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Posted July 26, 2010 by Stephan Earl in Home Studio Setup
 
 

Build A Home Studio for Under $2,000

Build A Home Studio For Under $2,000

Updated July 29, 2012

Building a home studio from scratch can be a daunting task.  There are thousands of products on the market for creating, recording and producing music; and they aren’t all created equally.  In this post I’ll help you go from zero to sixty in building a modest home recording production workstation that won’t break your bank.  I’ll provide suggestions of high quality recording tools that are modestly priced, and by the end of this article you’ll have all the key components needed to create and produce music in your home for under $2,000.

There are six key components to a home music recording and production studio: 1. Computer, 2. Audio Interface, 3. Monitor Speakers, 4. MIDI Input Device (MIDI keyboard, Drum  controller, etc.), 5. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), 6. Instrument & Effects Plug-ins.  These are the basics, however if you’re an acoustic instrumentalist or vocalist, a good microphone will also be key.  Down the road, or if you’re mixing and mastering your own music then acoustic room treatment becomes important as well.  Well now, let’s begin.

Build A Home Recording Studio For Under $2,000

1. COMPUTER

One of the most important choices you’ll need to make is deciding which computer and platform to buy.  Whether to buy a Mac or PC is simply a matter of choice.  Both have their benefits and neither are perfect.  The key is to buy a computer that is powerful enough to last you for a while, so you don’t outgrow it and find yourself shopping for a new computer in a year or two.  The computer is not the place to be cheap or you’ll give yourself more headaches in the end, and the technology (or lack thereof) may stifle your creativity.

Option 1 – PC Laptop $700 – $1,000. There are many makes and models of PC Build A Home Recording Studio for Under $2,000Laptops to choose from.   Shop around for brands you trust such as Dell, Gateway, Toshiba and HP; and models that get good ratings.  Laptops come in less expensive models as low as $499 and high-end models upwards of  $1,499.   However, the $700 – $1,000 range will get you the minimum requirements needed to produce music.

Here are the minimum requirements to look for: AMD or Intel Core i5, 4 GB RAM and 64 bit Windows 7 OS.  Here’s anHP Laptop for $898that has a 1.6 GHz Intel Core i7 processor.  The advantage of this machine is that it has the Intel Core i7 CPU which is a good one, it has 6GB of RAM which is expandable to 8GB of RAM, and it’s got a 15.6″ LED Display so purchasing an external monitor may not be  necessary.  The disadvantage of this machine is that it doesn’t have firewire or USB 3.0 inputs.  This means you will have to select a USB audio interface for this machine.   Having a 64 bit operating system means your software can utilize all 8 GB of RAM.  A 32 bit operating system can only utilize up to 3GB of RAM.  RAM is king when it comes to computer-based music production.

Option 2 – PC Desktop $700 – $1,000. Desktops generally tend to be less expensive than comparableBuild A Home Recording Studio for Under $2,000 laptops and offer more room for future expansion.  The minimum requirements you should look for in a desktop are the same as I noted above for laptops, however the difference is you often get more more features on desktops for a comparably priced laptop.  Here’s a Gateway Desktop for $750 which has a 2.8GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 6GB RAM upgradable to 16GB of RAM.  Add $150 for a 20″ monitor and you’re still under $1,000.

Although not portable, there are a few advantages to desktops including: more USB and firewire ports, improved graphics cards including dual monitor outputs, and expandability for future hardware updates.

Option 3 – iMac or MacBook Pro $1,199. Two good models from the Apple camp are the iMac and theBuild A Home Recording Studio for Under $2,000 MacBook Pro.  Both start at a price of $1,199 and can be customized if ordered online from Apple, so your choice would be mostly a matter of screen size versus portability.  I don’t recommend a standard MacBook nor a MacBook Air for music production as they have limited processing power and input ports.

Although the price is higher for Macs, one big advantage is that you can skip number 5 on this list since they come with Garage Band already installed.  Both of these Macs come with 4GB of RAM, and the base model processors are Intel Core 2 Duo for the MacBook Pro and Intel Core i3 for the iMac.  Both will get the job done just fine.  Macs can be purchased in considerably different customized flavors through the online Apple store, so while I list the base models here to keep your purchase under $2,000, both the iMac and the MacBook Pro can easily cost over $3,000 if fully loaded.  Another major advantage of Macs in general is that the company that makes the hardware, makes the OS, and also makes great DAW packages; so there may be some improved compatibility if you have a Mac and use Garage Band, Logic Express or Logic Pro.

