A basic home studio for recording and mixing only needs five components: a computer, DAW software, an audio interface, microphones and studio monitors. Here is our guide to a few of the best products in each of these categories, including affordable options for students and beginners.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software lets you record, edit and mix audio files like songs, film soundtracks or even speeches and podcasts. Here are three of the most well-known DAW products.
Avid Pro Tools 12
Avid Pro Tools 12 includes a huge numbers of virtual instruments, strong processing power and multiple effects, so you can easily produce big, rich sounding and complex mixes. Plus, with the Avid Video Engine, you can play and edit HD video right in the Pro Tools timeline. This software can be expensive to purchase, but discounted 12 month subscriptions make it much more accessible for eligible students, teachers and educational institutions.
Presonus Studio One 3
PreSonus’ Studio One 3 Artist features a flow-oriented drag-and-drop interface which makes recording and mixing fast, easy and fun. With version 3, Studio One Artist introduces new virtual instruments, better ways to quickly find the right backing tracks, step sequencing for programming, a new interface with multi-touch support and context-sensitive documentation.
Ableton Live 9
Ableton Live 9 Suite lets you invent new ideas, make changes without stopping and capture everything as you work. Live’s Arrangement View is a familiar working space; but it also features Session View: a unique sketchpad for improvising, playing and performing without the constraints of the timeline. Almost everything in Live works in real-time, all without interrupting your creative flow. Looking for a simpler and more affordable option for a beginner? Ableton Live 9 also comes in an Intro Version.
Computer interfaces allow you to directly connect instruments to your computer. Because there are many different options, make sure you do your research to ensure that everything will be compatible with your equipment and goals. Here are three of our favorites.
Focusrite’s Scarlett series of compact audio interfaces are equipped with a single natural sounding Scarlett mic preamp, a newly designed instrument input and super-low latency. The interface simply plugs in with a single USB cable along with mic and instruments to begin recording studio quality audio. It is compatible with all major DAWs, on both Mac and PC.
The PreSonus AudioBox USB 2×2 recording system is a USB bus-powered audio recording interface featuring 2 microphone/instrument inputs with 48V phantom power, 2 balanced TRS outputs and MIDI in/out. The AudioBox USB is bundled with PreSonus Studio One DAW to also include 2 microphones with cables, headphones and recording software.
MOTU’s 896mk3 audio interface offers eight channels of pristine 24-bit 192 kHz analog recording and playback, combined with sixteen channels of optical digital I/O, stereo AES/EBU, S/PDIF and separate analog main outs. The 896mk3 is flexible, and is equally well-suited for studio and stage. It also works with or without a computer! As an interface or standalone mixer, the 896mk3 provides 28 separate inputs and 32 separate outputs, including dedicated main outs on XLRs and two front panel headphone outs.
Having the right microphones on-hand is essential to home recording success. Each style of music (and even each singer within a style) may require different features. Here are three very different microphones to consider for your studio.
The classic Shure SM57 is the “workhorse” microphone of stages and studios around the world. Its unidirectional dynamic microphone is exceptional for drum and instrument amp pickup, in addition to vocals. With its bright, clean sound and carefully contoured presence rise, the SM57 is ideal for live sound reinforcement and recording.
If you already have a dynamic microphone that you love, the next purchase for many home or professional studios is a condenser microphone. These microphones have an extended frequency response, which means they can record a voice or instrument with great detail, and capture a natural, warm sound. The AKG C414/XLS is a good choice due to its flexibility in the studio. It has Selectable polar patterns for the perfect setting for every application, three attenuation levels (-6/-12/-18dB) for close-up recording or high-output sources of up to 158dB SPL and three different switchable bass-cut filters to reduce wind noise, subsonic noise or proximity effect.
Sennheiser e 614
Will you be recording loud instruments like drums? The Sennheiser e 614 evolution Series Polarized Supercardioid Condenser Overhead Drum Microphone is designed for demanding instrument recordings and performances that require extended frequency response to handle loud sounds. The e 614 also works exceptionally well on percussion, fitting comfortably into tight setups.
Studio monitors allow you to listen to what you are recording, mixing and mastering, so making sure that you invest in powerful, accurate monitors is essential.
The JBL LSR30 is an affordable, compact reference monitor. The patent-pending design of the Image Control Waveguide precisely controls the sound emanating from the speaker in the vertical and horizontal planes, ensuring the presentation at the listening position is neutral and accurate. It uses two Class-D 56 Watt RMS amplifiers; one for low frequencies and the other for high frequencies.
The Yamaha HS8 is a 2-way bass-reflex bi-amplified nearfield studio monitor with an 8″ cone woofer and a 1″ dome tweeter in a Black finish. This monitor features 38 Hz – 30 kHz Frequency Response, Room Control and High Trim response controls, and XLR and TRS phone jack inputs that accept balanced or unbalanced signals.
The compact Focal CMS 50 has a 5” mid-woofer that reaches down to 55Hz, while offering a controlled bass and a totally linear midrange. The midrange register of the CMS 50 has unequalled neutrality in its price range. The Al-Mg inverted dome tweeter offers outstanding dynamics, and a degree of definition in the treble that allow precise measurement of reverb and other effects which are normally very difficult to hear and assess.