So, you’ve reached the point where you’re ready to start piecing together a home studio. Chances are that if you’re a complete newbie to this world, you have no idea where to even start. Well, that’s what this guide is all about. This is your definitive professional recording studio equipment list, and we’re going to cover absolutely everything you need to start making music as soon as possible.
Now, it’s important that you don’t feel overwhelmed here. In this article, we’ll be talking about 50 essential pieces of equipment for a home music studio setup, but you most definitely don’t need all of them right away. To that point, you should treat this recording studio equipment list simply as a guideline, not a rule book so to speak.
To make things even easier for you, every piece of equipment on this list will be broken down into the four most common stages of a studio. Those stages are: bedroom studio, home studio, semi-pro studio, and professional studio. Let’s dive into each of these studio stages individually so we can learn about what each one entails.
The Four Stages Of A Studio
As your skills and music production abilities evolve over time, so will your studio. It’s simply the nature of things for a music producer or sound engineer. As this process unfolds, your studio is likely to go through the four common levels of evolution that I mentioned just a moment ago. The following stages are in order, so let’s get into each one in a little more detail.
This is the baseline for everyone’s music-making journey, and it’s where all of your dreams start to take shape. That being said, only the most basic equipment is necessary here. In other words, the bare essentials you need to start producing music at home.
There’s nothing fancy here. Typically a bedroom studio exists on a very small table in the corner of any room in your house. You’ll maybe only have a computer, some headphones, and a few other modest pieces of studio equipment, but that’s all you’ll need as a beginner.
There are some awesome recording studio bundles out there for those of you who are just starting out. This is a perfect way to kick start your music-making journey.
Dedicated Home Studio
A dedicated home studio isn’t a drastic upgrade from a bedroom studio, but it’s still an important evolution in your journey. This stage is where you convert a whole room in your home into a dedicated studio. Also, this stage is where you start adding more powerful equipment and even a moderate amount of acoustic treatment.
The dedicated home studio stage is probably my favorite level of evolution. In my own journey, making my own home studio was extremely gratifying and I started building more confidence during this stage. It’s a fun stage to be at as a musician.
This is where your studio truly starts to expand. A semi-pro studio can still exist in your home or at a different dedicated location like a commercial or multi-purpose building. All in all, this stage is where you start adding more advanced layers of recording capabilities as well as more acoustic treatment.
In short, a semi-pro studio is meant for recording any number of musicians simultaneously. If you want to record a 4-piece band with guitars, drums, and vocalists, then a semi-pro studio is where all of that is possible.
A pro studio is pretty much the end of the line when it comes to music-making stages. These types of studios can only exist at a commercial site and that location is sure to be packed with ultra-powerful studio equipment.
Every pro studio is full of gear that’s easily worth a moderate fortune, so it certainly takes quite a long time to reach this stage. At this stage, you pretty much have a successful business that’s sole purpose is recording and producing music for a living.
Okay, now that we’ve gone over the four stages of a studio, it’s time to get into the list of essentials for each stage. Again, in an effort to simplify things, I’ll include only the essential pieces of equipment for each individual stage.
This will hopefully make it more of a “goal setting” list for you. You can add more gear to your arsenal over time as you get more comfortable and level-up in your skills. It’s important to take things one step at a time.
So without further ado, here’s your ultimate professional recording studio equipment list…
Bedroom Studio Essentials
As I stated before, a bedroom studio is the most basic stage that includes only the bare essentials in terms of studio equipment.
Here’s a quick overview the essentials in this section:
- VST Plugins
- Desktop Audio Interface
- Studio Headphones
- Studio Microphone
- Pop Filter
- Microphone Stand
- MIDI Controller
- Studio Monitors
- Literature & Courses
Let’s talk about each of these individually.
You won’t get very far with your music making dreams without a computer. Back in the day, everything in a recording studio was analog. Nowadays, everything is done digitally, and it’s all done through a powerful computer.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you can go out and get any old computer for your studio and expect it to do the job you need it to. Music production software on it’s own is very taxing on a CPU. Once you start throwing VST plugins and hardware studio equipment into the mix, then all other components of a computer are affected as well. Plus, you need plenty of storage space for all of your sounds.
In the meantime, here is a quick overview of the minimum recommended specs for a studio computer:
- CPU: 2.4Ghz multi-core processor (Intel i5 or higher; AMD Ryzen 5 or higher).
- Memory: 8GB or higher.
- Operating System: 64-bit operating system.
- Internal Storage: 500GB SSD (avoid internal HDD).
- External Storage: An additional 500GB of storage for your samples should be sufficient; this can be either SSD or HDD.
- Computer Monitor Size: 13” or larger.
- Graphics: The built-in graphics card is just fine.
Once you’ve got a powerful computer and a computer monitor that’s big enough, you can start adding a few more pieces of studio equipment to your bedroom studio.
Studio Frequencies is reader supported. When you buy through links on our site we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.
Studio Frequencies is reader supported. When you buy through links on our site we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.
2. Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
Now that you have your shiny new computer, the next step is to load it up with a pretty important piece of software, otherwise known as the DAW. This invaluable tool is necessary for recording, mixing, tracking, and editing multiple tracks of audio simultaneously. DAWs truly are modern marvels of software audio engineering, and it’s up to you to choose the right one for you and your studio.
Now, there are quite a few DAWs out there to choose from. This will be the workhorse of your studio. Everything centers around this software, so choose wisely.
The most popular DAWs out there are Ableton Live, FL Studio, Logic Pro (exclusive to Mac), and Pro Tools. There are a few more that round out the list as well such as Cubase, Studio One, and Reaper.
If you’re a complete beginner to music production, then I’d suggest going for FL Studio or Ableton Live.
