SOUND ADVICE: A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO HOME RECORDING EQUIPMENT

The Essentials

Recording may seem like the greatest roadblock to releasing music. It’s the cost of hiring out a studio, the finding and then paying of a producer, and the time constraints that these two elements entail that can the make the process quite intimidating, let alone financially draining. Yet in 2017, all of the above can be bypassed with a home studio setup. And with an entire industry catered towards developing quality, affordable equipment for home use, it’s merely a matter of investing in the basic essentials.

COMPUTER

When building a digital-based home recording studio your computer is the foundational piece – the platform from which everything else will connect and function. The most important component of which is speed; the speed to handle large-scale projects; the speed to utilise software and an audio interface; the speed to ensure that you’re not worrying about lag or waiting on your computer to catch up in the middle of a recording.

 

If you are looking to invest in a computer for you home recording studio here’s what you need to know.

 

Desktop vs. Laptop

The larger housing of a desktop computer can allow for greater processing power, which means you’re getting faster speeds and extended storage. Desktop computers often have space for more inputs and outputs than laptops, which allows for a more sophisticated setup without engaging extra hubs or external ports, while the extra room also opens the door for significant customisation when it comes to RAM, hard drives and video cards.

 

AUDIO INTERFACE

Your audio interface is the connecting piece of equipment that bridges the space between sound making gear and recording, editing and mixing software. As a routing box it’s where you plug in microphones, speakers and headphones.

 

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface & the AKAI EIE Pro 24-bit Audio Interface Expander

 

When choosing an audio interface it’s important to take the following points into account.

 

Number of Mic Preamps

The number of preamps dictates the number of microphones you can record with at once. For vocals there’s a chance that you will only need a single preamp. To record drums or multiple instruments at the same time at least four preamps will be a likely requirement.

 

Speaker Outputs

Whether it’s XLR, 1/4” or RCA, it’s important to ensure your interface and the outputs of your speaker match.

 

Headphone Jack

This is needed to connect headphones into your audio interface, and allows you to listen for the finer details while recording.

 

Microphones

When your home recording studio is in its infacy having one or two mics should cover all of the bases. Choosing the right mic for you comes down to the instrument that you’re planning to record. 

 

In general terms condenser mics are best suited to high frequency instruments such as acoustic guitar, cymbals and piano. While dynamic mics work well with high frequency instruments such as drums and electric guitar.

 

When looking for versatility and quality across the board a large-diaphragm, cardioid condenser mic is your best bet. It’s ability to pick up low frequencies, to concentrate only on the noise in front of it, and its capacity to capture high frequencies make it an all-rounder.

 

Audio-Technica AT2020

 

For electric guitar, however, the best mic to start with is a Shure SM57, which has a great reputation for recording guitar amps.

 

Shure SM57

 

STUDIO MONITORS

 

Studio monitors are necessary to play back and mix your recordings. These are designed specifically for listening to recorded music, with a flatter response that doesn’t too greatly enhance and extend the frequencies of your track – an important feature when attempting to make objective decisions about your mix.

 

Adam Audio A7X & Audioengine A5+ Studio Monitors

 

While you can use headphones for this aspect of home recording, studio speakers provide a much better sonic overview with which to mix your music.

 

Active vs. Passive

Active studio monitors have an in-built speaker, while passive studio monitors need a separate power amp to work. When it comes to starting your home recording studio, the less equipment the better.

 

Nearfield vs. Mid/Far-field

Near-field studio monitors are suited to close quarters, such as a home studio. Mid-field and far-field monitors, on the other hand, are built to be a greater distance from your ears, and therefore require extra space to function.

 

HEADPHONES

Along with your studio monitors, studio headphones are the gateway to listening back and working on your recordings. And in a home studio environment, provide the opportunity to work at all times of day and night, without causing a neighbour-angering racket.

 

Closed-back vs. Open-back

Closed-back headphones offer enhanced isolation while sacrificing some sound quality – perfect for tracking. The opposite goes for open-back headphones, which provide increased sound quality and lesser isolation.

 

Open-back vs. Closed-back Headphones

 

It’s a worthwhile luxury to have both, but if you can only choose one, the greater isolation that comes with a pair closed-back headphones is the way to go.

 

DAW SOFTWARE

The digital audio workstation is the software that will bring your home recording studio to life. The all-in-one tool will allow you to record, play back, mix and master your recordings all the way through to their completion.

 

Ableton Live 9 Suite

 

This comes down to personal choice, but here are a few of the most popular DAW’s on the market:

 

Pro Tools – exceptional audio editing features and is great for mixing.

Logic – comes with a gigantic library of sounds and plugins and is user-friendly, but is only compatible with a Mac.

Ableton Live – perfect for electronic producers looking to use loops and sampling.

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