When I got my recording equipment and started a small home studio back in 2014, I got a lot of questions on my Youtube Channel and Twitter on my recording setup and where I got my equipment. I did make a video back then, but it was never posted on my channel because it was never edited, hehe. Since my next video is taking a while to finish, I figured that now is a good time as ever to finally film, edit, and upload a little “tour” and explanation of my home studio!
Because I cannot possibly include everything in a ten minutes, I’ve written this blog post to supplement what I said and showed in my video.
DISCLAIMER: though I am not sponsored by Amazon or any of these audio companies, I do get a small commission if you choose to purchase a microphone or equipment through these links :)
As mentioned in my video, there are four parts to a very BASIC home studio. Yes, basic, because I’m a student, and I have a very tight budget.
At the very, VERY least, you need to have:
- A microphone
- Phantom Power/Audio Interface (If you have a condenser Microphone)
- Mic equipment (Shock mount, cables, a pop filter (if you sing) and a mic stand, if that does not come with your mic!)
- Audio editing software & laptop
The good thing is, it’s not as daunting as you might think! I got my entire set up for under $300 (prices breakdown below).
There are a wide variety of microphones on the market, ranging from really cheap ones, to more expensive, from condenser to dynamic, and from USB (plug and play) to ones that need phantom power. There are SO many available, and because I’m not a mic expert, I’m just going to link an article introducing 10 different types of microphones here.
The two types of microphones I was immediately drawn to was a plug and play (meaning that the microphone comes with a USB and you simply plug it into your computer!) and a condenser microphone (which is probably one of the most common type of microphone to be found in recording studios!). Another type that is commonly used is the dynamic mic–karaoke, stage singing, etc, typically use that kind of mic. You can see a compare and contrast of condenser and dynamic here.
So just going off the USB and the Condenser, I decided to give the USB a shot, because I knew it would be easy to set up (all I would need is a computer and the mic!), AND it’s cheaper. I got the CAD U37 USB Studio Condenser Recording Microphone for about $45. YES it called itself a condenser mic, and it’s apparently a very good beginner’s mic (according to the reviews, anyways)–but I was very disappointed with the final results and returned it within a week.
What I learned from this? Don’t be too cheap!
The next mic I tried for my home studio was the MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone. The downside to this is that it IS more expensive. I got it for about $70–but that is not the total cost of the setup. Because it is a true condenser mic, it required phantom power, AND I need to purchase cables because it does not immediately plug into my laptop. I will get into that more in a little bit.
However, after using this, I fell in love with it almost instantly. It picks up sound easily, and it’s very, very sensitive. On the other hand, it doesn’t pick up the unwanted sounds. I could be recording something on piano and my sisters could be talking in the next room. Even though I can hear them, the mic did not pick up any of their voices… which is great! Since I live in quite a noisy house. :)
This really shows that $25 can make a HUGE difference in the microphone sound quality. It’s definitely worth it, though. Now, the next part is what everyone feels a little iffy about… the connections between the mic, cables, audio interface, and laptop.
I’d never heard of what an audio interface is before starting to do research on microphones and recording equipment. Very simply put, an USB Audio Interface will supply your condenser microphone with phantom power (No need to plug the microphone into a wall outlet or anything!) while connecting to your computer so your computer can record the sounds. The great part with audio interfaces is that you can connect as many instruments and microphones as the interface allows! That means you can record guitar and voice at once, using two microphones, or, if your interface allows more connections, an entire band.
While researching and shopping around, I was drawn to one almost immediately: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2 In/2 Out USB Recording Audio Interface. It was two inputs, a spot for you to plug in your headphones, and you can get the same interface with even more inputs. I will say that it was tricky to get the Scarlett 2i2 to run with my Window computer, but it was very easy to plug in and start using on my Macbook.
Perhaps the best thing about this Interface is that it comes with a basic audio editing software called Ableton Live 9 Lite. It is compatible for Mac AND Windows, and it’s a great software to try out if you do not have anything else. It is certainly better (in my opinion) than Audacity.
And speaking of audio editing softwares…
Audio Editing Software
I’ve tried several in the past while recording at home, including Audacity, Ableton Live 9 Lite (Which was mentioned above), and Garageband. As stated in my video, I am using Garageband currently as it has plenty of options for me to work with and it was quite easy to learn. Here is just a bit of an overview on the audio editing software I’ve used in the past, though:
Free programs don’t really come any better than Audacity. This basically gives you all you need for a basic setup. It will allow you to record from your mic as well as use multiple tracks, cut and paste audio clips, etc. It’s very easy to learn but unfortunately, not a whole ton of features. There are a lot of opensource plugins out there, though, for you to try. This is honestly quite a great beginning program if you cannot afford another one.