2. INTERFACE

Now with your biggest and most important purchase out of the way, you’ll need a solid audio interfaceBuild A Home Recording Studio for Under $2,000 (or external soundcard) in order to get the best quality sounding audio into your computer.  There are many out there to choose from and I would recommend a solid company and device such as the M-Audio Firewire Solo for $199. Why do I recommend this?  I’ve owned  six interfaces in three years with such models as Yamaha’s GO44 and Presonus’ Firebox.  Although these are good devices, I’ve learned that an interface is only as good as its driver.  You’ll want a company and device that will update its driver to accommodate the latest Mac and PC operating systems.  Your device becomes no good if you decide to purchase a new computer and your interface company decides to take three months to upgrade its device driver.   M-Audio has proven itself to me to make solid devices and solid drivers… with quick updates.  The Firewire Solo is great entry-level firewire interface with two analog inputs, and a two channel S/PDIF digital input.  After fumbling with those other two models I mentioned, I moved over to the Firewire Solo, upgraded to an M-Audio 410 and now have an M-Audio ProjectMix I/O.

OK so why a firewire audio interface instead of a USB one?  Firewire is quicker.  Very soon the new USB 3.0 standard will roll out and this will be substantially quicker than firewire.  But until you upgrade your computer and cables to USB 3.0, stick go with firewire.  Your recording system will only be as good as its weakest link.

3. MONITOR SPEAKERS

Often overlooked, but very important are good studio monitor speakers.  You’ll want to get bookshelf sized speakersBuild A Home Recording Studio for Under $2,000 with flat response, and they should definitely be self-powered.  This will give you the best reference for your music and ensure that your productions in fact sound as you want them to.  There are a few good choices here for under $200.  KRK RP5G2 Rokit speakers $149 is a popular low cost option among home studio producers.  Also, the M-Audio studiophile AV 40 speakers $149 is a good economical choice.  Moving up a bit are the M-Audio BX5a Speakers $299.  These are the ones I own, and I got them because they’re 70 watt speakers and a bit more powerful than the Studiofile AV 40.

When it comes to speakers it’s OK to purchase them online, but it’s well worth it for you to take a trip to your neighborhood Sam Ash or Guitar Center and listen to them first.  I only purchased the BX5a after I listened to all comparable speakers in the store.  Then I went online and purchased them at a better price.

4. MIDI Input Device

Now that you have speakers to hear the output, you’ll need some sort of controller for MIDI input.  Understanding that not everyone is a keyboard player, there are many MIDI input devices available such as the Akai EWI USB $299 for wind players, an Akai MPC style drum controller such as the Korg PadKontrol $199, or a MIDI keyboard controller.  I would recommend a keyboard controller simply because many virtual plugins these days have functions known as key switching.  This means that there is a feature available in the plugin that requires you to press a MIDI note in order to activate the function.   Having a keyboard makes this easier.

Build A Home Recording Studio for Under $2,000

One good keyboard controller choice is the Akai MPK 49 $399.  Unless you’re a pianist who will eventually want a full 88-key weighted keyboard, the Akai MPK 49 is a device you may actually keep for years.  It has 12 MPC style drum pads so that’s one less purchase you’ll need,  49 semi-weighted keys with a nice feel, and 8 rotatary pots x 3 banks (24 total), 8 sliders x 3 banks (24 total), and play / record transport controls.   This will provide great control over your music notes, drum rhythms, and DAW levels and pans.Build A Home Recording Studio for Under $2,000

A better choice may be the M-Audio Axiom 49 G2 $349.  This is the one I own and travel with when I’m on the road.  I don’t want to sound like I’m drinking the M-Audio Kool-Aid here, but it goes back to what I was saying about a solid company, making solid products and drivers.   I’m also a pianist and the feel of the Axiom keys are better and less plastic feeling than the MPK 49.   Like the MPK, the Axiom has 49 keys, transport controls and 8 rotary knobs.  The Axiom has 9 faders instead of 8, but only 8 drum pads instead of 12 on the MPK.  At about $50 less than the MPK 49, the Axiom 49 is feature rich and economical, but both are great controllers.

5. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)

OK now for the difficult choice… the Digital Audio Workstation.  This is personal.  The DAW has to flow with your way of thinking and become a tool to realize your ideas.  It can’t slow you down and has to have basic features you’ll need to create music.   Below are some entry-level programs that I recommend.  Many of the DAW’s listed below have big brothers (or sisters) and offer some level of discount should you outgrow the entry-level software and decide to upgrade.  Here are my picks: Apple’s Logic Express 9 $199, Cubase Artist 6 $249, Propellarhead Record $199Digidesign’s Pro Tools M-Powered $249 (requires M-Audio interface), Ableton Live Intro $99, and Cakewalk Sonar 8.5 Studio $199.

Let me start by saying these are all great products and again your final choice will beBuild A Home Recording Studio for Under $2,000 a DAW that flows with your style of creating.  With that said, there are a few on the list I’ll mention specifically.  Cubase Artist  6 provides many of the same functions of the full version of Cubase with some of the features scaled back.  Here is a feature comparison of Cubase 6 and Cubase Artist 6.  The advantage here is that if you ever wish to upgrade, you already know the software and can upgrade at a discounted price.  I prefer the user interface on Cubase over a DAW like Pro Tools, because Pro Tools was designed for audio engineers and its user interface and flow of working may be less intuitive for musicians.  Cubase was designed for musicians and its user interface seams more intuitive for musicians in my opinion.

Build A Home Recording Studio for Under $2,000If you’re a Mac user I would recommend Apple’s Logic.  As much as I like Cubase for it’s design, function and flexibility, I prefer Logic with my Mac as it is created by the same company that makes the hardware and OS and stability is unparalleled.  Logic Express 9 is a nice step up if you’re currently using Garage Band and are looking for more functionality.  Logic Express 9 is virtually the same as Logic Studio 9, with a few less virtual instruments and less media content.  Here is a feature comparison of Logic Express 9 and Logic Studio.

Ableton Live is a completely different animal from any other DAW in that it’s more catered to live performance and for producers who prefer a “Loop” style of working.  Live Intro is a scaled back version of Live (a little too scaled back in my opinion), but you can always upgrade to the full version of Ableton Live at a discounted price once you try out the software and decide you like how it flows with your creativity.

6. Instrument & Effects Plug-ins

So now you’re recording and you only need some instruments and sounds to begin laying down tracks.  Fortunately all of the DAWs I list above come with some level of virtual instruments and virtual effects plug-ins.  My recommendation starting out is to get familiar with your DAW first before you begin looking into expanding your sound palette with plug-ins.  Plug-ins are eventually going to be the most costly purchases to your kit, so take your time and really do your research before coughing up the dough.  You can view the list of virtual instruments in my kit list for some ideas.

For some great FREE plug-ins, I highly recommend you visit www.Voxengo.com. They have about 13 FREE high quality effects plug-ins including SPAN which is a must have spectrum analyzer.  For FREE shareware virtual instruments you can visit www.free-plugin-list.com for a variety of analog synths, drums and effects.

Build A Home Recording Studio For Under $2,000

So let’s head to our check-out line and see if I kept my promise of a home recording studio for under $2,000.

Check-out line:

$900 – Computer

$200 – Audio Interface

$250 – Monitor Speakers

$350 – Keyboard Controller

$250 – DAW

—————————————–

$1,950 – Total

Cha Ching!! On time, and on budget.  Since you may have a few dollars left over, you may want to look into these other important items:  1. External Hard Drive – to store your recorded files and virtual instruments.   2. Uninterrupted Power Source (UPC) – To protect your gear against power spikes and outages.  Read my post on  Safeguarding Your Home Studio. 3. Microphone – To Record your voice or acoustic instrument.  4. Acoustic Room Treatment – To improve the acoustics in your recording environment.

Check out this video tour of my current Home Recording Studio!!


Stephan Earl

 
Composing, recording and producing music in the home studio environment for over 25 years, musician and author Stephan Earl now enjoys sharing his home studio setup experience with other home studio recording musicians via HomeMusicProduction.com.