So you want to start recording music at home, but you’re on a tight budget and don’t know where to start and what equipment you need?
Don’t worry; with today’s technology, it’s easier and more affordable than ever to set up a basic home studio.
In this article, I’ll walk you through everything you need to get started, from audio interfaces and microphones to monitors and accessories. We’ll look at the most essential gear to record, mix, and produce your own music without breaking the bank.
Whether you want to lay down guitar riffs and vocal melodies or craft full productions, this guide will help you find the right tools for your needs and budget.
Ready to make some music from the comfort of home? Let’s dive in!
How much money do you need?
While it’s possible to spend tens of thousands of dollars on gear, you can also put together a decent starter home studio for well under $1000 if you’re smart about where to allocate your funds.
For under $1000, you should have no trouble getting the essentials – such as a microphone, audio interface, headphones, MIDI controller, DAW software, and studio monitors.
With this setup, you should be able to record, mix, master, and produce your own radio-ready music.
However, if you don’t have a decent computer yet, you should expect to invest a little more. And that’s what our next section will talk about.
A decent PC or laptop
The heart of any modern home recording studio is the computer. And in most cases, the more powerful, the better.
Working with plugins, samples, and virtual instruments takes up a lot of processing power, so you don’t want to skimp on specs here.
There are three main specs you need to look for when choosing a computer for the home studio:
CPU (Central Processing Unit) & number of cores
The CPU is the brain of your computer, which handles all of the calculations and processes.
You want a CPU with a high number of cores, as this will allow you to run more plugins and virtual instruments at the same time without lag or a drop in performance.
Look for a CPU with at least four cores and a clock speed of at least 2.4 GHz. Intel Core i5 or i7 processors are a good choice.
RAM (Random Access Memory)
The best way to understand RAM is to think of it as short-term memory.
Your computer uses RAM to store the data temporarily it’s currently processing and accesses it quickly when needed.
When running demanding plugins, virtual instruments, and samples, you’ll want as much RAM as possible. 8GB is a good minimum, but 16GB or more is ideal.
There are three types of computer storage:
- Hard Disk Drives (HDD)
- Solid State Drives (SSD)
- Hybrid Drives
HDD is a traditional spinning hard drive, which is the cheapest and most common type of storage. HDD drives are great for storing large amounts of data but are much slower compared to newer technology.
The biggest issue with HDDs is that they won’t last forever and will eventually fail. According to Backblaze’s study, you can rely on them for 3-5 years on average.
SSD is much faster, and because there are no moving parts, it’s also more reliable and durable.
The only downside is that they are much more expensive than HDDs. However, I wouldn’t compromise on this if you’re serious about music production. Get at least a 256GB SSD. It will pay off in the long run.
A hybrid drive is a combination of an HDD and SSD, which offer the best of both worlds. So you’ll get the speed of an SSD with HDD capacity at a low price.
Hybrid drives are stocked with many new premium desktops and laptops, so if you’re looking to buy a new one, this is your best bet.
If you’re setting up a home recording studio, one of the most important gear purchases you’ll make is an audio interface. But with so many options out there, how do you choose?
In short, an audio interface is the heart of your studio. It’s the device that gets sound in and out of your computer by converting analog signals (from mics, instruments, etc.) into digital data.
A good interface with quality components can capture better source recordings and improve your mixes. A low-quality interface can hamper sound quality or add latency (delay) that makes recording more difficult.
When shopping for an interface, it’s easy to get lost in technical jargon and flashy features. But there are just a few key factors that make the biggest difference: microphone preamps, converter quality, connectivity, and workflow.
In this section, we’ll break down the key points in simple terms so you can zero in on the right interface for your needs and budget.
The microphone preamp is one of the most critical components of an audio interface for recording. This is the first step in converting the very low-level signal from a microphone into a stronger signal that can be converted to digital.
Simply put, better preamps = better sound quality. The quality of the preamp impacts how accurately it captures the detail and character of your sound sources like vocals, acoustic guitar, drums, etc.
When researching audio interfaces, pay close attention to the mic preamps used. Some key specs to compare are:
- Signal-to-noise ratio – Higher is better
- Total harmonic distortion – Lower percentages are better.
