What is a Home Studio?
Your home studio serves as a hub for music creation. It's where your inspiration and workflow collide and your tracks take shape.
Each year, thousands of musicians opt to record and produce at home rather than paying for studio time—and you can, too.
Start With the Essentials
Each home studio is unique to the person using it, but generally, a fully-functional home recording studio is a collection of specific hardware, software and gear that all function together to let you produce music from start to finish.
Even though you technically could get away without 2 or 3 of these items, a complete home studio setup requires the following:
In this guide I’ll go through each in detail and lay out some good options that music producers of all skill levels can benefit from.
1. Computer 💻
The Hardware Hub
The vast majority of music production today is done digitally, so if you don't already own a laptop or desktop, this would be your first step.
You don't have to invest in a high-end computer if you're just getting started with music production - but you will need something that can at least handle your DAW's audio production tasks.
Other choices, such as choosing between a laptop and desktop, or between Mac and Windows, are more preferential. One thing to consider here is that some DAWs are not compatible on some operating systems. (Apple's GarageBand and Logic Pro X are only available on Mac, for instance.)
Choosing a Computer
If you'd like to learn more about which specs make a computer great for music and audio production, read our computer buyer's guide:
If you're in the market for a new laptop or desktop, check out our list of recommended computers to quickly find the right one for you:
Once you have a computer, you'll need a portal into the world of digital music production and sound design.
Digital Audio Workstation
2. DAW 💿
The Software Hub
The DAW is the primary application you'll be using to compose, record, arrange, edit, mix, master, and export your music. How cool is that?
Digital audio is communicated through a language known as MIDI. These sounds, hosted within the DAW, are played by an external controller, and then sent back to the computer via USB. Analog audio is typically recorded through an audio interface to be converted into digital wave forms. You can then use the internal tools in your DAW to edit and enhance the recordings to your liking.
Every DAW is unique - from its interface, workflow, or price. Once you choose a DAW that works for you, take some time to really figure it out. There are loads of free online tutorials and paid courses to help you get a fast start. The more comfortable you are in your DAW, the better your music will sound.
Choosing a DAW
If you're brand new to the world of DAWs, read our DAW guide to get a bit more understanding before comparing options:
We've also put together a list of the most popular DAWs to help you narrow down your choices:
Once you have a DAW, you'll need something to connect all of your gear to your computer.
3. Audio Interface 🎛
The Input-Output Hub
An audio interface is a piece of equipment that converts analog signals from microphones or instruments into digital signals that can be recorded into your DAW. It also converts the digital signals from your DAW into audio so you can hear them through your speakers and headphones.
The stock inputs and outputs on consumer laptops and desktops aren't compatible with pro audio gear. So, an audio interface is a necessary component for those who plan to record external instruments or utilize studio microphones, headphones and monitoring speakers.
The most important feature to consider when choosing an audio interface is the number and type of inputs and outputs it offers. Make a list of all the use-cases you need it to serve now and in the future. By keeping this in mind, you'll be more likely to invest in an interface that you can use for years to come.
Choosing an Audio Interface
If all this talk about analog inputs and digital outputs is over your head, that's okay. We've put together an audio interface guide to help you know how to find one that fits your needs:
If you already understand I/O and cable types, and just need to find a good solution, check out our list of recommended interfaces to compare options:
Okay, we're on fire. Now that we have all the necessary hardware and software, let's enter the world of the gearhead.
4. Headphones 🎧
Consumer vs Studio Headphones
You might already have a pair of wired headphones or wireless earbuds, but unless you're an audiophile, you probably don't own a part of studio-grade headphones yet. So what's the difference and why does it matter?
If you've ever compared two pairs of headphones, you might have noticed that one has more boom in the low-end while another has more crisp in the high-end. This is because different people have different sonic taste, so companies design headphones with unique EQ curves to shape the sound to their consumer's preferences. (Beats by Dre is a perfect example of headphones engineered with overly-accentuated low-end for listeners who love a deep, bass rumble in their music.) In the studio, however, this should be avoided.
Another way studio headphones are different is the cable type. Most wired, consumer headphones use ⅛" plugs for a traditional headphone jack, whereas studio headphones use ¼" plugs. This gives them a stronger and more durable connection to professional audio equipment such as amplifiers, mixing consoles, and audio interfaces. There are headphone adaptors if you want to use them for normal purposes, too.
Choosing a Pair of Studio Headphones
There are also different types of headphones for different applications in the studio. To learn more about them, read our guide of studio headphones:
If you're in the market for a new pair of headphones but are overwhelmed by all the options, check out this list we've put together to narrow down your search:
Studio headphones will always be important for tasks like recording, tracking and mix referencing, but for critical listening and mastering purposes you'll need something a little... bigger.
