Setting up a Home Recording Studio

February 23, 2024

Setting up a Home Recording Studio

The home recording revolution that began in the 1970s and the ensuing rise of digital technology has led us into a world where many of today’s biggest hits and viral songs are often the result of people expressing their creativity from within the confines of a home studio rather than a traditional recording space. From seasoned professionals to aspiring creatives, the home studio is now arguably the most important space in the music industry.

The main benefit of a home recording studio is that it can adapt to your space and needs, whether that be some table space in a bedroom or a spare room you want to dedicate to your creativity. The idea of a home studio is even flexible enough to be portable so that it can move around with you wherever you need to go.

Despite all this freedom, there are still some key things to keep in mind when deciding to set up a home recording studio. In this short guide, we highlight some of the considerations you want to keep in mind to ensure your home studio setup will provide you with the best possible experience as well as detail some home recording studios used by professional musicians that have collaborated with HEDD in the past.

Main photo: Cellist and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir in her Berlin home recording studio (Credit: Felix Zimmerman).

Choosing a Space & Acoustic Treatment

It should go without saying but the ideal place to start when considering a home recording studio is the space you have available and how you may want to use it.

This will obviously depend on the particulars of your situation but you should keep in mind that there are three main “types” of home studios accessible to almost anyone: a dedicated space within an existing room, such as for example part of a bedroom or living room; an entire dedicated space, such as for example a spare room or basement; and a portable setup, which doesn’t rely on any one space but can adapt to wherever you are. This last type will most commonly be focused on a computer and headphone combination, making it the most lightweight (and potentially affordable) but also the most limited as working with headphones only will impact your monitoring and playback options.

Once you’ve chosen your space the next thing to consider is how much acoustic treatment and room-tuning you can afford to do. Acoustic treatment and room-tuning solutions are key to minimising the potential drawbacks of the space you’ve chosen, such as unwanted reflections, and ensure you can get a flat frequency response and good soundstage from your monitoring.

There are a range of room-tuning solutions, both hardware and software, that can help you do this while acoustic treatments can also be approached from a bottom-up perspective, starting with the wealth of advice available in dedicated online spaces that will help you understand where to place bass traps, diffusers, and absorbers in your space using simple materials.

The key thing to remember is that you can always begin working in your chosen space without any treatment or tuning and then work towards it as you become more familiar with your setup and needs. If you have any questions about this feel free to reach out to our team via support@head.audio, who will be happy to provide tailored advice.

Computer, DAW, and Audio Interface

The next key step is choosing the equipment needed for a home recording studio, starting with the foundations, which is going to be a computer, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), and an interface. This goes hand in hand with setting up your space.

Going back to the three main types of home recording studios we outlined in the previous section, most of these will be centered around a computer in a fully digital or hybrid digital and analog combination. As such the heart of your home studio is going to be a computer, whether a laptop or desktop, that will provide you with storage and processing power for your software. Most computers today are capable of doing this, including many consumer options, however the more processing power and memory you can afford the more you’ll be able to do.

Next up you will need to choose a DAW, which is shorthand for the software you’ll be using to create your music. Apple computers come equipped with GarageBand, which is Apple’s entry level solution and an ideal place to start your journey into the world of DAWs if you’re entirely unfamiliar with them. The main thing to understand about DAWs is that they allow you to record, edit, and even mix, master, and perform live. All DAWs come with preloaded virtual instruments and effects, and you can also purchase third party ones to create your own suite of preferred tools as most seasoned producers and musicians do.

Among the most popular DAWs in use today are Ableton, Logic, Fruity Loops, Cubase, Nuendo, and Pro Tools and each offer different approaches that will suit your own creative process. Ableton is generally most popular with home musicians who want something that lets them work on music at home and perform live while Pro Tools is one of the industry standards for professional studios and Nuendo is popular for film scoring. Key is to find a DAW that works for you and also works with the processing and memory requirements of your computer and audio interface.

While all computers come with their own audio processor which can be used to make music you will need a dedicated, external audio interface to get the most out of your home recording studio. Such interfaces will not only increase your DAW’s ability to process and render audio, it will also give you access to inputs and outputs with which to connect microphones, instruments, and, most importantly, monitors while ensuring a minimal amount of loss in the quality of the audio signal. Audio interfaces come in all shapes, sizes, and functionalities and we recommend you consider the following before buying one: how many inputs/outputs do you want or need? Do you need phantom power for microphones? What protocol does your computer require, such as USB or Thunderbolt?

