What Makes This Build Guide Very Different From the Others Online?
Maybe you’ve read a guide on how to make a home recording studio before. There are many of them online. However, I’ve never seen one written by a professional recording studio owner like myself. Usually just some marketing dude is rewording information to make money of Amazon affiliate links but they often don’t know what they’re talking about.
I’m going to give you a real practical guide on how to make a killer home studio without skipping crucial steps.
I should know, since I built, soundproofed, designed & furnished the professional recording studio, Current Sound here in Hollywood, Los Angeles. I also built the first Current Sound location in Adelaide, Australia. I’ve been working as full-time music producer, recording, mixing & mastering engineer in the studios that I have built since 2003.
This is way more than your typical home studio gear list
Aside from a typical gear list of essential items I’ll also be covering, acoustics, design, soundproofing, different types of home studios and their uses so you can work out what’s best for you.
By the end of this guide you should learn enough to be able to make your own dream home studio without buying stuff you don’t need.
If you find this useful, please share it on social media so others can find and read it.
This is an insanely detailed guide
Bookmark it, share it, it’s crazy long and detailed. You won’t be able to remember it all.
It’s more like a free eBook than an article. It’s over 180 pages long and around 40k words. That’s the length of a novel!
I was going to make it into an eBook but I decided to put up for free.
Did I mention it’s long? When I say it’s long, I mean super long, bigger than my …. it’s just really long man. Feel free to skip parts that you’re too lazy to do.
This is the most in depth home recording studio guide on the internet period. It will help make your home studio more awesome.
This will literally save you countless hours of reading forums, watching YouTube videos and asking those in the industry questions. Everything you need to know to start a home recording studio is all here in the one place.
Why Am I Doing This?
At the time of this article Los Angeles is in lockdown due to Covid-19. My professional recording studio, Current Sound, in Hollywood was forced to close and stop in person recording due to Covid-19. Many of my clients want to setup a home studio and send their songs to me to be mixed but don’t know how to do it.
Rather than just making a guide for my clients, I decided to make the most in depth home studio setup guide available on the internet.
This means you’re getting a rare, true, home recording studio build guide, better than almost every other one out there. I’m going to go far beyond just a gear list.
A No Bias Article
There are no affiliate links in this article and no one is paying me to write any of this or review any products so there are no biases.
The best pro audio products aren’t always available on Amazon and often have no affiliate links. The top brands in the pro audio world are Neve, API, SSL, Trident, Daking. The top products are those from those brands as well as many small boutique companies.
Most of those products, aren’t on Amazon, so the person writing the guide will usually not include them, making most, if not all other home recording studio guides you read online suck. I couldn’t find a good one myself so I wrote this one.
The best way you can find out about these products is by asking actual sound engineers, reading this guide which is written by a professional engineer such as myself and/or checking out the free and loosely moderated sound engineering forums like KVR, Sound on Sound, Gearslutz and the Audio Engineering forum on Reddit.
If something sucks, I’ll tell you. If something is good, I’ll tell you that too. That’s something you rarely get from a salesperson in a music store who gets paid on commission. To them, whatever you can afford within your budget is good even if it sucks.
The only thing in it for me is, if you find the guide useful, do me a small favor and share this article on your social media or website so that my recording studio can get a little extra exposure.
Are you ready for the best How to Build a Home Recording Studio guide on the internet? Here we go…
You can automatically scroll to a chapter by clicking the section below.
What Makes a Home Studio Different From a Professional Recording Studio?
The needs of the person creating the home recording studio with vary from artist to artist. For this reason, there is so much mis-information online about what type of home recording setup you need. The reality is, the type of studio you need is going to vary drastically depending on your expectations and budget.
Before running out and buying gear to setup a home recording studio, it’s important to work out your needs and expectations first.
Home Recording Studio Vs Professional Recording Studio
Professional Recording Studios
Professional recording studios are no compromise studios. Often superior acoustics and soundproofing and contain a variety of equipment suitable for recording different voices and styles. Clients are paying and expect to be able to get a radio ready product. For this reason they also employ in house sound engineers to record and mix the artists.
Here is one of the rooms I designed at my professional studio in Hollywood
Home Recording Studios
Home recording studios are usually just used by one artist and often only contain the equipment needed to record that one artist. That person, the artist, almost always lacks the skills of a good mix engineer. As a result, buying better gear doesn’t always equal a better outcome.
They’re not trained in acoustics. They’re not trained in mixing. Chances of them ever making a radio ready song completely by themselves without training is zero percent. Mixing takes a long time to learn. Most mix engineers in successful professional recording studios have been mixing full-time for over 10 years.
Good Vs Bad Home Recording Studio Design
Some artists have cooler home studios and the home studios by sound engineers are often way better.
Putting some thought into your home studio like the example above will give you a much nicer space to work from.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
In general, musicians are terrible at designing home recording studios. They often buy too much stuff that they don’t need and forget about the elements that are important such as soundproofing & acoustics.
Mistake #5 – Bad Layout
Having a think about putting what you need close to where you’ll be sitting. Since most with a home studio tend to buy one of two pieces of gear one at a time as they save up money, they run out of room to put things.
Follow this guide and try to plan ahead and you can avoid this mistake.
Mistake #4 – Bad Lighting & Vibe
You want to feel creative when you go into the studio. The vibe of your space is an important part of that.
3rd Mistake – Messy Home Studios
One of the major advantages of having a home studio studio is being able to put your ideas down quickly when you have them.
That is, if you can find your stuff lol.
You don’t want to be moving items around all the time whenever you have an idea for a song.
2nd Mistake – Too Much Gear
This guy who has so much stuff he can’t get to his chair.
I can also see a microphone in the corner with no acoustic treatment.
All of the speakers are in the wrong position for mixing. Everything is hard to reach.
#1 Most Common Mistake – Forgetting About Acoustics and Soundproofing
This one is a little harder to spot the problem. Overall, he did a decent job on the layout and lighting. It has a great vibe and has a lot of really expensive gear but there is no acoustic treatment or soundproofing. Given that he has an expensive SSL Mixer and all the tools needed to mix, the acoustics and soundproofing are a problem for both mixing and recording.
What’s Wrong with This Home Studio Setup?
You probably can’t tell yet but this setup actually has a lot of issues. Keep reading and you’ll learn why.
The biggest issue In this article, I’m also going to be giving some advice on studio design as well as acoustics so that you don’t end up making these common mistakes.
Having Realistic Expectations
It’s important to be realistic about the purpose of your home recording studio. Learning to mix to the same standard as professional mix engineers is unlikely for most artists. Unless you’re recording and mixing 8 hours a day for many years, you’ll most likely suck. The reality is, most people use their home studios for demos and for songwriting. That’s why there are thousands of professional recording studios still around.
The professional recording studios these days act like talent agency for mix engineers. The studios care about their brand. You book the studio and just think, “They will have someone there to operate and gear.” What is the actual case is, “They have someone there to operate the gear AND mix your song.” The gear alone, doesn’t make the recording sound great. It’s a combination of the gear, the acoustics and the most important ingredient, the skill-set of the mix engineer.
The truth is though, that same mix engineer, probably has a killer home studio where he could record and mix to a similar standard. The only problem is, he’ll probably get fired from the professional studio pretty quickly if he started pulling their clients over to his home studio lol.
What sort of sound can you realistically get?
In terms of yourself as an artist, you can buy all the gear in the world and still make a recording that sounds like trash. The gear is only a small piece of the puzzle.
Think of it like buying a 1960s Les Paul guitar without taking guitar lessons. Sure it’s an amazing and expensive guitar but the guitar itself will sound terrible in the hands of someone who doesn’t have the skill to play it.
Recording gear is not that much different. You need more than the gear alone, skill is the one thing you can’t buy from a music store.
The reality is, most artists, even after years of practice, never get to the skill level required to make anything beyond demo quality. Professional engineers have usually spent 5-10 years or more of recording and mixing each day, 8 hours or more a day before they actually get good enough to make a living doing it. The chances of you getting to the same level by only mixing for a couple of hours a week is pretty slim.
Home studios can save you lots of money in terms of coming up with ideas and composition but to think you will be able to mix a song that will make it on the radio or get signed to a label is not realistic for most.
I personally think most artists should have a home studio but just be realistic with your expecations.
Making a Better Than Average Home Studio
Most home studios also aren’t good enough to be able to record at home and send of for mixing.
We’ll be talking about that because if you follow my guide, buy the more expensive items and follow the acoustic and sound isolation tips, you should be able to record vocals at home to a reasonable enough standard for mixing in a professional studio, if that’s something you’re interested in doing.
Most home studios also aren’t good enough for learning to mix in or bring a freelance engineer in to mix in.
If you want to pursue sound engineering as a career (pretty tough career to get into by the way), you’re going to want to build a better home studio that’s suitable for mixing. I’ll be covering this also.
If you want to bring a freelance engineer into your home studio, you’re also going to have to have a better home recording studio that’s more suited for mixing.
Types of Home Studios
The type of home recording studio you make will depend on what you’re going to use it for. You can spend your budget in certain areas suited for your needs and expectations.
Demo Cutting Home Studio
This the most typical type of home studio. It’s the one on almost every home recording studio build guide. You can pretty much buy the cheapest gear for this, it doesn’t matter. The problem is, most people make this type of home studio with the wrong expectations.
Influencers, playlist curators, radio stations, DJs, potential fans and people needed to help market your song won’t help you. Most artists put their music up on social media and think it’s good enough. Just because you think it sounds fine or good, doesn’t mean those important in the music industry will. In fact, labels don’t sign artists of demos anymore.
This type of home studio is best for just cutting demos to work out which songs to re-record and have mixed in a professional recording studio if you want to release them.
It’s not the type of setup you should have if you want to record at home and send your recordings to a professional mix engineer like myself for mixing.
Average Quality Rating
- Acoustics: 1/5, Minimal to no treatment
- Soundproofing: 0/5, Typically no soundproofing
- Recording gear: 1/5, Cheapest
- Studio Monitors: 1/5, Cheapest
- Output quality: Demo
- Songwriting and cutting demos to save time on professional recording later
- Making recordings for yourself or your friends
- Artists who aren’t professional sound engineers (most artists)
- Artists who aren’t going to share their music online and on social media
Not Suitable For
- Replacing tracking in a commercial recording studio
- Sending songs to a mixing and/or mastering engineer
- Creating songs for sale and release
Beat-Maker Home Studio
If you’re making beats/instrumentals to sell to artists online, you’ll have more music creation tools and less recording and mixing gear.
In the photo above, the speakers are too far apart and are resting directly on the desk, indicating the person doesn’t know about acoustics and mixing.
In this photo, the speakers are too far apart and there is no acoustic treatment so this is also just for beat-making.
However, learning to mix and buying professional recording gear, opens up new doors and could help you transition into a music producer where you’re recording, producing for artists and working directly with the artists in person. Or if you want to go the DJ/Producer route, being able to mix a song to test out in the club is a huge plus.
Average Quality Rating
- Acoustics: 1/5, Often none or a little acoustic treatment
- Soundproofing: 0/5, Typically no soundproofing
- Recording gear: 0/5, Often none
- Studio Monitors: 3/5, Ideally better than average studio monitors but not always
- Output quality: Unmixed Instrumentals/Beats
- Selling beats online
- Sending electronic music production
Not Suitable For
- Recording and mixing artists
- Mixing, unless you add acoustic treatment and better monitors
Recording & Mix Engineer Home Studio
These are often much closer to same as a professional recording and are usually built by sound engineers who have professional mixing skills.
Average Quality Rating
- Acoustics: 4/5 to 5/5, Decent to Best Acoustics
- Soundproofing: 2/5 is average for a beginner but professionals range from 3/5 to 5/5.
- Recording gear: 4/5, High quality gear suitable for different situations and artists
- Studio Monitors: 5/5, Best studio monitors
- Output quality: Radio Ready, if the engineer has the skills and experience
- Professional recording engineers or those aspiring to be a professional recording engineer
- Higher cost than the average home studio puts it out of the reach of most independent artists and in most cases is overkill for a single artist unless they are bringing in an outside mix engineer to work with them in person.
Tracking Home Studio
In this setup, acoustics for tracking (recording) is prioritized over mixing. In this photo you can see a couple of live rooms but and nice vibes but minimal gear, just what is needed for tracking. Even the acoustics for mixing aren’t the best in this photo given the lack of acoustic panels and the fact that there is an extra booth of to the side in the first reflection point where an acoustic panel would have to be for an accurate listening/mixing environment. However, this would be a good setup for recording a band and sending the parts out to a mix engineer like myself to be mixed online and/or to a music producer to be remixed.
Average Quality Rating
- Acoustics: 4/5, Decent Acoustics
- Soundproofing: 3/5 to 5/5, Above average/medium level soundproofing to high soundproofing
- Recording gear: 3/5, Usually one decent vocal recording chain suited for themselves
- Studio Monitors: 3/5, Usually better studio monitors to hear what’s being tracked better
- Output quality: Ready to Send off to mixing
- Professional Artists
- Artists in remote areas that want to have their music mixed online
- Most artists in the world that are in coronavirus lockdown and want to have their music mixed online but have a higher than average budget
Not Suitable For
- Mixing unless the acoustics and monitors are upgraded. This will mean acoustic panels would have to be placed at the reflection points such as where the glass window is in the photo above.
- You can record at home anytime without having to go into a professional recording studio at a similar audio quality
- Higher cost than the average home studio an unless you’re recording a lot, can end up costing more than simply booking a professional recording studio when needed.
- You miss out on the direction of a music producer or sound engineer as opposed to going to a music producer operated recording studio which can lead to a worse performance.
- You can’t bring a professional engineer into your home studio to mix.
Rich Person Who Doesn’t Know What They’re Doing Home Studio – lol
Yes, the photo is back. This is so common though that it has it’s own category. Here is LA, I see lots of home studio where the money is spent in all the wrong places. This is about a 150k setup. Yet the acoustics and incorrect speaker placement makes it an inaccurate listening enviroment that could easily be fixed by moving a few things around and a couple hundred dollars worth of acoustic treatment.
Most artists don’t need a setup like this because most artists don’t know how to mix and don’t want to spend years learning how to mix.
However, wouldn’t you be pissed off if you paid $150,000 for a home studio setup only to find it wasn’t accurate for mixing?
I’ve been hired by artists to come to their super expensive home studios to mix their music only to find similar problems like you see in this photo.
Right now, the positioning of the items and lack of acoustic treatment is creating a massive bottleneck for the equipment. For under 10k, you could come close to maxing out each category in the list other than soundproofing. Right now this 150k setup looks like this;
Quality Rating of The Pictured Setup
- Acoustics: 0/5, No Acoustics
- Soundproofing: 0/5 for the room 4/5 for the booth
- Recording gear: 5/5 for now, 30k of mics… being destroyed by incorrect storage lol, more on this later. 77k SSL mixer. 20k ProTools HDX setup.
- Studio Monitors: 5/5 10k monitors but due to their positioning, 3/5 accuracy. Large bass build up on the left side only will make it hard to mix on these.
- Output quality: Shit. Still can’t do an accurate mix.
So let’s learn how to spend money where it matters and do things right.
How to Make a Better Home Recording Studio
As a musician, singer or rapper, it’s pretty tempting to just fill a room with lots of your favorite instruments. After all, you need a practice space. People often confuse a home studio with their bedroom or other rooms in the house. Collecting one thing at a time and finding a place for it.
Think About Where You’re Going to Put Stuff Before You Buy It
The reason professional studios look to great is that the gear was usually purchased in advance, all at once and the design was thought out.
When professional studios start to look bad
How many old recording studios have you seen with computers, mice, keyboard and screens all in awkward places?
You can end up with the same issue in your home studio.
A lot of professional studios, once built, struggle to integrate new technology and find a place for new items.
People that have a home studio, often buy gear without thinking about where it will go. Purchasing one piece at a time without thinking if there will be room for it or if the gear will be within reach.
Let me make a suggestion…
Don’t start a home recording studio by purchasing gear.
Instead, create a gear list of everything you think you will need, where it will go and only purchase items off your list. Not only will that help you save money and not by un-nesscessary items but it will keep your studio looking organized. It sounds easier than it is but it will stop your studio from looking like a bunch of junk in a room and help the ergonomics of your home studio.
How you can make a killer home studio
Now that you know the types of home recording studios, I’m going to suggest an in between home studio setup. This will focus on making a setup that will allow yourself to grow.
That way, you might be able to send your vocals off to a mix engineer or producer like myself for a mix or remix.
Or you might be able to learn to mix to see if you want to pursue it as a career. Or maybe you just want a place to make all your musician friends jealous.
You can of course skip some parts but then you’ll end up with a demo cutting home studio. If that’s all you want/need, that’s ok but you don’t really need a guide for that since you can just buy the cheapest stuff.
Here is my professional recording studio that I designed in Hollywood, Current Sound. There is no reason you can’t make something similar at home.
It is completely soundproof and acoustically treated.
I like it because it has everything I need without having to move, moves up and down from sitting to standing height and I can set the ideal height for either playing or mixing.
I use 500 series rack preamps and compressors so keep everything nice and compact.
So let me help you make a killer home studio…
Looking at my lists above and photos I’ve found online of home studios, you’ll see the number 1 think forgotten in almost all home studios in soundproofing. If you don’t want disturbances like traffic noise coming in or to annoy your neighbors, you should at least do some minimal soundproofing. It won’t be as good as the isolation at Current Sound which uses the very expensive room in a room technique but it will still be reasonable. I’ve done this to many houses and apartments in the past.
It’s best to do this before you even more all of your gear into the room. Sometimes you can to do it later by moving everything aside and covering it all with plastic sheeting. I’d recommend doing this first, even before buying any gear.
Should You Soundproof Your Apartment a Little?
Most home recording studios aren’t soundproofed, not even a tiny bit. Most artists don’t want to be bothered soundproofing their apartment or house. At this point, you’re probably thinking…
Should I be bothered with soundproofing?
Studio condenser mics are super sensitive. They will pick up not just your voice but your breath, your clothes moving all of the sound around you including outside your apartment. Other people talking, birds chirping, cars passing by, footsteps, buses, police sirens, gun shots and all the wonderful sounds of your neighborhood.
Maybe if you’re an awesome freestyle rapper, you could even make some of those sounds fit in the song but a dog barking or your mother telling you to clean your room, move out of home and get a real job could be hard to fit into your next single.
This is where working out the type of home studio you’re going to be making comes in.
Are you just making a place to compose ideas and demos?
If so, maybe a passing car in your recording is not such a big of a deal.
Are you just making a beat-making studio?
Maybe you have no mics to record you’re just making beats? Having outside sound coming in might not be such a big deal.
Are you making a tracking studio to send off for a proper mix and master?
Now soundproofing is a massive issue. You don’t want a passing car, bus, dog barking or whatever to ruin your perfect take and you definitely probably don’t want a car horn or USPS truck in your next single.
Will making a lot of noise piss off people around you and/or get you evicted?
This is the part most musicians don’t think about until it’s too late and causes problems. Don’t forget about sound coming out of your studio
Soundproofing isn’t just about sound coming into your studio. It’s also about stopping sound from coming out.
If you have inspiration at 3am to record a song are you going to get evicted from your apartment?
Realistically, how much noise can you really make until it starts to cause you problems?
Most musicians in the US move to big cities like LA and NY. Unfortunately, most apartments are made out of drywall and have windows that are close to your neighbors windows, letting all the sounds escape your studio.
Proper soundproofing is great but super expensive
To completely soundproof an house or an apartment is very expensive and requires either owing the property or having the landlord’s permission as well as deep pockets.
For each room, it involves building a whole extra layer studs, insulation and drywall inside of your existing room, known as the room in a room technique. You basically construct a whole extra room inside of the room. Something like that can easily set you back around 10k for a small room or typical bedroom.
Let’s look into an in between solution…
Don’t freak out when you hear about soundproofing. Partial/semi-soundproofing is still very beneficial and if you’re willing to do it yourself, might only costs a few hundred dollars or so.
All of these can easily be removed when you move out of your apartment and don’t cost a whole lot to do.
If you just attack the weak points of the room such as the windows and door(s) you can reduce the amount of sound coming in and out by around half or sometimes even more and that’s based on drywall.
That might be enough to make your loud studio sound like a medium level TV to your neighbor rather than a nightclub.
Most likely you’ll still have issues with bass and subs but it will make your neighbors like you a hell of a lot more and could be the difference between staying in your apartment or getting kicked out.
So I’m going to help you semi-soundproof your apartment or studio room so you can be creative without pissing off everyone around you.
How to Semi-Soundproof an Apartment Temporarily
Why semi-soundproof you ask?
Most musicians in the US rent. That makes soundproofing very difficult. As mentioned earlier, the best way to soundproof a room is to build a whole new room inside another room, known as The Room in a Room Technique. This is often not possible if you’re renting and costs on average around 10k per small room if you’re paying construction workers. So lets look at an in-between type of setup suitable for most musicians that you can do without causing any permanent damage to the apartment.
For handymen that own their properties or if you have the cash and the landlord’s permission and want to do the room in the room setup, you can checkout the Gearslutz forum on studio building.
Most apartment walls are made from studs, drywall and insulation. Those are all fairly dense, nowhere near as good as brick though but fairly dense. They do a fairly reasonable job of keeping sound out.
What isn’t dense and thick is glass. Windows are the weakest points of any room in terms of soundproofing, followed by the door.
Sure you can get double pane windows but even they’re going to be weaker than the actual wall. What isn’t weaker than the wall is, well, more wall!
So we’re going to turn the windows into wall!
If you do this right, it will be removable and just as dense, if not more dense, than the actual wall.
From the Windows, to the Wall.
Ok Skeet Skeet Mother fu*kers, here’s how you go from a window to a wall.
We’re going to make a window plug.
The best way I have found to do this in a temporary way is to stuff them with dense sound absorption material. Roxul Rockboard 60 or Roxul Rockboard 80 is a good option. I’d recommend the 80 for this if you can get it. Roxul Rockboard 80 will absorb more bass than Rockboard 60 and is also more rigid.
You can probably find it locally at insulation suppliers but you can also order from ATS Acoustics. They didn’t pay me to say that so I don’t care where you get it from.
Owens Corning 703 is a little better at absorbing very low subs but more dangerous to work. It requires all cutting to be done outside. It isn’t recommended for any furnished apartment. With OC703, you have to wear an N95 mask (sold out in the US at the moment), glasses and cover all skin and wash down the floor and walls after use.
