Getting a professional sound from home recording gear has never been easier thanks to the range of cost effective, good quality equipment and digital recording devices on the market today. With a little time and research you can put together a great setup without breaking the bank.
Depending on your budget, the music you intend on making, whether you are recording solo or with a band and other more general audiophile preferences your equipment can vary hugely. This post is meant simply as a general overview to ground you in the basics of home recording and give a couple of suggestions of quality gear to get you going.
With that in mind I have tried to keep the suggestions relatively cheap to fit into anyone’s budget. Another reason to start cheap is that you can have all the best kit in the world but without knowing how to get the best out of it it’s pretty much useless to you. So while learning the subtleties of recording it can be good to start cheap and then upscale once your clearer on the finer points and what sound you actually want.
Computer: Your computer will be at the centre of your setup. Most modern computers, ie. those built and bought in the past 3 to 4 years, should be fine with handling the relevant software. A laptop can also be sufficient though a notebook won’t be up to the task.
Check your computer’s sound card and make sure it’s of good quality, though a good audio interface (we’ll get to that in a minute) takes a lot of the strain off and is highly recommended if you’re serious about your recordings anyway.
Then you will need Digital Audio Workshop (DAW) software, which is sometimes referred to as sequencing software. This is basically for mixing your music on your computer as well as adding effects and some digital instruments. There’s plenty to choose from, Avid Pro Tools is probably the most famous, Garageband is a good one for MAC users while Reaper is a solid, affordable option.
Audio Interface: This is sometimes called a breakout box. Basically you hook your mics in one end and connect the other to your computer so that this little box can convert analog to digital before entering your mixing software.
They come with individual mic pre-amps where you can change and regulate the recording level of each mic before going into the interface. The most basic ones come with two mic inputs, if you need more than this it will cost a bit more.
A good starter is the MBox2 Mini which comes with the latest version of ProTools, while the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a nice, easy to use option.
Microphone and Cables: Your microphone is hugely important so be willing to put between $100-$200 dollars into it to get a good quality one. What you intend on recording has a bearing on what type of microphones you get and of course you may need more than one if you depending on how many instruments you may be recording.
Condenser mics are ideal for acoustic instruments and vocals, while you may consider investing in a pop filter to help get cleaner vocals. The CAD M179 and AKG Perception 220 are both versatile and affordable condenser mic options.
If you plan on recording a louder band setup investing in some dynamic mics could be a good idea. Good value ones to get you started are the Shure SM57 or Shure Beta 58A and the Sennheiser E602.
Obviously you’re going to need cables to hook everything up. Which ones you need again change depending on what you want to record, for example you’ll probably need XLR cables for your vocals and ¼” TS cables for your guitars. Luckily they are usually pretty cheap and if you’re really not sure what goes with what just ask at your local music store.
Headphones and Monitor Speakers: A decent pair of headphones are essential to recording. They are great for overdubbing but monitor speakers are much better when it comes to actually mixing. If your budget can’t spring for monitor speakers headphones will do the trick for the moment though your mixes may not turn out the way you want as a result. The Sony MDR-7506 or MDR-V6 and the Sennheiser HD-280 Pro are all good options for about $100 or less.
A decent pair of monitor speakers are different from regular stereo or computer speakers as they provide a more accurate representation of the true acoustic balance of the mix without any colouring typical to regular stereos. Be willing to set aside between $300 and $500 to get a genuinely accurate pair of monitor speakers when starting off. Solid buys in this price range include the Yamaha HS80M speakers, the Samson Resolve 65 monitors and the M-Audio EX66 monitors.
There is so much more you could add to this setup that may even be essential to the type of music you want to make from keyboard synths to electric drums, MIDI controllers, turntables and much more. Still, for covering the basics this is the best way to start.
Before you record anything you should take some time to get comfortable with whatever DAW software you have invested in. The more familiar you are with the layout of your system the more proficient you will be when it comes to mixing and the better your recordings will sound. Once you’ve done that plug everything in, hook it all up and start recording!
So what about you? What's your ideal home recording setup? Let us know in the comments below!