Home Recording Buyer's Guide

Introduction

Home Recording Buyer's GuideThings are changing fast. It used to be that your music library took up an entire room. Then you could squeeze it into a rack of discs called (now laughably) “compact.” These days it fits in a box the size of a cassette tape (remember those?) with enough computing power left over to power Apollo 11. The same thing has happened to the modern day recording studio. What was once only available to an elite few armed with big record company budgets can now be found in bedrooms and garages across the nation.

With the playing field effectively leveled, musicians everywhere can write, record, produce, and upload their music to the marketplace making it immediately available to the masses. The quality of home recording gear has progressed to the point where Grammy winning music is being recorded at home. Computing power gets less expensive every day allowing you to harness the 1’s and 0’s in new and creative ways. The plethora of soft synths and plugins available puts world-class sounds at your fingertips.

Studio Monitors

Studio monitors are a crucial component in any studio setup. There's a big difference between studio monitors and what may be your favorite set of awesome sounding speakers. The frequency response of studio monitors is near "flat", meaning they color the sound as little as possible. Your favorite speakers may sound great, but they sound that way by enhancing frequencies. They fool you into thinking your recordings sound different than they actually do. Without a decent set of studio monitors it's near impossible to know the sonic characteristics of what you're recording. Is there too much bass content? Is the high-end piercing? Who knows? People with a good set of studio monitors do.

Yamaha HS5 Powered Studio Monitor
Yamaha HS5 Powered Studio Monitor
Yamaha HS8 Powered Studio Monitor
Yamaha HS8 Powered Studio Monitor
JBL LSR308 Powered Studio Monitor
JBL LSR308 Powered Studio Monitor
KRK Rokit 5 Generation 3 Powered Studio Monitor
KRK Rokit 5 Generation 3 Powered Studio Monitor

Audio Interfaces

Usually available in firewire or USB, the main purpose of your audio interface is to take the analog signal you’re sending it (microphones, keyboards, etc.) and turn it into a digital signal your computer can understand and manipulate. This is done with AD/DA converters. Your computer probably has one built in. The problem with that is that quality here is key and your onboard converters are of low quality. The other thing an outboard AD/DA converter will do for you is provide you with inputs with which you can plug in mics and instruments. How many inputs? That depends on your budget. Basic units can provide two or four while more elaborate configurations can chain several units together to give you ninety-six or more. I’m guessing that’s going to be overkill for you though. Keep in mind though that the number of inputs will determine how many tracks you can record at one time. Working by yourself, layering some tracks? A few inputs will get you by. Want to record a full band with a mic on each drum? Start counting mics because that’s how many inputs you’ll need.

PreSonus AudioBox 1818VSL USB 2.0 Audio Interface
PreSonus AudioBox 1818VSL USB 2.0 Audio Interface
PreSonus AudioBox iTwo Studio Recording Package
PreSonus AudioBox iTwo Studio Recording Package
Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 2nd Generation USB Audio Interface
Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 2nd Generation USB Audio Interface
Universal Audio Apollo 8 Quad Audio Interface
Universal Audio Apollo 8 Quad Audio Interface
Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo Thunderbolt Audio Interface
Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo Thunderbolt Audio Interface

Control Surfaces

From a simple row of faders or pads to a complete console resembling an airplane’s flight deck, control surfaces are a way of marrying old school recording practices with the new by placing actual faders under your fingers. In its most basic form a control surface relieves you from having to make all your adjustments via a mouse when reaching for a knob or fader is much more intuitive. A control surface’s faders, rotary encoders (knobs), and pads are usually all assignable giving you the option to set up your console in a way that works best for you. Features vary but you’ll often find things like built-in virtual instruments and effects, motorized faders, MIDI in and out, microphone preamps, and transport controls.

