We were recently asked by a computer magazine for details of essential music making hardware items for musicians. Straight away I sent them back a list of my favourite kit and posted all the items on this page. But then it occurred to me this might not be the most helpful most for you. What you really want to know is what are the most important TYPES of gear to consider, are they appropriate and/or necessary for YOUR setup, and then how to go about picking the best one for your home recording studio – though at the same time you can see my current top pick.
Studio Equipment for Making Music at Home
- 1. The Audio Interface
- 2. The Handheld Digital Recorder
- 3. The Microphone
- 4. The USB Microphone
- 5. The USB MIDI Keyboard Controller
- 6. The Headphone Moment
- 7. The FX Processor
- 8. The Synthesizer
- 9. The USB Mixer
- 10. The Electronic Drum Kit
- Most Popular … Computer Recording Equipment For Home Recording Studios
- More Information On Home Recording Studio Setup
So let’s look at each kind of item you might consider, and how to go about choosing the one that suits you …. This is just my take on the best music making hardware, so if you want some absolute crowd pleasers, then at the bottom of the page you can see the which are THE top ten most wished for recording gear items right now, as it gets updated daily. Interestingly, there are more than a few overlaps.
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1. The Audio Interface
Looking at starting up a small home recording studio? The Audio Interface really is the key purchase that will be at the heart of your recording chain. This is the box that you connect your mics and instruments to and that converts the lovely sounds you are making into a digital signal to get it in to your computer. What to look for? Read my whole post on how to choose the best audio interface for YOUR recording studio (everyone is different). You could go for the hugely popular, best selling and top reviewed Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. It just works. It looks good. And it comes with a great package of software too. We also love the PreSonus AudioBox iTwo shown above – multi-platform and also has MIDI i/o
2. The Handheld Digital Recorder
Where would I be without my digital recorder. This one piece of kit is so versatile. There are plenty on the market, one of the most popular being the Zoom H4N Pro. It has high quality built in stereo microphones, which you can adjust to widen or narrow the stereo field. So without any other equipment, you can just press the record button. Perfect for voice, acoustic instruments, orchestras, choirs … the list goes on.
In addition, ou can plug line-level instruments in so you can easily record your keyboard or digital piano. Or you can plug in an electric guitar. Even better, with two XLR mic inputs (with phantom power) you can use any microphones you possess.
Heck, you can even record 4 tracks at once. (2 from the built in mics, then a further 2 from the inputs). And as if that wasn’t enough, you can use it as a USB microphone, or a USB audio interface.
3. The Microphone
Choosing the right microphone is one of the most crucial decisions you will make for your home recording studio. If you are not sure where to start then I have a lengthy post on different types of microphones. Hopefully this will help you decide what kind of mic you should consider, and will help you compare all the technical terms on the spec sheets. There is a lot of jargon out there that needs demystifying.
Most musicians and home recording studio veterans will own at least one large diaphragm condenser microphone. This is the most versatile choice. So you might want to peruse my 3-part post on how to pick the best large diaphragm condenser microphone for your home recording setup. Whatever your budget you will find a suitable microphone. Top Tip: If you pick one of these condenser mics, then make sure you get an audio interface with phantom power switch or you won’t be able to power it.
The analog microphone I use the most? The AKG C1000S multi-purpose condenser mic. I have had it for years – and think of it as my swiss army kit mic. Easy to use, and a nice compromise between the sensitivity of a condenser, but the direction of a cardioid dynamic mic.
I have found it to be the most reliable and versatile microphone. PLUS it can take a battery, so the phantom power issue is a non-issue. You can take it anywhere, and use it anywhere! It is very easy to use because you can get away with holding it (many studio condensers are just too sensitive and not designed for this). You can also adjust the presence peak and the polar pattern. (If you are not sure what these terms are… then you can read about microphone specs here)
4. The USB Microphone
On a budget? Buying a separate audio interface and microphone, plus all the additional cables needed can be a bit pricy. The USB mic might be a good option for you. If you want to get decent recordings without having to upgrade your soundcard, buy pre-amps etc, then a USB microphone is a great choice. No need to install anything complicated, just plug and play. There is a USB Microphone to suit pretty much every budget and simple recording situation.
Perfect for video voiceovers, vocalists, for recording acoustic instruments, for podcasting, quality vocal recordings, the list is endless. If you want to buy today and record tomorrow, the USB Mic will do the job. And here’s the thing. Even if you also have a full-blown setup with separate audio interface, mics etc then the USB mic is a no brainer for portability, quick recordings, and cross platform including iPad. So buying a USB mic will not be a wasted purchase even if you upgrade later.
If you want to compare the most popular, then head over to my page on how to choose the best USB microphone where I have thoroughly tested 12 best sellers, including recordings, video reviews etc. I own several – including the Samson Go Mic (perfect little pocket sized mic with a whole bunch of features including headphone port and switchable pickup pattern) and the Audio Technica AT2020USB Plus which gives pro quality recordings with very little noise, and nice and directional so easy to use in a home recording studio.
My current favourite for voiceovers and podcasting is the Shure MV7 – a hybrid USB/XLR dynamic mic. All of these mics allow you to direct monitor through headphones, which I think is an almost essential feature if you want to make vocal tracks, or record on top of a backing track etc.
