How to Build a Home Recording Studio on a Budget? – Part 1

by Ken

in Home Recording Studio

“Dave, I have $xxx to spend on Home Recording Studio gear…What should I buy?”

Home Recording StudioPeople often come to me asking me whether they should buy this pre-amp, that compressor, or this piece of software for their Home Recording Studio. Few people can ignore cost as a limiting factor on their available choices. So, in this 1st part today, we’ll cover

  • what equipment to buy
  • based on your budget
    • $100
    • $300
    • $550

In Part 2, we’ll cover what equipment to buy with budgets of:

  • $1,300
  • $2,200
  • $3,000

Then in the final part:

  • $4,500
  • $7,500

Please feel free to let us know if you found these examples useful for your Home Recording Studio. Just use the Comments section at the end of each post.

Thanks!

Ken Johnstone

(Publisher)

PS: Of course there’s much more than just budget to consider. Click this link for more information on our step by step guide to Selecting Sound Recording Software and Equipment – that Works for your recording needs.


Dave, I have $100 to spend on Home Recording Studio Equipment, what should I buy?

You won’t be able to get much Home Recording Studio equipment with this. Here’s what you could do…

  • Click the next link and buy a Shure SM58 dynamic microphone ($100) – This all purpose microphone is a basic good quality piece of studio equipment.
  • Using either an XLR/USB or minijack adapter, plug it into your friend’s computer and start recording using the basic audio recorder that came with the operating system, or…
  • Download Audacity (free) to get started.

Dave, I have $300 to spend on Home Recording Studio Equipment, what should I buy?

If you can borrow a suitable computer, you should be able to just about get started. Watch for end-of season sales, and you’ll be able to get some basic Home Recording Studio equipment with this amount of money. For example…

  • Click the link and buy a Shure SM58 dynamic microphone ($100) – This all purpose, durable microphone is a basic good quality piece of studio equipment.
  • Using either an XLR/USB or minijack adapter, plug it into your friend’s computer and start recording using the basic recorder that came with the operating system, or…
  • Start with downloading Audacity recording software (free).
  • *A CD burner is essential if you want to be able to output your music to CD – the computer should have one already. Microboards CDR80 80-Minute Blank CDRs in Spindle (50 discs)

*Note: CD or DVD output is required for high quality recording masters. However, given the popularity of mp3 distribution, you may decide a CD/DVD Burner is not a priority for your Home Recording Studio or your type of sound production.


Dave, I have $550 to spend on Home Recording Studio Equipment, what should I buy?

You will be able to get some good Home Recording Studio equipment with this amount of money.

  • Go to your favorite online store, or click the link and buy a Shure SM58 dynamic microphone ($100) – This all purpose, durable microphone is a basic good quality piece of studio equipment.
  • Using either an XLR/USB or minijack adapter, plug it into your friend’s computer and start recording using the basic sound recorder that came with the operating system, or…
  • Get started with Audacity.
  • A CD burner is essential if you want to be able to output your music to CD – your computer should have one already. Microboards CDR80 80-Minute Blank CDRs in Spindle (50 discs)
  • CDR80 80-Minute Blank CDRs in Spindle (50 discs) ($30) – You need to get some blank CDs to record onto!
  • Sennheiser HD25-1II Professional Headphone ($200) – Sennheiser HD25 Studio Monitor Sealed Headphones These fantastic, flat-response headphones will let you hear very clearly what you are working on and you will start to learn to listen accurately to music before progressing to studio monitors. BE WARNED – Headphones do not give a totally accurate representation of sound but this is not really a problem for many applications.

As always, we’d be glad to hear your thoughts and experience with your Home Recording Studio. Please use the Comment link below.

Talk to you again in Part 2…

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jean May 25, 2007 at 10:21 am

dave, i’d like to know if pro tools is only compatible with macs;I mean, can I use it on windows?

2 Ken June 5, 2007 at 5:17 am

Hello Jean,

(I’m covering for Dave today)

Thanks for your question.

Yes, ProTools is available for Mac and Windows PC. You can get more info in our Digital Recording Equipment section at http://www.homemusicrecording.com/category/digital/recording_software/

Just click the Pro Tools box for access to product details, including software compatibility.

