Monkey Stories - 10 Essential Gears To Start Home Recording Studio

On our previous tutorial , we talked about definition of home studio, type of room needed to start a home studio as well as some basic acous...

On our previous tutorial, we talked about definition of home studio, type of room needed to start a home studio as well as some basic acoustic explanation. In this chapter, we are going to discuss more on the most common & essential gears in home studio. Getting excited? 😊

Top 10 Common Home Recording Gears You Should Consider To Have In Your Home Studio.

1. Acoustic Treatment - The Remedies of Your Room

Now you have a room, and before you start any recording, do you really examine whether your room sounds clear and noise free to work out your stuff? Is there any external noise such interrupting your workflow? Why acoustic treatment as the first priority? The reason is simple, because we want our source to sound as PURE & CLEAN as possible during the process of audio recording. Acoustic Treatment is a big topic, without delaying your precious time to build your home studio, let's get started with some basic concepts and also setup in this chapter.

acoustic treatment

As a musician, this may not be an essential skill that you need to learn. However, it will be an added advantage if you are looking forward to speak the same language with the audio engineer in your studio. As a recording engineer/acoustic consultant, this is somehow considered an essential knowledges to master in your career.

1.1. Acoustic Treatment = Soundproof?

A lot of people may often misunderstood the terms of "Acoustic Treatment" as Soundproofing. "Soundproof" may seem attractive enough for certain people when building up their studio. The truth is NO.  Soundproofing could be just a subset of Acoustic Treatment.

Theoretically, Acoustic Treatment is the process and methods of dealing with the acoustic problems in an untreated room/area. Acoustic problems could be background noise, over-colored room reverberation, excessive flutter echos, muddy low end, and many more.

*Notes: Depends on your application, a control room may have different design requirements and way of treatment when comparing to a vocal booth or recording room.

1.2. 3 Basic Subsets of Acoustic Treatment
To simplify this, we are categorizing the acoustic issues into 3 simple subsets (Isolating, Enhancing, Spreading). A mixture of these 3 subsets would eventually help your room sounds better.

Refer to image below.

1. Soundproofing - Stop or isolate all the sound travelling from an enclosed space to another unenclosed space or vice versa.
2. Sound Absorption - Cutting out excessive echo/reverberation and also noise level within the enclosed space.
3. Sound Diffusion - Ability to scatter all the reflected sound to an intended directions or all direction within an enclosed space.

1.3. Materials
I believe many of you have seen, heard or used eggcrate box as an acoustic solution to call the soundproofing or absorption effect in your room. Let us find out now the mystery of eggcrate now.

Soft Materials Absorb Sound 
Thick Moving Blankets, Pillows, Carpet,Cork, Curtains, Cushions, Quilts, Bed Spreads, Clothes, Mattresses, Plush Furniture, etc.

Hard Materials Reflect Sound 🎼
Wood, Glass, Stone, Cement, Laminate, Bathroom Tile, Fiberglass Sheets, Bricks, etc.

Rules To Remember:
The greater the DENSITY of an object, the greater the effectiveness of SOUNDPROOFING. The lower the density of an object, the better the efficiency of SOUND ABSORPTION.

Thickness of materials would affect the frequencies in sound absorption. High frequencies are easily absorbed by shallow surfaces such as towel or thin blanket, lower frequencies require some depth in the absorbing material such as pillows or bass trap.

In this case, lets find out the normal density of eggcrate box along with the materials which deem to be effective for soundproofing as well as sound absorption.

Normal Egg Carton Density : approximately 650 - 700 kg/m3
2" Industial Level Acoustic Foam Density: approximately 30 - 50 kg/m3
(source validated by Engineering Toolbox -

*Notes: kg/m3 is the unit to measure the density of a solid.

Apparently, the density of normal egg carton is actually higher than the industrial level acoustic foam. Therefore, it is not considered as an effective material for sound absorption.

2. Windows vs Mac vs Linux

Before you start to click on the record button on your DAW, you need a PC, it can be a Windows, Mac, or even Linux. However, the largest and common user base that we see nowadays are using Windows or Mac. Therefore, just pick one of it and start now. 😊

There's still many arguments out there whether to choose Windows or Mac. In fact, it doesn't matter which one you choose, go ahead with your own budget, sharpen up your skills and you will be surprised that you can produce the things you like.

