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21 ways to Assemble a
Home Recording RIG

A Tour through the Diverse Home Studio
options available Today

by Tweak
Share

page 1    Page    1   2   3   4   5   6
 

Let me take you on a walk through our favorite music store. I'll point out what works with what, nudge you in a few directions when I know something is o, so-cool, and give you a sense of the options you have for recording.  On this page you will hopefully find a studio that may best meet your musical vision.  There is indeed a home studio solution for everyone who wants to record music.  It's just a matter of knowing what's out there and how the pieces fit together.  That's the information you are about to receive.

There are so many products in the home studio arena that it can be a challenge to figure out which items you want for your studio.  Below you see some suggestions I have come to after years of helping people put together their rigs.  I did a fair amount of research on these rigs.  That does not mean that I tried them all.  As always do your own research and consider these suggestions as a starting point on what to research further.

What is a rig? Its the term I use for "the basic studio components working together as a system".   There are many ways to put together a recording rig correctly.  There are more ways to do it wrong.  By studying my rigs you can get a good sense of what works and what does not.  Use the info towards building the ideal rig for your projects and your budget.

 

All rigs contain:

1. various input devices (microphones, midi controllers, keyboard synthesizers, control surfaces)

2. an audio i/o system (audio interface or soundcard, or mixer)

3. a recorder (i.e., Sequencer, multi track recorder, MPC, etc) and processors

4. monitoring system (i.e., active or passive speakers)

 


First lets go low in price, bang for the buck.

Rig #1 Entry Level Budget Firewire Mixerless Rig

Discuss This Rig      This rig can be discussed here: Rig #1 Entry Level Budget Firewire

 PC (or Mac) Mixerless Home Studio for Desktop or Laptop

Who its for:  Ideal for the solo composer recording him or her self one track at a time; or for the recording of a small small ensemble overdubbing the parts, one or two mics at a time.  Good for Hip hop and all forms of electronica and dance, as well as acoustic guitarists, synthesists,  vocalists and songwriters.

The Firestudio Mobile will work with Macs or PCs  You can plug in your guitar and mic on the front panel and connect a synth in the back.  This interface is rich in inputs (8 analog, stereo s/pdif digital) but only has 2 outputs, which is nearly perfect for a mixerless approach.  Finally, you're going to be recording at 24 bits, just like many pros do.

Hooking up this rig:  Utter simplicity.  Firewire cable from firebox to computer.  Mic to XLR input.  Keyboard controller to any USB input. Active Monitors on the main outs.  Done.  Done.  Done!  So easy a caveman could.. I mean, ugh, even  your drummer could do it.   If you have a keyboard or module with sounds then it connects to the firebox line inputs 3 and 4 on the back.   If you have a keyboard with no USB use the onboard 5 pin MIDI jacks.

 

PreSonus FireStudio Mobile FireWire Audio Interface
Finally, a new-generation, studio-quality FireWire interface that you can use anywhere! The PreSonus FireStudio(TM) Mobile combines the superior analog-circuit design and advanced platform technology of our acclaimed FireStudio rack-mount interfaces with the ability to run on bus power in field applications. Now you can have enhanced audio performance for music recording and creation anywhere you can lug your laptop!
Alternate: Motu UltraliteMk3, Inspire,
Other option for PC: Emu 0404 USB2 Emu 0404
B1
Studio Projects B1 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
Main
Mackie MR5 or KRK RP5G2
Your computeradd your PC or Mac
Sony MDR
Sony MDR 7506 or less, depending what you can afford
 M-Audio Oxygen 25 v3 25-Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller
Choice of Mac/PC Sequencer
Apple Logic Pro studio (Macintosh)  or Cubase or Sonar on the PC
 

 

Discussion of Rig #1

Its amazing how little it takes when you really get down to it.  The cool thing about this rig is great sound in a tiny easy to set-up system.  You can operate with a minimum of wires and use it on a laptop or a desktop.  Because both the firebox and Xboard are bus powered, take along some phones and you could record on a road trip.  Of course you want to make sure you have a high performing laptop with a fast hard disk, or just use it with you home firewire equipped desktop. 

The Studio projects B1 is currently winning our poll at studio-central for best condenser around $100.

This system is upgradeable at any time.  You can add premium Mic preamps better monitors and AD\DA converters when major cash comes in if you need to sound as professional as possible.  But this system gets you off the ground with excellent sound.