3 Adam Knapp July 19, 2007 at 2:16 pm

It seems rather pointless to suggest users to download a piece of software that is 7 years old and no longer compatible with any of the new operating systems – It’s disabled in XP, Vista, and OS 10.

A much better option is a piece of open source software such as Reaper or Audacity, which are free and offer more flexible options than pro-tools will ever be able to. Also, they use standard plug-ins, which Pro-Tools has always felt too privileged to allow.

4 Ricardo July 2, 2009 at 6:38 pm

What all do I need to buy a studio sound proof walls everything on a budget of 700-1000

5 nathan August 4, 2009 at 9:24 am

dave ( or whoever) im making a studio in my basement and i dont have alot of cash, but after i get the mic, is there anything else ( besides a cd burner or headphones, i have those already) that i should get?

6 Ken August 4, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Hi Nathan,

Thanks for your question – you’ll get a quick idea of the main components to consider when you scan Part 1 and Part 2 of the above article.

But exactly what you need depends on what you want to record and produce, and what media you want to distribute it on.

For a step by step guide to selecting the right kind of gear for your recording needs, download here.

7 David August 9, 2009 at 11:21 pm

It’s amazing what you can do today with a computer and a few hundred dollars of simple recording equipment. EasyMusicRecording.com is dedicated to making it easy and affordable for you to experience the satisfaction of recording music at home. Our assumption is that many musicians would like to record as a hobby – beginning with a very simple setup, laying down 1-2 tracks at a time, with an initial outlay of less than $1,000, . . . and gradually upgrading as your needs grow and your skills improve.

8 Joel August 10, 2009 at 8:01 pm

I was wondering what type of setup and (mic types, Processors, ect) i would need to record a studio quality cd with the band all playing in one room at one time. I use a tascam 16 track digital recorder and have ableton live on my computer.

9 joe mangan September 17, 2009 at 5:17 pm

can you recomend equipment needed to set up medium size recording studio and where can i source them.
many thanks

10 Robert Rada November 8, 2009 at 6:52 am

I think it’s very ill-advised to inform people that they can build a “home recording studio”
for $7,500. It’s money right down the drain.

11 Ken November 10, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your comment – for some people, spending $7,500 on a home recording studio would be a complete waste of money – as you say.

That’s why it’s so important to consider what your purpose is for your studio, select only the gear you’ll need to fulfil that purpose, and buy wisely. Dave’s ebook on Selecting Sound Recording Software and Equipment – that Works is a guide to getting great value from your studio, and spending no more than is needed.

On the other hand, I know a few folks who have spent far more than $7,500 for their “home studio”, and feel they get great value from their investment.

It all depends on your purpose…

12 John Suitcase November 11, 2009 at 1:05 am

Interesting approach, though I have to say that trying to lay something like this out in one (or two) articles is like trying to tell someone how to become a doctor in a weekend.

I’m all for home studios, but the reality is, building a home studio is probably a waste of money. Almost all musicians would be better off buying something simple like a an all-in-one digital recorder (like those Zoom or Fostex deals) on eBay to demo stuff, and spend their money on better instruments and gear.

Once they have their material honed, and their gear sounding top-notch, go record with a professional.

If you want a very expensive hobby, recording is great! If you want o be a pro, that’s awesome! But if you are dreaming of making a commercial quality recording by buying a bunch of gear, you’re kidding yourself.

You can spend any amount of money on a drumset, but if you don’t play drums, and don’t want to become a drummer, what are you doing? Go find a drummer, and get on with your life!

I’m not trying to be rude, but I see so many musicians with really great home setups, and they can’t make a decent recording to save their lives. So they hire me, and that’s cool, but they could’ve saved a lot of money and time if they hadn’t been sold a bill of goods by some Guitar Center salesman.

If you insist on doing it yourself, my blog has some tips, though it’s aimed at a slightly experienced audience!

