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Home Recording Studio - What You'll Need To Get Started

By Rusty Blue

With the digital revolution happening in the music world today, it would be a sin to not consider the home recording project as an alternative to big expensive recording studio's. But the question remains, what should I buy to get started?

First of all you have to decide the appropriate location of your recording studio, it could be a garage, a basement, a living room, or even your bedroom. This question must be answered before you buy anything. If you choose your garage for example, you'll have to think of maybe soundproofing it, so you'll have a minimum of control over the reflective sounds coming from the surrounding walls. If it's in a apartment living room, you'll have to find ways to reduce the volume coming from your monitors so that you don't disturb your neighbors.

Second thing to look for is on what medium you are going to record your music on. Will it be on an analog tape machine or a digital system such as a computer? For purist, the analog way is still the better option, for its warmer characteristic and natural compression. But for many, the DAW (digital analog workstation) is the standard of the future. Everything can be replicate in the digital sphere these days, so take the time to decide what medium you will be comfortable with. But as a recommendation and for many, the computer-based recording system is the best bang for the buck on the market right now.






Then the recording chain, everything in it is important, but usually is like a decrescendo in terms of value, as the first to consider and pay attention is inevitably the music quality.

Technically if you're a poor singer or a bad instrumentalist, no microphones, preamps, equalizers or compressors will make your performance sound better, all it will do is alter and modify the original source to some degree, but nothing more. So always try to get the best performance possible, before hitting the record button, Practice,practice and pactice make some good arrangements, write good lyrics, make it enjoyable. Go back to the essence of music.

Let's first look at the first piece to buy when you decide to record on a digital medium. You've possibly heard a lot about soundcards lately, and with the explosion of various models, these digitals recorders can do a pretty professional job if you learn to operate them in a proper way. They can all possibly record in 24 bits 96 kHz and over, so for the recorder hobbyist, it won't be a problem to find something that's good an affordable.

Comes next, the choice of microphones, that's maybe the second most important thing to consider in the signal chain after the performance. All microphones have their own sound and personality, so when buying them, take the time, if possible, to audition as many as possible at your local store, Try to put your own voice or guitar or any instrument in it, and evaluate if you like the sound that comes out. It's a very subjective area so try to choose accordantly to what your ears like. There's plenty of models available on the market, but basically you'll find three types that you should be familiar with: the dynamic, the condenser and the ribbon microphone.

The dynamic microphone uses a simple design to create the electric magnet that will transmit the sound wave in the audio chain. It uses an electromagnet principle to function. The diaphragm is attached to a coil, so when the diaphragm vibrates in response to the sound source, the coil moves backwards and forwards past the magnet element. This automatically creates an electrical current in the coil, which is passing from the microphone along wires. These mics are often very versatile; they can be placed on all kind of sources from kick drums to loud vocal for an electric guitar for example. They are usually used in live applications as they are robust and are less sensible to ambient noise, and most large studios use them as they can be use on everything.






Condenser microphones use another rule to convert the sound. They usually require a battery or an external electric power that will produce a 48 voltage. These mics are build on a capacitor with two plates with a voltage between them. One of these plates is made with a very light material and plays the role of a diaphragm and then vibrates when attack by sound waves. When the distance changes between the two plates, the capacitance change also. When the plates are closer together, capacitance increases and a charge current occurs in the process. When the plates are further apart, capacitance automatically decreases and a discharge current occurs.

 These mics are more detailed than the dynamic microphones and are well suite for tracking a lead vocal, or an acoustic guitar for example, as they capture more details and subtle nuance from an instrument. They also have a flatter frequency response than what you can find in the majority of dynamics microphones

Next comes the ribbon mic, which generates voltage by an electromagnetic induction. Inside of this mic, there's a very thin conductive ribbon that vibrates in a magnetic field; a small electric current is induced in the ribbon and preamplified to convert the sound. Considered by many as a very natural sounding mic, it has undisputedly a soft and warm sound that is very pleasing, and can give a good old vintage flavor in those days of sometime cold modern digital recording sound. They tend to have a lower gain output level than the dynamic and condenser microphones.

The microphone choice must be based on what your ears favor. Select one like a painter would do with his color palette: experiment and have fun doing it.

Then comes the microphone preamplifier. Mic Preamps boost the signal to a standard line level, which all recorders can then capture easily. It acts like a gain stage for the mic, before it reaches the recorder. These machines can add texture and color to your tracks, like some microphones do. The microphone preamplification subject is a whole world by itself, so I won't be covering it in details. Let just say that it is an important part of your recording chain and it can take the most out of your mics. Often, as a start, a good mixer with decent preamps will do a pretty satisfying job, and some soundcards companies incorporate thems more and more inside of their products also.

After choosing your mic and preamp setup, there's one component that you have to purchase if you want to build a good recording studio. I'm talking about the audio monitors. These boxes are your reference for everything that goes in your recording chain, so a well-taken time to buy a good pair is elemental. Studio monitors differ from hi-fi speakers by their flatter response range. They can give you a more realistic image of what's going on in your recording and mixing process. Hi-fi speakers tend to sweeten the sound to make it pleasant for commercial CDs for example, but lack the precision of what a good pair of near-field monitors can offer. When buying these reference boxes, take the time to go to your local store with your best CDs and try to investigate what you hear. Do they have to much bass, or not enough, do they sound to harsh for example? Try to buy a pair that sounds good for you and that will not create ear fatigue after several hours of listening in your studio.

Finally, you won't be able to track anything if you don't have multi-track recording software. This is where you lay down the tracks you've recorded. It's also the place where you edit, arrange and mix your songs. There's a wide selection of this product on the market, but basically they all do the same things and you'll find all the basic functions in all of them. If you don't have the budget for now, you can still find free legal versions on the net, which will respond to your basic needs. Most of these programs come with default FX plug-ins like compressors, reverbs and equalizers that you can use instead of buying the external hardware analog version. There's also plenty of third parts plug-ins that you can buy or download legally for free, that emulates the real thing.

This resumes what you need to get started with your recording studio project. So let's recapitulate: first the location of your recording studio: decide where and how, and make adjustments depending of your choice. Then decide if you prefer to go the analog or digital, considering the fact that the computer-based system will be the standard in the near future. If you go digital, choose a soundcard that will correspond to your needs. Start with one or two good microphones, depending of what you record, and combine them with a good preamp or mixer or take the ones that come with your soundcard if there is. Then choose the best studio monitors you can afford. And finally get a multi-track recording software to lay down your tracks, edit and mix them in real-time. As a final thought, trust your ears when your buying recording equipments, let them be the judge, it will always be your best bet in the long run.


About The Author: 

Rusty Blue runs a great web site called Gear Audition, where you can listen and compare home recording equipments in .wav and mp3 format.

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