How To Build A Recording Studio

 

This is a buyer’s guide created for those who are interested in building their own recording studio but, don’t know what they need to purchase in order to do so. Now before creating this guide, I originally only had composers in mind but, as I continued writing I realized, there are a few other birds I could kill with this stone.

So, the gear suggested in it is geared toward both, composers as well as recording artists.

Just a little warning, these options are base around a computer (tower and or laptop). These days, I suppose to fair to assume everyone has access to a decent computer.

You don’t need the latest and greatest technology, I’ve done professional work on an 800mhz computer running nothing but Sony ACID – So no excuses my friends (anyone can do it).

 

Here’s the breakdown:

 

1) Recording Studio Monitors

This is one of the most important pieces of a recording studio yet, it’s most peoples last purchase! It’s the after thought purchase of most recording setups and it shouldn’t be!

How are you suppose to create good music if you can’t hear the things you need to be hearing? I find it funny that people are willing to pay $500 or more on software applications but, when it comes to the monitors (studio speakers) they try to find the cheapest solution possible.

That doesn’t make any sense AT ALL! Music is ear candy ladies and gentlemen so, your monitors are not something to skimp on.

Here is a small list of studio monitors that will allow you to get the job done (right) without breaking the bank.

Active Monitors (No external Amp Needed) Under $400

Alesis M1 Active 520 – $174.00/Free Shipping
Alesis M1 Active MK2 –$290.00/Free Shipping
Yamaha HS50M $399.00/Free Shipping

Don’t buy USB based monitors (as your main monitors).

 

2) Treating Sound Reflections

This is very important. There are too many home studios with bare walls. This is not a good practice because the sound coming from your monitors, will bounce off the walls and back into your ears thus, altering what you truly hear in your mix.

This is what I would suggest:

Keep in mind, I’m not a pro engineer and I’m sure any (engineers) reading this will want to back hand me into next week.

Studio Foam – Auralex foam is good (IMO), but it can be pretty expensive. Head over to ebay or your local GC and grab some.

Keep in mind the goal here is to kill reflections (dampen the sound), not sound proof the room.

Eggcrate foam is a great alternative! The thicker, the better.

Keep in mind, not all mattress foam is the same. Some will be thinner or as think as the Auralex foam (depending on where you get it from).

Where To Place Studio Foam

I’m sure the next question is “where do I place the foam once I get it?”. This is a great question with a generic answer – Place it wherever it’s needed!

What you need to do is clap your hands in the room and note where you hear echos. Those are the places you need to treat 1st! Everyone’s room will be a little different in size and clutter. When I say clutter, I mean the stuff you have in the room.

Some of you might have beds, bookcases, boxes etc. This is all good as it helps to diffuse sound (stopping it from bouncing back).

The typical location you’ll place foam is on all 4 walls of room, not the entire wall but middle portion of each. You’ll place a large panel or a few small panels. Do not foam the entire room because you’ll create an unnatural boxy sounding mixing space – We don’t want that!

Moving Blankets – I love these because they’re so inexpensive and they do the job well. You can purchase movers blankets at home depot or online, but the best place to buy them is at a warehouse. I’ve found that warehouse will sell them dirt cheap or give them away free.

The idea with movers blankets is to hang them around you. You can do this by hanging them on hooks or a square frame made from PVC.

When buying movers blankets, get the ones that feel like CLOTH not the ones that have that synthetic feel to them. Cloth will absorb sound much better than the synthetic material.

 

3) The Audio Interface: Choosing The Right One

These units are used as a “go through” from your audio equipment to your computer.

Audio interfaces are equipped with:

  • I/0 (ins and outs)
  • preamp
  • midi connections
  • Headphone Jacks

There are 3 different kinds of audio interfaces: Firewire, Usb and PCI.

The PCI interfaces fits inside of your computer (generally towers). The one I use is a Delta 1010. It’s old, but still works like a charm.

USB Interfaces connect to your computer via USB (obviously) and firewire connections via firewire. Firewire is faster than usb (90% of the time), but there are few USB units out there that smoke their firewire counterparts. These interfaces can range anywhere from $60 to $2,000, depending on brand and the bells and whistles it contains.

small list of audio interfaces I suggest:

3 Good USB Audio Interfaces

Focusrite Saffire 6 USB $174.99
Focusrite Scarlett 18i6 best deal
Presonus AudioBox

3 Good Firewire Audio Interfaces

M-Audio ProFire 610 – Free shipping
MOTU UltraLite Mk3

I won’t bother listing the PCI interfaces simply because USB/Firewire interface’s quality are the same, if not better. The only reason I still have my M-Audio Delta 1010 is because I started with it, It still sounds great and I don’t have a reason to replace it – If it aint broke don’t fix it right?

 

4) Microphone Selection

This is long process for most people, especially if it’s their 1st time investing money into their recording setup. The myth is you need to spend top dollar on a mic in order to get a quality recording.

The truth, all you need is a good recording area, good interface/preamp and good mic placement.

I own a Behringer B2 that I purchased over 6 years ago and it rivaled a high end Nueman U87. I tested this mic numerous times with my manager/engineer (at the time) and the only difference was the Neuman registered the Hi’s just a little better.

great cheap condenser Mics  for vocal recording:

Studio Projects B1 $114 Free Shipping
Behringer B2 $142.99 Free Shipping
Blue Spark Condenser – Best bang for the buck
Audio Technica 4040
RODE NT1/NT2

I like these condenser mics because they don’t cost a lot of money, they reproduce sound accurately and they are under the $500 threshold.

 

5) Recording Studio Applications

Too many choices out there these days, and most pretty much do the same thing. Here are the applications that I feel give you the most bang for your money.