Ableton Live is a good place to start, but it’s not quite as “beginner-friendly” as FL Studio. Also, if you’re a Mac/Apple lover, then Logic Pro is a solid choice, but again, there’s a little more of a learning curve for beginners. FL Studio 20 introduced full compatibility with Mac, so you can still opt for that if you’re worried about Logic.
Overall, I’d recommend doing some extensive research on all the various DAWs out there before making your final decision. A lot of options have free trials that you can take advantage of as well.
Studio Frequencies is reader supported. When you buy through links on our site we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.
3. VST Plugins
You can have a fairly functional bedroom recording studio with a computer, a DAW, and some virtual instruments and effects. Hence why the next step after choosing a DAW is to invest in a few VST plugins.
VST plugins are virtual emulations of various hardware studio components. They come in the form of virtual synthesizers, effects like reverb or delay, mixing processors like compressors or equalizers, and even guitar amp emulations. Seriously, there are hundreds of thousands of VST plugins available.
Your DAW will come with its own stock plugins, but there are certain third party plugins that everyone and their dog uses. Some examples are Xfer Serum, Valhalla VintageVerb, FabFilter Pro Q3, Waves plugins, etc.
While it’s important to have hardware equipment like a MIDI keyboard, you can really get your initial creative juices flowing with some quality VST plugins in conjunction with your DAW and computer. At this stage, you have everything you need to make a simple song, so it’s a good place to start.
4. Desktop Audio Interface
It’s time to start adding some hardware to your bedroom recording studio. An audio interface will be the main hub of our studio. This is where all of your gear is connected. From there, the audio interface converts everything into a language that your computer can understand. This makes it possible to record external instruments like MIDI keyboards as well as vocals through a microphone.
Yes, that’s a very simple way of explaining what an audio interface does. Don’t worry, I have a very detailed article made to walk you through the process of choosing the right audio interface for your studio.
The main factors to keep in mind are the input and output count, the computer connectivity, and the quality of the mic preamps in a particular audio interface.
For Apple users, refer to my article where I cover the best audio interfaces for Mac.
5. Studio Headphones
These aren’t your typical consumer headphones. Studio headphones are specially designed for music production and sound engineering. Your average pair of Beats headphones feature an embellished frequency response, especially in the low-end bass frequencies. Studio headphones on the other hand are specifically designed to have a more flat frequency response for more accurate audio monitoring while recording and tracking.
Now, studio headphones come in three main forms: open-back, closed-back, and semi open-back. The two most popular are open-back and closed-back. Let’s talk about the differences between these types of studio headphones.
Open-back headphones have a perforated design on the back of each ear cup. The point of this is to create a wider soundstage by allowing sound to pass through the drivers. This helps to relieve pressure from the drivers and thus creates a more accurate representation of the source sound. This level of accuracy is exactly what you’re looking for when recording and monitoring.
These types of headphones are perfect for mixing and mastering in the studio due to their improved sound quality. The only downside to open-back headphones is their lack of isolation and increased noise spill.
Closed-back headphones are the exact opposite of open-back headphones. Both ear cups are completely sealed and they do a great job in terms of isolation. These types of headphones are great for live recording and tracking because they cut-out any background noise, enabling you to hear what you’re recording more clearly.
The drawback to closed-back headphones is their tendency to embellish certain frequencies. The enhanced pressure on the drivers will inevitably create an inaccurate representation of the source sound. This is especially true with bass frequencies that are more resonant.
Semi open-back headphones are a great mixture of the two previously mentioned types of headphones. High-end options provide a pretty flat frequency response while still limiting noise spill. They’re a good middle-ground.
The only issue with semi open-back studio headphones is that they’re very expensive. Also, even if you fork out all of that money, you’re still only getting a fraction of the benefits.
You might be better off investing in one pair of closed-backs and one pair of open-backs for your studio. That way you can have the very best of both worlds and you’ll increase your versatility.
All in all, studio headphones are an immensely important investment for your music-making endeavors.
On a separate note, let’s talk about in-ear monitors. Although they’re not a traditional piece of studio equipment, they can make for an interesting reference point for mixing and mastering. Refer to my guide on IEMs here to learn more!
6. Studio Microphone
It goes without saying that a microphone is instrumental for recording audio of any kind. In a bedroom recording studio setting, you’ll most likely only be recording a single track of vocals, whether it be your own or someone else’s.
When you’re just starting out, the only thing you need to consider is the type of microphone you need. In most cases, condenser mics are the way to go, but there are a few exceptions to that. First things first, let’s briefly talk about the different types of microphones for recording.
So, the two most popular types of microphones are condenser and dynamic. From there, you start getting into polar patterns and things really start to get complicated. For now, just focus on those two types of mics.
- Condenser microphones are more sensitive to quieter frequencies. They’re also more expensive, and they also require Phantom Power. They have become the staple for recording vocals due to their accuracy.
- Dynamic microphones are cheaper, they don’t require Phantom Power, and they can handle louder frequencies with ease. They’re typically used for live performances and they typically feature a more rugged design.
As you can see, in the early stages of your studio recordings, a condenser microphone will be better suited for you. That being said, certain dynamic mics like the Shure SM7B will be just fine as well.
Overall, it’s entirely up to you to decide what studio microphone will work best for your needs.
7. Pop Filter
Now that you’ve decided on a great microphone for your initial recording sessions, it’s imperative to pair it with a pop filter.
When recording vocals of any kind, there are an abundance of unwanted frequencies that can ruin everything. Let’s imagine a rapper recording a verse. Almost every second the vocalist is taking a breath or letting out strong “p” or “s” pronunciations. All of those sounds in such a short amount of time start to overpower the rest of the recording.
That’s where a pop filter comes in. This tool is usually fixated in front of the microphone’s diaphragm and is designed to filter out these undesired sounds.
