How to set up a home recording studio for $800

This article has a purpose of suggesting a home recording engineer several solutions on how to build a home production studio at affordable price. The great bit of a home musician’s talent is an ability to find best deals for buying professional gear at the bet price.

Microphone

The first thing you should take care about is a quality microphone. Forget about using multimedia mics. The best deal for home studio would be condenser mics like AKG C1000 (less than $200) or Octava MK 219 (around $100). Such firms as AKG, Audio Technica, Studio Projects, RODE, Oktava, CAD are offering a variety of large diaphragm condenser mics at price less than $200. Some options are AKG D112, Oktava MK219, Rode NT1-A, Audix I5, and MXL 990. One microphone is just enough for an average home studio. Some musicians would prefer to get a dynamic microphone like Shure SM57 for recording snare drum, hand percussion and bass amps. When buyibng a microphone do not forget to get yourself a pop filter as well.

Choosing a recording system

Musicians who record acoustic music straight to stereo should choose a simple stereo microphone preamplifier which can be connected directly to soundcard or audio interface.

For those who record tracks separately, one at a time, a small mixer would be useful. Several quality but cheap mixers are Mackie 1202, 1402 or the Behringer MX. These devices will give you a full control over MIDI keyboards, drum machines and mics. You would also need to pay for a quality soundcard. Some of the nice computer audio interfaces are Echo Layla, the M-Audio Delta 1010 and the MOTU 828.

Definitely eight analog outputs, that most of those audio interfaces have, might not be enough to record a full live band with number of instruments. In this case a larger „eight-bus“ mixer, such as the Mackie 24*8*2 8-Bus mixer would be helpful. These mixers allow having up to 24 signals going in, with eight submixes going out to the eight inputs on your audio interface.

The simplest method to record music if you are not planning to get a record of a 10 players band is to buy a modest eight channel microphone preamp with an ADAT digital output connected directly to a mixer or multichannel sound card. For analog sound lovers this is possible to use an analog mixer (Mackie 160VLZ will work well) and connect it with an audio card that has eight analog line level inputs.

This would be nice if you spend some money on the quality headphones. The advice would be to get Sony MDR-7506, which are relatively not expensive but sound very nice, almost like professional monitors. They would also be helpful by preventing external noises from disturbing you.

Recording room

Definitely the quality of the sound depends a lot on the outside noises that can interrupt your recording and on the acoustics of your recording room. This is highly desirable that you spend some money and efforts and deaden your room with professional materials such as Sonex panels, RPG Diffusors and Bass Traps. This will not only prevent unwanted sounds to come through, but would also generally improve sound of the recording. Yet, law budget home studios are not always able to buy those special materials. In this case the best advice would be to deaden your room with all possible methods that are available: strategically place curtains and drapes, use overstuffed furniture and deaden the windows and doors as much as you can. If it’s possible, choose a room with high ceilings and a lot of free space. Large room would not only improve the sound but would also allow you to place all your gear comfortably and within easy reach.

Simple set up

If you have a standard stereo sound card this is possible to recommend you a very simple set up suitable for basic needs of home studio musician. First of all plug your microphones, DI for electric guitar or bass, MIDI synths and any other sound sources you have into the appropriate inputs on your mixing board. The next step is to plug the mixer's stereo line-level Main Outputs (L-R) into the ‘line in’ of the computer's sound card. Then plug the ‘line out’ from the computer's audio interface into a line-level stereo input on the mixer. If your mixer has an ALT3/4 output, then it can route the signal from mixer with the ‘mute’ switch for a separate set of outputs from the mixer. You can use it as a ‘record enable’ switch for the channels that you want to record. With this type of set up this is possible to monitor the ALT3/4 outputs while switching them to ‘main out L/R’. The other way to connect a mixer with an audio interface is to use the ‘aux send’ as a recording output to the sound card’s ‘line in’.

The next step is to plug the mixer’s monitor output into the line-level inputs on the stereo amplifier or speakers. To start recording you should enable ‘line in’ on the sound card as an input and assign the outputs to the ‘line out’.

One important thing to notice about setting up and connecting your gear is that cables are to be quality. Some people ignore the importance of cables, but they are mistaken. Even the best expensive gear can sound badly if connected with cheap cables. The advice would be to use Neutrik or Switchcraft connectors and Belden or Mogami cable. Some cheaper but good cables and connectors are produced by Community Sound, ProCo, Horizon, and Whirlwind.

The other option of getting a nice home recording studio is to build a Pro Tools Studio almost at the same price.