How to Build a Home Recording Studio Setup With $500
We have gone from the age when a home recording studio setup would cost as much as your house, to the time where you can afford one, with the minimum wage.
How to build a home recording studio on a budget? What are the essential tools for your setup? How to connect your studio equipment and how much is going to cost you. Many daunting questions that will take a closer look and answer today.
John Lennon’s home studio was considered integral to his success in recording Imagine, an album that reached Number One worldwide. The freedom to work in your own space, avoiding studio rental costs and restrictive timetables is appealing to most artists, from singer-songwriters to DJs.
Musical instruments, audio effects, track arrangement, mixing, mastering, and dozens more stuff can now all be managed in your computer and music production software.
Whether modifying a simple space to lay down some presentable demos or building a semi-professional production space, there are several established designs and methods for constructing a comfortable and practical home recording space, even without John Lennon’s budget.
Audio recording and music production is an exciting, creative, and rewarding activity. In 2020, there is an affordable technology that anyone can acquire and build a home studio setup with all the essential gear with 500 dollars.
Required gear for a complete home recording music studio setup:
Before digital recording, building a home studio meant cramming a room full of cumbersome gear and equipment. Fortunately, modern recording techniques concentrate most production work onto a computer. The minimum amount of gear needed to start recording would consist of just four essential tools. A computer, a digital audio workspace (DAW), an audio interface, and a pair of decent studio headphones.
- Music Production Software (DAW)
- Studio Headphones
- Monitor speakers
- MIDI keyboard controller
- Audio interface (sound card)
A reminder that those are just the basics but still enough to create a “label-ready” track!.
1. Computer (Desktop or Laptop)
I guess that most of you already own at least one PC in your household. As a beginner, you do not need the latest iMac or MacBook Pro to start music production. Start with the one you already own and then find the best computer for music production to invest your first savings.
It is essential to own a computer that will run your DAW, plugin instruments, effects, and other music relative softwares smoothly. Make sure your DAW is compatible with the operating system you are using, and you are good to go. There are no right and wrong choices when it comes to picking between MAC or WIN and Laptop or Desktop. It all comes down to your personal needs and requirements. If you are working on WIN OS for years, there is no point in changing to MAC OS.
Windows or MAC? There is no right or wrong answer! Each choice has its pros and cons, and since it’s not an old PC that cannot handle a “light” DAW and some plug-ins, you are good to start. A desktop would be ideal for working with since they are more powerful than laptops for the same amount of money. Plus, they have larger displays. Laptops, however, are not a bad option, especially if you have some money to invest in a good but cheap monitor to better view your work/project. For more, check the best laptop for DJing, and the best laptops for music production.
The computer is going to be your center of operations and is a vital part of the home studio. So take the time to clean and delete unnecessary stuff, apps, etc.
Money spent = $0
2. Music Production Software (DAW)
Our first purchase should be your music production software, where we will record, produce, mix, and master our tracks.
Most popular production software is capable of basic recording, along with other audio manipulation effects such as compression and equalization. While it is possible to record audio through the mic-in port of a computer, investing in an audio interface gives more control over the sound levels and overall quality of your recordings.
With the music production software, you will be able to turn your first ideas into sounds and tracks. Then edit and adjust your sound with the necessary audio or midi effects. And the last stage with mixing and mastering your tracks into a whole song.
There are a plethora of DAWs currently available in the audio production field. At the very least, a DAW can record, edit, and export audio; even free software like Audacity is useful for completing simple mixing and editing tasks. Considering which DAW is best, it depends on what you plan to record and what genres you want to work with.
Home producers going for a more conventional recording arrangement (i.e., physical guitars, bass, and drums) may want to consider DAWs with a conventional display, like Pro Tools, FL Studio, or Ableton Live. Not only have they considered the industry standard, and they are also effortless to comprehend. Logic is another popular conventional DAW that’s tailored specifically for Apple products. Logic Pro is a valid music software perfect for home producers. It is working in a streamlined Apple-centric work environment; it’s even able to import and modify Garageband, Apple’s free audio manipulation software, projects.