Mackie Control Universal Pro Control Surface
Mackie Control Universal Pro Control Surface
Mackie Extender Pro 8 Channel Ext for Control Universal Pro
Mackie Extender Pro 8 Channel Ext for Control Universal Pro
PreSonus FaderPort USB MIDI Studio DAW Controller
PreSonus FaderPort USB MIDI Studio DAW Controller
Ableton Push 2 Grid Controller for Ableton Live
Ableton Push 2 Grid Controller for Ableton Live
PreSonus FaderPort 8 8 Channel DAW Mix Computer Production Controller
PreSonus FaderPort 8 8 Channel DAW Mix Computer Production Controller

Studio Microphones

Let’s face it. If you don’t have a good (or the right) mic on your singer or instrument you’re putting yourself behind the eight ball right from the start of the signal chain. Different sounds are often best recorded in different ways. For serious low-end content you’ll need a mic with a large diaphragm to capture those lows. Things like bass drums and bass guitars produce low frequencies that smaller diaphragm mics totally miss. This low-end content can provide a fatness and roundness to these instruments. Conversely, vocals don’t produce any sound in that spectrum but instead need a sweeter tone throughout the mids and highs. A mic on a guitar amp might require punchier mids to accent the guitars sweet spot. Though mic placement and type of mic (dynamic, condenser, or ribbon) all play a role, it’s key to have the right mic for the job at hand.

Audio Technica AT2020 Condenser Microphone
Audio Technica AT2020 Condenser Microphone
Shure KSM32 Condenser Microphone
Shure KSM32 Condenser Microphone
Neumann TLM 102MT Studio Condenser Microphone
Neumann TLM 102MT Studio Condenser Microphone
Neumann TLM 103 Anniversary Vocal Condenser Microphone
Neumann TLM 103 Anniversary Vocal Condenser Microphone

Studio Headphones

Headphones serve two main purposes in the studio. They’re used by musicians while tracking and they can be used by the engineer for mixing in quiet environments. Either way, you’ll want to invest wisely. For tracking, the tone is important because this is how the players are hearing themselves or pre-recorded tracks. You’ll want something that sounds good to inspire the best performances. Another consideration is power handling and durability. When the drummer keeps asking for more drums in his headphones, you’ll want to be sure they can handle the volume required for him to hear himself over his kit. As for mixing, if you’re mixing through headphones you’ll want as high a quality and flat response set as you can get your hands on to be sure your recordings sound like you think they do.

Sennheiser HD 280 PRO Closed Back Around Ear Professional Headphones
Sennheiser HD 280 PRO Closed Back Around Ear Professional Headphones
Audio Technica ATH-M50x Audio Headphones
Audio Technica ATH-M50x Audio Headphones
Sennheiser HD 650 Over Ear Audiophile Headphones
Sennheiser HD 650 Over Ear Audiophile Headphones

Recording Mixers

In many cases a recording mixer is not a necessity in a home studio but one does offer some distinct and important advantages. In a computer based system, taking the load of doing all the mixing functions off your computers CPU provides you with lots of options like being able to record more tracks or use more plugins. The mixer’s built-in audio interface allows you to forego the expense of buying a separate interface and can offer many more channels at an economical price. If you’re recording multiple players and mics, like a full band with a drum kit, a mixer will make your life a lot easier. Whether it’s digital or analog, USB or firewire, consider upping your game and adding a mixer to your studio.

Behringer X32 Compact Digital Mixer
Behringer X32 Compact Digital Mixer
PreSonus StudioLive 16.0.2 Digital Mixer
PreSonus StudioLive 16.0.2 Digital Mixer
Allen And Heath QU-16C 16 Channel Digital Mixer Chrome Edition
Allen And Heath QU-16C 16 Channel Digital Mixer Chrome Edition
Soundcraft Signature 22 MTK Muti-Track 22-Channel Mixer
Soundcraft Signature 22 MTK Muti-Track 22-Channel Mixer

Multitrack Recorders

One great solution to your recording needs is an all-in-one multi-track recorder. These handy stand-alone boxes encompass almost all you need to make professional sounding recordings at home. Mixer? Check. Multiple inputs? Check. Samplers, drum machines, EQ’s and studio quality effects? Check, check, check and check. Add to all that the fact that these boxes are ultra-portable, with many even able to run for hours on batteries, and your wheels really start to turn. Take it to a rehearsal, a writing session or even make a multi-tracked recording of a gig. You can then take it home and take your time mixing or fixing and replacing individual tracks. One box – lots of recording horsepower.

