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What Basic Equipment is Needed for a Recording Studio?

Man recording music on a keyboard.

Creating a music studio, in a formal space or in your home, is an exciting endeavor. Whether you’re recording for other artists or creating a personal studio for your own music or spoken word projects, making a creative space in which to produce music and other types of audio is a little akin to making a long-distance trek into a wondrous and inspiring landscape, with limitless possibilities for adventure and exploration.

All studios use similar sets of equipment, albeit some without the bells and whistles that make up some larger studios. While it can be a little confusing for the beginning audio producer to assemble a studio, there are a few essential pieces of equipment that will ensure they get off to a smooth start, even on a tight budget. Here’s a comprehensive list of basic equipment found in a recording studio. There will be a laptop or desktop computer, digital audio workstation, microphones, stands, mixing board, sound baffles, DJ and mixing headphones, studio speakers and instruments.

Laptop or Desktop Computer

A decent quality computer is a critical piece of basic equipment for any audio producer. In particular, it should have a good processor plenty of RAM and different types of ports to be able to connect audio interfaces, external hard drives and MIDI devices. Brands to consider are Apple, Lenovo, Acer, and Asus, though some other brands may also have great offerings.

While a computer used for recording doesn’t have to be top of the line, it should be the best quality machine an audio producer can afford. Audio producers should carefully shop around and look at specs to compare onboard equipment and outlets to make sure a machine fits their needs as well as their budget.

Digital Audio Workstation

A good DAW is essential for the beginning audio producer. When choosing a DAW, it’s important to consider what kind of resources it will use on a computer. Audio producers who may have a less robust machine should consider carefully which DAW they’ll use to avoid overtaxing their computer’s resources and hasten the day when it has to be replaced.

Microphones and Stands

Large pro studios have a huge range of microphones for different instruments and voice types. Audio producers just starting out don’t necessarily need that many, especially those on a budget, but they should be discerning about which microphones they do pick up.

The Shure SM-58 is an industry-standard mic and is used for everything from speaking engagements to stage performance. They can also serve as basic recording mics, albeit without the high sensitivity of a condenser. Audio producers on a tight budget should get a couple of these very durable microphones when first starting out.

If the amount of money the audio producer has to spend is a bit larger, a couple of condenser microphones won’t go amiss. Condenser mics are typically used for recording vocals and help the producer pick up every word, sound, and characteristic of the human voices they record. With a larger budget, a ribbon mic, useful for electric guitars, brass, woodwinds, and drums, should also be a consideration.

Several types of mic stands are used in a studio setting, including standard, boom, floor, and desk. Audio producers should aim to have at least one of each if at all possible. However, if resources are limited, boom stands are probably the most adaptable, as they can serve vocalists, instrumentalists, and can even be adjusted low enough for drum sets, especially if the set is raised up on a low dais.

Mixing Board

If the audio producer’s DAW has a built-in mixing board, a physical mixing board might not be totally necessary. However, having a basic mixing board on hand is an important piece of basic equipment for the dedicated audio producer.

Mixing boards come with a variety of channels, with as few as four to as many as twenty. They are used to set levels for recording, control volume and output, and add effects to recordings. Audio producers may want to consider some of the industry-standard brand boards like Yamaha, Soundcraft, SSL, API, Neve.

A great number of high-quality mixing boards can be bought used or refurbished, great music doesn’t require a mixing board to be brand-new. Even if the DAW the audio producer is using has a built-in mixing board, having an external one can be extremely beneficial for finer points of control over the mix, especially volume adjustment. However, not all mixing boards are one size fits all, so beginning audio producers should read about, test, and price different mixing boards to find the one that best fits their needs.

Sound Baffles

Few rooms are acoustically prepared for recording unless they are custom-built, and custom-built recording and performance chambers cost anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to millions. For small studios, investing in or making basic sound baffles is vital to getting good recordings.

