There’s never been a time in modern history where so many people are stuck at home. Though difficult in many ways, the pandemic is also a great opportunity to dig into hobbies and projects that were previously prevented by the constraints of the clock. Home recording is more accessible than ever! With computers and gear getting more and more powerful, it’s not nearly as expensive or difficult as you may think to get professional quality recordings done right in your own home!
So what gear is needed to get started?
1. Audio Interface
An audio interface is an external soundcard that allows users to connect microphones, guitars and digital keyboards to a computer. Think of it as the connecting bridge that gets music from the real world into the computer.
The main differences between types of audio interfaces are the connections needed, the amount of inputs and outputs they provide, and the quality of those inputs and outputs.
Here are 3 great options at different price points to help give an idea of what’s out there:
PreSonus AudioBox iOne: $149
A compact little box, the PreSonus AudioBox is a great option for the travelling musician, or for users who just need to use one microphone or instrument. It has all the essentials, 1 mic input, 1 line input, phantom power, a headphone jack, and stereo main outputs.
Focusrite Scarlett: $239
An extremely popular interface, the Focusrite Scarlett is a series that ranges from a single input model all the way up to eight!
The home recording model is the Scarlett 2i2. The interface features 2 inputs, which can be used by either microphones or line instruments (guitars and digital keyboards). It has a headphone jack, and 2 outputs on the back of the unit that can be connected to external speakers.
As well, the unit provides 48V phantom power, an important feature as most recording microphones require this voltage boost to function.
The Scarlett 2i2 connects to computers via USB C, and is bus powered so no other plugs are required.
Universal Audio Apollo: $1,199
The high end of home recording interfaces! Universal Audio is a world class audio company. The products they make have been used on countless hit recordings over the years.
What sets the Apollo series apart is that a Universal Audio interface is needed to use Universal Audio software plugins, which are famous for their quality and sound.
For singers and acoustic guitarists a microphone will be required to get those beautiful sounds into the digital world!
There are 4 types of recording microphones: dynamic, ribbon, small diaphragm condenser and large diaphragm condenser. They each have their specific uses, but the most versatile type for home recording is a large diaphragm condenser.
Large diaphragm condenser microphones can be used to record vocals, acoustic guitars, woodwinds and even drum kits!
Here are some great beginner options:
Audio Technica AT2020: $150
A classic starter microphone! Audio Technica is a legendary brand in the world of audio, and this microphone allows beginners to get their hands on a piece of classic sound for an affordable price.
The AT 2020 is a straight ahead no frills experience, simply plug it in to an interface, switch on the phantom power and it’s off to the races!
Se Electronics X1 A: $139
Another introductory large diaphragm condenser microphone! Se Electronics is a recent but well respected company.
The X1 A is similar to the AT2020, but features two extra features: A 20 db pad, which is a button that when pressed reduces the microphones sensitivity, allowing it to be used to record loud signals such as a snare drum up close, and a high pass filter, which when engaged cuts the lowest frequencies out of the recording.
This high pass filter is useful to reduce things such as ventilation rumble and street traffic from being picked up, sounds that are often a part of the home recording experience.
Blue Microphones Yeti: $195
Avoid the need for an interface all together with the Yeti USB microphone!
The Yeti acts as its own interface, connecting directly to the computer. It can be used for vocals and acoustic guitar with great results. However, the thing to keep in mind with this microphone is that it is not compatible with other other recording systems that use an interface.
The Yeti is a great choice to get recording right away, but for those who intended to continue with the art in some capacity, its versatility is not ideal.
Pop Filter: $15-50
One thing singers will need before they get started is a pop filter, a circular pieces of fabric that is placed in front of a microphone to prevent popping plosives (harsh popping sounds that occur when vocalists sing P’s and B’s).
3. Digital Audio Workstation
A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is a software program used to record, mix and arrange music. There are many types of DAW’s, some easier and some more complex than others. A few of the best ones to begin with are as follows:
Garage Band: Free On Most Mac Computers
Garage Band is fantastic starting point for home recordists. For starters, it comes free on most Mac computers! A simple interface and numerous Youtube tutorial videos make it easy to get up and running.
Garage band also includes tons of drum loops, MIDI instruments, and built in audio effects; everything you need to create professional sounding music right out of the box!
Ableton Live: $119-899
Ableton Live is the number one DAW for electronic music makers. Live’s interface is designed specially to work with loops. This difference in design allows Live itself to be used an instrument!
Live comes in 3 versions, an Intro with just the essentials, a Standard with full features, and a Suite with a ton of virtual instruments, effects and samples.
Beyond this, during the Covid-19 Pandemic Live is offering a free 90 day licence to use and create with the full version.
