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November 21, 2016


Building a Home Studio, Part 1

“So I’m thinking of building a home recording setup, what should I buy?”

…is the last thing you ever want to ask an audio engineer.

Your hobbyist friends will lecture you with their “extensive” knowledge, giving you a laundry list of do’s and don'ts and an ebay shopping list requiring a second mortgage.

Your second cousin who interned at Wax Trax for a summer will grumpily dismiss your request, regaling you with the impossibility of the task and ultimately advising against it. 

While they both speak some truth, I’d like to offer a third opinion:

There is no better time to record at home than the present.  The roster of professional musicians abandoning the traditional studio experience for a DIY recording approach has been growing every year. Record sales (or the lack thereof) have proven the $500/hr studio model is not always necessary to record a great album. As a studio owner it hurts to say so, but some projects truly shine when produced and recorded by the artists that created them.  

Technology has not only caught up, but in some ways surpassed the ability of traditional studios. Quality recordings that required $200,000 worth of gear can now be accomplished with $2000.   

A few pieces of gear you're definitely going to need would include:

  • Computer
  • Recording interface
  • Studio Monitors and/or Headphones
  • Microphone

In this two-part blog we present some favorite entry-level gear, as well as some choice professional pieces. This is in no way a comprehensive guide to recording equipment, but a highlight of my favorite tools and the tasks at which they excel.





The Presonus AudioBox series of interfaces are a simple and reliable solution with the hobbyist in mind. With outstanding preamps built-in and compatibility with a wide range of operating systems, they are an easy gateway into the world of home recording. We at Chicago Music Exchange rely on the Audiobox iOne and Audiobox iTwo interfaces on a daily basis, both for YouTube videos and capturing live events.




 Apogee Electronics has been building professional-grade interfaces and audio converters since the very beginning. With the Duet and Jam series Apogee brings their award winning converters to the home recording market.  While higher in price, you'll know where that extra money went the first time you push play.  Pristine preamps and pro-quality converters set Apogee way ahead of the game. 



Universal Audio

 Universal Audio was founded by industry legend Bill Putnam, creating some of the most iconic recording equipment in the world. UA continues to push the limits of recording technology with their award-winning UAD-2 platform, designing audio plugins based on their classic equipment.

Recently UA has taken the home recording market by storm with the Apollo line of interfaces. Simple and intuitive, the Apollo combines the UAD plug-ins with an excellent sounding interface in an intuitive and accessible package.  




Shure SM57 


Possibly the most famous microphone in the world, the industry standard Shure SM57 is the Swiss Army knife of the recording studio. Whether its drums, guitar cabs, vocals, bass guitar, the SM57 is one mic every studio must have.  Check out our recent Secret Stash video demo using an SM57 close mic'd on the amp.



Aston Microphones


Released this year and made entirely in the U.K., Aston mics have been turning heads with their unique design and incredible sound. Modestly priced, Aston put their design budget where it counts: in the capsule!  With a simple case built entirely of recyclable materials, the Aston has a thick, beefy sound akin to other high-end condensers four times the price. Check out our Nash Wayfarer demo, using an Aston Spirit Condenser close mic’d on the amp.  


Earthworks SR25

If you’re a singer-songwriter or do acoustic recordings, this Earthworks SR25 Small Diaphragm Condenser will immediately become your secret weapon.  Acoustic guitars sparkle with realism, vocals chime with perfect high end. Throw this in front of a group of string players and your jaw will drop at the results. To hear one in action check out our Colter Wall unplugged video. The audio is a single Earthworks SR25 through a Presonus Audiobox iTwo interface.


Monitor Speakers

Yamaha HS Series

 After the legendary Yamaha NS-10 monitors were discontinued in 2001, budding engineers like myself were scrambling to find replacements. As the used NS-10 market soared out of our price range, many made the switch to the newly developed HS series. Similar in size and aesthetics, the HS speakers offer a concise and accurate representation of your recordings. Unlike their predecessor, HS speakers are powered monitors, making setup and tweaking a snap.   


KRK Rokit Series


 I'll admit I was not immediately a fan of the KRK Rokit speakers. With improved port designs and upgraded drivers, the Rokit G3 has become the industry standard of flat-response, entry-level monitor speakers. Not the best-sounding option, but by far the best-sounding monitors in their price range.  





Beyerdynamic DT-770

 Industry standard for a reason, the Beyerdynamic DT-770 is the only pair of "cans" I use in the studio. (Full disclosure, I'm wearing a pair now as I type) Incredibly flat response, the perfect amount of isolation and an extremely comfortable design, the DT-770 is as commonplace in studios as the SM57. Get a pair now. Hell, get three. You'll need them.  



AKG K240


For those that prefer an open-back design, AKG K240s provide an airy response and an accurate representation of your mix.  Modestly priced, absurdly comfortable, The AKG K240 is an excellent entry into the world of studio headphones.  





Vic Firth SIH1

While not the highest-fidelity of headphones, the amount of isolation achieved by their design makes the Vic Firth SIH1 indispensable.  Whether recording with a live band in the same room, or providing drummers a click track, the Vic Firth SIH1 will always save the day, and your ears!




Stay tuned for part 2 when we visit studio layout and construction!



Brad Althouse
Brad Althouse