How I Setup ‘MY’ First Home Recording Studio
When I first started college, I was lucky if I was able to muster two pennies together; so buying any high spec gear for my home recording studio was out of the question!
In the beginning, I didn’t even own a midi keyboard, I was working with Reason out of the box and going back to day one I was using Magix Music Maker (ruffly 8 years before) which probably has its uses today, but back then it was awful. (I thought it was the sh*t for a while)
Awful was all I really had! So I had no option but to make it work for a few years but in that time I did more learning than I probably ever have.
Looking back I still don’t think I’d change it. The restrictions I had taught me a workflow that has stuck with me since.
Lack of funds meant I couldn’t have anything like the stuff I was learning on in college. Eventually seeing my friends get better equipment than me I bucked up and got a job waiting tables and eventually started to buy some decent gear and within months I had moved on to a Pro Tools 8 Set-up.
Home recording studio setups have obviously moved on a lot since then and some innovative bargains have left a good impression on a lot of engineers and producers (myself included).
My first “Pro set-up” ended up costing me just over £1000 which included:
- a laptop
- USB interface
- Condenser Microphone
- Jack leads
- XLR leads
- MIDI cables
- an 88 key USB M-Audio Midi Controller, (which is still my main midi controller today)
- A pair of Fostex PM0.4 Active Near-Field Monitors.
Since then set ups like my first have become far more streamline and now have feature-sets far greater than what I first started with.
Not only has equipment improved but prices have dropped and now you can pick up similar gear, if not better for just under a grand.
Gear4Music is a place I would recommend to buy quality gear, generally, their prices are pretty reasonable for some high-end equipment.
The Best Home Recording Studio Setup You’ll find for Under £1000
The list I’ve put together has been curated through years of trying and testing bargain deals in comparison with high-end gear used in private studios I’ve managed to worm my way into.
So if you’re thinking of making some cost effective updates or you’re just starting out this list should help you with your buying decisions. Each piece of equipment is dependable and should keep you ticking for a good few years.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen)
One of the first purchases you should be looking to make is an audio interface, a USB interface will suit you fine and should meet your needs.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) costing £129 is a great interface for a small home studio setup being perfect for recording Guitar, Bass, Vocals plus much more.
The 1st Generation 2i2 model became one of the most popular USB interfaces for under $150/£120 but became widely known to experience serious latency issues from time to time. The 2nd Generation model has irradicated all latency issues adding more headroom for guitar pickups.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) has an impressive feature-set designed for maximum output which includes the following:
- 2 in / 2 out USB audio interface
- 96 KHz, 24-bit conversion
- 2 Focusrite microphone preamplifiers
- Red anodized aluminum unibody chassis
- 2 line/mic/instrument combination inputs – high quality XLR/¼” TRS Jack Combo
- 2 Line/Instrument switches
- 2 Gain knobs
- 2 Gain halo signal indicators
- 48V Phantom power switch
- Direct monitor switch
- Large monitor level dial
- USB Connection LED indicator
- Headphone output – ¼” TRS Jack
- Headphone level knob
- Rear panel
- 2 balanced monitor outputs – ¼” TRS Jack
- USB 2.0 Port
- Kensington Lock slot
- Ableton Live Lite
- Focusrite Scarlett plug-in suite
As the name implies, the 2i2 has two inputs and two outputs. The inputs are combo jacks that can accept both XLR microphone cables and 1/4″ instrument cables. With two inputs you can record two mics or two instruments at the same time, or one mic and one instrument.
The 2i2 doesn’t have any MIDI or SPDIF inputs/outputs; it’s a basic interface with 2 balanced outputs for connecting 1/4″ TRS cables to speakers. The 2i2 also has a 1/4″ headphone jack on the front with its own separate volume dial.
LENOVO IdeaPad 310 15.6″ Laptop – Black
Now this one isn’t from Gear4Music and its the only thing on the list that isn’t but PC World offer thousands of laptops and desktops suitable for music production.
The LENOVO IdeaPad is an excellent choice for individuals starting out on a budget costing £329.99 it eats away at a lot of your budget but considering it’s the most important investment you’ll make that should be more than understandable.
The LENOVO IdeaPad has the specification necessary to run most CPU intensive DAW’s which for most Windows laptops can be a challenge but LENOVO for me have always set a standard that goes above and beyond what most manufacturers have achieved from Windows-based machines.
