Home Studio 2018

Stefan GuyGuides

Building a home studio is an essential investment. One that every beat maker or musician needs to make. In this guide we take a comprehensive look at my personal home studio and studio gear I use with descriptions and links to all listed items.

My Old Studio Got Wrecked!

Believe it or not my studio is right at home in my bedroom. I used to have a dedicated space, an old ticket office converted into a music studio. But things didn't quite work out as planned. That space over time due to weather conditions and lack of treatment became uninhabitable. So I moved into my bedroom and had to make it work. Check out the video below to see how! 

Computer

My home studio is built around a Late 2015, 21.5inch 4K, 3.3GHz i7, 16GB RAM and 512SSD iMac ($2200). Woah, that’s a lot of numbers right? It just means it’s a powerful machine. One that can handle all the strains of music production like a boss.

That’s right, not any computer will do. To make music to a professional standard we need a computer that can handle more than just Microsoft Word and cat videos.

Thankfully, your computer doesn’t necessarily have to be as powerful or expensive as mine. Even an entry level MacBook Air can do a pretty good job. It’s what I used for 5 years prior.

I’m an Apple fanboy, heck I used to work for them. So I’m biased. I’ll always recommend an Apple computer over a PC. However both can be used for music production. Which one you choose might also determine which Digital Audio Workstation – DAW (software that allows you to create music on your computer) you’ll decide to use. We’ll talk more about those later.

MIDI Keyboard

MIDI keyboards create an easy way to record music into your DAW. MIDI keyboards don’t actually have any sounds built in. They are used to control and program the sounds within your DAW.

They come in different styles and sizes but essentially all do the same thing. The one I use however, the Komplete Kontrol S49 MK2 slightly differs as it is a “Smart Keyboard”. It’s like a MIDI keyboard but in addition it has two large colour screens and much better DAW integration. This allows you to easily control your DAW straight from your keyboard.

Headphones

Let’s face it. Laptop or computer speakers are pretty rubbish. You want to hear the fire you’re making in high fidelity right? To achieve this you’ll either need a good pair of headphones or studio monitors (more on those later).

I have studio monitors so do not use headphones when making music. However I recently picked up a pair of Samson SR850s. These are low-end headphones but colour me impressed!

After reading many reviews I thought I’d give these headphones a try and I’m glad I did. Great to start with. If you’re not planning on getting studio monitors then you may want to increase your budget for headphones.

Audio Interface

An audio interface will allow you to connect external gear to your computer. The next three pieces of gear listed in fact. Microphones, studio monitors (speakers) and synthesisers. Plus guitars, basses etc.

I use a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. A cheap and cheerful audio interface that allows for clean recordings. It has 2 XLR (mic) inputs and 2 TRS (line – guitars, basses) inputs. Plus 48V phantom power to power condenser microphones (more on that later) and 2 line outputs for studio monitors.

Condensor Microphone

Well I’m sure you know what a microphone is…right? lol. You may not be familiar with a condenser microphone however. It’s the most common type of microphone used in a music studio. They have a much greater frequency and transient response (techie stuff). Condenser microphones are also extremely sensitive. All this added together makes for a great microphone to use in the studio.

I use the Rode NT1a. I’ve had it for years, 8 years in fact! It’s great for vocals whether singer or rapping and acoustic guitars. I also use it as an overhead when recording acoustic drums. It has a very high sound pressure level – SPL capability. It can record loud stuff. The price and link I’ve included is the bundle which comes with a shock mount and pop shield. These are accessories which help to garner a more professional sounding recording.

Studio Monitors

You may be wondering – what’s the difference between normal speakers and studio monitors. Normal computer speakers, stereos and other consumer speakers are designed to enhance the music played through them often with added bass and, or treble.

Studio monitors for the most part are what is referred to as “flat”. Meaning they do not attempt to enhance or alter the sound played through them. This is so beat makers, mixing engineers etc. can understand how the track truly sounds.

I’ve used the Mackie MR5s in my home studio for over 6 years now and they are still going strong. They produce an amazing clear sound that is true. This allows for great mixes of your beats and songs. The are well made, solidly built and take both XLR (mic) and TRS (line) cables.

It’s important to check what output connections your audio interface has. Your audio interface outputs must be the same connection as your studio monitor’s inputs.

The Mark 3 versions of these speakers are the ones currently out now but still hold their 5 star rating. And they’ve come down in price, A LOT!

Synth Keyboard

Synth keyboards are synthesisers. Meaning they have their own sounds built in and can be used to create sounds. These sounds can then be recorded into your DAW. I use a Roland JUNO-Di. After being discontinued it was replaced by the Roland JUNO-DS61.

Synth keyboards or synthesisers in general are non-essential for your home studio. Your DAW will have a wealth of sounds already built into it. However they are great if you prefer to use hardware over software. I also own a Roland Super JV1080 module but don’t use it all that much.

Groove Box

Not quite a drum machine but looks like one is the Maschine Mikro MK3. Along with its companion software Maschine 2.0 this piece of gear is a formidable force. The Maschine MK3 is a groove box with 16 MPC style pads that is amazing for drum beat creation and sampling.

Like with the MIDI keyboard, the Maschine MK3 doesn’t store any of its own sounds. It is used to control its companion software and all the sounds within that software.

Accessories

When it comes to building a studio accessories are often forgotten. They're just not as glamorous. But believe me, they're essential! 

Line Cables

1/4″ Jack to Jacks or (TRS cables) are used to connect instruments like guitars, basses and synthesisers to an audio interface. The are also needed to output from the audio interface to a large number of studio monitors. Figure out how many you need first.

XLR Cables

XLR Cables are use to connect microphones and again some studio monitors. Get what you need for your current set up and if you can afford get one more spare.

External Hard Drive

It’s good to keep all of your sounds and samples on an external hard drive to prevent storage issues and help keep your computer running fast. I use two 500GB and two 1TB USB 3 External Hard Drives. They are also used to back my work up. A wise man once told me, “data doesn’t exist, unless it exists in two places.” Truer words have never been spoken. Take heed and buy an external hard drive here.

USB 3.0 Hub

If you use a laptop as your studio computer you’ll quickly run out of USB ports. This can be a real pain but to ease that pain I’d recommend you to get a USB Hub.

Circle Based Stand

Let’s face it, most peoples’ home studio is either in their bedroom or a small spare room, space is a precious commodity and having a three legged stand just won’t cut it. That’s why I use Circle Based Stands. They take up so much less real estate, are neat and very sturdy.

Sustain Pedal

Ever played a real piano? You would have noticed it has three pedals. One of those pedals is a Sustain Pedal. It allows you to sustain your last played notes to give you time to travel across the keyboard and play following notes without leaving a gap of silence. This is a key characteristic of a piano and to create this sound on a MIDI controller it’s a good idea to have a sustain pedal! You can order one here.

IMPORTANT: Before purchasing please make sure your MIDI controller has a sustain, hold or damper pedal input. Not all MIDI controllers do so please do check first.

Acoustic Treatment

I left acoustic treatment to last because it’s the last thing you should. Along the walls of my studio you’ll find nine 1200x300mm fibre glass acoustic panels. This helps absorb the sound reflections in my studio. This is great for mixing and also more importantly great for when I’m recording vocals or acoustic guitar. The panels eliminate a lot of the “room” sound allowing me to add my own EQ and reverb at a latter stage.

Under my monitors you’ll find two Auralex MoPads isolating my speakers from my my table removing any sound colouring produced by my table through vibration.