Recommended Audio Equipment
Buying audio equipment can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you are unsure of what equipment you actually need! We are frequently asked by our clients for advice on what equipment they should buy to furnish their home studio. Below is some information to help guide you towards sensible choices, based on our experience and usage. If you have any questions or require any advice or guidance on audio equipment and/or software, feel free to get in touch and we’ll do our best to help point you in the right direction.
Audio Equipment Basics
The Music Production Workshop for Beginners at Seaview Studio helps break down knowledge barriers and introduces some of the most basic, entry-level equipment which is required to make music using digital and analogue audio equipment.
The music production system we recommend involves a computer, some software and a few basic pieces of audio equipment for home recording. To begin with, it is worth explaining in simple terms, what ‘job’ each part of the set-up does.
The good news is that most off-the-shelf home PC’s and laptops are capable of running the necessary software and already have most of the necessary connections built-in. It is recommended that the computer be dedicated (or at least tailored towards) music production. Making music can be quite intensive for the computer, as it will have a lot of numbers to crunch in real-time! If the computer has to handle a lot of background processes and other software simultaneously, it may start to struggle with music creation software, so a streamlined, optimised computer will offer better workflow. If budget allows, having a custom-built machine dedicated to music recording and production would offer the ideal solution and we can certainly offer advice on tech spec requirements and where you can have a machine built for you. Contact us to find out more
Mac vs PC
You will have inevitably encountered opinions as to whether Mac or PC is better. This is an ongoing debate in general and even more so within the sphere of creative arts. The reality is that either will do the job and the decision should be made based on personal preference and, perhaps, familiarity. Your choice will have a direct affect on your workflow when you come to make music and this is extremely important. The more simple your set-up and the more familiar you are with it, the quicker and easier you will be able to lay down your ideas and spend your time on the process of creation, rather than computer/software management. When the creative juices are flowing, the last thing you want is for that flow to be interrupted or inhibited by complex operation or lack of familiarity with your computer. That being said, everyone needs to start somewhere and a learning curve is to be expected and embraced!
Laptop vs Desktop
The straight answer to this is definitely desktop. A desktop computer will offer higher specs for less money in like-for-like comparison. There are also certain limitations to some laptops, which can be avoided through sensible choices. However, it also depends largely on intended use. If the idea is for the computer to be sat permanently in a home studio, then desktop is an obvious choice. However, if you would prefer to have the option of being mobile with your workstation, then a laptop is what is required. Equally, if the computer has to be shared with other day-to-day tasks and is multi-purpose, then a sensibly chosen laptop will do the job just fine.
An audio interface’s prime purpose is Digital to Analogue/Analogue to Digital Conversion (DAC/ADC). In simple terms, computer language is digital code and the sound generated by instruments and voice is analogue. So the audio interface turns an analogue signal into 1′ and 0’s. Also, software can generate sounds by way of code but this needs to be converted into an analogue signal to be sent to your studio reference monitors or headphones. Doing this job takes some of the pressure off the computer and also provides some physical connections that your computer won’t have built-in. For example, computers don’t have XLR inputs/outputs to plug in microphones, instruments and studio monitors.
Focusrite are well-known manufacturers of audio equipment. Their Scarlett 2i2 is a great entry-level audio interface and comes with some free software to help get you started.
The Komplete Audio 6 is a favourite for us! Made by Native Instruments, this audio interface represents excellent value. Not only does it offer the prospect of multi-channel recording, but it also comes with some free software that will help get you started. This is the audio interface we use when writing music while on holiday or recording audio on location.
If you are going all out to furnish your studio with multi-track recording facilities, we recommend Behringer’s X32 Compact. This is a highly capable analogue/digital hybrid mixer. Not only is it capable of handling studio recording requirements, but it is also excellent for more advanced live sound engineers. A popular weapon of choice for festivals and larger gigs.
MIDI Controller Keyboard
MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Whether you can play keyboard/piano or not, a MIDI controller keyboard is almost essential. The difference between a MIDI controller keyboard and a digital piano or synthesizer is that a digital piano/synth has the facility to generate it’s own sounds. MIDI controllers generate coded instructions for VST Instruments. VST Instruments are little software applications which do the sound generation and are controlled by the MIDI controller. This means you can use the same keyboard to play any sound available from the VST Instrument. So you could be playing piano one minute and drums the next, all triggered using the same MIDI controller. It is also worth noting that a lot of digital pianos/synths also serve as a MIDI controller as well as working as a stand-alone device.