- Frequency response – Wider/flatter is better.
Some interfaces may advertise the mic preamp model or even use preamps from high-end brands like Rupert Neve or API. This is usually an indicator of higher quality.
The number of preamps is also a consideration. Having at least 2 XLR mic inputs is recommended to start. More inputs allow for recording multiple sources at once. Pay attention to direct monitoring capabilities as well – this allows hearing inputs without latency.
In the end, prioritize quality over quantity of preamps. Two pristine preamps will capture better recordings than eight noisy ones. This is one area not to cut corners if you want professional-grade results.
The analog-to-digital converter (ADC) and digital-to-analog converter (DAC) are what translate your audio into and out of the digital realm. Their quality plays a big role in how natural and transparent your recordings will sound.
Better converters capture more detail, warmth, and dynamic range from sound sources. Cheaper converters may sound harsher, thinner, or compressed in comparison. Subpar conversion can lose subtle textures and make your tracks sound worse.
Key specs to compare are:
- Bit depth – 16-bit vs 24-bit. 24-bit preserves more dynamic range.
- Sample rate – 44.1 kHz vs 48 kHz vs higher. Higher retains more high-frequency detail.
- Dynamic range – A higher signal-to-noise ratio is better.
- THD+N – Lower total harmonic distortion and noise are better.
- Frequency response – A wider and flatter response is more accurate.
Listen for things like natural decay, air, width, and smoothness. Avoid converters that sound grainy, brittle, or flat. High-end converters from quality brands truly capture a three-dimensional sound.
This is one area where it can be worth investing more, as converter quality affects every sound that passes through your interface. But don’t go overboard – even budget audio interfaces often have decent quality these days.
The type of connection an audio interface uses to plug into your computer can impact performance, convenience, and cost. The main options are:
- USB – The most common interface connection today. USB 2.0 is limited in speed and number of channels, but USB 3.0 and USB-C offer higher bandwidth for more I/O—easy plug-and-play on any computer.
- Thunderbolt – Very fast connection capable of high channel counts with near-zero latency. Ideal for pro studios. More expensive and requires a Thunderbolt port on your computer.
- FireWire – Faster than USB 2.0, but not as fast as Thunderbolt. Less common now as computers drop FireWire ports. Requires adapters to work with USB-C or Thunderbolt computers.
- PCIe – Interface cards that slot directly into a PCI Express port inside your computer. Offers high speeds but is less convenient than external connections.
Consider both your computer’s available ports as well as your processing needs. USB 3 or Thunderbolt offers the best blend of performance and convenience today. Make sure to factor in the cost of any adapters or expansion cards needed for connectivity.
The interface’s drivers and architecture also impact performance, so don’t assume connection type alone determines speed. But in general, modern high-speed connections like Thunderbolt and USB 3 provide plenty of bandwidth for low-latency audio interfacing.
But which one?
We’ve tested out a variety of entry-level audio interfaces to find the best bang for your buck.
Here are some recommended options:
Under $100 – Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen (Amazon / Thomann). Great for simple vocal or instrument recording. Proven quality and bundled software make it a top choice for recording a single audio source at once.
Under $200 – Universal Audio Volt 2 (Amazon / Thomann). Brings UA’s renowned vintage preamp emulations to an affordable price point. It is ideal for multi-track recording and if you’re looking for vintage tones.
Check out our longer list of recommended budget audio interfaces here.
Studio monitors are designed to give you the clearest and most accurate representation of your music so you can make the right mixing and mastering decisions.
Studio monitors come as active or passive units.
Active monitors have built-in amplifiers, so all you need to do is plug them in, and you’re ready to go.
Passive monitors require an external amplifier to work. This might add more cost to your home studio setup but gives you more flexibility.
For example, you can add another layer of studio monitors to your setup and control them all from one amplifier.
But for now, let’s focus on active studio monitors and see which options could work for your home studio.
You can’t go wrong with either of them. HS8 has a bigger woofer, so it delivers more low-end and is suitable for larger rooms, while HS7 is more balanced and natural.
Also, check out our essential guide on studio monitoring.
Studio headphones come in two main types: closed-back and open-back.
