How To Choose The Right Studio Kit For You (Or As A Gift)? Tips On Buying Music Production Gear 2021


I know what you’re thinking. How am I ever going to know which home studio kit is right for me? Or worse yet…how do I know which studio set up to buy as a gift for my kid/musician/significant other?

Hey I understand, I’ve been there, we all have. Choosing between all the gear/equipment options is confusing especially if you’re brand new to the game.

But I think we can help. I’ve put together this brief guide that lists the equipment you’ll need and how to pick the right gear for your particular situation. It’s organized by the basic components needed in most modern home studios today-

  • Your Computer
  • Audio Software
  • Recording Interfaces
  • Microphones
  • MIDI Keyboards
  • Monitors
  • Headphones
  • Accessories
  • Acoustic Treatment

But first things first. What will you do with your studio and where will you do it?

Are you planning on recording just yourself and maybe a few friends? Is it intended to handle a full band and all their gear? Is it intended for mobile performance recording or just for jotting down song ideas? Is it intended as a place to work on your hobby? Or is it the start of serious engineering and/or producing career?

There many types of home recording studios but most fit into one of the following categories-

  • singer/songwriter/musician/voice-over project studios
  • semi-complete multi-instrument recording studios for bands and small ensembles
  • semi-professional engineer/producer business owner studios
  • game or soundtrack composition studios
  • DJ/Hip Hop/Electronica and performance setups

Now let’s get to the fun part-the gear!

Your Computer

For the type of home recording studios I recommend, computers are a necessary part of your studio. Yes, I know you can do a lot with an IPad, but for quality multi-track recordings, a computer is required.

One of the most frustrating studio experiences you’ll ever have is when your recordings suffer from pops and drop-outs or if you have a set of drivers that don’t work consistently. Here’s the key, make sure your computer meets the minimum processor & memory requirements for the recording software and plug-ins (more about that later) that you’re going to use.

Laptop or desktop you ask? Seriously, it doesn’t matter. It just depends on whether your studio stays put or if it’s  mobile.

MAC or PC?  This matters only because some software and some interfaces only work on one or the other. But it’s not that common. Do your homework and choose the computer that best suits you. Generally speaking, unless your computer is really bare bones and older than 3 years old you’ll be able to run most of the more common software programs available today.

Audio Software

For our purposes, there are basically two types of software- recording software and plug-in software. Recording software is used for just what the name implies- recording. It’s the engine (or mixing desk if you will) that records and manages the recorded tracks within your computer. Software plug-ins are used to create sounds digitally or to manipulate the sounds once they are recorded. This includes everything from simple EQ plugins, to compressors, to beat-making software. Most recording programs come with a certain amount of plug-ins included.

Recording programs range in price from free basic programs to very expensive comprehensive systems. The good news is that there are some very capable programs in the $69 to $99 range. Plug-ins can vary in price substantially also.

A word about Mac versus PC.  Most programs work with both Windows and Mac but some don’t. Do your homework and read the specs before purchasing.

Recording Interfaces

A recording interface serves two basic functions, converting an analog signal to a digital signal your computer can understand, and as a central connection point for all of your hardware such as monitors, headphones, keyboards, etc.

Interfaces vary a lot in terms of price, options, and quality. There are several key points to remember though. It must have enough microphone inputs to meet your recording needs, it must have the appropriate connection option for your computer, and it must be compatible with your recording software.

Microphones

Consider microphones the musical instruments of the recording process. And just like musical instruments, there are hundreds to choose from, but in many ways, it is your personal preference that matters most.

There are classic workhorses for the studio that will cover a range of instruments and recording situations, and then there are mics that have very specific uses.  The key here is to choose the best mic for the sound sources that you plan to record that are within your budget.

MIDI Keyboards

Today’s home recording studio would be a different world without the invention of the MIDI keyboard controller. Think of it, the ability to re-create and play any musical instrument ever made is at your fingertips. MIDI controllers can do it all, from drums to orchestral instruments to synthesizers to virtually any instrument on the planet.

Most recording software includes some type of MIDI plug-in. This means that you can create endless types of sounds and/or emulate (imitate) other instruments with one small keyboard. And because of the overdubbing and editing capabilities of digital recording, you don’t have to be an expert keyboard player or accomplished drummer to create professional sounding material. A great deal of what you hear today is created in this way.

Monitors

If you are serious about your recordings and your mixes, you have to have true recording studio monitors. Your computer speakers are just too limited. Most monitors are active monitors, meaning they have their own built-in amplifier. The quality of your monitors can really matter. Do you listen to music on cheap speakers? Of course not and the same approach applies to your home studio.

Home Recording Studio monitors are intended for critical listening, and for accurate mixing. Good monitors portray your recorded music and your audio mix as accurately as possible. They’ll give you a good balance of imaging and accuracy so you’ll be able to hear when something isn’t right. Studio monitors are not intended to sound awesome, they’re intended to sound accurate.

Headphones

Headphones play an important part in the home recording studio both in the initial recording process and in the post-production and mixing process. They are absolutely necessary during the initial recording process and during any overdubbing. And they’re an important way to double-check your mixes and production against your regular desktop monitors. And finally, they can be an inexpensive alternative to studio monitors.

There are two types of headphones, closed back and open back. Closed-back headphones are the best choice for the home studio because they offer a good compromise between sound isolation and accuracy. Open-back headphones are the best choice for mixing because they tend to more accurate. They are not intended for small studios or overdubbing because they do not block outside sounds as much as closed-back phones.

Accessories

Yes, the quality of your stands, mic cables, MIDI cables, pop filters, and patch cables makes a difference in the home studio. You need the right balance of value, noise-free performance, quality construction, and hassle-free operation. You should expect your accessories to stand the test of time just like the rest of your gear.

Can you really hear a difference between different grades of cables? In some very high-end situations yes, but for the average home studio stick with mid-level products and you’ll be just fine.

Acoustic Treatment

In many cases, acoustic treatment can make or break your home studio. You can have $1000’s of dollars of high-end equipment but if the area where you record or mix has terrible acoustics, you may not get the professional results you’re looking for.

But here’s the good news. There are ways to accomplish your goal without breaking the bank.  Some of them are simple, such as locating your equipment and sound sources in the proper areas. There are many homemade or do-it-yourself treatments that you can build. And there are a number of low-cost products available for the home studio that are quite effective, as well as professional design services. So……

Ready To Get Started?

We wish you the best gear, the right gear, and at the best price!

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