Home recording studios and their applications
Over the last 2 decades, Home Studios have become very common. And why not? It works out to be a much economical choice for most Editors, Producers and even Audio Engineers, especially for the ones who are in the beginning of their careers.
Well, there are plus and minus points of working out of home. Lets begin with the minus; the doorbell, especially during a Recording Session, can be a huge problem. Not only it can cause you to stop your work (when couriers and posts arrive), but also can create a spike in the Audio Signal being recorded. Another important one is the Acoustical Treatment and Isolation in many such spaces, and finally the quality of the Recording and Production Equipment, which is a huge and a rather subjective topic of discussion.
On the plus side, working from a home environment give you a lot of freedom to work. No travel time (especially in crowded cities), less business overheads, quicker delivery of projects, thanks to online file transfer facilities and finally ‘work in your own time’.
Let’s look at a common scenario; a music producer and an audio engineer, both working out of their home studio installations… the first important part of the Home based Studio is the quality of the power supply. Not too many homes would have a 3 phase power supply. In a professional studio environment, the power requirements can be distributed among the 3 phases, i.e. RYB (RED/YELLOW/BLUE), where Red could be assigned to the air-conditioning, the Yellow can be assigned to the Equipment and the Blue can be assigned to Lighting and accessory points (battery chargers, etc). At a home scenario, in most cases, where we are dealing with a Single Phase Power Supply, where the entire electricity load of your home is being shared with your Equipment. Noise and Spikes generated by the switching of household load is the biggest problem.
Personally, I have come across issues where I have had Audio Dropouts when someone rang the doorbell. Well, this is just one of them. Thankfully, there are Power Conditioners available which filter out these interferences from the Audio Signal Path and so the Output quality of your Production remains acceptable. Power Conditioners like the Samson PS-10/PS-15 are very decent products that perform very well. There are other brands like “Furman” as well. They are seen mostly in many Professional and Home Studio Applications. Installing an Isolation Transformer is a good practice too.
The way we perceive sound in a Room or Space affects the output of the tonal balance, dynamics and space which is created in the production. I have come across quite a few music professionals working in Non Acoustically Treated Environments (especially in their initial career period), which creates a ‘fake’ representation of the Audio output being perceived by them. So, productions that sound “good” in such spaces end up sounding very different once it leaves their studio.
Some amount of Acoustic Treatment is a must to have for a proper representation of the production. Also, placing the ‘setup’ in the longer side of the room can be beneficial to reduce rear wall reflections to a minimum, sitting in the centre of the room is an absolute no-no. Ideally 35-38% from the front wall is a good space to have as a sweet spot (listening position). There are Room Acoustic Treatment kits available to treat a space, so that the perception of sound from your source can be accurate. When it comes to Recording an Acoustic Instrument using a Microphone, Isolation becomes very critical. If one does not have the budget to isolate a room properly, then the best time to Record in such spaces is during the quietest time of the day (preferably night). Keeping doors and windows shut, switching off the AC, filling up gaps in the window frames with a silicone based sealant and using weather stripping on door jams will help enough to improve the overall noise floor of the room.
When it comes to choosing Studio Equipment for your Home based space, there are plenty options available. Now lets go though each and every component in detail:
- Audio Interface: Look for something as per your requirement, i.e. how many inputs do you really require? Do you need Expansion via ADAT, MADI, etc? Word Clock? and most importantly Mic Preamps? If you’re recording Drums, then you would need an Interface with atleast 4 to 8 Mic Preamps, for Vocals, Bass, Guitars, you’re good to go with 2 Inputs. There are many options available from Audient, Focusrite, RME, Universal Audio, Prism Sound, Lynx, Apogee and many more. The fact of the matter is that you get what you pay for 🙂
- Console: If you’re of using consoles, then surely go for one. The flexibility and Routing options available through them is just wonderful. Though Audio Interfaces have become versatile over the years giving you very good routing options. If you’re looking for a console only recording, then an ‘inline console’ will do a good job, this would mean that you would be performing your Mix within your DAW (in the box). If you’re planning to Record and Mix on the console, then you’ll need a Split Console with a healthy number of channels and busses. In the analogue domain, keeping in mind the home studio user, the Yamaha MG Series does a decent job as a recording console. Incase you’re a hardcore ‘Inside the Box’ Producer/Engineer and would like to have a ‘feel’ of a console, then you could try out a Control Surface (basically a remote fader set) for your DAW console. There are good options like the Presonus Fader Port, Fader Port 8 and 16 and also the Softube Console 1 and Fader are revolutionary products!
