Want to start recording your own music, but don’t know what equipment you need? We have compiled a list of the most essential equipment anyone at any level needs to record and mix music. In this article, we’ve explained why you need each item and some recommendations for choosing the right equipment for your needs.
In summary – you need the following equipment to record music;
- A Computer (PC or Mac)
- Recording software / DAW software (Digital Audio Workstation)
- An Audio Interface
- A microphone (we recommend a condenser – a versatile option for getting started
- Studio Headphones
- A Microphone Stand
- A Pop Filter
- Studio Monitor Speakers
- Acoustic Treatment
- Power Conditioner
We’ve explained each item of equipment in more detail below.
A Recording Computer
Unless you are reading this from your time-machine in the 1970s, you’ll probably want to build your recording setup around a computer. I know there are some purists out there who only use analog equipment which is all very retro and nice. However, for the average person, this equipment isn’t affordable or very easy to use. So let’s assume you’ll be using a computer!
These days, most modern computers are completely capable of getting you started with digital recording, so you can probably use what you already have.
If you do want to start with a dedicated machine that has plenty of power, here are a few things you should look for.
- At least a quad-core CPU – something like an Intel i5, i7 or higher. Multi-core CPU’s provide much more powerful processing ability which you’ll need to handle things like multiple tracks of audio, processing plugins and virtual instruments.
- Plenty of Memory (RAM). RAM stands for ‘Random Access Memory’ and this memory is used for temporarily storing information as it’s being processed. The more RAM you have, the more information your computer can process at once. I recommend 8gb RAM as a minimum
- An SSD Drive (Solid State Drive). SSD drives don’t have a spinning platter like older style hard drives, they use flash memory for storage which means they can access information up to 6 times faster. This means files and programs load much more quickly, resulting in a faster experience for you. This is important with audio production as you’ll be working with large files.
- Plenty of storage. This ties in with the above – make sure the computer has plenty of storage space – if it’s a laptop it may only have one drive, so make sure it has enough room on it for all your files. I recommend an SSD drive with a minimum of 480gb storage.
- A high-resolution display/screen. If you’re working on a large project with lots of tracks – you’ll want a high-resolution screen – at least 1920 x 1080.
The best computers for recording. (Our Recommendation)
Either a laptop or a desktop computer will be fine for recording and editing audio. Modern laptops are very powerful so if you want a versatile option that you can transport easily – we recommend you invest in a good laptop.
Here are a couple of excellent laptops that will work great for recording and editing audio. We’ve provided both Mac and PC options.
Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD Storage)
HP Spectre x360 Intel i7, Quad Core, 16gb RAM, 512gb SSD.
DAW Software/Recording Software
DAW is an acronym for ‘digital audio workstation’. Your DAW software is like the engine that drives your digital recording setup. It allows you to record multiple tracks of audio, edit your audio files, mix, and even master your final song. Most DAWs also have MIDI production capabilities which means you can compose and arrange digital music using virtual instruments and mix this with recorded audio.
The right DAW software is essential for your recording setup. To help you choose the right one for you, we’ve written a detailed article on the easiest DAW for beginners.
An audio interface is the heart of a recording studio as it enables you to connected multiple analog audio devices (like microphones, guitars, keyboards), convert the audio signal into digital and send it into your computer for editing.
Yes, you can compose and program music using virtual instruments inside your DAW – but nothing beats the authenticity of a real performance on a real instrument.
An audio interface also enables you to multiple connect output devices like headphones and monitor speakers.
Sound is digitized when analog audio is converted into digital signals by an audio interface. Some computers come with a microphone or line input, but the quality of the built-in converters is not as good as the quality you’ll get in a dedicated audio interface. An audio interface can also provide more features and connectivity options like multiple mic preamps with XLR inputs and hardware gain controls, MIDI I/O and multiple output options.
Why do you need an audio interface for recording?
- For better quality audio inputs and outputs
be able toenable you to connect all of your equipment through multiple input and output ports available.
If you’re just starting out, you don’t need to buy expensive studio monitor speakers – a good pair of studio headphones will get you started.
While headphones in general, function to play audio into the user’s ears, studio headphones are quite different from regular consumer headphones and gaming headsets.
General consumer headphones often artificially emphasize the bass frequencies and scoop out some midrange frequencies.
Studio headphones are built specifically for professional work and deliver a more accurate sound that helps in critical listening to hear every single flaw in audio. This helps producers spot distortion, noise, frequencies that need adjusting, and mix more accurately. If you’re recording live audio, a good pair of studio headphones are essential for monitoring so you can sing or play your instrument along with a click track or other backing audio.
Why do you need Studio Headphones?
- To clearly hear the music and audio you’re working on (built-in computer speakers won’t do the job)
- For monitoring, while recording live instruments like vocals and guitars
- Studio headphones are clearer and more accurate than consumer headphones
- They are more durable than other types of headphones
A microphone captures live sound and converts it to an electrical signal. It’s one of the essential components in your recording studio. In fact, many recording studios have whole cupboards full of microphones! Different microphones are suited for different purposes – which we’ll explain below. There are three main types of microphones: Dynamic, Condenser, and Ribbon.
Dynamic microphones are the most common type of microphone and generally the most affordable.
Dynamic Microphones have a heavier diaphragm which means they can capture louder instruments and bass frequencies particularly well (the most popular mics for bass guitar cabs and kick drums are generally dynamic microphones. Dynamic mics are often used for live audio as they are more durable and resistant to humidity changes.