13 mac campbell January 30, 2010 at 5:32 pm

dave, i’m in school and will soon have a really good laptop. I want to record my music and what i want, or think i want, is an E-Mu tracker pre usb 2.0 audio interface and an Iomega prestige 500GB hard drive (idont want to use all the space on the one in the laptop). I have a Beringer dynamic mic and i plan on plugging my guitar into the interface. The interface comes with several recording software programs including drums and bass as well as some vst instruments. My question is will this be enough to give me a good enough recording to send to someplace like discmakers to have professionally mastered?

14 Ken February 2, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Hi Mac,

Ken here – Dave’s travelling again (almost constantly in demand these days…mostly producing large corporate events) The list of gear you mention should be no particular problem. You could improve input quality with a better mic, but at the price, the Behringer (XM8500?) is hard to beat.

You don’t mention what you’re listening with. If you are aiming to distribute you music at all, include a decent pair of studio monitors, and check your mix sounds ok on ipod with ‘phones, your home hifi speakers, an old “ghetto blaster” and car stereo at least.

Whether the results will be good enough to send for professional mastering depends more on the software you use, your own skills at performing your music and using your music production system, as well as the end purpose of your recording.

Have fun!

15 Aaron March 11, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Dave,

As an audio production/sound engineering enthusiast, I think it’s great to give budget-based advice on home recording. However, I have to strongly disagree with advising folks to purchase a microphone before headphones. My experience is predominately in live sound reinforcement and recording, and thus headphones are crucial. But even in a home-studio setting, having a pair of decent headphones is definitely a better first step than buying an SM-57.

16 Ravi April 25, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Hello Dave,
Please tell me the minimum equipment i need to buy to record and prepare demo CD of my songs. I m a songwriter and currently i m record using laptop microphone, but the sound is not good and unaccepatable. So please advise on how much minimum budget i can buy the required stuff to get me started with demo track. I have budget of around 1200$ maximum

Regards
Ravi

17 Ken April 26, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Hi Ravi,
Have a look at the article above, especially the $550 section, and the comments that follow. If you are recording just your own vocals and a simple accompaniment track, you should not need to spend anywhere close to your budget. I assume you’ll continue to use your PC and that it has a CD writer? If so you don’t need to buy a separate one. You will need a USB audio interface (not mentioned in Dave’s list) with as many inputs as you need to use simultaneously…

18 Patrick May 4, 2010 at 12:11 am

I have a laptop with 300gb (adequate storage for audacity files), an alright dynamic mic and dual input pre-amp (fitted with auxillary outputs). These components costs well under $1000. I am in the ‘sharpening up’ stage of sound recording, with extraordinary results. Theoretically if you DI (direct input) all of your instruments, your sound should be second to none. One other thing the only way to hide the fact your slinging a crap guitar (or any instrument) is hide it with a decent pedal. Its what i do…
Remember:
Research or listen to heaps of music- especially if its bands that have the same sound that you want.
Peoples opinions- You should chase these, if you are to evolve that is. Criticism especially if its of the constructive sort is VALUABLE.

19 Ken August 6, 2010 at 5:31 am

Hi Folks,

I want to acknowledge a lengthy comment submitted by “scubapig” recently.

While I decided not to publish something written in his style (I found it rather negative and narrow-minded), he did raise several good points worthwhile addressing. I’ve edited it into a Q&A format which I hope will be of use to some of you.

Here it is:

Q: What kind of leads do XLR based microphones use?

A: Balanced XLR leads, of course!

Q: What kind of inputs do all basic (and even budget professional) PC or Mac soundcards have?
A: Most have at least a 3.5mm minijack line input, and a separate mic input, if you’re lucky.

Q. OK, so how should I connect an XLR mic (like SM58) to a computer?
A-1: use an XLR to minijack adaptor (you can get one made up for a few dollars). Or much better…
A-2: use a USB adapter cable such as Lightsnake XLR/USB. (This is what I use for quick voice-overs and screen video commentaries.)

(I’m sure most people would realize the article is a “broad-brush” rough guide, not a detailed shopping list)

Q: Pro tools? Isn’t PT ancient history? And doesn’t PT require Digidesign hardware anyway?

