How to Make a Cheap Recording Studio

As computer technology has developed, more and more performance is possible on a lower and lower budget. As a result, building a simple home recording studio around your existing computer can be quite inexpensive. Learning how to make a cheap recording studio at home requires an assessment of exactly what you'll be using the studio for and what quality of sound you need. The guide below outlines what to look for in each piece of equipment.

1.Purchase a computer.
If you don't already have a computer to use in your recording setup, you will need to purchase one. Important considerations are processing speed and amount of memory, as recording software tends to use your computer's resources heavily. Both Windows and Mac platforms will work well; however, Windows machines typically allow for easier upgrading of the sound card. Factory-installed sound cards are not usually robust enough to produce high-quality recordings, so upgrading is a good idea.

2.Choose a piece of recording software.
The recording software provides the interface through which you will manage your recordings on your computer. There are several options for small budgets. Generally, the more expensive applications offer greater functionality and flexibility.
  • For recording on a very small budget, you can use recording software licensed as freeware or shareware. Audacity and GarageBand are 2 popular choices for low-budget recording.
  • With a slightly higher budget, you can purchase near-professional quality recording software such as Ableton Live or Cakewalk Sonar. Both of these applications are also available in entry-level versions that are less expensive but less powerful.

3.Purchase and install an audio interface.
An audio interface is a piece of hardware that replaces your computer's sound card and allows you to connect your instruments and microphones to your computer through a mixer. On a PC, you will usually install your audio interface in an empty PCI slot. On a Mac, you may need to purchase an interface that can be connected through a USB or FireWire cable.
  • At the least, make sure your audio interface has 2 input and 2 output jacks. This will allow you to record in stereo. For more flexibility, choose an interface with 4 input jacks.
  • One of the top manufacturers of audio interfaces for home use is M-Audio. They produce both entry-level and high-end models.

4.Buy an audio mixer.
A mixer is an essential piece of equipment for any home recording studio. The mixer handles all your inputs (such as microphones, guitars, and keyboards), allows you to adjust each input's settings, and routes the output to your audio interface and into your computer.
  • The basic functions on an inexpensive mixer will usually be adequate for home recording needs. At the least, make sure each channel on your mixer includes adjustments for panning, volume, and 3-band equalization. Four channels will be more than adequate for home recording.
  • Popular brands for entry-level mixers are Behringer, Alesis, and Yamaha.

5.Choose studio monitors and headphones for your studio.
The speakers you use to listen to your mix during editing are called studio monitors (sometimes referred to as reference speakers). Studio monitors differ from other speakers in that they are meant to deliver a perfectly flat frequency response. This means that you are hearing your recording exactly as it exists digitally, without any frequency adjustment.
  • When choosing studio monitors, make sure to look for "near-field" models. These are designed to be listened to from about a yard (1 m) away, and so eliminate any effects due to the acoustics of your room.
  • Studio monitors can be purchased used from online classifieds sites or audio retailers. The robust, simple construction of loudspeakers makes them an ideal component to buy used and save money.
  • In addition to or in place of monitors, you can buy a set of headphones. Headphones provide the advantage of being cheaper, smaller, and less likely to disturb a neighbor or housemate. Headphones can be used in conjunction with studio monitors to assess very low-volume components of your recordings.

6.Decide on a microphone(s) to use in your studio.
An inexpensive home recording studio can be managed with only a single microphone if necessary.
If you only buy 1 mic, make sure to choose a dynamic mic. This type of construction is more robust and versatile, and is self-powered. An industry standard dynamic mic is the Shure SM-57, which can be used for vocals and instruments.
If you need to record very quiet or expressive instruments, such as an acoustic guitar or piano, a condenser mic will provide better results. Condenser mics aren't as rugged or versatile as dynamic mics, but provide more sensitive response. A cheap recording studio can readily make do with 1 dynamic and 1 condenser microphone.

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