Updated: Feb 26
During all this time supporting Home Studio configurations and setups, I've been constantly asked about the most basic recording studio setup for those on a budget. More specifically something similar to the picture below.
Well first of all let's clarify that the objective of this setup is music recording and production, we will cover other types of setups in other articles. Hence here I will describe every piece of gear you need to get started, with a few alternatives.
Computer and Software
For a Home Studio this is a 'water divider' decision. Most likely you have already decided between Windows or MacOS for other reasons (work, study, etc) and your Home Studio choice is just a reflection of that.
MacOS based computes are deemed as being more expensive for the same setup, but more stable in general. If you choose to go with Logic Pro X for your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) then you have to go with MacOS. If you are really on a tight budget, you can get decent mileage out of Garage Band that is included with any recent Mac computer.
On the PC, a popular choice is Reaper, an affordable and reliable DAW that has lots of resources online for you to learn and apply.
In summary, a computer with these minimum requirements is recommended:
CPU at least 2.2 GHz i7 quad-core Intel with 64-bit OS
Memory at least 16 GB RAM
Storage at least 500GB HDD (SSD preferred)
Monitors, mouse and others at your own choice; some producers work on laptops only
Apple recently launched M1 chips on their computers, and MacOS Big Sur can work with M1 or Intel Macs.
Some audio gear however doesn't work with M1 or Big Sur yet, so double check with the vendor before purchasing
External backup HDD or SSD highly recommended
A more detailed discussion of the pros and cons of Windows and MacOS platforms will be the subject of another article.
Mixer or Audio Interface
Another interesting debate is the fact that a lot of people immediately think of a mixer when they think about a home studio setup. While a mixer is useful if you have to practice while routing multiple audio sources and don't want to always rely on the computer, it is possible to have a Home Studio for music production based on an audio interface only.
While we could dive deeper into the specifications of each audio interface and mixer including signal-to-noise ratio, distortion and others, I will simplify this by suggesting you go with a reputable brand and 192 kHz / 24-bits spec, which is basically commonplace these days.
If you want to go down the mixer route, a good and reliable option is the Yamaha MG10XU. It will allow you to mix instruments 'live' during a rehearsal, as well as cater to recording situations as it is also a USB driven audio interface. Note however that since it's an entry level device, it only routes 2 channels in and out of your computer and DAW, even though it has 10 channels available as a mixer. Combined with the price point, this is the reason why I normally put it side by side with a 2-channel audio interface as an option.
If you're happy to rely on the USB interface and DAW for mixing even while practicing with others, then my preferred options would be the Focusrite Scarlett Solo or the 2i2. The solo is the ultimate singer/songwriter solution as it sports one instrument input and one microphone input, while the 2i2 will take two microphones or instruments, so it might be worth the extra cost.
Monitors and Headphones
Monitors could be defined simply as being speakers - most of the time powered - that have a very flat response and are great for reference listening of your mixes and productions, hence the name 'monitors'. It is a widely known fact that professional mixers will audition the mix in a variety of speakers including commercial ones like stereos and boomboxes, but at the core of their studios they will have at least one decent pair of monitors. For simplicity and budget my pick is the Rokit 5 G3-5" Studio Monitor Pair, suitable for those starting out a studio.
Proper monitoring via headphones is possible these days, especially with near-flat response 'open back' devices. But these go beyond the scope or budget of the entry level proposal here, so I am going to add the closed-back AKG K72 pair to the list here. While they won't have the flat response that their more expensive cousins will have, they do a decent job as long as you pay attention to how your audio sounds on the monitors as well.
Now to close this item, we have to discuss 'proper' acoustic treatment on your room. While this might increase the budget quite a bit, you should consider this to be a 'second step' after purchasing all the gear and software. More details here.
Even if you are not a piano player, you can certainly benefit from having a small MIDI controller or keyboard on your setup. It can be useful for entering chords and melodies into your productions, and there are heaps of plugins to aid those not familiar with music theory or not able to play the keyboard properly. Plus with the plethora of sound samples available from plugins these days, you can have an entire orchestra at your fingertips for a reasonable price.
Bonus: some DAWs like Garage Band or Logic Pro X come with heaps of instrument samples for you to use with a MIDI keyboard. My pick in this case will be the AKAI mpk mini, with 25 keys and a very reasonable price.
Even if you don't sing, you may find the need for a microphone at some stage. You may want to start a podcast or even talk with your bandmates during a remote jam. Or capture the sound of an acoustic instrument. The disclaimer here is that I will avoid recommending a USB microphone like the Blue Yeti since our setup includes an audio interface or mixer capable of taking a microphone in via XLR connection. So my recommendation is the AKG P120, an affordable and versatile condenser microphone that will not be limited to just one application.
Simplicity wins when starting out with a music Home Studio. For each of the devices above you will find at least a dozen alternatives just upon a simple web search, but I've tried to pinpoint my favourites for you. You will also notice that I left out the musical instruments otherwise this would be a very lengthy and specific article. The idea here is to give you the rundown of the basics so you can make an informed decision.