For many musicians, the days of booking expensive studio hours are over. All you need is some decent equipment and your home studio will be set up in no time. If you’re thinking of building one of your own, here are the essential pieces of gear you’ll need.
You’ll never match the high fidelity of a professional-grade sound system in a recording studio at home. However, you can get great and accurate sound out of many affordable options for monitors. Keep in mind that sound is subjective — you may like the warm sub bass of some monitors, but prefer the clean mid-frequencies of another. The most important aspect is making sure your monitors provide a “true” sound — meaning it will reflect the way it sounds on any system you play it on, be it a Sonos system or your iPhone headphones.
There are many options out there. Get to know the difference between “passive” and “active” monitors. Passive, or unpowered speakers, require an amplifier, whereas active speakers have one built-in. The following are active monitors, meaning you won’t need a separate amplifier to power them. For an entry-level option, I recommend the KRK Rokit 5s. These powered monitors sound great and are a favorite among electronic musicians due to the strong bass resonance. For a little pricier choice, go with the Yamaha HS8, which gives a bit more of a balanced, “truer” sound than the Rokits. The JBL LSR305 is another popular option.
What if you’re making music on the go — at the coffee shop or on a flight? Invest in a nice pair of studio headphones, as well. I love my pair of Sennheiser 380HDs. AIAIAI is a relatively new company pushing customizable, durable headphones popular among DJs. If you’re looking to shell out a little more, the AKG K702s sound great and feel super comfortable.
While setting up your monitors, be wary of how your sound is treated. Do a bit of research on audio treatment (a great resource is E-Home Recording Studio’s guide) and invest in good sound paneling, such as Auralex Acoustic Studio foam.
2. Midi Controller
Next up is investing in a good controller. MIDI is the standard in music production for sending audio information, such as notes, automation, and commands. MIDI today can connect over USB and is essential to a home studio. For a great all-in-one MIDI controller, which includes musical keys, faders, and drum pads, check out the AKAI MPK49. The MPK49 does it all and is great to use in live gigs, as well. I also use its more portable cousin, the MPK Mini when I’m traveling or creating ideas on the fly. M-Audio and Novation also sell great all-in-one controllers at more affordable prices.
For beatmakers or percussionists, a standalone drum-pad controller is a great addition. Akai’s MPD controller, based on the famed MPC series used by everyone from Dr. Dre to Kanye West, is recommended for all programs. For Ableton users, the Ableton Push is an incredible asset offering complete control, from sequencing synthesizers to automating parameters. For Maschine users, check out the new Maschine Jam. Like all pieces of equipment, MIDI controllers come down to a matter of preference. Try out a few, and see what feels the most comfortable within your price range.
An audio interface converts the digital sound on your computer to an analog output. Although all computers have an internal soundcard and headphone jack out, definitely invest in a good one of these. An audio interface is necessary to connect to most monitors and headphones, and cuts down significantly on CPU usage on your computer. The standard for home studios (and what I use) is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. With two inputs and outputs, reliable sound quality, and a tough, durable casing, I’ve used the Scarlett at my home studio and have brought it with me to venues across the world. Other affordable options include the Tascam US-144 (which I used for years) or the Presonus Audiobox. For more experienced users looking for something more powerful with more output durability, the Apogee Duet is a pricey but worthwhile option.
Whether you’re tracking a guitar lick or recording your loudest scream, you’ll need a quality microphone. For beginners, the Shure Sm57 is a great all-in-one dynamic microphone that requires no external power source (aka 48V phantom power). SM57s can be used everywhere from tracking vocals to recording snare drums or guitars due to its small size, durability, and surprisingly clear audio quality. For a more substantial option, check out a condenser microphone. Condensers are higher quality and capture a greater range of frequencies over a dynamic microphone (although many require phantom power, so ensure your audio interface provides it). Condenser microphones are a little pricier, but a few options under $500 include the Rode NT1A or AKG Pro C214. If you’re recording vocals, be sure to record in an isolated space and buy a pop-filter to cancel out peaks when pronouncing certain sounds.
Last, but not least, invest in some quality recording software. Many beginner programs like GarageBand or Audacity are free or open-source, but more advanced DAWs like Ableton Live, Logic Pro, and Fruity Loops are still affordable. Most of the equipment I’ve recommended should work with your DAW of choice. Like everything else listed here, choosing your DAW comes down to personal preference and skill level. Take some time with a few different programs to see what kind of interfaces and capabilities work best for you.
With these pieces of gear, you can get to work on laying down that movie soundtrack, avant-garde sound collage, or hit song you’ve been wanting to create. You won’t even need to get out of your pajamas!