The Ultimate Gift Guide For The Home Studio Producer and Musician
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This year I’ve created a doozy of a gift guide for the audio engineer. I’ve updated and combined a few of my gear guides together into one big-ass list for all you to enjoy.
Parts of this guide were originally published in 2013 but I try to update it every year during the holidays to keep it as relevant as possible. It either includes updated audio equipment or brand new gear released during the year (when applicable).
How I Decide My Recommendations for this Gift Guide
- Personal Experience – If I use something myself and really like it, you’ll usually see it on this list.
- User Reviews – If I don’t have experience with a piece of gear I try to find the highest reviewed gear. Crowdsourcing opinions via reviews is a great way to find quality pieces of gear, something I talk about extensively in the Recording Strategies Shopping Secrets Video.
I’ve found out that there are three separate types of people that read Audio Issues:
- The Home Recording Engineer – This is you if you have a completely separate room in your house that you call your studio. You have enough room to record multiple instruments at once and can allow yourself some flexibility when it comes to acoustic treatment and recording setup.
- The Bedroom Producer – The Bedroom Producer is someone who is a little strapped for space and can’t go dragging drums into their room to record. You more likely to record through the computer and mix with smaller monitors or exclusively through headphones.
- On-Location Engineer/Live Sound-Tech – The On-Location Engineer is a cross between a live engineer and a recording engineer. You’re the person that bands call when they want to record in their rehearsal studios or onstage.
So what do we have for these three different personalities?
The Serious Home Recording Engineer
You’d preferably want to record multiple things at once so you’ll need something that can handle multiple inputs, especially if you’re recording drums. I used to recommend the PreSonus AudioBox 1818VSL USB Recording Interface because the package I found on Amazon included the cables that you’ll need and a drum microphone package to record drums.
Buying cables sucks so it’s awesome that they’re included, and with the drum mics you can get up and running recording drums in no time.
It’s still a good bet, but it’s a little dated so this year I think I’ll recommend the Focusrite Scarlett Octopre. It can record a full band with 8 microphone inputs for drums as well as a bunch of line inputs to record scratch guitars, bass, and vocals.
Other Interface Recommendations:
Clear monitoring is crucial for the home studio. I love my Yamaha HS5s and I’d recommend them to anyone. This pair even comes with cables and MoPads.
They’re small enough to fit into any home studio situation but with a clear frequency response to make your mixes translate better.
They’re honest so you can rely on them to tell you whether your mix actually sounds good. Highly recommended. The only downside is the lack of sub-monitoring but I fix that by referencing with my bigger monitors and my subwoofer.
- Adam Audio A7X – I use these at a local commercial studio and they’re great.
In addition, I use the Behringer Behritone C50A and they’ve become an invaluable part of my mixing process. I start all my mixes with this monitor and mix in mono until the initial first draft of the mix is sounding good. It’s great as a second reference monitor.
If your mix sounds good on these you’re golden. I’m always blown away when I finish my initial mix on these and then send my mix over to my other monitors and flip it to stereo. It’s a great tool for making it a little harder for you to mix to begin with but paying off dividends in the long run.
Finally, my last line of defense to make sure my mixes translate is my trusty Focal monitoring set-up with a dedicated sub.
That’s where the versatile AKG 214 stereo condenser microphone set comes in.
- Recording drums? No problem, just use the 2 mic Recorderman technique.
- Recording guitar? Easy. They’ll give you a smooth condenser guitar sound. Acoustic guitar? It’ll be even easier.
- Need stereo? Yep, they come in a set of two so you can mic anything you want in sweet stereo.
- Vocals? This mic was practically made for vocals so go ahead and throw anything you got on it. It has a great frequency response with a slight dip in 1 kHz to avoid any stray “nasal” sounding vocal tones so you’ll have less EQ’ing to worry about when you’re mixing.
The 214s are a great recommendation. I also love their bigger brother the 414 on vocals, acoustic guitar and drum overheads.
- Update for 2017: I bought the Cascade ribbon microphones below in 2017 and I love them. It’s awesome to get a little different flavor for electric guitar and other random acoustic instruments I’ve been tracking in the studio so they come highly recommended. If you can’t afford the Cascades, a quick search for medium priced ribbons with 4 star reviews can still give you some good ideas.