- AMD A10-9600P
- 2.4 GHz / 3.3 GHz (Turbo core)
- 2 MB cache
- 8 GB DDR4 (12 GB maximum installable RAM)
- 1 TB HDD, 5400 rpm
If you do have some more Queen Elizabeth’s to spend I would always advise purchasing a Macbook Pro or an iMac for running your home recording studio, they tend to be in the region of £800 to £1500 but for me it’s been the smartest investments I’ve made and performance wise will outshine any Windows machine, but for the purpose of this list the LENOVO IdeaPad is a reliable machine that will have you making music fast with next to no bother.
Fostex PM04-D Active Studio Monitors Pair, Black
The Fostex PM04-D Active Studio Monitors have served me well for nearly 7 years and still do today, for only £199 they are a complete bargain and have never let me down, perfect for mixing a variety of genres with 25W (LF) and 16W (HF) output power. The sound quality these babies can output is perfect for small home recording studio setups, though they have a small range of features what they do have is more than enough to get the job done.
- Newly designed 4-inch fiberglass cone woofer and 3/4-inch silk dome tweeter drivers
- Driven by high-efficiency digital amplifier of 25W (LF) and 16W (HF) output power
- Quality matte finished front baffle
- 2 x inputs; TS phone and RCA pin
- Energy saving function complying with European ErP directives
- Enclosure type: 2-way bass reflex
– Tweeter: 3/4″ soft dome tweeter
– Woofer: 4″ fibreglass diaphragm
– Frequency Response: 60 Hz – 30k Hz
- Rated Output Power:
– Low: 25
– High: 16W
- Input: Connector: TS phone (unbalanced), RCA pin (unbalanced)
- Impedance: 10K ohm or higher
- Nominal Input Level: -10dBV
- Cross-over Frequency: 2kHz
Jack Instrument Cable, 3m
If the Fostex PM04-D’s seem like the studio monitors you’d want to go for you’ll need 2 jack leads to be able to plug them into the back of your interface and start making some music. Costing only £4.49 Gear4Music do a really great deal on this one, so it may be worth picking up a few more than you need as it never hurts to have too many jack leads as most musicians are VERY unreliable and sometimes don’t have one with them in their guitar bags.
This can get pretty annoying but musicians are not normal people.
KRK KNS 8400 Professional Closed-Back Dynamic Headphones
I have owned a pair of KRK KNS 8400 headphones for ruffly 5 years switching from a rather shitty pair of open-back headphones since then they’ve raised a little bit in price going from £85 to £129 which is only a small fraction but given their quality, I would quite happily pay the small increase. These headphones for me have been perfect for performing a variety of tasks including monitoring, tracking, small amounts of mixing, headphone to speaker testing and a whole lot more.
When you’re first starting out you’ll most likely be in your home recording studio alone, which is why in the beginning, all you really need is one pair of headphones.
As you get more and more involved in music production and audio recording you’ll eventually need to buy multiple pairs of headphones for recording more than one musician, for this alone you’ll need to understand the difference between different designs of headphones:
- Closed-back headphones for tracking – which offer optimal isolation at the expense of lesser sound quality. (some are great for both tracking and mixing, its depends on your personal preference)
- Open-back headphones for mixing – which offer optimal sound quality at the expense of lesser isolation. (it’s true that by industry standards open-back headphones are the preferred design for mixing! however, try and stay away from mixing on headphones! that’s what those nice monitors you’re going to buy are for right?)
Some say open-back headphones are a luxury and closed-back headphones are more of a necessity, while that might be true I have always been a strong believer in not mixing on headphones, it’s great to have the best quality sound coming out of your headphones but when it comes to mixing use your monitors!
The results you’ll get from using your monitors will outweigh what you’ll get from using any pair of open-back headphones no matter how much they cost and how highly they come recommended.
The KRK KNS 8400’s are equipped with a detachable and replaceable locking cable, rotating ear cups for travel and storage and replaceable ear and head cushions, the KNS 8400 headphones are durable and I can personally vouch that they’ve beaten any ruff and tumble I’ve put them through. A low-pressure headband system and self-aligning yoke system ensure comfortability and the best possible fit.
Here’s what just a few press people have to say about the KRK KNS 8400’s:
I’ve just fallen in love with a pair of KRK KNS 8400s. The detail in the sound is amazing. It really felt like I was hearing it in the studio. – Audio Media Magazine
I found the KNS-8400 to be good for tracking, offering minimal fatigue on the top end, slightly scooped out low mids (around 200 to 400 Hz) and just enough bottom. – Pro Audio Review
So providing that these are a bargain choice they have made a pretty big impression on other engineers and producers and just to convince you further it’s long list of specs really show you what you’re getting for your money.
