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Home Recording Studio Setup for Beginners on a Budget

Author: Tom Stein

Last updated: Apr 27, 2020

Reads: 2,446

Tom Stein is a Senior Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is a visionary musical entrepreneur, music producer, artist development consultant, arranger, bandleader and performer. He is an Administrator of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and Multi-Media Tour Bus, and a member of the US State Department's Fulbright Specialist Roster for global entertainment and music industry.

If you’re starting out and want to put together the best home studio, Producer, Recording Artist, and Berklee Music Production and Engineering Professor Bora Uslusoy covers everything you need to know.

From computer and software, to audio interface, microphone, and studio monitors, Bora explains what you need and don’t need. He offers additional tips to help you stay on budget, and pay attention to the things that really matter in the recording process.

What do you need for recording music?

  • Computer
  • Recording software/DAW
  • Headphones
  • MIDI controller
  • Audio interface
  • Microphone
  • Studio monitors
  • Acoustics

Advice from Recording Pro Bora Uslusoy on Home Recording Studio Essentials

Bora Uslusoy is the founder of bUMA RecordZ, an independent digital music label and project studio. Originally from Istanbul, Turkey, he is currently based in Boston, Massachusetts. He has produced, performed with, and worked as a Recording and Mixing Engineer for Turkish bands and artists such as Acil Servis, Artı90, Düşdünya, Aqua Talk, Klost and Sercan Sungur. Bora has also released two solo albums, Umutsuz Aşk and Muska (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) along with several singles for the Turkish and international markets.

Bora studied guitar at the Musicians’ Institute London, and completed Berklee College of Music’s “Studio Production Specialist” online certificate program. He attended Avid’s “Train The Trainer” program, leading to his becoming certified as an Avid Pro Tools Instructor. He is also certified as a Steinberg Trainer for Cubase. Bora has published five instructional books on guitar and bass in Turkish, created numerous online courses, and has written dozens of magazine articles, product reviews, and how-to guides.

He is currently an Assistant Professor at Berklee College of Music in the Music Production and Engineering Department, as well as teaching an online course at Quinnipiac University. Bora is an Associate member of the Audio Engineering Society.

(The following interview with Bora Uslusoy was conducted by Tom Stein. Note: Answers have been edited for clarity and length.)

His answers are as follows:

What Do I Need for a Home Recording Studio?

Let’s make a quick list of what you will need. We’ll start with the computer and then cover each item more or less in order of importance. We’ll talk about the software, headphones, MIDI controller, audio interface, microphone, monitor speakers, and finally room acoustics.

Let me also tell you what you don’t need: a mixer. I get asked that question a lot, so we will come back to this question at the end and I’ll tell you why you don’t need one. I’ll also give you some idea of the budget you’ll need, for both an entry-level studio and one that’s a bit nicer with some upgrades.


The computer is at the top of our list, and I’d strongly suggest you buy an Apple. I’m not recommending this because of the build quality or design elements, but because of the operating system (OS), which is rock solid for media production. Creatives will find the Mac OS intuitive compared to a Windows system, because you won’t have to deal with endless system updates and driver installations.

In a nutshell, Apple is more idiot-proof and has fewer problems. Whether it’s an iMac or a MacBook will not make much of a difference. A recent model will have the processing power you need. Try not to get one with less than 16 GB of memory.

Recording Software/DAW

Next is our Digital Audio Workshop (DAW); that is music production software. The most popular options are Garage Band, Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Cubase Pro, FL Studio, and Reason. GarageBand comes free with the Apple computer, so it makes sense as a first step. It’s also logical to progress from GarageBand to Logic Pro X, which is considered the big brother of the two.


Next up is headphones. It’s important that they are designed specifically for studio production, sometimes called reference headphones. Three good brands to consider are AKG, Audio Technica, and Beyer Dynamic. If you are serious about music production you should definitely stay away from popular consumer and fashion headphone brands.