OC703 contains formaldehyde which is known as a cause of cancer and fiberglass is a known irritant so it takes some balls to work with and needs to always remain covered whenever you’re not wearing an N95 mask around it plus you have to cover all of your skin when working with it.
That makes Roxul the safer choice of the two.
Making a Window Plug
This needs to be a super tight fit to work. If it is airtight, it is helping to soundproof. Like if someone is listening to headphones. If the headphones are off their head, all the sound comes out. So follow all the steps
What You Need
- Rigid soundproofing insulation (Roxul Rockboard 60 or 80 or OC 703)
- Stanley Knife
- Plastic drop sheets to stop insulation fibers and glue from getting on the floor and on furniture. Cover everything.
- Bucket of water
- Rubber gloves
- Mask (ideally N95 if you can find one, otherwise any mask)
- Spray glue. Gorilla glue is good.
- The longest ruler you can find at the hardware store. Ideally it should be at least 48″ long.
- Measuring tape
- A large piece of wood, larger than the insulation, 3ft by 4ft minmum such as a sheet of MDF to use as a cutting board. The MDF must be a foot larger than the width and length of your largest window.
- Fabric. If you use acoustic fabric such as ‘speaker grill fabric’, burlap or any other breathable fabric, these panels will double up as acoustic panels. For just soundproofing, you can use any fabric since the sound has to come in through the glass window first. To test if it’s breathable, place your hand behind the fabric and blow through it. If you can feel your breath, it’s breathable and will work.
- Long sleeve shirt, pants and if using OC703, shoes that you don’t care about wearing anymore. You will need to wash your clothes after before wearing them again. I usually just go to the salvation army or Ross and buy the cheapest possible clothes and then throw them out after. Insulation is itchy.
- Possibly a Phillips head screw driver (optional)
- Safety glasses
Steps to Make a Window Plug
Measuring the Window
- Use the tape measure to measure the window and measure each edge, left, right, top, bottom. Write it down. Don’t assume it is level. Don’t assume it is even. Most old apartments have moved and the windows aren’t even.
Cutting the Insulation to Size
The next part is best done outside if possible, otherwise, cover everything in the room with plastic sheets
- Wear long sleeves, mask and safety glasses
- Place the MDF sheet on the floor, this will be our cutting board.
- Use the ruler and marker to mark it the sheet of insulation. If the window is larger than the insulation sheet (24×48), you will have to cut two sheets and use spray glue on the edges to glue them together. Note, it’s easier if you cut each sheet to size separately first before gluing them.
- Place the ruler along each line you want to cut. Use the Stanley knife and place it hard up against the ruler. Attempt to cut it to the exact size. Make sure to keep the blade straight. If the blade is not on a perfect 90 degree angle to the ground, you’ll angle off the insulation.
- If you need to do a larger window than 48×24, cut the extra piece you need of another sheet. Spray spay glue on the edges (open a window if possible, you need ventilation) and quickly press and hold them together for a couple of minutes. Cut a thin strip of fabric over the length of the join and spray it on the front and back, this will help create a stronger bond.
- Once you’ve made your perfect size panel lets see if you messed it up lol. Put it in the window frame and press it in. If you did it right, gravity should hold it in. If you messed it up it either wont fit in or it won’t stay in. In that case, if it need trimming, try to trim it a little. Otherwise you can either glue an off-cut back onto it or just throw it out and try again and use that piece for off-cuts for the other windows.
- At this point you’ve probably realized the window latches and handle hit the panel. You can either unscrew them or you can measure where they are and mark them on the insulation. If marking them, also measure how far out they stick. You need to make that size hole in the insulation without going through to the other side.
- Once you’ve made your holes, place it back to make sure it fits snug.
- At this point it’s probably stuck and you can’t get it out. You need to get it out for the next step. You can gentle wedge the edge of Stanley knife between the window edge and the insulation and go around the edges and carefully wedge it out.
- If you’re cavity is large and you can fit two sheets in there, do two. It will absorb more bass. One is still a big improvement over none.
Making the Insulation Safer
Whatever you do, do not skip this step! Insulation is bad for you. The fibers get into the air, into your lungs and can even cause cancer. That’s why you should be wearing a must through this. You need to wrap them if you’re going to live with them. If you wrap them properly, they’ll be as safe as the acoustic panels in professional recording studios. I see so many un-wrapped or partially wrapped acoustic panels in home recording studios that is super concerning and dangerous. You must wrap them.
- The easiest way to do this is to cut more fabric than you need then trim it down. It’s best not to overlap the fabric so that it looks nicer. You’re going to be folding it over the panel so cut double the length of the width or the height of the panel. Also the insulation is 2 inches thick (unless you bought the rare 4″ versions). That means you need to add 4 inches extra 2+2 but I’d say go with 8 inches or more extra because it’s easier to wrap around.
- Once you’ve cut your sheet overlay it over the insulation panel to see where it will go.
- Shake the spray can for 30 seconds. Pull back a little of the fabric and spray the insulation. Pull the fabric back over, keeping it tight and press it down. Keep doing this all the way until you’ve sprayed the whole side.
- Flip the panel over. Spray the edge you’re going to bend around. Do the same for the back.
- For the corners, you want to make a flap that bends around the edges. You can do this with the fabric that is there but I also like to put an extra layer underneath on the corner edges. Make sure you can’t see any insulation or holes in the corners. Otherwise, cut some extra fabric for the corners and stick it on.
Improving the Window Plug if it’s Loose
If once you’re done, the window plug won’t hold in with gravity, it’s likely too small. You can add some foam weather-stripping around the window plug to make it a tighter fit. The idea behind this is the foam is more squishy than the insulation and will compress down.
With Landlord Permission – Beef Up the Window Plug
The insulation window plug alone provides a decent level of soundproofing but if you live in a particularly noisy area, you can consider adding an MDF sheet over the top of the window and then sealing the edge of the MDF by either silicon (permanent) or foam weather stripping (removable).
This issue with this though is, you have to place screws into the window frame. So it’s not good for renters unless you know how to paint and patch holes. You’ll also need the landlord’s permission.
Best to consult a handyman for this part if you want to do this go the extra mile.
This will however, truly turn the window into a wall.
Tips for this…
If you’re going to try beefing up the window plug, using L brackets around the frame will often make it easier to remove and patch later.
I’m going to mention one other technique because if I don’t I know some smartass probably will. It just doesn’t work for most windows. They have to be very deep. If you have a really deep window sill, you might even be able to make an entire wooden frame with a wooden back and a little foam little weather stripping or foam on the edges around the insulation that is only held in with pressure. With this style you can even put and handle on it. This only works on very deep windows and quickly becomes problematic on older places with uneven window lengths.
Other resources on Window Plugs
Here is an article on all the different types of window plugs you can make. Personally I prefer my frame-less one I just taught you how to do since most apartments don’t have square/even windows as most apartments are old. The frame-less one is a little more forgiving for not so even windows and also allows you to keep the hardware (latches etc) on the window without removing it. As you can see on this resource, all these windows are very deep. If you do have a very deep window frame, this is better since it will allow you to add the MDF without damaging the window at all: https://bettersoundproofing.com/how-to-diy-soundproof-window-plug/
FAQ: Can’t I Just Cut Acoustic Foam to the Size of the Windows?
Although this is better than not doing anything at all, it won’t have much effect on the sound under 500hz which is your low-mid, bass and subs.
Beefing Up the Door
Have a look at your door. See how easy it is to swing and how heavy it feels when you push it. Give it a knock in the middle and on the edge. If it sounds hollow in the middle or in places, you have a hollow core door. That’s bad news. Like the window, sound will go straight in and out of it. Probably best to call a handyman to install a solid core door. You can also glue multiple sheets of insulation together, cut out squares for the latches and door knob and make a whole door panel. It’s a huge amount of work though. You’d then have to glue it to the door (problem if renting) of you can use liquid nails to glue removable 3M velcro picture handing strips to one the panel and stick it onto the door.
If you own the place you can use green glue and MDF instead and cut that to side and glue it to the door.
If you’re renting, keep in mind that doors can be removed so you can always make a new door and just put the old door back on when you move out.
Sealing the Door
Place weather stripping around the door to make it air-tight. Air-tight + dense = soundproof. Even that removable foam weather stripping is better than nothing. Place a door sweep on the bottom of the door. You can also buy a heavy duty ‘door drop/door bottom’ that is a mechanism that drops a solid piece of metal down the bottom of the door when you close it. They have plastic door sweeps that are sticky and removable but they sometimes strip the paint. Your landlord probably won’t care if you add a door sweep in most cases. You just improved the door. Your heating and cooling bills will also go down after this also.
Vents, AC Units, Heating, Holes.
Apartments have an annoying amount of other weak points. Each apartment is different. The solution isn’t always ideal. You can seal cracks off with sealant but often the air conditioner is a problem. The air conditioner unit acts like a small speaker to outside. Well, old wall units do. Modern split systems and ceiling units are less of an issue. You could make an MDF box with a foam seal to go over it but then you’ve got no air-conditioner. They make portable air-conditioner units but you need to run the tube somewhere. Best is into another room that you’re not recording in but if you only have a studio apartment, there isn’t too much you can do about this. Having a portable heater is easy though.
If your place is made from drywall like most apartment are in the US, what we did might not be enough for recording vocals. For double brick or concrete all the way around, it’s probably very quiet. Although air vents, heating and air conditioner units still present a weak point in the room.
If it’s drywall and in a noisy area, you might need a vocal booth for recording vocals still. Most people skip this step because they’re expensive. Depending on how often the interruptions occur and your budget and intended use of the studio will be deciding factors.
Vocal booths are great but because the pre-made ones are portable, often you need to do what we did prior to keep the subs and low rumbles out. Don’t expect the booth to solve all the problems, it’s still a good idea to fix the weak points in the room.
What I particularly like about vocal booths in home recording studios is that, if you have an apartment, fridges, people and internal noises can still be an issue. In a studio apartment, even if you did everything above, you’re fridge will still be in your recordings lol.
Here is a great example of the effectiveness of a vocal booth in terms of soundproofing.
Sound isolation not soundproof
Notice he put the booth in the basement. That’s why I also suggest beefing up the weak points of the room earlier. Many people in the US live in apartments and don’t have the luxury of having a basement. In fact, there are no basements in California where many artists move to due to earthquakes.
Vocal booths don’t cut out all noise from outside. That’s why they advertise them as sound isolation booths rather than soundproof booths. There is no such thing as something that is completely soundproof and portable.
How vocal booths work is by adding mass and being airtight. By increasing the mass between the source you’re recording (for singers and rappers at home, that would be yourself) and the ambient noise (noise still present inside), the level of disturbances is reduced.
Just like I explained earlier with the window plug, the window is the least dense part of the wall in any place. It’s just a thin piece of glass. Making the window plug makes something that is not dense into something that is.
A vocal booth takes that concept a step further and completely surrounds you in dense and airtight material. For that reason, don’t buy any booth that doesn’t have ventilation or you’ll be very hot an uncomfortable.
The science behind how vocal booths work
If you really want to know how booths work, they are quite fascinating. The booth itself is not soundproof but once the sound that does escape the booth, the energy bounces between the outside walls of your booth and the inside of your room and which leaves less energy to move across to the next room (or your neighbors if you’re in an apartment).
This is known as the room inside of a room technique which is how professional recording studios are built. You build a whole new room inside of your room.
That is the science you see in action in the video above. It works both ways to keep outside noise from coming in as well as noise from the booth going outside the host room. Had the booth been placed outside in the back yard, you’d most likely still hear the
Some vocal booths offer ‘double wall’ or ‘enhanced versions’. Which when done properly, have an airgap between the two walls and make a room inside of a room. When you place that in your home studio, you have a room in a room in another room. The room in a room technique is happening twice! A room in a room in a room.
If you’re thinking of getting a vocal booth, look at the db reduction specs. For every 10db in reduction, you get around twice the amount of reduction.
For example, an STC rating of 40db is about twice as much reduction as an STC rating of 30db.
You can download a Db app on your phone to check the DB level of your apartment. Although not completely accurate, they’re reasonably close. Click Here for iOS and Click Here for Android.
Is it possible to make a DIY vocal booth?
If you’re a builder it’s certainly possible. After all, most vocal booths in professional recording studios aren’t modular portable booths.
Making something modular for an apartment is quite a challenge. Modular vocal booths are very exact in terms of being airtight and able to be moved easily. You’d need killer carpentry skills, which lets face it, most artists don’t have. Here is one dude that managed to do it: https://www.voices.com/blog/build-budget-friendly-whisperroom/
What about those portable vocal booth reflection filter things?
Don’t confuse these silly things with vocal booths. They’re nothing like a vocal booth despite the marketing from companies trying to cash in on unknowing artists.
Don’t waste money on those portable reflection filters. They suck. They’re almost useless. They’re aimed at people too lazy to put acoustic panels or even foam on the walls.
Don’t be lazy, spend your money on acoustic panels and treat the room. We’ll be talking about acousitc panels later.
Reflections and reverb is different to sound isolation. They don’t offer any sound isolation or soundproofing.
Fixing the acoustic issues of a vocal booth
Recording in a small booth can result in a lot of low-mid and bass reflections. You can minimized this problem with acoustic panels. Most people just put foam in them but foam has less absorption under 500hz than acoustic panels. I’d suggest actual acoustic panels with velcro on the back unless your booth is really large to help reduce the bass.
You won’t find any pre-made acoustic panels for vocal booths but you can either make your own or modify pre-made ones. Vocals booths usually have felt walls, making it easy to Velcro stuff on there without damaging the booth walls.
You can make frame-less acoustic panels like we made earlier for the window plug, glue some velcro on the back with a very thick glue like Liquid Nails. Or you can make acoustic panels with a wooden back or thick wooden edges and staple the velcro strip to the back with a staple gun. The acoustic panels from ATS Acousitcs have a thick wood strip on the back edges making them perfect for stapling Velcro too.
Vocal Booth Companies
Pre-made vocal booths are expensive. You pay extra for the ability to be able to break it down into parts and move it from place to place easily. This makes sense for an apartment and home. The top companies that make vocal booths are Whisper Room, VocalBooth.com and LA Vocal Booths. There are a few others but they lack reduction specs and are smaller operations.
You might be able to find a local carpenter to make you a booth but the ability to break it down for transport will vary. Small vocal booths are more simple for a carpenter to make. The large booths are very complex and have a lot of parts designed to tightly fit together.
A vocal booth works by being completely airtight. So make sure to buy one with a ventilation system or you’ll be sweating in there after 30 minutes.
Sound coming into the studio from outside isn’t the only thing that can mess up a recording. So can the reflections of sound bouncing around the walls inside the studio.
Before you fill the room with gear, fix the acoustics. It’s much harder to do once you start furnishing the room. If you’ve already furnished the room, you’ll be busy moving everything around while you do this and it may mean rewiring the whole studio as a result.
Acoustics and soundproofing is not the same. Soundproof is referred to as isolation and is about stopping sound coming in and out of the studio. Acoustics is about stopping sound bouncing around the inside of the studio (reverb). For example, when you speak or sing in the bathroom, that echo is reverb. All rooms have reverb. For recording vocals and mixing, you want minimal reverb. For live instruments, controlling the reverb but still keeping some reverb is often better.
If you’ve done my window plug without the additional MDF over the front, you’ve turned your windows into a dual purpose soundproofing and acoustic panel window. This will help with reverb. You can buy pre-made frames from ATS Acoustics or GIK Acoustics or make your own frames and fill them with acoustic insulation and use a staple gun and acoustic fabric to make them. If you’re in Los Angeles, you can usually find people selling them on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
Reducing reflections creates better vocal recordings.
People often ask me, if reverb sounds good, why not record vocals in a room with reverb? Why record with no reverb and then add it in the mix later?
When you add reverb in a mix/DAW, you want to put the reverb as a send or at the end of the vocal chain after EQ and compression. That way, the bad frequencies aren’t being amplified by the reverb.
Lets say a vocal has too much 300hz. Place that vocalist in an untreated room and that frequency will bounce around the room and back into the mic. Now you have to EQ out both the source (vocalist) and sound of that frequency bouncing around the room. Resulting in over-EQing the vocal and a thinner vocal sound.
Also, tuning software like Auto Tune works by changing the pitch of each note. If that note contains over-hanging reverb tails of the previous note, you get this weird out of pitch reverb effect behind your vocals.
Small rooms found in most houses have a terrible sound for vocals. Reverb plugins simulate concert halls and large rooms, not bedrooms lol.
Reducing reflections creates a more accurate mixing environment.
Similar to the sound of your voice bouncing around the room causing a build up of certain frequencies, the same happens for speakers.
Putting an expensive pair of studio monitors into an untreated room is not very smart because all that extra money you spent buying something more accurate is undone by the acoustics of the room messing up that accuracy.
That means you’ll be making mixing decisions that won’t translate to other speakers and environments and you’ll be over-EQing an over compensating for issues that are a result of the room reflections. You’ll be surprised how much more accurate and better your speakers will sound in an acoustically treated room.
Where Will You Sit?
Before you work out where to put the acoustic panels, you have to work out where you’re going to sit. If the room is rectangle, make the short wall where you will put your desk. For a square shaped room, you’re going to need thicker acoustic panels and more bass traps.
If your monitor speakers are hard up against the front wall, you might be able to get away with not putting any panels there. After all, most studios with a live band room have a glass window there but the thing is the speakers are close to the wall.
It is best to avoid sitting in the center of the room whenever possible. If you must sit in the center, you will need more bass trapping and more acoustic panels.
Acoustic Panel Placement
You might want to install the corners, ceiling and front wall (if any) panels before furnishing the studio. The others are a little easier to do later since they will be more out of the way.
Reflection Points and Speaker Positioning
Monitor Speakers should be in an equilateral triangle from the sound engineer’s listening position as below.
The above picture ideal for a pro studio. For a home studio, you’ll likely have doors, cupboards and window shelves stopping from doing at least one of these.
The reflection and mirror points can be found literally by sitting in the mix position and having a friend walk around the room with a mirror, holding the mirror flat and parallel against the wall. Turn your head and see when you see the speakers. Those are the reflection points.
Bass traps are either 4″ thick panels instead of 2″ or are triangle corners filled with insulation like you see in the image below. It’s best to put bass traps in the corners. These are the hardest to make yourself as it involves cutting many triangles and stacking them together.
GIK Acoustics and ATS Acoustics make triangle corner bass traps but they’re expensive if you want them to go all the way up to the ceiling. Auralex made foam bass traps also and while aren’t as good as those from GIK and ATS, they’re a little smaller and cheaper and are surprisingly useful and useful for spaces where you can’t fit a GIK or ATS trap.
An alternative is to triangle corner panels is to take panels of 4″ thickness or more and straddle them between two corners. This works best when the back of the panels also has fabric wrapped insulation instead of a wooden back. ATS and GIK panels are fabric wrapped on the front and back so they work fine. Most are made this way. They still sounds pretty good. You can do this for all corners in the room but the door and cupboards will make that difficult.
Other than the corners, bass traps are best placed at the reflection points and on the rear wall.
How to hang acoustic panels in an apartment.
Most likely, there probably won’t be a stud where you want to place an acoustic panel.
In an apartment, you probably don’t want to loose your security deposit. Using a couple of nails or screws is not enough to support the weight of an acoustic panel (unless you hit a stud).
For drywall/most apartments, my suggestion is to use Ook Hooks. You can find them at most hardware stores and Amazon.
I like the 75 lb. Tremor Hanger. It only makes 3 tiny pin sized holes but it will hold an acoustic panel as long as you don’t constantly bump it from the bottom all the time.
I doubt it would hold 75 lbs but a regular sized 2×4 acoustic panel will most likely be fine. If you have a solid wood MDF back on it, you might want to be safer and use two of them instead of one.
When you move out, all you have to do is grab some joint compound or drywall mud from your local hardware store, pull the pins out of the hook, place a tiny dab of compound on your finger and fill the hole. If the walls are white, it will probably be un-noticeable if you scrape most of the filler off with a putty knife before it dries but you can also paint it.
If you own the property
For homeowners, once you are completely sure of the location, a snap toggle bolt will be stronger than an Ook Hook and will probably hold forever no matter how many times you bump the panel. It will leave a large hole in the wall though if you want to ever move the wall which will need joint compound and sanding to fix as well as painting if you want it to be invisible.
If you think you might take the panels down one day, I’d still go with an Ook Hook.
Warning about dangerously made acoustic panels
I’ve seen a lot of people selling home made acoustic panels on Craigslist that are very unsafe. Acoustic panels should always be 100% sealed in fabric and wood. You should not see any holes or exposed insulation.
I’ve seen many people buy, sell and make acoustic panels with no fabric or wood on the back, just exposed insulation. Insulation is meant to go into sealed walls and ceilings. It’s not safe to live with unexposed insulation. They have to be sealed.
At best, exposed acoustic panels will make you itchy and irritate your your skin. At worst, it can cause breathing issues, lung problems and possibly cancer due to formaldehyde, a known carcinogenic (reason for the Prop 65 warning). Hanging the exposed side on the wall is not good enough. Insulation fibers can still come loose.
The amount of acoustic panels with exposed insulation in home studios right now is scary. This is what happens when people aren’t educated. There is a lot of mis-information online but all insulation companies and acoustic panel makes agree is that it’s not safe to live with exposed insulation.
Fiberglass is more dangerous than rock wool but even Roxul Safe n Sound is only ‘safe’ if you’re not living with it exposed. Don’t let the name Safe n Sound fool you. That’s because it’s fireproof and it’s safer than non-fireproof insulation when placed in the wall. That doesn’t make it safe to breath in and live with exposed.
Proof for Cynical People
We live in crazy times where some people even believe the world is flat. Trying to convince people some idiots to cover acoustic panels is not easy so let’s expand on this a little further…
To quote Roxul’s own safety sheet; “If the intended use of the article requires it to be installed, and under normal conditions of use, will not release or otherwise cause an individual to be exposed to a hazardous product…. This product may cause temporary mechanical irritation to the eyes and skin. Temporary irritation of the upper respiratory tract (scratchy throat, coughing, congestion) may result from exposure to dusts and fibers in excess of applicable exposure limits.
Hanging exposed insulation on the wall is not it’s “intended installation and use.”
Having an “irritated respiratory tract” does not sound like a good thing for a vocalist.
The safety data sheet for Owens Corning 703 is says to wear an N95 mask, long sleeves and to cover all skin. That doesn’t sound like something you should hang uncovered on your wall.