It is Mac and PC compatible.
Logic is a very popular DAW for the Mac. One could think of it as the professional version of Garage Band. The interface looks similar, but Logic is much more advanced, with higher quality audio effects and deeper editing capabilities.
Logic is the perfect upgrade for users who have outgrown the limitations of Garage Band.
Pro Tools: $40 a Month Subscription
Pro Tools is the standard DAW for live recording in professional studios. It is a difficult program to create in, but provides the most in depth options for editing and mixing.
It is common for artists to create music in a different DAW, and then transfer it over to Pro Tools for mixing and final edits.
Headphones are must for top quality home recording. Earbuds or regular headphones are totally fine to get started with, but here are some higher quality options to keep in mind.
Audio Technica ATH-M20X: $69
A sturdy and well made pair of headphones, the ATH-M20X’s are closed back and foam cupped on each ear, meaning that less sound bleeds out of them, which is perfect for recording.
The cable is also 3 metres long, which is a life saver when working. The small cords that are used for commercial headphones are a pain to use in the studio where you need to be able to move around freely, without getting caught on stands or tables.
Sennheiser HD 280: $99
Sennheiser is a brand whose main product is high quality headphones. The HD 280’s are a budget friendly way to make recording easier and mix your tracks in a high quality listening environment.
5. MIDI Keyboard or Controller
A MIDI keyboard or controller is a device that connects to a computer and allows virtual instruments to be played with a physical device.
Every Digital Audio Workstation comes stock with tons of software synthesizers and emulations of real instruments. Though they are playable via a computer keyboard, having a dedicated piece of gear is the best way to take full advantage of each programs capabilities and being your home recording set up to the next level. Here are 3 types of controllers to take a look at:
M-Audio Keystation 49: $129
A simple, streamlined controller, the M-Audio Keystation is a 49 key MIDI keyboard. Connected to a DAW it allows users to play virtual instruments just like they would play a physical piano or synthesizer.
This is a great product for someone new to the world of recording, as it makes getting ideas into the computer fast and easy.
Akai MPD 226: $259
A different type of controller, the Akai MPD 226 is aimed at producers who create with a traditional hip hop workflow. This product is based on Akai’s MPC line, samplers which were the instrument of choice for many hip hop greats. It contains 16 drums pads along with faders and knobs, features which allow the user to work in a more physical way with less mouse clicks.
The Akai MPD 226 is a great choice for anyone looking to create in a percussion and/or sample heavy style.
Novation MkIII: $649
The best of both worlds, the Novation MkIII is a super controller! It comes in a 49 or 61 key version, each with 16 drum pads, sliders and knobs, and the ability to be used a sequencer for real-world synthesizers.
It provides tons of control, and is aimed at advanced computer creators who require many features.
6. Types of Cables
Yes, this is a big of boring section, but one that’s not to be overlooked! There’s no worse feeling in home recording than getting back from the store or receiving your new gear in the mail and realizing you don’t have the right cable to hook it all up. Here are the most common types of cables in the world audio, get familiar with your new friends!
Used for microphones and some keyboards, these cables have a male and female side that use 3 prongs to connect.
Balanced and Unbalanced Quarter Inch: $10-50
These are used for everything from guitars to synthesizers to speakers. Just be careful, as there are two types, balanced and unbalanced. Both are essentially the same, the only difference being that balanced cables have an extra sleeve around them and provide a cleaner signal.
As a general rule, guitars use balanced cables, and everything else would do better with a balanced version.
MIDI cables have a whole bunch of prongs and look a bit alien like. They are used for connecting to hardware synthesizers and keyboards.
Headphone Adapter: $10
These things are like guitar picks; you can never have enough because you will lose them! They are required for almost all professional audio equipment to connect headphones.
Nothing crazy here, but for audio equipment it is often a good idea to get long cables, as recording can require moving things like instruments and furniture around.
For pure beginners, bundles are a great idea. They come with all the needed gear to get started, and can save you a bit of money too!
PreSonus Bundle: $299
This package contains everything you need to record at home! It includes a PreSonus 96 interface, a condenser microphone, a pair of headphones, all the cables needed to hook everything up, and a copy of their Studio One DAW to get you started.
Focusrite Package: $399
This package contains all of the same elements as the previous PreSonus bundle, but with higher quality Focusrite products and a copy of Ableton Live Lite as the included DAW!
9. Closing Notes
Recording is some of the most fun you can have with music. Remember, if you want some help polishing up those vocals let us know and we’ll set you up with one of the best teachers Toronto has to offer! Good luck! And when you’re ready to release those new tracks, give us a tag, we love nothing more than hearing what our students are up to!