Sound baffles help to neutralize or “deaden” a room so that unintended sounds don’t make it into recordings. For studios with hardwood floors, area rugs and carpets are necessary to limit echo and bounce in recorded sounds. Sound baffles made of foam or padded cloth can also be mounted on the walls for further limitation. In a pinch, carpets or heavy fabrics like brocade hung from the walls and attached to the ceiling can help deaden a room and prepare it for recording.

The number and type of sound baffles an audio producer chooses is entirely dependent on budget, so audio producers should pay close attention to sound baffling at other studios they visit and mix and match different methods and materials to the best of their ability to create a better environment for recording.

DJ/Mixing Headphones

At the end of the day, an audio producer has to hear everything that’s been recording with painstaking accuracy, rendering a good set of DJ or mixing headphones absolutely indispensable.

Not all mixing headphones are created equal, but a good sturdy pair doesn’t have to be hard to come by. Audio producers should consider industry-standard mixing headphones from brands like Yamaha, Korg, and Beyerdynamic. Less expensive brands like Audio Technica also offer robust headphone options for in-studio mixing and monitoring.

Audio producers will need more than one set of headphones, especially if they’re recording ensembles. Audio producers should have around six sets on hand to make sure they can, at minimum, accommodate a four-piece band and an assistant with sound monitoring. The recording artists must be able to hear each other clearly throughout the recording session, especially if some of them are in isolation booths or behind baffles and cannot see each other for visual cues.

Larger studios will have a large quantity of mixing or DJ headphones, both for regular use and as backups in case a set breaks. Given that studio headphones see a lot of use across great numbers of performers and producers, it’s a matter of time before a set will have to be discarded.

Studio Speakers

Studio speakers are essential for sound quality testing after recording a take. Both audio producers and performing artists should listen to the take via headphones and studio speakers to ensure quality sound across both and troubleshoot any problems they find as well as they can.

Studio speakers come in a range of sizes and quality spectrums. Industry-standard speakers include Yamaha NS-10, KRK Rokit, M-Audio Studiophile, and Behringer Truth.

Beginning audio producers should be aware that studio speakers will cost a fair amount of cash, possibly as much or more than the computer they use to record music with. Shopping around for used or refurbished options can lessen the financial burden, although these options will still be somewhat costly. For those who have a small budget, the most expensive items, speakers and recording computer, should be priced first and given the utmost priority where spending is concerned.

Instruments

Most studios will have at least a small selection of instruments on-hand. The range very much depends on the studio’s area of focus, though even some small studios will have an impressive selection.

Many studios will have a selection of standard rock instruments, including electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and keytars, electric basses, and a drum set or two. They’ll also have quality in-house amps for the guitars and basses. Some studios may also have classical instruments such as strings, woodwinds, and percussion.

Studios that want to create instrumental collections for performing artist use will spend a great deal of money and time acquiring them. Many studios opt for in-house instruments that are top quality so if a performing artist doesn’t own a top-notch instrument, they can still come and record on an excellent instrument that will ensure a better take and overall sound.

Most studios don’t build up large instrument collections immediately unless they have a substantial amount of money or a large investment up front, but audio producers who plan to grow their studio over time should be periodically setting aside profits to expand and enhance their collection of basic equipment. In the beginning, a small collection of good quality instruments will be sufficient for most recording projects.

Final Thoughts

Building a recording studio is an intense endeavor. The amount of research and review reading alone can take a good deal of time, as well as painstakingly pricing and buying each piece of equipment. Asking questions, going from shop to shop to buy different equipment pieces to furnish the studio, and physically building it out in a space can be daunting and difficult. However, as intense and stressful as that process can be, once it’s all in a room and the audio producer is sitting at their DAW recording those first pro-grade tracks, it will all seem worth it, from the first track to the thousandth and beyond.

Audio Production Program

The Audio Production and Engineering Program  at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.

At the end of the Audio Production and Engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.