Recording studios come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It may be an amateur booth in your bedroom, a studio in your garage, or you may own and run a fully-fledged professional set up. Whichever it is, you can access the right kit to make it a functional and top-class recording space and purchase the gadgets that every recording studio must have. This might cost you a considerable amount, to begin with, but the pay off is worth it in terms of a quality finished album. Or if it’s a commercial studio, to attract higher-profile clients.
If you’re planning to buy some studio time rather than create your own space, this article will help you to understand what you need to look for when choosing your venue. And which add on gadgets may be useful in getting that perfect track.
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What does every recording studio need?
While style and staff will be different from one studio to another, each will have many things in common. Alongside a purpose build, part of the makeup of a studio is its equipment. Most studios will list what they have on their website, so you can identify whether they’ll be able to provide what you need. Let’s begin by looking at the basics required to record your own music professionally.
- DAW (digital audio workstation -the software used to compose, produce, record, mix and edit audio and MIDI)
- An audio Interface
- Microphones – usually a condenser is best
- Studio Monitors with isolation pads -if you have several you’ll need a gadget to manage these – more o that later
- Cables (invest in some snake cables)
- Microphone Stands
- A pop filter
- Mounts and shock mounts
These items will get you started. But there are many more gadgets that’ll prove invaluable in the process. You’ll soon want to move onto getting the following in your studio…
- Power Conditioner
- Microphone preamp
- Headphone amp
- Monitor and MIDI controllers
- Uninterruptible Power Supply
- Direct Box
- Master Clocks
- Signal booster
Creating a Professional recording studio setup
High quality professional standard equipment is what makes successful music stand out from amateur attempts. Let’s take a look at these eight gadgets in more detail to see what they do and how they might benefit you.
#1 A power conditioner
The electric currents running through your equipment aren’t smooth. They’ll be spikes and surges, manifesting in musical terms as a low-level electrical noise or minor interruptions. If this is something you’ve experienced, then it’s well worth getting a power conditioner to even this out. This is not the same as a surge protector, which prevents dangerous surges in electricity. Power conditioners are purely about the sound.
Music studio gadgets
Some of these gadgets may be new to you completely. Even if you’ve recorded tracks before, you may not have realised what some of the boxes and wires were.
#2 A microphone preamp
You’ve obviously heard of an amp, but what about a preamp? These are necessary when recording vocals. Mics give off a weak signal, so this little gadget is the go-between for your mic and the mixer. It’s less important if you use a condenser, but generally necessary for ribbons and dynamic microphones. You must get a good one – it can transform a poor mic if it’s good, but ruin even a good mic’s sound if it’s not. Find out some of the best preamps of 2020 in this article by Music Critic. It’s also worth getting a reflection filter fitted onto your mic.
#3 A headphone amp
While we’re on amps, we should mention the headphone amp. This translates the signal from your turntable, PC, or smartphone a higher to such a level that is can be recognised as sound waves by the speakers inside your headphones. This improves the quality, enabling you to hear and in turn perform, better. The caveat here is that a headphone amp is only useful if you’re using high-quality phones. If you have a cheap pair and a home studio setup it may not be worth the investment.
What equipment do you need for music production?
So what else will might you need for music-making and production in the studio?
#4 Monitor management and MIDI controllers
Monitors in the studio are speakers, not screens. And you need something with which to control them. This enables you to switch between multiple monitors, adjust levels and inputs gaining complete control over your entire monitor setup. If you have many instruments and backing singers in your recording, there will be monitors everywhere. Types of monitor controllers include compact, active, passive, intuitive, wired, Bluetooth and high resolution.
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controllers on the other hand sequence music and play virtual instruments on your computer by sending data to the computer or synthesizer. This, in turn, regurgitates the signal and spits out a complete sound. This will, of course, be an important device in building your track, if you’re a vocalist needing virtual backing.
#5 An uninterruptible power supply
Known at UPS, these are by no means exclusive to the recording studio. They’re used anywhere you need a constant supply of energy in the event of a power failure. This is vital in a professional studio, as any interruptions could ruin that perfect take and lose everything you’ve done so far. And when musicians are paying by the hour, they don’t want to be delayed or have to repeat sections, because your kit wasn’t up to scratch. A power conditioner purely irons out the current, but can’t protect your supply in the event of a mains fail, so you should have both of these gadgets.
The best studio gadgets
#6 A direct signal box
Also known as a DI (direct insertion or direct injection) box, this is a kind of transformer and relates to the instruments you’ll be using in the studio (if you’re just covering vocals with backing tracks, give the direct signal box a miss). It reduces distortion, hum and ground noise by converting an high resistance unbalanced, instrument output signal into a balanced, low resistance input mic signal. In essence, this gives a better sound on your instruments. It then splits the sound from the jack to the audio interface. Musicians can also get direct signal boxes suitable for stage performance too.
Direct signal boxes are especially handy if you need to run cables over long distances, as the sound can often get distorted in the process. You can choose between a passive and an active box. The latter is pricier and runs off a battery, AC or phantom power, providing significantly improved sound quality. Passive boxes are great for home studios and can be plugged straight into the console. Many DI boxes are designed with specific instruments in mind, so it’s ideal if your studio has a few to choose from. And if you’re buying do some research on the best model for you
#7 A master clock
We’re not talking about the thing you hang on the wall. This is one of the high tech gadgets every recording studio must have. In the recording studio, we’re continually intermixing both analogue and digital inputs and outputs. A continuous analogue signal must be sampled at regular intervals. A master clock or ‘word clock’ provides this information allowing the sound waves to be reconstructed as an analogue signal correctly when required. The clock identifies when each sample should be recorded or replayed. Beyond this, it also identifies each encoded audio channel in multi-channel systems. And a master clock looks nothing like a traditional clock by the way!
Professional recording studio equipment
#8 The signal booster
We’ve got into some pretty technical territory, but we’ll finish up with a more generically familiar device – the signal booster. Chances are you have one of these in your home if you live somewhere with an extended area of space.
Like a mains fail with your power, a loss of internet signal can be catastrophic, losing your takes and costing you valuable time -and money. A weak signal is incredibly frustrating. So don’t take any chances. Even if your connection is usually strong, it just takes a local issue to knock it out. And you’ll get things done faster with a signal booster. It also goes without saying that you should get the best broadband available in your area.
The other possible ‘gadget’ we’ve not explored in detail is the DAW. This is because it’s not always a gadget, but rather integrated software. However, it is possible to buy a DAW in device form. According to Consordini, these are some of the best DAW software buys of 2020.
Avid Pro Tools
Apple Logic Pro X
Image Line FL Studio
Reason Studios Reason
PreSonus Studio One
The home recording studio setup
In addition to these gadgets, you’ll benefit from using hardware including bass traps, diffusers and acoustic panels to dampen the sound and absorb unwanted extraneous noise. These are part of your kit, rather than being a gadget as such. Bass traps work a lot like acoustic panels, but unlike panels, they don’t just absorb the low-end frequencies in the recording area. Bass traps will make the low frequencies easier to control and recognize, creating a crisper, cleaner and more interesting layering of sound. If this is all a bit too overwhelming, you can purchase an all in one start-up production bundle for a few hundred pounds. You can find out more about building your own DIY studio in this article.