Music Recording Equipment: The Bare Essentials Guide
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A computer is the heart of your home recording setup. It should have sufficient processing power and memory to handle recording software and plugins. Word of warning: if you skimp on the computer requirements you will LOSE YOUR SANITY trying to make it work. Audio recording (especially if you are doing video music!) requires a lot of processing power. When you’re spending hours at the computer recording and mixing and cutting, a slow computer will destroy your productivity and when you’re a newbie, it can easily deter you from even trying.
The minimum specifications required for a computer to handle music recording can vary depending on the complexity of your projects and the software you’re using. However, here are some general guidelines for the minimum specs:
- Processor (CPU): Look for a multi-core processor with a clock speed of at least 2.0 GHz or higher. The more cores, the better, as it helps with handling multiple tracks and processing effects. RAM
- RAM: Aim for a minimum of 8 GB of RAM, although 16 GB or more is recommended for smoother performance, especially with larger projects and virtual instruments.
- Storage: A solid-state drive (SSD) is highly recommended for faster loading times and improved performance. You’ll need enough storage space for your recording software, plugins, samples, and project files. Consider getting a drive with at least 256 GB or more.
- Operating System: Ensure your computer is compatible with the recording software you plan to use. Windows and macOS are the most common operating systems for music production.
- USB/FireWire/Thunderbolt Ports: Check that your computer has the necessary ports to connect your audio interface and other external devices.
- Graphics Card: For basic recording needs, an integrated graphics card should suffice. However, if you plan to do video editing or work with complex visual effects, a dedicated graphics card may be beneficial.
It’s important to note that these are minimum specifications, and for a smoother recording and mixing experience, it’s advisable to go beyond the minimum requirements whenever possible. More powerful processors, larger amounts of RAM, and additional storage can greatly enhance your workflow and allow you to handle more demanding projects. Additionally, always check the system requirements specified by your recording software manufacturer, as they may have specific recommendations or minimum requirements that are relevant to their software.
- Apple MacBook Pro: MacBook Pro laptops are popular among music producers for their powerful performance, excellent build quality, and reliable audio performance. They come with a range of configurations, including high-performance processors, ample RAM, and fast SSD storage. They are compatible with popular recording software like Logic Pro and Ableton Live.
- Dell XPS 15: The Dell XPS 15 is a Windows laptop that offers excellent performance for music production. It features powerful processors, upgradable RAM, and fast storage options. The XPS 15 has a sleek design, a high-resolution display, and ample connectivity options, making it a solid choice for recording and mixing.
- HP Envy 17: The HP Envy 17 is another Windows laptop that provides a good balance between performance and affordability. It offers powerful processors, ample RAM, and large storage options. The Envy 17 has a 17-inch display, making it suitable for those who prefer more screen real estate for their recording and editing tasks.
An audio interface is a device that serves as the bridge between your instruments, microphones, and other audio sources, and your computer or recording system. It converts analog audio signals into digital data that can be processed and recorded by your computer. Additionally, it provides high-quality preamps to amplify and condition microphone and instrument signals, ensuring accurate and clean recordings.
The audio interface also offers various inputs and outputs, allowing you to connect multiple audio sources simultaneously, and it typically provides low-latency monitoring capabilities, enabling you to hear your recordings in real-time without delay. Overall, an audio interface is a crucial component in capturing and digitizing audio signals for professional-quality music recording and production.
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2: The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a popular choice among beginners. It offers two inputs for microphones or instruments, two outputs for monitoring, and high-quality preamps. It also comes bundled with Focusrite’s Scarlett software suite, which includes recording and mixing software. You will find the Scarlett 2i2 packaged in a bundles with microphones, headphones, and cables. I highly recommend against buying the bundle and just buying the individual components separately. It’s a little more expensive in the end, but the equipment will be much higher quality and last a lifetime. By the way, all of Scarlett’s audio interfaces are exceptional and easy to use. They integrate seamlessly with ProTools and other Digital Audio Workstations.
