Whether you’re building your first recording set-up at home or creating a professional facility, getting the right gear is the key to getting the results you want. The great news is that many modern recording equipment will grow with you through each phase of your recording journey.
The Bedroom Studio
When designing a studio that’s small enough to fit into a multi-purpose room in your house – whether it's the corner of your bedroom or at your kitchen table – compact size and portability are key. Usually at this phase, some of this gear may also need to be repurposed for live performance and rehearsals, depending on the type of audio you’re recording.
The essential components of any bedroom studio are:
Regardless of where you’ll be recording, the first thing you’ll need is a computer. Your studio computer can be a Mac® or Windows® PC, so you can continue to use whichever operating system with which you’re most comfortable. If you need to be able to tuck away your bedroom studio when you’re done, don’t be afraid to look at laptops. While the initial expense of a laptop powerful enough to make a record might be daunting, these computers will grow with you and are also great for live use when you’re ready to add backing tracks and more to your live shows.
As a general rule of thumb, the better your computer specs are, the better your performance will be. So, keep that in mind when configuring your PC. For example, if you are planning on recording eight or more audio tracks simultaneously at 96 kHz, you will need a more powerful machine than you would if you are recording one track at a time at 44.1 kHz. The same goes for mixing and production. If you will be producing multi-layered EDM albums with dozens of tracks triggering virtual instruments and samples, your computer will need more horsepower than if you are just using your computer to record your vocals and guitar only.
An audio interface is an essential component for any modern recording studio. Its main function is to convert analog audio to digital audio and vice versa, so you can record to and play back from a computer. But more than just the converter that translates what you are hearing into information your computer can understand, an audio interface is the central hub around which your studio is connected. Your audio interface may also include any or all of the following: a MIDI interface, microphone preamps, instrument preamps, onboard monitoring functions, and even onboard plug-in processing, to name just a few of the features available to modern recordists.
PreSonus makes a wide range of audio interfaces that are designed to suit just about any use case you may have. These interfaces range from small compact devices like the AudioBox USB 96 to the ultra-fast Quantum Thunderbolt audio interface with integrated monitoring features and talkback.
When selecting your audio interface, be sure look for the following:
- Sound quality
- Input types
- Onboard monitoring
- Professional metering options
- Simultaneous I/O
When you are just getting started, or your needs are simple, you should choose software that is easy to learn but has the features to let you grow. The good news is that you don’t have to break the bank to get a powerful Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW). Some DAWs, like PreSonus Studio One® offer flexible options that grow with your skillset and your budget. The drag-and-drop workflow also makes Studio One incredibly easy to learn. Every version of Studio One offers unlimited tracks and plug-ins and delivers features that ensure you'll get professional results. Access powerful editing tools without wading through menus. Load and save audio clips, MIDI files, effects, and virtual instruments by drag-and-drop—Studio One makes it easy. Studio One Artist comes free with every audio interface PreSonus makes, so you can get started right out of the box. And Studio One Prime is free to anyone!
- Plug-ins. As your mixing skills grow, you may wish to expand your pallet. While DAWs like Studio One come equipped with a package of built-in native effects, at some point, you may wish to expand on that. Effect plug-ins are software models of outboard hardware. They can range from meticulously modeled replicas of vintage compressors to entertainingly tweakable delay filters and everything in between.
- Virtual Instruments. Just like plug-ins, most DAWs, including Studio One, come with a suite of Virtual Instruments. As their name implies, these are software products that run stand-alone or within a DAW and can range from drum machines to subtractive synths to multi-layered samples of acoustic instruments. Because of the abundance of Virtual Instruments on the market, you’d be hard-pressed not to find the precise sound you’re looking for.
- Loop Libraries. Loops are sampled recordings ranging from a single hit to an 8 bar groove. Again, most DAWs, including Studio One, come with a gigabyte or more of audio samples for you to get started with. These can be effects, pads, drums, acoustic instruments, vocals, and more. But when you’re ready for more, there are millions of loop libraries out there for you to explore. Studio One lets you connect to the PreSonus Shop right from within the application and audition and purchase additional loop content right from your mix.
A great front-end will make your recordings sound their best. The first part of this signal flow chain is the microphone. The more well-versed someone is in recording, typically, the more microphones they will own. Microphones can provide different colors to achieve different sounds and using the right type of microphone on an instrument make achieving professional results that much quicker.