Note: When you purchase an audio interface or MIDI keyboard controller, you will probably also get a high-end DAW software, such as Ableton Live Lite, Cubase, or Pro Tools.
If we avoid the expensive but premium DAW’s such as Ableton Live, Cubase, and Pro Tools, there are still some excellent, cheap, or even free software to start music production.
- Logic Pro X – $199.99
Musicians who use it: Hardwell, Avicii, Armin Van Buuren, Carl Cox, Above&Beyond, Adele, Kygo, Hot Since 82
Logic Pro is a MAC running digital audio workstation. It is a complete platform that you can record/edit/mix and get from the first idea to the final mastering of the track. It is no mistake that the most prominent names of the music industry use this software to produce their songs.
- Image-Line FL studio
Musicians who use it: Avicii, Martin Garrix, David Guetta, Bassjackers, Gesaffelstein.
FL Studio is the best seller DAW on Amazon store and popular software among EDM and Big Room producers.
The music production software by Image-Line has a great collection of loops and sounds. Also, a significant number of virtual instruments, plug-ins, sampling, and natural beat-making.
- GarageBand (free)
GarageBand is the most popular free DAW available; it is, however, available only for MAC OS users.
- Audacity (free)
Audacity is a close second (free daw) that both MAC and WIN users can enjoy it.
Money spent = $0
You can explore other options like Cubase, Reaper, FL Studio, etc. – just remember that there is no difference in audio quality between DAWs, and no DAW “sounds” better than others. Find here the best DAW’s for music production in the market.
Every DAW offers all the necessary tools to produce a complete track. Furthermore, there are a few plug-in instruments and effects to download entirely for free. Find more at the best free VST plug-ins for music production.
3. Studio Headphones
For under $100, you can get some of the best studio headphones on the market, including the Sony MDR 7506 that was used by legend Mick Jagger. Even with that budget, you can purchase a pair of studio headphones that offer durability, comfort, and excellent sound response.
Your biggest concern here is what type of headphones you will pick. Closed-back kind of headphones that provide excellent isolation and won’t pick-up background noises. Open-back type of headphones that will offer better sound quality but will not offer ideal isolation.
Best 4 studio headphones under $100:
- Sony MDR 7506
Musicians who use it: Mick Jagger, Linkin Park, Paul Van Dyk, Helios
If the artist’s names above didn’t convince you, visit the Amazon.com store, and you will be surprised by the number of excellent reviews by users around the globe.
- Audio Technica ATH-M40X
The sound quality is excellent (close to ATH-M50X); the isolation is outstanding and, in total, is an excellent value for money choice.
- Shure SRH 440
Shure SRH 440 is a very comfortable pair of studio headphones. The headband might be a little bit tough, but you can attach one of your own. The ear-cups are replaceable to ensure long product life.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
Sennheiser HD 280 PRO is a very popular pair of studio headphones. It’s built-quality, sound isolation, and price range make it an excellent option for any home recording studio.
Money spent = $80
4. Studio Monitor Speakers
The studio-quality headphones will not give you a realistic representation of a stereo mix so that you will need the Studio monitor speakers for your music production. And that is why we go big here. Being able to hear what you’re recording and mixing is very important to create a quality track.
You cannot rely on any hi-fi or computer speakers in your home recording studio. Those devices are designed to make that the sound is more attractive to your ears. Studio monitor speakers are essential. We will forget, for now, the expensive choices of Genelec, Yamaha, or Focal Alpha, and let’s check options under $150 apiece.
Good monitors sound flat and offer a clear, balanced sound. Don’t forget that the room will also affect the sound of your monitors.
Here is where we are going to spend more of our budget. Well, first of all, we buy two products instead of one. And second, these are our main sound output sources when producing and composing music.
- JBL LSR 305
The model by JBL offers excellent sound with well-defined bass and smooth the mids and highs. It is an excellent “value for money” purchase so that you can save some for your other studio tools.
- PreSonus Eris E3.5
The Eris series by PreSonus has made an appearance in many home recording studios and professional music studios. The deep bass response and clear highs make it an ideal choice for all electronic music genres, and at a very affordable price.