Closed-back headphones have earcups that are sealed off from the environment. This isolation provides a strong bass response and prevents sound from leaking out, which makes them well-suited for tracking and recording applications.
However, the isolation means you don’t get a natural interaction between the headphone sound and the room, so closed-back models may not give the most accurate representation of your mix.
Open-back headphones have perforations or grills on the earcups that allow sound to pass through. This design provides a more natural and open sound and allows the headphone driver output to interact with the room.
Open-back headphones tend to have better stereo imaging and a more transparent sound. For these reasons, they are usually preferred for critical mixing and mastering work.
So which one should you go for?
When just starting out, open-back headphones often make the most sense because they are versatile for both tracking and mixing applications. Good starter models include the Beyerdynamic DT 990 (Amazon / Thomann) and AKG K-702 (Amazon / Thomann), which provide great sound quality at an affordable price point.
The key is choosing an open-back headphone that provides a relatively flat frequency response so you become familiar with the natural sound of your mixes.
Also, check out our list of the best mixing headphones under $200 here.
Before choosing a microphone, take a moment to think about what you’ll be recording and your overall goals. This will help narrow down the options. Ask yourself:
- What instruments and/or vocals will you be recording? This could include things like acoustic guitar, electric guitar amps, drums, vocals, piano, etc.
- Do you need a general-purpose microphone to cover multiple sources or something more specialized for a particular instrument?
- Will you be recording solo performances or a full band? The number of mics you need will depend on this.
- Will this be used for demos, amateur recordings, or more professional-quality tracks? Your budget and needs may vary.
- Do you envision recording in different spaces or just a home studio? Options like large diaphragm condensers may not be as suitable for recording on location.
- What is your budget? Set a realistic microphone budget, given your goals. Quality, affordable options exist even for under $100.
Features to Look For
When researching microphone options, there are a few key specifications and features to consider that will impact sound quality and suitability for different recording applications:
- Polar Patterns – The polar pattern indicates how sensitive the mic is to picking up sound from different directions. Common polar patterns are cardioid (front-facing), omni (all around), and figure-8 (front and back). Choose the pattern that aligns with your needs.
- Frequency Response – The frequency response range indicates the lowest and highest frequencies the mic can pick up. A wider frequency range allows for capturing more subtle overtones.
- Sensitivity – More sensitive mics with higher output levels generally provide better signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic range. This allows for capturing intricate details.
- Durability – Check build quality and material construction. All-metal housings typically withstand more wear and tear than plastic. Look for sturdy grill screens and connectors, too.
- Ease of Use – Consider physical size, weight, and mounting options. Compact mics take up less space. Lighter mics make positioning easier. Integrated shock mounts reduce vibrations.
Prioritize the features that align with your goals, space, mic techniques, and budget. With so many options available today, there’s a microphone to suit just about any home studio recording need.
Budget Home Studio Mic Recommendations
You don’t need to spend a fortune to get decent-quality microphones for home recording.
Here are some budget-friendly models around $100 or less that provide good versatility for the money:
- Behringer C-1 (Amazon / Thomann) – Medium diaphragm cheap condenser mic with cardioid pickup pattern. Great for vocals, acoustic guitars, and drum overheads.
- Audio-Technica AT2020 (Amazon / Thomann) – Budget condenser mic ideal for vocals, guitars, piano, etc. Cardioid pattern.
- Shure SM57 (Amazon / Thomann) – Rugged dynamic mic perfect for miking guitar amps, snare drums, and more. Industry standard.
- Sennheiser e609 (Amazon / Thomann) – Dynamic guitar amp mic with super-cardioid pattern to reject noise. Handles high SPLs.
- AKG D5 (Amazon / Thomann) – Versatile, dynamic vocal mic with wide frequency response. Good for live or studio use.
- MXL 990 (Amazon / Thomann) – Affordable large-diaphragm FET condenser mic. Great for vocals and acoustic instruments.
For the best value, I’d recommend starting with two mics – the Shure SM57 as an all-purpose workhorse, paired with a condenser like the MXL 990 or Audio-Technica AT2020 for vocals and acoustic sources.
With just these two mics covering different bases, you can record quality tracks for most basic home studio needs.
You can do many of the same things MIDI keyboards are used for with your computer keyboard, but having one makes audio production much more convenient.