5. The USB MIDI Keyboard Controller
Even if you do not play keyboard as such, a USB MIDI Keyboard is almost an essential purchase for a home recording studio. Perfect for inputting base lines, drum beats, controlling the faders on virtual instruments …. and a no brainer if you want to learn to read music, or you already can but want to create your own sheet music with score writing software. Not to mention that having a MIDI keyboard is the easiest way to improve your keyboard skills too. Why this keyboard?
There are tons of excellent MIDI Keyboard Controllers to choose from, many are very inexpensive and usually come with a suite of software to kick-start your home recording studio setup. AKAI have proven to be a long-standing and top-selling producer of great looking and well featured MIDI Controllers – like the MPK Mini above.
6. The Headphone Moment
Although the ideal way to listen to your mix is with a set of studio monitors, more realistically in a home recording situation you are going to be relying on studio headphones for monitoring and mixing. It is the reality of setting up a home studio that you don’t want to bother the neighbours. In any case, if you are recording vocal tracks and want to direct monitor (or listen to yourself while recording) you will need headphones for that part of the recording process.
The issue is that the best headphones for recording are not necessarily the best for mixing. All is explained in more detail in my article on how to choose the best studio headphones. And there is a compromise if you can afford only one pair. My current headphones for mixing are my trusty AKG K702 ‘phones. But they would be hopeless for recording as there is far too much ‘bleed’ to achieve the lovely ambient sound. So my top pick for closed-back headphones for monitoring would be the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Headphones. Absolutely minimal leakage, very comfortable and great sound.
7. The FX Processor
Although there are plenty of software fx plugins, don’t you just love the tactile response of a hardware effects processor? It can be great to simply play around without having to fire up the computer for a change. Plus if you buy a nice portable one you can use it anywhere, any time. So my top pick here is the Korg KAOSS PAD. The Korg MiniKP2 has become the must-have effect units on in every musician’s rig – especially on the DJ scene. The original mini KAOSS PAD earned enormous popularity for packing full-fledged effects into its compact body, but the second edition has even more features. In addition to inheriting powerful effect programs from the larger Kaoss Pad KP3 and the Kaoss Pad Quad, it provides an MP3 player with adjustable pitch, making the mini Kaoss Pad 2 unit ideal for creating DJ-Style performances. Use it as a DJ playback device, or use it to process the entire output of your DJ rig with Korg’s famous KAOSS effects. Instrumentalists, guitarists, sound designers and even just music fans will all enjoy using this little baby. The Organic Electroluminescent (OEL) display provides superb visibility. Add to that a touch slider for ease of use, microSD card data saving, plus a built-in speaker and mic. It really is a fab little toy.
8. The Synthesizer
Again, plenty of soft synths around, but same argument applies as above. Lovely to get your hands on a proper bit of kit. One that makes fantastic sounds – so you could choose to record them onto your computer if you wanted, or just play live. My pick here is one that is great to play on its own, but also integrates really well with your DAW software. The Korg Volca FM Portable Synth a portable little box of tricks you can play around with anywhere, but you can also hook it up to a sequencer or keyboard controller over MIDI and use it as a sound module, so it’s nice and versatile. The Volca FM is a three-voice digital FM synthesizer that completely reproduces the sound engine of a classic FM synthesizer, and provides compatibility with it as well. The unique VOLCA interface makes it easy to manipulate distinctive FM sounds even if you’re not familiar with the complexities of FM synthesis.
9. The USB Mixer
The USB Mixer is another good example of one great bit of starter kit. Now if you already have an analog mixer you are happy with, and you are looking to connect it to your computer, then you might just be better looking for a suitable audio interface. However, if you have neither, then a USB Mixer can be a great option. What you get is a full blown mixing desk with built-in USB audio interface to connect it right up to your computer. The company that makes more USB mixing desks than anyone else is Behringer, and the one we have our eye on is a Behringer X2222USB Xenyx 22 Input 2/2 Bus Mixer. It boasts 8 state-of-the-art, phantom-powered xenyx mic preamps comparable to stand-alone boutique preamps and 8 studio-grade compressors with super-easy “one-knob” functionality and control led for professional vocal and instrumental sound. Plus it has some excellent built in effects.
This is a great way of quickly recording several musicians at once – although beware that output with this mixer is stereo. If you are a bit confused about the difference between a mixer and an audio interface, then do refer to our video tutorial and detailed post on this subject.
10. The Electronic Drum Kit
Was there ever more fun to be had than with an electronic drum kit? Now the entry level ones are so cheap, and so good, then you start to think every musician should have one. The fact that you can have a set of drums in your house, put on your headphones and be playing without annoying the whole street is one great plus. Then the connectivity with your computer is another. But in my book, the electronic drum kit is the perfect stress buster. The two big brands in the electronic drum kit market are Roland and Alesis. Imagine the fun to be had on the Alesis Drums Nitro Mesh Kit shown above with 40 ready-to-play classic and modern kits, 60 play-along tracks and 350+ sounds to choose from.
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Last updated on 2022-09-23 / Affiliate links / Images via Amazon Product Advertising API
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