How to Build a
Home Studio for £2500

Professional studio engineer Russ Harvey explains how to build a home studio for a band or producer with a budget of £2500.

Introduction

For my last post, I was posed the question whether it was possible to put together a singer/songwriter set up for £500. That was a challenge and I was relieved that that was it! Well, we received a further question stretching me a little further – “what about a studio for recording my band at around £2500?”. This will be somewhat harder, as I try to provide the uber band tracking system within the £2500 budget.

Recording a band used to be quite an involved process, which has naturally needed a dedicated studio. This isn't just because of the acoustics, but because the gear was far from portable in the past. However, in this day and age, high-quality recording can theoretically be achieved using my iPad! Portability is part and parcel of current technology, and we can record literally anywhere if the place is right.

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How to choose the right Digital Audio Workstation

In a previous post, I rambled on about the choices you might like to make between digital audio workstations (DAWs), and Pro Tools came out top with recording in mind. Getting this straight, I’m no more of a fan of Pro Tools than any other workstation as it happens (I quite like Logic), but there are just some things it does very well, and tracking is one of those very things! So naturally, many might choose Pro Tools again for the very task posed here.

However, alternatives really do present themselves and there are some great ones at that, especially if you’re coming from a MIDI-style background. Cubase and Logic hail from their MIDI heritage, whilst others such as Reaper and Studio One from PreSonus do audio really well. If you were in the US, Digital Performer from MOTU and what was Cakewalk are much more popular. All of the above can handle fabulous recording projects these days.

Choosing the right DAW will be, again, up to you. It is likely you’ve had some experience of a particular DAW and will wish to stick with it, or you may choose to migrate to something that is used in your local studio where you sometimes track things. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to stick to Pro Tools, under the knowledge that we could choose any other DAW.

How to choose the right Audio Interface

With Pro Tools installed on your machine, it's now time to consider how you’re going to get your band’s audio into it. The audio interface you choose is an important part of the equation. Back in the day of open reel multi-tracks, it was the tape formulation (and thus cost) that dictated the quality of the recording medium.

In the digital world, the type of hard drive, or make, has no bearing on the quality of the sound, providing they can accurately store the ‘1s’ and ‘0s’ properly. It’s the conversion that is the key to sound quality, so investing in a good audio interface is a sensible long term winning plan.

There are many options to choose from such as the standard M-Audio M-Track offerings, for use with Digidesign’s Pro Tools. However one company that never ceases to amaze me is Focusrite. With a relatively short, yet illustrious history so far, Focusrite have some great products out there. Starting out as a company incorporated by none other than Rupert Neve, Focusrite created some seriously high end 19″ processors and possible the most expensive recording console ever, entitled the Forte.

The Focusrite Scarlett Range

After Neve’s departure, Focusrite Audio Engineering has built and concentrated on collaborations with AVID (then Digidesign) over the MBox 1 (Focusrite pre-amps, with a Digisdesign audio interface) and later the Control 24. However in recent years, Focusrite has maintained quality but somehow driven down their costs to offer amazing audio interfaces for what appear impossibly low prices.

The Scarlett 18i8 Audio Interface is a fantastic option. With 4 combination mic preamp/line inputs letting you record any array of instruments or vocals, the addition of 4 line inputs on the back allows you to record up to 8 tracks at once.

If I’m wanting to do a proper tracking session, the rack-mounted Scarlett Octopre Dynamic Preamp (also from Focusrite) can connect to the 18i8 to provide you with a further 8 inputs. And voila – we’ve got 12 Focusrite mic pre-amps ready to track a good kit. Add to this the ability to input other line level instruments like guitars, we can be tracking pretty quickly. In fact, modern UK rockers Lower Than Atlantis recorded their hit track "Dumb" using the Scarlett Octopre Dynamic Preamp in an exclusive video for Focusrite, and the results speak for themself:

So far we’ve spent relatively little of our money. Adding a Scarlett 6i6 for £219 and an OctoPre for £579, for under £800 we’ve got a portable interface and a great mic pre box too. Add ProTools at £499, you’re rocking already at just shy of £1300!

How to choose the right Microphones

Recording a drum kit is a fascinating art, which so many discuss at length and there’s never a right or wrong rule list for many. Any mic selection will come under the same scrutiny. My preference would be a for a select set of tried and tested mics, in what are considered as industry standard positions. However for now, we’re looking at fast and affordable results, leading me to the fantastic value presented by the drum mic sets such as the Shure DMK5752 Drum Mic Set or the AKG Drum Set Session I Mic Pack, providing excellent quality for the price.

With the AKG set, you’d be able to mic up the bass drum, the snare and a few other bits. These kits never provide quite enough if you’re going the whole way, recording the high-hat, ride and snare bottom individually. So it might be wise to extend your mic set up with some good all purpose mics, such as the legendary Shure SM57 and SM58 dynamic mics. These guys will never be without a home in the studio.

Also adding a matched pair of condensers such as the Rode NT5s would not be a bad plan either, as this gives you all kinds of options as they’re pretty versatile on lots of things. However, you’ll still need a large diaphragm mic, which could again be the value-for-money Se Electronic X1A Condenser Microphone, coming in at a mere £80.

Listening Back - Choosing the right Monitors

Studio monitors are another big topic of much debate, and we’re looking for a set of good quality monitors for our modest setup. Given we’ve spent a fair whack of money on things like the digital audio workstation (DAW) and on mics, we may not have quite as much as we ought to have set aside for monitors. Therefore its compromise time!

Regrettably, Yamaha don’t make the NS10M’s anymore. Many say "good riddance", whilst others are still very sad for their demise. Think of the money Yamaha would have made in recent years! If you’re in search of the NS10M’s, please don’t be fooled by Yamaha’s modern offerings (which sound nothing like them), but provide a better sound overall – simply missing the point of the trusty NS10s!

Makes like Genelec and Dynaudio are the companies you’d expect to see in professional studios, and their smaller offerings available here at Andertons Music Co. deliver that quality straight into your setup. You could try to afford the Genelec 8030, but are pricey for a pair. The same is the case with the Dynaudio BM5. However, a simple and yet solid set of monitors such as the Alesis M1 Actives may not be perfect, but represent good value for money. As time goes on and you get more involved in your recording, you might wish to make an investment in this area later on.

What about Accessories?

As with our 'How to Build a Home Studio for £500' guide, we here need to also consider microphone cables, stands and headphones. The Stagg 6m Male-to-Female XLR Mic Cable is inexpensive but up to the task, and coming it at £8.99 each you can't really complain! With a set of Stagg Economy Boom Mic Stands at a mere £19.99 each, you can easily position your mics to capture every element of your band's setup, but most notably the drum kit.

Whilst using monitors for mixing is recommended, you'll still need a set of decent headphones for tracking parts. The Beyer Dynamic DT100 Headphones are an industry standard, used in countless recording studios around the world. Acclaimed for their great audio quality, these headphones are most notorious for the comfort they offer, with their soft ear cushions able to seal out ambient noise and be worn without causing fatigue.

So essentially, we’ve put together a system revolved around Pro Tools, showing that it can be used with pretty much any audio interface these days, such as the Focusrite Scarletts in this instance. We’ve got tons of inputs, and lots of opportunities to track bigger set ups once we add more mics to the system. We’ve selected some good value for money microphones which we might like to add to in the future, but for starters with this kit you’d be able to track your band comfortably!

Happy tracking…

Please note: All of the prices in this article were accurate as of March 2018.

Total – £2,507.78

*All prices and special offers correct at time of publication but subject to change without notice.

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