aren’t as easy to purchase as some might suggest. Each microphone has a character that it imparts onto a sound, and purchasing the wrong one could result in accentuating the unflattering parts of the thing you’re trying to record.
For example, most budget condenser microphones boost the high-end to make it sound more “expensive.” However, this boost can often make sources sound harsh and brittle. Suppose you’re a female vocalist with an airy voice. In this case, this high-end boost could make you sound thin and brittle.
It’s kind of hard to know what microphone will work best for you and the source you’re trying to record without a little hands-on experience.
This, after all, is where professional engineers really show their value. They understand microphones are like paintbrushes, and they know which to choose for each particular situation and vibe.
However, you can find a microphone that will work for you with a bit of research and guidance.
Here is a quick cheat sheet for your next purchase:
- Don’t buy an inexpensive microphone (Below $200). Cheap microphones generally create an uphill battle that can be more trouble than they are worth.
- Even though everyone will say a Shure SM57 is a studio classic, it’s probably not the right microphone for you (unless you are recording guitar amps).
- Building your own microphone from a kit is a super-easy way to save money and get a great microphone if you feel comfortable with a soldering iron.
- Microphones with a transformer will have a more mid-range presence and saturation. Transformerless microphones will be more transparent and clean.
- Warm Audio is one of the best options for a quality budget microphone if you’re on a budget.
- Large-diaphragm condenser microphones are the most versatile microphone. They are the preferred microphone for vocals and any instrument that doesn’t have sharp transients.
- Small-diaphragm condenser microphones are great for picking up more subtle details and don’t round off transients as large-diaphragm condensers do. Small-diaphragm condensers are an excellent choice for acoustic guitars.(1)
- Dynamic microphones can handle very loud instruments like drums and guitar amps.
- Ribbon microphones have low output and generally need a special pre-amp to get the most out of them. They have a rolled-off high-end response and can often sound “muddy”. They are often used alongside other microphones to add more weight to a sound.
As you can see, not one microphone will be the best for each situation. This is why professional studios have a vast collection of microphones.
However, you must have a quality microphone, so make sure to take your time sorting through all the options!
Average Price: $300 to $1,000+
There are tons of little things that you will need to produce great studio recordings in your own music studio.
The essentials will be:
- XLR Cables (to connect your microphone to your interface)
- A Microphone Stand
- Studio Desk and Chair
- Pop Filter (if recording vocals)
The good thing about most of these items is that a quality one will last you for a long time. However, for cheaper options, expect to replace them sooner than later (I’m looking at you microphone stand!)
While any old desk will do, a high-quality chair is something to consider spending a little extra money on. With the amount of time you will be at your workstation, you will eventually develop weird kinks in your back and neck if you have a poorly designed chair.
While spending money on a good ergonomic chair is not a very sexy purchase, it will save you in the long run.
Don’t forget that there will also be little knick-knacks and things that you will need to purchase when operating your own home studio.
Average Price (with no furniture): $100+
Average Price (with good furniture): $1,000+
#9 Additional Software
Many DAW’s these days are fully featured. They can get you 80% of the way to a professional recording by using the stock plugins.
However, specialty software purchases are standard tools for top music professionals that you shouldn’t ignore.
Some indispensable tools that I’ve used on every project in my career are:
- Melodyne Studio (Tuning Software)
- SyncroArts Vocalign (Vocal Timing)
- Izotope’s Ozone and RX (Mastering and Audio Restoration)
These three pieces of software are high-quality tools to help you with post-production and get you that radio-ready sound. However, like a DAW, they all take time to learn and get good at using. They come with many features and can be intimidating to understand at first.
While I only mentioned these three pieces of software, this section doesn’t touch on the world of third-party plugins that you will undoubtedly want to buy and spend a bunch of money on.
Average Price: $1,250
Look, investing in a home studio has tons of advantages and is extremely rewarding. While audio gear has gotten significantly cheaper that will help you produce great studio recordings, it still comes with a high-price tag over time.
If you are ready to start investing years into developing the skills to use all of your audio gear correctly, now is a great time to begin.
However, If you don’t have time or much experience with recording music but want the fastest return on your investment, I would recommend hiring professional producers.
Get in touch today to see how we can help you reach your goals fast!