Q It Up: Building a Home Studio on a Budget

Home StudioQ It Up: How would you spend $3,000 (US) to build a home studio for voiceovers and multi-track production? What DAW software would you buy? What mic? What mic processor/preamp, if any? Would you get a small mixer? What about soundproofing? Would you spend most your budget on a loaded new computer? How much RAM, disk space, CPU speed, hot soundcard perhaps? What’s the best bang for the buck these days? Please add any other thoughts on the subject!

Further comments and responses welcome in the comment section at the end of the article.

Gord Williams: There is the business answer and the dream answer. Three thousand would not do it a few years ago with ADAT or Analog technology. But now the price has come down and the options have widened as far as I see it. It really depends on what you do. General recording studios that do everything have more bases to cover than someone like myself that records and throws it back at another studio or on a website to a client.

My computer cost a little less than a thousand. Lately it’s been behaving and I am not hearing the whine I used to from the hard drive, so I can open up the mic a bit more. I think I would invest about $700 in a fanless computer, given your healthy cheque passing my bank. Puts me at about $2300 left.

A mic and a preamp would be a good thing, I believe a Neumann TLM 102 would be good at $1150.00 so I have another $1150.00 to spend. A Universal Audio SOLO/610 Classic Vacuum Tube Mic Pre & DI Box will cost another $1000 or so but greatly improve the sound quality.

I am happy with my DAWs at present, Reaper and Mixbus. I see no reason to move anywhere else because it’s already too many channels for a dry voice, and that’s mostly the product I sell.

I am thinking I probably would not want to talk about what my eyes bigger than my belly would want (my belly, that’s saying something) then we are getting into sound treatments and so on. I just don’t have the volume to suggest that I would need that, nor do I have the diversity of recording needs. Unless I break out my tuba again for another RAP record. You want?

Dave Lee, Operations Manager, Eagle Communications: $3000... Doesn't sound like a lot but you can actually do a ton with very little these days. You can buy refurbed Core i7 computers with 16gb or ram on Amazon cheap, so $300 there. A Mackie USB console is sufficient. I'd spend $1000-$1200 on a good mic and processor setup. I'd spend the rest on an Adobe Audition CC subscription and LOTS of plugins and soundproofing to make it all sound right. This is of course open to criticism. The best answer is to buy what works best for YOU. Don't forget to save your presets and your sessions, kids!

Gary Michaels, Production/Creative Director, Neuhoff Media Group, Lafayette, IN: After 20 years and about 20k invested in my at home studio, I'd love to begin again with today's technology and 3K. If I started from scratch today 3k could go a long way! I would begin by purchasing an off-lease mobile workstation, like an HP Elitebook or Dell Precision. I use an HP8560w. Built like a tank. You can buy incredible processing and dependability for pennies on the dollar with off-lease workstations. Quad processor, 8 gig ram minimum. An SD card reader is handy too. Integrated sound is good enough these days. Install a 500 gig SSD for the operating system and software and an extra HD 1TB for music, sfx, all the tools you need. Great set of headphones and a microphone. A USB mic like the AT2020USB+ or Rode NT-USB is a good start as they aren't expensive yet offer great real time monitoring, good frequency response and great off-axis rejection. You can also opt for a good condenser or dynamic mic through an affordable interface if you prefer.

Software? Adobe Audition if possible. I use Reaper and Acid Pro 7 from Magix (Sony). Use the software you're comfortable using that allows you to do whatever you need done in post. Any leftover bucks can be used for plugins that you'd like. I take this system with me on the road all the time in a simple shoulder bag and get results just as good as my huge super big-box computer and 14 track mixer studio at home or the production setup I have at the stations. Total cost: $1800 for ALL and I could get the job done with it exclusively.

Chuck Taylor: If I had 3k to spend on a home studio, I'd most definitely spend the bulk of it on soundproofing. You can get very good mics for a couple hundred; the most important thing with mics is to find one that suits your voice and your needs. I tend to lean towards condenser mics; they just have a warmer sound imho. A decent external sound card or even a USB mixer is essential for reducing computer noise. As for the computer itself, you can build a nice liquid cooled machine for around $500. As for the DAW, you can do Adobe Audition CC edition for about $29/month. So for under $1000 you can get your audio setup leaving 2k to use for soundproofing or building a small booth.

Al Peterson, Production Director, Radio America Network, Washington DC: Wow... what a question. I've spent decades making inexpensive home studios, so this is a real thought-provoker.