Zoom R24 Multitrack SD Recorder Controller and Interface
Zoom R24 Multitrack SD Recorder Controller and Interface
Zoom H6 6 Track Portable Digital Recorder
Zoom H6 6 Track Portable Digital Recorder
Boss BR800 Multitrack Digital Recorder
Boss BR800 Multitrack Digital Recorder
Tascam DP-32SD 32-Track Digital Portastudio Recorder
Tascam DP-32SD 32-Track Digital Portastudio Recorder

Direct Boxes and Re-Amp Boxes

For any instrument being plugged directly into the console or interface you’ll need a direct box to take a ¼” input and give you a balanced XLR output for the cleanest, low-noise, signal. Bass guitar, for instance, is often recorded direct or both direct and with a mic. Keyboards, samplers, and drum machines will all benefit from use of a direct box. Using your acoustic guitar’s internal pickup? You guessed it. Direct box. If you’re recording your electric guitar dry into the console and using a guitar amplifier plugin or sending it out to an amplifier for re-amping a direct box offers the lowest signal loss available.

Radial J48 Active Direct Box
Radial J48 Active Direct Box
Radial JDI Passive Direct Box
Radial JDI Passive Direct Box
Radial Reamp JCR Studio Reamper
Radial Reamp JCR Studio Reamper
ART Z Direct Professional Passive Direct Box
ART Z Direct Professional Passive Direct Box
Palmer PDI09 Passive DI Box for Guitars
Palmer PDI09 Passive DI Box for Guitars

Recording Packages

Not sure how all these components fit together and if they’re all compatible? No need to worry. The experts at AMS have put together several recording studio packages that fit most budgets and requirements. Give some thought as to how you’ll actually use this gear and browse through the packages. You’ll be sure to find one that fits your needs. It might even save you a couple of bucks in the process.

KRK Rokit 8 Generation 3 Powered Studio Monitor Package
KRK Rokit 8 Generation 3 Powered Studio Monitor Package
JBL LSR305 Studio Monitor And PreSonus AudioBox USB Recording Pack
JBL LSR305 Studio Monitor And PreSonus AudioBox USB Recording Pack
Focusrite Scarlett Solo Studio 2nd Generation Recording Package
Focusrite Scarlett Solo Studio 2nd Generation Recording Package
PreSonus AudioBox iTwo Studio Recording Package
PreSonus AudioBox iTwo Studio Recording Package

Outboard Gear

Every piece of gear in the signal chain is important and there’s a few places you can upgrade for better sound or more options. If you’ve already got a good microphone you may want to consider investing in a good mic preamp. Improved opamps and transformers are just the start. Some include a compressor to tame errant frequencies, EQ to dial in that sweet spot, and phase reversal and phantom power. Go with a tube based model for a traditionally warmer sound. Other outboard gear includes compressors and effects devices. Here, the sky is the limit with a myriad of choices available. One big advantage to using outboard effects is that relieving all this heavy CPU processing from your computer enables you to use more tracks or software plugins.

Avalon VT737SP Class A Tube Channel Strip
Avalon VT737SP Class A Tube Channel Strip
Black Lion Audio B173 Microphone Preamp
Black Lion Audio B173 Microphone Preamp
Warm Audio WA76 Discrete Compressor
Warm Audio WA76 Discrete Compressor

Digital Audio Workstations

A Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW) is the recording software package that’s at the heart of your computer based recording studio. This is home base, where all operations are carried out. It’s here where you’ll find everything you need to compose, record, edit, and mix professional music and audio post-production. Your software mixing console, all your assignable inputs and outputs, your metering, EQ, and effect plugins are all found within the confines of your DAW. Many come with a starter pack of soft synths (virtual instruments) to get you going, putting the sounds of popular synths and samplers under your control.