2.1. How Far Should I Upgrade My Hardware Components?
These are all depends on how far you want to go for your own production. If you are merely doing with few tracks and also plugins, you don't actually need the world best performance PC to accomplish this. However, if you are working on with a lot or probably unlimited tracks, you may need to look into your processing power, RAM, as well as Hard Disk Space.

➡ Minimal Spec We Suggest To Get Started:
  1. Windows XP, Windows7, Mac OS
  2. 8GB RAM
  3. 1.8Ghz Dual Core or Higher
  4. 500GB Hard Disk Space

Do you still think we need super computer to start a quality yet simple recording?

3. DAW - Digital Audio Workstation

Once you have a PC, you need a DAW, which is also commonly called as "Digital Audio Workstation", "Recording Software", "Music Arrangement Software" by people. The digital audio workstation is a software which allow you to carry out your recording and also music arrangement task more efficiently.

There are many DAW in the market regardless of paid or open source. You only need to pick the right one and put in some effort and time to learn them. However, we strongly suggest get a lifetime licence of paid DAW.

3.1. What are the common DAW used in the industry?
For Windows Users - Cubase/Nuendo, FL Studio, Mixcraft, Pro Tools, Ableton, Bitwig, Cakewalk, Studio One & etc.
For Mac Users - Garageband, Cubase, Pro Tools, Ableton, Logic Pro

3.2. Why Are Some DAWs So Expensive? Paid or Open Source (Free)?
There is no specific answer to this. The fact that you may need to know is the pricing of DAWs have been dropping to the extent of affordable for everyone who is serious in music production to use it.

First off, developers need to be paid for their time and knowledge, which are major expenses. Then they need to continue offering on-going support for the product, which isn't free. Just like you need to be paid by your client to produce the best content to them from time to time.

If your jobs really give you a good return, don't be afraid of paying to the DAW that satisfy all your job requirements. Most of the paid DAW provide fancy features, you shouldn't limit your capability in any of these free DAW. Instead, you should try to expand your capability by using these paid features which would eventually improve the quality of your production.

➧Advantages of using Paid DAW:
  • Quality in-house plugins & sound samples
  • More intuitive user interface
  • Expand the limitation features of the DAW
  • Fast support & software update
➧Disadvantages of using Free DAW
  • Quality of plugin or sound samples could be limited
  • Some audio driver or VST could be unsupported (Audacity does not support ASIO at this moment due to licensing issue.)
  • Lack of immediate support when issue occurs
  • Less intuitive graphic user interface

3.3. Standard Price Range of Different DAWs in Malaysia currency 
Find out the recommended DAW that fit your home studio with the price range below:

FREE - Audacity, Studio One Prime, Garageband (Mac), Cubase LE

RM100 - RM1000 - Mixcraft 9 Recording Studio, Mixcraft 9 Pro Studio, Reaper Discounted License, Magix Music Maker, Studio One 5 Artist/Pro, FL Studio Fruity, FL Studio Producer, Ableton Live 9 Intro, Logic Pro X (Mac), Bitwig

RM1000 & above - Studio One 5 Professional, Steinberg Cubase Pro, FL Studio Signature, Ableton Live 9 Standard, Ableton Live 9 Suite, Pro Tools

✔Tips: Most of the DAWs provide trial version, give it a try before making a purchase. 

4. Audio Interface / Sound Card / Recording Device

The audio interface or sound card is commonly known as the core of your home recording. The audio interface is basically an audio device that allow you to hook up to all your gears such as microphones, headphones, effect processors, preamp, studio monitors, MIDI controller as well as musical instrument to start your recording. In more technical explanation, the audio interface basically convert and transport your analog signal to digital signal or digital signal to analog signal.

Want to know little bit more about physics of the signal encoding method? We will be cover some basic on our later chapter. 😊

There are few factors to consider when picking your audio interface such as the Type of Power Connection, Numbers of Input/Output, Audio Driver Support, & Form Factor. Cost of acquiring an audio interface maybe vary depending on these common factors.

4.1. Powered via USB/Thunderbolt/Firewire/PCIe?
The differences between these connections are the speed of data transfer and also PC connectivity options. Faster connection allows you to record multi-tracks more smoothly at once.

