When you start making music more or less tightly, you think about how to record right in your apartment. Any musician has a home studio in one form or another: someone records a guitar via DI, someone sketches demos, someone makes beats. You don’t have to go to a commercial studio to do this.
Today, even full-fledged songs are recorded at home, which then become hits and receive a Grammy. Whether you need to record live drums, a grand piano or a string orchestra, a large tone hall is indispensable. A home studio will perfectly cope with a host of other tasks. In addition, this format offers many advantages.
- You do not spend money on studio sessions;
- You can record the part you have composed at any time;
- You do not need to go anywhere, all accessories are at hand;
- No need to negotiate with anyone and reserve time;
- At home there is always a comfortable, calm, familiar atmosphere;
- You choose the equipment for your home studio yourself. Do not depend on someone’s tastes, buy only the essentials;
- You can endlessly pump your recording, editing, arrangement, mixing and mastering skills.
Disadvantages are related only to equipment and premises. In expensive studios, we are provided with a bunch of iron instruments, a huge park of microphones, drums and combos, cool monitors … But do we need all this? Perhaps one percent of all this equipment will be enough for your tasks.
When setting up a home studio, beware of the equipment collector syndrome. A small budget is even a plus. The hardware constraint helps you maximize your skills. If you have one plug-in, you will squeeze all the juices out of it, thoroughly study all the functions, you will find many ways to get by with just this device.
The premise raises more questions. In many cases, a home studio is about disgruntled neighbors and relatives, problems with street noise, and poor acoustics. The main part of the article will be devoted to the equipment and acoustic design of the room.
We evaluate our capabilities
When choosing a room, we first of all pay attention to its acoustic properties (but we also do not forget about the visual side and comfort of a home studio). The bigger the room, the better. This is especially true for the height of the ceilings.
Our main enemies are wall reflections and resonances (standing waves). We will deal with reflections using different absorbers and diffusers. But you can’t get away from resonances. What it is? At one point in your home studio, some frequencies are boosted and others dropped. At another point, the same thing, but with different frequencies. And such jumps all over the room. We hear the influence of standing waves and cannot properly tune the mix, record the instrument, or pick up the sound.
The larger the room, the more these differences are smoothed out. So if you have the option to choose, locate your home studio in the largest room. But form is also important. A small square room with flat walls and a low ceiling is the worst option. Here we will catch strong resonances, fluttering echoes, low frequency congestion and fast early reflections. Accordingly, the best option for a home studio is as follows.
- High ceilings;
- Far spaced walls;
- Uneven surfaces;
- Rectangular shape;
- Lack of parallel planes.
In this case, it is desirable that the room is located inside, away from street noises and neighbors on the side. Then no one will interfere with you, and you will not interfere with anyone. Sometimes soundproofing saves, but this is not as simple and cheap solution as it might seem. It won’t work for every home studio.
In some cases, the room doesn’t matter at all. For example, if you have expensive monitor headphones and are not going to use studio monitors. The set of the home studio also depends on the tasks. For information, a midi keyboard is not required, but for beatmaking it is very useful. For per-channel recording, one or two inputs on the audio interface are enough, and for multichannel recording, more is needed. Let’s figure it out in order.
Computer. There are no specific configuration guidelines. The more powerful the better. In this case, you do not need to spend money at all. For a home studio, both your gaming laptop and your family’s desktop computer will do. A fast processor allows you to hang up a lot of plugins and not experience brakes. A large amount of RAM will also make your work more comfortable.
Installing at least a small SSD drive is a good idea. Transfer the most popular programs, system, samplers with large libraries, active projects to it. And all this will start loading many times faster. For a professional home studio, speed and stability are important. Archive projects, installation files, and samples that you rarely use can be stored on the HDD.
The powerful fans on many system units make a lot of noise. A loud apparatus is difficult to hide in a home studio. So the laptop wins in this regard. Another advantage is mobility. The compact studio is easy to take with you on a business trip or travel. A dual-channel sound card, a laptop, good headphones, a miniature midi keyboard – this is already a serious production kit. And all this home studio equipment is easy to take with you wherever you go.
Sequencer. This is the main software, the working environment in which you perform sound recording, arranging, mixing. It can also be obtained for free. Some programs come bundled with sound cards, some cost symbolic money, and some only pay for the premium version.
You don’t even need a home studio to use the online sequencer Amped Studio. It runs through the internet browser of any computer or laptop. Also, a PWA application has been developed specifically for Chromebooks. This makes it possible to play music on the road or wherever there is internet access.
Amped Studio allows you to record live instruments and vocals, make beats and arrangements, edit and process tracks. Everything you can do in your home studio, this program will help. It has a fairly simple interface, and this quality is very useful at first. Even a beginner can figure out the functionality.
Plugins. Almost every sequencer comes with its own set of effects. The same Amped Studio includes delay, reverb, distortion, compressor, chorus and other virtual devices. If a home studio is intended for mixing, production and arrangement, these treatments will definitely be needed.