In some cases, studio microphones will come bundled with their own pop filter. With that, most of the time those included pop filters are subpar in performance. I’d suggest getting a high-quality pop filter separately.
8. Microphone Stand/Boom Arm
On top of a pop filter, your new microphone will need something to support it. Not only that, but you’ll need a way to properly and easily position it. That’s where a mic stand or boom arm comes in handy.
In a bedroom studio setting, you probably won’t have the room for a stand-up mic stand quite yet. That’s why I recommend getting a boom scissor arm initially. Down the road, however, you’ll definitely need a few stand-up mic stands.
The main factors to consider here is the build quality and weight capacity of a particular mic stand or boom arm. Check out the mic stand or boom arms specs and make sure your microphone is protected and comfortably supported.
9. MIDI Controller
Okay, so your microphone is all squared away and you’re ready to record some vocals. Now you need to add some hardware instruments to your studio arsenal, and a great place to start is a MIDI keyboard or MIDI drum pad controller.
This will most likely be your first piece of equipment that’s an actual instrument, unless of course you already have experience playing guitar, bass, or drums. In any regard, a MIDI controller is sure to be your new favorite companion in your studio.
There are a couple different kinds of MIDI controllers to choose from here. You can go for a simple MIDI drum pad, or if you already know how to play piano — or are eager to learn — then you can get a MIDI keyboard. Even in the early stages of your studio, you can benefit from either type of controller.
The main factors to consider here are the build quality, number of control options, and the overall compatibility of a particular MIDI device.
Some MIDI controllers work better with certain DAWs.
For instance, a MIDI controller made for FL Studio will seamlessly integrate with the software.
The “Ableton Push 2” is an example of a MIDI controller made for Ableton.
Either way, adding a MIDI device to your studio gives you an outlet for your creativity. All of your inspirations will flow through this piece of equipment, so once again, choose wisely.
10. Studio Monitors
Now you’ve got everything you need for recording and tracking your own musical tracks. You’ve already got some studio headphones for monitoring and mixing everything, but it’s time to take that a step further.
Studio monitors are specially designed speakers for music production and sound engineering. Consumer speakers — just like consumer headphones — are made for casual listening and add embellishments to certain frequencies for “entertainment” so to speak. In a studio environment, you want the most accurate representation of audio as possible.
That’s what studio monitors are made for. They offer a flat frequency response and a wider frequency range than consumer speakers. This is all meant to provide you with a higher-quality reference point for creating and manipulating audio in your studio.
You may be wondering why you need monitors when you already have headphones. Well, that’s because you need as many reference points as possible to create a better quality mix in your songs.
Now, it’s no secret that studio monitors come with a hefty price tag. That being said, they are an insanely important piece of equipment for any and all music studios. They’re sure to be your most trusted and most used audio reference point in your studio, so don’t let their price deter you.
There are quite a few factors to consider when looking at studio monitors. Their technical nature requires heavy research and you need to make sure they have the right environment to thrive in. Let’s break this down a bit.
- Driver Size – don’t limit yourself here, even at the bedroom studio stage. I’d suggest getting the right size monitors for your future expansion. Therefore, 5-inch to 8-inch is optimal. If you go this route, you avoid having to get another pair of monitors when you upgrade to a larger studio environment.
- Positioning & Placement – the placement of your studio monitors is much more of a complex subject than you might think. Most manufacturers have guides to walk you through this process, and there are a ton of videos on YouTube as well. Overall, to get the best sound out of your monitors, you’ll need to go down this rabbit-hole.
- Acoustic Treatment – we will get into this in more detail later on, but you’ll need to treat your studio environment acoustically in order to get the best results from your studio monitors. You’ll need acoustic panels, bass traps, and diffuser panels to achieve this.
- Active vs. Passive – 9 times out of 10, you’ll see active monitors instead of passive. Active studio monitors have built-in amplifiers and crossovers and everything works without a hiccup. Passive monitors on the other hand require external amplification and are more of a pain to use, even if they’re more of an audiophile favorite. Either way, go for active monitors.
- Power Rating – the power rating of a set of monitors determines the overall volume limit. Again, plan for the future here and go for a higher power rating.
There are a few more factors to consider than just those, but that’s a good guideline to start out with. Like I said before, do the necessary research and you’re sure to find the right set of studio monitors for your needs.
Your studio equipment is starting to pile up and you’re looking for a way to connect everything to your audio interface. The obvious next step is to get a few cables.
In a bedroom studio you won’t need a whole bucket full of cables, just a few essentials. As time marches on, you can count on the fact that the cables will multiply as you add more equipment. For now, here’s all you need to connect everything efficiently:
- An XLR cable for your studio microphone.
- 2 Line or Phono cables for your studio monitors (these should be included with your monitors).
- Standard USB, USB 3.0, or Thunderbolt cables for connecting your audio interface and MIDI controllers.
- TRS and TS cables for guitars and bass guitars if you use them.
Like I said before, you’re going to add a lot more cables than this to your recording studio equipment list. Here are a few examples:
- Optical Cables
- Wordclock Cable
- A plethora of Line cables
- Instrument Cables (more TRS/TS)
- Balanced Phono Cables
- Headphone Adapters
- Digital & Analog RCA Cables
You’re sure to add countless more than that. For now, focus on an XLR cable and whatever else you need for your modest list of studio equipment.
12. Literature & Courses
If you truly are a beginner in the music production world, then you can certainly benefit from some books and courses from trusted professionals in the industry. Sure there are literally thousands of YouTube personalities with their own tutorials, but you might not be getting the best information from those videos.