Acoustic panels have been used on walls in professional recording studios for a long time without any lawsuits or complaints so the general consensus seems to be that as long as they are covered with fabric, they should be safe but I’d avoid anything with a very loose weave like the loose weave burlap.
You want to pick a safe fabric to wrap Acoustic Panels.
If you’re making your own acoustic panels you can wrap them in Gillford Marine acoustic fabric (fire retardant acoustic fabric), Speaker Grill Fabric (not fire retardant) or any fabric with a tight weave that you can blow through and feel your breath from the other side. If you can blow through it but the weave is tight enough to keep all the fibers in, it will allow the sound to pass through without letting the fibers escape.
How to Make DIY Acoustic Panels
Now that you know what acoustic panels should look like, making your own Acoustic panels is as simple as making a wooden frame, filling it with rockwool/Roxul Safe n Sound or Roxul Rockboard or Owens Corning OC703 and wrapping it in fabric.
If you’re handy with tools you can give this a go. Otherwise, GIK sell bare frames for fairly cheap if you don’t have a shed or tools or want an easier way to make them.
I’d suggest looking up some videos on how to wrap/stretch canvas on YouTube for stretching the fabric nicely. Don’t look at the DIY acoustic panel videos on YouTube, they suck and will give you terrible advice. I’ll probably make a proper video at some point.
Pre-made Acoustic Panels
Making acoustic panels takes quite a bit of time and patience. It can save you money but if you’re not on a tight budget, ATS Acoustics and GIK Acoustics are the top two companies that mass produce acoustic panels for shipping across the US. The microsuede bezel edge acoustic panels from ATS are the nicest I have seen but they’re also the most expensive.
Most people use acoustic foam for home studios because it’s just sitting there in every music store waiting for you to buy it and the sales person wants to sell it to you.
Foam doesn’t absorb much under 500hz so it’s not ideal. Auralex foam is better than most cheaper foam but it’s still no where near as good as acoustic panels and usually ends up costing more as you need more foam that you would acoustic panels.
With acoustic panels, you never need to cover the whole wall with them. With foam, you often need to cover the whole wall to get a similar effect and even after covering the whole wall, you’ll still have a build up of low mid bass which can sometimes make a room sound worse than it was before.
That makes foam actually more expensive because you need more of it. Also, people tend to do dumb things like attach it to the wall with a staple gun, leaving more holes and many staples in the wall than if you were to hang acoustic panels with Ook Hooks which would actually cause less damage.
You should buy Acoustic Panels instead if you don’t want to make them.
If you’re in the US and don’t want to be bothered making your own acoustic panels, I’d suggest getting some acoustic panels from either ATS Acoustics, GIK Acoustics, or from random people on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace if they’re made properly.
Are those Primeacousitc brand panels any good?
Music stores have started stocking Primacousitc brand acoustic panels. This is because they have no frame and are lighter so it solves a lot of logistics and shipping issues. The frame is made from fiberglass though and will crack if dropped.
However, since they have no frame, you can’t hang them like a normal acoustic panel with hooks. The back is not covered in fabric but coated in resin which you have to puncture when you install their own provided hanging puncture tool thing.
This is fine if you get the location right the first time and never move them but if you ever take them off the wall, they’re not safe anymore as they have a hole on the back exposing insulation.
Also, if you bump the corners on them, they will crumble, exposing insulation.
I’ve bought these in the past myself and ended up using spray glue and acoustic fabric to repair the back of them as well as attaching heavy duty velcro to the back so they can be hung without breaking them each time.
I also pulled back the stock fabric and re-enforced the corners with Gorilla Glue and extra fabric to make them stronger.
Doing all off that was actually harder than making my own acoustic panels lol. Since then, I’ve just made my own acoustic panels.
I would say they are fine for a once off install, assuming you line them up the first time and never move them. Other than that, it is hard to recommend them when there are other companies out there making better built acoustic panels.
Most home recording studios are too small for diffusion to be useful but it’s often placed on the rear wall in larger studios. It helps bounce sound around the room which can give dull rooms a little more life.
Before you start loading your studio with gear, have a think about studio furniture.
Argosy and Sterling Modular make most of the furniture you see in professional recording studios in the US.
However, these days there are lots of cheaper options for the home studio market but they are usually more ugly and cheaper looking.
DIY is a good option if you have a shed or know someone that can help.
DIY Studio Desk
Or if you’re handy with tools, you might be able to make a desk yourself that you’ll be happy with.
Here is a desk I made from a sit and stand desk frame a kitchen counter top and dismantling the keybed from a midi keyboard to building it into a custom keyboard tray.
This desk lives in one of the room at my own studio in Hollywood, Current Sound. For this design, I’m using 500 series racks instead of 19″ racks which is a pretty simple desk to build and still keeps your outboard close to you. The best part of this setup is that the whole desk is motorized so the desk, speakers and keyboard all move up and down.
The most expensive part of the furniture was the motorized frame. I used the Jarvis extended width frame which was $454 and a $100 Ikea kitchen counter top butcher block. So all up it was around $550 for the parts before taxes and shipping.
I put wooden inserts into the bottom of the table for the keyboard tray and frame but I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t easy. You can just use regular wood screws if you’re not planning on pulling it apart again.
Large 19″ racks take up a lot of space. So to keep it sleek and to maximize the space I’m using 500 series racks instead. The 500 series racks have the same functionality and similar quality as their large 19″ rack versions but are very small and sit on top of the desk within reach, barely taking up any room.
The second clever part about this design is that I have a 88 note hammer action keybed mounted under the desk. This is important for me as I’m a trained pianist and I’m constantly playing in piano and synth parts.
The desk moves up and down so I can change the height for ideal typing height or ideal piano playing height.
DIY 19″ Rack Desk
If you’re buying a lot of outboard and 19″ racks. You’re going to need to put them somewhere. Most people setting up a home studio don’t have many or any 19″ racks at first but if you’re going to be recording a full band, you’re going to need more inputs and some racks unless you want to go 500 series. (more on 500 series later).
You can buy 19″ rack rails for cheap online if you want to try to make your own desk. With some basic woodworking skills, you can probably make something better than you can buy.
I made the one in my old studio myself. The rack part is just an MDF enclosure 19″ wide with a brace along the top and bottom at the back and open at the front made into a leg that attaches to the top of the desk with corner brace brackets.
I undercoated it then spray painted it with Rustoleum satin-gloss spray paint.
If you make your own desk, you can personalize it more.
You might not need to DIY a desk.
If you don’t have a lot of racks, bending down a little to get to your racks might be fine if you’re not tweaking them much. In that case, you could just get a simple rack tray to put under your desk like an Argosy Rack N’ Roll rack unit.
Then you can just use a regular desk on the top if you like.
Something like that will set you back around $450 which is not bad considering most 19″ racks cost over that each anyway.
Argosy desks are expensive. You’ve most likely seen them in photos of professional recording studios.
They’re a great option if you have 19″ rack gear that you want to have within reach.
Making something like this yourself isn’t easy unless you have killer carpentry skills.
This one is the Dual 15. It costs a whopping $2500. That puts it out of the budget for most home studio but some people do still put them in their home studios.
However, the Argosy Halo is a little more in reach. Still expensive at around $1700, for serious home studio setups, if you have the budget for it, it’s a great way to organize the gear in your home studio.
Yes to answer what you’re thinking. You’re paying $1700 for some wood and metal legs. None of the gear you see comes with it.
It’s nothing like Ikea desks though. It’s better than what you could pay a carpenter to build for you and often works out cheaper than paying a professional carpenter.
Affordable Rack desk
There are some affordable rack desks for a few hundred dollars or so available at Sweetwater and on Amazon. Usually advertised as a ‘studio workstation’.
They don’t look great by themselves but once you start to add some stuff to the, they can look ok. They do help with organizing your gear.
If you get creative with the lighting. Even a simple desk can look cool.
Sterling Modular Rack Desk
Sterling Modular also make cool rack desks here in the US but they are aimed directly at professional sound engineers by solving ergonomic problems. Although they are great for mixing, for integrating keyboards, drum machines and other devices, they don’t leave much room for anything like that.
StudioDesk Brand Desks
Argosy is a US company and they’re expensive to ship outside the US. StudioDesk is a better option for most people in Europe and they look equally as cool and unlike Argosy, also come in white and black and white option.
Speaker Stands vs Speakers on the Table
Most people would say speaker stands are better. In most cases they are. However, in home studios, not always because the rooms are small. You want to sit in the first 1/3rd of the room. The worst place to sit in the room is in the middle. If you sit in the middle, you’ll get some phase cancellation and nodes. Without explaining what that means in detail basically, the sound you hear from your speakers in the center of the room is not accurate. If you must sit in the center due to having a very small square shaped room, you need to go crazy with more acoustic panels and bass trapping.
Whether you should put the speakers on the desk or on stands will depend on where you need to sit to not be in the center. Stands go behind the desk. That means your desk is further away from the wall which means you’ll be sitting closer to the middle of the room. In most home studios, if the room is less than 10ft long, often placing the speakers on the table is better. For that, I’d recommend Iso-Acoustics speaker stands or Primacoustic recoil stabilizer stands.
If you have flat desk, Iso-Acoustic Stands are better. If you have a rack desk and the speakers are sitting on top of a rack shelf, the Primacoustic stands are better. The reason is, the tweeter of the speakers should be at ear height and the Iso-Acousitc stands are higher.
So Can You Work Out What’s Wrong With This Photo Now?
Let’s use what I taught you earlier to spot all the problems of this setup…
Incorrect Speaker Positioning
There are unused speaker stands on the console meter bridge which appear to be in the correct position but instead are filled with junk lol.
The speakers where they are at the moment on the stands are too too wide for the equilateral triangle position to be correct.
The desk should either come forward so the speakers can be placed behind the desk or to keep the extra floor space, the speakers could be placed on the meter bridge on the included speaker stands with either Recoil Stablizers or low profile Iso Acoustics stands under them.
Sound Proofing Issues
You can see an untreated window to the left which is going to let most of the sound in and out of the room.
I will point out though, in some super expensive modern high end apartments, for sound isolation, the windows are double pane or even better double layer safety glass with an airgap but most of the time, they’re not and are a soundproofing nightmare.
The vocal booth is nice though.
Too bad that the position of that nice vocal booth creates an extra corner behind the left speaker but it doesn’t have any corner bass trapping behind it, creating a build up of subs and bass from that one side and corner. So that makes the left speaker less accurate than the right speaker.
The speakers are worth 10k and the mixer is worth 77k connected to a 20k ProTools HDX setup but you can’t mix in the room because the sound won’t be accurate due to the acoustics.
There are also no acoustic panels at the first reflection points. The window to the left just happens to be the first reflection point to the listening position. Even if you’re not going to seal off the window for soundproofing, you could place a floor-standing/free standing acoustic panel there to stop a lot of the sound being reflected back to the listening position.
Given that acoustic panels can be purchased for around hundred dollars or so each or made yourself even cheaper, it doesn’t make sense to be putting 150k worth of gear into a room with no acoustic treatment. The acoustics are causing a major bottle neck to the accuracy of all of the equipment.
The result of mixing in this room will likely be a mix that will not translate well, despite having top of the line equipment.
This one you probably didn’t notice but 30k worth vocal mics are sitting on separate stands instead of being stored in their cases with a desiccant which means eventually the capsules will degrade and they’ll break. Maybe they were just displayed for the photo but given that there is only one vocal booth and recording area, it’s likely they are always kept this way.
Don’t keep your mics out on stands or they won’t last long. Unlike stage microphones, moisture can destroy studio condenser mics. You should keep them in a mic pouch or their included case. Place a desiccant near the head of the mic resting against the side that you sing/rap/speak into.
A desiccant won’t last forever but you can heat them up in the oven for a little bit and it will dry it out again and they’ll start working again
More Money Than Skills
So this is just an example of someone who has way more money than skills. Most likely, they don’t know how to mix and use that desk.
For the price they paid, they could have easily bought some acoustic panels and bass traps, positioned the monitor speakers correctly and stored their mics correctly so they wouldn’t be destroyed by moisture.
I’ve seen a lot of expensive home recording studios like this in LA with similar mistakes. Try not to put your money into the wrong areas. Not paying attention to the acoustics and speaker positioning creates serious bottle necks and can make your expensive studio monitors quite useless and inaccurate.
Improving the Vibe of Your Home Recording Studio
I’m mentioning this now because it’s hard and often impossible to do once you fill your room with gear. This is one of the reasons you rarely see home studios looking like this but with a little prepping and effort, you can improve the vibe of your home studio.
Paint, wallpaper and Lighting
You’ll be surprised how much of a different lighting can make to the vibe and feel of your studio. That’s why professional studios always have killer lighting. Have a think about putting some LED strips and cool lights up.
Paint and Wallpaper
You might not be able to get permission to paint your apartment but if you google ‘apartment wallpaper’ or ‘non-woven wallpaper’ you’ll find a lot of wallpaper that is easy to remove. The wallpaper I used in my studio is a non-woven wallpaper but unfortunately it’s been discontinued but there is plenty of cool wallpaper out there. The main downside to wallpaper is it takes longer to put up and costs more than painting the room but it can look more pretty if done right. If you’re stuck at home during Covid-19 and want to pimp out your home recording studio, this could be a fun project for you.
Tips for Buying Gear
Most people skimp on something when they start a home studio.
Often it’s better to just save up a little more to get what you actually want if they’re not that far off from each other in price.
Although you can easily sell most recording gear on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Reverb.com when you want to upgrade, you’re probably going to loose a 3rd to half of what you paid for the item new.
New recording studio items usually come with a manufacturer’s warranty if you purchase it from an authorized reseller. Amazon and Ebay alone are not authorized resellers since they sell items from other sellers and individuals.
If you’re buying on Amazon you want to make sure it “Sold by Amazon” not “Fulfilled by Amazon”. If it is “Fulfilled by Amazon”, it’s actually sold by someone else.
Although Amazon itself is usually an Authorized reseller, other sellers on Amazon are usually not. That someone else would need to be an Authorized reseller such as a music store for it to be sold with a warranty. Most sellers on Amazon are not Authorized resellers. Rode actually has a problem with counterfeit Rode mics on from 3rd party sellers on Amazon.
If you don’t buy studio gear from an Authorized reseller and your item breaks a year later, you might have to pay for the repair or replacement cost out of your own pocket.
The warranty also goes out the window if you buy them item used.
So what are your chances a used item going to break anyway? Well, that depends. It might be much higher than you think…
Buying Used Items
Buying used is not for everyone. It can save you money but it an also cause you drama. Buying audio gear is risky and closer to buying a used car than it is to buying a used sofa. There is lots going on under the hood that can go wrong.
If you’re planning on taking the risk in buying used studio gear, you need to be aware of a few things first and know what to look for…
The biggest issue with buying used recording gear is that with electronics, there is a lot that can go wrong or degrade over time. The newer an item is, the less likely this will be a factor but how it was treated makes a much bigger difference than even the age of the item.
For example, condenser microphones can easily be degraded by smoke and moisture so buying them used is not so straight forward. There will always be some risk.
Almost all analogue consoles require regular maintenance to keep working. To quote the guy who bought the mixing console from the old Sound City studios;
“When we installed the board at my studio, we had to open it up and clean it out. There was like, 40 years of cocaine and fried chicken in that thing.”Dave Grohl
What to look for when buying used?
If you’re going to buy a used condenser mic, I’d suggest only buying it from the original owner and asking them how it was stored when not in use and whether they smoke in their studio or not. A condenser microphone that is was used in a smoke free studio, wiped down after each use and stored with a desiccant in a case, will usually last a long time.
Work out if you think you can trust the seller. Ebay and Reverb are good since you can look back at previous reviews to help ease your mind a little bit. Buying from a Pawn Shop is very risky, you have no idea how the item was treated beforehand.
Luckily, most people selling items from their home studio and treating studio gear badly don’t even know what they’re doing is bad for the gear so they’ll probably tell you. Here is a typical conversation I usually have….
Me: “Do you have a case for it?”, seller “No”. “What did you store it in?” Seller, “What do you mean?”. Me: “Sorry, not interested.” This is an example of a seller that left his microphone on the stand all the time and it’s probably fu*ked up.
I’m not saying you should never buy something that might have been treated badly but the price needs to make sense as it is a gamble.
Used items that need software licenses to run/work
Buying used gear is not as simple as it used to be now that were in the digital age. Some items like Native Instruments Maschine, Komplete Kontrol, Akai MPC, UAD Apollo Devices are essentially hardware and software combo units. When you buy them new you are buying both the hardware and the software license. When you buy them used, unless the seller is the original owner and transfers the software license, you’re basically buying half of it. Without the other half, it doesn’t work.
So I know what you’re thinking, ok, just buy the hardware for cheap then buy the software. Well, Native Instruments for example will NOT sell you a license for the Maschine software separately. You would have to buy a Maschine to get it. You could buy the cheapest Maschine hardware like a Maschine Mikro for example but that might not make a lot of sense financially.
Universal Audio lock their hardware to the users account to prevent theft. Unless you have the hardware license transferred to your Universal Audio Account from the seller, you can’t install any new plugins on it.
Slate Digital don’t sell their Slate VMS Software separately either. If you buy a used Slate VMS ML-1 microphone, you need to get an iLok transfer from the original owner.
My advice is to avoid buying Native Instruments or Universal Audio hardware from a Pawn Shop or music store as the hardware is usually locked to another account and you probably won’t be able to get software license for it since they don’t sell them separately. The same with the Slate VMS Microphones.
With these items you need to buy them from the original owner and have them transfer the software license to your account. That means you also have to trust the person you’re buying it from to follow through and actually transfer the software and/or hardware license to you.
If that sounds complex and scary to you, that’s because it is. You really need to know what you’re doing even if you want to buy them used from the original owner.
- Make sure you know the condition and history of what you’re buying
- Make sure it isn’t a device that is hardware locked or needs it’s software to run.
- If it needs drivers such as an audio interface, check to see if they’re up to date with the latest operating systems. Lots of older interfaces don’t have drivers that are maintained and might not work on newer OSes.
- If the price is too good to be true and the person doesn’t know what they have, it might be stolen. The police attempt to recover stolen items and you’ll the money you paid for it and your item. If you think it might be stolen, don’t buy it.
- If you’re buying an item at auction, bid late. Bidding early only gives the other bidders time to increase their bids and out bid you or drive up the price.
- You can use a proxy bid. Think of what you want to pay worst case scenario and place that bid towards the end of the auction and you’ll increase your chances of winning. If someone bids under your proxy bid after you, eBay will automatically increase the bid for you.
- If you win but your item breaks after 30 days since you ordered it, you’re on your own. You might be able to pay for a repair through the manufacturer but sometimes it’s cheaper to keep it for spare parts or throw it out and buy another one. The labor on a repair might be more than you paid for it in the first place. You might be able to sell the broken one for spare parts on eBay.
- If you’re into electronics, learning to solder and repair items might be a fun hobby for you and allow you to buy older and more risky gear on eBay to fix or maintain. Someone maintains those large analogue desks you see in older pro recording studios. They don’t magically keep working by themselves. If you don’t want to do that, be careful what you buy on eBay and stick to the newer and good condition items or play it safe and just buy brand new to begin with.
- You can sometimes find ‘open box’ and ‘demo store’ items on eBay that still have warranty if you buy from an Authorized Reseller/music store on eBay like SamAsh, Sweetwater and Guitar Center for example. That way you still get the manufacturer’s warranty but it often won’t be as cheap as a used item from a random person/seller.
Taking Care of Your Gear
A lot of home studio guys don’t know how to take care of gear. Most home studios I see people with one microphone that they leave out on a stand in the room. As I mentioned earlier, unlike stage microphones, moisture breaks down and degrades the capsule of condenser mics. You should never leave them out. They need to go back into a case with a desiccant placed at the head of the microphones. You can use standard microphone cases but the more expensive mics often come with a case.
Why people don’t recommend ribbon mics to home studio people
Ribbon microphones are even more sensitive. Never enable phantom power on a ribbon microphone. Phantom power warps and fries the ribbon effectively killing the mic. Although some newer ribbon mics might have a little protection against this, many do not and they can all be killed over time.
Ribbon mics can also be degraded by moisture but even more so than condenser mics. Using one on vocals without a pop filter can also destroy the mic.
My suggestion would be to avoid Ribbon mics all together if you’re just starting out in recording. They’re not great for home studios because if a kid or a friend picks it up and sings into it for fun, they’ll probably break it. You’ll also probably eventually plug it into a channel with phantom power enabled by mistake and fry the mic.
Essential Recording Gear
Some items for a home recording studio are unavoidable. The price and quality of them vary dramatically. So how much should you spend?
Generally speaking, the more you spend, the better the quality. At some point, even though a professional mix engineer and recording engineer will be able to use them to make higher quality recordings and mixes, you won’t be able to.
That’s why it’s important not only to work
1. Computer or Laptop
Tape machines are out. Since the 90s, computers are how music is recorded. Which one to get? PC or Mac, it doesn’t matter too much. PCs are more customizable but if you want to run Logic, you’ll need a mac, however, personally I prefer Cubase anyway. Most modern laptops aren’t customizable but are easy to take from your home studio into a professional recording studio. So for that reason, laptops are a good choice for a home studio given that modern laptops are very powerful.
PC Laptop Suggestions
- Intel i7 or i9 Processor
- 16gb of ram or more. The more ram the better.
- Dedicated graphics is a plus
- USB 3.0 or even better… Thunderbolt 2 or 3.
Thunderbolt will allow you to use any interface that has windows drivers. USB eliminates firewire and thunderbolt interfaces. Most firewire and thunderbolt interfaces have lower latency than USB with the exception of some RME USB interfaces. Thunderbolt can get ultra low latency. I’d do an article on latency later.
Brands and Models
Gaming laptops such as the Razer Blade, Asus Rog, MSI gaming laptops and Alienware all have high end parts, superior cooling, run fairly quiet and can run for long periods without overheating. Some models also have thunderbolt. This makes them a good choice, although they are a little pricey. You can always look on ebay. You don’t need the latest model since you don’t need the most powerful graphics card for DAW and recording work so you can often pickup older models for great prices used. Some older models can also be upgraded.