Here is an important note on how to place your studio monitors. Position yourself in the middle of the two speakers at ear level. Your head and each monitor should form a perfect triangle. That is the best monitor placement that will achieve excellent acoustics in your studio.
Money spent = $150
5. MIDI Keyboard Controller
The tool that will make your room look more like a music studio is more affordable than you think. You still won’t have to sacrifice on quality and features because all keyboard below are made by top brands in the music industry. (Novation, Arturia, Alesis, and M-audio!)
If you want to create your own music or learn how to play keys, then a MIDI keyboard controller is essential. It will easily connect with your PC via USB and will integrate with all major DAW’s. Remember, some keyboard controllers come with a free DAW, and most packages even offer VST instrument plug-ins to start making music from day one.
What to look for? Keys count, action-type of the keys, and most importantly, to integrate with your DAW software. For our budget, our choices stay at 25 keys and one with 32. Action type we will go with “synth-action,” which is the most common on MIDI keyboards, along with semi-weighted for bigger key-count models.
Choices here are plenty, but our top 4 picks are:
Novation Launchkey Mini 25-Note MK2
Amazingly this small tool has a pretty good range of features. Except for the 25 synth-action keys, eight dedicated knobs, and control buttons, it offers 16 velocity-sensitive multicolor launch-pads. It lacks a proper pitch and mod wheel, but Launchkey mini mk2 is an extremely compact tool.
This 25-key keyboard features eight velocity pads with a beautiful “spacey” blue LED illumination and four assignable knobs and buttons. Pitch bend and modulation wheel are not missing here. It comes with Ableton Live Lite, SONiVOX Twist, and AIR Music Tech Xpand!2.
Arturia Minilab MKII 25
This small and white tool offers more than it looks, and the included software makes it another excellent value-for-money purchase. The two banks of 8 velocities sensitive RGB backlit performance pads and the 16 full-size rotary encoders make it hard to resist tool.
M-Audio Axiom AIR Mini 32
The only 32 key-count keyboard controller you will probably find in the market around our budget. You will discover eight velocity-sensitive trigger pads and eight assignable knobs. It also includes Ableton Live Lite.
For more info, top picks, and reviews, check the best mini MIDI keyboards on the market.
Money spent = $100
6. Audio Interface (Sound Card)
An audio interface is a device that allows you to connect instruments, microphones, and sound outputs to your computer. Unless you’re planning to exclusively use VSTs and samples in your productions, or have a built-in sound card in your PC, the audio interface is a necessity. A bad interface can hurt your recordings and sound, so you don’t want to go with something on the low end. The two models below are great for any beginner home recording studio and on a budget of only 100 dollars.
Audio interfaces use USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt to connect to Mac or PC. For this budget, however, our choices are limited to USB connection. You will probably have to install a simple driver for your interface as well.
Steinberg UR22MKII 2-Channel
The ratings of this interface are nearly excellent. With one instrument input & one microphone input with low-noise is an ideal option for beginners. If, however you manage just a few extra bucks from your purchases before and go for the AudioBox iTwo 2×2 would be perfect. It comes with one mic input and one more instrument input.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Gen)
One more tool that offers a mic preamp with plenty of even gains, and one newly-designed instrument input. It will handle seriously hot guitar pickups.
For more information of the above check out the best audio interfaces under $200 for beginners.
Money spent = $100
- The best USB audio interfaces in the market.
- And the best Thunderbolt audio interface for faster data transfer.
7. Microphone For Recording
With the addition of a sound card, and a studio-quality microphone you will be able to record live instruments, vocals, or anything else you are inspired to add to your songs.
A studio-quality microphone will be a great addition to your recording setup. Goes without saying that the quality of your recordings (vocals, drums, acoustic guitars, piano, etc.) mostly depends on your microphones. The DAW and audio interface also have an impact.
