How To Build a Home Recording Studio On a Budget?
Now is a great time to get involved in home recording. Today’s digital technology allows you to achieve high quality results even on the smallest of budgets. The best option for a home studio on a budget is to use a computer based digital audio workstation (DAW). If you already own a relatively new computer with a relatively fast processor, at least 8 gigs of RAM, and a fast solid state hard drive or 7200 RPM traditional drive, you have enough power on hand for a budget home DAW studio. If you don’t have a solid state hard drive, don’t worry. They are affordable and easy to install. Most come with software that will copy your existing hard drive straight to your new drive.
Interface and DAW Software
I’m pairing these two together because most starter level interfaces come with DAW software. Make sure to weigh the features of the interface and the DAW software together before making a purchase. Let’s start with the interface. It is the center hub of your studio. Mics and instruments go in, audio goes out to the computer, and sound comes back to you via the headphone output jack or monitor out jacks. Most every major manufacturer makes two channel interfaces in the $99 to $149 range. I highly recommend at least two channels. A two channel interface will allow you to record almost any instrument with perhaps the exception of live drums. I personally like the Presonus Audiobox USB 96. For $99 you get 2 mic pre/line inputs, phantom power, monitor outs, headphone outs, and MIDI in and out, which will is essential for programming and using virtual instruments. There are also models available from M Audio, Focusrite, and numerous other manufacturers.
Your interface should come bundled with some sort of DAW software. Each DAW program will have recording and editing capability, MIDI programming and recording options, as well as plug-ins including EQs, compression, reverbs, delays, and virtual instruments. Each DAW will have its pros and cons. Each will also be a limited version of the company’s full program, with limited tracks, limited plug-ins, and fewer features than the full version. The software will, however, provide you with all the essentials you need to produce great sounding recordings. The Presonus Audiobox USB 96 mentioned earlier, comes bundled with Studio One Artist, which is a great DAW. It comes with plenty of plug-ins to get you going and is intuitive for beginners to use. Other bundled DAWs include Pro Tools Free, Abelton, Cubase, and numerous others. Each person’s needs are different; so carefully research the pros and cons of the bundled software and take them into account when purchasing an interface.
What type of microphone(s) you choose depends on your particular needs and budget. Start by asking yourself a few questions. Will you be recording vocals, acoustic guitars, and/or electric guitar amps? Also, do you live in a noisy neighborhood?
If you live in a noisy neighborhood, a condenser microphone may prove difficult. They pick up everything, including street noise and the neighbors’ footsteps upstairs. Sometimes a dynamic mic will work better in this situation. If you’re recording guitar amps, I recommend the Shure SM57. This is the ultimate Swiss Army microphone. It’s great for guitar amps, snares, toms, vocals, and can handle other instruments in a pinch. The SM57 was the vocal mic of choice for artists such as Tom Petty and was the vocal mic used on one of the biggest hits of recent memory, Uptown Funk. If you’re just recording vocals, a Shure SM58 might be a better choice, but both are great investments. No matter where you go or what you do, you will always have a use for both of these microphones. At around $99 each, they are the ultimate in bang for the buck.
If you are looking for pristine vocals, recording acoustic guitar, or recording live piano, a condenser microphone is a better choice. For condensers, there are several affordable options. A cardioid condenser is all you need, as multiple pattern mics aren’t particularly useful in less than ideal room environments. Good choices in the $99 to $150 range include the Studio Projects B1, SE Electronics X1A and X1S, and Audio Technical AT2035. Keep in mind, that affordable condenser mics often have a bump in the high frequencies and if you’re not careful, can give you a brittle or harsh sound on some sources. You can work around this if you use your ears, play with mic positioning, and listen as you are recording. If you have more to spend, you certainly won’t regret purchasing a higher end microphone, but the choices above are good starting points and can certainly yield good results on a budget. Most budget condensers come with a shock mount and cable.
You will definitely need a good set of headphones. I prefer closed back or semi-closed back designs because they minimize leakage to your microphones. Some good budget choices, ranging from $39 to $69 include AKG K72 Closed-Back Stereo Headphones, Audio-Technica ATH-M20X Closed Back Monitoring Headphones, Shure SRH240A Headphones, and AKG K240 Studio Semi-Open Pro Studio Headphones. If you can, try them on before you buy. You will be wearing them for hours on end so choose a pair that sounds good and is comfortable to wear.
Headphones are ideal for recording but not for mixing. Getting started, you can live without studio monitors, but at some point you will require them. Flat studio monitors allow you to hear the sound as it really is, resulting in more effective mixes. A few affordable monitors, ranging from $99 to $129 each include Alesis M1 Active MK3 5″ Powered Studio Monitors, PreSonus Eris E5 5″ Powered Studio Monitors, JBL LSR305 5″ Powered Studio Monitors, and KRK Rokit 5” Powered Studio Monitors.
You will also need a pop filter and a boom microphone stand for easier positioning of your microphones. If you’re recording guitar or other instruments, invest in a quality tuner. Although your interface will allow you to record direct, a direct box is also a good investment. Also, invest in extra XLR and ¼” cables.
You will most likely be recording in a less than ideal room—one which makes it difficult to get optimal results. Fortunately, there are many ways in which you can improve the sound and frequency response of your room on a budget. Do a little research and you will find lots of budget friendly ways to improve your room.
Hopefully, this article has given you some things to consider when building a home studio on a budget. The suggestions above will get you going, give you the tools needed to learn the art and science of recording, and most importantly, give you the tools to achieve quality results on a small budget.
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