- Accurate, natural and wide frequency response
- System / Design: Dynamic
- Operating System: Closed-back
- Head Coupling: Circumaural (Isolating)
- Voice Coil: Copper-clad aluminum wire
- Driver Type: Low weight neodymium
- Driver Diameter: 40mm
- Sensitivity/Efficiency: 97 dB SPL @1mW
- Frequency Response: 5Hz-23 kHz
- Total Harmonic Distortion:
- Rated Impedance: 36 ohms
- Ambient Noise Isolation: Up to 30 dBA
- Long Term Maximum Power Handling: 1000mW (500mW per side as per IEC 60268-7)
- Earcup Rotation: 90 degrees
- Nominal Headband Pressure: 4 N (based on average head size)
- Headband Type: Adjustable / Sprung steel skeleton
- Ear Cushion type: Acoustic memory foam
- Headpad Finish: Premium leatherette
- Headphone Finish: Black impact resistant plastic
- Cable: 2.5 m, (8.2 ft.), 99,99 OFC detachable
- Connector: Gold-plated stereo 1/8 (3.5 mm)
- Cable Connection: Strain relief managed
- Adaptor: Screw-on 1/4″ (6.3 mm)
- Weight without Cable: 232 g (0.51 lbs)
- Dimensions: 245mm x 268mm x 94mm / 9.6″ x 10.5″ x 3.7″
Samson C01 Condenser Microphone
I first came across this microphone in a second-hand shop while out with a friend which he then purchased and still uses today.
I didn’t end up buying this mic for around another 6 months but after several years of use, I would quite openly recommend it to anyone whether you’re a first-timer or an experienced engineer. Costing only £49 it truly is a bargain deal and for such a small price tag you get an incredible microphone which for me has lasted over 8 years and is still going strong.
Perfect for recording vocals, acoustic guitars, percussion and a whole lot more, throughout the years this microphone has always given me stellar results and is cheap enough to own a few of them and not break the bank.
When your first starting out in audio recording you’ll most likely only be in situations that require a cardioid microphone so as a beginner a cardioid pick-up pattern is all you’ll ever really need. What this taught me was what I needed to do to achieve the maximum output in my music with the limitations I had.
Once I was confident enough I had learned how to use my equipment to its maximum potential, only then did I add to my collection with a multi-pattern mic.
The Samson C01 has however never gone neglected and is still one of the first microphones I choose when all I need is a cardioid pattern.
Featuring a large, dual-layer 19mm diaphragm with a cardioid pickup pattern, the C01 produces a smooth flat frequency response. It’s two ultra-thin sensor membranes pick up far more detailed sounds than any dynamic coil. The result is a mic that captures accurate, detailed and smooth audio with warm bass tones and extended top end. You’ll hear the strings and wood of your guitar, the breath and resonance of a singer, or the brassy shimmer of a ride cymbal with crystal clear clarity.
The C01’s design includes a heavy gauge mesh grill, gold plated XLR connector and an LED for monitoring its 48V of phantom power. It also comes with a swivel mount that can be attached to any standard mic stand. In addition, an optional SP01 spider shock mount is available for increased mic and sound stability.
Samson’s C01 is one of the best values available from a professional recording microphone.
- Cardioid pickup pattern
- Large, dual-layer 19mm diaphragm
- Heavy gauge mesh grill
- Gold-plated XLR connector
- LED indicates 48V phantom power
- Smooth, flat frequency response
- Swivel stand mount
- Optional SP01 spider shock mount
In conclusion, this microphone is a great choice to have lying around whether you’re just starting out or have been in the game for many years, it just does whats its meant to do and for only £49 it would be silly not to have one.
For starting your first home recording studio i wouldnt reccomend anything else.
Boom Mic Stand by Gear4Music
Some will naturally assume that all microphone stands are the same! what they don’t know is that there a fair few differences between microphone stands that are suitable for the stage and the studio.
Microphone stands can get pricey and considering this list is about sticking to a budget a cheap microphone stand will do the trick, the most important thing to remember when buying a microphone stand is that it’s sturdy.
XLR (F) – XLR (M) PRO Mic Cable, 20m
One day your studio will be filled with TONS of XLR cables because as a recording engineer you can’t really do your job without them and it’s one of those items that the more you have the better, regardless of how big or small your studio space is I would only ever buy XLR leads that are between 10 and 20m long because the more cable you have the more areas you can record in without having to move all of your equipment with you.