They are OK for recording certain instruments, but we suggest you start with a Condenser microphone which is more versatile – particularly for vocals.
Condenser Microphones have a very light diaphragm which makes them very sensitive. They are great for recording quieter instruments like vocals and acoustic guitar. They will also pick up high frequencies very accurately so they are often used for capturing the sparkle and sizzle of cymbals or as drum overheads.
Condenser microphones are pretty versatile and, if you can afford one, we recommend you invest in a mid-range condenser as your first mic.
Condenser microphones are usually pretty fragile and sensitive to humidity. You’ll want to handle your condenser microphone carefully and keep it is a dry controlled environment.
Unlike Dynamic and Condenser mics, Ribbon Microphones don’t have a diaphragm. They have a very thin strip of metal (the ribbon) that is suspended in a magnetic field. The ribbon thickness could be as thin as 1.8 microns – compared with a human hair which is 100 microns! This means ribbon microphones are very delicate and fragile.
Ribbon mics capture a detailed accurate sound with clear highs and precise low frequencies. They have a mellow sound – some people say they have a slightly dark tone to them.
They are also expensive – and not very commonly seen in a home studio.
When recording music, a great quality mic stand helps reduce the chances of damaging something as fragile and valuable as a condenser microphone. Can you imagine buying a cheap stand ‘serving its purpose’ until it falls with your expensive mic along with it? Mic stands are so underrated and don’t get enough credit for how crucial their function is in keeping your rig secure.
The Hercules MS533B Hideaway Boom Stand is a tripod boom-type mic stand. It’s rock solid and stays in place where you need it! For sure your microphone will be safe and secure with it.
Have you ever wondered what those black fuzzy round things in front of microphones do? Those are called pop filters, and they work like magic to cancel out popping sounds usually heard as a thudding noise of letters ‘p’ and ‘b’. That’s just one reason, the other is to ultimately protect your microphone from the saliva of enthusiastic vocalists!
The Stedman Proscreen XL Pop Filter is one we recommend. This pop filter isn’t made of the typical and cheap pantyhose material which makes it a longer-lasting option. It uses a unique patented material where instead of simply blocking out the popping sounds, slots in the filter are angled down to redirect the sound energy away from the mic.
Studio Monitor Speakers
You can absolutely use a great pair of studio headphones for all your recording, editing and mixing. There are a few good reasons why you’ll want to eventually invest in a pair of studio monitor speakers though;
- Mixing on headphones for long periods of time can fatigue your ears
- Headphones have an inaccurate stereo image (too wide), which means mixes done on them won’t have good stereo separation when you listen to them on other audio systems.
- Most headphones don’t have a perfectly flat frequency response (unless you’re spending up into the thousands on a very expensive pair). This means you’ll often mix frequencies inaccurately while using headphones.
- Certain instruments like synth and vocals sound more energetic and alive in headphones – which means you’ll tend to leave them too dry – where you should be adding a little bit of reverb or delay.
- Headphone mixes can end up sounding too ‘full-on’ or loud.
- At some point, you’ll want to playback your mix to a group of people who can’t all share your headphones at once!
While headphones can help you get started if you’re on a budget, we recommend getting a decent pair of studio monitor speakers when you can afford them.
It isn’t enough to simply have amazing equipment and trust the world to cooperate when you’re recording. It’s never safe to assume you will create the best sounding audio only because you have invested in expensive microphones and the right DAW software.
The room you’re recording in plays a huge factor. Some basic acoustic treatment on the walls can help reduce reflections and echos that would otherwise be picked up in your recorded audio.
Acoustic panels are very affordable and will make a big difference to your room – not just for recording but for monitoring and mixing too.
If you aren’t able to treat the whole room, but you want to reduce some resonance and echos while recording vocals, you could consider getting a mini portable vocal booth or acoustic isolation booth.
These handy little portable acoustic isolators can be mounted on your mic stand and wrap around you as you sing or talk into the mic, significantly reducing the reflections and echos from the room that you’re in.
While not directly related to creating music, power conditioners are important to safeguard all your equipment from fluctuating voltages, interference, and electric surges which can be deadly for your equipment! RF Interference from your power source can also be picked up in your recorded audio.
Power conditioners help stabilize energy to protect your equipment and filter out unwanted interference.
The Furman PL-Plus DMC Power Conditioner with Voltmeter/AMMeter is a great investment!
Frequently Asked Questions
What equipment do I need to record music at home?
The most important home recording equipment is a computer, DAW software, audio interface, headphones and a great microphone!
What do you need to record a song?
To record a song, you need a Microphone, Mic stand, mic cable, audio interface, computer and recording software (DAW software).
What equipment do I need for a recording studio?
In addition to recording equipment a recording studio requires a room with great acoustics.
How do you record at home with studio quality?
To be able to record amazing audio with studio-quality, you need to invest in your skills and the right equipment. Our top 10 list of the right equipment is a good starting point.
What is the best home recording studio package?
If you want to get started on a budget, we highly recommend the Focusrite Scarlett recording studio bundle. It’s a comprehensive bundle and includes the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 recording interface, Pro Tools first DAW software, the Focusrite Scarlett Studio microphone, The Focusrite Scarlett Headphones, mic cables, a mic stand and a pop filter.