Some courses are aimed at the specific DAW you use and other’s strive to teach overall music composition. Either way, there are loads of well-made courses out there to choose from, and you really can’t go wrong with most of them. For instance, Noiselab has a course that’s targeted at Ableton Live users, whereas Point Blank is a well-known composition course. GratuiTous has a great library of FL Studio courses. There’s something out there for everyone.
There are quite a few well-renowned books on the market as well. Some go over the mixing process and others dive into music theory.
At the end of the day, you need not feel alone in your music-making endeavors and there is a lifetime of knowledge to gain from trusted sources.
Home Studio Essentials
Remember, a dedicated home studio is only a moderate upgrade from a bedroom studio. This is where you repurpose an entire room in your house into a fully functional music-making space. Also, this is where you add a few more powerful pieces of equipment with some acoustic treatment finally coming into play as well.
Here’s an overview of the these essentials:
- Studio Desk
- Studio Chair
- Studio Monitor Stands
- Full-Size MIDI Keyboard
- Studio Mixer
- Acoustic Panels
- Bass Traps
- Monitor Isolation Pads
- Vocal Booth/Isolation Shield
Let’s break these down one by one.
1. Studio Desk
Prior to your new dedicated home studio, you probably were only using a very small table to house all of your equipment. Now that you have a whole room’s worth of space, you can upgrade to a functional studio desk for that job.
There are quite a few studio desk options to choose from out there. Some of them are modest in size but still very functional, and others are full-fledged workstations. You can even use some standard office desks as well as long as it has a riser shelf for monitors and enough table space for your gear.
Now, a desk will literally be the foundation of your studio, so it’s important to take some factors into consideration. The build quality of the desk is an obvious one, but the ergonomics and features are important as well. Some studio desks come equipped with onboard rack spaces, and as I mentioned before, riser shelves are vital.
Overall, choose a studio desk that allows you to be organized with a high-level of functionality. A well-kept desk in a studio environment will vastly improve your workflow.
2. Studio Chair
Now you’re ready to pair a nice studio chair with your new desk. Honestly, this one is pretty straightforward, but there are a few things to take into account when choosing a chair.
It’s a well-known fact that you’re going to be spending many, many hours in a studio chair working on your music. With that, it’s imperative that you get a chair that’s breathable, well-built, and most importantly, ergonomic.
The last thing you want to do is introduce back pain and potentially lifelong spine issues. Here are some features to look for in studio chairs to avoid this:
- Good lumbar support
- Plenty of adjust-ability
- A supportive headrest
- Ergonomic armrests
- A comfortable seat pan
Ergonomic office chairs made with mesh materials and most of those features are pretty much the go-to options here.
3. Studio Monitor Stands
This piece of equipment doubles as a support system for your studio monitors, as well as a form of acoustic treatment. There is one other method of treating your studio monitors, and that’s via monitor isolation pads, but those are mainly used if your monitors are used on your desk.
That being said, if you have the room then you can use stands and pads together. Also, studio monitor stands come in two different forms: desktop stands and floor stands. Therefore, you have multiple avenues at your disposal.
Obviously, you need to make sure that a set of monitor stands will adequately support your studio monitors, but they also need to be functional. The second job of studio monitor stands is to elevate your monitors and eliminate any unwanted comb filtering from occurring.
This is all achieved by great build quality and making sure the stands are the right size for your monitors.
4. Full-Size MIDI Keyboard
In the bedroom studio stage you added a MIDI controller to your equipment list. Maybe that was a small or half-size MIDI keyboard, or even a MIDI drum pad controller. At any rate, now is the time to add a full-size MIDI keyboard to your arsenal.
Most producers have multiple MIDI keyboards and instruments at their disposal, and almost every producer undoubtedly has a full-size keyboard. This will help with your overall composition and recording capabilities. Not only that, but a full-size weighted MIDI keyboard will surely enhance your all-around confidence in writing.
This is a tool that every studio needs. In fact, it’s almost a prerequisite.
5. Studio Mixer
At this point, you have quite a list of equipment starting to pile up. Maybe you’ve added another microphone, and you’ve definitely compiled a couple of different MIDI keyboards. On top of that, if you already have guitars or other instruments like that, then everything is really starting to multiply.
That’s where a studio mixing board can help. A mixer will not only give you the ability to efficiently connect all of your gear, but it will also allow you to control additional parameters that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. A mixer is also an all-in-one hardware equalizer/effects processor for all of your other hardware equipment.
You might be wondering why you need a studio mixer if you already have an audio interface. Well, the fact of the matter is that the more gear you accumulate, the more limited you are with a standalone audio interface. That’s especially true with a simple desktop interface.
A mixer has a lot to offer in terms of audio recording. There are mixer options that have multiple mic preamps built-in with Phantom Power, software control, and a larger number of I/O’s.
Mixers are definitely bigger than desktop audio interfaces, so it also comes down to form factor. If you can fit a mixer in your home studio quite yet, then you can certainly wait to add one down the road.
The main factors to consider when looking at studio mixers are as follows: the overall I/O count, the number of channels, and whether or not you opt for analog or digital.
To learn more about the differences between audio interfaces vs mixers, refer to my detailed guide.
6. Acoustic Panels
As I mentioned a few times before, acoustic treatment is a necessity for any studio. Surprisingly enough, this is a step that too many producers skip. They might think that it’s not completely necessary for a simple home studio, but I can assure you that it is.
If you want to get the most out of your recording and playback capabilities, then you need to control early reflections and any other acoustic distortions. We’re talking about early reflections, comb filtering, flutter echo, delay, standing waves, and anything else that alters sounds in your studio.
I have created an extremely detailed article about this subject, so please head over there with the link below to learn more.
For now, the first step is to get a few broadband absorber acoustic panels to treat your parallel walls. These pieces of treatment equipment are typically made of high-density foam designed to absorb sound waves and keep them from reflecting to other surfaces.