5. Studio Monitors 🔊
From Listening to Mastering
Listening exclusively on headphones during long sessions is draining on your ear drums and can often result in ear fatigue. By using a pair of monitoring speakers, you can switch between them to give your ears a rest, and also test out how your mixes sound in a room environment.
Like studio headphones, studio monitors are not intended to enhance or improve the sound of music. In fact, it's almost the inverse. Studio monitors reveal sonic flaws and inconsistencies, allowing you to fix them in the mix. This extra detail provides the insight you need to make your tracks sound fantastic.
Selecting the best studio monitors for you can come down to a few things. Price, size, and cable type are the most common considerations. The layout of the inputs, outputs, buttons, and knobs could also be a factor depending on the layout of your studio.
Choosing a Pair of Studio Monitors
Studio monitoring speakers are many musician's first big studio upgrade, and therefore deciding how much to invest can be challenging. If this is your case, I'd recommend reading our buyer's guide for studio monitors so that you know what to look for:
If you just want to see our recommendations for monitoring speakers at all price points, check out our article which compares some of the most popular studio monitors on the market:
Sweet! Now that we've covered the two main ways of getting audio out of your DAW, let's talk about the two main ways of getting audio into your DAW.
6. Microphone 🎙
USB vs XLR Mics
Unless you're only using virtual instruments, loops and samples, you'll need to record your sounds with a microphone to get them into your DAW. The little microphone on your laptop won't quite do the trick - ha. There are two main types of microphones, USB and XLR.
USB microphones come with an integrated analog to digital converter, so you don't need an audio interface to use one. They are great plug-and-play solutions, especially for beginners with smaller, bedroom studios. However, XLR microphones are the gold standard when it comes to professional vocal and instrumental recording. These require an audio interface with an XLR input. Additionally, there are many different types of microphones for various recording applications.
Another thing to keep in mind if you're using an XLR mic through an audio interface is how and when to use the phantom power (48V) setting - which is basically just an electrical charge to power certain mics. Simply put, Dynamic mics do not require phantom power, condenser mics do require phantom power, and ribbon mics will break if you apply phantom power to them. Noted.
Choosing a Studio Microphone
The world of microphones is no small one. There are different sizes of diaphragms, pick-up patterns, and even EQ curves that add or remove lows, mids, and highs to a degree. Each serves a unique purpose. To learn more, read our our microphone buyer's guide:
If you're interested in buying a microphone (or two, or three) for your studio, check out this top 10 list we put together to help you make a quick, informed decision:
Way to hang in there, reader. We've got one more essential item to cover, and I have to say that as a composer, this is my favorite of the bunch.
7. MIDI Controller 🎹
A Mini MIDI Overview
MIDI is an abbreviation for Musical Interface Digital Interface. This the language your computer uses to send and receive musical information to and from external controllers. Most MIDI controllers connect directly to your computer via USB, and some audio interfaces have 5-pin MIDI in/out ports as well.
There are numerous types of MIDI controllers. The most common are keyboards or drum pads, but they can also be guitars, microphones, or even wearable rings. In fact, there is even a fruit MIDI controller that can turn any conductive object into a musical instrument!
Although you can write MIDI notes directly into your DAW with a mouse and computer keyboard (also know as musical typing), using a dedicated MIDI controller gives you dynamic and expressive control, allowing your virtual instruments to sound more realistic and lively.
Choosing a MIDI Controller
With controllers of all shapes and sizes to choose from, it can be a daunting task to find the right one. So if you're not sure what to look for, I recommend first reading our MIDI controller guide to learn how to find the proper specs, features and capabilities that will fit your needs:
If you already know you need a controller and just want to be pointed in the right direction, check out our list of recommended MIDI keyboards and controllers:
And that's a wrap on the essentials for setting up a home music studio!
The Home Studio Setup Quiz
Music production is a massive industry with an enormous community, which means there are a myriad of options available when it comes to things you can buy for your home music studio. This overload of options is often overwhelming for many just getting started with home music production.
That's why we've put together this website, to help you make quick, informed decisions on exactly what fits your needs the best, so you don't make the mistake of invested in one or more pieces of gear that you either don't end up using or don't know how to utilize fully. (Happens to the best of us.)
For this reason, we've created a fully interactive studio setup quiz to help you find all the home studio essentials you need that fit both your needs and your budget. Interested in giving it a try? Take the Quiz.