Home Studio Recording Equipment
8 Steps to a Home Studio that Fits Your Recording Space and Budget
Studio Man offers some suggestions on building a fun and functional home studio – even on a limited budget in a space-challenged home.
Take it away Studio Man…
Studio Man at Home
I have good news for our readers, clients, and guests: aspiring musicians and recording enthusiasts have finally come into their own.
Twenty years ago, laying down great sounding tracks meant an intimidating trip to a pro recording studio.
Even those who had the space to build their own home studio in the garage (or rehearsal space, or loft, or spare bedroom) would find themselves raiding their retirement savings for the money.
Fast forward to today: digital technology has shrunk prices and rack footprints. 24 bit resolution is now commonplace; and memory capacity has greatly expanded. The result is a revolution in home recording that’s taken down a lot of pro studios and led to a flood of great music from the world’s living rooms.
Your own home studio is easily in reach with these 8 simple steps:
1. Choosing a Room for Your Home Studio
If you have a spare room (or a closet with a power outlet), your home studio is in business. If your room isn’t quiet, never fear. Great recordings can easily be made in less than ideal spaces.
For example, if you’re laying down vocal tracks, a microphone with a unidirectional pickup pattern can minimize outside sounds. If you’re still hearing the neighbor’s barking dog, set up your digital recorder’s gated compressor to screen out the extraneous noise.
Just as you don’t want to hear your neighbors, your neighbors don’t want to hear your epic fuzz guitar explorations. Fortunately, most of today’s digital recorders feature amp modeling effects that enable you to lay down a hot signal without shaking the rafters. But be sure to keep your heaphone volume at a comfortable level to avoid blowing out your eardrums.
If your space is acoustically bright, covering the walls with egg cartons and heavy blankets is a time honored studio trick to reduce sound reflection and deaden the sound.
Last but not least, make sure your gear fits your space. The good news is that modern digital equipment has a significantly smaller footprint than the hefty units of the past. Generally, if your room will fit a computer desk, a chair, and a printer, it will also comfortably fit your home studio.
To sum it up, don’t sweat over trying to find the perfect sound environment. With modern equipment, almost any room can function as your studio.
2. Pick a Digital Multitrack Recorder for Your Home Studio
If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to jump right into recording, the home studio solution of choice is the stand-alone digital multitrack recorder. AudioLinks.com offers a wide range of these recorders.
Generally, a digital multitrack recorder looks a lot like a standard mixer. Modern digital multitrack recorders feature basic onboard mixing capabilities, but also offer so much more.
Multitracking capabilities of analog machines were limited by the size of the tape. For home studio cassette recorders, 4 tracks were typical, and 8 tracks were state of the art. In today’s digital world, multitrack recorders store data either to a disk, a flash card, or even a computer. 8 tracks are now the ground floor standard, but digital recorders boasting 16, 24, or even more tracks are common.
Almost every digital multitrack recorder also includes onboard FX so you can start your rough mix even as you record.
Recording is a snap with a stand-alone digital multitrack recorder. For example, a 16 track recorder will allow you to isolate your vocals, drums, bass, and much more without any loss of sound quality. Virtual tracks are a feature of almost all digital multitrack recorders. With these, you can cut, copy, and paste segments of audio on the fly, making drum loops or backing vocals a breeze.
Multitrack digital recorders are good to go right out of the box, can often record at better-than-CD-quality 24 bit resolution, and weigh about as much as your average CD player. Better still, they’re highly portable, which means potentially any room in your house can become a home studio.
For beefed up memory, simultaneous recording of up to 8 tracks at the same time, and 16 track playback, consider upgrading to the Zoom HD16CD digital multitrack recorder.
If you’re recording a full band, or are planning on expanding your studio to its fullest potential, go for a machine that will fulfill your needs and then some. The Tascam 2488NEO 24 bit 24 track hard disk recorder is a top of the line machine. The 2488NEO features 24 track playback, 250 virtual tracks, and better-than-CD quality 24 bit sound in its extensive toolkit.
3. Take Your Home Studio on the Road with Portable Recorders
A new twist in home studio recording are handheld digital recorders with flash drives which make portable recording convenient and fun.
If you plan to record your gigs, or if you want to make basic stereo (or multitrack) demos in a separate rehearsal space, the portable digital multitrack recorder is a good solution. Simply import your auido data from your portable recorder into the standalone unit or software suite you’re using in your home studio.
For a fraction of the cost of the clunky analog tape recorders of past decades, you can purchase a full-featured portable digital recorder boasting high fidelity microphones, surround sound, and multitracking capabilities. Better yet, the integrated design of today’s portable recorders insures years of rugged use.
The Zoom H4n Handy is a great entry-level machine, and also sports 4-track playback and effects modelling – two popular features that are great for musicians.
Or for a few dollars more consider the Tascam DR1 Portable Handheld digital recorder – an AudioLink Best Buy.
If you’re looking for a higher end portable deck, the Tascam HDP2 high resolution portable stereo recorder is a top-of-the-line machine featuring built-in timecode, road-ready construction, and Firewire jacks for the speedy transfer of multitrack audio files to your home studio.
4. Equip Your Home Studio with Studio Microphones
With a host of great sounding microphones by manufacturers like AKG, Nady, Shure, and Sennheiser, you can get warm sounds out of your home studio’s pile of digital gear without having to shell out big bucks for consecutive serial-numbered vintage condensers.
- Go wired. Vocalists love the mobility of wireless mics, but many have noise-damping and reception improvement features that can complicate home studio recording.
- Get a mic that’s adaptable. Not all mics fit every task: a unidirectional mic designed for a guitar amp might sound strange as an overhead. At least one mic in your studio should feature a switchable pickup pattern and a flat frequency response for maximum versatility.