Alternatives to the Firestudio Mobile:

For most Macs or PCs with Firewire, the Firebox will do fine. 

For a higher quality alternative to the firestudio mobile for Mac systems, I recommend you substitute a MOTU Ultralite.  Yep, these will cost more.  Remember now m-m-m-m-Mac and  m-m-m-m-Motu are good!  That is a generalization.  Its fairly safe when talking about MOTU's recent audio interfaces.  Did I say PC?  No I did not. (Be wary any time you find yourself, or a gear salesman, or someone on a forum generalizing).  Go a page dedicated to audio interfaces for your Mac.  Likewise, you should not try to get an Emu audio interface working on your Mac.  That's a PC thing.

Another alternative if you are strapped for cash is the Presonus Inspire instead of the the firestudio mobile.  The inspire has the advantage that it comes with Cubase LE software.  This means you don't have to buy a software package to get started. I have detailed a rig for the Inspire in this article: how to build a budget studio. In fact, if you are into hip hop and sampling off vinyl, the Inspire saves you money as it includes on onboard phono preamp for your turntable. There is no MIDI i/o on the Inspire though so make sure you have a keyboard that has a built in USB midi interface.  (See there is always a tradeoff!).  A quick note--beware of dynamic mics that require a lot of gain like the classic Shure SM57.  You'll have to boost the gain massively, which will add some noise.  Condenser mics will be fine as they typically require less gain.

There are also low cost USB 2.0 interfaces hitting the market, like the Tascam US122L and the Tascam US144 Mk 2.  Other valid audio interfaces can be found on my comparison pages.

Now lets go to the higher end (but not the highest) in price.

 

Discuss This Rig This rig can be discussed here: Rig #1 Entry Level Budget Firewire

 


 

Rig #2 Quality Home Studio for Bands, composers, drummers

 Discuss This Rig   This rig can be discussed here:  Rig #2 Quality Home Studio for Bands, composers, drummers Rack Rig

 

Who its for:

Ideal for bands, the advanced home composer,  studios that need a lot of mics and those who demand flexibility and superb quality to do whatever they want.  Dummers will like the rig, and so will the studio that hosts bands.  Its good for multi-room operations where you have a control room (say a bedroom) and a studio room (where people perform) say the living room.  It will also do a respectable hardware electronica studio where you need hi power instrument inputs for vintage gear.  In both cases the ADAT expandability is there when you need it, with an extra 16 channels with inexpensive converters.

Hooking up this Rig:

Note that with the MOTU 896 mk3, you get into an audio interface that has all the basics for recording a 4pc band (8 mic preamps), yet offers amazing expansion options that will allow you to grow with this interface.  The 896 mk3 has dual ADAT i/o, can be turned into an addition 16 ins and outs if you record at a sample rate of 44.1 (and you should!)  This gives you a 24x24 system when expanded, not counting the additional s/pdif and AES/EBU digital i/o.  The M3 in our example above would have its audio outs connected to the 896mk3's instrument inputs or via ADAT through the line inputs of a Behringer ADA8000 converter. 

For MIDI the M3 could connect by USB,  However, remember the 896mk3 has no MIDI i/o so if you want to use older synths you need a MIDI interface.  That is where MOTU midi express 128 (or other) MIDI interface comes in.  It just connects to a USB port. You connect all your 5-pin Standard MIDI cables to it.  Your sequencer will see all those MOTU midi ins and outs and all the audio ins an outs of the 896mk3.   Pretty amazingly simple for a huge system that can do full bands!  The rest you do with the mouse inside the application.  

Keep in mind that a non-gigging studio-only musician does not need a keyboard with sounds.  You can get by with a keyboard controller and use software synths exclusively. 

 

motu 896
 
Motu 896 audio Interface
Choice of Mac/PC Sequencer (if going with the  iMac try Logic Pro)
Apple Logic Pro studio (Macintosh)  or Cubase or Sonar on the PC
Logic Studio

 

 
 

 

Korg m3
Korg M361 61-Key Synth Workstation Sampler

 

Apple iMac or Dell or HP Pc

 
 
Behringer ADA8000 Ultragain Pro 8-Channel A/D D/A Converterada8000
Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) MIDI Express 128 8x8 Bus Powered Interface
Motu MIDI Express
Akai MPD26 USB/MIDI Pad Controller
 
 
BLUE Baby Bottle Studio Condenser Microphone with CaseBaby Bottle

sm57Shure SM57 Microphone

Rode NT5 Condenser Microphones

 

RE20
ElectroVoice RE20 Classic Cardioid Dynamic Microphone

 

headphones
Headphones
of choice
 
Adam A7X Powered Studio Monitor

 

 
 

Discussion of Rig #2

This is not a budget rig, but one of solid sound, amazing flexibility, and in all hi reliability. Of course it costs much more than Rig #1, but you get capability and the flexibility to do lots more things.