I put 3x SSD drives in mine for 6tb of SSD storage and upgraded the ram to 32gb. I’m using a thicker Asus Rog g751 (pictured on the right). The fan is pretty quiet that you can get away with recording in the same room with it and usually only ramps up when bouncing down a mix. The newer model is the massive g703 which is a killer laptop with thunderbolt that offers desktop performance in a laptop. The i9 model is 8 cores at 4.7ghz making it insanely fast. If you got that, you’re probably not going to need to upgrade your laptop for 5-10 years. Their GL line is there slimmer line but most of the GL line doesn’t have thunderbolt. The Razer blade is very slim and has thunderbolt if you want something thinner.
Thick Vs Thin
Keep in mind that thinner laptops run hotter due to having smaller fans. When a laptop overheats, it throttles and slows down. The thicker ones have bigger fans and can run at full speed without slowing down as they can pump out a lot of heat. In saying that, unless you’re producing, mixing and mastering all on the one session or doing production for film, you most likely won’t need all that power.
Running hotter means lower life expectancy of your laptop if you’re going to be a heavy user. You have to think, are you going to be taking your laptop around to make music on the go each day and carry it around all day. Or do you want something that is going to sit on your desk that you might move occasionally into a professional studio or take to a friend’s studio?
If you’re not going to be moving your laptop much, I’d suggest a thicker laptop with better thermals and more internal hard drive storage space. These are commonly called ‘desktop replacement’ laptops. They are a trade off in portability for an increase in speed, storage space and reliability.
Thin laptops don’t magically break the laws of physics. They run hot and slow. If you’re just a casual user ‘making beats’ using a few loops, you’ll barely need any power but if you’re going to load up your session with virtual instruments, play all of your own parts and melodies and mix and master all your owns songs, you can easily max out a lower spec’ed laptop.
Do you need a desktop computer?
The guys that do orchestral scoring often have massively powerful desktop computers either 16 or 32 core and sometimes even have a master machine and a slave machine, two high spec’ed computers using Vienna Ensemble Pro. So if you’re getting into film composition and doing orchestral scoring, even the fastest laptop might not be fast enough and you might have to go with a higher spec’ed desktop.
Mac Laptop Suggestions
Macbook Pro i7 or i9 with thunderbolt. More ram the better. The more storage the better. Macs are pricey when upgrading them from Apple. The newer models don’t have upgradable parts period. Apple makes a lot of money by selling extra storage and ram at a premium. In the past, you could take it apart yourself and upgrade the ram and hard drives and pay significantly less buy buying the components and doing it yourself. These days, they stop you from doing that by soldering the cpu, ram and hard drives to the motherboard! So you can’t upgrade them.
All MacBooks run pretty hot. All macs run pretty hot actually but if you’re going to be running it for 12 hours a day everyday, the life expectancy is low. The average lifespan of a Macbook is only 4 years for a typical user.
If you have heavy sessions with lots of plugins and virtual instruments 8 hours or more each day, you’re not an average user. Don’t expect it to last too long.
So if you’re doing music from home full-time, you might wanna go with an iMac instead. The new mac pro is over-priced but it’s also an option. Macs tend to overheat and throttle but most of their users aren’t pushing them hard all of the time. Even most home studio users aren’t pushing them hard all of the time.
I’ll Admit – I Don’t Like Apple
As you can tell, I’m not an Apple fan. That makes me less likely to suggest a mac. Most young people are told that Mac’s are better for music. That’s because MacOS used to be much better for music than Windows. Since Windows 7, and now with Windows 10, the OS isn’t holding you back. Around 20 years ago, some smart guys hacked MacOS and made it run on PC components. And… It ran faster! Since then Apple started using Intel and PC components in their Macs. They bought Logic from Emagic and place Garage Band on all macs and give apple loops to everyone.
The reality is, Apple want you to think Macs are better for music but they’re the same hardware, it’s just the OS and software that is different. You can get the same and better software for the PC anyway but the cost of Logic is cheap compared to the other top DAWs so it might be worthwhile to go Mac if you want to use Logic as your DAW.
But I’ve recommended Macbooks
Even though I don’t like Apple I’ve still recommended Macbooks to students of mine because Logic does give you a lot of stock loops and built-in plugins and they’re very portable.
My personal thoughts are, the stock plugins and virtual instruments that come with Logic aren’t as good as 3rd party alternatives but they’re cheap and Logic is excellent value considering what they give you. That’s why Macbooks are so popular. If you’re not using Logic though or you want to pimp out all the specs of a Macbook, it starts to make less sense.
Also Universal Audio’s Luna only runs on Mac at the moment which is a great option for home recording studios. It will also load Logic’s AU plugins.
Certain Apogee interfaces also only run on Mac but that’s just their personal preference. After AVID rebranded some of their interfaces and made windows drivers for them, then Apogee released the windows drivers for their products. That’s means they’re too lazy to make them but all of their devices could run on Windows if they’re weren’t idiots and would just make the drivers for them.
Universal Audio used to be Mac only as well but now they make windows drivers. I can vouch for them and say their drivers are rock solid. I’ve used their devices on both Windows and Mac.
Why Upgrading to a New a Recording Studio Computer is Hard
For most people, upgrading to a new computer is easy. Buy a new computer and install a few programs. Maybe you have to buy Microsoft Office again.
For upgrading a studio computer, you have to install and register every plugin you have. For a professional or serious home studio, that could be thousands of individual programs/plugins that you have to install.
Although lots of plugins run a license on an iLok, many do not. The home studio boom has actually caused many pro audio software companies to go back to using serial numbers or online activation. Sometimes you can activate another license on another computer, sometimes you can’t.
Often your software is linked to the hardware ID of your computer. That means when you buy a new computer, you either have to contact the software company to deactivate the old license or purchase a completely new software license.
Un-registering a piece of software from one computer to move to another means your studio is down until you completely swap over to the new system. That might not be an issue for a home recording studio but for a professional recording studio like mine, downtime = loss of income.
For a serious recording studio, changing the computer can literally be weeks worth of installing programs, drivers and dealing with activation and license issues.
Even if you use Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner (on mac) or Acronis on PC to migrate your old computer OS and software to a new computer, a lot of the software will be unregistered as the hardware ID will change. Re-activation is still an issue.
So Pimp Out Your Computer
Since re-buying software is annoying and re-installing software is very time consuming, I tend to go overkill on my recording studio computers. If the computer lasts you longer, you’ll save time and money.
If you’re just making a simple home studio, maybe you don’t need a very powerful computer.
However, if you’re going to be learning to mix or playing the piano and using the latest virtual instruments, I’d suggest buying something faster than you think you need.
Personally, I believe the DAW you use does not matter. I have an whole article about that here. The best plugins are 3rd party ones, not the ones that come with a DAW so the difference between DAWs is really the workflow and features of the DAW.
I’ll give a small bit of advice below in regards to workflow but the best option is just to try them out for yourself.
Small Note About Logic Pro X
If you want to use Logic Pro X, you have to buy a Mac. There is no way around it, unless your super tech savvy and want to build a Hackintosh. Hackintosh is a hacked PC that runs MacOS. It’s only for the super tech savvy.
The good thing about Logic, is it’s only $200 and you get a lot of plugins and virtual instruments included. Apple probably makes no profit from Logic directly. It used to cost around $2000 (two thousand dollars) when it was owned by Emagic. Apple bought the company, discontinued the PC version and dropped the price to $200 to make people buy a mac if they wanted to use it. The good news is you get great value for money. The bad news is you need to buy a mac.
I wouldn’t suggest buying a mac just so you can use Logic as there are many other DAWs with the features of Logic.
Although, it is good value if you buy a more budget Macbook. Once you max out a Macbook or you go to a iMac or Mac Pro, you start to offset and move past the savings since pimped out macs are significantly more expensive than similarly spec’ed PCs and PC laptops.
So for a pimped out, more high end system, a DAW that runs on a PC might be cheaper overall depending on the DAW you choose.
Small Note About Universal Audio Luna
Luna is a very new DAW from Universal Audio that came out in Summer 2020 and requires both a Universal Apollo interface and a mac. They might release a PC version in the future but will not confirm at this time.
Their Apollo interfaces work on PC and their console app works on PC for no latency monitoring but the full DAW Luna doesn’t have a PC version at the moment.
Presently their is no external control surface support for Luna.
Luna is free if you own an Apollo interface and a Mac. That makes it a no brainer if you were planning on buying a mac and an Apollo interface anyway except for those that need external control surface support and more advance features.
If you have a Mac and a Universal Audio Apollo interface, I’d recommend trying Luna first to see if you like the workflow given that it comes at no additional cost.
Picking a DAW
Remember, all of these can use 3rd party plugins and instruments. Almost all major plugin manufactures make their plugins that work in all of these DAWs, meaning you can use the same 3rd party plugins in any of the DAWs anyway. None of the DAWs come with amazing plugins in my opinion. The best ones are the 3rd party ones anyway. So choose a DAW is more about workflow than the stuff it comes with.
Apple Logic Pro X
The best thing about logic is both it’s ease of use and it’s price. For the price you can’t beat it if you already have a mac but if you’re buying a mac so you can use it, you might want to look into other options.
Logic comes with a bunch of plugins and has lots of features making it good value which is why it’s so popular in home studios.
Apple Logic Pro X $199. Mac only.
- Free updates for life.
- Has a lot of instruments and loops included.
- Requires a mac.
- Small learning curve.
Steinberg Cubase Pro
Although, what I use doesn’t matter as you should pick a DAW for your own workflow but personally I use Cubase by Steinberg. It doesn’t come with as many plugins as Logic but it has more advanced features plus almost all of Logic’s features as well as most of Pro Tool’s features.
It’s pricey but you don’t have to buy a mac. Cubase is popular among the biggest Hollywood flim composers like Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL but it’s way less common in home studios, mostly due to it’s price and the fact that it’s more complex to learn and it’s easy to get lost in all of it’s advanced features. It’s most popular among keyboard players and it has a lot of customization options, more than in other DAWs.
Who is it best for?
This is a good DAW for advanced users and those that want to get into sound engineering, professional music production, serious composition and film scoring. If you play the piano or want to record a full band, this is probably the DAW for you.
For most artists, it might seem a little too advanced and overwhelming. They do make a cheaper, cut down ‘Artist’ version but in my opinion, the artist version is not as good as ‘Presonus Studio One’ which is little more ‘artist friendly’. This is more of an advanced, full fledged DAW that replaces both Logic and Pro Tools and has most of their features plus it’s own unique features.
Steinberg Cubase Pro $588. PC or Mac.
- Updates average to $75 a year.
- A little less instruments and loops included.
- More advance audio features than Ableton.
- More advanced audio features than Logic, more on par with Pro Tools.
- Lots of advanced midi features, more than Pro Tools.
- Steeper learning curve.
- Most popular among Hollywood film composers due to folder tracks, filtering tracks and preset management.
- Good choice for recording live bands due to the control room mixer and virtual headphone sends.
Presonus Studio One
For someone starting out, Studio One is by far the easiest DAW to use as everything is drag and drop. It is quicker to learn and easy to use.
The ease of use comes at a cost of efficiency though as a keyboard shortcut or right click is much faster than dragging the mouse from one side of the screen to the other. Typing a few letters of a plugin is far quicker than browsing a list of hundreds of plugins with pictures.
So for professional use, it’s not as efficient as other DAWs in my opinion but for casual home studio use it is preferred by many artists due to it’s ease of use and small learning curve.
Presonus Studio One $400. PC or Mac.
- Update is $150 for a major version
- Lots of instruments and loops included.
- Smallest possible learning curve.
- Everything is drag and drop.
- Any idiot can use it.
- Lacks some of the advanced features of Cubase but is developing at a faster pace than Logic and Cubase and the gap is getting smaller.
- Has some affordable hardware mixers and control surfaces designed specifically for Studio One.
- Has multi-touch touchscreen support for some supported monitors
If you’re not playing in notes and melodies and/or recording artists and you’re making songs from loops, Ableton is probably the best for loop based production. Recording a band in Ableton is however a nightmare as it lacks most of the group editing and audio quantization features of Pro Tools and Cubase .
Ableton Live $449 for standard, $749 for suite. PC or Mac.
- Update $239 for a major version of Suite.
- Heavily midi and loop focused.
- Less advanced audio functions than Logic, Cubase, Pro Tools and Studio One.
- Lacks decent multi-track audio editing.
- Is a little different than the other DAWs in terms of workflow and usage.
- You can easily assign external midi devices to any command on the screen.
- Automatic tempo detection and syncing of loops
- Real-time preview of 3rd party and untagged loops
- Best suited for loop based production or electronic production where less live instruments and vocals will be recorded.
- Has some dedicated midi controllers such as Push.
- Is the only DAW on the list suited for Live performance for both DJing and Live Looping. Not surprising since it has the word Live in the name!
- Suite has more instruments and loops included over the standard version.
Universal Audio Luna
If you have a Mac and a Apollo interface, this is a free DAW with game changing features and is likely to get better over time, making it a great choice.
Universal Audio Luna $0 Free! & free updates. Mac only.
- Requires a thunderbolt Universal Audio Interface such as the Apollo or Arrow range.
- Only runs on mac (for now).
- Unique feature: No latency DSP monitoring built in for analogue like monitoring. (no delay when monitoring DSP plugins) right in the DAW!
- Unique feature: Analogue and Tape summing built in.
- New innovative DAW but not fully featured yet.
- Will probably get better over time.
Note: This is a new DAW and has a few small cons that might be resolved in the future
- No external control surface support
- Supports AU plugins (all the plugins Logic Pro X supports) but doesn’t support VST plugins at this time.
- Lacks the advanced comping and preset management of Cubase.
- Makes you wanna buy expensive UAD plugins Lol
- Mac Only for now.
Avid Pro Tools
Personally I would not recommend Pro Tools for home recording studios. It’s hard to learn, expensive and often take more time and more mouse clicks to accomplish the same tasks in other DAWs. You’ll spend a lot of your time learning the software and less time making music.
Even if you’re making a tracking home studio setup, most of the time you can send just the wave files/bounces to the other studio. It’s rare to have to add to a session. Transferring sessions doesn’t work well anyway since it’s unlikely both the studios will have the same 3rd party plugins.
Avid Pro Tools HD Native $999 + $200 per year, every year for updates and support. PC or Mac.
- Not recommended at all for home studio use.
- Steepest learning curve out of them all and overall a slower workflow unless you know all of the shortcuts and even then, I find the workflow is slower than Cubase.
- Cheaper (non-HD versions) have limited track count. They are the only DAW to have a limited track count because Avid are assholes.
- Less functions than Cubase.
- The only one on the list where you have to pay for support.
- Terrible company that is constantly on the verge of bankruptcy.
- As you can tell, I’m not a fan.
- Has it’s own plugin format which means less plugins available, especially those from smaller manufacturers.
- Avid tried for years to force everyone to buy their own branded interfaces and all in one mixer units to use their software until a group of hackers hacked Pro Tools and made it better than the original by allowing the use of 3rd party interfaces since Pro Tools never needed their own interfaces to run.
- The ‘new features’ are often stolen features from Cubase and Logic and some have been in Cubase or Logic for over 10 years before they make it into Pro Tools.
- Professional recording studios bought 20k-100k control surface/consoles such as the Control 24 and more expensive Pro Control only to have Avid drop support for them in later versions of Pro Tools in an effort to attempt to force them to upgrade their consoles and people were more than mad. You can pick up an old Pro Control on ebay for only a grand or two now because Avid never allowed it to work with modern computers and operating systems. So I wouldn’t trust them not to screw you over in the future.
- Only necessary for pro studios that need send Pro Tools sessions back and forth with other studios using Pro Tools. However, most people can just bounce the stems down anyway.
This was previously a paid DAW called Sonar by Cakewalk owned by Gibson Guitars who abandoned it in 2017. In 2018, the Cakewalk company division of Gibson was bought by Bandlab and they made Sonar free and renamed it to Cakewalk after the company name instead of the previous name of the software, Sonar.
I don’t know why it’s free or if it will stay free forever but you’ve really got nothing to loose, the damn thing is free! Only runs on Windows though.
Bandlab Sonar Free. PC Only.
- All the basic features of Logic and Cubase
- Multi-touch touchscreen support
- ARA support like Studio One, Logic and Cubase
- Most of the basic features of all of the other DAWs
- Lacks advanced features
Reaper $60. PC or Mac.
- Previous cheapest DAW before Sonar became free.
- Still the cheapest DAW for Mac (if you don’t have an Apollo interface) other than Garageband
- Does a hell of a lot more than Garageband lol
- Not as full featured as Cubase.
- Less plugins than Logic.
- A little harder to learn than Studio One at first.
- Barebones DAW. Does not come with instruments or loops.
- Cheap and good value.
- Has all the basic functionality.
3. Audio Interfaces
Next essential item is an Audio Interface. Which one you get will depend on budget and connectivity. If you have thunderbolt on your laptop, you can go with a thunderbolt or older firewire interface. If you only have USB, well, you’ll have to get a USB interface.
Why a Good Quality Audio Interface is Important
All home audio interfaces have some sort of compromises. The cheaper ones have more and the expensive ones have less. The cheaper ones have less audio quality and the more expensive ones have more. Although the gap over the years has been decreasing. You can pick up a sub-$1000 interfaces with minimal compromises now but anything under the $300 range has some audio compromises that make them unfit for serious professional work.
The highest selling interface, the Scarlett 2i2 is not the best one. It is the cheapest one. That means the average artist really doesn’t have the tuned ear of a sound engineer to tell the difference. Since they can’t mix anyway, having the sound degraded slightly on the way in and out is not noticeable to most artists.
Keep reading because there are some better interfaces than the Scarlett 2i2 now for not much more money. The only reason you still see it being recommended on blogs and forums is because unlike myself, those people are making money from affiliate links. Not because it’s the best choice.
For those that want to create a tracking studio at home to send your recordings to a sound engineer for mixing, or you want to get into sound engineering or recording other artists, placing a cheap interface in your studio creates a bottleneck that will reduce the sound quality of the material being recorded as well as being played back.
Generally speaking, the more expensive interfaces have better quality components.
Components such as;
Computers don’t magically send out audio. They have no analogue circuitry. They just process data and send out data. Your interface then converts that data to audio you can hear by the digital to audio converter inside your interface. This is known as Digital to Audio conversion or D/A for short.
The same goes for the computer receiving audio. It can’t magically receive audio. It can only receive data. The audio interface converts all incoming data from microphones and connected audio devices to data. This is known as Analogue to Digital conversion or A/D for short.
This process is called A/D D/A conversion. Good conversion requires high quality conversion chips and high quality circuitry inside the interface or via an external A/D D/A converter rack unit connected to the interface via ADAT or Spdif if those ports are present in the interface.
External A/D D/A converters are expensive because they are mostly used in the pro audio commercial recording studio market, not in the budget home studio market and as a result, typically have higher quality components with low production runs, placing them out of the affordable range of the mass produced gear for the home recording market.
So you if you’re making a tracking studio for mixing by a proper mix engineer or you’re getting into sound engineering yourself, conversion matters. For most artists, they lack the skills and other items in their home studio for this to be a bottleneck.
Why this Matters.
- Most cheap ($400 and under) interfaces have poor quality conversion. You might not notice too much on a very cheap pair of studio monitors but with accurate studio monitors, having a cheap interface with cheap converters will drastically reduce the accuracy of your studio monitors.
- Similarly, plugging a high end mic into a cheap interface will be create a bottleneck in which the interface’s converters and preamps will degrade the sound. Even after plugging in an external preamp, the converters of the interface will reduce the quality of the microphone. Again, you might not notice too much with a cheap budget microphone but once you plug in a better mic, the difference between a cheap interface and a more expensive one is more obvious.
2 (a). Preamps
The quality of the recording of a microphone comes from a combination of factors, the source, the frequency response of the microphone in relation to the source, the reverb and sound of the room, mic positioning and the preamps.
Without a mic preamp, a microphone can’t be recorded. The gain and gain knob on an interface IS the preamp. Other than the room, mic positioning and source being recording the remaining sound comes half from the mic and half from the preamp. A good quality mic can benefit from a high quality preamp. Adding a high quality preamp to low quality mic won’t do too much since the mic itself is a bottleneck.
That’s why most home studio people just use a cheap mic and the preamps in their interface. However, plugging a u87 or even a mid priced microphone like the AT4050 into the cheap internal preamps of most sub $400 interfaces will have a large amount of it’s extra quality and resolution taken away from the crap preamps in the interface.
2 (b). Affordable Interfaces with Decent Preamps
An interface with higher quality preamps built in such as the UAD Apollo Twin and Apollo series, the Apogee Duet and Apogee Duet and Apogee Series and the Audient iD22 and iD series. The SSL 2+ has good preamps also but I haven’t tested it to vouch for it’s converters.
I compare these interfaces further down in the article.
Any internal preamp in an interface will lack input and output transformers. The transformers give that big analogue warmth and are present in almost all classic analogue consoles such as Neve, API, Trident, Focusrite Consoles (not their cheap consumer rack stuff or interfaces other than their ISA and Red series).
So most internal preamps in interfaces can never be as good as a high quality external preamp. However, a high quality external preamp tends to cost around $500+ per channel. So it seems quite obvious that the two preamps in a $200 interface won’t be great.
The cheapest interface with decent preamps right now is the SSL 2+ which is surprisingly very cheap at only $279. It lacks a lot of features and expandability of some of the more expensive interfaces though.
2 (c). Expanding with External Preamps
Most affordable interfaces lack a clean line in.
Of the whole list below, the only affordable desktop interface that has a clean analogue line in is the Audient iD22 and iD range by utilizing the insert return (you see on the image above labelled ‘RET’) as a way to completely bypass the internal preamps. However, this one lacks a lot of features home recording studio guys need which makes it hard to recommend this interface for everyone.
If you can do without DSP processing (real time effects), talkback and more advanced studio monitor control, this is a good affordable option to bypass completely the internal preamps (even though Audient make good preamps for internal preamps).
However, the Apollo Twin is more popular due it’s DSP effects and lower latency giving you software versions of hardware rack compressors, EQs, tape machines and all sorts of cool things which you can use during recording just like owning the racks. This is more affordable than buying high end rack gear. The Apollo Twin also has software preamp emulations and has this techology called Unison which alters the impedence and gain staging of the hardware preamps to go along with it’s software emulations. Although, not as good as the real thing, pretty cool for only internal preamps. It does though, lack an analogue clean line but has ADAT for expensive external converters if you want to bypass the preamps that way.
So What is a Clean Line In?
