Recording Pack for Beginners

The Best Recording Gear for Beginners

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How to choose the right audio and recording equipment for your home studio or mobile rig to match your ambitions, budget and music.

Music recording used to be something that was only done by professionals in large studios full of expensive equipment. To learn the trade, a person generally needed to enroll in a specialized program or apprentice in a studio, giving them access to this equipment. And if musicians wanted to put their songs on record—even just to make a passable demo recording—they needed to shell out some pretty serious dough to buy studio time.

In recent years, that has all changed.

The ever more powerful consumer devices we use—such as laptops, tablets, and even smartphones—are now capable of powering a low-cost recording setup that virtually any musician can afford. With a few well-chosen pieces of recording gear, just about anyone can set up and operate a fully functional home or mobile studio. And that means aspiring producers can get plenty of hands-on experience right in the comfort of their own homes.

This guide will cover some of the most important recording equipment you’ll need to build a mobile or home studio and give you some recommendations for equipment that’s great for starting out. Additionally, you can always browse the complete collection of recording gear at Musician’s Friend for more ideas.

Table of Contents

Computers and iOS devices for recording
Recording software and apps
Audio interfaces for recording
Microphones
Headphones for recording
Studio monitors
Studio subwoofers
Audio recorders
Recording packages
Recording desks—a place to put it all
Call us for more advice

One great thing about building a home or mobile recording studio is that you can start with just a few essential pieces of gear, then add or upgrade as you develop your skills and want additional options. This guide will cover the most important pieces of recording equipment: computers, audio interfaces, microphones, headphones, and studio monitors.

We’ll also cover some additional audio gear that can expand your studio to be just what you want it to be.

Computers and iOS devices for recording

Nowadays, most recording setups are based around computers. At one time, it was best to use a high-powered desktop computer for the job, but now, technology has advanced enough that even mobile devices like smartphones can get the job done. And laptops are commonly used as the central unit of a full-scale home studio.

For those who want to create a mobile studio, iOS devices (iPads, iPhones, and the iPod touch) are a great option. There is plenty of gear built specifically for these devices, which makes it easy to plug right in and get started. Learn more with our extensive selection of iOS buying guides that focus on various iOS users from DJs to guitarists.

There are hundreds of apps available to do everything from simply tuning your guitar to creating full-fledged compositions using your iOS device. A good place to get started learning about them is with our Top 10 Music Apps to Help You Make Better Music.

With an iPhone tucked in your pocket and a little extra gear, you can do some serious sound capture. Portable USB mics offer a big step up in sound quality over your phone’s internal mic. And there’s a rapidly growing category of smart phone-friendly devices ideal for nailing everything from a fleeting guitar riff to a complete composition.

When it comes to laptop or desktop computers, many models will work for your recording needs. You might be able to get started with the computer you’ve got at home now. However, if that model is more than a few years old and it’s beginning to seem a bit sluggish, it may be time to consider an upgrade.

While the cost of a Mac computer is typically a bit higher than a Windows PC with similar specifications, many musicians and recording engineers prefer Macs for their reliability, ease of use, and build quality. These Apple computers have a good reputation for handling recording gear well, without creating any unwanted surprises. The vast array of software that has been designed to function seamlessly with the Mac operating system is a big plus.

For an affordable option in a Mac computer, beginning recording artists might consider the Mac Mini—a small, desktop box that connects to an external monitor and delivers all the features musicians love about Macs.

Apple Mac Mini MGEN2LL/AApple Mac Mini MGEN2LL/A

Featuring the OSX operating system, a speedy Intel processor, and plenty of RAM for multitasking power the Mac Mini is your most affordable option for bringing a Macintosh computer into your home studio.

One further advantage of Macs is the fact they come with GarageBand, a basic but easy-to-use recording application with which you can create surprisingly polished music. Read on to learn more about the software to capture and edit your music.

Recording software and apps

Without audio software programs, computers don’t do a whole lot to help you record and mix music. The software that musicians and engineers use for their music production is commonly referred to as a digital audio workstation (DAW) program, and there are a lot of different DAW options to choose from. Ranging from more basic programs such as Ableton Live 10 Intro to Pro Tools—the choice of most professional studios—there is a DAW program that will match your music, budget and skills. For a complete selection of program options, browse the Musician’s Friend selection of DAW software.

Most digital audio interfaces (explained in the next section) often include some basic software that should be suitable for most beginners to create near-studio-quality recordings. Those looking for something a little more powerful—with tools to help compose, edit, mix, and arrange music—might consider a software package such as Image Line’s FL Studio, an end-to-end music production program that’s both highly-regarded and affordable enough for beginners.

FL Studio Producer Edition

FL Studio Producer Edition sports a new UI that scales up or down with your screen size while delivering a robust music-production environment. Free updates for life make it a great buy.