Connect  the 896mk3 to your computer with a single firewire cable.   The advantage of this system is that it is flexible.  You can use external gear as well as the software instruments in your sequencer. 

Lets go back to expanding the 896mk3.  You can, if you have a strong Apple computer, add up to 3 more MOTU firewire interfaces by daisy chaining them.  See my review on the 896mk3 for more.  You can also connect up to two 8 channel ADAT light pipe expanders to the optical ports.  The most inexpensive of these are the Behringer ADA8000.  Two expanders and an 896mk3 with give you 24 analog ins and outs. 

The new Adam A7x is an outstanding choice for a nearfield monitor, getting great reviews.  There are a lot of possibilities in this $1000-1200 a pair range. 

I selected the Korg M3 for its sheer sonic inventiveness with the Karma II processing inside.  But any keyboard, even a soundless controller will work here, because Logic has all the soft synths you will need inside. An alternative hi end synth is the Yamaha S90XS, which has the entire Motif Sound set and a fantastic piano.  This is the choice for someone who wants the full 88 keys. I've selected the MOTU MIDI Express 128 to give you plenty if MIDI ins and outs for connecting external gear.  Add your entire rack of MIDI modules and effects from years past.  As a nice touch, I add an MPD24. Its keeps with the small footprint, but gives those big MPC style drum pads popularized by hip hop beat makers.

A computer with Firewire is required.  This gear will work with PCs or Macs, but I suggest a late model Mac, like the iMac pictured above and Logic Studio, or a fast Dell or HP and Cubase.  It will give the studio a small footprint with the capability of doing very large projects, just right for many rooms we have in our homes.  Add the mics you need and you have a extremely classy rig that you will enjoy for years.

On the Cheap

The less expensive way to get most of the capabilities of this type of rig is to substitute a MOTU 8 pre instead of the 896mk3 and a keyboard like the Yamaha MM6 instead of the M3.  Of course if your computer is fast enough to run multiple soft synths you could just get a soundless controller.

Discuss This Rig   This rig can be discussed here:  Rig #2 Quality Home Studio for Bands, composers, drummers


 

Rig #3 Entry-Level PC-Mixer- based Home Studio
System that can Get the Job Done with a minimum of cash

Discuss This Rig   This rig can be discussed here:  Rig #3 Entry-Level PC-Mixer- based Home Studio

Who its for:

Ideal for solo composers and small ensembles, especially for those with old computers and little cash.  You can record up to two tracks at once easily.

Hooking it up:  

With a desktop computer just take the alt 3-4 outs of the Xenyx and connect them to the 2496 line in jacks.  The 2496 line out jacks can go back to any 2 unused line inputs on the Xenyx, such as the Tape ins or 2 unused channels.  The keyboard's audio outs have to go to the mixer's line inputs plus MIDI must also be connected, in and out, to the 2496 breakout cable.  Mics, of course, go into the XLR mic preamps on the mixer. Active Monitors go on the mixer's control room outs. If you are using the passive monitors I listed, then you connect the control room outs to your stereo amp or receiver.  See our member nmodi's setup pic of the UB1204 connections.

 

 

Headphones of choice
Behringer XENYX 1204USB 12-Channel Mixer with USB or more upscale the Yamaha MG124CX Stereo Mixer with Effects
AKG Perception 120 Studio Condenser Microphone
sm57Shure SM57 Microphone
Sonar Cubase
Sonar Home Studio or Cubase Studio

 

Behringer Di-100 Direct Box for guitar and bass
add a computer
Just add a desktop computer, even this one!  But if your computer looks like this best to slow down on those plugins, Jack!
Audiophile2496
MAudio Audiophile 2496
MM6
Yamaha MM6 61-Key Synthesizer or similar keyboard with sounds
Monitor One Mk2Alesis Monitor One MK2 Studio Monitors (connect to Hi Fi)

 

Discussion of Rig #3

The advantage of this system is low cost for high performance.  The M-Audio 2496 has well-tweaked fast drivers that put it ahead of consumer cards.  It can do software synths quite well and with low latencies. It also has a MIDI port, which is a money saver as you don't need a midi interface. Its also been around a long time so it's compatible with a wide range of computers, new and not so new.