When building their first home recording set-up, most people will purchase a vocal microphone first. And here’s where things get a little tricky. A dynamic vocal microphone for stage is not necessarily the best microphone for recording vocals in the studio. A large diaphragm condenser microphone, like the PreSonus PX-1, will let you get professional results, even if you’re on a budget.
If you’re recording acoustic instruments or creating stereo recordings for ensembles, a sonically matched pair of small diaphragm condenser microphones, like the PreSonus PM-2, is a great investment. These flexible tools can be used to record a variety of instruments to achieve a wider assortment of sounds.
For more information about condenser microphones, please review this article.
- Mic Stand. Mounting your microphones to a stand means that they will capture audio more accurately, because their position in the room is fixed. Whether you use a desktop mic stand or a boom stand is up to you, just choose the mic stand that works best for your set-up and your situation.
- Pop Filter. While not essential, a pop filter can help to minimize plosives while recording. Plosives are the bursts of air that is picked up by the microphone. They can occur with any consonant but are most common when you say ‘P’ or ‘B’ sounds. The audio industry has battled these natural speech events for so long that there is a specialized tool to combat them: The Pop Filter. The pop filter sits between your mouth and microphone and slows down the bursts of air, shielding the microphone from picking up these unwanted sounds. The other advantage of a pop filter is that it can be used for maintaining a fixed position in front of your microphone and is especially useful when recording your podcast with a condenser microphone.
- Cables. When purchasing analog cables, it’s always best to buy the best cable you can afford and the shortest cable you need. This will ensure that you’re not picking up any extraneous noise between your microphone and your interface.
A MIDI controller provides total control over the virtual instruments in your DAW. MIDI controllers come in a variety of formats, from a simple keyboard controller to a more advanced pad controller, like the PreSonus ATOM. The PreSonus ATOM has the added benefit of being tightly integrated with Studio One’s Impact XT drum sampler. If you’re doing any level of audio production, a MIDI controller will let you customize your production quickly and easily.
Headphones are critical for a bedroom studio, especially if you’re recording with microphones. When monitoring your performance, you cannot use speakers. If you do, the best case will be that the audio you’re monitoring will get picked up by your microphones and recorded along with the audio you’re recording. This can cause phasing issues that will cause your mix to lack clarity. The worst case, is that you create a feedback loop.
Either way, a pair of high quality headphones are essential. Investing in studio headphones will also allow you to keep mixing and play music, even if everyone else in the house is trying to get some sleep or binge-watch their favorite tv show.
Open-back headphones, like the PreSonus HD7, allow you to hear what’s going on in the room while you’re listening to audio in your headphones. While there is some bleed that can occur with live microphones, so beware of this style if you like to monitor loudly when you’re recording vocals.
Closed-back headphones, like the PreSonus HD9 and Eris HD10BT, let you monitor in complete isolation and provide the best listening experience while recording. The Eris HD10BT also features Bluetooth wireless connectivity and Active Noise Canceling, so you can use them outside of your bedroom studio as well.
- Headphone extension cables. Like their name implies, a headphone extension cable lets you sit further away from your headphone amp. And if you’ve got a bedroom studio, your headphone amp is most likely on your audio interface sitting right next to your computer. These are an affordable solution to giving yourself a little more freedom while recording.
Next to your ears, the speakers on which you're monitoring your mix are the most important part of your studio. Investing in a pair of high-quality studio monitors will make mixing easier and less fatiguing and will help you to become a better engineer. Studio monitors are designed to reproduce the flattest frequency response possible. Fortunately, a good monitoring set-up is possible on any budget.
PreSonus has put together this brief tutorial to help you pick out the best studio monitors for your budget.
- Studio monitor stands. Placing studio monitors on your desk can cause coupling and reflectivity that will interfere with their sonic performance. While not essential, studio monitor stands can help your mix sound its best.
- Cables. Just like microphones, you’ll need cables to connect your studio monitors to your interface. Use the best quality balanced audio cable you can afford and the shortest length possible to lessen the chance of environmental noise.
The Semi-Pro Home Studio
So, you’ve been recording in your bedroom studio for a while and are ready to dedicate a space to your productions, now what? When you’re building out a room in your house exclusively for audio, the next step is less about the gear you’ll add to your rig and more about designing a space that will provide the most optimal listening environment. It may not be as thrilling as that new gear smell, but it will make the gear you’ve already invested in sound even better.