Check out our 6 Top DAWs Rundown for more great DAW choices.

Audio interfaces for recording

If you’re using a computer as the center of your recording studio, you need a way to plug in the microphones and other gear you will be recording with. This is where the digital audio interface comes in. Beyond simply offering the types of connections you’ll need, the digital audio interface processes the sound you’re recording and converts it to digital data so your software can work with it. The good news is that most interfaces with USB connectivity are compatible with all the major DAW software titles that work with Mac and Windows computers‹but double-check to be certain.

When looking at audio interfaces, it’s important to find one that has all the connection types you’ll need. You’ll also need to make sure it’s compatible with the type of computer or device you’ll use to record with. So be sure to check the product descriptions for these details.

Built to handle the needs of anyone who records vocals and instrument together, the Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface delivers a sweet-sounding preamp and instrument input at a great price. The latest edition improves on the excellent sound of the original with a more even gain structure that makes balancing your mixes easier. The instrument input has been upgraded to handle the hottest pickups. Reduced latency means you’ll perform more confidently and be able to run your favorite plug-ins in real time. 

If you need more inputs to record vocals and instruments simultaneously, the very affordable Tascam US-16x08 audio interface allows to you to connect up to 8 microphones and 4 instruments while offering the convenience of USB connectivity.

Read our Audio Interface Buying Guide to learn more about all the options available to match your recording needs and budget.

Microphones

A good microphone is one of the most important items in the beginner’s recording setup, as it makes a big impact on how a recorded voice or instrument will sound. To get started, you likely only need one quality microphone that you can put to use recording lots of different sound sources. So you will want to pick a versatile model that sounds good recording a wide range of frequencies.

There are two types of microphones you’ll work with most often: dynamic mics and condenser mics. While dynamic mics are more rugged and often preferred for live performances, condenser mics usually have a better frequency response range and sensitivity, so they’re often the go-to for studio recordings. Many condenser mics require what’s called phantom power, supplied by an external preamp or interface. Be sure to read specs carefully to make sure your rig will provide any necessary power. For on-the-go recording, USB microphones get their juice from the host computer or interface, making them plug and play. Similarly, if you¹re using a tablet or smartphone for audio capture, then an iOS-friendly mic is the way to go.

Condenser microphones tend to be more costly than dynamics, but in recent years, many good-quality, lower-cost models have become available. The MXL 3000, for example, is a great, multi-purpose condenser microphone that includes a shockmount and a pop filter.

For those recording with an iOS device, the BLUE Raspberry Studio USB/iOS Microphone is another good option. This quality condenser mic can plug right into your iOS device from which it also draws its power and can record a wide variety of instruments and vocals with great results. It also comes bundled with some great software from brands like PreSonus and iZotope

There are also many dynamic microphones suitable for the beginning studio setup. The Shure SM58 is a good choice for vocals and will also serve double duty in live performance.

The Shure SM57 is a fixture in just about every pro recording studio for capturing instruments and vocals and is often used in both live and recording settings to mic guitar amp speakers.

Take a look at the Musician’s Friend huge collections of condenser microphones, dynamic microphones or iOS microphones for more options.

Blue Spark SL Microphone

The Blue Spark SL Microphone provides classic, transparent sound and plenty of versatility, with a high-pass filter and -20dB pad, making it capable of accomodating loud vocalists, instruments or amplifiers with ease.

To learn much more, read our expert Microphone Buying Guide.

Headphones for recording

When you listen back to your recordings, you want the sound to be as accurate as possible so you know what you want to change in your mixes. A good pair of studio headphones is often the most cost-effective option for beginners. Closed-back headphones are essential when you’re recording vocal or instrumental parts over existing music tracks. Their sealed design prevents pre-recorded sound from leaking into the microphone as you monitor the backing track(s) while overdubbing new parts of the music.

Studio headphones vary greatly in price. When you’re just starting out, there’s no need to break the bank. Plenty of good, accurate models are available within an affordable price range. The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x and Sennheiser HD 280 PRO Studio Headphones are both highly rated products that deliver good accuracy at a beginner-friendly price.

Browse the Musician’s Friend collection of studio headphones for more great options.
Learn much more about choosing the right pair with our Headphone Buying Guide.

Studio Monitors

The best way to get accurate playback is through speakers specifically designed for the job. These speakers, referred to as studio monitors, come in different designs for different listening environments. In large studios—where the monitors might be positioned some distance from the recording engineer—mid-field or far-field monitors would be most appropriate, as they are designed to produce an accurate sound at a distance.

Near-field monitors, on the other hand, are designed to be positioned directly in front of a listener, so they are the best kind to use in small home studios.

Dig deeper with our Studio monitor buying guide.

