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Home Studio Setup: Essential Gear For Beginners

One of the most important steps in your journey towards being a music producer or a mix engineer is getting the right gear to kickstart your learning process, while also being fairly reasonable on your pocket. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back! Read ahead to check out multiple options for the basic benchmark gear you need as a music producer or mix engineer who is just starting off, that will set you on the right ‘track’ (pun intended).

 

Laptop / PC

According to your requirement, whether you choose a stationary setup at home with a PC or you’re on the go and you need a laptop, there are certain base specifications that will ensure that you are able to work as efficiently as possible, within your spending range. Of course, technology can cost a bomb, and if you are in a position to afford the best, by no means hold back. But here we will be taking a look at more affordable options in the entry-level and slightly above entry-level zone.

Specification Minimum Recommended
Processor Intel i3 / i5 OR AMD Ryzen 3 / 5 OR Apple M1 at 2.0 to 2.5 Ghz Intel i7 OR AMD Ryzen 7 OR Apple M1 at 2.6 to 3.8 Ghz
RAM 4 GB to 8GB 8GB to 16GB
Storage 128 GB SSD and / or 500 GB HDD 256 GB SSD and / or 1 TB HDD
Graphics 512 MB 1.5 GB or 2 GB

 

What you need to keep in mind while making your final decision is that nowadays, SSD (Solid State Drive) storage is preferred to the traditional HDD (Hard Disk Drive) because of it superiority in performance and reliability, simply because the SSD is plainly a big flash memory and the HDD has moving parts which tend to wear out after a period of time.

Yes, the cost of the SSD disk is more than HDD, simply because of the insurance that your data is just more protected, and one more major positive of SSD disks is that they consume less power that HDD disks, which helps your PC or laptop save battery life, which in the long run increases the longevity and performance of your machine.

As per your overall specifications and brand choices, your choice of operating systems, and depending on the investment you are willing to put in, you can choose from various brands like Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple.

Price range:

  • Lower limit – Rs.35,000 (approx. $470)
  • Upper limit – Rs.1,25,000 (approx. $1700)

 

Audio Interface

In the 1980’s & 90’s, since the rise of digital music-making technology, the big sound console or mixer that you see in pictures of massive studios kept getting smaller and smaller with the aid of computers getting more and more advanced. Now, in this modern day and age, the need for a big recording studio and all of the paraphernalia that comes with it has been pushed aside, and left mostly only for the pros, while similar results are possible, arguably, if you have the right amount of knowledge and mainly, yes, mainly ‘the ear’.

We’re in a time where we have seen bedroom music producers and solo composers make it big, and survive completely off of what seems like a compact portable setup. Welcome to the digital age! It’s possible for you too! All you need to do is get a decent enough audio interface and you can be on your way to the Grammys, who knows!

Before deciding which audio interface that you want to buy, you need to evaluate what your needs are – do you need it primarily for recording from external sources like microphones or whether you want to use it mainly while producing or composing music or for mixing and mastering songs. There are different input and output configurations, depending on people’s preferences. The most popular connection type nowadays is USB 2.0 or 3.0, which is used by almost everyone who has a setup of a smaller size. Below, we give you a bunch of options that can help you make a decision.

Brand Entry-level series Recommended series
Audient EVO ID14 MKII
PreSonus Audiobox Studio
Solid State Logic (SSL) SSL 2 SSL 2+
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 1 or 2 Komplete Audio 6 MK2
Focusrite Scarlett Clarett
Roland Rubix UA
Behringer UMC U-Phoria

Price range:

  • Lower limit – Rs.9,000 (approx. $120)
  • Upper limit – Rs.50,000 (approx. $675)

 

Headphones

Probably the most purchased element from this list, headphones are a huge market which include general consumers to passionate audiophiles and also audio professionals from studio and live sound backgrounds. However, the studio headphone is a different entity in itself and there’s a clutter of choice across brands, big and small, in different price ranges and different configurations. Before you zero in on which headphone you pick up, you need to understand the difference between some specifications that you might read while browsing through the variety of products out there.

Let’s take it for granted that most of the studio headphones available will be able to deliver the frequency range 20Hz to 20KHz which encompasses the hearing ability of the human ear. And the main reason for people investing in studio headphones is that they generally do not have excess frequencies which are generally a characteristic of consumer headphones, for example “Extra Bass” which is a feature used for upselling. Unlike such products, studio headphones are made to give you a flat frequency response, so you can accurately judge what you are working on or listening to.

