Guide to Assembling A Home Recording Setup (Under $1000)
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Now is the perfect time to start recording music as an independent musician. We are currently at the point where home recording is more accessible and affordable than ever before. Also, with the way the world is right now, you may be finding yourself with an excess amount of free time. But regardless of your situation now is a great time to start recording.
This list is comprised of most of the costs that you will run into when building out your setup. I have chosen to make the expenses here come in at just under a grand. This is the budget range that I think gets you the most bang for your buck with each piece of the setup. You can definitely build a studio setup cheaper than this, but as always, you get what you pay for.
One major omission in this $1000 budget would be the computer to run it all. I choose to leave this out because I am assuming that most people are going to have something that will work. You don’t need to have a really nice computer/laptop to be able to handle audio production. But if you are lacking one entirely, you will need to figure that part out on your own. As for the actual studio equipment, read on.
An audio interface is going to be a very important part of most people’s home studios. Basically, this is the part of your setup that handles the conversion of analog to digital signals and vice versa (ADC/DAC).
Most interfaces will come with a variety of inputs and outputs that you can use for connecting mics and hooking up monitors. Oftentimes you will see that manufacturers will usually make models based around how many ins and outs are available. If you are someone just starting out, you will likely not need more than a couple inputs at once.
There are a lot of features that you can look for in interfaces. But for those sticking to a budget, you’ll want to primarily be focused with getting the best sound quality for the cost.
Recommendation: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 - $159.00
The Scarlett line of interfaces are known for being some of the best value on the market. With this one you get two mic or ¼ inputs, phantom power, and great built-in preamps. This unit is very simple, but that is definitely not a bad thing for the begging home recordist. Also, if you did need more inputs/outputs the Scarlett line still has options for you.
Alternative: MOTU M2 2x2 - $169.95
If you plan on recording anything in the real world, you’ll be needing a mic of some kind. Professional studios are known for having massive collections of different mics to choose from. And this makes sense considering that certain kinds of mics sound better on different voices/instruments. But for most of us spending thousands on just mics is not realistic nor necessary. The truth is, having one really solid mic can handle the work of most home recording scenarios.
Recommendation: Rode NT1-A - $229.00
The NT1-A is one of the absolute best values out there. It punches way above its price point, giving you comparable sound quality of mics 3-4 times its cost. The NT1-A will sound particularly great on vocals, but it has a lot of other uses as well. While there are other options at this price point, I think this is the best recommendation for most people just starting to fill their locker.
Alternative: Shure SM-57 - $89.00
If you have never been acquainted with the world of audio production/mixing/mastering, then you may not be aware of reference monitors. Monitors are not your typical speakers. Instead of coloring the sound to make things sound better, they attempt to give you as flat of a response as possible. This makes it so you can actually hear what your mix or song is sounding like.
I actually recommend you put a little bit more money towards your monitors that you were probably planning on. I know that they are not as flashy as some other audio production tools, but they really make a big difference. While you can definitely make good sounding music on anything, great monitors will make it a lot easier.
Recommendation: KRK ROKIT 5 G4 - $358.00 (pair)
If you have seen many home studios, you likely will have run across those speakers with the yellow cones. KRK ROKIT series is as distinguishable as it is popular. And this popularity is with good reason. These are quite simply some of the best performing monitors at their price. If you want to really hear your mixes, these will help you immensely.
Alternative: Kali Audio LP-6 - $300.00 (pair)
Picking up a good set of headphones is always a good idea for someone who records at home. The primary uses for these would be to wear while tracking and for referencing. The reason you’ll want to wear headphones while tracking is to avoid picking up the sound of the click or song coming out of your monitors.
Also, while I don’t recommend mixing solely on headphones, having a pair that you know the sound of is great for referencing a mix.
You don’t have to spend a lot to get a decent pair of professional headphones. Just ensure that you are getting something that is known to be good for the studio.
Recommendation: AKG K240 - $69.00
I love recommending K240s for those on a budget. They are cheap, but they sound great for the price and for most people are going to fit perfectly in a setup. Their semi-open back design is perfect for those who plan to track guitars or anything that you want to hear a little bit of the room sound for. And for mixing these can act as a great headphone reference when paired with a good set of monitors.
Alternative: Audio-Technica ATH-M40x - $99.00
Not everyone is going to need a MIDI controller. Yet most people in a home recording environment do find them to be quite useful. Furthermore, if you intend to be creating and recording all “in the box”, a MIDI controller is going to be essential.
Recommendation: Novation Launchkey 37 Mk3 - $179.99
While there is a wide array of features you may want in a MIDI controller, the Launchkey 37 is a really nice all-around unit. 37 keys are going to be enough for most people and the combination of pads and knobs on this make it versatile for different workflows. Now, while the keys are not amazing you would have to spend quite a bit more to get anything significantly nicer. Overall, this is a great MIDI workstation.
Alternative: Nektar Impact LX25+ - $109.99
You will likely become rather acquainted with whatever Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) you choose to work in. This is the software that will act as your command center for everything you record and mix.
Most DAWs nowadays are pretty great and you can probably get comfortable in any one you wish. However, all DAWs have varying workflows and functionalities that may lend themselves to one genre or artist over another. So, I recommend doing you research to see what looks to be best for your situation.
The last thing I’ll say about DAWs for those of you on a budget is you don’t need to be spending money on one. There are a few really solid free DAWs out there for both MAC and PC users alike. And oftentimes if you buy your interface new, it is likely to come with one. Thus, don’t feel like you need to be shelling out for a subscription to Pro Tools.
Recommendation: Studio One Prime - FREE
Alternative: Cakewalk by BandLab - FREE
Plug-ins can be like candy for those that work in music. They look supper cool and are always going to be cheaper than paying for the hardware version. However, when on a budget I would recommend staying away from paid plug-ins. Just like DAWs there are really great free options that exist. In fact, your DAW will likely have good built-in ones to start with.
One exception to going the free route would be for those in need of drum software or other virtual instruments. This is one case in which spending some money initially on software makes sense.
Recommendation: Anything that’s free
Okay I shouldn’t say anything that’s free. There are definitely some bad sounding plug-ins. But with a little research you should be able to find a good free version of whatever you are looking for.
Hopefully you can see that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get a really great home studio setup. Actually, you can even go cheaper than most of the above recommendations, though your ending sound quality may vary. Really, the majority of getting good recordings has to do with practice, not the gear you have to work with. Spending more time on the recording process and mixing will show far more results than upgrading your gear (99.999% of the time). But you always want to make sure you are getting the best gear you can afford, just make your journey a bit easier. I hope you now have a better idea of what gear is right for you and are on your way to making some amazing music.