Studio Knowledge 101: How To Set Up a Home Recording Studio

The 21st century has brought us plenty of possibilities that we could only imagine before. It was a struggle for an aspiring star to make it back in the 1980s and 90s; finding a gig, a venue, a promoter, or even a good but affordable recording studio was anything but easy. Having a home recording studio was something only the wealthiest and most privileged musicians could hope for.

While making it as a musician hasn’t gotten any easier over the years, the tools for creating and recording your music have gotten a lot better. Setting up a home recording studio is now relatively easy and can be done even on a reasonably tight budget. In this article, we will guide you through creating your own little audio haven. Let’s get started, shall we?

Essential Home Recording Equipment

Before we start, you’ll need to determine if you are doing audio engineering as a hobby or want to turn it into a full-time job. Once you have that clear, you should have your budget in order so you can determine how much you are willing to spend.

Being on a budget should not weigh you down; there are plenty of options to choose from even with limited funds – from second-hand audio interfaces to DIY acoustic room treatment that will do the job almost as well as the best absorbers out there.

With that said, let’s show you how to create a recording studio at home. There are nine essential components of studio equipment that you will need in your home studio setup:

  1. A desktop or a laptop
  2. A microphone
  3. An audio interface
  4. Studio monitors
  5. Studio headphones
  6. Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
  7. A MIDI keyboard
  8. Acoustic room treatment
  9. Cables (lots of cables)

You do not need all of these things immediately if you are on a budget, but you would need them as soon as you can get them, as they are all essential components in any good recording studio.

Desktop/Laptop

This is the first piece of the puzzle. Your computer is your workstation, your mixer, the central hub of your studio. While you might be asking yourself what computer or laptop to buy in order to start, I’ll just stop you right there. The best computer for your home recording studio is the one you have right now. Unless you have an ancient rig, you’ll likely be fine using it as a basis for your setup.

Desktops and laptops each have their advantages and disadvantages. A desktop is usually more powerful, and as such, it can house more plug-ins and run more projects simultaneously. You can upgrade it piece by piece, which is often more profitable than buying a new laptop, and a larger display is always a plus.

On the other hand, laptops are portable, meaning that if you are someone who is usually on the go, you can take your workstation with you wherever you go. They are also more affordable than PCs and have evolved enough to run even the best audio recording software without any hitches. At some point, though, you might need an external drive to house all the projects and plug-ins you’ll have.

Microphone

This is the second piece of the puzzle. Although you could technically use a laptop or phone microphone, we would not recommend it. These low-quality mics gather many external sounds, and the recording you’re making will not come out as “clean” in the end.

A good microphone is essential, especially if you do not have a recording booth. Whether you plan to record voices or instruments, you should choose between a condenser and a dynamic microphone.

We recommend starting with a condenser microphone as they have a smooth frequency response and give a more detailed sound. They’re great for studio vocals but also acoustic instruments and cymbals.

Audio Interface

An audio interface is, simply put, an external sound card. Your computer already has a sound card, so why would you need another one?

Simply put, Integrated sound cards are not able to generate the same crisp and clear sound as a dedicated audio interface. External sound cards are an essential part of any studio setup. Using the implemented converters, they process all sound and convert analog signals to digital and vice versa.

Apart from giving you a higher quality sound, they are also needed so you can connect your rig to the studio monitors – speakers designed specifically for studio use. These usually have different types of output that cannot be connected via simple USB ports.

For beginners, audio interfaces like Steinberg’s UR22 MKII or Focusrite’s Scarlet 2i2 are a perfect choice.

Studio Monitors

In order to hear the clearest sound of your studio recording, you need good loudspeakers. In professional terms, they are called “studio monitors” because they are used for monitoring the sound in a studio – critical for hearing the details during recording, mixing, and mastering sessions.

While regular speakers are there to “please the ears,” the point of the monitors is to transfer the raw sound of the recording as much as possible without losing quality in the conversion from the analog to the digital signal.

To connect them to the computer, you’ll use TRS (Tip, Ring, and Sleeve) and XLR (External Line Return) connectors and cables. The difference is that XLR will provide you with a more precise sound. Since it sends the signal only one way, it does not get any interference from the return signal, providing you with a clearer output from the microphone recording.

Something you might need with the monitors is monitor stands. If you do not have enough space on your desk, these will allow you to place and adjust the monitors to the height of your ears. This will also free the space on your desk and get the cables off the ground, so they do not get stepped on.

Studio Headphones

Like the monitor speakers (only on a smaller scale), the monitor headphones are a professional tool that helps you hear your recording in great detail. While your everyday headphones may boost bass or high frequencies to provide a louder or more pleasant listening experience, these aim to output a clear and flat, true-to-the-recording sound with minimum-to-no loss in sound quality.

Headphones are very handy when recording music at home and wanting to hear it properly without annoying the neighbours. Having a clear sound through the headphones will provide detailed information about the recording and help you decide how you wish to do the mix or the master.

The downside to using only headphones is that you will not get an idea of how the mix sounds in a room, as the audio is not being absorbed by anything and doesn’t bounce off the walls, for example.