Ableton Live 9–Comes with Scarlett 2i2 Recording Interface, but otherwise starts at 79EUR
Very decent, more advanced program. It came for free and to be honest, I haven’t installed it on my Macbook yet. It seems to do quite a bit; I haven’t tried out /ALL/ the features yet, but overall, for a free program that came with my recording interface, I was quite impressed.
Garageband–Comes with Macbook/Apple Products
In the spirit of home studio recording comes garageband. Yes, I was quite impressed with this as well. I knew that, when I got a Macbook, I wanted it for some of the softwares that it came with. They are definitely more advanced than the default Windows software, and I think garageband works for people who just need minimal editing. (People like me, who just need the audio recorded and maybe a little bit of reverb!). This is the program I will stick with for a little bit, though I might venture back to Ableton just to play around a bit with it.
Misc. Recording Equipment
If you sing, this is a must. Pop filters filter out the harsh “ppp” and “sss” sounds when you are singing. You can easily DIY this by yourself, or get a pretty cheap one on Amazon for less than $20. For me personally, I’ve chosen CAD Audio EPF-15A Pop Filter on 6-inch Gooseneck, which was selling for $14 at the time.
A decent pair of headphones or earphones are required to properly hear your own sounds. Typically, studios use monitors, but since those can cost more than $100, I just opted for headphones for my home studio. And even those can cost quite a bit!! I ended up going with 2 cheap headphone/earphones that work for my purposes. I’ve had them for about two years now, and haven’t had a problem. I got the Sony MDRZX100 ZX Series Stereo Headphones in Black for $15 and the Panasonic RPHJE120P In-Ear Headphone for about $7.50. They are both really fantastic options as far as headphones go, and economical!
Note that if you plan on using this pair of headphones with the Scarlett Focusrite 2i2, you must also buy a 1/4-Inch Male to 1/8-Inch Female adapter, which will cost you about 2-3 dollars.
These can get pretty expensive too, but if you get the most basic microphone stand, it would cost you around $25. The one I currently have is the On Stage Stands MS7701B Tripod Boom Microphone Stand, which retails currently for $24.95 on Amazon. It’s a very decent stand, wobbly at times and doesn’t hold up my MXL microphone that well, but it does its job. And for $25, I don’t think I can ask for too much more.
These can get pricy too, but thankfully it came with my MXL microphone. (Check to see if it comes with whatever you decide to get! Shockmounts are going to be what allows you to put your microphone onto your stand, though, so these ARE necessary. Not to mention, shockmounts will allow your microphone to be isolated from vibration of the stand, floor, etc. You can get one of these anywhere from 9-30 dollars, and make sure it’s compatible with your mic first!
If you’re choosing to go with a plug-and-play option, then this is not necessary, but many mics don’t actually come with cables, and you will need one to be able to plug it into your interface! What you need to be looking for is a XLR Male to XLR Female cable. The one I personally have is the GLS Audio 25 foot Mic Cable Patch Cords – XLR Male to XLR Female Black Microphone Cables – 25′ Balanced Mic Snake Cord – Single. It is 25 feet long, (plenty long… if I want to record from the other side of the room!). I got it for $14.99 and it does its job well. I’m quite sure there are shorter options out there (resulting in a cheaper price).
When I started my home studio, I did a LOT of research before deciding on which ones to buy, especially when it comes to the cables and cords. I didn’t want to buy something that was not compatible with my laptop, and the entire setup can be a bit confusing. To simplify it all, I’m going to break it up for you here:
- The Microphone is mounted onto the Shockmount, and the shockmount allows the mic itself to be mounted onto the stand.
- An XLR Male to XLR Female cord is used to connect the microphone to your USB audio interface.
- A USB cable (for the Scarlett Focusrite 2i2 specifically, this would be a USB 2.0 A-Male to B-Male Cable cable–this comes with the Audio interface, so there is no need to purchase it if that is what you’re getting.) connects the audio interface to your laptop or desktop.
- By opening a audio editing software and selecting the interface as your input and output, you will be able to record! Be sure to turn on the phantom power on your interface if you’re using a condenser mic. :)
My entire home studio setup, even though minimal, does its job. This is a breakdown of what I spent:
- MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone (69.00)
- GLS Audio 25 foot Mic Cable Patch Cords – XLR Male to XLR Female Black Microphone Cables – 25′ Balanced Mic Snake Cord – Single (14.99)
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2 In/2 Out USB Recording Audio Interface (136.57)
- Sony MDRZX100 ZX Series Stereo Headphones (Black) (14.95)
- Panasonic RPHJE120P In-Ear Headphone, Pink (7.47)
- On Stage Stands MS7701 Tripod Boom Microphone Stand (24.95)
For under $300, you can get a pretty decent setup going and start recording like you’ve always wanted to. Plus, I’m sure you can find deals on these products, and prices DO fluctuate from time to time on Amazon, so you may even score a better deal than I did!
Hope this is helpful. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!