Other features can include the ability to view video for movie or television scoring. This is an important piece of your puzzle as everything you’ll ever do will run through your DAW.

Steinberg Cubase 8 Pro Music Production Software
Steinberg Cubase 8 Pro Music Production Software
Ableton Live 9 Suite Music Production Software
Ableton Live 9 Suite Music Production Software
Cakewalk Sonar Platinum Music Production Software
Cakewalk Sonar Platinum Music Production Software
Avid Pro Tools Music Production Software with 1 years of upgrades
Avid Pro Tools Music Production Software with 1 years of upgrades
PreSonus Studio One 3 Professional Software With Key Card
PreSonus Studio One 3 Professional Software With Key Card

Plugins

For my money, plugins (and soft synths) are some of the coolest additions you can make to your setup. For relatively little dough you can add great sounding virtual compressors, reverbs, delays, octave dividers - just about any effect made is available in a plugin. One of my favorite things to have is a collection of virtual guitar amplifiers. After recording a dry guitar track you can then take your time dialing in the exact guitar tone you’re seeking. And all these plugins are non-destructive, meaning your original sound is always still there allowing you to change your mind in a day or a year or if you acquire a new favorite amp plugin. Another big advantage to using plugins is that every time you recall a mix, every setting is just where you left it. You can jump right in and start being creative.

Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 Software Synthesizer
Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 Software Synthesizer
Toon Track EZ Drummer 2 Drum Instrument Software Plug in
Toon Track EZ Drummer 2 Drum Instrument Software Plug in
IK Multimedia T Racks 3 Deluxe Mastering Software
IK Multimedia T Racks 3 Deluxe Mastering Software
iZotope Nectar 2 Production Suite Vocal Software
iZotope Nectar 2 Production Suite Vocal Software

Soft Synths/Virtual Instruments

Here’s where you really get a chance to be creative. Virtual Instruments offer a countless number of keyboards, drum machines, samplers, and so much more to enhance your project. From real recordings of actual instruments that you could probably never get your hands on (Steinway pianos or Hammond organs or great sounding drums recorded in a top-flight studio) to new and totally unique creations to hard to find vintage synths and electric pianos, the possibilities here are truly endless. Need a complete orchestra? It’s available. Just a solo violin or cello? No problem. Sax, clarinets, or timpani drums? There’s a virtual instrument for almost everything.

Native Instruments Komplete 11 Software Suite
Native Instruments Komplete 11 Software Suite
Arturia V Collection 5 Legendary Keyboards Software
Arturia V Collection 5 Legendary Keyboards Software
IK Multimedia SampleTank 3 Software Instrument
IK Multimedia SampleTank 3 Software Instrument
Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 Software Synthesizer
Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 Software Synthesizer

Acoustic Room Treatment

An often overlooked aspect of the home studio is the treatment of the room. High-priced mega dollar studios never have any parallel walls. This is to prevent sound from bouncing back and forth creating what’s called standing waves, which can wreak havoc with your recordings. Treating the room can prevent this and also improve the overall sound of your room. It’s important to treat both your main room and your control room. In the control room you’ve done your homework and found the perfect set of studio monitors that don’t color the sound too much. Now you need to make sure the room adds as little of its personality as well. The same goes for the main room where the live recording is done or your vocal booth. Controlling the sound is key.