What is a clean line in? A clean line in is one that bypassing the preamps of the unit completely. The mic/combo line jacks on an interface usually means that a line in still passes through the preamps but the preamps are effectively padded down/turn down so they are not amplifying the sound as much. The circuitry though, can still color the sound. Although the coloration is often minimal and un-noticeable to most consumers when plugging in an external preamp, it still exists and is not ideal.
Ideally if you’re using an external preamp, having a clean line in is better as long as it’s not at the expense of high quality conversion. This however, is one area which most affordable interfaces for home studio use lacks.
Since most home studio people never get good at mixing, having the best quality signal chain is not as important as learning to mix!
However, if you’re looking to get into sound engineering, I’d suggest getting an interface with Analogue Line Ins (very rare now) or inserts or ADAT in or Spiff in. ADAT and Spiff inputs bypass both the preamps completely but they also bypass the A/D converters.
Other than Dedicated Line-Ins and Inserts and can be used to bypass preamps completely.
In saying that, interfaces with an ADAT in such as the Apollo Twin & Zen Tour allow for pluging in an external ADAT AD converter or ADAT mic pre and converter rack like the Audient ASP880. In this case the quality of the audio coming in from the microphones and line-ins (what you can record) is converted from Analogue to Digital by the ADAT converter and the interface just passes the digital signal through to the computer.
Professional recording studios sometimes have external converters but they are rare in home studios due to their price.
UAD Apollo thunderbolt interfaces are interesting because not only do they have ADAT inputs but you can also daisy chain more interfaces together for more inputs via Thunderbolt. You can do this in addition to ADAT so not only can you add extra ADAT inputs but you can also add another interface for analogue inputs plus you can get the extra ADAT inputs for that interface also. So that makes the UAD line more expandable than the others on this list but they do require buying extra hardware so do so and the hardware isn’t cheap.
4. Talkback – Do You Need It?
When you’re recording a vocalist in a vocal booth or another room, they can’t hear you. That’s the whole point of sound isolation/sound proofing. The only problem is, you need to be able to talk to them. So how do you do it? Though Talkback.
If you’re recording yourself and don’t intent on every having anyone else record you in your home studio, you don’t need talkback. However, if you’re recording others in another room or vocal booth, you do.
If you’re recording some in the same room as you, talkback will still be handy as it’s hard to hear each other with sound isolating headphones on but is not quite as crucial if you don’t mind shouting at your vocalist. However, shouting at a vocalist might annoy them lol.
How do you get it?
Although you can setup a Talkback in your DAW from any mic input and enabling monitoring on the channel, turning it on and off can be difficult. Even with a control surface, if you turn it on, your speakers will feedback if you’re not using headphones instead.
Professional recording studios have either an analogue console with a built in Talkback button and microphone to talk to the artist. Or expensive studio monitor controllers. It works like a 2 way radio/Walkie-Talkie. You press the button down, it turns the studio monitors down in volume so they don’t feedback and it turns the mic on.
The only DAW that has this functionality built into it is Cubase. If you’re using Cubase, you can assign a midi button to trigger Talkback on or press a shortcut key on the keyboard.
For every other DAW, turning your mic on to talk to the artist will usually result in feedback unless you have headphones on.
If you need Talkback, buying an audio interface with Talkback will save you money
Cheap studio monitor controllers with Talkback color the sound going to the monitor speakers even when you’re not using the Talkback mic.
Extremely expensive electronics is required to not color the sound. That’s why professional studio monitor controllers like the popular Dangerous Monitor ST cost a whopping $2000!
Aspiring engineers and aspiring music producers these days often buy a desktop interface with built in Talkback. If the Talkback function is built into the interface itself and done digitally by the interface, there is no need for an expensive analogue Talkback system that preserves the audio quality as both ways still preserve the audio quality.
Other options for Talkback
There is a cool plugin called Mutomatic that automatically turns on your Talkback mic in your DAW whenever the DAW is not recording and also dims the studio monitors. It does it automatically when the song is stopped and not playing or recording. Personally this doesn’t work for me as I like to count the artist in when the music is playing as well as give them comments between sections while they’re performing or even sing them a melody to copy. It might work for your workflow better though.
Another option is getting a headphone amp with built in Talkback like the Presonus HP 60 or routing a separate signal to only the vocalists headphones and not your own monitors. This works best when you have more than 2 audio outputs on your interface as you can setup a separate vocal mix in your DAW for the vocalist without coloring your monitoring path. You would have to manually dim your monitors if you want to talk to them when the music is going though so that’s why I don’t like it.
I have never seen these in home studios but…
Outside of that, if you need talkback and don’t have talkback on your interface and you’re not using Cubase or Nuendo, you need a studio monitor controller. Popular choices for professional recording studios are the Dangerous Monitor ST, the passive Coleman Audio monitor controllers, Slate Control, Grace M908, Audient ASP510. They will not color the sound.
The reason you don’t see them in home recording studios is that they start at 2k.
Studio monitor controllers do more than just give you talkback. They allow you to switch between different sets of monitor speakers and different audio inputs as well as attenuate (turn down) your monitor speakers. Some of the higher end ones also have built in AD/DA conversion.
Due to the home studio boom, companies have attempted to make cheap and worse versions of studio monitor controllers for the homes studio market such as the Mackie Big Knob, Presonus Central Station and Behringer Control2USB. These will color/degrade the sound of your monitors. If you’re getting into sound engineering, I’d recommend avoiding these but if you’re just making a tracking home studio to send to another studio for mixing, these are perfectly acceptable since they only degrade the sound going to your monitors, not your mic or line inputs.
The cheapest solution without sacrificing the audio quality is to attempt to avoid a studio monitor controller all together.
That makes desktop interfaces with Talkback and monitor control quite appealing.
Affordable studio monitor controllers that don’t suck
If you must use a studio monitor controller, intend to mix or learn to mix and don’t want to spend over 1k, the best options at the moment are the Audient Nero at around $499, The Heritage Ram System 2000 at $899 and the SPL MTC at around 1k.
I’ve seen both the Hertiage and SPL in professional studios and I didn’t have any issues with them coloring the sound. The Audient is very new so I can’t vouch for it yet but Audient make high quality gear so I would be surprised if it sucked.
Audio Interface Types
There are three types of audio interfaces in terms of form factor. Desktop interfaces, 19″ rack interfaces and half rack (9.5″) interfaces. What type you get will depend on how many inputs and outputs you need.
Instruments & Inputs
Here is a chart on how many inputs you will typically need for recording these sources. If you’re recording mutiple at the same time, add those inputs together and that’s how many inputs your interface will need. In saying that, it can be handy to have extra available inputs for patching in and out outboard gear for mixing.
- Lead vocal, 1 input
- Acoustic guitar, 2 inputs (for stereo)
- Electric guitar DI (1 input)
- Electric guitar amp (2 inputs for stereo if recording an amp)
- Bass DI (1 input)
- Bass amp (1-2 inputs)
- Drums (acoustic) 10-12 inputs if individually mic’ed including top and bottom mics and room mics
- Hardware Keyboards & Synths (2 inputs each)
- Turntables, 2 inputs each
- Brass, (either sax, trumpet, trombone) 2 inputs each
- Grand piano 2-4 inputs
- Other instruments, 2 inputs for stereo recording
Best Desktop Interfaces
Desktop interfaces are ideal for home recording studios because lets face it, most people have a desk lol. What most people don’t have is a studio rack desk or floor 19″ rack cabinet.
It should be no surprise then that the best selling interfaces for home studios are small desktop interfaces and small interfaces.
Desktop interfaces also put your controls closer to your fingers, eliminating the need for an external monitor speaker controller. High quality monitor speaker controllers are expensive and costs more than most home studio interfaces so being able to avoid this is a plus.
Also putting them closer to you rather than off the side in a rack is handy and means you don’t have to buy and expensive studio monitor speaker controller.
There aren’t too many desktop audio interfaces so it’s easy to list them…
I own two of the listed interfaces, The Apollo Twin and the Apogee Duet. Out of those two, personally I prefer the Apollo Twin as the build quality is far better and DSP processing and talkback. I use the Apogee Duet when I’m out an about in a cafe using headphones or at another studio as it’s more portable without sacrificing audio quality.
The Apollo Twin requires thunderbolt so if you don’t have thunderbolt, you can rule that one out.
The UAD Apollo Twin mk2 or X and Apollo x4
The Apollo Twin X is the perfect interface if you want a small footprint and don’t need many inputs. It only has two inputs but you can add another 8 over ADAT, however, adding the extra 8 over ADAT means a 19″ rack to it. That gives you 10 inputs max as is but it is also expandable by adding any other Apollo interface such as the Apollo x8 (8 inputs) and Apollo x16 (16 inputs).
What’s so great about this interface is that is has built in DSP processing for real-time compression, EQ and even real-time Auto-Tune. It has many monitor controller features built in like a talk-back button to talk to the artist, mute, dim and mono. This means you don’t need to buy a monitor controller. You can also control the preamp gain. This is the interface I use and I use it with an 8 channel ADAT interface to get another 8 input channels.
Apollo x4 Vs Apollo Twin
- The Apollo x4 is wider at 9.17″ instead of the Twin at 6.31″
- The x4 gives you 4 mic/line combo inputs instead of 2 in the Apollo Twin.
- The x4 has 6 analogue outs instead of 4 in the Twin.
- The Apollo x4 has digital out so you can use external converters or send the signal into another interface without quality loss.
Apollo Twin mk2 & Apollo Twin X Differences
The X using thunderbolt 3. The mk2 uses thunderbolt 2. An Apple Thunderbolt 3 to 2 adapter is required if you don’t have the matching thunderbolt version. If you only have USB, you can buy the Apollo Twin USB which has the same functions but higher latency.
They say the mk2 over thunderbolt 2 is not supported on Windows but I’ve been using it on Windows 10 for a year with no issues. I think they just say that because they can’t test all thunderbolt 2 on all Windows laptops. It works for me. It’s technically only ‘supported’ on thunderbolt 3 laptops.
The X has slightly better converters and has better ventilation.
Both of them have all the following Pros and Cons
- Monitor Controller functions built in
- DSP processing for real-time effect monitoring
- DSP plugins can also be used in your DAW to save CPU
- UAD have a huge selection of DSP plugins
- Comes with a bunch of free DSP plugins
- Fantastic build quality
- Thunderbolt for low latency
- Can be expanded and used with larger Apollo rack units
- 8 extra channels over ADAT digital in – if you want to expand it
- 2 high quality mic preamps
- One Hi-Z guitar/bass input
- 4 outputs
- You get to use the Luna DAW for free/no additional cost
- A little more expensive than other interfaces
- Extra DSP plugins are expensive
- Only two mic inputs
- No inserts
- The mic/line inputs are combo inputs which are not as clean/ideal as a dedicated line in since it still passed through the pre-amp circuit which may slightly color the sound but the coloration is minimal. However, ADAT can be used with an an ADAT converter to completely bypass the preamps.
- Only 1 headphone out
There are a few variants of the Apollo Twin. The price of the Apollo Twin varies depending on how many DSP chips it has. The more chips it has, the more DSP plugins you can run at the same time.
The x4 has more inputs, 2 extra outputs and an ADAT out.
- Apollo Twin mk2 Duo – $799 (thunderbolt 2) – not officially supported on Windows but some people report it working for their PC.
- Apollo Twin X Duo- $899 (thunderbolt 3) – officially supported on Mac & Windows
- Apollo Twin X Quad – $1399 (thunderbolt 3) (Twice as many DSP chips/Twice as Powerful) – officially supported on Mac & Windows
- Apollo x4 Quad $1799 (thunderbolt 3) (Twice as many DSP chips as the Apollo Twin Duo) (Two extra mic/line inputs, Two extra line outs and ADAT out) – officially supported on Mac & Windows
Solid State Logic SSL2+
This a very new interface. It only came out this year but SSL has been in professional recording studios for decades and their mixers are among the best in the world.
The interesting thing about this interface is that it has two SSL mic preamps in it so that alone makes it a good deal.
It doesn’t have talkback and is missing some monitor speaker control but it has a volume knob and two headphone sends instead of just one on the Apollo.
It has no DSP effects/plugins.
For the price range, It’s very hard to beat it. I haven’t used it so I can’t say how good it’s converters are. For the price range I suspect there has to be some compromises somewhere but overall it looks like a solid product.
- Cheap considering the quality
- 2 very high quality SSL Preamps on a combo mic/line inputs
- Cool analogue 4k switch, most likely emulating a bit of the sound of the 4000 series desks
- Volume knob for volume control
- Midi in and out
- USB bus powered, does not need external power
- No DSP Processing
- No ADAT and no possibility for expansion.
- Missing talkback, and other monitor controller functions, mute, dim etc..
- 4 outputs but only 2 balanced outputs
- 9.2″ wide makes it much wider than the Apollo Twin
- $279 – SSL2+, version with midi in plus RCA in and out in addition to TRS output. Has two headphone outputs.
- $230 – SSL2, version with only one stereo out and no midi. Does not have phono/RCA in and out. Has only one headphone output.
The Audient iD22 has the same preamps that are in Audient’s high end analogue consoles. This is pretty awesome considering the price is low.
It doesn’t have DSP processing. Lacks a talkback button or built in talkback mic. Only has a simple volume knob, mute and dim.
Good news is that it has ADAT in and out making it easy to send to an external converter or to expand.
Two mic/line combo inputs. 4 outputs.
This interface is USB not thunderbolt. The latency will be slightly higher than thunderbolt interfaces.
What’s interesting about this one is that it has inserts so you can completely bypass the internal mic preamp circuit which is better for using external preamps. All the other interfaces require using ADAT to completely bypass the preamp circuit which requires an ADAT converter. Most people will just switch the preamps in the other interfaces to line but technically, there is slight coloration doing this whereas going through the inserts on the back on the Audient will give you a clean line in without any coloration whatsoever.
- 2 inserts
- 2 Audient Preamps
- ADAT in and out
- Volume knob for volume control
- No DSP Processing
- Missing talkback mic and button
- No mono button
- USB has slightly higher latency than thunderbolt
Unlike the Audient iD22, the Audient iD44 has a talkback button. In saying that, it doesn’t have a talkback mic built in. This is a little odd as you have to sacrifice an input as a talkback mic but in their mixer software you can assign any mic to be your talkback mic including a laptop mic or webcam. Doing that can save your interface inputs. I’d recommend a conference XLR mic if you want to add a talkback mic to one of the inputs on the interface.
There are also has 3 assignable function buttons, so you can most likely assign a mono button.
So basically, it has twice the amount of everything the iD22 has. With two ADAT inputs instead of one as well as two ADAT outputs instead of one. Plus 4 mic preamps instead of two. Two DI/Hi-Z inputs instead of one and instead of one headphone output it has two. So it’s quite literally twice the amount of inputs and outputs.
Both the iD22 and iD44 have two stereo outputs for a pair of monitors and a headphone amp or for two pairs of monitors.
Aside from the DSP processing in the Apollo x4, the Audient iD44 has almost all of the same features with the addition of inserts.
- Talkback button
- Assignable function buttons
- 4 inserts
- 4 Audient Preamps
- 2x ADAT in and 2x out, 16 in, 16 out.
- Volume knob for volume control
- No DSP Processing
- USB has slightly higher latency than thunderbolt
- External mic needed for talkback but can be triggered with the talkback button
Why do some people buy this instead of an Apollo Twin?
Overall, the Apogee Duet is worse overall if you compare feature to feature with the Apollo Twin. However, it does excel in two areas. The converters and audio quality is better and is much more portable and can be USB bus powered.
This makes it the ideal interface for freelance sound engineers as you have high quality AD/DA conversion in an extremely small form factor. You can easily fit it in most laptop bags. It uses the same high quality Apogee converters used in professional recording studios in Apogee’s more expensive interfaces.
That makes it the cheapest desktop interface for both Mac and PC for serious sound engineering and mastering as the sound is much more open and clearer than the Apollo Twin in my opinion. The Apollo Twin is darker with less treble and less detail whereas the Apogee Duet sounds much brighter and more open for monitoring (DA).
It’s also a great option for voice over artists and singers looking to track vocals on the go.
The Apogee Duet has less features, no DSP processing and a worse overall look and exterior build in my opinion. It has no monitor speaker control other than a volume knob.
The Apogee Duet runs over USB and has a little worse latency than the other Thunderbolt interfaces on here but as a keyboardist myself, the latency seems acceptable.
If you’re wanting to take your audio interface outside your studio, it’s a good choice but if you’re putting it on a desk and keeping it in your studio, the Apollo is much better bang for your buck.
In terms of the converters and sound quality, the Apogee has an edge over the Apollo Twin. Personally I prefer the sound of the Apogee Duet converters over the Apollo Twin a lot more.
It’s just the overall build quality are reliability doesn’t seem as good as the Apollo Twin in my opinion and the lack of DSP processing, talkback and higher latency make it hard to recommend it over the Apollo.
However, if you’re a mix engineer and you just want a simple high quality bus powered USB interface for mixing that you can also take around with you to other studios, it’s a good choice. It’s also why I have it in addition to the Apollo Twin.
Having high quality conversion in an slim interface that fits in my laptop bag makes it awesome for mobile work. For something that is going to stay in your home studio on your desk, for most people, the Apollo Twin will be a better choice since the Apogee Duet has less features and is a similar price.
What I don’t like about it
My biggest gripe with it is the lack of a talkback button and the USB interface. It’s easy to bump the USB cable and have it disconnect.
The USB connector has a design flaw. The metal around the connector in the enclosure is much larger than the connector itself. Over time, the USB connector stretches in size and comes loose easily and can disconnect even without you touching the unit.
That might be fine if you’re recording yourself in your own home studio but in a professional recording studio, I find that unacceptable. They could easily fix and address this issue in an update.
The older Apogee Duet 2, not the Apogee Duet 2 for iPad and iOS (their latest version), used a larger USB connector which most likely didn’t have this problem. That version only runs on Mac desktops though. The version with the micro-USB is the only version that also runs on Windows as well as iOS mobile devices (iPhone, iPad).
USB also has much more latency than thunderbolt. This has been most noticeable with heavy CPU intense film scoring projects that plays flawlessly on my Apollo Twin yet the same project stutters and drops out on my Apogee Duet. Thunderbolt is clearly better than USB.
- 2 high quality line/mic combo inputs/preamps
- Volume knob for volume control
- High quality Apogee AD/DA Converters. I prefer the sound of these over the Apollo Twin personally.
- Super portable, light and USB powered. Does not need DC power.
- No DSP Processing
- No ADAT and no possibility for expansion.
- Missing talkback, and other monitor controller functions, mute, dim etc…
- External build quality is not as high as the Apollo or Zen Tour
- Cables are plugged into a break-out cable instead of directly into the back of the unit. The break-out cable ironically, can bend and break in transport.
- The USB cable is more likely to fall out when moved as opposed to Thunderbolt
- No inserts
- Only two mic/line combo inputs
- Only two outputs
- The mic/line inputs are combo inputs which are not as clean/ideal as a dedicated line in since it still passed through the pre-amp circuit which may slightly color the sound but the coloration is minimal.
- Something I find annoying and weird with the Apogee Duet on PC is that you can’t use the WDM and Asio drivers at the same time. Meaning you can’t watch a video on YouTube while the DAW is open. It simply won’t play. You would need a separate interface and monitor controller just to do that! That’s ridiculous since that is something most musicians would want to do to learn an instrument or learn how to do something in their DAW. If you have a TV or a monitor with crappy built in speakers, you can use those at the same time but you’re not going to get the sound of the video out of your monitor speakers. The Apollo Twin doesn’t have this problem.
The Apogee Element is a better option than the Apogee Duet if you have a Mac and don’t need the portability of the Apogee Duet. This is designed to stay put in your home studio. You can technically take it with you on the go but it’s pretty bulky.
It’s not an option for Windows users as it doesn’t have any Windows drivers. Go yell at Apogee about it, I don’t know what they’re thinking since they’re excluding a large portion of the home studio market by not offering Windows drivers for their Element series.
It’s not a desktop interface… or is it?
Although it’s a half rack size unit, it does have a remote called the Apogee Control that you can buy for it at an additional price. This avoids you having to purchase a more expensive studio monitor controller and makes it seem more like a desktop interface.
This unit does have a talkback button.
What makes it better than the Apogee Duet is, it uses thunderbolt, not USB and it seems more stable and reliable.
It has ADAT optical in and out, Word Clock and it comes with more inputs if you get the 48 option or higher. The 24 has the same number of analogue inputs as the Apogee Duet but gives you 8 extra digital inputs and 8 extra digital outputs.
The converters I believe are the same as the Apogee Duet.
- High quality AD/DA converters
- Thunderbolt for low latency and reliability
- ADAT input and ADAT output
- Word Clock for syncing to other devices
- Separate slim digital desktop monitor controller that doesn’t color/degrade the sound
- NO WINDOWS DRIVERS!
- Requires a thunderbolt port
- Not as portable as other options on the market
$195, Remote unit (separate)
$595, Element 24 (2 inputs version)
$895, Element 46 (4 inputs version)
$1,495, Element 88 (8 inputs version, one extra ADAT input, one extra ADAT output -meaning 2x ADAT in and 2x ADAT out)
Note: although the number of analogue inputs increases with the price, the number of analogue outputs does not.
If you want more inputs but still want a desktop interface, the Zen Tour is worth a look. This is really your only option to get more inputs without using a 19″ rack.
It gives you extra analogue guitar and bass Hi-Z inputs but it only gives you two extra mic/line combo inputs. For that reason it’s most popular among guitarists.
You can expand it via ADAT and unlike the other units it has two ADAT inputs instead of one allowing for 16 extra digital channels over ADAT. Expanding it via ADAT means adding on a 19″ rack anyway though.
Keep in mind the Apollo Twin can also be expanded via 8 channels of ADAT and you can daisy chain extra Apollo x8 or x16 units
- Monitor Controller functions built in
- Most IO (inputs and outputs) for any desktop style interface. 24 inputs!
- 4 mic/line combo inputs
- 4 dedicated hi-Z inputs (for guitars and basses).
- 16 extra channels over two ADAT digital ins – if you want to expand it
- 2 digital Spiff inputs
- 8 outputs
- Touch screen
- Excellent build quality
- Thunderbolt for low latency
- DSP processing for real-time effect monitoring
- You don’t need to buy the DSP plugins individually, they give you all of their plugins upfront included in the hardware purchase price, saving you lots of money.
- Antelope are known for mastering grade clocking and converters so the converters are top notch.
- Very expensive
- DSP processing does not work in your DAW as a plugin. It’s for tracking only.