Another kind of plugins are virtual instruments. Amped Studio provides several samplers, several synthesizers, and a drum machine. You can also connect VST plug-ins to this sequencer from your computer. If you want to expand your home studio, buy third-party effects and instruments as part of the Premium package.
But here, too, you need to be careful. It is better to purchase one plugin at a time and disassemble each one in detail. This way you don’t waste any extra money and maximize your sound engineering skills. If you equip your home studio with a large collection at once, there is a risk that the devices will work out their functions only partially. You just get tired of studying them.
Sound card. This device is needed in order to record and reproduce high quality sound. For this, special converters work here. Also, some interfaces have midi ports for connecting a midi keyboard and digital channels such as ADAT or S / PDIF.
For a recording home studio, the number of inputs matters. For example, a device with one instrument and one microphone input allows you to simultaneously record guitar, vocals, and midi. This is where the possibilities of such a card end. If you need multitrack recording from four or more channels, you need to take the device more abruptly.
As for the outputs, even in a home studio it is desirable to have multiple monitor lines. Two outputs are enough for one pair of monitors. To stick another one and quickly switch to it, you need two more outputs. And of course, don’t forget the headphone output.
Monitoring. Loudspeaker monitor systems produce a more honest sound than home speakers. But both those and others interact with the room, which introduces its own distortions. Therefore, to work on monitors, the home studio must be muted (more on that later). Special corrective devices are also sold, which help to adjust the speaker system to the room.
Usually, problems arise with the lower part of the spectrum and with the lower middle, because the waves at these frequencies are the longest, they do not have enough room to turn around. Oddly enough, in a home studio, headphones will help you out. Their design gives you enough bass that goes straight to your ears without interacting with the room. It is recommended to use closed headphones for recording: so that the click and soundtrack from them do not get into the microphone. For information, it is usually recommended to use open headphones.
If monitors can be expensive enough, finding regular speakers for a home studio shouldn’t be a problem. And they will be very useful. Coming to the final stage of mixing, the sound engineer always checks the mix on household speakers. In general, the more control lines you have, the better.
Tools. Each musician in his home studio has his own individual kit: electric and acoustic guitars, basses, combos, electronic drums, keyboards, etc. A producer or arranger who doesn’t play live instruments will definitely need a midi keyboard.
To record voice, acoustic guitar, sound from a combo, you need microphones. At first, one wide-diaphragm condenser microphone is enough for a home studio. If there is no way to get rid of noise and reflections, you can also choose a dynamic cardioid model. Its capsule captures sound in only one direction, cutting off all unnecessary. But in this case, you will most likely have to do a good job with the EQ.
Technical devices. A home studio does not need rack racks, monitoring controllers, or branching connections. But you can’t do without a minimum set of wires. To connect monitors, you need two XLR-TRS cables (or others, it depends on the models of monitors and audio interface). The microphone is connected with an XLR (male-female) cable.
A comfortable workspace for a home studio is also important. A small, unpretentious table will be enough, but it is better to take a chair that is more expensive and comfortable. It is better to place the monitors on vibration dampers. You can buy or assemble tall floor stands. Compact monitors in a small room can be placed directly on the table using special stands.
A microphone stand in a home studio can get in the way and take up a lot of space, but trust me, it makes recording much more convenient. And in many cases, you simply cannot do without it. As for the pop filter, its importance is somewhat overestimated. First, it still misses clicks and loud explosive sounds. Secondly, in order to ensure the best quality, it is recommended to remove unnecessary overtones manually during the editing stage. Thirdly, the fabric pop filter makes vocals slightly muffled and metallic ones jingle.
Understanding room acoustics
Let’s differentiate between home studio soundproofing and acoustic design. Sometimes they complement each other, sometimes they come into conflict. The purpose of soundproofing is to keep sound from leaving the room. The purpose of acoustic design is, on the contrary, to get rid of unnecessary reflections.
If we have a lot of free space, we can assemble multi-layer walls on vibrating hangers, fill them with mineral wool, make a floating floor and a suspended ceiling. But such a finish will be expensive and eat up a lot of space. This solution is hardly suitable for an apartment. Therefore, the home studio can only be jammed.
Damping will give us a little soundproofing and will save us from reflections. We should only hear the direct signal from the monitors. In expensive studios, there are reflections, but they fade out at all frequencies at the same time, you get an even, honest sound. In a small room and on a modest budget, this cannot be achieved. Therefore, it is recommended to jam the home studio as much as possible. But not tightly, so that the silence does not press on the ears. Otherwise, it will be uncomfortable even to be in the room. What will help here?
- Acoustic panels made of mineral wool, fabric and wooden battens;
- Foam absorbers of high frequencies;
- Bass traps;
- Heavy curtains-drapes;
- Soft sofas and shelves with books;
- Pillows, mattresses, blankets, blankets;
- Various kinds of diffusers.