- Cascade Microphones Fat Head II – If you want something a little different, this ribbon pair can give you some diversity in your microphone selection. I’ve been eying these and will be looking to purchase them in the new year (don’t tell my wife).
- If you’re looking for condensers, this Rode pair could be your next favorite thing. X/Y acoustic guitar, drum overheads or other acoustic instruments will fit well with these little guys.
The Acoustic Treatment
Bare garage walls might sound great when you’re recording loud rock drums, but for mixing you’ll need to control those reflections a bit more.
The Auralex Project2 Roominator Kit has everything you need to control the area around your mixing area while balancing the sound bouncing around your recording room.
Acoustic treatment is incredibly important to getting a fairly balanced room. Although Auralex might get a bunch of flak for selling foam I think it’s more beneficial than having bare walls (or egg crates! Ugh…). I have a combination of Auralex and DIY bass traps that help me really hear what’s coming out of the speakers without the room coloring the mix.
I don’t have any specific new recommendations for acoustic treatment, except that I highly recommend getting Auralex’s free analysis and possibly making your own to keep costs down.
For more information on that, check out my article: How to Get Free Expert Advice on Setting Up Your Acoustic Treatment (And Save $300+)
Other options are to get one quiet pair for recording like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Professional Studio Monitor Headphones and one open-back for mixing, like the AKG K712 PRO Open Over-Ear Reference Studio Headphones.
And for that last listening check, using your monitors, use both earbuds and your crappy computer speakers so you can take the ultimate mix translation test.
Other brands I personally like are the Sennheiser and Audio Technica headphones for their brand consistency. I’ve created a list of the highest rated headphones with good sound isolation for recording right here.
The Bedroom Producer
As I said above, here are some recommendations for those of you who have limited space but still want to make the most of your music.
Something like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is all you need for the dorm room.
Two high-quality microphone at an affordable price is a pretty good way to make the Dorm Room Producer happy over the holidays and beyond.
The Scarlett is a great interface to record in a limited space. However, if you have the cash, Universal Audio’s Apollo is a great alternative, giving you some great microphone inputs, converters and access to the UAD plug-ins. I love mine and just have to recommend it.
Smaller is better when you need every inch of your desk.
Looking at monitors in the under $200 price range with four star reviews on Amazon, the Mackie CR3 stands out. They get more reviews than the previously recommended Presonus Eris that you can still check out below.
They seem to be a great choice if you’re starting out or you need all the extra space you can get.
They probably won’t compete against high-end monitors but they do the job really well for this kind of purpose.
You’ll need a versatile condenser microphone if you’re recording both instruments and vocals.
The Rode NT1A Anniversary Vocal Condenser Microphone Package comes with a pop-filter, a cable and a shock mount.
It’s great value for money and is more than enough to start producing in the bedroom.
The Acoustic Treatment
Luckily, the Auralex MoPAD Monitor Isolation Pads can help decouple and isolate the sounds coming from the monitors to help you get clearer sounding mixes.
Another bet would be to get one of the many reflection filters available out there. I have the sE Reflexion Filter and I highly recommend AGAINST IT! It’s incredibly cumbersome and annoying to use. So much so that it stays permanently in my closet.
- CAD Audio Foldable Acoustic Enclosure
- Pyle Microphone Absorber Shield
- Pyle Compact Microphone Isolation Shield
Just like the serious home studio engineer, the dorm room producer needs a pair of great headphones.
But only this time, they need to be isolated so that he can record and mix while everyone else is asleep.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50X (Updated for 2016) serves this dual purpose nicely.
The On-Location Live Engineer
For the live sound engineer that also likes to record we’ll look at a hybrid setup that combines the best of both the live sound aspect of his work as well as the need for recording.
My all-time favorite business model that I’ve never tried out all revolves around the Presonus StudioLive 16-Channel Audio Mixer.
You can hook it up to a P.A. to do a live gig but you can also record everything that goes into it straight to you computer.