As you get more and more experienced you’ll understand what I mean, XLR cables are your friend treat them well, take care of them and they can last a LONG time.
You’ll only need one XLR cable right now going from your mic to your interface, but hey! If you want to buy more that’s great, you may not use them all now but you will in future.
No professional or home recording studio is complete without an overhaul of XLR’s! they will save your life! (kinda)
Microphone Pop Filter Shield for Mic Stand by Gear4music
A pop shield is an absolute must! You should buy one without any hesitation, their purpose is to filter-out an unpleasant vocal artefact known as “popping“…
Having a pop shield can save you a lot of time and aggravation during mixing your tracks if you have worked with a vocalist.
The annoying popping sound is a low-frequency blast of air caused by the pronunciation of “P” and “B” sounds and singers are hard to control so no matter how many times you beat them over the head, you can’t always avoid them making those sounds!
A pop shield is a small investment that can save you a lot of time and stress if a singer claims to have perfect pronunciation, shut them down and use one anyway (you’ll notice the difference if you don’t).
Akai MPK Mini MK 2 MIDI Controller
This tiny but powerful MIDI controller was on my Christmas list last year and my missus being as awesome as she is ended up giving it to me early! so I’ve been messing around with it for the past couple of months and have since recommended it to a few friends who have loved it probably more than I have.
If you’re not much of a keyboard player then only having a 25 key MIDI controller should suit you fine but the main reasons I wanted it was because of its price and it’s 8 mappable controls! Which gives you the ability to be able to control automation of any plugin via the hardware.
Not only did I want it because of its price and mappable knobs it also comes packaged with a bunch of software that has been on my radar for a long time.
MPK Mini includes Hybrid 3 – a high-def synth that can create anything from fat, retro sounds to edgy modern leads.
SONiVOX’s Wobble is an electronic music grime synthesizer that features two independent channels of spectral morphing synthesis with harmonic controls, individual filtering, and discrete LFO controls.
MPC Essentials, a groove/beat production, and sample-triggering software lets you incorporate genuine MPC workflow into your DAW of choice and extends the power of MPK mini by adding up to 8 pad banks and 4 samples and insert effects per pad. MPC Essentials also runs in standalone mode, so you can start making music without a DAW.
The Akai MPK Mini requires no software drivers or external power adapter for operation. The keyboard features USB-MIDI and powers up with a single USB connection to your Mac or PC. Four memory banks allow you to store hardware/software presets for quick and easy setup.
The MPK Mini MIDI Editor software unlocks the true potential of this instrument. The MIDI editor is a powerful preset manager allowing you to customise your hardware and software setup on Mac or PC. Create and tweak presets for your favourite virtual instruments, plugins and DAWs then store them back on your MPK Mini.
The MPK Mini 2 includes an impressive feature-set and specification:
- Incorporates 5 years of user feedback for an all-new, enhanced design
- 25 synth-action mini keys
- 4-way thumbstick for dynamic pitch and modulation control
- 8 backlit velocity-sensitive MPC-style pads with Note Repeat & Full Level
- 8 assignable Q-Link knobs for mixing, tweaking plug-ins, and more
- Built-in arpeggiator with adjustable resolution, range, and modes
- Dedicated Octave Up and Octave Down buttons
- Ultra-compact design lets you create anywhere
- USB-powered; no power adapter required
- Full-size sustain pedal input jack
- Comprehensive production software package included: Akai Pro MPC Essentials, SONiVOX Wobble, and Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech (downloads)
- Number of Keys: 25 velocity-sensitive
- Pads: 8 pressure- and velocity-sensitive, light-up MPC-style pads x 2 banks
- Knobs: 8 assignable controller pots
- Computer interface: USB-MIDI communications to Mac/PC
- Programs: 4
- Octaves: 10 with Octave Up and Down
- Arpeggiator: Yes
- Additional Controls: Pitchbend/Mod Joystick, Note Repeat button, Full Level button, Tap Tempo button
- Additional Inputs: (1) 1/4″ (6.35mm) TS input for sustain pedal
- Power: USB power via full-size USB jack; no power adapter required
- Dimensions: 12.5″ x 7.13″ x 1.75″
- Weight: 1.65 lbs
So throughout this post, I’ve talked about the equipment I’ve tried and tested, liked and disliked, all in all, the equipment I’ve recommended comes to a grand total of £954.45, which for your first home studio is a smart investment and at a tidy price!
Is there any equipment I’ve not included that you have in your home recording studio? feel free to comment and i’ll be sure to review it in future posts.