Home Recording Studio Essentials for Beginners

Trying to take your music hobby to the next level? Maybe you have a bunch of songs written down or floating around in your head that you’re finally ready to bring to life. Or you’re just tired of recording your jam sessions on your phone and want that crisp, professional quality. Well, we’re here to help you get started on that endeavor. We know it’s hard to dive into something like setting up a home studio. so we’ve written this guide to help you buy the essentials for your brand-new home recording studio.

Keep reading for the full breakdown of the essentials for your home studio equipment, or skip to the bottom of this article for a quick summary of the studio essentials arranged by price or by quality.

What Do You Need for a Basic Home Recording Studio?

So what do you need to buy for your new home recording studio? We get that you’re not going to want to dive straight in and buy all of those bells and whistles. We’re keeping this list to the absolute essentials, and we’ll try to help you find cheap brands of those essentials. To get started you’ll need:

# 1: A computer – You won’t need to break the bank on a brand-new computer just to record, but don’t try using your Windows 1999 desktop either. Ideally, you’ll be using a computer with at least 8 GB of RAM and an up-to-date processor, but even if you plan on making it big, don’t bother splurging for a new laptop just to record just yet.

#2: A digital audio workstation – A digital audio workstation (DAW) is simply the software program you’ll be using to do all of your recording and editing. There are free DAWs and some that you’ll have to pay for, and as with almost everything, the paid ones will generally be of a higher quality. For your beginner home recording studio, you might decide it’s worth it to pay for one, but I wouldn’t buy the best one on the market.

#3: An audio interface – The audio interface is the hardware that will work in tandem with your DAW, and it’s the piece of equipment that you’ll use to connect your instruments and gear to your computer. It’s worth noting that there are bundles so you can buy your DAW and your Audio Interface at once. This will save you a few bucks, and you’ll probably walk away with a better DAW than the free ones.

#4: A microphone – This one is a little more obvious and self-explanatory. You’ll need a microphone to play or sing into while recording. You’ll also want a different microphone depending on your instrument or vocal style. You could also consider buying a pop filter (which blocks the “pop” of air from sounds like “B” and “P”) for your microphone to increase the audio quality. Pop filters are pretty cheap, and you should be able to find a decent one for $20 to $30. There are a lot of different types of microphones, and while we won’t overwhelm you with the details right now, it’s good to know that condenser microphones are typically the best when it comes to recording.

#5: Headphones – This one is also more intuitive and self-explanatory. You don’t want your entire neighborhood to hate you, and more importantly, you don’t want outside sounds leaking into your recordings. There are two main types of headphones you’ll be looking at for recording: open-back headphones and closed-back headphones. Open-back headphones allow air to pass through the back of the ear shells, while closed-back headphones are the standard over-ear headphones you’re used to. Open-ear headphones have improved sound quality, but reduced noise-canceling. If you’re recording in your home, you probably won’t be able to guarantee no outside sound, so you’ll probably want to stick with closed-back headphones for now.

Here’s How We’ve Determined the Essentials for a Beginner’s Home Recording Studio

We looked for the best products of the equipment above to get you started on your home recording studio. As you’re still a beginner, we judged best to be not necessarily top-of-the-line quality, but a combination of quality and price range, with extra priority given to products that are specifically geared towards beginners.

Computers also aren’t included in the coming section of this article, as its assumed you already have one and won’t be buying one just for the sake of your recording studio setup. Remember that for each piece of equipment you might be looking for something different depending on your specific musical style. That being said, since this list is targeted at beginners, we tried to keep it as universal as possible, so you don’t need to worry if you haven’t found “your sound” yet.

#1: DAW – Cakewalk by Bandlab

Even though it’s not a physical piece of equipment, a digital audio workstation is the first item on our shopping list. You’ll spend as much time working on your DAW as you will playing your instrument, so you’ll need to make sure you have a good one.

Bandlab’s Cakewalk is the perfect entry-level DAW for two reasons. The first reason is that it has an award-winning easy and intuitive user interface. The second reason is its perfect price: Free! Cakewalk lets you record, edit, and master your music and even comes with virtual tools and instruments, so you can get that electronic sound for hip-hop or techno. This digital audio workshop really lives up to its name: Once you download it, recording from home will feel like a cakewalk.

It’s important to note that Cakewalk is currently available for the Windows operating system. If you’re running Mac OS, Reaper, which runs on both operating systems, is an affordable alternative for $60, but it doesn’t come with virtual instruments. Logic Pro X is another option available, and it’s designed exclusively for Mac OS, but it costs a pricey $200. Or you might prefer to use the DAW that comes with your audio interface. Whatever choice you make, for that perfect price there’s no reason not to give (Windows) Cakewalk a chance at being the brain of your beginner recording studio.