PC User - USB 2.0 to 3.0, Firewire (with Firewire Card installed), Thunderbolt, PCIe
Mac User - USB 2.0 to 3.0, Firewire, Thunderbolt

How fast the connection?
USB 2.0 : 480 Mbps ★★
USB 3.0 : 5Gbps ★★★★
Firewire : 400 or 800 Mbps ★★★
Thunderbolt : 40Gbps ★★★★★★★★
PCIe 3.0 :  8 GTs ★★★★★★★★

For most home studio, the USB connection of audio interface is still the first choice to go due to its compatibility with most of the devices.

4.2. Numbers of Audio Input/Output?

Input - Microphone, Instruments, MIDI or Line (Synthesizer, Mixer, Effect Processors, Preamplifier) Output - Headphone, Monitors, Subwoofers
First of all, ask yourself, are you recording in solo or with a group of people ?

For solo musicians or home recording enthusiast,
2 - 4 inputs are the best to go. If you are recording a group of people or instrument which require to record many different tracks at once, you may need more than 4 or up to 20.

4.3. Audio Driver Support
The most common audio drivers which we used to see in Windows recording are WDM/Wave, ASIO or WaveRT. For Mac recording, you will be using CoreAudio USB Driver.

In this chapter, we ain't going to dive into Wave, Wave RT, or any other audio driver, we will talk about ASIO, one of the widely used audio driver in the industry. Most of the audio interface nowadays integrated or provide the in-house ASIO driver (which usually comes with installation CD). For some audio interface that doesn't come with ASIO driver, you may also go to to download.

4 facts you need to know about ASIO:

  1. ASIO is a trademark of Steinberg Media Technologies Gmbh
  2. Act as a driver that allowing your DAW to communicate with your audio interface
  3. Introduce extremely low latency and high fidelity which is great when you are doing your recording and also real time monitoring simultaneously
  4. Best to use when using a lot audio input and output.

4.4. Form Factor
What is form factor? Form factor is usually refer to the dimension, shape and also specs of the interface.

Remember, an interface can be as small as portable for you to be a travelling musicians which can bring them along in your journey. It can also be as large or long that need to rack-mounted.

Suggestion for most of the newbie in home recording, if you really have tight budget, start with a desktop interface which is usually close to your budget, easy-to-use and also require no special mounting. We will suggest a series of best audio interfaces for newbie on our later chapter.

Tips: Always remember, you don't need to always compare your gears with others. The final is all about the quality of your music. How much effort and passion you are willing to put will decide how far your quality to be.

5. Monitoring Headphone

One of the the most important message that everyone knows that if you have a headphone, it totally means you are fully isolated from the noise surround you. So, you could work on your project peacefully without interruption. 

Unlike typical multimedia headphone, instead of emphasizing and boosting on certain frequency areas, monitoring headphone should provide balance and more wider frequency response in general. Monitoring headphone are commonly used in recording and also mixing stage.

Recording Stage
  • Singer use monitoring headphone to monitor their vocal closely.
  • Instrumentalists monitor the accuracy and also tone of their instrument.
Mixing Stage
  • Mixing engineer monitors and identifies tiny errors and details which sometime can hardly be detected on speakers.
5.1. Open Back VS Closed Back?
For mixing purpose, we suggest the open back design headphone because it will give a more natural and airy sound when mixing. It is not suitable for performers as real time tracking during recording session as the sound would spill into your mic recording. 

Therefore, the closed back design will be appropriate for performer to track their vocal/instrument in real time when they are having a recording session. 

6. Microphone

Another essential gear here and most discussed topic in the realm of recording. We all know that we need a microphone to start recording. However, do you know the type of microphone commonly used in home recordings? So, what are the "studio microphone" which we usually called or seen?

6.1. Type of Microphone in the Market
Putting other type of microphone aside, here we list down the top 4 type of microphone we usually see in any home or pro recording studio:
  1. Condenser Microphone
  2. Dynamic Microphone
  3. Ribbon Microphone
  4. USB Microphone

6.2. What are The Characteristics of Different Type of Microphone? Are They All Suitable For Studio Recording?

Vanguard Audio V4 is an example of condenser microphone.

