Over the past ten years of my professional audio career, I’ve had setups that ranged from a few hundred dollars, all the way to high end outboard equipment and even a tube console. So, what would I suggest to someone who is looking to get started with a home studio today? Let’s dig into it and build the ultimate home studio for somebody who is starting from scratch.
My criteria for this list is going to be affordability, practicality, and long term usefulness. For that reason, this isn’t the 100% most budget friendly studio, but all of this gear is from trusted brands and meets a threshold of quality that I feel comfortable recommending you spend your hard earned money on. So, let’s get started!
Before you buy anything else, you’re going to want to start with your interface. It’s a crucial piece of equipment that will allow you to convert the analog signal of your microphones and instruments into digital signal that you can record on your computer. It’s also what you’re going to use to plug in your studio speakers or headphones to listen back to your recordings. I’m going to offer up two options, a more expensive one which is the Universal Audio Apollo Twin, and the more affordable MOTU M2. Both of these are two channel interfaces, meaning they will allow you to record two tracks of audio at a time.
The MOTU is my favorite budget interface because of its preamps, which sound much better than they should at a $200 price point.
The Apollo Twin is my more expensive choice because it has great sounding preamps as well, plus it’s expandable via ADAT, meaning you can plug in an ADAT compatible preamp and add more channels to your interface. You can add up to 8 channels via ADAT, meaning you’ll be able to record 10 tracks of audio simultaneously. This upwards expandability makes it a great option for someone looking to get started, but with an eye toward the future. I currently use the 8 channel version of this interface, and it’s been a dependable piece of great sounding gear for years.
- Elite-class A/D and D/A conversion derived from Apollo X rackmount interfaces paired with 2 Unison mic preamps deliver stunning models of classic tube and transformer-based mic preamps and guitar amps
- 2 Unison mic preamps offer stunning models of classic tube and transformer-based mic preamps and guitar amps
- Runs UAD Powered Plug-Ins via VST, AU, and AAX 64 formats in all major DAWs including Logic Pro, Pro Tools, Cubase, Ableton Live, and more
So, you’ve got your interface covered, now we can talk microphones. For a startup home studio, I’m going to suggest one condenser microphone, and one dynamic. Starting with the dynamic, my first pick is going to be a super budget friendly choice, the Shure SM57. This is a super versatile mic that sounds great on a wide variety of sources. From snare drums to guitar cabinets and even vocals, the SM57 might be the best bang for your buck mic on the market. No matter how many mics you end up owning, the SM57 will work its way onto almost every production you do, which is why it’s a no brainer for this list.
For our condenser mic, we’re going with the Lauten Audio LA-220, which is a condenser mic that punches above its weight when it comes to price.
- TWO MICS IN ONE Choose between modern clarity and classic warmth at the flip of a switch.
- CUSTOM CAPSULE The LA-220 utilizes the same capsule as its larger tube sibling, the LA-320.
- CLASSIC SOUND WITHOUT THE SIGNAL CHAIN The LA-220 isn’t flat – it sounds like music. We believe every Lauten Audio microphone should stand on its own and make your life easier. Does the LA-220 sound great with a fancy signal chain? You bet! Does it need one to deliver powerful, present sound? Nope.
It offers a detailed sound that’s full of character and will make a great contrast to your SM57. It’s a great choice for recording vocals, acoustic instruments, and percussion like shakers.
These two mics should be able to cover a wide variety of sounds for smaller home studio style projects!
So, you’ve got some great sounding mics and an interface, but you’ll need a way to listen back to what you’ve been recording. You’ve got two options, headphones and studio monitors. Personally, I think your dollar goes a lot farther with headphones, plus you’ll want to have some acoustic treatment up in your room before you start working with monitors. For that reason, I’m going to suggest you grab a nice pair of headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro.
They’re good for mixing, tracking vocals, and even casual listening around the house, and the super plush ear cups make them comfortable for long listening sessions. Just make sure you grab the 80 ohm version, because you’ll need a headphone amp to power the 250 ohm version. If you want to go for some studio monitors right off the bat, the Yamaha HS5s strike the balance of great sound and a good value, but you can totally get started with just headphones and add monitors later.
4: MIDI Controller
The last big piece of hardware you’ll need is a MIDI controller. This will allow you to record all kinds of instruments via digital signal, controlling software instruments. You’re also able to correct mistakes and change sounds after recording, giving you a high level of flexibility. This opens up a whole world of possibilities that you wouldn’t have with a traditional keyboard. Since you’re not using built in sounds, to me, most MIDI keyboards are more or less interchangeable. I have a 49 key Arturia controller, but you can grab one that fits your desk and your budget.
You’ll need some various accessories like a pop filter, mic stands and mic cables, a couple instrument cables, but that covers all of the hardware. Now, let’s move on to software.
I’ve been a Pro Tools user for over a decade at this point, but I’m actually going to suggest three other options for someone just starting out. If your budget is already stretched by the hardware purchases, and you have a Mac, GarageBand is an extremely powerful free DAW that you can use to get started. It’s missing some features, but it includes some great software instruments and mixing plugins that can get you off the ground.
If you want to upgrade from GarageBand, Logic Pro is Apple’s professional recording software. It has more editing features, lots of built in loops and instruments, and even more mixing plugins, and it’s a one time purchase of just around $200.
If you don’t have a Mac, or you want to try something a little different, Reaper is a solid option. I personally don’t have a lot of experience with Reaper, but it’s a super powerful DAW that you can purchase for around $60, and they also offer a free trial.
Any one of these three options are a great way to get your feet wet, and Reaper and Logic are fully featured, professional options that will serve you well for years to come.
As far as plugins go, I am going to mostly suggest that you stick with the plugins included with your DAW. When you’re first starting out, it’s good to focus on learning what compression, limiting, EQ, etc are really doing to your track, so focus on understanding the included plugins. As far as software instruments go, you can go a long way with the included options that come with your DAW, and there are free synths like Vital that you can download. If you’re in the rock, country, or singer songwriter genres and want to experiment with acoustic drum sounds, Steven Slate Drums is a great option to get started.
All of this software can be yours for between $100 and $300. We really don’t need to break the bank by buying tons of plugins all at the beginning.
Garageband – https://www.apple.com/mac/garageband
Logic Pro – https://www.apple.com/logic-pro/
Reaper – https://www.reaper.fm
Vital (free synth) – https://vital.audio
Steven Slate Drums – https://stevenslatedrums.com
One thing we don’t cover in this list is a computer, since it’s something that many people already own! However, if you need help selecting a music production laptop, check out our list of best laptops for music production here!