#2: Audio Interface – Focusrite Scarlett Solo

Now that you’ve chosen your digital audio workshop, you’ll need an audio interface to go with it. We recommend the Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd generation). This audio interface is the most popular audio interface on Amazon, and the customer is always right. This audio interface is a favorite of home recording studios everywhere. It’s small and simple to use with a great user interface, and comes wrapped in a sturdy solid metal chassis. The Scarlett Solo has two inputs, one for microphones and one for guitars/basses, and the two can work simultaneously, making it ideal for all the singer-songwriters out there. It also draws its power directly from the USB connection to your computer, meaning you have one less wire to worry about in your home recording studio.

Featuring the lowest latency on the market, the Scarlett Solo will let you hear your music and your edits in real-time. It also comes with the option of phantom power. (Don’t worry too much if you don’t know what that means, just know that you may need it for a lot of condenser microphones once you start recording.) It comes in at about $130, so it may feel like the first real investment of your new home studio, but don’t worry, you’re getting your money’s worth.

The Solo comes with Focusrite’s Pro Tools DAW, which is available for Windows and Mac OS. We won’t focus too much on the Pro Tools DAW, but you are more than encouraged to try it out. Think of it as a little gift. If it doesn’t suit you, you can always stick with the free Cakewalk, or even splurge a little for a different paid DAW. Either way, the Focusrite Scarlett Solo is the perfect hub for your home recording studio.

#3: Multi-Purpose Microphone – Audio-Technica AT2020

Depending on your instrument of choice, what microphone you want will vary more than the other home studio essentials on this list. Different microphones are designed to better handle different frequencies, and different instruments work within different frequency ranges. To put it simply, you don’t sing at the same frequency you play guitar. So we’ll discuss multiple microphones in this section, but overall we recommend the versatile Audio-Technica AT2020.

The Audio Technica AT2020 microphone is specifically designed with home studio recording in mind. It has a custom-engineered low mass diaphragm which gives it great frequency response, meaning it’ll cleanly pick up notes from all across the spectrum, no need to worry about your specific vocal range or playing style. This microphone has you covered no matter what – play, sing, drum, or whatever. This microphone will make sure it sounds great.

The Audio-Technica microphone connects to your audio interface through an XLR wire, which you’ll, unfortunately, need to buy separately, but XLR wires can cost as little as $10, and up to $30 or $40 at the most, so you’re still coming out on top compared to a lot of other microphones. The Audio-Techinca AT2020 costs about $150.

Now if you’re already a dedicated vocalist and want the microphone to go with it, then you’ll need the Shure SM58S described just below.

#4: Vocals Microphone – Shure SM58S

Musician’s Friend described the SM58S as “legendary for its uncanny ability to withstand abuse that would destroy any other mic.” So if you have any children or dogs running around, or are just a little on the clumsy side, you’ll definitely want to buy this condenser microphone for your home recording studio.

It is one of the most affordable mics on the market, costing just over $100. It’s light and easy to hold and comes with a case. It shines in the upper mid-range notes, so go ahead and show off that range. This microphone will also last you long into your intermediate phase as a recording artist. Just remember that it’s only recommended if you’ll be focusing predominantly on vocals.

Remember that regardless of which microphone you decide to buy, you might want to consider buying a pop filter. However, we won’t be reviewing pop filters in this article, as they’re not a necessity for your home recording studio.

#5: Closed-Back Headphones – Sennheiser HD280 Pro

Who knows how long you’re recording sessions will last? We know what happens when you get in the zone, and next thing you know, you’ve been at it for hours – we’ve been there. That’s why just as much as you want great equipment for the best sound, you want comfortable equipment too.

The Sennheiser HD280 Pro closed-back headphones have comfort in mind, and their ergonomic design comes with padded ear cups and a padded headband that will stop your ears from feeling crushed after an hour or two of recording. It also has a long 9-foot wire, so you won’t feel tethered to your audio interface, and a collapsable design for easy packing and traveling.

And they’re not just comfortable. These headphones have great audio quality to go with their comfort. They have 32 dB (decibel) attenuation which leads to great noise canceling. No worrying about the neighbor’s lawnmower sneaking its way into your newest song. Combine that with extended frequency response for top-tier audio quality and a versatile range, and these are a must for home recording studios everywhere. On top of that great comfort and quality, their cost is very reasonable.

#6: Open-Back Headphones – Beyerdynamic 459038 DT 990

As we said earlier in this article, we generally recommend closed-back headphones for beginners. But if you’re just dying from that boost in quality that open-back headphones provide, then who are we to say no?