You can do a lot of acoustic treatment DIY with egg crates or other old-school methods, but professionally-made foam panels will likely do a better job. Not only that, but installation is a whole lot easier.
7. Bass Traps
Now that you’ve added some broadband absorber acoustic panels, the next step is to deal with those pesky bass frequencies. The best way to do this is by investing in bass traps for each corner of your room.
Low-end frequencies are by far the most troublesome in any studio due to their resonant nature. If you don’t deal with them, everything will sound muddy and those sound waves will have a drastic effect on your recording process. It can get out of hand very quickly.
Bass traps differ from acoustic panels in shape and material. These are made with foam that’s even more dense, and they’re specifically shaped to fit in the corners of a room. Bass traps can cost a pretty penny, but they’re extremely important. They’re usually sold in 4-packs, so keep that in mind when looking at prices.
8. Monitor Isolation Pads
This is another easy piece of the acoustic treatment puzzle. Monitor isolation pads are placed underneath each one of your studio monitors and they help to limit vibrations from the low-frequency drivers.
They’re especially useful if you have your monitors resting on your studio desk, but they can be used with some monitor stands as well. Either way, monitor isolation pads are always helpful and I’d suggest using them no matter where your monitors are placed.
9. Portable Vocal Booth/Isolation Shield
An isolation shield is the last thing you need in the home studio stage. In order to properly record vocals, it needs to be done in an environment that limits background noise from interfering with the recording.
Portable vocal booths are designed to create an adequate environment for vocal recordings in a space-saving way. You can easily fit one in the room where your studio exists, and with proper treatment on top of an isolation shield, you can achieve professional quality recordings.
Check out my portable vocal booth article for all the factors to consider when shopping around. For now, you just need to make sure your studio microphone will fit in the opening, and what type of booth or shield you need.
Semi-Pro Studio Essentials
Now we get into the stage where everything becomes much more technical and advanced. As you can probably guess, a semi-pro studio is a major upgrade from a dedicated home studio. If you have the room, you can do this upgrade in your already existing room, or you can branch out to a commercial space. Either way, you’ll be adding a lot more gear to your list.
Either way, here’s a rundown of all the semi-pro studio equipment essentials:
- Studio Subwoofer
- Acoustic Diffuser Panels
- Studio Rack Mount
- Rack Mount Audio Interface
- Channel Strips
- Power Conditioner
- Audio Compressors/Limiters
- Hardware Equalizer
- Hardware Effects (Reverb, Delay, etc.)
- Gates & Expanders
- Headphone Amp
- Microphone Preamp
- Monitor Management System
- Electronic Drum Kit
- Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)
- DAW Control Surface
- Signal Direct Box (DI Box)
- Snake Cables
- Drum Mics
- Hardware Synthesizers
Let’s get into each one of these individually.
1. Studio Subwoofer
Kicking off the semi-pro studio list is a studio subwoofer. Now, this is somewhat of a controversial piece of equipment among producers and sound engineers. With that, it’s up to you if you want to get one or not.
As far as I’m concerned, there are some interesting benefits that can come from having a studio subwoofer, as long as it’s in an extremely well-treated studio space. Let me reiterate that, only get a studio subwoofer if your studio has the highest-quality acoustic treatment in place. Adding this much bass presence in an inadequately treated recording space can become disastrous very quickly.
With that in mind, here are a few of the benefits that a subwoofer can provide:
- It takes some of the load off of your studio monitors
- You can monitor the entire frequency range of your source sounds
- You will have more accuracy in the low-ends for monitoring and manipulation
- You’ll have a heightened ability to detect phasing issues in your mix
- You can better capture a specific emotion/feeling in your songs
Studio subwoofers are perfect for creating special mixes targeted for dance clubs, or if you’re a sound designer for cinema/video games. Take into consideration the size of the subwoofer as well as the proper placement of it. Refer to my guide below for more information.
2. Acoustic Diffuser Panels
In your home studio, you added quite a bit of acoustic treatment. Now it’s time to take it up a notch, especially since you have a studio subwoofer. The perfect pieces of equipment for the last stage of acoustic treatment are diffuser panels.
Acoustic diffuser panels work in conjunction with the rest of your acoustic treatment components. They are designed with an uneven surface that’s meant to break-up and scatter sound waves throughout your recording studio. This process makes the sound waves smaller which in turn makes it easier for your bass traps and broadband absorber panels to stop them in their tracks.
What’s great about diffuser panels is that they somehow manage to keep the overall ambience of all the sounds it comes in contact with. These are very clever utilities that do come with a premium price tag. Rest assured that you’ll notice the difference when you add a few of these throughout your semi-pro recording studio space.
3. Studio Rack Mount
Getting a rack mount is a huge milestone in any studio. This is where you truly enter the big leagues. Studio rack mounts are specifically designed cases that have mounts for rack mounted gear.
Rack mounted equipment has been around for generations. These can be anything from hardware effects processors, hardware compressors, audio interfaces, and so much more. These are ultra-premium pieces of equipment and they’re used by professional studios everywhere.
Upgrading to this kind of equipment is an inevitable step in your studio journey. As you expand and take on larger recording projects, you’ll need more capabilities than the desktop gear you’ve been using can provide.
Without a rack mount case, you wouldn’t have anywhere to store all of that rack mounted gear effectively. The best part about this system is that you can mix and match the rack mounted equipment you want to use, and you can keep adding more and more cases as you continue to progress.
The factors to consider here are the build quality, the amount of spaces (measured in units), and the size of the rack mount case for your studio. I have an article that goes over everything you need to know below.
4. Rack Mount Audio Interface
You’ve likely been using your desktop audio interface for a while now, but as I mentioned in the previous section, you need to expand your recording capabilities.
