I am looking to build a better home studio than what I currently have. At the moment I am plugging a phantom powered mixer straight into the microphone jack in my Windows PC. I then use a condenser mic to record acoustic instruments and vocals. The pc has a terrible sound card and thus I get mixed results. The latency when writing scores on Finale using a midi keyboard is atrocious!

I am looking to build a quality home studio that is budget friendly. Not counting a new computer if it were required, I'd be looking to spend less than $1,000.

What should I focus on to obtain professional sounding recordings? I've heard some people swear by using a DAC. I've heard some people swear by using an audio interface. Then I hear most people swear by a mac.

I write and record orchestrated folk music, akin to 1960's rock. I do not have much use for recording multiple instruments at once, although it would be a good feature to have. I would love for my music to sound organic and natural, so I do believe that taking an analogue route would be best.

Can anyone suggest what is the main equipment that I should focus on? What sorts of things do I need to cut down on midi latency for writing scores? Should I invest in a new sound card? Do audio interfaces essentially take the place of a sound card? Are DAC's the way to go? Is $1,000 enough for a decent home studio? Are the onboard sound cards on a mac better than their counterparts on the pc?

Any and all help will be greatly appreciated!

  • 1
    hi MrTheBard, your question is mainly focussed on music production and not sound design. Although we could help you find a nice DAC or sound card, this is not exactly the main purpose of this community. But to give you a straight forward answer, you don't buy a decent home studio for 1000 dollars, you can buy a decent soundcard and some cables: check out apogee duet or rme babyface. – Arnoud Traa Feb 17 '14 at 14:55

Certainly, the very first thing you will want to get is a decent audio interface. Note that an audio interface includes a DAC for each output and an ADC for each input. A DAC is used for output and wouldn't help with your capture (it goes from digital to analog, you need the other way around for capture.)

A mac isn't necessary at all. They tend to be popular with the artsy crowd because they are well built computers that don't require fiddling to get right, but if you are knowledgeable with PCs it is cheaper and arguably even more effective to build a PC based system, you just may have to work the bugs out of it yourself before it works exactly the way you want. (I've personally always worked in the PC world for my personal stuff. I have used Macs before when using other people's rigs or when using rigs at college and I honestly prefer my PC.)

Beyond the audio interface, you may want to either look at better sound proofing or better microphones depending on what you currently have. The amount you'll have left over after a decent audio interface will depend on how many channels you need though.

Another possible option if you plan to be working with multiple channels is a digital recording sound board. If you only plan to capture a couple channels, I'd probably not bother, but if you are going to plan on capturing multiple channels at the same time, a sound board is helpful and a digital one can keep costs down by doubling as your interface.

  • Thank you for your suggestions AJ. Do you know of any good audio interfaces? As aforementioned, I'm mainly going to be recording acoustic instruments, vocals, and some electric bass/guitar. I've spoken with two colleagues of mine, one of them uses a Focusrite, and the other uses and M-box. – MrTheBard Feb 18 '14 at 12:54
  • Do you need to record at the same time or are you planning to stack them and if so, how many inputs do you plan to record simultaneously? There are really any number of good options. I tend to lean towards M-Audio's stuff, at least for starting out, though personally I use an old Creative Professional 0404 that I picked up over a decade ago. – AJ Henderson Feb 18 '14 at 14:23
  • I'm essentially a one man orchestra, so perhaps once in a blue moon I might do a simultaneous take of guitar and bass or something with a colleague. It's not high on my list of sought out features. My main interest is clear, crisp quality, and close to no latency for MIDI input. – MrTheBard Feb 18 '14 at 14:32

One thing to mention are Digital Mixing consoles, like Presonus. They are a mixer + preamp + sound card. So it allows you too easily record multiple instruments right into usb. The great thing about digital mixing descs is the easy usability, inbuilt fx and more important they do not color your sound. Which is important imho because cheap analogue gear mostly colours the sound in ways i don't like. If you go digital, you can then easily include analogue preamps or eqs to give some warmth to your low mids.

Also one thing that is very important, even more so then the whole setup, is a good room treatment and a decent mic. you can easily build your own acoustic treatment with rock wool (careful it is irritating for your skin and lungs, so read some tutorials before you handle it), sand and helmholtz resonators. For a mic i can recommend the studio project b1/3 and the sm 57/58. Both mics have a very good musical sound for under 100$. If you want to spend a little more, dive into the telefunken stuff. And go for a large condenser mic if you want to record acoustic stuff.

Room treatment + Mics + digital "neutral" ADCs are the basics that you need to get some good sound. Also go to gotyes channel on youtube. He shows how how he made some of his songs. And he uses very little gear to get big recording results.


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