A: Yes, and no! It depends where you believe you are heading with your investment in recording gear. For home studio use, Pro Tools will not be the best value for many of you. However, PT is still very widely used in professional studios and Music Production College courses so for some it may still be worth considering.

The free download software mentioned in the original article is no longer relevant, and I’ve removed references to it from the article.

As with all recording studio projects, you need to adapt your choice of software and gear to the type of sound production you want to be able to do.

Q: Have you heard of Reaper?

A: Yes, but so far none of us has used it

Q: Do you still advise that “A ($200!!!) CD burner is essential if you want to be able to output your music to CD”?

A: Good point. For most newcomers today, a separate CD writer would be a much lower priority, if needed at all. (My own recordings are now all produced for download, although I’ve recently had a few requests for a CD.)

Q: You mention $200 headphones with the caveat “BE WARNED: Headphones do not give a totally accurate representation of sound but this is not really a problem for most people.” Surely it’s a problem for nearly all people?

A: Fair point, but again, your priorities will be determined by your studio’s main purpose, and limited by your budget. Good quality headphones cost much less than good quality monitors.

Q: Your equipment lists seem too superficial. Shouldn’t you take more account of the buyers needs?

A: I agree! This short article series can only provide a very rough guide to what you might consider buying for a given budget.

Q: What qualifies you to write about sound recording and production anyway?
A-1: Dave Johnstone is highly qualified and experienced in sound recording and production:

  • MSc Degree in Music & Information Technology
  • BA Degree in Audio Engineering
  • 5 years working for several London-based recording studios
  • 3 Years as Technical Production Manager at an international Corporate Events company
  • Has many years of experience running his own home recording studio

I’d say that Dave was well qualified to write authoritatively on topics related to this website and elsewhere!

A-2: I admit to much more limited hands-on studio experience. I started producing midi backing tracks in the late ’80′s on an Atari running e-Magic Logic. More recently, I’m either producing voice-overs for screen-based training or consulting report videos, or recording and producing my own guitar-based band arrangements of worship music. I mostly use Logic Studio on a MacBook Pro.

Q: Aren’t you just on kickbacks from online stores?
A: Please see our Compensation Disclosure page.

20 Jim August 11, 2010 at 11:41 am

What an awful way to spend $550 dollars. It’s 2010, you do not need to spend $200 of your $500 budget to burn onto cd. Spend all of the money on microphones (i agree with the sm-58′s, maybe a couple condensers), a usb audio interface/preamp, and headphones. We are in the age where you can find any kind of software online. You need to focus on getting the best sounding audio into your computer. That will make your recordings the best. Buy nice microphones and a nice interface. You could have the best cd burner money can buy, but your recordings will still be bad if you don’t have good microphones.

21 Ken August 21, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Jim, thanks for your comments – I agree. The article is now rather dated, and needs to be revised. Constructive comments likes yours are always welcome!

22 Free Recording Software September 14, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Yes I would agree that today money is better spent on the vocal chain and AD/DA conversion receptively. Modern DAWs do the important with ease and excellence. It’s just a matter of talent and personal preference.

23 Rhiannon November 26, 2010 at 9:09 am

hi Dave
im 15 and i am a really interested in having my own recording gear just the basics to record a few tracks with friends and bandmates. We are a group of 5 girls and all we want to do is do covers of other artists work with backing tracks, we dont need any over complicated equipment! Just a good microphone, and some recording software for the computer and some way of burning them on to CD’s.
Our budget is £500
Have you got any advice because we dont have a clue where to start!
Thanks Very Muchh!
Rhiannon :)

24 Cory February 17, 2011 at 12:40 am

this is retarded, no offense. SM58′s all across the board running off the computers stock soundcard through a mini adapter?

ok, 100 bucks to spend, thats fine. 3-500, no way.

300 bucks should be more like Audiophile2496 PCI Interface and and an SM58 or a better quality Condenser Mic, an AT2020, Sterling, or a Blue Spark…

500, go with a Focusrite Saffire 6 USB Interface ($200) some AKG K44 Headphones ($40) and a R0DE NT1A ($230) and you”ll have 10 times the quality than what you are talking about on here…

you can get ANY DAW online for free if your looking around right, or Audacity is great for beginners who dont know jack about recording or mixing. Audition is a good second step, and then move to the bigger names, Pro Tools, Cubase, Sonar, Nuendo, Ableton etc…

Just saying, you could do much better than what you’ve posted on here.