- Less available DSP plugins than UAD
- Much wider, 10″ than the Apollo Twin 6.31″ (takes up more desktop space)
Cheap Interface – Motu M2 – Not Recommended but Here Anyway.
This one isn’t on the same level as the others. It’s cheap, has worse preamps and converters. No DSP and has no studio monitor control.
For the record, I don’t recommend this. The SSL if you’re looking for a cheap interface the SSL2+ is much better quality. There is even an SSL2 at $230 street ($50 more than this one) if you only need one stereo output.
It’s more of a small rack thing than a desktop interface since all of it’s controls are on the front.
It can never be expanded via ADAT and is destined for either eBay or the bin the future.
However, it’s cheap and has LED indicators on the front which might stop you from clipping like the others on the list so for that reason it’s better than the others in the price range.
- Has LED indicators which other cheap interfaces in this price range lack
- More functions than the similarly priced Focurite Scarlett 2i2.
- No DSP
- No Monitor Control except for a volume knob
- Cheap build quality
- Poorer quality converters and preamps to the others on the list
- Overall worse sound quality
- $170 street
Cheap Interface – Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 – Not Recommended
You see this interface recommended on most home recording studio blogs. It is a top seller at Guitar Center. The only problem is, it sucks.
Why does it suck? Well for the price it’s good but has the SSL2 or SSL2+ been out when people were buying up the Focusrite 2i2, it never would have been popular in my opinion.
At the time it came out, it was the only budget interface that wasn’t total garbage. However, it’s just not anywhere near the level of quality of the SSL2 and SSL2+ as the SSL2 and SSL2+ have great preamps but the Focusrite has poor to mediocre preamps. The focusrite and the Motu both have the worst preamps on the list.
Preamps are very important. We’ll be talking about that later.
- Sucks lol (but sucks less than other $150 interfaces, move up to $200 such as the SSL2 and you can get better)
- No DSP
- No Monitor Control except for a volume knob
- Cheap internal build quality, exterior seems ok
- Poorer quality converters and preamps to the others on the list
- Overall worse sound quality
Getting More Inputs into a Desktop Interface
If you’re recording drums and live musicians, all of these desktop interfaces won’t give you enough inputs.
Although the Apollo range can be expanded with other Apollo units like the x8 and x16, they can also be expanded by ADAT which is often cheaper.
Since the Apollo Twin, Audient iD series & Zen Tour all support ADAT, you can get extra inputs by adding an ADAT converter. Some preamps have built in ADAT converters. The most popular in professional recording studios is often the Audient ASP880.
The Audient ASP880 uses the same preamps found in Audient desks and you can bypass the preamps completely by connecting external preamps to the inserts.
It’s a little expensive but you get 8 high quality preamps and 8 channels of ADAT conversion so the price per preamp is only around $150 each which is cheaper than any good single channel mic preamp and the Audient preamps are clean but good quality. If you’re recording drums, this will get you 8 channels of high quality preamps for individual mic’ing.
If you’re not going to be plugging external preamps into it and using it as a converter or plugging external compressors, EQs or racks into it, you can go with the cut down ASP800 version which doesn’t have inserts.
Who is it Good For?
Personally, if you’re doing rock or recording a band, I’d recommend the ASP880 as a good way to expand an interface with ADAT. Recording live drums along will max out your ASP880, you might even end up also using the internal preamps or line-ins of your interface.
It’s also a good choice for just plugging in hardware synths and keyboards as you can leave everything connected to your interface without using a patchbay. If you have more than 4 stereo inputs, you might want to consider a patchbay or an interface with more inputs.
Who is it Not Good For?
If you’re only recording vocals, getting a preamp with an input transformer will generally give you a fuller sound. The ASP880 preamps are transformer-less. An input transformer costs more than $150 for the part alone so expect to pay around $500+ per preamp or more. Getting a single high quality single or dual channel preamp for vocals will likely give you a higher quality vocal recording.
These preamps are clean, Solid State preamps so if you want more of a warm sound, you should look elsewhere. The ASP800 does have two warmer channels though.
ASP880 vs ASP800
The ASP800 has two warmer channels and 6 clean ones but lacks the inserts on the back and therefore the ability to add external compressors, EQs or completely bypass the preamps via a clean line in.
So you can think of the ASP800 as an bunch of external preamps over ADAT but the ASP880 as more of an ADAT converter and/or 8 channel ADAT preamp unit.
It’s kinda weird that the ASP880 is missing those two warm preamps but I guess you can only fit so much into one 19″ rack unit. The inserts on the ASP880 make it better for connecting external preamps anyway.
- ASP880 – $1200 street
- ASP800 – $849 street
Most people are going to want to record at least vocals in their home studio.
You will go crazy reading all the different reviews of microphones on the internet.
Choosing a vocal mic
The reality is, one mic could sound amazing on one voice and then terrible on another.
All microphones have a different frequency response. That frequency response will either sound flattering on the vocalist or bad.
If a vocalist has too much 300hz in their vocal for example, a mic that has a dip here would sound better than a mic with a boost in this range.
This is why professional recording studios will have many different microphones so they can match the right mic depending on the vocalists’s voice.
If you’re only going to be recording yourself, you might considering hiring a mid-level recording studio with an engineer to test out a bunch of different microphones to see what works best on your voice.
Without getting you into my recording studio to test out different microphones I can only recommend one microphone because it can emulate and mimic the sound of more than 8 different, very expensive microphones …
Slate VMS ML-1 or ML-1V
The Slate VMS ML-1 is a very unique microphone. It is fairly flat and neutral but comes with software to change it’s tone to emulate lots of different microphones.
No matter your voice, you can click around on the screen on photos of different mics to find the sound you want. Some of the mics it emulates cost 10k. All up just looking at the list it looks like over 100k worth of different microphones. The mic costs $800 which might seem a little expensive, it a great deal considering all the different tones you can get out of it.
The Vintage version of the ML-1, known as the ML-1V usually costs around $200 extra and gets you a more pretty mic and a bunch of extra vintage mic emulations but internally, the mic is the same as the ML-1.
The exterior build quality of the ML-1 vintage is insane and is about the same as you get on a Neumann or Telefunken U67. The extra mic emulations in the vintage edition make it worth the extra cost to me alone. As a bonus, it looks more pretty.
Sounds pretty good on Snoop Dogg
Here is an impressive video I found on YouTube comparing the Slate mic emulation to a real Sony c800g
You’ll notice the room has a lot of acoustic issues we talked about earlier which is causing a slight low mid boost in the vocals which the real Sony seems to pick up slightly more than the Slate mic does. Other than that though, the video does a good job comparing the two mics.
- Emulates 100k worth of microphones
- Emulates two different Sony c800g microphones.
- Multiple different tones from different mic emulations means there is likely to be an ideal sound for every vocalist and/or instrument
- Being able to simulate swapping out the mic without another microphone after it’s been recorded is a game changer and is ideal for when you have to monitor on headphones such as recording yourself or another vocalist in the same room, which is most home studios.
- Customer support and warranty is the best I have found for any company should you run into any issues.
- The ML-1V microphone is a limited edition type of thing and isn’t always available. They don’t sell as many of them and as a result, they’re not always in stock.
- The microphone emulation software (Virtual Mix rack) requires an iLok to run.
- Buying a used one is not a good idea as you need the software license also to make full use of it. If you do buy one used, only buy from the original owner and make sure to get the ilok software license key transferred
- $799 street – Slate ML-1
- $999 street – Slate ML-1V (Vintage Edition)
Slate VMS One Preamp
Although you can plug the Slate ML-1 microphone into your interface directly, you’ll get more accuracy with the emulations by using the Slate VMS One Preamp and it will likely sound cleaner. It is also a higher quality preamp than those in most of the interfaces and will give you a quality boost overall.
If you’re getting the Slate ML-1 and you don’t already own a high quality clean external preamp such as a Millennia HV, I recommend pairing the Slate ML-1 with the Slate VMS One Preamp. Otherwise, your built in interface preamp will be causing a bottleneck and degrade the sound and quality.
Keep reading for a more in depth preamp comparison later on.
However, some stores will sell you both the Slate ML-1 and the VMS One Preamp for $999 as a bundle when both are purchased at the same time, bringing the cost down to $198 for the Slate VMS One. To find this, you have to search or ask for the “Slate Digital VMS Virtual Microphone System.”
There are also sometimes bundle deals also for the vintage edition Slate ML-1V and the VMS One preamp, however at the time of this article, they’re sold out.
Workflow Con & Improvement Suggestion for Slate Digital
This message is more for Slate Digital but you can read it also if you like and comment or reach out to Slate Digital if you agree.
There is no Universal Audio DSP plugin version of the Slate VMS Software/Virtual Mix Rack (VMR). This is pretty frustrating if you have a UAD interface in your studio that can run other plugins from other companies with no latency during tracking. This is not the case for the Slate VMR Software.
This means, you need to put the mic emulations on after tracking or you’ll get latency during tracking.
Slate suggest using a thunderbolt interface and upping the sample rate to 192khz and lowering the buffer when tracking as a work around to get a lower latency.
Personally I think that is dumb as you’ll use 4x the hard drive space and if you’re using Kontakt instruments and doing electronic music production with high CPU plugins and virtual instruments in the session, that’s most likely not going to work as you’ll get a lot of crackles and too much latency still.
Despite Slate’s marketing hype about supposedly being able to track with the plugin on, I’ve found in most real sessions, the latency is too high.
Their higher sample rate during tracking work around only really works for tracking full band at once like in their demo prior to any mixing or production. Not the workflow of many home studios, music producers and beat-makers who often produce, mix and record at the same time. They should make a DSP plugin for Universal Audio.
I track with the emulation off and put them on after. Luckily the mic itself sounds good without any emulations but the real magic happens when you add an emulation onto it in mixing.
Townsend Labs Sphere L22
The Townsend Sphere L22 is the biggest competitor to the Slate ML-1. It also uses software emulation to emulates a lot of the same microphones that the Slate ML-1 VMR Software does.
The price will throw most people of. It costs double that of the Slate ML-1. Buying two Slate ML-1 mics will let you record in stereo for guitars and drum overheads.
So if it costs double, is it twice as good?
Short answer, no. It has two condensers instead of one which is the reason for the price increase.
Having two condenser instead of one means it can do other polar patterns such as Figure 8 which is very useful when recording multiple musicians in a room at the same time as you can minimize spill with correct mic position. However, that’s an advance recording technique.
If you’re just recording vocals, you only need Cardioid. In that case I’d suggest the Slate ML-1.
If you want to learn more about polar patterns you can watch this dude
One big Pro for the Townsend Labs Sphere L22
It DOES have a Universal Audio DSP Plugin for no latency mic emulation monitoring on UAD Apollo interfaces.
Even more of a reason for Slate to step up their game and make a UAD plugin for the Slate ML-1.
- Software emulation modelling models the sound of many different microphones
- It has a UAD plugin which allows for tracking with the software plugin on and zero latency.
- Multiple polar patterns
- Polar patterns can be changed in the software even after recording!
- Having two capsules also allows them to model the off-axis response for each mic they are emulating
- Having two capsules combined with the software allows the proximity effect to be changed in the software after the recording which is unique.
- Price is almost double that of the Slate ML-1
- It has no matching preamp you can buy
- The software is missing some mic emulations found in the Slate VMS software. The Slate VMS software has two different Sony c800g emulations. A cleaner modern one and an older vintage one. The Sphere L22 just has the one Sony c800g emulation.
- The software is missing the intensity slider found in the Slate VMS software which allows for more or less of the coloration of the mic you’re emulating.
- $1499 street
Townsend Labs Sphere L22 vs Slate ML-1 Personal Thoughts/Comparison
- If you’re a singer or rapper doing hip-hop or R&B, the Slate ML-1 is most likely the better choice for you because it has two different Sony c800g mic emulations and the Sony c800g is one of the most used microphones for singers in those genres.
- Recording bands? Two Slate ML-1 mics is still probably more useful that one Sphere L22 mic. If you have the cash for two Sphere L22 mics, you will probably like the Sphere L22 better.
- For no latency monitoring with the software, the Sphere has a UAD plugin, the Slate VMS does not.
- However, you can change the mic emulation after recording with either microphone so you don’t have to record with the emulation on. You’ll just be hearing the clean mic without the mic emulation when performing with the Slate as apposed to using the Sphere with the UAD plugin on a UAD interface. There Sphere may be more enjoyable when tracking for that reason.
This was my go to mic for years because it works on most voices. Since the price is similar to the Slate ML-1, it’s no longer my top suggestion as I feel like the ease of changing mic emulations on the Slate is better for home studio guys.
However, if software mic emulations aren’t your thing, this is a great affordable mic. It’s made in Japan instead of most cheap mics which are made in China. As a result, it has high quality components at an affordable price and sounds just as good in my opinion to many mics in the 2-3k range.
This is what I call a good full sounding neutral mic that isn’t too colored but it doesn’t have that cheap top end you hear on most Chinese mics.
Just a warning though, being more detailed than most cheap mics means it will pick up more issues in the room and a little more exterior/outside noise so if you’re too lazy to treat your room, you might be disappointed. If you do treat your room, you’ll get a better sound than from most sub $800 mics.
- Neutral mic – not too colored means it will work on most vocalists and instruments.
- Very detailed
- Multiple polar patterns
- More detail means more issues and ambient noise will be recorded
- Neutral means you’ll have to use EQ. It won’t sound pre-EQed.
- Just the one mic sound, has no software mic emulations like the ones above.
Rode NT-1 and NT-1a
If all the mics above are too expensive, don’t buy a cheap Chinese mic. For slightly more you can get the Rode NT-1 which is made in Australia instead of China and uses better components and quality control.
The original sliver Rode NT-1a has been the top selling home studio mic for the last few decades. It has more competition now but I haven’t heard a better cheap mic in the sub $300 range yet other than Rode’s new NT1 which has a little less air.
The good thing about the Rode mics is that they’re a little more forgiving in terms of not picking up as much ambient noise as more expensive mics.
If you want more of top end, you might still like the original Rode NT-1a which I think sounds better on Acoustic guitar than the new Rode NT1. The NT-1a also works well on drum overheads.
For vocals though, the NT1 has less of an 8k boost which makes vocal ‘S’ sounds less of a problem.
You’ll find more cheap Chinese mics boost the treble to make them sound more ‘impressive’ but this is best done in the mix. Having too much top end on a mic, especially around the 6-8k range means all the ‘s’ sounds will stick out more and a De-Esser plugin can’t always fix them. This was also a problem in the original silver Rode NT1-a which has been fixed in the new black Rode NT1.
- Cheap and great value for money
- Made in Australia
- A little more forgiving in untreated rooms
- Still a favorite of mine for Acoustic guitar. I still use a pair in my studio on Acoustic Guitar sometimes even though I have other mics x10 the price.
- Not as detailed as the Audio-Technica, Slate and Townsend Labs mics
- Sounds a little ‘thin’ and lacks low mid warmth
- $269 street – Rode NT-1
- $229 street – Rode NT-1a
Here is where things get very subjective and complicated.
To record something like a drum kit well you’re going to need to mic up every drum individually as well as having a stereo pair of overhead mics and room mics.
I’d suggest looking through the Gearslutz.com forum for ideas. If you’re going to post, you should post in the low end section as you’ll get less rude people. The high end section is really for 3k mics or more. As with all forums, there will be some debating and you might meet rude people.
5 (a). Studio Monitor Speakers
Mixing on consumer speakers doesn’t work. To hear accurately what’s going on in your recording, you’re going to need a really nice pair of studio monitor speakers.
You want to place your monitor speakers in an equilateral triangle like this, with the tweet (small top speaker cone) at the height of your ears.
How to Choose a Pair of Studio Monitor Speakers
The worst way to pick a set of studio monitors speakers is by reading specs on a blog post like this. It’s quite personal. However, you do get what you pay for. Cheaper studio monitor speakers, especially those under 1k, are less accurate than more expensive monitor speakers.
When choosing a set of studio monitor speakers most people make the mistake of choosing the most exciting and impressive and best sounding monitor speaker.
You actually don’t want the ‘best sounding’ one. You want the ‘most accurate one’. That means you should be able to hear problems not have them glossed over and not noticeable because the speaker sounds so nice.
So if you take an unmixed song of yours into a music store to play back on the monitors, if it sounds good, those monitor speakers probably stuck.
What you really want to find is a set of speakers that commercial songs sound good on but your song sounds bad on. You ideally want to hear as many problems in your own song as possible.
Since we’re making a “killer home studio” lets compare some of the popular ‘best’ choices.
Top Nearfield Monitors – Medium Priced
Most home recording studios are pretty small compared to commercial recording studios. For a typical bedroom or lounge room size, you’re best buying a pair or Nearfield monitors, known as nearfields for short.
The Adam A7X monitors have been a very popular choice among mix engineers. I use their previous model, The Adam A7s. The original A7s had a little less bass and less extended highs. The X stands for extended. You can’t buy the originals anymore but the X is very popular.
The Adam A7s and A7Xs are very neural and that means making a mix sound good on them is more effort than a lot of cheaper monitors.
They are unique in that they are that they have a ribbon tweeter instead of a moving cone speaker. This creates a smoother top end that is less fatiguing to the ear during long mix sessions.
I’d recommend these for those looking to get into sound engineering and those looking for something serious.
These are the most expensive on the list at around $1500 street for a pair. There is a horizontal version, the Adam A77X at $2500 street for a pair. The horizontal version is meant for when you have lots of racks and you need to place the speaker higher but a horizontal speaker would cause the tweeter to be above ear height.
These are good value. Not quite as detailed as the Adams but are popular for being half the price. They are a little more hyped and will make your mix sound a little more impressive than it is. Their main popularity is their due to their price and affordability.
Yamaha never used to make studio monitor speakers. Their hi-fi, consumer speakers, the NS10s became very popular after Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson’s producer and engineer got annoyed of his studio monitors sounding too good and not translating well and went to a music store to buy a “typical” set of consumer speakers at the time to mix on. People started buying them after seeing he had a pair. They were easy to spot because of their unique yellow cone. Yamaha later started making studio monitors with white cones and people still buy them after seeing them in other people’s studios for the same reason, it’s unique white cone which has turned into a strange fashion statement.
For the typical artist who isn’t going to mix much and just wants good and fairly accurate sound, these are a good buy due to their price. Plus they look pretty lol. For more accuracy and detail, the Adam A7Xs are better if you plan to get into more serious sound engineering or start an actual recording studio.
These are medium priced on the list at around $739 street for a pair.
KRK Rokit 7 or 8 G4
These are popular in home recording studios and electronic music production setups among Dance and EDM guys because they have more bass and more treble with a bit of a mid range boost than the others.
Personally, I think they’re not very accurate and the most hyped monitors on the list and are a better choice for production rather than for both electronic music production and mixing. They are again most popular because of their price. For the price they are good but you get what you pay for.
You can always buy a sub and use a more accurate studio monitor.
These are the cheapest on the list at around $419.98 street for a pair of the 7″ or 598 street for the 8″. The 8″ ones go louder than the 7″ ones and might be slightly more accurate but that is debatable at this price range and quality level.
5 (b). Subs
Be careful putting a sub in your home recording studio, especially if you live in an apartment. That’s an easy way to piss off your neighbors and get evicted lol. You can learn to mix without a Sub, however, checking the bottom end can be very useful, especially for bass heavy music.
Subs are non-directional. You only need one, not a pair and it doesn’t have to be in the middle of the room. Get a friend to move your sub around the room while you’re sitting the ideal listening spot/sweet spot in your equilateral triangle of your nearfields. Listen to a reference track. Find a spot in the room where the bass notes sound even in volume to each other and the sub is punchy, not unbalanced.
Considering placing it on a block of concrete or a Primacoustic Recoil Stablizer or an Iso Acousitc Sub stand to increase accuracy and reduce vibrations through the floor to your neighbors or room mates who will now hate you for buying a sub. This will make them hate you a tiny weeny bit less.
Adam Sub 10
This is the ideal sub to match with the Adam A7Xs however, they will work with all studio monitor speakers on this list. They also come with a handy remote control to turn them on and off without having to keep getting up from the listening position.
- $1500 street. You can go with the cheaper Adam Sub 8s at $900 street but the Sub 10s are more powerful and will keep up with the gain of the Adam A7Xs so the Sub 10s are the recommended sub to pair with the Adam A7Xs if you can afford it. If you don’t need as much power you can get the Sub 8s.
KRK Sub 10
This is a cheap sub aimed at those buying those cheap KRK monitors. You can still use them with other monitors. These don’t have a remote but is significantly cheaper than the Adam Sub 10.
- $400 street.
Yamaha HS8 Sub
This is a cheaper sub aimed at those buying the Yamaha HS8 and HS series monitors. It’s only 8 inch as apposed to the 10 inch ones on the list here. Yamaha surprisingly doesn’t make a 10 inch sub. It won’t be as powerful as the 10 inch subs listed here but it is a safer choice for the Yamaha monitors given that it’s made with them in mind.
- $470 street.
5 (c). High End Nearfield Monitors for Rich Dudes (not needed)
These are out of the price range for most people and you should listen to them since they’re very pricey. I’m including them for the more rich people reading this guide and to make the guide more complete.
Personally I think if you’re learning, you should buy a cheaper pair than these. They are good monitors though but probably harder to learn to mix on as they can sometimes make your bad mix sound a little more flattering than it actually is, especially the Genetics.
These are best for experienced pro engineers that want more detail. Not really for artists unless you’re going to be bringing professional sound engineers into your home recording studio to work/mix for you in your own home.
Focal Twin Be 6.5″
These are a little similar sound wise to the Adam A7s but more in your face and go much louder. They are horizontal monitors as apposed to vertical which makes them a good choice when you have lots of rack gear on your desk.
I’ve met a lot of hip-hop engineer and producers and I’ve notice this seems to be one of the top choices for those in the hip-hop scene. I think the reason they are more popular than the Adam A7Xs for hip-hop engineers is probably because they’re a little more aggressive but still accurate.
They’re also better for larger rooms and for impressing clients while still having a detailed mid-range. Personally I like them but you should listen to them yourself.
They are not cheap $4400 street for a pair.
Adam S3v 9″
I’ve heard good things about this monitor speaker but it I personally haven’t had any experience mixing on them. Adam makes great monitors and I usually like their sound more than those from Genelec personally.
They are a massive $6000 street for a pair!
Genelec 8260A 10″
Engineers seem to either really love or hate these monitors.