- MXL 770
The MXL is one of the best selling and highly rated cardioid condenser microphones in the market. It comes with a shock-mount, and cables to start recording right away. The most amazing part is its price tag. A studio-quality microphone for around 80 dollars, should definitely go into your shopping cart. For more information visit the best studio microphones under $300
Money spent = $80
More related links:
How much does it cost to build a home recording studio setup?
The investment you will have to do for a home recording studio now compare to the one needed a few years ago is incomparable low.
The sector of recording studio equipment changes rapidly. The products rise in quality and lower their prices. When I started to build my own home recording studio, I wanted to buy all the possible stuff that I could afford. High-end PC, the best DAW, and the MIDI controllers that famous music producers were using. Even synthesizers, high-quality recording devices, and later on, a room with premium sound isolation. The point is that I had more than I can afford, and I don’t mean financially.
The number of studio relative products in the market is large, resulting in a big competition, high quality, and at excellent prices.
You don’t need to spend big to get what you need. Unless you are a professional music producer, you do not need analog synths, multi-channel sound cards, or other expensive studio gear. A PC or laptop, a music production software and studio-quality headphones are the absolute basics and essential. From then on, there are a few studio tools that can help you achieve better results with more comfort and more productive behavior.
How to set up a home recording studio?
Once you’ve got all your equipment, you just need to connect it all up. Setting up your home recording studio equipment is probably the most straightforward job you will ever do.
At first, you will need to install your DAW software to your PC or laptop. Then, connect your audio interface and update the preferences so that it will see it and be able to use it. Connect the monitor speakers and studio-quality headphones to the audio interface (sound card) and last your MIDI keyboard to your computer.
An ordinary desk will probably fit all of the above studio tools. There are desks and workstations in the market specifically designed for studio use, and they can be a big help to routing cables and placing your gear in the right places. However, they are costly, and if you are a beginner and already own a big table, then there is no need to purchase a new one. You could also go for a homemade studio desk, but only if you know your way around construction.
Video: How To Set Up Your Home Studio:
People also ask:
Do I need a mixer for my home studio? No. As long as you are working with a DAW, the mixer is not necessary.
- Home studio vs. Professional studio. The difference is tremendous. Even with the whole budget of a home recording studio, it may not be enough even to purchase an audio interface for a professional studio. However, you can create top-quality tracks in your home studio, that will sound just like the ones with expensive setup.
- How to build a home studio on a budget? PC, audio interface, DAW, MIDI keyboard, a pair of headphones, and studio monitor speakers. That’s all the essentials you need in your studio. The market is enormous and may trick you into buying the equipment you do not necessarily need.
Important Note: DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
After you have done all that, you’re going to need to learn a little about producing, mixing, and working with your software. Except for the manuals, the best possible free education will be youtube. There are also free of charge or paid courses that justify the money and time spent. Far more, you have the opportunity to attend schools with pro equipment or watch online courses from the comfort of your home studio and use of your own equipment. If you have friends that produce music, visit them and check out what they are doing or ask.
The are plenty of guides and articles on the web about ideal home recording studio tools for beginners. Do your research, compare and find the best studio gear for you to begin music production.
“It’s amazing that you can start music production in your bedroom with such a small budget.”
Whether you are looking to start a home-based recording studio business, or a hip hop music studio or a studio to produce electronic music, you will need the same tools. Even if you are a producer who travels a lot, the studio tools we suggested above are light and very portable. Perfect for mobile producers and musicians on the road.
The basic home studio setup for a beginner requires, an audio interface, DAW, MIDI keyboard, a pair of headphones and monitor speakers, as well, a computer. Later on, you can invest in drum machines, synthesizers, and other musical instruments or audio effects.
There are also plenty of free or premium drum sounds, music loops, and vocal samples to start music production.
Building a home recording studio from scratch is not an easy task. The variety and quantity of studio hardware and software available in the market can be challenging for beginners. We hope our guide we cover all the basics and get you started producing music.
Drop your comment below and let us know about your home studio. If you have any questions or looking for recommendations, we will be happy to help.
Attention to detail is critical to achieving excellent sound acoustics. In case you need acoustic treatment for your home studio, check how to soundproof your room.
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