Software, there is no question. While my favorite software remains Mixbus, I'd have to go with ProTools only because that's the way the earth turns, like it or not. I've seen it at $299 for an annual license (requiring renewal).

In spite of its Apple heritage, I'd still put the DAW software on a Windows PC. Many Mac machines are all but welded shut, while I can always open up a PC and add more RAM, a SATA hard drive or a hotter CPU. I would probably budget no more than $600 for decent PC parts and assemble my own: Acer motherboard, Intel i5 CPU, 16GB RAM, one smaller solid-state drive for the OS and programs/apps, and a separate 2TB drive for audio data.

For my audio interface, I'd probably drop $300 for the Steinberg UR44. I would want a clean unprocessed input to the computer, where I'd then cock up my voice recording with all manner of plug-ins. The UR44 has four mic inputs, so I can not only do my VO's, but there's enough capacity to handle a multi-mic podcast with four guests.

I'll keep my M-Audio BX5 monitors. They're paid for, and I "get" their sound.

I'm never going to be able to cut into my walls and properly isolate/dampen the structure, so I'll just settle for some Sonora panels from Acoustics First. Four for the walls ($360), one for the ceiling ($114), and a single bass trap to take the woof out of the room. And I would build it all in the room farthest away from the rumble of the HVAC basement unit and the kitchen refrigerator.

This puts me over budget, but my choice of microphone has to be the Lewitt LCT 940 ($1,700). It’s a condenser mic with both a FET preamp and a 12AX7 tube. An infinite balance of warm and crisp sound can be blended together. I tried it at the AES show in New York in 2013 and it works for both aggressive "Ten-in-a-row" promos and soft "Smuckers" reads.

I've heard amazing recordings come out of walk-in closets and a laptop, so as much as I would want all this to call my own, it's worth remembering: "It Ain't the Tools, It's the Carpenter".

Emmanuel, voixoffonline.net: To be honest I’ve a ''minimalistic'' gear setup: the core is a MacBook Pro 2012 running OSX Sierra. My audio chain is a MXL 990 lDC mic plugged into an ART tube MP preamp straight into a Behringer UMC 22 sound card. Recordings can also be done in a "blankets" dressing room with my wifi recorder, the Tascam DR 44 W1 .When I’m on my desk, my mic is packed into a Kaotica Eyeball, Chinese replica and gets the job done .To finish, when it comes to recording, I open Sound Studio recorder by Feltip and do all the edits in Ableton Live with my "special" sauce.

Jay Sawyer, Voicemaster Ltd.: Assume that most people in the business have a very fast computer. You may want to add RAM, aside from that, it is one less expense to deal with.

I'd start with an Audio Technica BP-40 mic, stand and pop filter ($400). I'd run that into a dbx 286-s ($200) mic pre/processor. Run that into an interface like the TASCAM 2x2 ($100) or something similar, USB that into the computer. I am using a PC, but it does not matter. For about ($700) you can get SoundForge 12 Professional for PC or Mac that will take care of all your recording and multitrack projects.

TOTAL: $1,400 and shipped FREE. Add another $100 to $200 for cables and headphones if you do not currently have them.

Mike Mann, Chris-Mar Studios: I finally can have my cake and eat it too. $3,000 to build a home studio? I would look to buy a workstation that will be able to handle heavy production (editing, vo, etc.) and build the workstation myself for about $600. The microphone I would buy is RE320 (2x's two) and for the mic processor/preamp a DBX 160A. I would look at a mixer that has enough channels to expand. I would go with PreSonus StudioLive 16.0.2. Soundproofing I can buy on Amazon cheap. I would add track lighting to the studio (buy at Lowe's). The one last thing to add to the studio would be add a mic reflection filter to the room for someone doing VO. Working in your studio should bring you satisfaction, a smile and joy knowing you built the place where you are creating magic for the world.

Dean James, Dean James Voice Overs: I really don't think you need to spend $3000 to get started.

I use Adobe Audition. It runs about $250 a year. I love it. Does everything I need quickly in the world of voice only work. Especially VO work. Settings are awesome and quality can be easily handled for all levels. It's fine for commercial production, but there might be better production software out there.

For a business focused toward voice work and commercial production, you can have a computer and monitor for $300 to $500. 6GB RAM with a decent hard drive. It doesn't have to be a rocket ship. You don't need to have a very high end computer. I use Dropbox to back up my production. That will run about $100 a year.

A Focusrite audio interface is about $100. Sennheiser MK 4 with a shock mount, desk stand and splash pad will run about $400.

If you are going beyond just voice work and you need a music library to use, that could run in the $300-$500 range.