PreSonus has put together this article to help you design your space here.
Once you have your room’s acoustics tamed and your desk in just the right position, you might be ready to upgrade some of your bedroom studio’s gear.
The first place to start is usually your audio interface. Upgrading your audio interface usually comes with more features, better mic preamps, and better analog-to-digital conversion, so it’s worth looking into. High-quality interfaces like the PreSonus Quantum, offer blazingly fast transport speeds and pristine audio performance along with monitoring features like talkback and mono summing. If you’re ready to get serious about recording, investing in a professional audio interface is the perfect place to start.
At this point, you may also be ready to add any of all of the following:
Listening to your mix on multiple pairs of reference speakers can provide new insights into your mix by giving you a different perspective. If you’ve decided to purchase another set of studio monitors, choose speakers that are different enough from one other to get the result you desire. For example, if your main pair of mixing speakers are eight-inch coaxial studio monitors, like the Sceptre S8, you may also want to purchase a smaller pair of traditional two-way speakers like the Eris E5XT studio monitors. A set-up like this will allow you to mix on studio monitors with detailed bass and a lifelike, three-dimensional Z-plane then reference it on a smaller pair of studio monitors with narrower stereo image and frequency range to see how it will translate across various speaker systems.
If you add a second or third pair of studio monitors to your mixing rig, you’ll also need to add some sort of speaker-management system, like the PreSonus Central Station Plus or Monitor Station V2 studio monitor controllers. These products not only allow you to easily compare your mix on different pairs of speakers, they also provide source switching so that you can compare your mix to another mix in the same genre. Some studio monitor controllers, like those made by PreSonus, are also designed to become the central hub for your studio and will provide extra headphone mixes and talkback systems, so they’re well worth the investment.
Subwoofers can help you get a hold of your low-frequency content and help your studio monitors run more efficiently. Additionally, subwoofers have become common in car and home stereo systems. Because ultimately your mix is going to played in someone’s car or through their desktop speaker system, you should consider verifying the deep bass content in your mix, especially if the target listener for your mix is going want to hear and feel that extended low end.
Adding a subwoofer to your speaker system will make the wiring and calibration of your studio monitoring set-up a bit more complex, but when carefully tuned to the stereo full-range system, a subwoofer will naturally extend the low end without overshadowing your full-range speakers. A properly calibrated 2.1 speaker system can improve your mixing environment by offloading much of the bass-frequency reproduction to the subwoofer, letting the low-frequency drivers of the full-range speakers focus on the low mids.
Some subwoofers, like the PreSonus Temblor™ T10, let you momentarily bypass the subwoofer with a footswitch, allowing you to compare your mix with or without the subwoofer engaged. This is very important, as it lets you ensure that the bass in your mix will work equally well on stereo speaker systems without a subwoofer attached.
Like all PreSonus subwoofers, both the PreSonus Temblor T10 and T8 provide an onboard variable lowpass filter. This allows you to fine tune the crossover transition between your full-range speakers and your subwoofer, ensuring a more even frequency response. If your studio subwoofer does not provide this feature, you should consider purchasing an external crossover for this purpose.
Although a keyboard and mouse are tried-and-true DAW-control devices, getting tactile control over your mix can speed up your workflow… especially when you start automating levels.
DAW Control Surfaces like the PreSonus FaderPort-series provide professional long-throw touch-sensitive motorized faders that let you take charge of your mix, whether you just want a single fader, like the FaderPort, a single bank of 8 faders, like the FaderPort 8, or a whopping 16 faders, like the FaderPort 16.
Some DAW Control Surfaces, including the entire range of FaderPort controllers, also provide transport controls, the ability to quickly zoom in on audio files for editing, modify plug-in parameters, manage aux mixes—and more.
The Professional Studio
When you're ready to move into a professional space where you're tracking other musicians and make your passion into your living, it's time to add a host of new gear. The best place to start is to consider investing in a digital mixer. Digital mixers, like the PreSonus Series III S mixers, provide the ability to record many tracks at once (up to 64 tracks with the StudioLive Series III!), add processing on the front end, and even control your DAW. For more information on the benefits of adding a digital mixer to your studio, please see this companion article.