A rack mount audio interface will give you a much larger I/O count and enable you to record a larger number of simultaneous tracks. These are premium devices with premium price tags. There are the same factors to consider here as in the first audio interface section earlier in this article. Also, refer to my guide for more detailed information.
5. Channel Strips
Channel strips are basically preamps with additional signal processing abilities. Essentially, each channel on a channel strip acts as its own analog mixer. The signal processing functions you can perform typically come in the form of a compressor, an equalizer, a limiter, a de-esser, and more!
If you want to add a higher-level of control to your studio equipment in a hardware form, then a channel strip is essential. They help to improve your workflow in your recording process and they take some of the load off your computer/DAW.
6. Power Conditioner
A power conditioner is probably the most common piece of equipment found in a rack mount setup. Essentially, you plug the power conditioner into your main power source, most likely a wall outlet. From there, on the power conditioner itself you’ll have a number of “protected outlets” that you can connect your gear to. From there, everything connected to it is filtered and protected. Let me explain that a bit further.
Much like a consumer surge protector, power conditioners shut-down when an overload current is detected. This in turn protects everything connected to it from any electrical damage. On top of that, the power conditioner helps to filter out any electrical “noise” by creating a cleaner signal flow.
That’s not all though. Power conditioner’s also perform voltage maintenance and are basically a form of cable management by design.
Power conditioners are a vital safeguard for all of your expensive studio equipment. This is a vastly important piece of equipment and not one you should be without.
7. Audio Compressors/Limiters
Compression is one of the most important aspects of mixing audio. The process of audio compression is meant to tame the loudest frequencies in a particular sound. This helps to create more of a consistent sound level in your recordings.
Producers and sound engineers have been using hardware audio compressors and limiters in their recording studios for a very long time, and they’re still the go-to for most pros today. Being such a vital part of the mixing process, hardware compressors are coveted as being the most reliable way to smooth out wild frequencies.
Sure you can use VST plugins. Some of them actually work very well, but there’s something about having that physical control and touch on a piece of hardware. Plus, some units introduce some nice analog coloring that’s becoming more and more popular in music today. Also, hardware limiters are better for preventing clipping on the input signal than software versions.
The choice you have to make is what kind of compressor you want. Some are better for processing vocal recording, while others are great for drums. There are also some hardware compressors that are good all-around options. Make sure to do plenty of research.
8. Hardware Equalizer
After your hardware compressor, you need another extremely important piece of signal processing equipment. An analog hardware equalizer has all the same benefits as a hardware compressor, just in a different form.
You should already know what equalization is, but just in case here you go. Equalizers are multi-band filters that allow you to boost or reduce the volume of specific frequencies. Some EQ’s are extremely precise and give you an immense amount of power over your sounds.
EQing is a massive part of mixing and recording. While it’s true that there are some great software EQ’s out there, it never hurts to have a high-quality hardware EQ at your disposal.
Your choice is between a Graphic EQ or Parametric EQ. Graphic EQ’s break frequency ranges up into a larger number of bands, making them very user-friendly. Parametric EQ’s are extremely precise and give you additional control over center frequency, bandwidth, and volume.
9. Hardware Effects (Reverb, Delay, Etc.)
Just like the analog compressor and EQ, hardware effects processors are vital to a semi-pro studio. While it’s true that EQ and compression can be considered “effects,” what I’m specifically referring to here are effects that have more of an impact on the overall tone of a sound.
Reverb, delay, phaser, distortion, and other such effects like that are what we’re talking about. Now, producers and engineers had no other choice but to use analog effects like these back in the day. When you listen to a popular song from the 80’s, you’ll undoubtedly notice an abundance of analog influences that come out in the recording.
Nowadays, these effects processors still see use in professional studios. They simply add another layer of “flair” to recordings that most software plugins can’t achieve.
Exciters and enhancers are a pretty complex topic, but in a nutshell they’re used to brighten up recordings. Most of the time they’re used on vocal tracks, and they help to overcome certain limitations of an EQ.
They can boost very high-range frequencies which is great for cymbals and vocals on a recording. All of the modification done on an exciter or enhancer is done dynamically as well, which means that the volume can be adjusted along with some compression simultaneously.
These are a great piece of equipment to enhance the quality of your recordings. This effect was widely used in music from the 1970’s and beyond. While not completely necessary, adding an exciter or enhancer to your recording studio can potentially make you stand out to your audience or clientele.
Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find a decent hardware analog exciter or enhancer, but there are plenty of great VST plugins that do the job quite well.
11. Gates & Expanders
Gates are similar to compressors and limiters, but they operate as more of an on/off switch. When the threshold is reached in a particular frequency, the gate will cut the output signal beyond the threshold entirely.
Expanders are basically the opposite of a compressor. They attenuate the output when the threshold is reached instead of reducing it.
Both of these pieces of equipment have their own use depending on the genre of music you’re working on as well as the recording process you have. Either one is especially useful when recording drums or guitar amps due to their abundance of noise spill.
12. Headphone Amp
At the semi-pro studio stage, you’re likely to have upgraded your studio headphones to a more powerful, higher-impedance option. Like we talked about before, open-back headphones in particular feature much higher impedance in order to deliver a more accurate audio reference.
Higher impedance (measured in ohms Ω) means you’ll need an amplifier. Without an amp, your headphones drivers aren’t adequately powered and they will ultimately sound dull.
In addition to an amp, your studio headphones would benefit from a digital to analog converter (or DAC). Luckily, there are DAC amp combos on the market that do both of these jobs at once. Refer to my guide below to learn more about these pieces of recording studio equipment.
13. Microphone Preamp
Hardware mic preamps are a dedicated piece of equipment with one job, and that’s to properly power condenser microphones and bring them to line/mic level. Now, a rack mount mic preamp is only necessary if you’re recording large numbers of microphones at once.