Straight to the PC input is gona leave people straight lost whenver they see any interface / mixer. better to start with an interface and learn it so that when you upgrade, your upgrading into something A) better quality, but B) something you’ll at least slightly have afeel for. nothing like 500 dollar equipment thats being used the wrong way and you cant get a good sound.

(edited to remove profanity)

25 melissa malone February 22, 2011 at 12:41 pm

hey where do you have the recording studio in new york because iam starting my own band is called Melissa and the rippers. and i need a little help to start record my songs.

26 Ken March 26, 2011 at 10:11 am

Thanks Cory – some useful suggestions here…

There are many ways “to skin a cat” – it all depends what you are aiming to do.

27 trevor June 27, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Hey Dave/Ken
great article. I recently became extremely interested in recording and writing lyrics. I bought technic turntables and the etc.’s and started to fall in love with music and song writing..I primarily started with rap although im learning some instruments and have been writing lyrics for some local bands and working with local artist. Id love to produce and keep my own stuff as a hobby. Its 2011 now and i just bought a macbook pro and other than my turntables i have nothing other than garage band.. what are ur most current up to date suggestions for me to purchase from here within $1000 budget and any tips/suggestions of where to learn more information?
http://Www.reverbnation.com/un3ak if anyone wants to check me out. This has all been done within a couple months for me but I’ve become attached to my new hobby!!

28 Young Don July 24, 2011 at 7:05 pm

I’m Young Don and i’m a singer and a rapper inWest Africa to be precised Ghana, i love this page and i think i should express. luck to everybody, salamalaikum

29 Rodney September 3, 2011 at 11:10 am

I have a Yamaha psr-175 keyboard thats hooked up to my pc.what type of mic is good to use for sound,and i have a all purpose 16 channel 4 buss mixer(MDR-16) and a E30i Dulal 15-band graphic Equalizer how can i hook it up to my PC to start recording.PLEASE HELP

30 Bridget Jupp September 10, 2011 at 5:48 am

I am a music teacher in the process of setting up my studio again here UK.
I am trained as a classical church organist and piano, but I use the Roland G-800, PK5 and U-20.
Also play my Viscount Grand Opera organ and Technics half compass.

Previously recorded my young students singing using anologue but now that is a thing of the past, need to go digital.

I have 12 channel SoundLab mixer and recently purchased a Europower 16 channel mixer using high impedance microphones with my Celestion and Torque speakers.

I wonder if you can advise me as to what I need to start off because for some reason I am not getting any support from UK.
Just want to sell packages and boxes without any effort to advise.

I haven’t got a lot of money things as they are, so please advise showing me direction and it will be greatly appreciated; if you wish to look at my website of some videos of my students you can do: http://www.klavarmusic.com/
just to show you I am genuine.

Looking forward to your reply with advice.

Bridget Jupp BA (Hons) Music

31 GW December 18, 2011 at 10:13 pm

a friend gave me a zoom mrs-1044 multi-trak rec studio recently
what kind of speakers should i get? What kind of mic should I use?
and any more suggestions will be helpful. As most of us, I’m on a limited budget
thanks

32 WisconsinCheese January 29, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Hi Dave, do you have any suggestions for equipment, room set-up, etc needed to make professional-grade classical instrumental recordings? The budget is around $1000.

33 Deepa Rai February 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Which size of DJ Box can I use for my home recording and how to use Mic in my computer ? I saw in your comments advising to use USB and I have no idea how to use it . I have free down loaded Audacity but I got stuck in MXING …. I can not find Mixing in that software … Please help me .

34 Harry March 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Will “Lightsnake” work with Win7?

35 Rafael Vidal April 9, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Hey Dave! I need help! Im setting up a small home studio. I have about $4000 to spend. Im really aiming to have the MPC 5000 in my setup. Any advise you can offer?

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