1. Condenser Microphone - known as Capacitor Microphone or Electrostatic Microphone. They are used widely and commonly in the field of studio recording due to it's widest frequency response, fast transient response (Attack), better sensitivity which in a way provide bigger sound quality as well as clear and detailed sound images. 

However, they are sometimes not really capable of handling large sound pressure level. To power them, you will need voltage supply of 48V to them. Common recording application: Vocal, Acoustic Guitars, Drum, String Instrument (Violin, Viola, Double Bass....)

Audio Technica MB1K is an example of dynamic microphone.

2. Dynamic Microphone - known as Moving Coil Microphone. Used widely in the field of live performance due to it's effectiveness to handle large SPL, resistant to moisture, robust and relatively inexpensive to setup. However, they may not as sensitive as condenser microphone if you are going to capture every little tiny and detailed sound signature. In recording realm, they are sometime being used to record live vocal due to less susceptible in capturing background noise. No phantom power is needed to record. Common recording application: Vocal, Drum

Audio Technica AT4080 is an example of ribbon microphone.

3. Ribbon Microphone - work the same theory as dynamic microphone to produce sound. They usually detect sound in a bidirectional pattern (8-figure). Likewise, most of them doesn't require phantom power to work. Works great for stereo recording. Bear in mind that this type of microphone is pretty fragile and usually need to be taken carefully.

Superlux L401U is an example of USB Microphone.

4. USB Microphone - Simplest way to explain is you are going to use your Condenser or Dynamic Microphone to power via USB instead of using any sort of power supply. Most of the USB microphones contain built in Analog to Digital Converter which in return you do not require an external microphone preamp to power them. Therefore, you may found that good USB microphone may cost slightly more than certain Low-Mid Price Range XLR Microphone. The good side? As easy as just plug & play. Other than that, they are usually quite portable and doing well if you are musician who travel a lot and need to get your demo done by easy setup. Thus, the USB microphone are quite suitable for podcasters, voice-over artist, web conferencers, and also light music production users.

6.3. How Much Do I Actually Need To Invest On A Recording Microphone? 
There's no RIGHT or WRONG answer for this. If you are just a newbie who doesn't want to risk yourself in buying some overpriced microphone, just stick to your budget and start practicing with it.

Does it make any differences for the cheapest and the expensive one? Technically speaking, YES! There are some differences at the aspects of their built components and specs but we are not going to cover it today. In terms of concept you are applying to get the best sound quality, they are almost similar. In our opinion, getting the one with higher price may eventually helps your post production job to be much easier especially during the mixing stage therefore you SAVE your time and less effort.

However, there is always a standard in pricing to get a fairly acceptable recording microphone. You may find there are tons of super duper cheap microphone out there which call themselves as "condenser" microphone from as low as RM20. But uhmmm... do you really want to compromise the quality of your recording? If you are looking forward to get a real budget condenser microphone to start recording in your room, just grab any of them in between the price range of RM300 - RM600. Intermediate players look for some upgrade? Go ahead with those microphones which are RM600 and above.

Remember, your sound can be affected by all in and out of your gears. Price is not the main factor to determine the quality of your final production. Think creatively and practice smartly for a successful music production journey.

7. Studio Monitor

Yamaha HS5 is an example of 5" studio monitor.

A studio monitor is a studio loudspeaker specifically designed for accurate sound monitoring (close to flat frequency response) for mixing and mastering purpose. There are few criteria to consider when choosing a pair of studio monitor for your home studio such as the power (watt), active/passive, and driver type.

7.1. Active VS Passive
A passive studio monitor often require you to have an amplifier or crossover to work with. As a result it will introduce extra cost to your setup. Active studio monitor get rid of all the extra cost. All you need is just to connect to a monitor controller or your audio interface/mixers to power it. This is one of the reason many worldwide professional studios rely on active monitors with no regrets.

7.2. How Much Power Do I Need For My Home Studio?
Size of your studio monitor is always inter-related to the output power of your studio monitor. A larger studio monitor always have a higher output power. For example, a 5 inch studio monitor always have an average output power around 50-80 watt whereas a 6 inch usually higher than that. Larger studio monitor usually introduce more detail in the low frequencies. 

