In the last article we looked at some techniques that you can use to treat the acoustics in your home studio. In this issue we will take a look at the equipment essentials needed to create a cheap yet effective home studio. With the availability of affordable digital devices and Audio Production Software Packages setting up a home studio is becoming more affordable to the home engineer. So what are the essentials that you will need?
Well first things first; a dedicated audio computer. By this I mean try and keep the computer as free from unnecessary applications as possible and preferably keep it off the internet to prevent viruses.
The main requirements for the computer would be a minimum of 4 GB of RAM and a decent processor (at least an i5), of course the more RAM and processing power you have the better your system will perform and the more intensive sessions it will be able to run.
There is an on-going debate as to whether it is preferable to run a Windows based computer or an Apple Mac; most software packages will run on both platforms but Windows generally does require driver instillation. If it comes down to budget however, you can often set up a Windows based PC for less money overall. It is generally accepted that Mac is the industry standard, but for a home engineer this is less important.
At the end of the day I believe your choice of Mac or PC is down to personal preference.
The second essential is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). This is a software package that allows you to record, sequence, arrange, edit and mix audio and MIDI information. There are many different DAW packages out there and most are very effective, your choice will come down to both preference and budget. If you can I would recommend getting the industry standard DAW, Pro Tools.
In order to record any audio into your DAW you will need an audio interface. This is an external sound card. The interface handles the analogue to digital conversion of the audio and inputs it into your DAW via either a USB or Firewire cable. The interface will usually have at least one microphone pre-amp, a couple of line inputs and an analogue output either for monitor speakers or headphones.
There are again a vast array of different types of audio interfaces out there with varying amounts of inputs and outputs. Again your choice will probably come down to budget, but read reviews such as that found in Muse Magazine to make the best choice for your budget. Some of these interfaces include a MIDI input although most MIDI devices are now using USB as their transfer protocol.
As we are talking about MIDI, I would also suggest getting yourself a MIDI controller. Most DAW’s will have virtual instruments that allow you to compose electronic based music and a MIDI controller will allow you to trigger these virtual software based instruments.
One of the most important pieces of equipment required for a home studio is, of course, a decent microphone. It is worth spending a bit more money on a decent condenser mic that you can use on multiple different instruments and voices. Of course it would be ideal to have a few different mics to choose from, but again budget will be the limiting factor here. I would also advise buying a pop filter to control any vocal plosives.
The last essential element to consider is a set of monitor speakers or headphones. This is an area where the more you have to spend the better. When monitoring audio in your studio you want monitors that deliver the sound EXACTLY as it was recorded without changing the tone or “colouring” the sound. The job of the monitors is to present the sound to your ears as accurately as possible so that you can make critical choices about tone and processing.
These are six of the basics required for a home studio setup. There are of course many variants of the above setup and many more great pieces of gear that you can add to your studio as you go.
The best advice I can give you is to research as many different types of gear to make sure that you make the best choice in your price range. There are loads of on line resources and forums where you can gain valuable insight into available gear as well as, of course, Muse Magazine.