Built-in mic preamps on hardware channel strips and rack mount audio interfaces should suffice in most cases, but if you feel limited from those, then you can opt for one of these.
Preamps found in audio interfaces or channel strips can be used for instruments as well, which means that you might need more dedicated mic preamps for recording drums or multiple vocalists. Again, these are meant for a large number of simultaneous microphones, and aren’t completely necessary for most recording studios.
14. Monitor Management System
Monitor Management utilities are a great way to improve your workflow in your semi-pro studio. They work by allowing you to route signals to other sets of studio monitors or studio headphones and switch between them with a push of a button.
This is especially useful for routing certain mixer cues between you, the producer/engineer, and the musicians that are being recorded. Other than that, you can switch between different monitoring and reference points easily and seamlessly, enabling you to focus on your mix with fewer distractions.
These Monitor Management systems are usually pretty affordable and definitely worth adding to your recording studio equipment list.
15. Electronic Drum Kit
A lot of music nowadays is digital, and drums are no exception. If you add an already functional electronic drum kit to your semi-pro studio, then it will make life a whole lot easier for your clientele.
Conversely, you’ll have your very own drum set to play around with. All in all, having an digital drum kit will make recording drums a whole lot easier. You won’t need all those drum mics, and your musicians won’t have to lug around their drum set to your recording studio space, unless they want to, of course.
On top of that, you can alter some percussion elements in post if your clientele uses an acoustic drum set with an electronic kit. You can add some sample or synth elements that wouldn’t be possible otherwise as well. Really, the possibilities are endless with an electric drum kit in your studio arsenal.
16. Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)
Even if your studio doesn’t experience frequent power interruptions, an Uninterruptible Power Supply is a must-have piece of equipment for your semi-pro studio.
A UPS is a power supply system that utilizes batteries to provide constant power, even in an outage. Most of the time, a UPS will only operate for a few minutes after an outage, but that still gives you the chance to save your project and safely shut-down your computer before everything stops working.
You can see why a UPS is so important, so definitely don’t skip this one. It can also be used in conjunction with a rack mount power conditioner.
17. DAW Control Surface
DAW control surfaces are hardware or software extensions of your DAW. These aren’t an immensely vital piece of equipment, but they can be really useful for your workflow.
If you need to control certain parameters of your DAW in a separate room, then that’s where DAW control surfaces can help. Your only choice here is between a hardware USB control surface, or software that can be loaded onto a tablet or smartphone. If you go for the latter, then you need to make sure that the software is compatible with your DAW.
18. Signal Direct Box (DI Box)
Direct boxes are mainly used for guitars. Their job is to bring instruments to line level by converting the unbalanced signal to a balanced one. They also do a great job of cutting out any unwanted noise that guitar cables are known to create.
Many modern audio interfaces come equipped with their own DI inputs and can handle this job on their own. That being said, if you need more DI connectivity than what’s offered on your audio interface, then a DI box can come in handy.
There are also active and passive DI boxes to choose from, but I’d recommend going for an active one.
19. Snake Cables
Cable management is definitely a necessity at this stage of your semi-pro studio. You probably feel like you’re swimming in a sea of cables at every turn. Snake cables are a sure-fire way to take care of this problem.
A snake cable is one large cable that contains a large amount of smaller, individual cables. You plug all of the cables coming from your instruments and mics into the snake cable and voila! Everything is nice and organized.
You should only need a snake cable once all of your equipment really becomes hard to manage. That being said, if you’re just a super organized person in general, then they’re definitely a must-have.
20. Drum Mics
I know I mentioned a digital drum kit earlier as a way to make recording drums easier, but you’ll have to record acoustic drums at some point. In a semi-pro studio environment, it’s pretty much unavoidable.
Therefore, you’re going to need some great overhead drum mics to capture all that noise effectively. Drum mics are specially designed to have very high Sound Pressure Level (SPL) so that they can handle the harsh frequencies that come from a drum set.
All you have to do is get a drum mic set that has enough pieces to match any particular drum set. Usually a 7-piece drum mic set is good enough.
21. Hardware Synthesizers
As I’ve stated before, every producer has a few keyboards at their disposal. Why not throw a hardware synthesizer in the mix as well?
At this point, you probably have at least two MIDI keyboards and a library of VST synth plugins that you use regularly. The beauty of adding a hardware synth to your studio is it will add another level of songwriting capabilities right at your fingertips.
Synthesizers have been around for a long time, and back in the day, it’s all that producers had to work with. In fact, almost all of the software synths on the market today are emulations of their vintage hardware counterparts.
There are full-on keyboard synths, modular synths with no keys, analog vs. digital synths, and so much more to choose from. This is definitely a rabbit-hole that any studiophile can fall into, but it’s a fun one nonetheless.
Shop around and find your next favorite instrument and you’ll see why they’ve become such a vital part of making music since their inception.
Professional Studio Essentials
The endgame for any studio is to become a full-fledged professional studio capable of capturing and manipulating incredible audio recordings. This is where everything becomes a full-time, successful business centered around working with big-name musicians.
The truth is, getting to the point of a professional studio like this is very, very difficult. It’s almost as difficult as making it into the NBA. Also, some of you might think that this stage is a little beyond what your goals are.
Let’s face it, getting to a semi-pro level studio is impressive enough, and you can definitely be successful enough at that stage. You really don’t need to get to the pro studio stage if you don’t want to.
That being said, I know that you’re at least curious to know about what a professional studio entails.
So, here’s a quick overview for you:
- Master Clocks
- Digital Multitrack Recorder
- 500 Series
- Digital Converters
- Feedback Reduction
- Audio Cable Tester
- SPL Meter
Let’s break these down.