There are mainly 3 types of studio headphones –

  • Open back,
  • Semi-open back,
  • Closed back.

You’ll find many opinions out there about what headphones are ideal for mixing. The main advantage of open back headphones is that they automatically give you a wider stereo image, as compared to the closed back option, which is better for isolation and while recording instruments, so that the sound of your monitoring doesn’t bleed into the respective microphone. For budding sound engineers and producers, it’s good to be informed and do your research before purchasing the right cans. We’ve listed a few headphones from different brands below to guide you into making the right decision.

Brand Open Back Semi Open Back Closed Back
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro DT 880 Pro DT 770 Pro
Shure SRH 1440 SRH 840 / SRH 440
Sennheiser HD 599 / HD 579 HD 25 / HD 280 Pro
Audio Technica ATH R70x ATH M50x
AKG K712 Pro K240 Studio K92

Price range:

  • Lower limit – Rs.3,000 (approx. $40)
  • Upper limit – Rs.35,000 (approx. $470)

 

Studio Monitors

Working continuously in headphones for long hours is not advisable at all and can lead to deafness and a host of other issues. A step up in your setup and an ideal way to hear and reference your work is to get a pair of active studio monitors. These speakers play a major role in any musician, producer or sound engineer’s workspace and workflow. Studio monitors are meant to give you a flat frequency response, if they are placed right and the room is properly acoustically treated.

As a side note, there are also passive studio monitors, which mean that they require separate amplification. Whereas, active monitors have amplification built into the back panel. Active monitors are the popular and way more convenient option to go for, especially for a home setup. We are considering active monitors as we delve ahead.

However, if you do a little research, there are many DIY methods to successfully diffuse the frequencies flying around in your bedroom or working space which are basically done to allow you to get the truest possible sound from your monitors. You don’t have to sell a kidney and transform your room into Sound City!

There are mainly two types of active or passive studio monitors –

  • Near Field
  • Far Field

For someone who is just starting off, and also many smaller sized studios, dubbing studios, music production studios, etc., basically most studios except the really big ones like Yashraj Studios for example, pretty much everyone runs on near-field active monitors which are available in various sizes – mainly between 5” and 8”. Here is a list of a few popular, hot-selling and really stellar performing affordable monitors, with brands and size variants that you can choose from –

Brand Size – 5” Size – 6” or 7” Size – 8”
Yamaha HS5 HS7 HS8
JBL 305p MKII 306p MKII 308p MKII
Adam Audio T5V T7V T8V
KRK Systems Rokit 5 G4 Rokit 7 G4 Rokit 8 G4
PreSonus Eris E5 XT Eris E7 XT Eris E8 XT
Monkey Banana Gibbon 5 Gibbon 8
M-Audio BX5 D3 BX6 Carbon BX8 Carbon
Vault C5 C6 C8
Mackie CR5 / MR 524 CR8

Within these multiple options, a few of them have independent controls for cutting lower booming frequencies (boundary EQ) and / or even high frequencies on the back panel. This enables you to achieve cleaner and truer sound, since overtones caused by reflective materials in your environment such as walls or windows or maybe even the positioning and proximity from them can accentuate different frequencies (depending on what material – wood, glass, metal, concrete, etc.) and misguide your perception of what you are hearing actually sounds like. It’s a practice to use a combination of headphones and studio monitors to cross-reference your mixes or production, and in doing that, you will be able to understand the setting you are looking for.

Price range:

  • Lower limit – Rs.15,000 (approx. $200)
  • Upper limit – Rs.65,000 (approx. $870)

 

USB MIDI Controller

MIDI controllers are hardware devices that can help you create music and control parameters of whatever software you are working with. Most of the controllers being produced in the last 10 years are USB based.

For the most part, MIDI Keyboards (no, not the QWERTY kind) are widely used by musicians to compose and produce music, since they are piano-key oriented. There are those with weighted touch-sensitive piano keys, especially for those who have experience in playing piano, so that the dynamics within parts are accurately captured, and others with regular electronic keyboard style keys too, which are not focused on the dynamics too much. It’s absolutely up to you to decide which type you need.