- Think of what you’re recording. Wide-diaphragm condensor mics have a robust dynamic range that can capture acoustic combos with crystal clarity, but for amplified instruments you’ll need a more hardy dynamic mic.
- Check your microphone’s power requirements. Many pro mics require a power source, and while some have batteries, most of the time you’ll need a phantom power supply from your home studio’s digital multitrack recorder. Although this is a common feature, make sure it’s there before you buy the wrong mic.
- Consider a preamp. Most digital multitrack recorders supply adequate gain to boost the volume of any mic, but a good tube preamp can shoot your home studio sound into the stratosphere.
When stocking up on mics, grab the workhorses. The classic home studio choice is the Shure SM58. It’s not only great for micing both vocals and amps, but also is adaptable to most other applications.
For recording vocals in high-volume situations, the ideal choice for band vocalists is the Sennheiser E845.
The Nady RSM 2 Platinum ribbon mic or the AKG C3000B studio condenser are particularly savvy choices to put at the heart of your home studio and cost a fraction of what you’d expect from audiophile mics. They are especially nice for capturing the nuances of acoustic performances.
5. Playback in Your Home Studio Using Headphones
Absolutely essential in any home studio set up is a reliable pair of headphones. You’ll need them not just to play back finished songs, but also to monitor playback while overdubbing, when it’s vital that your old tracks don’t bleed into the new ones.
A comfortable, lightweight set of cans to cover the ears and a wide dynamic range are both key features to consider. The human ear can hear everything from 15hz to 18khz so your headset must be able to reproduce this range (and beyond) without distortion.
The Nady QH 660 will satisfy many of your monitoring needs at a great price. Be sure to keep a few on hand for sessions with multiple musicians, or friends and family who want to sample your sound!
The sturdy and lightweight Samson CH 700 headphone is another solid choice for marathon mixing sessions.
Craving more bass in your headphones? Try the Sennheiser HD 202 closed back headphones which feature specially designed turbine diaphragms that deliver more low-end punch.
If you’re looking for pro fidelity and a full sound spectrum (or if your headphones will be your main monitoring system), upgrade to a set of AKG K171 closed back studio headphones.
6. Playback in Your Home Studio Using Monitors
Headphones can give you only part of the picture, and they’re crucial for picking out close-up sonic details. But since they eliminate the acoustic space between the speaker and the ear, your mix may sound thin and unbalanced if you don’t fill out the sound with a good pair of stereo studio monitors.
When positioning your monitors, be sure to save yourself a seat at the sweet spot. If your monitors are 6 feet apart, sit 6 feet away, at the apex of the triangle formed by your chair and the speakers. In a smaller space, simply shrink the triangle.
Monitors can be either unpowered or powered. Unpowered monitors require an amp, while powered monitors integrate the amp into the speaker design. For sheer space economy, powered monitors are a great solution for a beginning home studio.
The Samson Resolve 40a active monitors are compact, versatile, and priced to fit any budget.
If you’re hungry for more power and bass, the Samson Resolve 65 studio monitors pack a full 50 watts and larger woofers.
For maximum fidelity and bass response, a great monitor choice is the Tascam VLA5 powered monitoring system. An investment in these active monitors will repay your ears with true reproduction across the spectrum.
A good set of headphones and monitors for your home studio can make the difference between a great and an average mix.
7. Get Your Mix Ready for Others to Hear
You’ve recorded a stellar set of performances, swinging solo overdubs, and nailed the vocal tracks. Now it’s time to pull it all together with a killer mix and let the world share your creation.
Chances are your digital multitrack recorder has everything you need to create a great mixdown so in a basic studio set-up you do not need additional equipment.
But if you want to make a pro quality final mix, you may want to invest in a professional mixdown deck. These can be either rackmountable or standalone, and can record to a variety of media – usually blank CD’s or compact flash cards.
AudioLink offers a selection of mixdown decks to suit a wide range of needs and budgets. The Tascam CDRW800SL is a great choice for basic mixdowns featuring CD burning capabilities as well as a pitch control for last-minute corrections.
For easy transfer of sound files to a computer, consider the Marantz PMD570 solid state digital recorder, which makes transferring your data as simple as plugging in a USB cable or inserting a flash card.
If you really want to take your sound to the highest level, check out the Tascam DVRA 1000 HD recorder. This amazing deck not only features 24 bit sound, a 60 GB hard drive, and a 192 kHz sampling rate, but also can burn DVD’s in Sony’s revolutionary Super Audio CD (SACD) format!
8. Stock Your Home Studio with Cables, Stands and Blank Media
With all the money you save by not having to soundproof your attic or align the heads of your reel-to-reel deck, remember to fully stock your home studio. Microphone and guitar cables are essential and often overlooked- until you’re pulling your hair out looking for an XLR cable to plug in your mic.
Microphone stands will spare you a lot of frustration, especially if you need to mic up drums or acoustic instruments. Boom stands are the most versatile choice. It’s nice to have some guitar stands on hand too.
While you’re at it, grab Firewire cables and any other computer cables you need. Extras are fine – you’ll thank yourself later.
One more thought. Perhaps you’re making a CD for your band to sell at gigs. A standalone or rackmountable CD duplicator makes it easy to burn multiple copies for the road, and will help repay your investment in studio equipment. You’ll also need some CD’s and jewel cases – AudioLink is currently offering these on special!
With these 8 steps and all the artistic inspiration and talent you have at your disposal, your home studio is stocked with everything you need to create pro quality demos, songs, and albums!
But there’s a whole world of enhancements, upgrades, and peripherals available from AudioLinks.com – The Home of Sound Solutions.
Feeling overwhelmed by all the options? Our consultants are available at 1-800-263-0112 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST to help you pick the recording equipment that best suits your needs and budget!