1. Master Clocks
Most equipment in a professional studio could be considered to be somewhat obscure, and a master clock is no exception. Many devices — like an audio interface — have their own internal “master clock” that helps to keep everything in the signal flow in-sync.
Basically, everything connected to an interface is called the “slaves” and the interface itself is the “master.” To avoid any clicks and pops from mistimed or misaligned sound signals, the interface uses it’s internal master clock to align the audio to achieve the highest possible quality.
A standalone master clock (or word clock/digital clock) is just a bigger, more powerful version of what’s found in an audio interface or channel strip. A rack mount master clock really becomes necessary as your equipment chain grows beyond what an audio interface can handle.
Moreover, a standalone clock is great for taking the load off of your interface and makes all of your gear work more smoothly. At this stage, your studio setup is extremely complex, so you need to utilize anything and everything you can to keep things on-time. A master clock is a great way to do just that.
2. Digital Multitrack Recorder
Multitrack recorders have taken on a number of different faces over the years. Originally, they functioned almost like a hardware sequencer and mixing desk in one with AD/DA converters built-in. They were an all-in-one recording solution that nobody could live without.
Nowadays, with DAWs and computers taking the world by storm, manufacturers of multitrack recorders had to make them even more versatile to keep them relevant. Modern multitrack recorders now function as audio interfaces, samplers and even DAW control surfaces on top of those main functions I already mentioned.
In a professional studio environment, a digital multitrack recorder can function as just another tool in your arsenal. They’re an all inclusive hardware monster that you can use in a number of different ways, all in an effort to take some strain away from your computer and other pieces of equipment.
They are also useful as a budget option for small-time producers who don’t have the funds for a computer and a DAW.
3. 500 Series
These pieces of equipment are just another series of signal processing devices that are specially designed for a 500 series rack which is more compact by nature. They come in a number of different forms like preamps, dynamics processors, EQ, and many more.
What’s great about 500 series units is their price and streamlined design. You can fit a bunch of these devices in a 500 series chassis, and each component is just as powerful as their bigger counterparts.
In a professional recording studio environment, you’ll be looking to cram as much recording equipment as possible into your available space. 500 series devices and racks have gained much popularity recently for doing just that.
You’ll first need a good 500 series chassis, then from there you can mix and match any 500 series units that you need for recording.
4. Digital Converters
Inside of every audio interface, there is a conversion of signals happening. These conversions are done in the forms of analog to digital (A/D) and digital to analog (D/A). In a professional studio, these conversions need to be done in a more complex way. That’s where a standalone digital converter plays its part.
The whole goal behind these AD/DA conversions is to make your audio recordings recognizable by your DAW. From there, you can easily control and manipulate your recordings. In big-time studios with even bigger budgets, a rack mount digital converter is a must-have. There are so many channels of audio to process in a pro studio that an audio interface simply doesn’t cut it by itself.
Digital converters are very expensive devices, but for most pro producers and sound engineers, they are pretty much a requirement.
5. Feedback Reduction
These are yet another piece of signal processing equipment. Feedback reducers do exactly what the name suggests, and they’re especially useful for guitars and mics.
They’re basically just a super powerful gate/limiter processor all-in-one, and some of them even have onboard EQ’s.
When recording large projects, there is the potential for a lot of feedback from any number of instruments. A feedback reduction device is essential for protecting the integrity of your recordings in a pro studio.
6. Audio Cable Tester
Cable testers aren’t a complete necessity in a home studio, but with such a large amount of equipment in your studio arsenal, they’re a good tool to have around.
When audio cut-outs occur, it can be daunting to try and find the exact cause of the problem. Half of the time, it’s simply an audio cable that’s malfunctioning. A cable tester will give you the ability to troubleshoot all of your cables and determine if a cable is even a contributing factor.
In a pro studio, time is money. If a cable tester can help you solve a problem faster, then it’s worth every penny in my book.
7. SPL Meter
A Sound Pressure Level meter is essentially just a decibel meter that allows you to test loudness levels from your vocal or audio recordings. There are many software plugins that do this job virtually, but a hardware SPL meter affords many extra opportunities.
A physical SPL meter will give you very precise data. With that data you can then decide what steps, if any, need to be taken to achieve the best recording results from the source sound. This will help you to keep everything consistent, and ultimately save you a lot of headaches during the post mixing process.
Last, but not least, we have patchbays or patch panels. These handy pieces of equipment are used in pro studios to route a large number of signals from devices to other devices.
So, say you want to send a chain of vocal tracks from your mixer to a specific audio effect unit and have it route back to the mixer again, all while recording live. Turns out, you decide you want to add another effect unit into that flow as well. Without a patchbay, you’d have to unplug the source connection from one audio effect unit and plug it into the second one. This can get old really quickly.
With a patchbay, you can have both of those effect processors plugged in at once. From there, if you run into this situation again, then all you have to do is reroute the patch plugs. It’s a much more streamlined process, and it works great with a very large amount of studio equipment.
After all, a pro recording studio is all about saving time and making recording processes as easy as possible. A patchbay is a mainstay for any and all pro producers and sound engineers.
There you have it guys! The ultimate recording studio equipment list is complete. Now you have the blueprint for each of the four stages of a home studio, and you can start your studio journey at whatever pace you’re comfortable with.
I know, this is a hefty list, and this has been a beast of an article. That being said, I want to remind you that you don’t need to be overwhelmed. Building a studio is a step-by-step process. For example, you don’t need everything in the bedroom studio section all at once to be able to make your own music. All of this is completely up to you and your budget.
In the meantime, use this article (and many of my other articles) simply as a guideline that you can come back to down the road when you’re ready to take that next step.
My only hope is that this list has helped you in some sort of way, even if it’s small. As always, feel free to reach out with any questions you may have.