Building a home studio can be frustrating and daunting, however, with basic knowledge about the essential studio gear, it could turn out to be a simple and satisfying experience.
Don’t be too overwhelmed with fancy analog synthesizers and drum machines, advanced MIDI controllers and digital mixers, sound modules and audio compressors…
No, you do not need tons of equipment and a fortress of gear, you do not need months of planning and hours of studies, you do not need to be a geek nor does it require a fortune to spend. All you need is a basic set of essential and affordable software and hardware to start producing music at home.
Don’t be surprised if i tell you that you can still make music if you simply have a computer or laptop with no extra gear. However, to be able to record and produce semi-professionally at home, you need to have an essential Digital Audio Workstation.
DAW does not only represent the software you use for audio production and recording such as Ableton Live.. It means everything that constitutes the workstation. An optimal DAW setup includes a powerful computer, software and sample libraries, plugins, an audio interface, a microphone, accessories, cables, studio monitors, acoustic panels, and a MIDI keyboard controller
Does it mean you need them all? Let’s dive deeper into each one..
Making music digitally requires a computer, be it a laptop or a desktop, it does not really matter as long as it does the job.
The computer is the most important and essential brain in the digital audio workstation as everything is going to end up being processed by it.
“What Specs should i be looking for?”
this is surely one of the main 2 questions that popped to your mind at this point. Well, don’t be surprised if i tell you that you do not need a super powerful workstation with multi-core processors and endless memory.
Most modern computers are already fast enough to do the job. However, you need to understand that some might be limited to what you can do with your audio production. The faster and the more powerful a computer is, the more processes it can handle, and therefore the more sophisticated you can go with your track.
At the time this blog was written, i can say that the least computer general Specs you can go for are Core i5, 8GB RAM, and 256GB SSD Hard Drive. For more details on building a computer you can always contact Per-vurt Store and we will be glad to build one for you →
The second question you might have in mind at this point is whether you should use a MAC or a Windows PC! Well, this is one endless discussion, however i can simply say that there is a misconception about this whole dilemma. A Windows PC can be much faster and more reliable than a MAC, and vice versa. It all depends on your computer’s specifications, and whether you are using original software and up-to-date operating system, and on top of all, whether you are using your resources in a wise and manageable way.
To sum it up, the computer’s central processor unit or CPU along with the motherboard and other components will affect the overall music production and recording process and depending on the power and the resources available, you can allocate jobs to be executed, especially ones that have to do with the audio interface.
2. AUDIO INTERFACE
You might not be familiar with what an Audio Interface (or Soundcard) does exactly, or it might be the first time you hear about it, however i am sure you already own more than one and you are not aware of it.
Well, you have one inside your mobile phone, and one inside your computer or laptop, and even one inside your Playstation console.
The Audio Interface is mainly a converter, a translator of signal. Let me explain something that is important for you to know.
There are 2 types of signals i want to address at this point: The Analog and The Digital signals. Analog is an electrical signal, one that travels via an analog cable such as an AUX or XLR cable. (for more on cables please check this blog post →) while the Digital Signal is one that represents Data, it is the main language of the computer world.
Computers and digital devices do not understand the Analog Signal, and Analog devices do not understand the digital signal. Therefore, a translator should come into place to convert the signal from A/D or from D/A, and this is the main job of the Audio Interface.
The audio interface can also help reduce the latency and avoid audio drop outs. These are the main 2 problems any producer can face.
The microphone is a transducer, it converts the sound into an electrical signal. However, this signal can only gets into the computer world after being converted to digital. On another hand, the sound that is being processed or designed inside the music production software, can only be heard if it is converted into an analog signal, since the speaker or headphone will only be able to receive this type of signal.
The modern Audio Interface is also a Pre-Amp. It provides phantom power for the condenser microphone to function and it can control the input gain level of the signal prior to the actual conversion. It also acts as an input/output mixer providing analog inputs and outputs to connect to the external world such as speakers and headphones, instruments, or even a dj mixer.
Some Audio Interfaces do have a MIDI converter as well, providing a MIDI in and out port that can input and output MIDI information from and to the computer. This is useful when one needs to connect a MIDI Keyboard (that has no USB connection) and control different aspects of the software, or have the software send out MIDI information (such as note sequences and clock) to trigger external sound modules (such as analog synthesizers or drum machines) or sync outboard gear together.
I have written a special blog post explaining more about what an audio interface is, how to choose the best one to fit your needs, and what to understand about the different options related to these converters. Read more about it here →
You can check our shop for the different Audio Interfaces we sell here →
3. FLAT STUDIO MONITORS
Studio Monitors are the reflectors of the sounds that you are producing, editing, or recording inside your digital audio workstation.
The better the studio monitors are, the more honest the sound will be, and therefore, the more accurate the decisions you will make in sound design, mixing, mastering, and recording.
Why not use a pair of headphones? Well, headphones do not give the dimension needed for the producer to work within, and can also cause ear fatigue.
Studio monitors come in different shapes and sizes, they range from 3inch to 10 inch. The bigger the woofer, the more frequencies it can respond to. For example, 4inch speakers tend to respond to frequencies above 70Hz, this means a lot of the bass frequencies will not be projected.
Choosing which one you get depends on the size of the room and other factors related to the room acoustics, but in general, 5 to 8 inch monitors can be your best pick.
The placement of the studio monitors is very important. if they are misplaced, they can cause phase issues, and this will result in a sound that is modified, altered, or colored. A partial cancellation or reinforcement might occur before the sound reaches your ears, and therefore, wrong decisions will be made in the music production process.
Studio monitors will be linked directly to the audio interface’s output, and they will respond to the electrical signal generated by the interface’s converter.