✔Tips: Though larger studio monitor will give you more detail across the frequencies response, yet the monitoring accuracy can be affected by your room size and acoustic environment in your room. Choose a pair of monitors according to your home studio room size. For instance, a 5 inch studio monitor is just good enough for balanced and accurate monitoring in a small room within 4 meter square.

7.3. One Way VS Two Way VS Three Way Amplify Driver

One Way

Two Way

Three Way

  1. Single Amplifier
  2. One Amplifier To Drive The Output of Subwoofer (Low Frequencies) & Tweeter (High Frequencies)

  1. Dual Amplifier
  2. Two Separate Amplifier To Drive The Output of Subwoofer (Low Frequencies) & Tweeter (High Frequencies)

  1. Triple Amplifier
  2. Three Separate Amplifier To Drive The Output of Subwoofer (Low Frequencies), Midwoofer (Mid Frequencies) & Tweeter (High Frequencies)

7.4. The Myth 1: Why Are Most of The Multimedia Speakers Cheaper Than Studio Monitors?
Most multimedia speakers are not designed for studio monitoring, mixing and mastering purpose. They are usually manufactured in mass and sold cheaper to cater for the major consumer market.

7.5. The Myth 2: Can I Still Use My Multimedia Speaker For Mixing?

Yes, you may use it but definitely not recommended. This is due to most multimedia speakers are designed to fit most consumer listening preferences , be it too bassy or too bright. A good pair of studio monitor should sound natural (close to flat frequency response), uncolored, and balanced. The best way to test the effectiveness? Check your mix on as many output devices (car audio players, multimedia speakers, smartphone, TV...) as you can.

8. Cables & Connectors

Choosing the right cable for the right signal is essential. Well built audio cables and connectors improve sound quality by introducing less noise and also less interference to your audio signal. Let's look at the most commonly used connector on gears and cable in a home studio.

8.1. Balanced Cable VS Unbalanced Cable

Other than the built component, the main differences between a balanced and unbalanced cable is the maximum cable run support for every connection as well as the susceptibility to external noise interference.




Cable Length Support For Optimal Performance

50 to 100 feet (15-30 meters)

15-20 feet (4-6 meters)

Noise Suppression Ability



8.2. Connectors

3-Pin XLR Cable - Balanced Cable. Connect our microphone, speaker/studio monitor, subwoofers, effect processors, and preamplifiers.

1/4 inch TS Cable - Unbalanced Cable. Connect music instrument such as guitar, keyboard and etc.

1/4 inch TRS Cable - Balanced Cable. Connect any output devices such as studio monitor, headphones or subwoofers.

RCA Cable - Unbalanced Cable. Connect devices such as studio monitor, preamplifiers, or music players.

3.5mm TRS Cable - Balanced Cable. Connect any output devices such as studio monitor, headphones or subwoofers.

9. Pop Filter/Shockmount

9.1. Do I Even Need A Pop Filter During My Recording Session?
Are you recording a vocal? If YES, then most likely you need it because it helps you to clean up and avoid any explosive sound like the letter 'P or B' during the recording. As a result, you have a clear and non explosive word pronunciation during a close up vocal recording.

Tips: Do you know a pop filter can be used to record the best distance between the vocalist and the mic? This is useful to control the proximity effect.

9.2. Eh, but how about the "Spider Web🕸"?
Well, in studio term, we call them "Shockmount". Due to most studio microphone transducers are highly sensitive to rumbles and vibration, a shockmount will really need to take place to fix this. 

Tips: In order to lower total cost of ownership, not all microphones especially those below RM500 comes with and need a shockmount. In case you really need a shockmount, you may try your luck to look for any universal one which can fit nicely to your microphone.

10. MIDI Controller

Tired of excessive 🖰 mouse movement and clicking to control your DAW? Perhaps a MIDI controller will help you to make your recording and mixing job easier and faster. A MIDI controller or control surface basically is a device with some pads, button, rotary encoders, motorized/unmotorized faders, transport controls and joystick on it surface which allow you to transmit real time MIDI messages. Functions in your DAW or VST plugins can be programmed and mapped to your controller surface.

Tips: Certain MIDI controllers comes with the feature of auto MIDI mapping to specific or different DAW.

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