There are non-keyboard MIDI controllers as well, one type of which are used by producers who make sample driven music or trigger samples while performing live, and other types that are meant for you to be able to control your recording software’s parameters in your mixing work, both of which have sampler pads, faders, encoders and/or knobs.

There are controllers which combine all or some of the above features – the keyboard keys as well as assignable sampler pads, encoders, faders, etc. There’s honestly a clutter of choice, and before you get yourself a controller, you should understand what your needs are, so you can purchase an option with features to match your expectations. There are some controllers which work especially better for DAW software like Ableton Live, for example, in which case the controller has been specifically designed to the workflow of the software. And in special cases, you have a company like Native Instruments which makes the hardware with a range of software and sampling support.

Yes, the plot thickens! But let us simplify your life for now. We have narrowed down a few options (of course, there are a few more, if you’re feeling explorative. YAYY Google!) below to help you navigate through the ocean of USB MIDI controllers good for beginners to invest in –

Brand Keyboard Sampler Misc. Controller Mashup
Akai Professional LPK25 MPD218 APC Mini MPK Mini MK3
Novation Novation AMS-25 MKII Launchpad Mini MK3 AMS Launch Control XL Impulse 25
Arturia Microlab 25 Beatstep Keylab Essential 49 / 88 Keystep 37
Nektar GX49 Aura Panorama T4 Impact LX25+
M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 MK3 Axiom Pro 25 Oxygen Pro 25
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32 Maschine Mikro MK3 Traktor Control X1 MK2 / S2 MK3 Maschine Jam

Price range:

  • Lower limit – Rs.5,000 (approx. $70)
  • Upper limit – Rs.60,000 (approx. $805)

 

Microphones

Another line of products which probably is its own parallel dimension is microphones. Especially now, in keeping with the times, with studios either closed for the moment or not allowing entry, remote working being a basic requirement in pretty much every audio related field, it’s very important that you have the right microphone that suits the kind of work you do – singing or rapping, voiceovers, recording instruments that need a microphone.

Also, importantly, make sure you think before you put your money into an expensive premium microphone, because if you don’t have the right acoustic treatment and the room is not quiet enough, either the reflections are going to make your recording a nightmare due to overtones flying around, or, your mic will probably pick up the neighbor igniting his Enfield or the crows fighting outside your window (speaking out of experience). And cleaning that audio is a specialized task in itself!

Between the 2 major choices in the microphone world – Dynamic microphones and Condenser microphones – it is most advisable to use a dynamic mic when recording in a home studio setup. Dynamic microphones are more focused in a directional sense, which means that they pick up the signal of what is nearest and loudest. So, in a fairly silent environment, a home recording can be made to sound professional, if one is smart about positioning and the post recording process of cleaning up and mixing.

One last feature that you will get an option to choose from is the pickup pattern of the mic. Most of the recommended options fall into the cardioid, super-cardioid or hyper-cardioid categories. The key difference is that super-cardioid and hyper-cardioid mics, as opposed to just cardioid, are way more focused directionally, so the distance and position of the source from the mic need to be maintained as strictly as can be. The end result being a superior sounding recording, which can be at least classified as semi-professional, if not professional.

Keeping that in mind, here is a list of budget-friendly dynamic microphones that we feel will set you up with a great start –

Brand Instrument mic

(All pickup patterns)

Vocal mic

(Cardioid)

Vocal mic

(Super-cardioid /

Hyper-cardioid)

Shure SM57 / Beta57A SM58 Beta58A
sE Electronics V7X V3 V7
Sennheiser e609 e835 e945
AKG D40 D770 D5 / D7
Audio Technica MB-2K / ATM-650 ATM-410 ATM-610
Beyerdynamic M 88 TG TG V50 TG V70
Sontronics Solo

Price range:

  • Lower limit – Rs.3,000 (approx. $40)
  • Upper limit – Rs.25,000 (approx. $335)

 

There you have it! The goal of this article is that it helps you in narrowing down options and gives you a rough idea of how much money you need to put aside for each essential element of starting as a music producer, solo artist, singer songwriter or mix engineer or any other job in the realm of audio production work. We hope you find what you need, smartly, within your budget and wish you a great career ahead… to infinity and beyond!

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About Authors

A touring Sound Engineer, Stage Manager, multi-genre Music Producer and Drummer with a passion for writing about music and tech and the drama surrounding it all!

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