For a beginning recording engineer, a small set of near-field monitors designed for desktop use are a good option, as they fit take up little space while delivering an accurate representation of your recording. Mackie's CR3 montiors and JBL’s 305P MKII monitors are both strong options in this category.

Mackie CR3 Monitors

The Mackie CR3 multimedia monitors aren’t much larger than standard computer speakers, but they are built for great sound.

View more options for studio quality playback in the Musician’s Friend collection of studio monitors.
Can you mix using just headphones? Check out our tech tip!

Studio subwoofers

Adding subwoofers for studio monitoring is not always a necessity for recording beginners. However, by adding a more accurate response at low frequencies, subwoofers can enhance the results of your mixes, no matter what type of music you are recording. Of course, if you are planning to record bass-heavy music, such as hip-hop, a subwoofer might be a more essential consideration.

The Yamaha HS8S Powered Subwoofer has an 8” driver that can accurately reproduce the deeper frequencies of bass and drums and is a fantastic match for their HS series studio monitors. If you're looking for more options, browse the Musician’s Friend studio subwoofer collection.

To learn much more, read our Studio Monitors Buying Guide.

Audio Recorders

With all the talk of digital audio workstations and computer-centered recording we’ve been doing, you might think a computer is an absolute necessity to get anything recorded. That certainly isn’t the case. In fact, there are some excellent standalone recorder options that provide great portability, extensive features, and excellent ease-of-use for very reasonable prices.

For a full-scale, all-in-one music recording solution that doesn’t at all rely on your computer, the Tascam DP-24SD 24-Track Digital Portastudio is complete, mobile, and affordable. Or, if you want a straightforward device for on-the-go field recordings, the Zoom H2n Handy Recorder is a perfect fit. You can view all of the different options available in the Musician’s Friend selection of audio recorders.

Zoom H6 Handy Recorder

The Zoom H6 Handy Recorder is a complete six-track recorder in a pocket-sized package.

Recording Packages

Although there aren’t a whole lot of components in a basic recording rig, it still can seem like a lot of work to make sure you are picking the right tools that will all work together well. As an alternative to making individual selections, you may want to consider a recording package. At Musician’s Friend, we’ve created carefully chosen gear bundles that take the guesswork out of deciding what will work together best. These packages also save money on your total purchase price versus buying the separate components.

Take a look at the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Studio Pack or the incredible value of the PreSonus AudioBox iTwo Studio bundle. Or you can browse through all of the different recording packages from Musician’s Friend.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Studio Pack (2nd Gen)

Focusrite's Scarlett 2i2 Studio Pack offers a complete and budget-friendly introduction to home recording with all the essential gear you need to begin capturing your music.

Recording desks—a place to put it all

While an ordinary desk or tabletop might be sufficient to house your beginning home studio, you’ll probably find yourself accumulating gear that can pose a placement challenge. Desks, tables and workstations specifically designed for studio use can be a big help where it comes to routing cables and placing gear and audio/video monitors in the right spots.

At Musician’s Friend you’ll find a huge selection of studio-friendly desks and workstations designed to make your recording work more comfortable and ergonomic. From small workstations designed to hold just the basics to larger desks that can house a full-blown studio’s gear, you’ll find the right one in our selection.

On-Stage Stands Workstation

The On-Stage Stands Workstation is a good choice for the beginning studio, providing surfaces to hold your audio monitors, computer display and keyboard, and other recording gear. It can be assembled in two different ways to match your workspace and preferences.

Call us for more advice

After reading this guide, if you’re still not sure which gear is right for you, we invite you call to one of our friendly and knowledgeable Gear Heads at (877) 880-5907. We’ll help you find the perfect gear to get your recording studio up and running.

Tags: Recording Microphones Audio Interfaces Software Monitors Speakers Audio Recording Home Studio

