Interested in getting involved in the world of home recording? You are not alone but in our pandemic limited world, home recording is one of those activities that dramatically increased in popularity. In the early days, home recording devices were difficult to get due to shortages in inventory levels. These days, that issue has calmed down and most stores have decent inventory of various home recording devices and accessories. That said, there are still many new people interested in entering this home recording world who struggle to know where to start, what to buy and how to operate. If that is you, hopefully we can help ...
What basic equipment do I need?
Home recording is done using a computer, an audio interface, recording software, microphones, headphones or speakers and a variety of cables and stands (for microphones).
The computer is usually a persons personal computer. I won't try to write a complete guide to home recording computer specifications here. It's a huge topic and there are many blog posts dedicated completely to the topic. Here is a good one if you'd like more detail. You will need a computer running either a relatively current version of Microsoft Windows or Mac OS. If your computer is less then 5-10 years old you should be okay. The newer the better in terms of processor speed and power. Recording software takes up a lot of processing power so the more that you have in your computer, the better. Also, the amount of ram memory in your computer is important so the more the better. If you have a minimum amount of ram in your computer (usually 4GB) you may find that your recording software's performance is slow or limited. 8GB, 16GB or even 32GB of ram memory will be much better in terms of computer and recording software performance. The other important spec in your computer that matter when it comes to recording software is your hard drive, how much space you have and how fast your hard drive accesses information play a big part in how well your recording software will run. Newer SDD (Solid State Disk Drives) are way faster, silent and much more durable. Having a SDD hard drive in your computer is a big plus for recording software. Beyond that, having a nice big display with nice resolution will make your home recording software experience much better as there are many components of the software that are good to have showing at any given time.
The audio interface is the next main part of any home recording setup. This box like device provides your computer with the necessary in's and out's for your audio signals on their way in and out of your computer and to and from you home recording software. Without it, the signals from your microphones, your guitar, your keyboard etc. would have not way to get into and then back out of your computer. Not surprisingly, there is a big range of possible options. Less expensive audio recording interfaces have less inputs and outputs and less sparkling audio quality. The smallest, least expensive interfaces have 1 microphone input and a set of stereo outputs. More elaborate audio interfaces might have 4, 8 or even 16 inputs and a similar amount of outputs. As well, more expensive units boast professional level studio audio quality. All that said, there are dozens of excellent audio recording interfaces on the market in the $200-$300 range with 1 or 2 inputs that offer good audio quality and work with almost any computer and any piece of home recording software. Some of the more popular brands that we carry at our store are Focusrite Scarlett interfaces and Steinberg UR series interfaces.
Home recording software is the engine of any recording setup. There are many different software packages available in many different price ranges. Software packages ranging from $o (like Garage Band included with most Apple Computers) to Steinberg's Cubase ($200-500 depending on the version) are available. A lot of the time, recording software is included as part of the interface purchase. This takes the expense out of buying the software and ensures that it will work well with the interface. This is a good option. Finding the right piece of software beyond the basic versions (like Garage Band or Cubase LE) can be daunting. A lot of online research and some good old fashioned help from your local music store is a good way to approach. For most newcomers to home recording, I would suggest starting with something basic like Garage Band or the included software that comes with your interface. You can always upgrade later if your needs start to exceed your softwares ability.
For microphones, there are as many opinions as there are options. There are basically two main types of microphones to consider, condenser and dynamic. The difference lies in how sensitive the two are. Dynamic microphones are less sensitive and require more air (literally) to move their diaphragms (the membrane that captures the sound). Condenser microphones are more sensitive and require less air pressure to do the same thing. Dynamic microphones are more suited for loud things like electric guitars. They are also more suited to things with less dynamic range. Condenser microphones capture more dynamic range at lower volumes which make them more suitable for voice and things like pianos. Most home recording set ups will involve people trying to record singing. For that, a condenser microphone is a must for best results. For acoustic guitar, the condenser microphone works best as well. For most other things, the dynamic microphone is better suited so having both isn't a bad idea if you can afford.
Once you record stuff, you have to hear it play back. You can use your computer speakers but that is about the worst possible way to hear music. Headphones are kind of the bare minimum and we don't mean your earbuds that came with your phone. We would suggest a decent pair of studio headphones. They start at about $59 and can run as much as a few hundred but they are well worth it when monitoring your recorded music. If you can't hear the music that you have recorded properly, you can't possibly mix it properly. Beyond headphones, many small home recording set ups will have a nice pair of studio monitors. These are powered speakers designed to playback recorded music for monitoring and mixing. If you can afford, these make a great addition to any home recording set up. As well, it is really nice not to have to rely on headphones all of the time. They can be uncomfortable and fatiguing as well.
Beyond all of those basic components, home studios usually will have a few microphone stands, the cables required to plug in their microphones to the audio interface and other goodies such as a pop filter to go in front of your microphone to eliminate any popping sounds that we make when we pronounce words that start with "P" or the Shssh sound of "S" words.
Packages make a lot of sense when first getting into home recording. While you can purchase all of the items that I mentioned above separately, you have to research and purchase each one separately. This may make you feel like you are getting the best possible version of each component. While that may be somewhat true, at the entry level, the differences between one manufacturer and the next is very slight and possibly not noticeable at all in the finished music. To our way of thinking, the packages that most manufacturers offer make the most sense. You get everything that you need in one box, one purchase and you are ready to head home, install and start learning right away. Also, if it doesn't work (which is pretty uncommon these days) you can get help since everything came from the same manufacturer. Best of all, the package usually saves you a few dollars as well. Either way, package or al la carte, you will need the above listed components to get started.
Lastly, buying the products is just the beginning. We really do suggest buying your home recording equipment from a music store, ideally a smaller more approachable one. The internet is full of very helpful tutorials on how to home record but if you are like most newcomers to the process, you will struggle a bit with it a first. Having a local store that you can drop into for help is invaluable.
Hope that helps and we hope that you take the dive into this world. It is so much fun and super creative and these days, not very expensive. Enjoy!