Building a Home Studio
Building an effective home studio can be confusing. This article will go over the basics to putting together your home recording studio. Your studio will only be as good as the equipment you choose to invest in. The good news is most components are relatively inexpensive compared to paying for studio time. The bad news is it is still an investment. In the long run, a home recording studio will pay for itself over and over. Having the tools at your fingertips to just jot down ideas or go full throttle ahead to get that big studio sound will be more than worth the effort and money required to build. Let’s get started. Required Components:
Audio Interface or Audio Sound Card(expressly for recording)
Acoustic Alteration of Your Recording Space
The first thing you’ll need is a computer capable of handling the speed in which your information is processed, and capable of handling the storage required for your files. This is probably the most essential part of your investment. If you decide to go with something that cannot exactly handle what you are working on, then you will have to deal with endless drop outs. Drop outs are essentially a loss of data which occur during the recording process. they are caused by either insufficient speeds or CPU capacity to process the signals, or lack of space to hold the data correctly.
There are 2 basic types of computers-Mac and PC. Macs tend to be more stable than PC’s for recording, but a PC can also get the job done just as well. The thing you want to look for when purchasing a computer designed for recording is the specs. You want the fastest processor speed possible and the largest amount of RAM. Try to avoid CPU’s like Celeron or Sempron. They will function for recording, but you will have more drop outs than a more stable processor with a faster bus speed. Also maximize your RAM if possible. I would not record with anything less than a gigabite of RAM, and more is always preferable. An 80 gigabite hard drive may seem like a lot of space, but when recording, you’ll soon find out it is not enough. Go for a 250 gigabite right away and you’ll have far fewer problems in the long run. There are several types of hard drives on the market these days; SATA, and ATA. In the past, SCSI had the highest seek speed. A SATA is a cross between an ATA and SCSI. If you are upgrading your system, do not buy SCSI unless you are certain of compatibility. Otherwise choose SATA for the higher seek speed. Most newer computers come equipped with a CD burner. This will be essential so that you can back up all of your work and ultimately make your CDs.
2. Recording Software
Multitrack recording software is an essential part of your home recording studio. This software will allow you to record each instrument part by part for later editing and mixing. Most multitrack software comes equipped with the ability to handle editing and mixing along with recording. There are external editors such as sound forge that help boost the sound quality of your audio. You can choose to use one of these in conjunction with your multitrack recording software, but i found that most modern software also has these capabilities built right in. There are many products available on the market. I suggest you research each one and see what will work best for you. For example, there is a learning curve with Steinberg’s Nuendo which doesn’t exist with the free software offered by Kristal Audio. A good starter program would be Cakewalk’s Sonar. Its ease of use makes recording very pleasurable for the beginner. You can later upgrade to more complex software once you have a handle on the easy stuff. If you are ultimately looking to take your tracks into the professional studio to have them mixed, edited, or mastered by a professional engineer, then I would suggest using Digidesign’s Pro Tools. Most professional studios use this software for digital recording. This might be a good way to save money in the long run if you are looking for that ultimate pro sound.
3. Digital Audio Sound Cards and Audio Interface
Now that you have your computer, you are probably wondering where you will connect everything into it. You will find equipped with computer jacks labelled; Line in, Line out, and Microphone sometimes decorated in fuzzy Easter pastel shades of baby blue, pink, and lime green. Your first instinct might be to get a quarter inch jack adapter and record this way. The noise factor alone would make it obvious this is not the correct way. Most sound cards are not adapted to handle the type of recording you want to do. This where your interface or your recording sound card come in handy. Let’s go over sound cards first. There are many sound cards on the market designed to interface with your computer to make your recording life simpler. Yamaha, M-audio, and Lynx are a few of manufacturer names that make a decent product. Once installed, the inputs you need to get the lowest amount of noise are already equipped and ready to be used. No jacks necessary. Audio Interfaces are the newest wave in home recording. There are 2 types in the market; USB and Firewire. I would recommend firewire because it has a faster digital data transfer than USB. Both will get the job done, but you do not want to battle latency issues. Faster is better. There are so many firewire interface manufacturers on the market that I will only list a few of them here; Digidesign, Mark of the Unicorn, Presonus, M-audio. Choose a soundcard or interface with the input options that will work best for you. If you plan on recording your entire band live and want to have the capability of mixing it down later, then more inputs are the obvious choice. If you are an artist or a band wanting to work track by track, then you can buy a simple interface with only a few input option. These are generally far cheaper that their more expensive cousins, but they can save you money until you are ready to upgrade to something more professional.
When using a digital audio sound card, you will quickly discover the need to boost your signal. The perfect solution is to use a preamp. For example, if you attempt to use a condenser mic without a preamp, you will have very poor signal from something which should make your recordings sound great. Most interfaces come preinstalled with their own preamp, however, you may want to consider using a preamp which is specific to the instrument you are recording to get the sound you want out of that instrument.
Most professional studios come equipped with what are called condenser microphones. These microphones are very sensitive to sound and record the best dynamics in either your vocals, or your instruments. These microphones will require a shock mount. Shock mounts are generally included when purchasing, but double check to be sure you do not have to purchase one. This will help decrease the vibrations of external noise which you definitely do not want on your recordings. Most audio interfaces come preinstalled with phantom power. One thing to note about condenser microphones, phantom power is necessary to run them. Check with your interface manufactuer to make certain phantom power is available on that product before investing in it. It is advisable to use a pop filter when recording with a condenser mic, even though not all musicians choose to use one. A pop filter will limit the pops when a vocalist sings a *P* sound at the beginning of a word, for example. Another type of microphone which could be considered for home recording is a dynamic microphone. Experiment with both types to achieve the sound you are looking for.
6. Studio Monitors/Headphones
Rule of thumb, never trust your computer speakers. Take the money and invest in a good pair of studio monitors. Purchase monitors that will work with your computer right out of the box. otherwise , you will find yourself scrambling for a way to power them. There are now many manufacturers of this type of studio monitor. Get powered monitors, it will be more practical and safer for you in the long run.
Headphones are an essential part of your home recording studio. They allow you to monitor without having the sound fill the room. This would corrupt the part you are recording. even headphone can still bleed through if they are too loud. Adjust your volume for comfort, and practicality. Headphone amps are available to expand the listening capability of your setup. This piece of equipment allows more than one listener to listen to what is happening during recording and playback sessions.
7. Acoustic Alteration of Your Recording Space
Most rooms are not acoustically set up to record. The acoustics of a room will give you unwanted reverberation in which you can do nothing to mix out. You can either spend the money to acoustically alter your studio recording space, or you can do it by the poor man method. The poor man method includes draping the walls with blankets or throws to absorb the sound of the room. Another method would be to hang blankets to form a smaller space within the space you are working. Experiment with the poor man’s method before you go putting that addition onto your house.
That’s all you need to build a working and effective home studio. Now, it was not as difficult as you originally thought, was it? As you get comfortable with this simple setup, you may want to add things to your studio to enhance your options. It happens to the best of us, we get into upgrade mode and go nuts. Enjoy your new studio and happy recording!