Home Studio Guide
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.
Some links may be affiliate links. This means well… that I’ll earn a tiny buck for each purchase at no extra expense to you. It helps me keep the lights on, make tutorials and all that other good stuff. So you don’t have to use the links on this page. But it would be super cool if you did! Most of the links will take you to Amazon. I decided to partner with Amazon as the have the best returns policy, same-day or next-day delivery (Amazon Prime customers) and often the best prices.
Ok, so each item is listed in order of importance and the order in which I’d built my home studio. If I had to start again that is…
Here’s a quick list of my studio gear if you’re in a rush. Time is money aye!
1. Computer – Late 2015, 21.5inch 4K, 3.3GHz i7, 16GB RAM and 512SSD iMac
2. MIDI Keyboard – Komplete Kontrol S49 MK2
3. Headphones – Samson SR850s
4. Audio Interface – Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
5. Microphone – Rode NT1a
6. Monitors – Mackie MR5s
7. Synth Keyboard – Roland JUNO Di (Roland JUNO-DS61)
8. Groove Box – Maschine Mikro MK3
9. Accessories – Line Cables, XLR Cables, External Hard Drive, USB Hub, Circle Based Stands, Sustain Pedal
10. Acoustic Treatment – Fibre Glass Acoustic Panels, Auralex MoPads
11. Plugins – Komplete 11, Waves Gold, Melodyne 4 Essentials, Antares Auto Tune EFX3
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Often overlooked when building a studio for the first time is the accessories. The little things that bring it all together. Below is a list of essential studio accessories that you’ll most likely need at some point.
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 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.
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.
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.
I run my studio with a digital audio workstation called Logic Pro X. However I also use Reason 9.5 & Maschine 2.0 (Which comes free with the Maschine MK3).
The following software listed all integrate with Logic Pro X. Plus all other DAWs like Cubase, Pro Tools, Studio One, FL Studio, Ableton Live, Reason, Maschine.
Sample Libraries & Soft Synths
Every DAW comes with a wealth of sounds by way of samples and soft synths. However their are third party companies that make additional sounds.
Once you’ve exhausted the sounds that come with your DAW you may be interested in acquiring some extra third party sounds.
I use Komplete 11 by Native Instruments. Komplete 11 combines a HUGE library of professional software sounds and audio mixing plugins. If you want to greatly expand your sound pallet in one purchase Komplete 11 is the way to go. Used by the professionals and amazing value for money.
The sounds on Logic Pro X are ok but like me you may quickly find you need more. You won’t really have to buy anything else after this. This is THE perfect bundle for any home studio or professional studio. I had Komplete 9, Komplete 10 and now I have komplete 11, I rate it that highly.
Like I mention Komplete 11 comes with a load of audio FX such as compressors and EQs. However below are some of third party FX plugins and plugin bundles I use.
Waves is an audio company that create industry standard audio plug-ins for DAWs, i.e. Logic, Pro Tools etc. Waves Gold is a suite of some of the best and most commonly used mixing plugins by Waves. These are some of the same tools that are used to mix and master the very songs you hear on the radio and this is why Waves Gold is in my arsenal of home studio software.
Melodyne 4 Essentials
Melodyne is industry standard pitch correction. You’ve probably heard of auto tune, well this is what I like to call “manual tune”. Dig deep into each note sung by your vocalist and bend it to your will! Want pitch perfect vocals? Melodyne 4 Essentials is the tool to do it.
Antares Auto Tune EFX3
If you’ve ever heard of T-Pain or Cher then you know what auto tune is! Although you have a lot less control than you do with Melodyne over the pitching of vocals this plug-in is extremely intelligent and does a great job of correcting vocals. By adjusting the amount of auto tune applied you can achieve loads of different results. From lightly correcting vocals to add that industry standard gloss or turning the auto tune to full blast and using it as an effect. Antares Auto Tune EFX3 is a great tool to have in your arsenal.