Buyers Guide to Build your Home Studio
When it comes to building your ideal home studio, there is no shortage of options or routes you can take to ensure you have the most affordable, practical and quality assured setup possible. The ever-growing demand for home recording equipment has propelled consumer choice substantially, which is great for those of you who know exactly what you’re looking for. However, for those of you that are not 100% sure, here’s a guide to help narrow your options to ensure you are getting the best-suited setup for your requirements, at the best price!
Step 1 – Choosing the right Software
First up, I would establish what software (Digital Audio Workstation – DAW) you would like to use to mix, edit, arrange and export your media. Each software has its advantages, some are better suited to certain styles of music than others, some are better suited for various applications than others, here is a rough breakdown to make your decision easier.
The four major DAW software’s in use today are Pro Tools, Ableton, Logic Pro and Cubase.
Pro Tools is an industry standard in many cases for audio recordings of all scales, with superb control and mixing capabilities, while Ableton is much more suited to the needs of electronic music producers, or artists looking to perform their tracks live. Cubase is great for all applications and has some incredibly useful features not present in most other software’s, whilst Logic is an easy to use platform that’s more intuitive, but less feature packed than that of Pro Tools or Cubase.
It’s safe to say that depending on who you speak to, you will be recommended a different DAW time and time again. My advice would be to test the waters for yourself. The majority of these DAW’s provide demo periods for free use anywhere up to a month, where you can get hands-on and test the workflow for yourself. Or they provide an entry level Intro/Lite version which allows users to download a compact version of the full software for a quarter of the price, offering cheaper upgrades if you wish to expand to the full version.
Pro Tools FREE TRIAL
Ableton Suite FREE TRIAL
Buy DAW Software HERE!
Step 2: Finding your best-suited Audio Interface
Anything that outputs (Guitars, Basses Keyboards etc) or captures audio (microphones etc) will need converting to the digital binary language that your computer can understand. This is where your Audio Interface (Soundcard) comes in. It’s the central hub of all your inputs & outputs and very much at the heart of your setup.
Let’s Imagine two language translators next to each other, one is the best in the game and fully coherent, while the other is fairly newbie with a basic understanding the language. The less experienced translator will provide you with a basic level of conversation, but not the full representation of what’s truly being said and the potential to miss one or two things. On the other hand, the experienced and fully fluent translator is going to give you a much better understanding and quality of conversation, ensuring everything is captured and properly portrayed. Interfaces work in the same way, with varying levels of conversion and quality depending on your budget, some with their own character and others incredibly flat.
Here are a few questions you will need to ask yourself before committing to a purchase.
How many inputs do I need?
Are you a guitarist in need of only a single channel to record your guitar, or are you looking to start recording your band and need something more like 16 channels?
Preamps or No Preamps?
If your recording with microphones, then you will need preamps. Without them, you have a microphone with no amplification, much like a guitar amp with the master volume down. However, for example, If you are an electronic musician who uses only drum machines or synths with an already amplified LINE level signal, then an interface without Pre’s could save you a fair bit of money. Or maybe you only need one/two channels of preamped signal and 8 channels without, in this case, an external preamp can be used to avoid paying for more preamps than you need.
Does it need to be portable?
Many of you will be on the move and will benefit more from a portable, accessible interface you can take on the road with you. With so many options on the market, you will need to determine whether a rack, desktop or handheld interface is best suited to your requirements. IOS/Android compatibility is also available for those of you more comfortable working on an iPad or your phone. The Apogee Duet (pictured below) is a sleek, high-performance and ultra-portable audio interface solution, a more-than-worthy starting point.
Which interfaces are compatible with your PC/Mac?
Unless you are planning to buy a laptop or computer at the same time as your home recording setup, you will need to ensure your interface is compatible with your PC/Mac. Common connections are USB, USB3, PCI Express, Firewire 400, Firewire 800 or Thunderbolt. i.e. Thunderbolt is only applicable to Macs, while USB3 is very much a PC equivalent without the use of an adapter.
With so many big names contributing to the interface pool, you are not stuck for choice. Brands such as Audient, Presonus, Focusrite and M-Audio are only few that have been recently dominating the entry-level market and guarantee great performance for the price.
For superior sound quality and functionality, Universal Audio, Apogee, RME, AVID and Motu all suit the next level of expertise and will ensure professional results if used properly. UAD even provides it’s own unbeatable VST Plugins + expandable DSP. These plugins are worth the price of the interface alone!
Buy Interfaces HERE!
Step 3: Next, you will need Microphones.
Depending on what you’re recording, certain microphones will prove more suited than others. It is best to make sure you are covered for most scenarios with a range of different microphones. Let’s have a look at your options…
There are 4 main categories of microphones, Condenser, Dynamic, Valve and Ribbon. Each has it’s advantages and are best suited for different applications.