From there you can continue to build and adapt your home studio equipment to your needs, as we’ll see in the last section of this guide.

HEDD Home Studio Case Study - Mike Gao

Mike Gao in his Los Angeles home studio with his Eurorack modules and synthesizers (Credit: Jessica Calleiro).

Mike Gao is a Los Angeles-based producer and technologist who got his start in the music industry as a bedroom producer, making tracks with just a laptop, audio interface, and some monitors.

Today, Mike’s home studio is a little more elaborate with an Apple MacBook Pro (with M1 processor) running Ableton at the heart of it and a pair of TYPE 20 MK2 monitors as the main reference solution alongside some key pieces of outboard equipment and instruments, including a modular synthesiser setup and his trusted Polyphonic Playground application.

“For the longest time I was all about software, no hardware, so I could learn DSP and make my own plugins,” Mike explains. Then he discovered the Eurorack modular synthesizer format. “It was game over!” he continues. “My favourite modules are the Cwejman Res-4, Modcan Quad LFO, Omnimod and MMG.” Alongside the Eurorack modules his favourite piece of outboard gear is the Elektron Monomachine synthesizer, which he says he’d choose as the only piece of gear if stranded on a desert island.

Monitors And Headphones

While it’s totally possible to make music with just a computer you’ll still need at least one way to monitor your sound using a pair of headphones or some dedicated speakers.

The choice of which is the best monitoring solution for you will depend on a variety of factors, however we recommend that you consider a mix of both headphones and monitors in order to have maximum flexibility.

When it comes to monitors, you’ll want a pair of active speakers, meaning the speakers will include an amplifier allowing you to connect directly to your sound source (in this case your audio interface). In addition you should also consider the benefits of digital monitors that feature a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) such as the HEDD MK2 range. DSP-powered, active monitors are the most common type in all professional studio configurations today and will also make it easier to adjust the monitors to the specific needs of your home studio. For more on the specifics of monitors, check out our guide on choosing the right monitor for you.

Just like monitors, headphones come in a variety of types, starting with the key difference of whether they are open- or closed-back. Adding a good pair of headphones into your setup will allow you to experience your music with a different perspective, record instruments and voice more easily, and give you the ability to be quieter if needed. In a fully portable setup, headphones become the default monitoring solution and are therefore the most important thing for you to consider.

The HEDDphone is an open-back solution that provides the most natural sound reproduction and are great for critical listening while making music as well as affording a playback experience that is closer to what monitors offer.

HEDD Home Studio Case Study - Robert Koch

Robert Koch in his Los Angeles home studio

Robert Koch works with a lightweight portable home studio setup (Credit: Felix Zimmerman).

After years of working in both home and professional studios, German composer and producer Robert “Robot” Koch decided to switch to a minimal, portable setup following a move to Los Angeles in 2014. Working from an open room in his house, his laptop is at the centre of it all running Ableton alongside a few choice pieces of analog and digital equipment. For monitoring he uses the TYPE 07 MK2 and HEDDphone, which affords him the flexibility he needs to comfortably and accurately work anywhere he needs to.

Robert’s portable home recording studio setup features the following:

  • Ableton
  • Macbook Pro M1
  • HEDDphone and TYPE 07 MK2
  • Lyra8 and Moog DFAM synthesisers
  • Various tape machines and modded tape recorders
  • Fairfield Shallow Water pedal
  • Fabfilter and Native Instrument’s Kontakt for plugins
  • Spitfire, Slate, Ash and custom-made sound libraries

Continuing to Build Your Home Recording Studio

In a fully digital setup you could realistically work with only a computer and a pair of headphones and add some simple additional equipment as needed such as a MIDI keyboard or controller, to allow you to more easily interact with your DAW, and a microphone, if you wanted to record voices.

In a hybrid setup that combines digital and analog you could expand your studio with specific outboard gear, such as effects (compressors, EQs, delays) and synthesisers. The thing to bear in mind is that the more you want to grow your home recording studio the more you’ll need to think about how everything is wired and connected together.

However you decide to build and grow your home recording studio, it's important to remember that you should keep your creativity at the forefront of your needs and ensure that it remains a place where you can have fun and do what you love.

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