If you’re going open-back, you have to go with Beyerdynamic’s 459038 DT 990. As open-backs, these babies have slits in the ear shells to let air in, getting rid of bubbles and buildup, and providing the best quality. The tradeoff is that this also lets in outside sound, so you’ll want to make sure you’re in a quiet environment and won’t be disturbed before you start jamming. But if you can do that, these headphones will give you professional-level quality, and none of your friends will believe you recorded that new song at home.

This pair of Beyerdynanmic headphones is tailor-made to give attention to those low bass sounds, without making you feel like your eyes are going to pop. And then there’s the mid-range notes and the high notes. Beyerdynamic makes them crisper and cleaner than ever. Those highs and mids will ring clearly while you hear low notes you didn’t even realize existed. And just like the Sennheiser closed-backs, they’re known for being ridiculously comfortable.

Where these earpieces really shine is in their price. Open-backs tend to be more expensive than their closed-back counterparts, with some costing even more than $1000. But coming in at just over $160, Beyerdynamics is practically giving these babies away.

On a Budget? Try These:

Now, this endeavor to get started on your home recording studio might seem like it’s going to cost you more than you had initially planned. Not to worry – we understand that you’re not trying to start an entire professional studio just yet, and beginners shouldn’t be expected to break the bank for a hobby if they’re not sure where it will take them. In this section, we’ve broken down the studio essentials by the cheapest (good) option for each piece of equipment. Some of this section overlaps with our general best choices, but some of the names you’ll see here are new.

#1 Budget DAW: Cakewalk by Bandlab

What else is there to say? It does everything you need, and best of all, it’s free. It doesn’t get any cheaper than that.

#2 Budget Audio Interface: PreSonus AudioBox USB 96

Coming in at $50 cheaper than the Scarlet Solo, the AudioBox is the best way to save on your audio interface, and it even comes with a DAW of its own. It is known to be a little glitchy with certain operating systems though, so buy with caution.

#3 Budget Microphone: Shure SM58S

As we said earlier, at about $100, microphones don’t get much cheaper than this vocalist-geared microphone.

#4 Budget Headphones: LyxPro HAS-10

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As seen from the typical phone/mp3-sized jack that comes with a size adapter, these are actually closer to standard listening headphones than recording headphones, and that’s why we reserved them for this part of our list. But they’re only about $35, and that price just cannot be beat. If you absolutely need to save, there’s no other choice for you.

How Do I Set Up a Simple Home Recording Studio?

Well, congratulations, you have all of your equipment. Now you just need to set it up, and we’re happy to give you a quick guide on how to do that so that you’ll be ready to rock in your brand-new home studio. The great thing is that it’s pretty simple, and almost everything will just plug straight into your audio interface.

The first step is to install your DAW. If you’ve decided to go with Cakewalk, just follow our link and download the program from their instructions. If you went with a DAW that came with your audio interface, you’ll usually have to register your audio interface on the company’s website to access the DAW.

Next, you’ll need to plug in your audio interface and connect it to your computer. If you followed our advice and bought the Focusrite audio interface, then all you have to do is connect it to your computer or laptop with a USB cable. However, other audio interfaces may also need their own power source.

The next step is just plugging the rest of your equipment into the interface. The only tricky part about this is plugging in the microphone, which may require phantom power. Phantom power is an option available on most interfaces, so you won’t have to worry about it too much, just make sure to double-check and act accordingly.

And you’re all set! Now all you have to do is let the creative juices flow and start playing. You’re ready to get started on your next big hit.

Verdict: Your Best Home Recording Studio Equipment for Beginners 

Can’t be bothered to stress too much about the details? Read below for a quick recap of our best essential home recording equipment, without all the rambling.

For your DAW, go with Cakewalk or Focusrite Pro Tools.

For your audio interface, go with the Focusrite Scarlett Solo.

For your microphone, go with the Audio-Technica AT2020.

For your headphones, go with the Sennheiser HD280 Pro for noise canceling, or the Beyerdynamic 459038 DT 990 for the best sound quality.

And now you’re ready to play! Remember that this article is just a jumping-off point, and there are a few important questions that only you can answer before buying your home recording studio equipment. These questions include: “What is your budget?” “What’s your main instrument?” “What is your genre/playing style?” and “How committed are you to home recording?”

Your studio equipment is just as much of an artistic choice as the music you create in that studio. Also remember that we only outlined the studio essentials in this article, and you may want to go the extra mile and get some other fancy new studio equipment such as pop filters and studio monitors. No matter what you buy, we’re sure you’ll make the choice that’s best for you. Just don’t forget where you got started once you make it big.

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