SE Electronics RF-X Reflexion Filter X Vocal Booth
SE Electronics RF-X Reflexion Filter X Vocal Booth
Primacoustic London 8 Studio Room Kit
Primacoustic London 8 Studio Room Kit
Primacoustic London 10 Studio Room Kit
Primacoustic London 10 Studio Room Kit
Auralex 2" Studiofoam Wedgies 12” x 12”, Charcoal Gray
Auralex 2" Studiofoam Wedgies 12” x 12”, Charcoal Gray

Home Recording Accessories

There’s a few accessories that can make your life a little easier in the studio or make your recordings sound better. Aside from obvious accessories like mic stands and cables (which should be of good quality) a microphone shock mount is always a good idea. Many a great take has been ruined by a musician tapping his foot being picked up by the mic. Music stand lights are always a good idea, especially when using mood lighting to get the right vibe. Pop filters are pretty much a necessity for recording vocals. This will prevent the needle from slamming into the red zone every time the singer pronounces a “P.” There’s also things like little personal monitor amps that provide power and give each musician control over the volume of their headphones.

Auralex MoPADs Monitor Isolation Pads
Auralex MoPADs Monitor Isolation Pads
On Stage Foam Ball-Type Mic Windscreen
On Stage Foam Ball-Type Mic Windscreen
On Stage Stands 7701B Tripod Boom Microphone Stand
On Stage Stands 7701B Tripod Boom Microphone Stand
On Stage MC7201B Round Base Microphone Stand
On Stage MC7201B Round Base Microphone Stand
On Stage Orchestra Style Music Stand
On Stage Orchestra Style Music Stand
On Stage SMS6000 Studio Monitor Stands Pair
On Stage SMS6000 Studio Monitor Stands Pair
Triad Orbit T3 Triad 3 Tall Tripod Microphone Stand
Triad Orbit T3 Triad 3 Tall Tripod Microphone Stand
On Stage XCG4 Velveteen Padded Tubular Guitar Stand
On Stage XCG4 Velveteen Padded Tubular Guitar Stand
Raxxess Microphone Pop Filter
Raxxess Microphone Pop Filter
SE Electronics Reflexion Filter Pro Ambience Control
SE Electronics Reflexion Filter Pro Ambience Control

Studio Furniture

Studio furniture serves a dual purpose. First, it helps you place all the gear in your studio in the most ergonomic manner. The people who design this stuff have anticipated your needs. Consoles, studio monitors, racks of outboard gear, these components all need to be within arm’s reach and at the right heights for you to be comfortable in your studio. Second, it just looks so much more professional. This is most critical if your studio is a commercial venture. No client will be inspired by a mixing console propped up on a stack of milk crates. Professional vibration isolated speaker stands make a difference. Be sure to include room in the budget for the furniture that will make the room work. You’re going to spend a lot of time in there. You should be comfortable.

On Stage WS7500 Series Wood Workstation Black
On Stage WS7500 Series Wood Workstation Black
On Stage WSR7500B Workstation Rack Cabinet Black
On Stage WSR7500B Workstation Rack Cabinet Black
Chief Kontour K2W100 Fixed Height Single Monitor Mount
Chief Kontour K2W100 Fixed Height Single Monitor Mount

About the Author - Michael Barberich

Michael BarberichA New York guitar phenom from a young age, Michael still smiles looking back on playing his first bar gig at the ripe old age of fourteen. By eighteen, his acrobatic guitar style had caught the attention of a popular local band (whose members were all ten years older) and together they quickly conquered the legendary Long Island music scene, playing six nights a week to large audiences. Says Michael of this period, "To fill time, the band would often throw me two solos per song. I did the math recently and realized I was playing about sixty solos a night times six nights a week. That's three hundred and sixty solos per week! That's really where I learned to play, on stage every night in front of lots of people."

As comfortable playing or producing in the studio as he is on the stage, Michael's varied career has afforded him the opportunity to work with many of his heroes including Steve Vai, Justin Hayward, Gary Brooker, Rod Morgenstein, Steve Howe and Cheap Trick. Always happiest with a guitar in his hand, you can find Michael showing his versatility performing with LI Hall of Fame inductees Barnaby Bye, Macca Nation (a tribute to Paul McCartney & Wings) or his kitschy 70's band, the insanely popular, 45rpm (voted Long Island's best cover band for 2013 and 2014.)