- PreSonus AudioBox USB: The PreSonus AudioBox USB is a compact and easy-to-use interface. It features two microphone/instrument inputs, MIDI connectivity, and headphone monitoring. It also comes with PreSonus’ Studio One Artist software for recording and editing.
- Behringer U-Phoria UM2: The Behringer U-Phoria UM2 is a budget-friendly option that still provides decent audio quality. It offers one microphone/instrument input, one headphone output, and basic level control. It’s a simple and straightforward choice for beginners.
- Steinberg UR22C: The Steinberg UR22C is a well-regarded interface with two inputs, MIDI connectivity, and high-quality preamps. It offers a rugged build and low-latency performance. It also includes Steinberg’s Cubase AI software for recording and production.
- M-Audio AIR|HUB: The M-Audio AIR|HUB is a compact interface with two inputs and two outputs, including a dedicated headphone output with volume control. It features USB-C connectivity and comes with Pro Tools | First M-Audio Edition software.
Good quality microphones are crucial for capturing vocals and instruments. The type of microphone you choose will depend on the source you’re recording. For vocals, a condenser microphone is commonly used, while dynamic microphones are often preferred for instruments. There are lots of options for microphones, and if you get a good large diaphragm condenser mic you can record vocals and guitar plus a little more if you position it right.
A lot of people reading this are probably guitarists and singer songwriters, so here is the optimal setup on a budget. Go with a large diaphragm condenser microphone for vocals and a small diaphragm condenser microphone for your guitar. We will get into how to set these up for positioning in another article.
Vocals – AKG Pro Audio P420 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone: This is one of the best microphones you will find for a reasonable cost. They are rugged, durable, and have excellent reception when picking up vocals and acoustics. Make sure you get a shock mount with it and preferably a pop filter. The shock mount will eliminate ambient noise and vibrations that might be in the room while the pop filter will prevent clipping when hitting P’s or K’s with vocals.
Acoustic Guitar – AKG P170 Small Diaphragm Microphone: The P170 condenser microphone is highly recommended for its exceptional sound quality and versatility. It features a small diaphragm design, high SPL handling, and a wide frequency response, making it suitable for capturing instruments, vocals, and other audio sources with precision and clarity in various recording situations.
This one is pretty obvious. Headphones are good if you need to be mixing in a quiet environment, but they provide essentially the same benefit that studio monitors do. So starting out, you technically don’t need both but it’s nice to have the flexibility. Studio headphones can also be a godsend if you are overlaying tracks and need to hear the music without it being picked up by the mics. A pair of studio headphones AND/OR studio monitors is essential for monitoring your recordings and achieving accurate playback. Look for headphones designed for audio production, which provide a neutral and detailed sound reproduction.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M40x: The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x is a popular choice for its balanced sound reproduction and durability. It provides excellent clarity and accuracy, making it suitable for mixing and critical listening. The build quality and comfort are also noteworthy.
- AKG Pro Audio K240: Critically acclaimed sonic performance praised by top audio engineers and pro audio reviewers, providing a wide soundstage and natural sound reproduction. They offer a comfortable fit, good build quality, and are well-suited for tracking, mixing, and general studio use.
- Sony MDR-7506: The Sony MDR-7506 is a classic studio headphone that has been widely used in professional environments for years. It delivers a detailed sound with a focus on midrange clarity, and its closed-back design helps with noise isolation. They are lightweight, foldable, and built to withstand long studio sessions.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro: The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro is a closed-back headphone that provides accurate and detailed sound reproduction. It offers good noise isolation and a comfortable fit, making it suitable for monitoring and recording purposes.
While not strictly necessary, studio monitors (speakers) are beneficial for accurate mixing and monitoring. They help you hear the nuances and balance of your recordings more precisely.
- JBL Professional 305P MkII: The JBL Professional 305P MkII is a compact powered studio monitor that offers accurate and detailed sound reproduction. It features a 5-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter, providing a frequency response that covers most critical listening needs. They are well-regarded for their balanced sound and affordability.