While some would suggest the audio interface as the next item on this list, I chose headphones because I’m looking at this from a recent perspective. Considering the current popularity of electronic music, you can get away with using loops, beats, samples, and MIDI sequences. In this scenario, recording audio is not the priority, and Apple computer’s built-in audio interface will be sufficient. Keep in mind that 90% of today’s popular music uses loops, samples, and sequences.

MIDI Controller

When you are working with the virtual instruments that come with your DAW, or that can be additionally purchased separately, you will need a MIDI controller device. (MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and has been the universal standard for how computers and digital musical instruments talk to each other since the early 1980s.)

MIDI controllers come in different forms such as a pad controller or a keyboard. The MIDI controller will let you add and edit notes or chords, and allow you manipulate the parameters while you modify the sounds.

Audio Interface

The next thing on our list is the audio interface. It’s going to be an external device that you will connect to your computer via USB or thunderbolt. A USB interface would be the best choice these days, because it’s future-proof, meaning that the USB protocol won’t be discontinued soon, and is a universal connection type.

All kinds of computers will have a USB connection. For the audio interface, all the popular brands in the $200-300 range will sound pretty much the same, or very close, so don’t worry too much which brand or model to buy when you are starting out. You will not go wrong with the popular brands or models.


While there are many types, brands, and models of microphones to choose from, an entry-level large-diaphragm condenser microphone is the best choice for a start. A condenser microphone will capture the sound in great detail, whether it’s voice or an acoustic instrument. Be sure to check that your audio interface has phantom power, since the condenser microphone needs that as a power source. (Usually, there is a switch on the audio interface to turn phantom power on and off for each channel.)

Don’t forget you will need a boom stand, XLR cable, and a pop filter with your microphone, so don’t focus only on the cost of the microphone since these accessories can add significantly to the cost and your microphone is pretty much useless without them.

Studio Monitors

Since the audio interface will also allow you to connect actual speakers to your rig, you could consider some studio monitors. Studio monitors or reference monitors are specifically designed so you can hear exactly what is happening in the production. They are supposed to be flat, meaning they don’t color the sound in any way.

In contrast, hi-fi speakers are designed to color the sound in a way that maximizes the listener experience, by boosting highs and lows and cutting some mid-range frequencies. They do this not only to increase the listening pleasure, but to avoid the listeners’ ears getting tired. Studio monitors are more transparent compared to hi-fi speakers.


This brings us to the subject of room acoustics. Without proper acoustical treatments of your studio space, it’s difficult to make precise decisions in the production process, such as adjusting the frequencies, and balancing the relative volume of different instruments. Since these are critical decisions, you will need to consider the acoustics in the room you are using.

Try to use the largest room you can for your home studio.  Carpets, rugs, a couch will help since these will function as absorbent material. Bare walls are reflective surfaces which will clutter the sound. Invest in some acoustic foam but do not cover the entire walls or the entire ceiling. Partially cover the areas close to your speakers.

Also use the length of the room to your advantage, by positioning your listening location so that you have the long walls on the sides, not facing them.

Will I Need a Mixer?

This is important, and since I get this question a lot I want to be clear that you do not need this piece of hardware. There is a common misconception which comes from the past: that a mixer is required for a home studio. The audio interface and DAW software provide all the functions of an audio mixer that a home studio will ever need. Actually, adding an unnecessary device in your recording chain will only lower the quality of your recordings.

Slide Do You *Really Have What it Takes? Do You *Really
Have What it Takes?
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How Much Does It Cost to Build a Home Recording Studio?

Here’s a basic package I put together for you at Sweetwater for less than $700.

Note that these packages do not include the computer or software.)

Here’s a slightly better one for about twice the total price.

My upgraded package gives you better components overall, but the sky is the limit in terms of what you could spend on top-notch professional gear.

If you are starting out now you are much luckier than we were, because you can get much better equipment for much less money. Once you cover the basics don’t worry too much about the equipment and focus on the actual music production process. Try learning from reliable resources such as books, user manuals, or tutorials from those who have a track record.

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