So, it’s nice to have if you want your recording space to look more like a real studio.
MIDI keyboards don’t produce sound on their own; instead, they trigger sounds from your computer software, acting as a controller for your virtual instruments and software synths.
This is where their real power lies. They can bring your musical ideas to life, allowing you to play anything from a grand piano to a vintage synthesizer, all from your bedroom.
Plus, some MIDI keyboards come with handy features like drum pads and programmable buttons, which you will find useful if you’re into electronic music and making beats.
For those with a slightly higher budget, the Nektar Impact LX49+ (Amazon / Thomann) is a fantastic choice, known for its excellent integration with major DAWs right out of the box and thoughtfully designed controls and modes.
Read our blog post for more budget MIDI keyboard options.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) Software
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), also called music production software, is the software you use for recording, editing, processing, and mixing your audio files.
There are a lot of different DAWs to choose from, and the best one for you really depends on what kind of music you’re producing.
This is an all-in-one music production suite with tons of great tools to create and mix modern EDM and everything in between.
There is a free trial available, so you can take it for a spin and see if it’s right for you.
If you’re a Mac user, Logic Pro is a good alternative and comes with a lot of features for the price of $199.
If you want to go pro, Pro Tools is the industry standard and has an abundance of high-end features, but it’s out of the budget range.
If you want something cheap, check out Reaper. It’s a great DAW with all the essentials, and at only $60 for personal use, it’s an absolute steal.
There are also free DAWs available, like GarageBand (for Mac only), Audacity, and Waveform, but if you’re serious about music production, I would recommend investing in a paid one because free DAWs usually has limited features.
Here are some other popular DAWs worth checking out:
Most of these should have free trials, so try them out and make your choice.
We’re almost done with the studio essentials, but there are a few accessories you should have to complete the set.
XLR Mic Cables
Essential for connecting your microphones to the audio interface. While some mics come with cables included, it’s wise to have a few extras on hand. Look for options with quality shielding to minimize signal interference.
These are the cables you use to connect your powered studio monitors and instruments to your interface. You need three of them, two for monitors, and one for your instruments like guitar or bass.
Your monitor cables should be as short as possible to avoid signal interference. 3-5 feet is ideal, but you might need longer ones if you have a bigger room. Just make sure they have quality shielding to protect your audio signal.
Monitor stands are important to have so your monitors are at the ideal height for mixing and production. They also help to isolate unwanted vibrations and bass frequencies, making your room acoustics much better.
You can also try DIY, like putting your monitors on a stack of books and using some rubber-like material between the books and your monitors to isolate vibrations.
Monitors pads are also a great way to raise your monitors and isolate them from the surface. Auralex MoPAD (Amazon / Thomann) is a good option, but there are many budget-friendly options available as well.
If your chosen microphone doesn’t come with a pop filter, it’s worth investing in one separately.
A pop filter helps reduce plosive sounds during vocal recordings, resulting in cleaner and more professional audio. It’s a small accessory that can make a big difference in the quality of your vocal tracks.
Finally, you need a mic stand to hold your microphone in place during recordings.
A mic stand ensures stability and allows you to position the microphone at the desired height and angle for optimal sound capture. Look for a sturdy and adjustable mic stand that suits your needs and budget.
Acoustic treatment is extremely important if you want to get the most accurate representation of music in your home studio.
If your room sounds like an echo chamber, it’s going to be very difficult to produce a quality mix.
This is where acoustic panels, bass traps, and diffusers come in. They help to control the sound in your room, making it flatter and more accurate.
Check out our in-depth guide about acoustic treatment here.
You’re trying to record a perfect vocal take, but you can hear the kids running around in the next room and the dog barking in the street; it’s a nightmare.
Soundproofing is the solution, helping to reduce unwanted noise from the outside environment and prevent sound waves from escaping your studio.
Check out our guide to soundproofing your studio here.
So, there you have it, your own home recording studio on a budget. I hope this guide was helpful and gave you some ideas about what you need to get started.
These are just the essentials, and there are many other things you can add to your studio as you become more advanced, but you have all the basics to start producing radio-quality music.
Stay tuned for more guides on home recording and music production, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below.