Comments  

# Fred 2016-08-11 09:21
I have a home studio, Tascam DP-24,DP-02,CC-222SLmkII, and other equipment. I do my own recording and would like to collaborate with another musician in another town. What recorder should the other musician purchase that would be compatible to mine and allow transfer of music via smart card or CD. Any information would be helpful.
Reply
# John engineer Joe 2016-07-08 23:31
My dad has u47 it old 59 or older i have well Dad gave me a RCA 70s console but i have no compter box thing i have 32 fader slots so many knobs haw he boy am i able to record on those round holes dad calls it a patch something i think it a buy or bee boy sure learning my paws very old he not my real Dad jhe my grandpaw i have no Real dad ok we have no phone for that need box recorder help this is my friends emails so he smarter than me 1960s eqh2 pulteche they are blue and on the bus outputs
Reply
# Mohamed Fuard Ossen 2016-07-04 11:48
My son is otisum child he need voice recording equipmenequipment support with cannect to the laptop and take notes to print.
Reply
# Vic 2016-06-22 07:33
I'm a guitarist mainly and want to start recording, my current home PC is not upto the job, I've just purchased Safire pro 26, condenser mic, and monitors, useless with technical stuff, what PC is best to purchase?
Reply
# joshua 2016-06-15 14:02
send it to me in chatham kent ontario timmins cresent apartment 3
Reply
# joshua benedict 2016-06-15 14:00
i need this rill bad
Reply
# joshua benedict 2016-06-15 13:58
plz i need this for making vids for youtube
Reply
# Ralph 2016-06-10 15:15
Im curious on how to set up my reel to reel in my studio I'm planning on piecing together, im a guitar player and love to dabble, not really concerned about recording but would love some advice, I have a laptop, Amps, microphones, lots and lots of guitars, studio monitors, klipsche hereseys. Lots of cool stuff any suggestions???
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# Richard Neal 2016-02-06 13:45
I purchased an m audio m track plus which included pro tools le. After recording my first mix I discovered the software won't allow me to edit effects that are added in pro tools. Can you recommend recording software that enables you to add effects for example reverb, and then edit them?
Reply
# ahasda 2016-04-26 23:25
haha kuching paryo
Reply
# Christopher 2015-09-11 04:36
I have a Yamaha MG 102-c mixing board. I have two guitars and two mics going thru it. I want to send the mix (just one channel is fine) to my iPad. What is the simplest way to do that, preserving the quality of the sound?
Reply
# Yamaha Joe 2015-09-06 07:30
Dear,
I need to connect a external mic to my laptop without a pre-amp or mixer. Which type of mic i need to use for it? Condenser or dynamic mic?
Reply
# Paul 2015-11-22 13:47
I would suggest a dynamic mic, as it needs no external / phantom power in order to work. Condenser microphones require some kind of power, be it an internal battery (rare) or phantom power, which is an electrical current the is sent up the microphone cable from the unit (preamp or mixer) that it is plugged into. There are external phantom power modules, but your preference to use without a preamp or mixer would lead me to thing you may not want an external device between the microphone and the laptop.
Reply
# John Neil 2015-06-12 14:35
Which package is best for hiphop vocals? I would probably be sending the finished songs to someone else to master. Don't know how to do any of this!
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# John Neil 2015-06-12 14:42
Also was wondering which laptop/mac you'd recommend for a low budget!
Reply
# John Neil 2015-06-12 14:34
Which is the best recording package for hiphop vocals? I most likely would be sending the finished songs to someone else who could master since I don't know how to do any of this..
Reply
# Janet 2015-06-12 09:59
My boss want to record video in a elementary classroom. Wants to record the sound at the desk groupings with border microphones to minimize ambient sound. She is using an iPad to record so she needs the microphones to be bluetooth. Is there such a product out there? I've searched the inte[blocked] and either I'm not using the right terminology or it doesn't exist. HELP!
Reply
# Ryan Funk 2014-11-10 14:34
What is the desk in the main picture?! And is it in three pieces or all one?
Reply
# Ramesh Chand Vishwak 2014-11-10 09:56
Good Info for beginners.
Reply
# Tristan L. Conrad 2014-11-09 14:36
Hi, my name's Tristan and I'm a bassist. I've used a few basic recording programs but i don't get the audio whole playing. Only during playback can I hear what I've played and if I've made any mistakes and if there are any vibrations or dead notes. So my biggest concern is finding the software or gear that I need so that I can hear what I'm playing as I'm recording. Is there anything affordable that will help me do that?
Reply
# Raven 2014-11-09 19:11
As Kip said, most programs will have a monitoring button, but many times this has a slight lag which makes recording pretty difficult. Most audio interfaces, like the Focusrites that they mentioned have direct monitoring, so you can plug in headphones and listen to what is being put through the device.
Reply
# Kip Arnold 2014-11-09 15:00
Usually there's a checkbox for monitoring the track as it is recording. ..depending on the software you are using.
Reply
# Bill 2014-11-09 14:29
Well first, best of luck and don't [blocked]et to have fun as you progress into the field of recording.
I currently own professional grade equipment. (I compared what I have with MF recommendations, mine is as good or better than their suggestions) I started "on a budget" for my home recording gear 10 years ago. (most has come from MF) As time progressed $ became less of an issue. Your budget dictates what you are able to get. If you'd like to respond via this forum I'd be glad to share my experiences. I'll close with one word of advise when considering a gear purchase, research. Best regards.
Reply
# royneil 2014-11-09 13:46
I just cursory glanced this but it seems helpful I've been looking for an easy way to collect equipment for a beginner and taking the guess work out of it I'm looking to record Hip Hop music so any feedback is welcome
Reply

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