I personally hate them. They are quite flattering. I feel like everything sounds good on them. I’m sure you can learn to mix on them but I found myself using a reference track more often than on other monitors. These are best for large rooms given their larger size of 10″. They have a huge amount of detail, more than the other monitors but I last time I worked in a studio with these I convinced the owner to buy a pair of Adam A7s in addition to them and my mixes on the A7s came out better.
I’m sure with practice you can learn to mix on them but they wouldn’t be my first choice for anyone. Also they’re hugely expensive. You should try mixing on these first to see if you like them.
I noticed these are also the studio monitors in the more money than sense home studio photo from earlier lol. More expensive isn’t always better for mixing on.
They are an insane $10,100 street for a pair!
6. Speaker Stands
The dumbest thing you can do is buy an expensive set of monitor speakers and then place them on your desk. I see this in home recording studios all of the time.
The issue with this is that the vibration from the speakers will run through your desk and cause you to hear all sorts of things that aren’t there. It also means your speakers will be too low. To hear them accurately, studio monitors should be placed so that the tweeter is at your ear height. This usually means raising them up.
Stands for Desktops
Those Auralex Mopads suck. They’re maybe better than nothing but they won’t stop all the vibrations from going through the desk. Foam alone is not enough.
If you’re going to be placing studio monitors on your desk, the best pre-made desktop stands at the moment are the Iso Acoustics stands and the Primacousitc Recoil Stabilizers. I’ve used both myself.
If you’ve got a rack studio desk and you’re speakers are up higher already, the Recoil Stabilizers will be better since they’re not very tall. For most typical office desks, the Iso Acoustics stands are better as they will raise your speakers up more in height, placing the tweeter closer to your ear height. Unless of course, you’re under 5.5 feet tall and your desk is the standard 29 inches high. In that case you’ll probably need the Recoil Stablizers instead as well as a slide out typing keyboard tray as your desk is too high for you.
Stands for Behind the Desk
Most engineers will tell you not to put speaker stands on a desk and to place them behind the desk. That is good advice if you have the space for it and you can find some stands that are the right height but doing so will mean your desk will be further away from the front wall giving you less floor space. That may or may not be a problem depending on the size of your room.
The good thing about stands is they might allow you to place the speakers closer to the font wall. You want the speakers as close to your front wall as possible to minimize reflections of the front wall.
Why Do People Recommend Speaker Stands Instead of Putting Speakers on Small Desk Stands?
One, the speakers will probably be closer to the font wall if they’re on stands. If you’re not using stands, place your desk as close as possible to the font wall. If you can’t do that due to cabling or the design of the desk, consider speaker stands and/or use acoustic panels on the front wall for absorption because there will be more reflections off the front wall.
Two, this general advice started before Primacoustic Recoil Stablizers and Iso Acousitc Stands were available. Before then, most people would use Auralex Mopads in their home studio which suck. Some sound engineers though, that didn’t have the space for speaker stands, to get around the issue of speaker accuracy reduction from placing speakers directly on a desk, would use slabs of concrete on the desks or clever inventions in states with looser gun control restrictions such as making small speaker stands filled with lead shot.
Both of those DIY solutions result in extremely heavy mass small stands which couple the speakers to the desk and reduce vibrations through the desk. These days, Iso Acousitc and Recoil Stablizers mean there is less of a need for clever DIY solutions as they also reduce vibrations from the speakers through the desk.
Improving Floor Stands
Floor stands that are hollow can resonate. Also, most floor stands are light, passing some vibrations through to the floor and making your monitor speakers less accurate.
You can fix both of these issues by filling the stands with sand. Just be careful to make sure any cracks or holes are sealed or you’ll have a mess.
If you have a gun license, you can increase the mass even more by filling them with lead shot. Although, states like California have banned lead shot and lead is toxic so sand is safer and good enough for most people.
I’ve also seen many home studios use blocks of solid concrete for speaker stands lol. That works too.
Although expensive, if you want something light and effective, you can buy Argosy’s floor stands which have Iso Acousitc Recoil Stablizers permanently mounted into them.
Or can also place Recoil Stabilizers on top of generic speaker stands to reduce their vibrations. They do cost more than a bag of sand though lol. Personally, I’d use both but considering most home studios don’t do either, just doing one will make your speakers sound more accurate.
7. Mic Preamps (almost essential!)
The microphone is only really half of the sound. The other half comes from the mic preamp. There is no point in using fancy mic preamp if you microphones suck but if you’ve invested in a nice studio condenser mic at around $500 or more, you’ll most likely benefit from a nice mic preamp.
This is the area I’ve noticed most home studio guys slack off. It’s also pretty confusing and subjective. Once you buy one mic preamp, you end up buying more for different colors and flavors.
Is it essential?
Whether it is essential or not I guess is debatable. If you don’t know how to mix, it doesn’t matter how good your gear is, it will still most likely suck. Since most people making a home recording studio are artists, they usually can’t mix and buying a nice mic preamp won’t magically mix your vocals for you. It will increase the quality of the source recording though.
Also, there is no point in doing this in an untreated room as the recording quality will still suck if you haven’t treated the room with acoustic panels.
So if you’re just recording demos at home, maybe this is not as important but if you’re sending your recordings off to be professionally mixed and mastered by a sound engineer or music producer like myself, buying a dedicated mic preamp will give your recording a boost in quality and get you closer to a professional sound.
If you’re doing VO work for commercials or flim, a high quality mic preamp is essential.
Dedicated mic preamp vs internal interface preamps
As mentioned earlier in this guide, the gain knob on your interface is the preamp. Just how it’s impossible to record a mic without any gain, it’s impossible to record a microphone without a preamp.
That preamp is doing more than just turning the mic up, it’s also effecting the tone of the microphone.
Analogue desks in recording studios, especially vintage ones and huge large format desks from SSL, Neve, API, Trident, Focurite all has amazing preamps that were very expensive to make. One preamp in one of those desks costs more than your interface.
Luckily you don’t have to buy a whole analogue mixer to get a high quality preamp. In fact, you can buy a small rack unit, desktop unit, or 500 series unit to get the sound of a classic console.
Older analogue desks had input and output transformers. These are often too large to fit into most interfaces but are an important part of getting that warmer and fuller analogue sound.
Zen Pro Audio Preamp Comparison Music Player
I’m going to give some preamp suggestions below. You can’t really go wrong with any of these and they’ll be better than your interface preamps.
It would be best to demo them yourself but since that’s impossible for most people you might find the Clipalator on the Zen Pro Audio website useful.
Slate VMS One
This is a cheap preamp to go with the Slate VMS mic. It’s clean and has no character. It lacks input and output transformers but if you’re using the Slate ML-1 mic, it is a good choice since it’s cheap the the software modeling is based on it.
That means the Slate VMS software mic emulations and preamp emulations will be more accurate if you use this preamp. The differences will be minimal though if you use a very high quality clean preamp like the ISA One mentioned below which is why the Slate ML-1 and VMS One preamp are now sold separately instead of bundled together. Together though, they make a nice package.
If you have the Slate ML-1, you can use the included Neve 1073 software emulation preamp with it and it should be more accurate than using it with your interface preamps.
- Clean sound. Specifically designed for the Slate VMS ML-1
- Slate VMS software will be more accurate since it was modeled/designed using this mic pre
- Desktop preamp makes it suitable for most home studios
- The clean sound might not be ideal when using other microphones
- No high pass filter
- 1/4″ inputs are on the rear instead of on the front.
- No input and/or output transformers
- Can’t be rackmounted
- $299 Street
UAD Software Unison Preamp Addons
Not really a preamp but if you have a UAD interface, you can get one or more of the software unison preamps. It adds the harmonic distortion and EQ changes of certain mic preamps. I don’t see it as a replacement for the real thing but they’re certainly useful. I can hear a difference between the real hardware units and the software plugins but the plugins are only a fraction of the price of the hardware units.
You shouldn’t really be using these before the Slate ML-1 mic during tracking though as it will mess up the mic emulations but you can still use them afterwards in your DAW as a plugin even though the unison part (impedance switching) won’t work, it will still give you a bit of the vibe of that preamp though if you use it in your DAW. For other mics, it is more useful.
Daking Mic Pre One
This mic preamp is based on the Trident A-Series preamp design which is loved by engineers all over the world. It has a nice presence boost as well as a strong bottom end giving a larger than life sound.
A little too colored for the Slate ML-1 but good for most other mics if you want a nice clean but analogue sound. I have used it with the Slate ML-1 and it can sound good in some instances but it makes the mic emulations less accurate even though they will still give you a tonal change. For other mics, a love this preamp.
This unit is great because it sits on your desk and gives you that classic Trident A-Series sound.
It has a Jensen output transformer which gives you an awesome analogue sound.
- Full sound with a nice top end
- Modeled after the Trident A range console preamps
- Hi-pass filter – Variable
- Front 1/4″ input
- Input Jensen transformer
- Desktop preamp makes it suitable for most home studios
- Reasonably affordable
- No on/off power switch
- No impedance knob makes it less suitable for ribbon microphones
- Can’t be rackmounted. Get the Daking Mic Pre Two if you want to put it into a rack or rack desk.
- $649 street
Focusrite ISA One
This mic preamp is based on the Focusrite Forte consoles. It has a Lundahl transformer, same as ISA 110 in the original Forte consoles. This also gives you an an awesome analogue sound.
Many people have used it with the Slate ML-1 with good results but it’s also suited for many other mics.
- Authentic Focusrite console preamp sound
- Impedance knob makes it a suitable for ribbon microphones
- Hi-pass filter
- Front 1/4″ input
- Desktop preamp makes it suitable for most home studios
- Reasonably affordable
- Hi-pass filter is fixed, not variable
- Can’t be rackmounted
- $599 street
Usually professional sound engineers buy this not home studio guys but this gives you the sound of a Neve 1073 preamp without buying a classic $100k vintage Analogue Neve desk. It requires a 500 series lunchbox chassis to work.
The Neve 1073 is used on artists such as Mariah, Snoop Dogg and has been used just as much on pop, hip-hop and R&B records as it has on rock records. It has a Carnhill transformer and it’s own unique sound.
I should point on that this preamp can be emulated in the Slate Virtual Mix rack and is not the most ideal choice for the Slate ML-1 mic for that reason, a cleaner mic is better for the Slate mics and software but for other mics it is awesome.
- Authentic Neve preamp sound
- Desktop preamp makes it suitable for most home studios
- Front 1/4″ input
- Transformers & high end circuitry
- No hi-pass filter
- Requires a 500 series chassis/power supply
- $995 street
Again, usually engineers buy this not home studio guys but this gives you the sound of a API preamp heard on many famous rock records without buying an API desk.
This is again, too colored for the Slate ML-1 mic but is great for other mics. Most guys doing rock love this preamp for it’s full, warm and if your face tone.
API actually invented the 500 series format and this preamp has the identical circuitry and design to those in API’s own consoles.
- Authentic API preamp sound
- Transformers & hi-end circuitry
- No impedance knob
- No hi-pass filter
- Requires a 500 series chassis/power supply
- $850 street
8. Instruments for Composition, Beat-making/Electronic Music Production
Unless you’re just a vocalist, you’re going to be placing instruments in your home studio. If you’re a guitarist, bassist, drummer, brass or woodwinds player, what to buy is pretty obvious.
If you’re doing electronic music production, what to buy is more complex.
Those that can play fluent piano will most likely want an 88 note digital piano. For those that don’t play or are starting out, things start getting complex and confusing.
Although most young people these days seem perfectly happy clicking around and programming drums, for those like me who want to be more hands on, drum pad controllers are great.
Most people will lay a kick and a snare down, then some hats. Maybe a melody (although I just play the keyboard/piano instead).
You can also sample and slice vinyl or loops.
Some people are even talented enough to do it all live like this dude.
This certainly seems more enjoyable to me than using a bunch of loops or programming stuff in the with the mouse.
You can also play drums on the keyboard instead and still use the Maschine or MPC software or you can get something like the plugin Geist 2.
I like the Maschine software better than Geist myself but you have to buy the Maschine hardware to get a license for it.
Any retail model Maschine will give you the software license so I think you’d be better off with a Maschine Mikro for $269 with Maschine for free than Geist for $199 and no hardware.
Maschine Vs MPC
In many forums you’ll see debates over which is better and what the difference are.
This is the best comparison video I’ve found so far on the Maschine Mk3 vs the MPC Live.
Note, the MPC live 2 adds a few extra buttons and a speaker as shown below by the same dude since he posted the first comparison video.
The Maschine Mk3 is the newest model in the NI Maschine lineup.
Since the Maschine Studio is discontinued, it’s the present top of the line model, even though the older and larger Maschine Studio had it’s own dedicated jog wheel and edit buttons. Most of the same functions can be accessed by using the Shift button and pads or other multi-purpose buttons.
Compared to the discontinued Maschine Studio, it is slimmer, can be USB powered and has a built in audio interface.
Although you probably wouldn’t want to use it as your main audio interface, the idea behind this model as opposed to the Maschine Studio was designed to only sit on a desk in your studio.
Whereas the Maschine Mk3 is smaller and slimmer and has more features designed for making music both in the studio or on the go with your laptop.
- Comes with Maschine software
- Also works with other software
- Color screens and lots of buttons
- USB Powered
- Built in audio interface
- Missing the edit section and extra dedicated buttons of the older Maschine Studio
- $649 street
You can get the Mikro if you want to save some money but you miss out on the color screens, the encoders and you’ll be using the mouse more as opposed to being able to do everything on the Maschine. You still get the full Maschine software.
- Comes with Maschine software
- Also works with other software
- USB Powered
- Smaller and therefore more portable
- Less dedicated buttons and knobs compared to the Maschine mk3 and studio
- No color screens
- No built-in audio interface
MIDI Keyboard Controllers
If you’re going to be making hip-hop beats or doing electronic music, you should get a MIDI controller keyboard.
You should actually learn to play the piano/keyboard if you’re serious about making electronic music or beats. Using loops and samples is lame and not fun. I teach private one on one piano and beat-making lessons here at Current Sound in Hollywood, Los Angeles.
What MIDI Keyboard Controller to Get?
Similar to what type of home studio you want to make the style of MIDI controller you should get depends on how serious of a setup you want.
If you’re taking piano lessons, you should go with a full 88 note fully weighted hammer action keyboard.
If you’re just going to play a few notes and basic stuff, you can buy a cheap synth action MIDI controller.
Types of MIDI Keyboard Controllers
Number of keys
MIDI Keyboards are usually either
- 25 keys
- 49 keys
- 61 keys
- 88 keys
The more keys you have, the more octaves you can play with both hands. A full piano is 88 keys. Each octave is 12 keys. The more keys the better.
So if more keys are better, why would you choose less?
If you want your keyboard in a slide out tray under your desk or on top of your desk, space is an issue. A small keyboard might fit on the desk in front of you but a larger keyboard might have to be over to the side or under the desk.
Keybed action and weight
The keys are what you play. How they feel and how responsive they are will depend largely on the type of action.
Be careful. Most MIDI controllers suck and feel terrible. They know people will compare all the features and buy the most pretty one with the most buttons, pads, knobs and pretty lights without playing it.
Most people buying a MIDI controller forget about the keys themselves lol. Ideally you should play them in a store. Some will feel like crap, others will feel nice. If you don’t like the feel of the keybed action, you might not be playing the keyboard much.
There are 4 types of keybed action
- Synth action – bouncy spring action, not weighted
- Semi-weighted – slightly more weighting than synth action but not much different
- Fully weighted Hammer action – close to an upright piano feel
- Fully weighted Gradient Hammer action – close to a grand piano feel
Often, the better the action, the more expensive the keyboard.
Fatar in Italy make a lot of the keybeds in expensive keyboards and synths. Here is a nice list of keyboard, synths and the keybeds they use.
Best Synth Action MIDI Controller – Komplete Kontrol S49 & S61
The best synth action keybed is the Fatar TP/9S keybed with is used in the Nord Lead, Access Virus and many other high end synths.
At present, the only MIDI controller with a Fatar TP/9S is the Native Instruments S49 and S61. It’s expensive but it’s higher quality than all the others. It’s the best feel you’re going to get with a synth action MIDI controller. Although, synth action is nothing like piano/hammer action.
The lights can also be used to show you scales which is good for both practicing and learning.
Consider if you need and/or want the keyboard on your desk or not. The S61 is more ideal if you have the room for it. If you’re placing it off to the side or making a slide out keyboard tray, the S88 might be the better choice for serious players (mentioned later).
- Best synth action keybed available
- Lights are pretty. Shows you scales and where samples are in Battery.
- Control Maschine from the keyboard
- Light guide shows scales and samples and triggers.
- Browse sounds and load instruments from the keyboard
- You can only tweak a synth from the Keyboard if you open the Komplete Kontrol plugin first, then load your synth plugin. This is dumb and annoying.
- You can only browse presets for certain synths that have NKS presets. I recommend Preset Magician to convert non-NKS synths to be compatible.
- It’s expensive man.
- $669 – Komplete Kontrol S49
- $779 – Komplete Kontrol S61
2nd Best Synth Action MIDI Controller – Roland A Series
The A-49, A-300, A-500, A-800 all use a high quality custom synth keybed by Roland. It’s the same keybed they use in their higher end synths. It is of course, synth action.
Unlike the Komplete Kontrol, it has less software control but it’s cheap. If you’re in the market for the cheapest keyboard that doesn’t suck, this is the one. The keybed is better than the other keyboards in the price bracket.
Remember, you can always buy a separate Pad Controller. Buying a keyboard with bad keys and bad pads isn’t smart.
Rather than wasting money on extra control features you might not use, it’s a simple but good quality keyboard. Best of all, they’re cheap.
- High quality synth action keybed as used in expensive Roland synths.
- Small footprint/size
- No Pads
- No light guide
- The A-49 has very minimal control
- Can’t browse and load plugins from the keyboard.
- $199 A-49 (49 keys)
- $239 A-300Pro (32 keys)
- $329 A-500Pro (49 keys)
- $399 A-800Pro (61 keys)
World’s Only 64 Key Gradient Hammer Action Keyboard
Small MIDI Keyboards are usually synth action. The discontinued Roland RD-64 is the only Gradient Hammer Action midi keyboard. If you don’t have the space for a full length 88 note keyboard, this is one to consider.
It’s technically a keyboard as it has built in sounds but it works great as a MIDI controller.
It has been discontinued so I guess it wasn’t popular. I guess I wrote this article too late lol. I thought it was a good idea as many people don’t have the room for a full length 88 note gradient hammer action digital piano on their desk.
For the price though, you can get a good 88 note gradient hammer action keyboard. That’s probably why it didn’t sell well. It should have been cheaper. This is just if you need the desk space for other things and want a keyboard in front of you. You can only get them used now.
- Proper grand piano graded hammer action keybed
- No pretty lights, pads, knobs or sliders. Just a nice keybed.
- Only 64 keys.
- Discontinued and hard to find new. Most likely you’ll have to buy it used if you want one.
- Unknown – check eBay.com and Reverb.com
88 Note Gradient Hammer Action MIDI Controllers & Keyboards
In this category there are many options. I’ll tell you which ones are the best.
Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2
This has an ok action. Unlike the S49 and S61 which use the top of the line Fatar synth keybed, this doesn’t use the top of the line Fatar hammer action keybed. It does use a Fatar hammer action keybed, just not their best one.
Native Instruments won’t say what the action is in the Mk2 but they just say Fatar action. Since it’s not the TP-40 or the TP-40 Wood, my guess is it is the Fatar TP/100LR.
I haven’t played it, I only played the Mk1 which I didn’t like. The Mk2 is supposed to have a better keybed.
This keyboard is a slight trade off in keybed for the most amount of control in terms of browsing sounds and automating parameters.
- Hammer action (although not the best on the market)
- Lights are pretty. Shows you scales and where samples are in Battery.
- Control Maschine from the keyboard
- Light guide shows scales and samples and triggers.
- Browse sounds and load instruments from the keyboard
- Reasonable price for a fully weighted keyboard
- Not the best action available
- You can only tweak a synth from the Keyboard if you open the Komplete Kontrol plugin first, then load your synth plugin. This is dumb and annoying.
- You can only browse presets for certain synths that have NKS presets. I recommend Preset Magician to convert non-NKS synths to be compatible.
- $1049 street
Studiologic SL-88 Grand
This keyboard uses the Fatar TP-40 Wood action which is Fatar’s top keyboard action. Fatar owns Studiologic so it’s the cheapest way to get their top action. The price of the keyboard is about the price of the keybed alone. They keybed is the best Fatar keybed but expensive.
The SL-88 Grand has USB midi as well as physical midi ports for connecting to other keyboards.
It doesn’t have all the fancy software control the Komplete Kontrol has but it has wooden keys that feel like a real grand piano.
- Top of the line Fatar TP-40 Wood keybed
- The Pitchbend and mod wheel are small and non-standard
- No fancy sliders, lights or pads.
- $899 street
Studiologic SL-88 Studio
Although it looks similar, this is a cut down version of the SL-88 Grand. Instead of a top of the line Fatar keybed it uses the TP/100LR which is either the same or similar to the Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2 keybed.
The good thing about it is the price. It’s cheaper than the Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2. If you don’t mind using a mouse to browse sounds and can do without a light guide strip, you can get this and save some cash. You still get a gradient hammer action keybed.
- Cheap for a hammer action keyboard.
- Same or similar action to the Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2
- Not the best action.
- No light guide
- No extra faders, knobs or pads.
- Same weird small mod and pitch knobs as the SL-88 Grand
- $599 street
What To Consider Before Buying More Gear…
Home recording studios are small studios. Space is the enemy. That makes gear the enemy too lol. There is not much point in buying speakers larger than 8″ for a 12ft by 12ft room or smaller. There is also also not much point in filling a room full of racks you don’t need and placing them far away so you can’t reach them. Buying or making furniture is a good option before loading up the space with stuff in a disorganized manor.
Gear Vs Ears
Most people with a home studio think buying better gear will solve all of their problems. You don’t want to hear it but, if you only need one good mic, preamp, interface and speakers all around the 1k range each plus a DAW and a good compressor and EQ plugin. You also need to have good acoustics and a reasonable amount of isolation from the outside world.
Once you have that, you’re not upgrading, you’re usually just buying stuff you don’t need because you haven’t learnt to use what you have.
That is like buying a new guitar because you haven’t taken guitar lessons.
Sure, the new gear will give you a tiny increase maybe but not enough to make your mix not suck.