- Presonus Eris E3.5-3.5″ Near Field Studio Monitor: The Presonus Eris E3.5 is a pair of compact studio monitors with a 3.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch silk dome tweeter. They deliver clear and balanced sound, making them suitable for small studios or home recording setups. They also include convenient features like front-panel volume control and headphone output
- Mackie CR4-X Creative Reference Multimedia Monitors: The Mackie CR4-X monitors are designed for multimedia applications, including music production, gaming, and multimedia playback. With a 4-inch woofer and a 0.75-inch tweeter, they provide a balanced sound with good clarity and detail. They come with convenient features like an aux input and a headphone output.
XLR and Instrument Cables
You’ll need XLR cables to connect microphones to the audio interface, and instrument cables to connect instruments like guitars or keyboards. Ensure you have the appropriate cables and lengths for your setup. This gear is pretty basic, but here are two pro tips:
- Do not skimp on quality. Buying a cheap cable means you will get more signal interference and the quality of your recordings will be impacted. If you are buying quality microphones and audio interfaces, don’t go cheap on the cables. Good ones are only a few bucks more.
- Use the shortest cable you need. Longer cables don’t necessarily mean signal deprecation, but in some cases it can. So stick with the minimum length you need for both instrument and XLR cables.
XLR Cables Top Tier XLR Cable: Mogami: Mogami makes the highest quality XLR cables you will find on the market. Be warned of sticker shock though.
Good Quality, Reasonable Cost: Pig Hog PHM XLR Cable: These are tour grade quality XLR cables and will not disappoint for home recording. They are much cheaper than the Mogami, plus who doesn’t like saying that name??
Top Tier: Monster Instrument Cable: Monster has long been known as making the highest quality instrument cables out there. They are expensive, but they come with a lifetime warranty which covers 100% replacement if they break or are damaged.
Fender Deluxe Instrument Cable: When you buy something from Fender you know it’s going be quality. Much cheaper than the Monster cable at that.
Recording Software: Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
This is where things get most complicated. A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is a software application that serves as a comprehensive tool for recording, editing, and producing digital audio. It provides a user-friendly interface where musicians, producers, and audio engineers can create, manipulate, and arrange audio tracks.
In a DAW, you can record audio from microphones, instruments, or MIDI devices, and edit them with precision. You can trim, cut, and rearrange audio clips, adjust volume levels, apply effects and plugins, and fine-tune the timing and pitch. DAWs also offer a wide range of virtual instruments, synthesizers, and samplers, allowing you to create melodies and harmonies using MIDI data. Additionally, you can mix and balance multiple tracks, apply EQ, compression, and other audio processing techniques, and add spatial effects to create a polished and professional sound.
If you have a DAW that you are already comfortable or familiar with, just stick with that. Assuming most people reading this do not have prior recording experience, here are the three most popular options.
- Ableton Live: Ableton Live is a versatile and popular DAW known for its unique session view and powerful live performance capabilities. It is widely used by electronic music producers, DJs, and performers, but it is also suitable for recording, editing, and mixing in various genres.
- Pro Tools: Pro Tools is an industry-standard DAW that has been used extensively in professional studios for many years. It offers comprehensive recording, editing, mixing, and mastering capabilities, making it a preferred choice for audio engineers, music producers, and post-production professionals.
- Logic Pro: Logic Pro is an Apple-exclusive DAW that provides a comprehensive set of tools for music production. It is favored by many musicians, producers, and composers for its powerful features, intuitive interface, and seamless integration with macOS. Logic Pro is known for its robust MIDI capabilities and is commonly used in the realm of electronic, pop, and film scoring.
- Bandlabs Cakewalk: BandLab Cakewalk is a powerful and feature-rich digital audio workstation (DAW) that offers professional-level recording, editing, mixing, and mastering capabilities for musicians and producers. Plus, it’s free!
Optional additional equipment may include MIDI controllers, preamps, external processors (compressors, equalizers), and acoustic treatment for your recording space.
Remember, the specific equipment you need will depend on your recording goals, budget, and the type of music you want to record. It’s essential to do some research and choose equipment that suits your needs and preferences. What are you listening to tonight?