A clean headset is very helpful and realistic. I do have a higher end Sony, but I don't use speakers. You could end up spending too much for decent speakers you would need to hear any production issues. A decent headphone will run about $100 (or more).

A desk or table is not a big deal, but it had to be something that does not increase sound or mic interference. The same for a chair or stool. The rest is the sound proofing or just sound control. If you are using a room that is quiet, the only thing you need is appropriate insulation padding. I did a third of my office (about -55 dB) the way I have it set up and a large closet that is quiet and has insulation padding that keeps it about -65 dB. I spent about $400 for the padding on Amazon.

Internet connection, JK Audio patch, or other service to handle online recording sessions can run about $25-$50 a month, but you don't need it until that aspect of your business takes off.

You can have a damn great setup to for about $1200 - $1500. But on a voice only setup with good research on what to buy based on the room you have and how it sounds naturally you could start with $300-$400 dollars if you already have a computer.

In the next year, or two, I plan on buying a vocal studio setup which would be in the 2 to 4 thousand dollar range. Well worth the investment if you are busy and have great rates for work.

At the end of the day, there are thousands doing this type of work or looking to get started. The difference will be how you promote yourself, do quality work in a timely fashion and make sure you don't sound the same as everybody else. Customer service is huge. It's not about the biggest voices and a smooth read. It's a well-controlled voice with the ability to really do well put out high quality work.

 

Thanks to all who responded. Your input is valuable and appreciated. If you have a question you’d like to see posed to the RAP Q It Up panel, email it to editor@rapmag.com.  If you would like to join the Q It Up panel, send your request to editor@rapmag.com.

Comments (5)

  1. Matthys Pischke

Very cool!

I'm in the process of doing this exact thing! All my prices are in CAD, but here's what my plan is:

Build a PC, ($749.98) but I managed to get a few of the parts for free. https://ca.pcpartpicker.com/list/pgzRWX

Bought a used AT 2035 & a Focusrite "Scarlett 2i2" ($220)

Pair of...

Very cool!

I'm in the process of doing this exact thing! All my prices are in CAD, but here's what my plan is:

Build a PC, ($749.98) but I managed to get a few of the parts for free. https://ca.pcpartpicker.com/list/pgzRWX

Bought a used AT 2035 & a Focusrite "Scarlett 2i2" ($220)

Pair of used M-Audio A30 monitors ($40)

Free desk!

For sound proofing I plan on making my own using this guide: http://acousticsfreq.com/how-to-build-your-own-acoustic-panels/

Cost initially is ~$400 but I can make something like 32 panels for that cost. I broke down the cost like this:

For a single sound panel we would need

(2) 1x2x8 @ $1.06 ea = $2.12
(1) Package Roxul Safe'n'Sound Insulation ($37.55 Per Package of 8) = $4.70
(1) Can Spray Adhesive = $18.14
(1) Bolt Unbleached Cotton = $139.80 (Will do 32 panels=$4.47/panel)
Misc wood screws, staples & mounting hardware = ~$5/panel

This would give us material for a 4'x2' panel at the largest. Would could also adjust & get two 2'x2' panels, or basically anything smaller than the 4'x2' as the insulation can be cut to size.

https://fabricville.com/en/fabrics/bulk-fabric/unbleached-cotton-bulk.html
http://www.roxul.com/products/roxul-safensound/

I have an unused closet in my future office that I plan on installing paneling on the walls & ceiling, possibly extending the closet & enclosing with a door to create a booth.

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  1. Matthys Pischke    Matthys Pischke

I guess I should add I plan on getting Audition 3.0, it is now free. I also bought the Waves Platinum package when it was on sale for just $250

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  1. Jerry Vigil    Matthys Pischke

Cool! Thanks for the links, Matthys. Great way to go!

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  1. Alan Peterson

Audition 3.0 is free?
How? Where?

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  1. Jerry Vigil    Alan Peterson

If you have an Adobe ID, log into adobe.com and go to http://www.adobe.com/au/downloads/other-downloads.html

You'll see a link to CS2 products. (CS2 = Auditon 3.0) There you are presented with a ton of downloads and serial numbers.

I've attached a screenshot of a page you have to read before...

If you have an Adobe ID, log into adobe.com and go to http://www.adobe.com/au/downloads/other-downloads.html

You'll see a link to CS2 products. (CS2 = Auditon 3.0) There you are presented with a ton of downloads and serial numbers.

I've attached a screenshot of a page you have to read before download.

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  Comment was last edited about 1 month ago by Jerry Vigil Jerry Vigil
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