The Behringer XENYX 1204 has the ALT 3-4 bus which makes it a breeze to send any channel (or channels) of the mixer to the soundcard while you monitor the other channels--great for recording.   The mic preamps are good and "airy" which will give your vocals a crisp sound.  You can add condenser mics to this system.  Though it's not a condenser, I include the Shure SM57 here for it's low cost and the fact that it can record almost anything.  This is the most popular recording studio mic in the world. I have chosen the AKG Perception as a good all around condenser mic, which has a crisp sound and is good for both vocals and acoustic guitars.  The system will record electric guitar plugged in direct, but you can improve the sound considerably by adding a simple direct box like the Behringer DI-100. 

Any keyboard with a MIDI out will work if you are just controlling soft synths and samplers.  I picked the Yamaha MM6 due to its low cost and that it has sounds of its own. I think its great for electronica, hip hop and RnB.  For a little more look at the Korg X-50, which is smooth and ambient.  Also Consider the Juno D by Roland.   By using a hardware synth you don't have to always use cpu-intensive softsynths on every track. Working this way, this system can get good results even on older, average desktop PCs.   A strength of this system is its ability to add hardware like synth modules, a compressor, hardware effects boxes and up to 4 mics.   

To keep the cost down I included a passive speaker system as most people do have a hi fi receiver they can use.  The Alesis Monitor One is really a value.  Before active monitors hit the world many studios used these as their nearfield monitors.  Active Monitors will also work with this system.

This rig can be extended in many ways.  A DJ would want to add a phono preamp so they could connect their turntables.  Hip hop beat makers would to well to add the inexpensive MPD16 which will work great with the MM6 drum kits (which are excellent for hip hop and electronica). 

Working with a low grade laptop?  No prob.  Take the soundcard off the list and plug the alt 3-4 out of the Xenyx directly to the audio line input and take the line output back to the Tape in.  Or, if you want you can use the USB interface that comes with the Xenyx, which allows you to use the Xenyx as your audio interface. Because this system has a hardware mixer and hardware midi synth you'll have no latency like all the mixerless dudes have.  The drawback of this rig is that you have a maximum of 2 tracks that can be recorded at one time using analog inputs.  Its not for jamming or big sessions.  But for you and a friend working together it will work.

You're going to hear a lot of people slam this rig due to the inexpensive mixer. Keep in mind, I am keeping costs to a minimum--you can always get a better mixer. I can tell you I have used every piece in that rig and have got excellent sound.

Discuss This Rig   This rig can be discussed here:  Rig #3 Entry-Level PC-Mixer- based Home Studio

 


 

Rig #4 Dream Home "Mixerless" Software Studio--Mac Platform

Discuss This Rig   This rig can be discussed here:  Rig #4 Dream Home "Mixerless" Software Studio--Mac Platform

Who it is For:

Ideal for the Mac based home composer who want a completely software driven studio for electronica, film scores, small ensembles  and other big projects with a minimum of hardware and wires.

Hookup example:

Simple really.  The 828mk3 hooks up to your Mac's firewire port (1 cable).  The Mackie Control Pro will take a USB port.  You mics, synths, and monitors connect to the MOTU.  You can plug a guitar into the MOTU's combo jack input (2) and flick the switch to instrument.  If you want to connect turntables you will need a separate phono preamp and connect that to any pair of MOTU line inputs.     

 

large product image
Apple Mac Pro Eight-Core 2.8GHz Xeon Desktop Computer
Mackie Control
Mackie Control Universal Pro 8-Channel Master Controller with USB
Mackie HR824mkII
Apple 30" display
Apple 30 Inch Cinema HD Display (there are many alternatives with a Mac Pro)
Logic studio
Logic Studio
MOTU 828Mk3, or MOTU Ultralite, 8pre Traveler, 896mk3 or more upscale, the RME Fireface 800 or 400 or an Apogee Ensemble.
 
Native Instruments Komplete Software Suite

Tweak's Standard Classic Mic Picks
Rode NT2a  (or alternate Large condenser)
Shure SM81 (or alternate small condenser)
(get two if you record drummers)
Sennheiser MD421, Re20 or SM7b (pick 1)
Shure SM57 (at least 1)
You can add premium preamps to upgrade this rig and I recommend supplementing the onboard preamps of the 828mk2 with some really good ones.