If you are wondering why they are called Flat, i have written a complete blog post about this and you can read it here →
You can check our store for the different Studio Monitors we sell →
4. MIDI CONTROLLER
MIDI Controllers come in different shapes, forms, categories, and sizes. They facilitate the workflow and make it faster and more intuitive. These controllers often replace the computer mouse and keyboard.
The main 2 types of MIDI controllers are Keyboards (to play notes and chords) and Pad Controllers (to trigger drum hits). Other types can include knobs, buttons, and faders.. These can control different parameters inside the digital audio application.
A MIDI controller only sends out a message to the software commanding it to trigger a certain function or to control some parameters such as moving the volume fader, or adjusting the reverb effect, or even launching clips and triggering record functions. These parameters can be recorded directly using your hands rather than drawing envelops inside the software using the mouse.
They do not generate sound by themselves, and they have nothing to do with the actual audio processing. They are merely commanders!
Even though they can be beneficial, they are not however imperative. Yes, you can work without them but the questions remain, do you want a more hand-on and a more intuitive approach?
I have written a complete blog post about MIDI and MIDI Controllers which you can read here →
You can also check our store for all the MIDI controllers we sell here →
5. MICROPHONES & ACCESSORIES
Only when you are interested in recording vocal, acoustic instruments, or even an object, will you find yourself in need of a microphone and its related accessories.
There are mainly 2 types of microphones: Condenser and Dynamic.
Condenser is more sensitive and tends to capture a wider range of frequencies, whereas Dynamic is less sensitive and tends to focus more on the sound source that is close to it. This one can be a good choice in noisy environments.
Choosing the most convenient microphone depends on the acoustic environment you are recording in and other factors. I have written a complete guide to microphones on a blog post you can read here →
The condenser microphone needs to be mounted on a stand, and preferably sit on a shock mount that can absorb all the shocks coming from the ground, stand, and from reflections. It is also essential to use a pop filter that will filter those plosive sounds out of your vocal or instrument. It is also a good idea to use a sound shield that protects the microphone from reflections and gives it the maximum isolation from room sound as well as giving the direct sound a natural diffusion. A great one is our sE Electronics RF-X →
You can check our microphones and recording accessories at our store page here →
6. SOFTWARE & PLUGINS
The Digital Audio Workstation’s mastermind is the software used for audio production and recording. Ableton Live is by far the world’s best one for electronic music production and performance, not only because we are the exclusive representatives of Ableton in Lebanon, but it is truly a one of a kind application.
You need to have the software always up to date and therefor have all the packs and native devices updated.
The Plugins are third party virtual instruments and digital devices that can be plugged into the software, giving you more capabilities in sound design, mixing and mastering … Soft Synth Plugins can replace analog synthesizer to a certain extent. Yes, this is why i did not mention that analog synthesizers and sound modules are essential in a home studio as they tend to be very expensive
Our favorite plugins are Spectrasonics Omnisphere and Arturia V Collection. You can check all our plugins and software at our store page here →
Sample Libraries are also essential to have. These can be loops or single shot samples, or sampled libraries that run under players such as Kontakt
7. ACOUSTIC TREATMENT
One must differentiate between the room isolation (or sound proofing) and acoustic treatment from inside the room.
Room isolation or soundproofing is done when a new isolated room is built inside the main room. I don’t mean a separate room, however the isolated room is going to be boxed inside the main room preventing the sound from vibrating outside the room and the external sound to reach the inside of the room.
This is rarely applied at home as it costs a lot and it is not feasible since the music production or recording process done at home is not necessarily the final one.
For example, one can record a vocal at home, but it doesn’t hurt to record the final version of the vocal in a professional studio. This is much less costly than building a personal super professional recording studio that not only requires isolation and acoustic treatment but also massive expensive gear.
Acoustic treatment inside the room is essential in most cases. This is when absorption panels and bass traps are installed to avoid reflections, resonance, and frequency saturation.
Without room acoustic treatment, the direct sound coming out of the studio monitors will be altered and modified, therefore the music producer will not be listening to the real sound being produced, designed, recorded, mixed, and mastered. Decisions made in such environment are wrong.
For example, you might be hearing too much bass, then you decide to lower the bass. However, when you listen to the track in a club you might realize that the track lacks too much bass!
You can check out our acoustic panels on our store page here →
TO SUM UP
Building a home studio is not very complicated and not too expensive only when one understands the different home studio set-ups and the basic essential gear.
- A computer is the main brain of the studio, be it a laptop or a desktop, running MAC or PC.. It has to be powerful enough to handle audio production and recording.
- The Audio Interface is one of the most essential units in any studio set-ups. It converts the signal from analog to digital and vice versa. It also processes the sound, and it has a Pre-Amp. It is a requisite to solve latency and audio drop out issues.
- Flat Studio Monitors respond well to the frequencies without coloring the sound, They are honest and not colorful. When perfectly placed, they can reflect exactly what the producer is composing.
- MIDI Controllers come in different styles and shapes. They can play notes, trigger drum samples, launch clips, and control different software parameters. They facilitate the workflow and give a more intuitive experience. They do not generate sound by themselves, however they only command the software to do what you want it to do.
- Microphones are only necessary in case one wants to record vocal or acoustic instruments. The condenser microphone is very sensitive and captures more frequencies, whereas the dynamic microphone is less sensitive and best used in noisy environment. Recording accessories are very crucial for they allow a better sounding recordings.
- Software and VST Plugins along with Sample Libraries are the main tools needed in any DAW for without them you cannot make music digitally. Ableton Live is by far the top electronic music production software.
- Acoustic Treatment is essential to minimize reflections in the room that can negatively alter the sound and color it. Absorption Panels are to be placed in areas of reflections so that the direct sound coming out of the studio monitors wont be interfered by sound waves bouncing off the walls and other surfaces.