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

A DAW is the centerpiece of your setup and is where you do your music mixing. What was once a colossal mixer that could barely fit in the room is now digitized and turned into software that anyone can have on their computer.

While some are made with a specific OS in mind, others will work on all of them. Companies like Image-Line (the company behind the FL Studio DAW) have also created mobile versions of their programs to bring them to a larger audience.

With a DAW, you are not only able to record and edit your sound but add sound effects, mix, master, play various virtual instruments or modulate the sounds in myriad ways.

There are some outstanding free music recording software solutions that have everything you need as a beginner. Others cost money (sometimes, quite a bit of money) but offer a wider variety of tools and instruments7 and place no restrictions on the number of recordings or instrument tracks you can create.

MIDI Keyboard

Some might ask, “Why is this a crucial part of a recording studio? It seems more like a luxury.” We’ll be honest with you: for a true beginner or someone who does not know how to play piano, it is not necessary. You can also use your computer keyboard as an instrument in a pinch.

While not perhaps mandatory recording equipment for beginners, there are still good reasons to get a keyboard even if you’re just starting out:

  • It is far easier to play something on an instrument than on a computer keyboard, as all keys are in the same row and have better tactile feedback.
  • Some MIDI keyboards have drum pads, faders, and knobs on them that you can assign a specific function to or connect to a particular channel in your DAW, granting you easier sound modulation.
  • A MIDI keyboard is a universal instrument. With the evolution of virtual studio technology (VST) plugins, you can use your keyboard and recording equipment to create sounds ranging from a guitar to alien-like ambient noises.
  • It allows you to learn how to play a keyboard, which will be required at some point in your sound-design career. Why not start as soon as you can?

Acoustic Room Treatment

Your studio layout plays a huge part in your mixes. Your position in the room, and the position of the microphone and monitors, determine the sound that you’ll hear. The point is to balance the diffusion and absorption of sound to make the recordings sound better.

Soundproofing your home studio stops the sound from spreading into other rooms and allows you to hear what is playing on the monitors clearly without the unnecessary echo of the room. Plus, you won’t annoy your neighbours!

You can find companies specializing in room acoustics and offer room analysis services for free. This is often done through a questionnaire or an app that you can use to analyze your home studio. Once that is done, you need to check which type of acoustic panels you’ll need.

  • Bass Traps – These are set at the corners of your room to absorb low-to-mid frequencies and deal with the unnecessary bass in the room.
  • Acoustic Panels – Standard acoustic panels that you’ll find in any mainstream and home studios are used to absorb general frequencies. They work, but make sure to use them carefully, as you do not want to completely kill the sound in the room, just prevent it from spilling out.
  • Diffusers – Acoustic diffusers handle echoes and reflections. Diffusers are created to kill echoes by scattering the sound waves.

Cables

Last but definitely not least, cables are an essential part of any recording studio. Having quality cables is paramount, and we’re not just talking about audio cables either.

Whether it’s an XLR, a TRC, or an HDMI for your display, it is a nuisance when cables stop working for whatever reason, and, trust us – it happens more often than you’d like. Any studio, especially a home studio setup, should have a set of backup cables for the monitors, the microphone, and the MIDI packed somewhere, just in case.

You should also treat your cables properly, pack them safely so you don’t tear them, and put them somewhere where you won’t step on them. If you have extra cash, investing in quality cables is also a worthwhile purchase – they won’t make as much of a difference as a quality DAW or audio interface, but don’t underestimate the impact they can have on the sound!

Final Words

The most beautiful thing about a DIY studio is that it is your own little audio haven. There is nobody you’ll have to explain to what you want from your recording: you simply do it yourself. You have all the necessary tools to learn and do whatever you wish to do, and your time in the studio is not limited unless you set a limit yourself.

FAQ

How much does a home recording studio cost?

It depends on the equipment you wish to buy and when you want to buy it. It is generally an ongoing investment, as you will continuously get new gear as the technology evolves, or you have more cash to spend on higher-quality components.

What do I need to set up a recording studio at home?

The essential recording equipment for beginners would be a desktop/laptop, an audio interface, a microphone, a DAW, and some studio monitors. These are the “can’t-do-without” tools to get you started.

Can you run a recording studio at home?

Yes, you can. From this guide, you can see how to set up a home recording studio on your own and discover what you might need further down the road.

Is owning a recording studio profitable?

Studio rates vary a lot, and you’ll have to adjust the pricing depending on the type of service your studio is offering, how well-known you are, and how good you are at your job. It can be a rough start, but with time and effort, it’s a fulfilling and profitable profession, to be sure.

How do I turn my room into a recording studio?

It’s pretty easy to turn a room into a home recording studio. You need to treat the acoustics in the room properly and position all your devices so that you don’t kill the sound in the room but isolate it to that room alone. Once that is done and you have your gear – congratulations! You have your own studio ready to go.

An eye for aesthetics and a passion for writing and technology are both parts of Dusan’s essence. He is a curious spirit with an appreciation for a well-written story and pop and indie-folk music, undying love for cats and deep knowledge of Taylor Swift’s lyrics. He discovered his passion for writing at a young age. Dusan’s creativity has been unlimited ever since, prompting him to compose various pieces one word at a time.

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