Help me set up a home studio
July 1, 2006 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by MeFi Music, it's time for me to put more effort into creating things. However, my home "studio" is pretty lame. I've upgraded from being a broke college student to a less broke employee, so I want to make it better. Any musicians want to help me out?

Right now I've got a mediocre keyboard with a perfectly useable midi out, a top of the line PC (I'm not switching to Mac, don't bother trying), an old SoundBlaster Live with midi in, some crappy speakers, and some fairly good headphones (Sennheiser HD 555's). I've been making music using an old "copy" of Reason. The weakest link right now is my absolutely horrible came-with-computer microphone.

My goal is to create music using a combination of my voice and software, using the keyboard for input. I definitely need a decent mic and a new sound card, at the least, so any suggestions there would be great. I was thinking of purchasing an upgraded Reason because I've liked it so far, but any other suggestions would be good. Are speakers needed for a home studio, or are headphones good enough?

I'm currently stuck in a one bedroom apartment, so space is somewhat of an issue. I'd appreciate suggestions on how to get the best sound quality from bad environments. I'd say my max budget for this set of improvements is around $2000. How should I bet spend that?
posted by JZig to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, software I'm looking for specifically is something to facillitate easy recording of multiple vocal tracks, and for adding effects to those vocal tracks. Reason is good for composing, but not so great for recording, as far as I can tell.
posted by JZig at 3:59 PM on July 1, 2006

If you plan on releasing anything, you'll do well to have a studio monitor to give you a better idea of what the track actually sounds like.

Headsets color what you hear by ramping up some frequencies versus others. By the time you mix down to a wild set of equalizer values, it'll sound horrid on anything else.

A small mixer with a multichannel sound adapter is a nice tool. Tascam makes a few, but here's one I would recommend to last a few years, if you want something that balances features with cost. It also comes with a nice DAW application. I'd dump the Soundblaster card.

Sony makes some nice, inexpensive microphones.

Reason is okay for the odd fun stuff but you need a ReWire-capable mixer to get sound out of Reason into another application. Better in the long run to use hardware or software synthesizers.
posted by Mr. Six at 4:03 PM on July 1, 2006

I'm in pretty much the same boat you are, but I've been getting advice on studio rigs from Tweakhead. This site's great for n00bs who want to start home recording. The guy who runs the site is a recording engineer. Seek wisdom there.
posted by lekvar at 4:10 PM on July 1, 2006

Cubase with reason is a very good multi-track composing environment which is also re-wire capable. Adobe audition might do the job too (though I tend to use that for very specific processing and editing rather than composing, and, I haven't tried it but,I've seen audacity mentioned a few times as a very good relatively cheap package. Not sure about prices for them. You'll want a few good plugins for effects. (Sonic Foundry and Waves tend to be top of the range stuff but pricey!). Get a decent external soundcard if you can too. Mr. Six's suggestion looks damn nice!

Microphones will definitely make the most difference though. A great vocal mic such as an AKG414 will cost you over a grand but there are some very acceptable cheaper vocal mics. (I use a T-bone sc400 from Thomann music store. I guess they don't deliver to the states but you probably have an equivalent somewhere nearer to you).

In terms of acoustics, if it is a small space then you'd probably do best to deaden reflections, either with some diffusers or just hanging up duvets on the wall, and apply artificial reverb instead.
posted by TwoWordReview at 4:48 PM on July 1, 2006

Headsets color what you hear by ramping up some frequencies versus others.

That is a rediculous statement. Most headphones are crap, but you will almost certainly be able to buy more accurate headphones than a monitor for the same money.

Grado makes the fantastic SR-60's for under $100. If you're looking to spend more, Sennheiser ist wunderbar!
posted by phrontist at 5:36 PM on July 1, 2006

Check out m-audio as well.
posted by phrontist at 5:41 PM on July 1, 2006

Why no mac?
posted by chupwalla at 7:36 PM on July 1, 2006

- You can get a good mic for $100 or so. You may need a phantom power source—I use a $100 Yamaha mixer, but you could probably buy a nice pre-amp unit as well or instead.
- $100-$200 for an decent basic audio interface—card or external box, whichever makes more sense for your computer setup.
- If your headphones are pretty good, you're set there—be sure to listen to works in progress on a variety of sources, of course.
- I use Adobe Audition 1.5 for all my multitracking. Doesn't seem to be the popular kid on the block, but it works very well for me. I also use Reason for synth stuff and drum tracks, and random free VST plugins for weird/fun instruments and processing.

Is your computer up to snuff for multitrack recording? Porcessor speed will ultimately limit the number of tracks you can deal with, and physical memory will be a bottleneck as well. If you've got at least several hundred MHz, you're fine for anything that doesn't get crazily ambitious. Half a gig of RAM, likewise.

You can definitely get up and running to a totally acceptable lofi microstudio level for well under $2000 if you don't have to, say, buy a whole new computer. I recommend you identify the three or four key things that you'd like to get/upgrade, find well-reviewed low-three-digits solutions for those, and start there—better to save some of the cash for the things you didn't realize you'd want/need a month a later...
posted by cortex at 11:13 PM on July 1, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice! Few more details for the curious:

No mac, because I need my windows machine for playing games (seriously not negotiable :)), and I don't have room for 2. My computer is specced just fine (2 gigs of ram, dual core Athlon64).

Based on the advice, I'm going to look into Adobe Audition (oh, heh, wikipedia tells me it's a renamed cool edit pro) and cubase. I'm using Audacity right now for recording, and while decent, the interface could use some help.

Thanks for the microphone links, and I'll definitely go check out tweakhead. Now that I think about it, using headphones makes more sense anyway. I have some hearing damage in my left ear, so with my Sennheisers I feel like I can get adequate fidelity, and isolate it better than with monitors.
posted by JZig at 2:03 AM on July 2, 2006

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