Create a Home Music Studio for the Serious Amateur Musician

There’s never been a better time to build a home music studio. The pandemic has given quarantined musicians new technology and pricing options to practice scales between emails and lay down a few tracks like the pros do. Once the exclusive domain of Architectural Digest and MTV Cribs, home studios are now within reach, even for those who haven’t planned to visit 22 cities.

With an ambitious young musician in our house, we skimped, borrowed, and gifted MacGuyver a good enough home studio for our son to produce a proper album. Here’s a look at some of the gear we’ve used, along with a few dream items that get great reviews but remain on our reach list. For the serious amateur musician, consider these among your tools of choice:

Microphones

Vanguard Audio Labs packages its second-generation V4 large-diaphragm mics ($599) and V44S dual-capsule stereo condenser mics ($1099) to look almost like vintage watches. But these classic-style pickups are anything but throwbacks. the V4 and V44S offer powerful sensitivity, plus warmth and texture that surpasses much more expensive setups. Both models are classified as J-FET transformerless mics, meaning they use less expensive transistors to perform the same functions as transformers. A kit version includes a metal shock mount and rubber O-rings to protect these beauties when you’re not saying “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” I also appreciate that the pickups are designed and finished here in Southern California, where the brand is based. Vibrations and performance as solid as a vintage muscle car.

A Los Angeles-based company with a space-race design aesthetic, Soyuz handcrafts sleek microphones for the home and professional musician that look like something 007 would wear to get out of a jam (and by jam, I mean commanding the karaoke bar with “The Spy Who Loved Me”) Take a look at the making of the FET Soyuz 013. The brand mic known as The Bomblet might be an even better choice for those who upgrade to their first home studio. It costs the same as a pair of 013s (around $1200) and offers relentless clarity across the entire frequency spectrum. In addition to the mics, Soyuz makes an active in-line preamp called The Launcher ($199), a kind of secret weapon for a signal chain designed to take the most common mics in any studio (Shure SM58, 57, SM7bs, for example) and give them more color, character and depth.

After noticing the Mojave Audio mics that Grammy-winning artist Jacob Collier uses, we had to try one ourselves (everything Collier does makes an impression here, he’s so talented.). And Mojave does not disappoint. The streamlined MA-50 pickup captures an impressive range for vocals, snares, or for splashy room sound. It’s also perfect for podcasting, Zoom calls or video recording. On the design side, it is elegant without being too show-off. $599.

For real feelings of nostalgia, Trash Talk Audio makes microphones that not only look like classic telephone receivers; they also create a low-fidelity “narrowband” telephone effect in the studio and on stage without the need for digital processing or EQ. The PP-1 payphone mic delivers the sound of loneliness on the other side of a call or “Clean up on Aisle 3!” type effects. It’s funny? He is. Available in red, yellow or black, for $99.

Instruments and sound technology

Yamaha’s CP Reface keyboard, a reimagining of the iconic 1970s Yamaha Combo Piano, is a home studio miracle – an anytime, anywhere, perfect (and perfectly within budget) instrument for a very limited space. The 37-key mini keyboard plays like a full-size piano when you activate a switch that lets you switch between octaves. Other options, like analog-style delays, bring warmth and depth to your playing. Dads at the lush electric grand piano. Tight and fast for natural performance for dabbers and pros alike, at $399.

If, for example, Skrillex and Dr. Frankenstein got into the music gear business together, they could produce something like The Moog Sound Studio 3, a three-level flashing, poppin-dial modular FM synthesizer that takes no any area home recording to a bolder level. The stunning patch wired console includes a polyrhythmic subharmonicon analog synthesizer, the Moog DFAM percussive analog synthesizer, and the Moog Mother-32 analog synthesizer. These sets come with various accessories to help them work together. The results of all that synth power are a limitless source of inventive bloops, pings, ba-beeps and k’thumps to add to any experimental-leaning recording. The look and experience is somewhere between retro and futuristic, infuriating and intensely soul-satisfying, and all in all a way to create soundscapes that are as bold and unusual as the setup looks. A portal for free-form musical exploration. If nothing else, it will look sick in the background of your first Tiny Desk gig at home. About $2,000.

orchestra tools is a sound sample library that recently launched SINEPlayer – an all-in-one virtual instrument player engine, instrument organizer and app store that allows home musicians to access libraries of virtual instruments that you would normally need a full-fledged concert hall to find. Whether it’s a full orchestra with string, percussion and brass sections, or single instruments (Need a cheap oboe or French horn solo?), the SINEPlayer and showcase allow you to mix and match to suit your recording desires. And with optional Orchestral Tools creative sound packs, you can go further with custom sets of instruments or musical moods, whether you’re cutting a neo-soul track or aiming to outdo the LA Phil. Virtually amazing!

SENSATIONAL READING MONITORS

Be ready. Ocean Way’s Pro3 Reference Monitors deliver readings so detailed and authentic you can practically taste the notes. The company, founded in the 1970s in Santa Monica by Allen Sides, has long set the platinum standard for professional studio speakers, but these large-format monitors typically cost $10,000 and up. At around $3,000 for the pair, the compact Pro3s are the most affordable, user-friendly speakers Ocean Way has ever released. It’s hard to describe the listening experience other than to say that the Pro3s puts the music right in front of you. The sound is so immersive as to impress, as you might feel when peering down the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time. A “dream list” item for sure. But the 14-inch x 9-inch x 13.5-inch two-way monitor speaker system is exactly what you want on your control desk.

MIXING TABLES, INTERFACES

Here’s another one for the “one day” list. Solid State Logic’s Big Six is ​​a professional mixing and recording desk that’s manageable – in size and relative price – for the serious amateur musician-producer. Some say mixing on a big console is old-fashioned, a throwback to the 1980s. But there are advantages in certain situations, like when you have to work live with lots of musicians and manage levels and controls, or if you integrate equipment into a DAW-based system. Big Six takes its name from its six inputs and comes with input channels with preamp, EQ and compression, as well as a buss compressor and monitor controller with talkback. It’s a super-analog vibe – turning dials and pushing levers with tons of physics – that gives home producers more tactical mixing sense than computer interfaces allow. Here’s how to make this wall of sound by hand! $2,999.

I recently upgraded the Focusrite Scarlett Solo audio interface to Universal Audio’s Volt 276 audio interface, and, whoa, the improvements are mind-blowing. Connecting the microphones is quick and easy. You can take it anywhere. Latency is extremely low and this Volt has incredible preamps and a vintage sound mode that gives warmth to whatever you record. Feels like a steal at $299.

Universal Audio’s Apollo Twin X is a solid step up from the Volt, although more accessible price-wise than UA’s standard Apollo 8 and 16 stands. You can easily connect the interface to your computer via Thunderbolt for tracking, overdubs, and mixing with A/D and D/A conversion, two Unison-compatible preamps, and available DUO or QUAD Core plug-in processing. The console design puts everything at your fingertips with a central knob that lets you adjust and track the output levels of your microphone, preamp channels, monitor, and headphone output. It is useful in a recording situation to have these controls physical rather than digital. The Twin X is a powerful hub for a home studio, and it’s priced competitively at $1,200.