Most studio microphone collections will consist mainly of Condenser Microphones as they are available in a huge variety, they’re incredibly reliable and are arguably the most practical for most situations. Ideal for use on Vocals, Drum Overheads, Amp Micing and much more, condenser mics are a great starting point. With brands like Rode, Aston, SE, Neumann and AKG producing high-quality microphones constantly. Condensers require an additional voltage to power up, so if you were wondering what the (+48v Phantom Power) button on your interface does, now you know!
Check out a previous blog showcasing our top vocal microphone picks for under £500 HERE.
Buy Condenser Mics HERE
Dynamic Microphones are capable of taking more of a beating, they can be fairly uncomplimentary and provide a much drier signal than condensers with a much higher SPL. A common method of recording Guitar or Bass is to blend the dry signal of the Dynamic mic with the wide and clear characteristics of a condenser, this way you have the punch of a dynamic with the breath of a condenser. Shure’s SM57 has made its way onto most tracks recorded since it’s release in 1965, defining Genres and playing a key role in almost all studios around to date. And at only roughly £90, its a bargain!
Buy Dynamic Mics HERE
A Valve Microphone is a condenser microphone which uses a valve amplifier rather than a transistor circuit. The character is often described as having an extra level of warmth to that of standard condensers, thanks to the use of tubes and their ability to evolve over time or perform better once headed up/worn in. Personally, I wouldn’t choose a valve as my very first microphone but definitely look towards getting one a couple microphones in.
Buy Valve Mics HERE
The same goes for Ribbon Microphones. These can be eccentric microphones to use and require careful handling to achieve good results or a damage free experience! They have a tendency to resonate the proximity effect thanks to their pressure gradient devices, which is a great advantage for those looking for warmth but can be disastrous if the proper care isn’t taken. Once you’ve familiarised yourself with condensers and dynamics, Ribbons and Valves will comfortably come into play.
Buy Ribbon Mics HERE
Finally, If you want to skip much of the above and find a simple solution for Podcasting or quick general recording, USB Microphones can be a real time and money saver. An Inbuilt interface also bypasses the need for a Soundcard!
Buy USB Mics HERE
Step 4: Studio Monitoring
Whilst listening to music on headphones can feel nice, few albums were ever referenced on ONLY headphones. Studio monitoring plays a vital role in the mixing process and will heavily determine the quality of your results. However, you are not restricted by budget. Quality results can be achieved by any speaker once you have familiarised yourself with its characteristics and frequency patterns. The NS10s by Yamaha are arguably one of the worst sounding speakers in history, yet arguably the most popular. How can this be you may ask? their unforgiving nature and harsh frequency separation allow for superb problem finding, the dull sound is everything you don’t want to hear in a mix amplified, making your job as an engineer much easier.Most of the Monitors released nowadays are Active. This bypasses the need for an external power amp and does it all internally. This doesn’t sacrifice sound quality and saves a lot of room and effort, whilst saving you money!
So what are your ACTIVE monitoring options?
A few big names that all guarantee high-end results are Genelec (8010, 8020, 8030, 8040 or 8050), Adam (F range and A range), Focal (CMS, Alpha, Shape, BE Range), Dynaudio and Yamaha (HS range). These all ensure professional monitoring.For those of you on more of a budget, I would heavily look toward brands like Alesis (Elevate, M1), Yamaha (HS), KRK (Rokit RP range), Presonus (Eris range) and Mackie (CR range).
All of these can be available for demo in store so please don’t hesitate to get in touch on 01273 665413 and book a listening slot with our Pro Audio Specialists.
Buy Monitors HERE!
Step 5: Your Mixing & Monitoring Headphones
Finally, you will need to get yourself a pair of flat frequency response headphones. These come in two options, open back and closed back. If you are looking to use this same pair as your monitoring/mixing headphones, then I would recommend using closed headphones. These spill much less sound and won’t feedback into your microphone when vocal or close recording. However, if they are just for mixing, open-back headphones provide a much wider listening experience and often cover more of the frequency response – hence more mixing control.
Another factor is comfortability. Considering you may be using these for hours at a time, It is important you don’t purchase a pair of headphones that don’t sit well on your head or are heavily ear fatiguing. The best way to test this is to try them for yourself. If you don’t have access to a facility to do this (such as our Brighton Store) then here are a few highly popular recommendations:
Audio Technica ATH Series
These come in a range of models. ATH M20, ATH M30, ATH M40, ATH M50 and ATM M70. Depending on your budget and specs, all of these are capable of achieving great results and are hugely popular with the general public.
These come in a range of models. SRH 144, SRH 240, SRH 440, SRH 550, SRH 750, SRH 840, SRH 940, SRH 1440, SRH 1540, SRH 1840. These headphones are punchy and well suited to music of all styles.
Beyer Dynamic DT range
These come in a range of models. DT100 & 150 (great for monitoring), DT250, DT 770, DT880 available at 80Ohms or 250Ohms. These are some of the comfiest headphones on the market with an incredibly wide and clear character.
Buy Headphones HERE!
With your new-found information, hopefully, you are in a better position to feel you are making the right choice. However, our team are always on hand to provide expert advice if you would like to discuss anything in a little more depth. Please feel free to get in touch on 01273 665400 or email us at [email protected]