- Studio Monitors: This is dependent on your taste and room dimensions. Make sure that you go in for a monitor with a woofer/mid driver size of 5” minimum for nearfield applications. This size of speaker would cover most of the bandwidth for a Producer/Mixer. For better low-end response, a Monitor having an 8” driver would be required. Adding an Active Subwoofer to a smaller size Monitor is also an option, but that requires to be setup properly in terms of time and phase. For the Home Studio user, there are several options starting from the Yamaha HS series, Kali Audio LP & IN series, KRK all the way upto Focals, Eve, Dynaudio and Genelec.
- Headphones: Lots of options from Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, Audio-Technica, KRK, etc. The question about open back and closed back has been a very common one that I have been asked myself by many. If you’re working on the go, then a closed back would be better and while in a studio or workspace, an open back would do great. Both types work well and provide pretty decent accuracy. There are plugins like Sonarworks which help in ‘flattenin’ the frequency respose of your headphones, but always remember that headphones should be used as an option an not as a main monitor. While working on Monitors, the phantom center is right in front of you, while working on headphones, the phantom centre is inside your head. I am not trying to dissuade anyone from using headphones, but the the statement above is a fact. Also percetion of Reverb Tails is far better on Monitors as compared to headphones, but again this can be debatable.
- Microphones: Dynamic or Condenser comes as the first question. Always remember that even though Condenser Microphones provide better fidelity as compared to Dynamic ones, they are very sensitive to noise and vibrations. So if you’re not absolutely sure about your environment, you could choose a Dynamic over a Condenser. The Shure SM-57 and 58 have been around for decades and have served the industry well. There are others from AKG, Sennheiser, Samson, etc. For Condensers, Lewitt has been a great bang for the buck and there are many from Rode, Audio Technica all the way to Neumann, Lauten and Manley.
- DAW System: Whether you are a MAC or PC user, there are several DAWs out there. Most of them work on both worlds, except Logic Pro, for that you will need a MAC. I have been through Sadie, Nuendo, DSP-Postation, Cubase, Logic Pro and Pro Tools. Finally I have settled for Presonus Studio One as it does everything I need for me. Logic, Ableton, Bitwig and Cubase are very friendly for Music Producers. It all finally boils down to what works for you. Remember, please buy an original software. It makes a big difference!!!
- Cables and Interconnects: Cables are ones which bring together your entire studio, so always remember to go for a good quality cable of a reputed brand. Cheap cables are available plenty but will raise the noise floor and may cause other issues too. I have been a big fan of Sommer Cable since my first day at work. For connectors (XLR, TRS) Neutrik and Amphenol have been very reliable for me. There are other cable brands like Gotham and Kimber too, which are of very good quality.
- Accessories: If you have a Studio, then there are certain accessories which are important. Firstly, cable management becomes important, this enables you to locate each cable’s starting and end points. This can be beneficial especially during troubleshooting and would overall improve the tidiness of your space. Microphone stands are a necessity for recording and its a good practice to go for something of a sturdy build quality. I have noticed many people tend to over-tighten Microphone stand adjustments and eventually have broken ones. ‘Wrist tight’ is good enough, the gym is there for workouts 🙂 Adding a Pop Filter is a good practice while using Condenser Microphones as they would help in filtering ‘pops’ and ‘clicks’ especially while recording Vocals.
There are several products from Samson Tech which are of good build quality. I have been using their BL-3 Boom Mic Stand and PS-01 Pop Filters over a decade!
At the end of it all, you home studio is your creative workspace, where you bring out your creativity and skills to produce content. Look after it, make sure everything’s in place and keep going on and make some great Music…