 

Any MIDI keyboard, sounds or not.  (Logic has everything most people need.)
 
 

 

Bias Peak
 
DP
Mark of the Unicorn  Digital Performer
Sony MD7506 Headphones or
Headphones of choice
 

Discussion of Rig #4

The Mac Pro is now the standard for Mac based studios.  One great thing about them is you can connect many video monitors and hard drives to the system, ensuring a maximum of eye candy (consider 3, 4 or 8!-- 23" or even 30" monitors side by side--awesome!) and enough storage options to store years and years of projects.   MOTU interfaces and Apple computers have a great history of compatibility. I can verify my MOTU 828mk2 works great on the latest Mac pro.  Logic, of course, is Apple's own and it works well.  NI's Komplete bundle is also working well as is the UAD2 cards and plugins from Universal Audio.  Wait till you hear the FM8, Akoustik Piano, Absynth, Reaktor and other heavy soft synths on a system that can slice through them easily. 

Logic pro is my preferred way to go here, though you could run Digital Performer or run Pro Tools LE (if you get an digi 002 system).  The MOTU 828mk3 is a super value as an interface with preamps, 10x10 analog i/o and dual ADAT lightpipe i/o. If you need 8 preamps, go with the MOTU 8 pre.   If you are on a Mac you really can't go wrong with a MOTU interface.  Just make sure it has the preamps and i/o you need.   Add the Mackie Control as a control surface if you want hardware to control your software mixer.  Mackie control software was developed with Emagic (the company that originally made Logic) and it fits Logic like a glove. 

Expandability: You can daisy chain up to 4 MOTU firewire interfaces.  By creating an aggregate device in the Apple Audio/Midi utility along with daisy chaining you can create a monster interface with MOTU devices.  This, I believe, give MOTU the edge when it comes to expandability.

At the high end of the audio interfaces for the Mac Pro is the Apogee Ensemble.  It boasts the superior sounding Apogee converters which pro's know and love.   The Ensemble can be expanded by ADAT like many audio interfaces.  It can also be expanded with other Apogee hardware through firewire or through its PCIe card, Symphony. 

On Apogee's "lower" end, if there is such a thing, is the basic Apogee Duet, which just has 2x2 analog i/o, but also has the great apogee converters.  I should point out that the Ensemble and Duet only work with Apple computers that have firewire and support is built in directly in Logic Pro.

There are low end audio interface that work with Apple computers.  But it pays to research those.  make sure they are up to speed with the Nahalem processors before you pull the trigger.

apogeee ensemble

Waves and Native Instruments fully support Apple's Core Audio.  The Komplete5 gives you nearly all the great NI softsynths and soft samplers to augment Logic's impressive array.  Waves Platinum is used by the pros.  Note that the latest Macs are PCIe based.  If you want to go with UAD systems for plugins, I suggest to get the PCIe version of the UAD-2 card, which is available now.  I personally prefer the sound of the Universal Audio plugins.

A MacPro desktop system is not cheap, but you already knew that.  Any MIDI keyboard will work, but I am a believer that you need at least one device that makes sounds outside of software.  But its not necessary to get a full keyboard "workstation".  If you get Logic and Komplete 4 you will have plenty of samplers.  A Korg M3 88, with its 88keys, would really be the dream keyboard for the dream rig.

You can add an external processor to the MOTU 828mk3 or Apogee Ensemble via its hardware outputs on the back.  You can also add more MOTU interfaces to the 828mk3 system or get an ADAT 8x8 AD/DA to extend either the Apogee Ensemble or Motu 828 systems system to 16-18 analog i/o if you are interfacing a hardware analog mixer or a lot of hardware processors.  One way to do this is to add a MOTU 8-Pre to the 828mk3.  You can also add more preamps to the 828mk3 using the ADAT protocol, for example, with a Focusrite Octopre LE and ADAT card or a Presonus DigiMAX FS or a Mackie Onyx 800R.  

But you don't need a mixer with this system.   Inside Logic you can make as many mixer channels as you want and with the Power of the Mac Pro you can add processors and softsynths thinking only of their artistic merits, and not on how much CPU power you have left.  Its truly a rig for the creative professional.

 

Discuss This Rig   This rig can be discussed here:  Rig #4 Dream Home "Mixerless" Software Studio--Mac Platform

 


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