Propellerheads Reason – Reason gets a lot of flack because it lacks plugin support. If you do a search online you’ll find hundreds of threads with people ranting and complaining about it.

What I love about this program is the fact that it’s resembles real studio gear. Even down to the routing of instruments. Reason is probably the only application on the market that contains everything you need to create PRO quality music.

Ableton Live – Excellent application for recording, production, remixing you name it. The program is flexible and has a huge community of experts that help their fellow users. They supply tips, skins, ableton templates etc.

Most communities I’ve come in contact with are snobby and feel that every little technique they use is a HUGE secret and dear to them – Not the Ableton Live Community!

Pro Tools – This is another multitrack recording application, most claim it’s the industry standard. I’m not a huge fan of this application (my own person biases) but it get’s the job done.

There are a lot of affordable bundle packages that contain pro tools, I’d suggest looking into them especially if you’re thinking going pro tools

Every program has stock samplers, eq, compressors and instruments (synths) but, for the multitrack recording apps, you’ll need to invest in other plugins to get the most out of them.

 

 

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19 thoughts on “How To Build A Recording Studio

  1. i agree homie reason has a more professional interface for making music and a analog feel too but now with reason 6 multi tracking audio its getting crazy i have protools 10 with krk 5 as my studio monitors and headphones im satisfied with my setup i use akai mpk 61 as my midi controller and as for mic i use akg perception i have customer who prefers me to mix in reason 6 than protools its crazy cuz i like using protools but he likes the quality from reason its the analog feel i guess.

  2. Great information Greg

    What would you suggest for someone who has a computer and $500-$700 to spend? I’d like to create my own instrumentals and do a little singing without sacrificing much quality.

  3. Lots of good information here, I actually ordered the Spark condenser mic, should be in within a couple of days.. Thank you Greg

    1. Hey Carl,

      thanks for taking time out of your day to visit my site. The Spark mic is good, let me know if you need any tips or anything when it comes to recording with it.

  4. Greg, I too would like to see a set with a more strict budget. I don’t have 2-3 grand to spend on this. I do have a laptop, please make a post specifically on laptop based setups if you can with a small budgets.

  5. First of all Hi Greg!

    You’ve got a nice website and I really respect what you are trying to do!

    I don’t want you to take this as an offense or something like that, but some of the info is quite misleading and simply not true.

    Egg cartons and moving blankets have almost no effect if someone try to treat their room with that. You should look more into diy bass traps and absorbers made out of rockwool, fiberglass or something similar, that is dense and is widely used as the industry standard by the bedroom producers. And if someone wants to treat their room by pros they should look at GIK Acoustics or Real Traps. Visit any of their websites, there are alot of articles on the subject of how acoustic treatment works. 🙂 Auralex is also no good because their material is made out of foam, and is not dense enough to properly treat a room. For more info about this subject you can read on gearslutz.com

    Also since you recommend Reason, let me give you my personal opinion of a better solution that will benefit beginners more: Reason 6.5 costs $500 right? You can buy Reaper (which is A class product) for $60 and spend the rest of your money on world class plugins. By doing this you won’t be restricted to the same synths and effects, that on the long road will limit you to the same sound. This should be regarded as a personal opinion from someone that used Reason 1 thru 5, and all the major DAWs (Cubase, ProTools, Logic, Studio One 2). 🙂

    I would like to add that I’ve made this remarks because I think you should research alot more on the subjects you are trying to help others before you to that.

    Anyway, I really like your website and especially the 90 days challenge and I’m really looking forward to see alot more posts in the future.

    Take care!

    1. Marko,

      No offense taken, we just have different opinions/methods. I make a living as a pro sound designer/producer. I’m just sharing what works for me.

      I suggest foam/blankets as a cheap way to kill reflections and dampen sound.

      You’re going to hear less reflection in a room that has foam in the right places than you would in a room with bare walls.

      When I started, I used DP, Pro Tools, Cubase etc. Plugins are great, but they side tracked me. Reason and my Mpc 3000, those are only 2 things that kept me focus. There a lot of options out there..

      Thanks for sharing your opinion

      Ps I have to add Reaper to the list, totally forgot about that one.

    2. Marko is right, egg cartons or cheap foam recommendation is really bad advice. All you do is either break up or reduce the very highest frequencies only, causing a greater overall imbalance in the reverberation of the room. In short, it can actually make things boomy and a lot worse!. What you want is broadband absorbtion and possibly some diffusion as well. People often think about echos as just high frequencies, its not, reverb occurs at EVERY frequency. Room treatment is as much about reducing time domain effects as it is in reducing comb filtering and big peaks and nulls in the freq response. I would seriously considering removing that part of your article as its honestly bad advice, irrespective of how much success you’ve had professionally.

  6. P.S.

    Firewire 400 is not faster than USB 2.0, it’s actually slower, and on the other hand FW 800 is faster. But if you look around at the new interfaces, you’ll see that the future is in USB, probably because of USB 3.0. And PCI is actually better for speed, performance and latency. 🙂

    Sorry for the big posts 🙂

    Have a good one!

    1. Marko,

      I never made the claim that FW400 was faster than usb. Sorry if that was unclear

      I haven’t noticed a difference in performance with interfaces (the newer ones) and pci cards. Which Pci cards do you have experience with?

      Ps post as much as you like

  7. Thanks you so much for this post. I know you made this a months ago, but my question – what interface would be best to go with. Something from Focusrite or Maudio. I only ask because both companies have multiple and it’s a bit confusing. My budget is $300.00, that’s the maximum I’m willing to spend. Should I increase my budget? What would you do with the $300? Which gear would you invest in?

    I currently have a good laptop, condenser mic, reaper and no audio interface. Thanks for your help

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