M Audio Keystation is a basic MIDI controller keyboard. This is one of the keyboards we use in the studio fro music production.
M Audio Keystation Mini is ideal for travel. Team this up with a laptop and Komplete Audio 6 or Scarlett 2i2 (or similar) and a pair of headphones and you are set to start making music on the beach! Ideal travel solution for music production on the road.
If you are a more serious keyboard player, you will prefer the feel of semi-weighted keys. Yamaha’s NP 32 offers the prospect of stand-alone digital piano as well as MIDI controller duties.
DAW – Digital Audio Workstation
Whilst this terminology is not restricted to describe the software application on a computer, we will refer to DAW’s in this context. There are many DAW’s available – Cubase, Logic, Ableton, Studio One, Reaper, Fruity Loops, Garage Band, to name but a few. Most of these applications are available in several guises to suit the level of user competency. The professional versions are the most capable, however, if some of their functionality is not required by the user then there are smaller, simpler versions available. At entry level, we highly recommend using smaller ‘Elements’ versions of DAW’s – and the good news is that these can sometimes come free with the purchase of audio interfaces!
If you’re ready to go Pro, then Cubase Pro 10 is worth considering. If you already have Cubase AI, Elements or Artist, then goto your MySteinberg account for upgrade options.
If you are recording voice and/or certain music instruments, a microphone is essential. There are numerous microphone types and can cost £5 to £5000 and more – so which one is right for you? A fairly basic dynamic microphone will make a great all-rounder and serve many purposes. For singers and guitarists that are a little more established and experienced, microphone selection and placement are crucial to the quality of the recording. Certain mics will suit certain voices, for example. However, it is worth noting that the environment in which recording takes place is also a key consideration for quality recording. At entry-level, in a non-acoustically treated environment, a basic dynamic microphone will enable you to record your ideas and begin to lay out your song/track.
Behringer’s Ultravoice XM8500 is unbelievable value! An ideal entry-level dynamic microphone. A great microphone for recording scratch vocals in your home studio and also equally capable for live gigs.
The Shure SM 58 is the industry-standard workhorse live microphone! This bundle comes with a mic clip, stand and XLR cable. Although known for it’s robust construction and live/stage use, we regularly use 58’s in the studio for recording vocals, guitars and drums. A fabulous all-rounder
Another highly respected dynamic mic from Shure is the SM7B. It’s warm tone makes for great vocal recordings and also doubles up as great solution for recording guitar amps.
The Rode NT1 is well-reputed as a great value large diaphragm condenser mic. Ideal for vocal recording and very well-priced!
The Studio Electronic sE2200 is an old friend of ours. This is one of the best entry-level large diaphragm condenser microphones available. More sensitive than dynamic
microphones, this is ideal for recording vocals/voice-overs/acoustic guitar.
This mic was recommended to us by several people. When we tried it, we fell in love with it! Bright as well as warm tone. Fabulous for vocals in the studio and it’s super-cardioid polar pattern makes it ideal for live performance too.
A fabulous acoustic solution to mop up unwanted room sound/reverb. A recent comparison of similar products by Sound-On-Sound demonstrated that the original design is still difficult to beat!
Headphones & Monitoring
Sennheiser have always been our ‘goto’ manufacturer for headphones. The HD65’s represent great value and balance netween cost and sound quality. Perhaps most importantly, they are comfortable to wear for hours!
Whilst it is not ideal to ‘mix’ using headphones only, it is possible and referencing mixes in headphones is sensible practice. The HD600’s are simply fabulous and have been part of our arsenal for many years!
If you are producing in a small room, Mackie CR4’s provide an ideal compact monitoring solution. Active monitors
KRK Rokit’s have made an impression on the home studio market. Also ideal for smaller rooms but with a little more punch and amazing low-end response for such a compact unit. This bundle also includes cables and isolation pads – great value active monitors!
If you have the luxury of space on your side, you may prefer slightly larger and louder studio monitors. We have been using Behringer Truth 2031A active monitors for many years. Truth be told, they don’t always get the best publicity from audiophiles as they have suffered reliability issues in the past. For us, they have never been a problem and they punch well above their weight for the price!
You will find Genelec monitors in a lot of professional studios. These are high end reference monitors.