“It’s not the gear, it’s the ear.”– Tom Watson, Music Producer & Sound Engineer
Buying too much gear isn’t going to solve your problems.
But All I Need is One More Thing…
The reality is, if you followed my guide and make a decent home recording studio, theoretically, if you were friends with a mixing engineer, he could most likely walk into your home recording studio, record and mix you and from the end product, you’ll think you went into a professional studio. That’s pretty cool.
Learn to use what you have. It’s true that you will probably never reach professional mix & mastering engineer standard but buying gear isn’t going to solve your problems. If you don’t believe me, just book a local recording studio without an engineer and see what your song sounds like after. Money can make a mix sound better… buy hiring a mix engineer to mix your song, not by purchasing gear that you don’t need.
Hold off on buying that piece of gear you think you need. Buy it if or when you ever make a good mix with what you have.
Overbuying Vs Under-buying Gear
I’ve noticed most home recording studios either have poor quality gear, or too much gear that they don’t need or know how to use. They rarely seem to be in the middle. The ones that are in the middle is when a pro sound engineer makes a home studio. The average consumer seems to always get it wrong and get sold the wrong thing but the sales person in the music store.
Don’t skimp on the main items, microphone, pre-amp, acoustics, audio interface, speakers. You only need one high quality one of each of those for recording vocals. The amount of money wasted buying multiple is very high, you would be far better to book a recording studio in the area to test out what microphones and pre-amps you like on your voice and then just purchase your favorite for at home. This is what most famous singers and rappers do. You might not be able to afford the exact same thing but most manufactures have lower end versions and there are also some cheaper clones on the market so it gives you a better starting point.
19″ Rack Gear Vs 500 Series
Computers have gotten smaller, so small that they can fit into your pocket (smartphone). Desktop computers in recording studios have recently started to be replaced with laptops, iMacs and Trashcan Mac Pros. So why haven’t those large 19″ racks gotten smaller? Can’t you make a similar rack smaller….
Well they have.
What Are 500 Series Racks
A very large number of 19″ racks also come in 500 Series format, sometimes referred to as lunchbox format. One 500 series rack is super small, fitting into the palm of your hand, yet it can contain almost all the electronics of a larger 19″ rack. The difference is, is has no power supply or connections. The power supply and connections take up the bulk of the space in most 19″ racks. The 19″ format has a computer like card slot similar to what you’d see on a graphics card which plugs into socket designed to hold and power 500 Series racks. This socket is called a 500 series chassis or sometimes just called, power supply.
500 Series Explosion
API invented the 500 series which uses the exact same modules in their desks but in a freestanding small form factor. Eventually other manufactures starting making their own modules and chassis and there were a massive demand for 500 series units and racks.
For a while, every manufacturer got on the 500 series bandwagon, all the big names. API, Neve, SSL, Chandler, Daking, Moog. As well as smaller but still large manufactures like, DBX, Radial, Avedis Audio, Heritage Audio, Purple Audio, Aphex, Phoenix Audio, Grace Design.
This meant, instead of buying a massive Neve, API or SSL console, you could buy a small 500 series preamp or compressor, something you sometimes couldn’t even get in a 19″ rack.
500 Series – Market Acceptance & Issues
Smaller manufactures started making 500 series modules that were off-spec and started drawing too much power and then cheap Chinese knock offs of 500 series chassis starting appearing with noisy power supplies. People starting thinking that 500 series modules didn’t sound as good as 19″ ones because they were put into an inferior chassis which effected the sound.
Large manufactures like Neve fought back with higher power chasis to hold ‘out of spec’ modules that drew to much power but it became hard to change people’s mind once they thought 19″ gear sounded better.
The reality is, placed in a good quality chassis, 500 series modules are great. The only problem is that a good quality power supply/chassis is expensive and can cost around 1k. Most home studio people buy cheaper 500 series chassis which can color the sound. However the modules themselves are made for the pro studio market and are usually very high quality.
500 Series – Decline
The main manufactures claim the 500 series boom has come to a halt and many aren’t making new modules. Some like Daking stopped manufacturing them completely. The cheap power supply issue has clouded people’s mind. Musicians and sound engineers are stubborn people, usually basing their decisions of emotions rather than facts. They know 19″ rack gear sounds good. Now they’ve head some people complain about 500 series so it must be bad. Those in the know like myself think they’re great.
Future of 500 Series
Personally I think 500 Series racks make way more sense for a home recording studio than 19″ racks. Just look at the picture of my desk. See under the lamp in the background. That a 500 series chassis. It’s holding 2 mic preamps, one headphone preamp, a compressor and a USB audio interface! That would otherwise take up 5 19″ racks! Even more if they are 2ru high. Instead it takes up a small space on the desk and puts them easily in reach. Also, it has a handle on the side and you can easily pick up the whole chassis and take it with you to another studio. Also, you can flick switches on the back to connect them to each other instead of using cables.
I think 500 Series will make a comeback. If not, another small form factor will take over.
Should You Go 500 Series?
Before you start buying a bunch of 19″ racks for your home studio, have a look into 500 Series instead. The cost of each 500 Series rack is often less than the 19″ counterpart but the upfront cost of the chassis throws most home studio guys off.
If you’re only recording vocals and don’t need many racks, you could get just a desktop pre-amp such as the Daking Mic Pre One or the Focusrite ISA One. If you go with the the Apollo range of interfaces such as the Apollo Twin, you get real-time no latency compression so you won’t need to buy a compressor.
Control Surfaces – Do you need them?
Control surfaces are luxury. All they do is replace the mouse. They look like a mixing desk or digital mixer and work in a similar way except the computer (DAW and plugins) does all of the processing.
Many people joke that they are just overpriced mice lol. Well that is pretty much true. All they do is control the computer and DAW, you know what else can do that… a mouse.
So if control surfaces are just like mice, why do people buy them?
Recording studios went from analogue desks recording to tape. Then DAWs came a long and people replaced the tape machine with the computer.
Since then plugins have come out that offer the same features of analogue desks (other than the preamps) right inside the DAW. Even certain models of famous mixers such as API, Neve, SSL, Trident, have all had various plugin emulations for their EQs and compressors.
Mixing with a mouse is not the same experience.
With a mouse, you can only adjust one parameter at a time. You can only turn one dial at a time, move one fader at a time and you have to keep clicking and dragging.
This can be slower, inefficient and will cause RSI when mixing for long hours.
Why professional Recording studios need control surfaces more than Home Recording Studios do.
In a professional recording studio you’re paying per hour and/or per day for the engineer. Time is literally money. The longer the engineer takes to do something, the more you pay.
Since using a mouse can be slower, it makes sense for professional studios to have control surfaces.
2. Ergonomics & RSI
Doing the same motion over and over again will eventually result in R.S.I (Repetitive Strain Injury).
Mixing with the mouse will mean thousands of clicks with your index finger. Using a mouse for mixing requires small precise movements which favors less than optimal mouse and wrist positioning.
The average business, even for heavy computer users such as admin jobs, doing the job requires using the mouse occasionally.
Mixing with the mouse requires using the mouse constantly.
Constant use of a mouse is a problem
This puts repeated pressure on your nerves which can lead to wrist pain, arm pain, back and neck pain (from reaching) and in sever cases, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
To avoid RSI and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you have to vary your movement.
This can be as simple as working a side job where you’re not using the mouse.
The more you mix, the more of a problem RSI and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is likely to be a problem. That’s where control surfaces can help.
Using a control surfaces requires you to vary your movements. Reducing RSI.
3. Familiarity & Workflow
When control surfaces first came out, they were and still are, most popular because they feel like working on an Analogue or now, Digital mixing desk.
There is no doubt they are more enjoyable to use than clicking around on a screen.
Plus they look cool and people like to look cool.
Should you get a Control Surface for your Home Recording Studio?
Let me help you decide…
For those studying sound engineering or wanting to eventually get a job in a recording, you should get a control surface.
If you know how to mix and you’re spending half your day or more mixing on a regular basis, a control surface is a great way to help reduce RSI and speed up your workflow a little. For those people, getting a control surface is a no-brainer.
If you’ve done live sound in the past or worked in a recording studio on an analogue mixer, you’ll probably want a control surface.
Most artists just want to record at home every now and then and aren’t going to spend countless hours mixing or learning to mix. If that sounds like you, purchasing a control surface is a waste of money but might make you happy.
A control surface is enjoyable to use and will probably make mixing more fun.
If you like flashy lights, have the cash and want your studio to look cool. Getting a control surface will help you feel cool and special. Just like a gold chain around your neck, there are plenty of artists happy to show off their studio with a flashy control surface, even if they don’t know how to use it or mix lol.
To summarize, the reality is, most artists don’t know how to mix, don’t want to learn and probably don’t need a control surface. For those it is of course nice to have but not necessary.
For those that will be mixing more or who want to learn, you might want to look into getting a control surface to help reduce RSI, make mixing more enjoyable and speed up your workflow.
Control Surface Options
Although it might seem like there are lots of Control Surfaces available, functionality wise, there isn’t.
They start to become the almost the same. That’s because Control Surfaces come in 5 different protocol types.
The protocol used will determine the amount of control you have over your DAW.
- Mackie Control protocol surfaces
- Mackie HUI surfaces
- Eucon Desks
- Old DigiDesign, ProTools only desks
- Presonus Studio One native mode desks
Out of all of the protocols, Eucon is the best as it has deeper control of the DAW and works in most of the major DAWs; Logic, Cubase, Nuendo and Pro Tools. It allows for the most control of the functions in those DAW. Eucon Control surfaces can also run in Mackie Control mode to control almost all other DAWs that allow for 3rd party control surfaces.
The main thing that sucks about Eucon is that Avid (the company that makes Pro Tools) is a monopoly and is the only company that has the license to manufacture Eucon enabled Control Surfaces. That means you’re stuck paying more for a Eucon control surface. Also, I’ve seen people complain about issues with Mackie Control support with more recent versions of Eucon which makes me concerned and makes it hard to recommend for people not using a Eucon DAW like Cubase, Logic, Nuendo and Pro Tools.
For both of these reasons, if the DAW you’re wanting to use doesn’t support Eucon, you might want to go with a more affordable Mackie Control protocol control surface for your DAW instead since you’ll have the same level of control anyway and it will cost you less.
Although you can use a Mackie Control protocol control surface with Logic or Cubase, a Eucon control surface is much better since you get more control.
Avoid Mackie HUI. You only really see them on the used market. They work in Pro Tools so they’re good for that. In fact they work in most DAWs but in all cases, they offer a little less control than Mackie Control and to get better than Mackie Control you need Eucon or a controller specifically for the DAW that runs in Native mode.
Presonus has it’s own desks which are ideal for Studio One as they run in Native mode and have deep control for Studio One. Studio One doesn’t support Eucon so their own brand control surfaces are the best option.
For Pro Tools
Again, I don’t recommend that anyone uses Pro Tools in a home studio but some might, especially if you work as a mix engineer from home for a professional recording studio that uses Pro Tools or you’re working with someone who insists that you use it. So here’s the deal with Pro Tools control surfaces.
Pro Tools supports Eucon and Mackie HUI but not Mackie Control which most non-Avid branded desks are these days.
If you’re using Pro Tools you could either get a new Avid branded Eucon desk or you could get an old used DigiDesign Icon or C24. The others won’t work with newer versions of Pro Tools. Avid may drop support for these in the future because they are assholes and stopped supporting the Control 24 and ProControl which no longer work on 64bit Pro Tools. For that reason, I’d advise against it. Also they don’t work with other DAWs at all and you might want to swap DAW one day.
Pro Tools supports Eucon as it’s own by Avid. All the new control surfaces for Pro Tools will be Eucon based and also can control other DAWs.
For Presonus Studio One
Presonus Studio One doesn’t actually have Eucon support but they have their own brand control surfaces that have deep integration with Studio One. I discuss these more later.
No 3rd Party Control Surface Support For Maschine and MPC Software
If you’re using Maschine or MPC, your Maschine or MPC hardware is basically also your control surface.
The Maschine and MPC software doesn’t support any 3rd party control surfaces at all. You can only use their Pad Controller hardware to control the plugins and mixer instead of professional studio mixer control surfaces.
However, you can compose in Maschine or MPC and still mix it on a Control surface if you use it in conjunction with another DAW.
You can either bounce the tracks down to audio to mix them in another DAW which is pretty easy.
Or you can do what I do which is to run the Maschine or MPC software inside your DAW as a plugin / muti-output instrument and split their mixer into 16 outputs. This usually works fine for me as I mainly use them for drums and do the rest of my sequencing in my actual DAW so I don’t have a high track count coming from Maschine. If I need more I just add another instance of the plugin and you have another 16 outs.
In fact, when I’m mixing, since I sequence in my DAW (Cubase) and not in Maschine in the first place, it’s actually quicker just to make multiple instances of different sounds in Maschine as I’m producing than it is to route everything. That way it splits everything over the mixer/control surface. Some things I like to play at the same time like all the drums or kick and snare for example but then I duplicate the tracks and have just one element on each track so I can mix it.
I’ll do a video of it in the future. Follow me on YouTube if you want to see what I mean.
For Ableton Live
Ableton Live only has Mackie Control support and doesn’t have Eucon support.
So if you’re only using Ableton, you can save some money by just buying a control surface that uses Mackie Control.
Buying an Avid branded Eucon controller for Ableton isn’t that smart as it will run in Mackie Control mode anyway but the level of control will be the same as a cheaper control surface that runs in Mackie Control.
FL Studio doesn’t support Eucon or Mackie Control extenders but does support one Mackie Control unit meaning your limited to 8 faders. So don’t buy any more than 8 faders for FL Studio.
Don’t buy a control surface and expect it to work in Luna. At the time of writing this, Luna doesn’t have any control surface support at all. They might add it in the future.
Good Control Surface Choices
The faderport is almost not a control surface at all. The reason I’m mentioning it is because it’s dirt cheap and aimed at home studio people who aren’t mixing much at all which less face it, is most artists.
This one doesn’t eliminate the mouse when mixing but it will follow whatever track you click on and let you adjust the volume and pan.
The transport controls and shortcuts make it a workflow improvement for every home studio user who doesn’t have another control surface. Plus it’s dirt cheap.
It uses both Mackie Control and Mackie HUI so it will work in every DAW but in Presonus Studio One and Ableton Live, it has native integration for more control.
- Good for transport control
- Works in most DAWs (Studio One, Cubase, Logic, Ableton, Pro Tools).
- No plugin control
- Very minimal control
- Some users have reported some functions not working in Fl Studio
- $219.95 street.
The X-Touch is the most popular Control Surface for most home studios for three reasons.
It’s cheap, it’s cheap and it’s cheap lol.
It runs in Mackie Control protocol.
Eucon is better but only really Logic and Cubase are the two popular DAWs in home studios that use Eucon.
Presonus has it’s own dedicated native control surface which is better so that makes this the best affordable control surface for Ableton, FL Studio, Reaper and Cakewalk given that they don’t support Eucon and therefore,
It also works well is Logic and Cubase and is a good option for the price if you don’t want to spend extra on buying a Eucon control surface like the Avid S1.
- Price. – It’s the cheapest of it’s size.
- Exterior Build quality. – It’s made from metal instead of plastic. The exterior build quality is even better than many more expensive units.
- Works with most DAWs
- 8 faders and encoders
- Pretty – It looks cool
- You can buy X-Touch extenders to add on more faders and more encoders for extra control and a more serious setup.
- It has LCD scribble strips
- It has VU meters which the Avid Artist Mix Units don’t
- Less control over your DAW than a Eucon control surface – This is a big con and a deal breaker for a lot of professionals but for general home studio use, you might find it acceptable.
- Cheap internal components and louder fader motors and movement than some more expensive control surfaces.
- Viewing angle of the screens/scribble strips is apparently not great according to the reviews
- $599 street.
The Avid S1 is the successor to the Avid Artist Mix and is now the first/cheapest controller in the Eucon protocol mixer category for maximum DAW control and deep integration.
This is for serious home studio mixing and pro studios.
The S1 has 8 faders and encodes which can be expanded by simply buying more Avid S1 units or Avid Pro Tools dock.
It’s literally the only option for an 8 fader Eucon control surface unless you want to go to try to pick up a used Avid Artist Mix.
The big difference between the Avid S1 and the Artist Mix is that the S1 can hold an iPad or tablet which when running the Pro Tools Control app, gives you extra visual information and touch screen control.
- Eucon protocol control surface means a deeper level of control of your DAW
- 8 faders and encoders
- Just buy more units to expand the level of control and channel count
- Unlike the X-Touch, when placed side by side, they give the appearance of one mixer
- Smaller sized units may allow for more optimal placement
- Higher build quality than the older Avid Artist Mix units
- Can hold a iPad or Android tablet in the back running the Avid Control app
- Less encoders than the Avid S3 and higher
- Screens makes it hard to access gear behind it
- Deeper than the older Avid Artist mix units also makes it less practical to place other gear behind it. Although it is less wide so you could possibly place gear next to it.
- You have to buy an iPad or Android Tablet to use with it
- Check to see if your DAW supports Eucon. Logic, Cubase and Pro Tools are the main popular DAWs supporting Eucon. Others only run in Mackie Control if they support that, giving no more control than much cheaper alternatives of similar build quality.
- $1295 + the cost of an iPad or Android Tablet
Avid Artist Mix – Used or Old Stock
The main disadvantage of the S1 compared to the now older Artist Mix is that the screen and/or screen dock blocks anything placed behind it. So furniture like this, is not possible with the S1.
This is an awesome setup for serious mixing and recording. The furniture is expensive but it’s pre-made by Sterling Modular and ready to go.
If you’re like me and have stuff you want to access behind your control surface and don’t mind not having those extra touch screen on the S1, you can often still find the Avid Artist Mix units on the used market.
The one with the screen in the picture is the discontinued Avid Artist Control which is effectively replaced by the newer Avid Artist Dock. Next to that are three Avid Artist Mix units side by side with the legs and end caps removed to create the look of one larger mixer.
- Same Eucon control as the Avid S1 except for a few function buttons and track color lights
- Less depth and no screen makes it better for placing in front of other gear
- Multiple Artist Mix units can screw into each other to be physically joined together and not slide around the desk separate from each other.
- Sterling Modular still make pre-made fancy studio desks for them, although they’re not cheap.
- Smaller sized units may allow for more optimal placement
- No integrated iPad Mount/dock
- Missing 4 user programmable function buttons (Avid S1 only)
- Missing track color indicator (Avid S1 only)
- The track arm and EQ buttons are between the faders, making it easy to bump a fader by accident.
- Used market. Unknown. Varies a lot. $350-$700 range.
Pro Tools Control App – iPad & Android
This is the best deal out of all of them. Why? Because it’s free! That is, if you have an iPad on Android tablet. Don’t get too excited as it might not work in your DAW though.
So there is no reason not to get it and try it out if you’re using a Eucon enabled DAW.
It works over WiFi and with Eucon enabled DAWs. Those being, Logic, Cubase, Nuendo and Pro Tools.
As far as I know, it doesn’t work with Luna, Ableton, Studio One or FL Studio.
- Free app, who doesn’t love free!
- Same app that runs on top of the Avid S1 and Avid Artist Dock
- Unlike other iPad apps that use Mackie Control, this has extra functionality and control by using Eucon
- Only works in Eucon DAWs such as Cubase, Logic and Pro Tools
- The app is free but an iPad or Android tablet is not
- Free… if you have an iPad or Android tablet.
- iPad or Android tablet is not free
Pro Tools Dock
This is really what Avid want you to use the Avid Control app with. It holds an iPad and handles the transport functions as well as a bunch of other cool things.
It’s more useful than it looks but it’s really designed to go next to the Avid S1 and the Avid S3 since they don’t have dedicated transport control buttons.
The knobs around the screen control plugin parameters and the screen shows you what you’re controlling.
You can also add shortcuts and key commands to the touch screen and the unlabeled buttons below the screen.
- Deep control over your DAW
- Best plugin control setup
- Customization buttons and functions
- Transport control
- Requires Eucon to work properly so it’s only useful for Logic, Cubase, Nuendo and Pro Tools.
- Seems a little overpriced due to Avid having an monopoly over the Eucon protocol and no alternatives being available as a result.
- You still have to buy an iPad to use with it. Although they finally made the app for Android so you can buy and Android tablet now if you like.
- Lacks faders, forcing you to buy an Avid S1 or Avid S3 to go with it.
- $995 street
Presonus Faderport 8
If you’re using or planning on using Presonus Studio as your DAW and you want an 8 fader control surface, this is the one to get.
It works specifically with Studio One and has deep control of the software.
Presonus Faderport 16
Or if you want even more hands on control of Presonus Studio One, go with the Faderport 16.
The Faderport 16 is great value. Large format control surfaces like this usually cost a lot more. It costs less than the Avid S1 and has twice as many faders. To get a similar setup with Eucon and Avid gear, you’d be paying more than 3x as much.
- Deep integration with Presonus Studio One
- Full support only for Presonus Studio One. More limited support for other DAWs but will work in Logic and Cubase with a little less functionality.
- You might have noticed there are no encoders. This may or may not bother you. You can control plugins with the faders instead. The other control surfaces mentioned have a flip faders button that allows for the same thing, to control plugins with faders. The FaderPorts don’t give you the option to use encoders. Personally this doesn’t bother me but if you love turning knobs, you might be disappointed.
- $599.95 street – FaderPort 8
- $999.95 street – FaderPort 16 (sometimes found on sale cheaper)
Get Inspired from Other Home Studios.
Making a home studio is supposed to be fun.
Having home studio is supposed to be fun.
You want to make an enjoyable place to go to, to be creative, learn, practice and write great music.
Here are some photos of other home studios to inspire you.
Although you’ve learnt how to make a better home studio now, you can still get ideas from the vibe and layouts.
Make the studio YOU want
At the end of the day, whether you listen to some or none of my advice, you’re making the studio for you.
Work out what your goals are and what type of home studio you want, whether that is a composing space, a beat-making studio, a tracking home studio, a mixing studio or some sort of fusion between those.
Once you’ve worked that out, go back to the article and plan what you’re going to do.
With a little bit of planning, you can also have a cool home studio and be happy like me in my recording studio, Current Sound.
If you make a cool home studio. Feel free to post a photo in the comments below and I might add it to the main article if you would like me to.
This article took a very long time to write. I’ll add to it over time with new gear that comes out so you might want to bookmark it. It’s more of a free book than an article.
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