As the internet expands, we’re seeing tons of information being shared in a daily basis. The arrival of social medias, blogs, forums and other online pages are probably some of the main responsible for that. You can learn pretty much anything online. Take me as example, if weren’t for the internet, I wouldn’t have learned how to work with a DAW. From creating your own music to releasing them to digital stores. Truth to be told, as long as you have a good internet connection, you can learn everything by yourself. Like, for instance, how to set up a home recording studio. I’m going to prove it to you. Stick with me, because today I’ll share with you our ultimate guide.
Getting started: How to choose and set up a room?
One of the very first things you must have in mind while setting up your home recording studio is the place you’re going to choose. If you got to this article while looking for information to help you in that endeavor, you probably already have a spot in mind,which you’re planning to use. But how do you know that place is appropriate? Do you know everything the room needs in order to fit a home recording studio?
The first thing that comes in mind when I think about setting up a home recording studio is that I want a place where my recordings sound great, right? But for that, the room I choose will need a few things.
Appropriate acoustic treatment for your home recording studio
That’s probably one of the first things you have to work with your room, check our acoustic treatment home studio guide. In fact, we have a very interesting article that covers the subject perfectly, take a look, I bet you’ll like it.
But basically, try to find the perfect room first (or the one that gives you the best acoustic). I understand that it’s almost impossible to find a room like that, so I’ll list to you a few tricks that can help you take as much as possible (in matter of sound quality and veracity) from the room you choose:
- (At least) 6 acoustic panels in the sound reflection positions;
- An appropriate position for your sound monitors;
- A “safe” position for your desktop/ microphone;
- “Bass traps” or resonator panels (to reduce the bass strength);
- If your ceiling is flat and it has a slightly lean angle, you need an acoustic cloud (the ceiling panel).
That sums it up a bit, and should help you getting started with your home recording studio, but if you want further information, I recommend you to check the article I’ve mentioned before.
Choosing a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) for your home recording studio
It’s obvious, I know, but what if I tell you that you can choose wrong here and waste a lot of money with a computer (or DAW) that won’t do the trick? Generally speaking, most bands, producers, studios, etc… opt for Macs, but they’re usually more expensive than PCs with the same configuration.
But before you choose your computer, there are a few things you have to ask yourself, because depending the answer, it will affect your decision:
- What are you planning to record? Too many channels means too many plugins. 64bit DAWs are much less CPU heavy than 32bit ones. Check your DAW version and compatibilities with your system.
- Which plugins you need? Reverb, echo, distortion… Not all DAWs are fully equipped with plugins. They might have some native plugins (or lots), but not all plugins have the same quality.
- Does your DAW require VST support? If you want to add some third party effects, mixing tools or plugins, that’s a feature you’ll probably want.
- Any plugins in mind? Check if there’s a version for your DAW. Protools 10 accepts RTAS and AAX. Later only AAX, earlier, only RTAS. Logics are AU. Windows Daws support VST3; some VST2. Some accept “plain” VST, some don’t. Research!
- Have you compared prices? If you’re relatively new to this, consider the idea of trying free softwares (or demo versions) before you jump into any final decision.
Ableton, Cubase, Pro tools, Logic, FL Studio and so on, there are good DAWs out there for you to choose, each one with its unique features, some of them quite similar, with just a couple differences here and there. I’ve seen a lot of those DAWs growing and turning into very good choices.
This is a legit suggestion: Try a few. First you need to learn how to mix. So grab one and spend a few years with it until you learn what you are doing. After that period, dedicate a discrete project or two to each and use that to learn the DAW’s unique features and your preferences. Do that half a dozen times and you’re ready to decide which one suits you pest. In the end, it always comes down to the ear and how the DAW’s tools help your workflow style. Oh, and DAWs don’t have any effect on the recording quality. Not at all. Zero.
Choosing a computer
Once you have considered the DAW, it’s time to choose the Operational System. Note that depending on which DAW you choose, you might have to opt for a Mac. But in any case, those are the key factors you have to look into when choosing your OS:
- Multi-cored CPU are the best. Needless to say, but if you’re working on multiple tracks and effects, you gonna need it.
- 32 bits vs 64 bits: This is not a choice. The OS being 32 or 64 depends on your hardware. Install the appropriate one for your processor model. Installing the other will only lead to problems. Nowadays, there’s no excuse NOT to go for a 64bit hardware. If you’re buying a brand new machine, you probably won’t have a choice – it will certainly be 64bits.
- RAM. The more you have, the better. But note that 32bit operating systems cannot utilize more than 4GB of RAM.
- Hard drives with lots of space. SSD hard drives are faster. A nice setup is to choose them for OS installation and have a separate HDD for extra space. This HDD can be internal or external. Either case, it will certainly be a lot cheaper than a SSD. Use them to store plugins, session files and music. If you have issues with your OS, you can delete it while keeping safe and sound your recordings and production files.
Opt for native plugins
Customizing a PC or a Mac according to your needs can cost you a few bucks, so opt for DAW’s native plugins. Once you’re settled and more comfortable with all bills, then you can start planning on which plugins to invest first. FL Studio equalizer might not be better than the FabFilter EQ, but it sure will do the trick.
Important: Newer Macs (think 2014+) don’t accept customization. HD swap, RAM upgrade, nothing. So it should be exactly as you want right out of the box.
Audio Interface for your home recording studio
Next step setting up your home recording studio is the audio interface, but what is an audio interface? And why do I need one? Below I’ll list the top 3 reasons why you should have an audio interface in your wishlist.