The most convenient construction for a home studio is rock wool panels. They eat up both the high and mid frequencies and the low mids, especially when placed at a short distance from the walls. Foam panels are too advertised, but in reality this is not the best solution. They are capable of absorbing only high frequencies. If you paste over the whole home studio with them (as many do), we get a dull sound with uncontrolled mid and low frequencies.
To further improve the acoustics, find the optimal points for the monitors. Just move around the room and listen to where they are clearer, clearer, and sound better. But here you will not roam much, because there are several strict rules.
- One monitor, the second monitor, and the listener’s head should be the corners of an equilateral triangle. Then you get the right stereo picture;
- Tweeters should be at ear level;
- The distance from the monitors to the side walls of your home studio should be the same on both sides. Otherwise, the reflections will reach you at different times.
But to install the microphone, you can choose absolutely any place that you like in sound. To find it, you need to walk around the room. At the same time, sing, talk, clap your hands, turn on music on your portable speaker – and listen. A popular feature in home studios is the rounded absorption screen that attaches to the microphone stand.
We paint the arrangement in steps and estimate the cost
1. Define tasks and choose a room. The more spacious and further from the neighbors, the better. We want to record live drums – we are looking for an additional separate room. If we want to do commercial recording, it’s also better to find a separate room. But for recording your own vocals, creating electronic music, writing beats, production, arrangement, information, you can even use a bedroom as a home studio.
2. We buy equipment. Music equipment prices vary greatly. Sometimes this can save a lot. In some cases, it is preferable not to spend money at all, but to use free solutions. Remember, for a home studio it’s even better to start small.
- Computer – $ 500 to $ 20,000. You can use the device that you have at the moment;
- Sound card – from $ 100 to $ 3000. If you do not need multitrack recording, then get a device with one or two inputs. A decent interface can be purchased for $ 150-200;
- Sequencer – $ 0 to $ 500. Pay attention to free programs. Check out Amped Studio rates;
- Plugins – from zero to infinity. At first, it is better to use those that come with the sequencer;
- Monitors – $ 200 to $ 12,000. A premium speaker system is not needed for a home studio. Take what you have enough money for. If there is no money at all for monitors, use headphones for now;
- Headphones – $ 100 to $ 2,000. For $ 500, you can get some great headphones. Compared to monitors, it is not expensive at all;
- Midi keyboard – $ 50 to $ 7,000. This device is not required for mixing and recording live instruments, although it can come in handy. But if you equip a home studio to do electronic music, beatmaking, arranging and production, then a midi keyboard will make your job easier;
- Microphone – $ 50 to $ 11,000. We don’t need Telefunken for 10,000 either. One dynamic microphone for $ 150 and one condenser for $ 500 is enough.
Also don’t forget about the commutation. Minimum set: two cords for monitors and one for a microphone. Plus, lay some stock on racks, surge protectors and furniture.
3. Making preliminary acoustic design. It is difficult to name the amount that will be spent on the acoustics of a home studio. Because, for example, you can make acoustic panels yourself, order or buy ready-made ones. You can also use free tools at hand.
If there is a large soft sofa in the room, it will muffle reflections well. And homemade panels are usually used to cover the corners and bare walls of home studios. But do not hang them all over. For example, it is enough to hang 4 panels of 0.5×1 m on a 2.5×4 m wall, leaving the same distance between them. It will be great if you place a couple of absorbers above your desk.
4. We arrange monitors. Let’s look for a good angle (while keeping in mind the equilateral triangle). If the monitors are giving too much bass, move them away from the back wall. In a home studio space, speakers can fall into the nodes of standing waves. If they give an obvious frequency response curve, move them back and forth and up and down. Next, we will select by ear the optimal stereo picture in width, bringing the monitors closer together or moving them further from each other. Do not forget about the equilateral triangle and move the work chair as well.
5. Let’s adjust the acoustic design for monitors. To give the room the best sound absorption properties, turn on the music and then bring in and out the sound-absorbing objects. Compare the sound and find the one that is comfortable for you.
Ideally, reflections should not be heard in a home studio, the music should be listened to in detail, and you should catch at what frequencies each instrument plays, how it is colored, compressed, etc. But if silence presses on the ears, weaken the absorption. It will be uncomfortable to work in a dead room.
Finally, the most important advice. Don’t wait for the money to buy better equipment. Start building your home studio right now. The equipment will accumulate over time. There are many practical benefits to this approach. The less amenities, plugins, equipment you have, the better your skills will be pumped. After all, you do not learn to master different plugins and switch monitors, but train your skills. The main equipment is your ears.
A home studio provides tremendous opportunities in music writing and decently reduces the financial costs of production. Free programs and plugins also work for this. For example, software such as Amped Studio allows you to achieve heights in musical creativity from scratch and at the same time practically not invest financially.