- First and foremost, it can really crank up the quality of your productions;
- Optimizes CPU;
- Frees the motherboard from the task of converting audio signal (from analog to digital and vice versa);
- Much less latency;
- Multiple inputs and outputs;
There are numerous reasons why you should consider using an audio interface. Check our other article for specific tips on each subject.
In conclusion, you can definitely work without a audio interface. But issues with high latency, programs freezing (even crashing), and lower sample rates will be part of your work routine. And absolutely no way of recording more than one instrument, unless you only planning to buy USB instruments – not viable or scalable at all (and totally amateur). It is safe to say that once your home recording studio is all set, that will be a rock you’ll want out of your shoe asap.
Microphones for your home recording studio
The next step to take setting up your home recording studio is choosing a microphone. Actually, I highly recommend you to think about getting two microphones (here is where an audio interface start to come in handy). The reason is a simple matter of math, with just one microphone you can record just one track at the time.
For instruments with a lot of “sound pressure”, like electric guitars for instance, I suggest you consider using a dynamic microphone. There are some very good options in the market, like the Shure SM57 – recommended by Magroove’s crew. Cheap and will always be used, no matter how big your studio is.
For vocals and acoustic instruments in general I recommend using a condenser microphone. There are some very good ones, like the Bluebird and the Yeti for instance, and they actually don’t cost that much. By the way, for the microphone you use for recording vocals, make sure you’re using a pop filter. In fact, it not only gives your home recording studio a professional look, but there is some actual benefit for using one. Feel free to check the what is a pop filter article for further information.
But choosing your microphones isn’t always that simple, you can never be too careful. Although there are great brands in the market, with quality and all, you should always keep in mind that the microphone you choose must help you getting the best audio quality for your recordings, and they have to fit your needs. To help you with that, we have some great articles talking about ribbon microphone and tube microphone and all you need to know about them. You probably won’t get them right away, but you should know about their existence.
Sound Monitors for your home recording studio
I bet your home recording studio is starting to look great at this point. Let’s recap. So far we’ve seen about acoustic treatment, choosing a DAW and a computer, getting an audio interface and microphones. What’s next? That’s right, now you need sound monitors.
If you’re serious about recording, mixing, producing… you’re going to need sound monitors. Now, there are some big differences if compared with home stereo speakers. The chart below will clarifies which are some of the main features of each equipment.
Note that you have to connect sound monitors to a line source with a volume control, like an audio interface (just one more reason why you should get one) or a dedicated monitor controller. There are a very few exceptions here, where it won’t be necessary, but the majority will require one. Despite looking the same, as you can see in the chart above there are some key differences. Obviously, sound monitors (usually) cost a lot more, but they are specifically designed for the task ahead, so they are worth every penny.
Once you have your sound monitors, remember to place them in a perfect stereo position (60 degrees opening angle). Do not place them making a reflection angle on your desk, as it will give you a phase cancellation effect. Magroove tip: Put them back/ out of the table and lean them slightly up. Ceiling is flat? You’re having a reflection there as well, then. Place one of your absorbing panels exactly where the sound would reflect to reach you.
As for which monitors are best, do not to get too attached on brands. Keep always an open mind regarding new equipment in the market and do (a lot) of research before you choose your sound monitors.
Won’t be necessary to get too specific at this topic. In most cases headphones are the very first gear (or one of the first) music professionals get. Just make sure you opt for a good one. Audio Technica headphones (M40x, M50x and M50), for instance, are ruling the market these days, top notch entry level headphones with impressive flat response.
Now that you have all the equipment you need, you are going to need all the appropriate cables. We have plenty of information for you to check on this specific topic, just click on the following links and have a good reading:
- Audio cable types : The definitive guide with reference charts
- Balanced Cables : The Myth-breaking guide & thorough explanations
This part of the gear is optional. A DI Box is just in case you are planning to record a electric guitar/ bass and want it to play in the amplifier at the same time. That’s useful for recording a clean copy of the signal, to use in amplifier simulators.
A DI Box won’t be necessary at the beginning if your interface has an instrument input (and you don’t want a recording version with the sound of your amplifier). For really bad amplifiers is really not worth it, as it will end up being discarded. But if you have a good one, the digital simulation will hardly be more real than the recording of the amplifier with a SM57. Simulators are useful when you want a completely different sound than your amp’s. So choose the amp carefully, as well as when choosing a simulator. If you want to know more, we have a very good article about DI Box you might want to check it out.
A trained ear
In conclusion, this is probably the most important part of your home recording studio. Yes, it’s not an actual equipment, but at the end, it will make the most difference.
There is no secret recipe here. Making music is not like making a cake, there isn’t a list of ingredients and a step by step guide. Each music, each recording is different. Doing it today and one year from now will sound different (better hopefully). Learn about the gain structure in the recording chain, learn how to have a good recording, learn how to finish your recording properly, learn about bit depth and sample rates.
Record, mix, bounce (export), listen, repeat. Use reference tracks during the process. After years, it will sound bad, but that’s not reason to give up. Do research, take courses, watch videos… It’s still going to sound bad, but again do not give up! When you realize, after years, it will eventually sound better.
The most important experience you can get here is that you have to take the most out of your day. That by the way, should always be your final goal (in any career really). Have fun, even if things go bad, if you’re guitar player make a few random riffs sometimes, just because. If you’re vocalist, sing a tacky song. Relax and start over.
I really hope this guide helps you giving a perspective and a starting point for your home recording studio. We have plenty of information as hyperlinks listed in this article, make sure you check them out so that you take the most of our platform. Have a great work and I hope hearing from you soon!