That means you could technically record and mix a full band playing a concert and then upload their set to their website within hours of them finishing their set. How’s that for a fast turnaround?
The Portable Recorder
For any quick and dirty on-location recordings, this killer Zoom H6 recording package has everything you need to handle small on-location recordings.
It’s got a built-in stereo microphone along with two extra mic inputs.
Technically, that’s enough to record a lot of things, from interviews, garage demos to string quartets.
Here’s a really cool video on how you can use the Zoom H4N to make any room, even the Italian Saint Mark’s square, your live room, and you can use any portable recorded for the same purpose.
Update for 2016: If you’re recording interviews or videos using your smartphone then I have a cool tool for you to use. It’s the Rode Smartlav that plugs straight into your phone and lets you record professional dialog instantly. Great for videos, podcasts or interviews.
I told you about this earlier but it bears repeating: The Audix DP7 Instrument Dynamic Microphone, Multipattern is extremely versatile.
It has enough microphones to record a full drum-kit, but many of those mics, like the Audix i5, work wonders on electric guitars and rock vocals.
And it even comes with a stereo overhead pair that you can use for all your stereo microphone needs.
The Acoustic Treatment
But if you have something portable like the Auralex ProMAX Stand-mounted Acoustic Treatment you can set up baffles anywhere to get the best room sound in any situation. These are great if you have the cash to spare but I’ll remind you of my acoustic treatment article above if you want to jerry-rig your own and save some money.
Somewhere to Put Stuff!
One thing about on-location recording is that you have to lug a bunch of stuff around. And to record a whole band at once you’re going to need a few microphone stands.
Ultimate Support JamStands has a bundle of mic stands that takes care of this problem. Not the most romantic gift of all time, but practical.
Update for 2016: I highly recommend having at least one heavy duty mic stand when you need to record in awkward positions, such as over a drum kit. The extra weight of the stand makes it stay in one place without tipping over, something I’ve gotten very frustrated with when it comes to lighter stands.
Finally, for anyone serious about improving their skills, new equipment is only going to take them so far. A great educational tutorial about music production is worth more than spending a year at an audio school and it will teach you to get more out of the equipment you already have.
Here are some recommendations for both tutorials from Audio Issues Approved training, great music production books or (shameless self-promotion) some of my own products that are guaranteed to help you out.
Must-Read Music Production Books
To add to my list of “Must Read Books on Music Production and Engineering” I wanted to give you a few more that I’ve read that I’ve found extremely helpful:
- Unlocking Creativity: A Producer’s Guide to Making Music and Art – An absolutely AMAZING read. It’s fundamentally changed how I view my own production and how I listen to the art I’m creating. If reading’s not your thing take a listen to The Recording Studio Rockstars episode with Michael Beinhorn(Korn, RHCP, Marilyn Manson, Soundgarden). Fun fact and shameless name-dropping: I introduced them to each other so I’m taking credit for the creation of this episode 🙂
- Behind the Boards: The Making of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Greatest Records Revealed – I’m still reading this one but it’s very insightful, full of fun stories and useful production insights.
- Songwriters on Songwriting – I like writing songs and I identify with songwriters so it’s very interesting to read interviews with songwriters about their methods. Beware: you won’t learn how to write songs by reading this book. Everybody seems to have a different method but it’s a blast to read everyone’s story.
Audio Issues Training
- Mixing With 5 Plug-ins – Learn a step by step process to create powerful and punchy mixes using the tools you already have in your DAW. You’ll learn to create separation between your instruments; You’ll know exactly how and when to use each type of compressor; You’ll become a master of adding space with reverb and delay; and you’ll master the different styles of saturation to make your mixes stand out.
- EQ Strategies – The Ultimate Guide to EQ gives you an overview over the frequency spectrum so you can find all those annoying frequencies that are making your mixes boomy, boxy, muddy or harsh.
- Drum Mix Toolkit – Kick the Habit of Crappy Home Studio Drums. The Drum Mix Toolkit is your one-stop-shop to getting professional sounding drums from your home recordings. Unlock the expert advice from My 11 years of drum mixing inside the Drum Mix Toolkit. I share all the tricks and techniques I’ve amassed throughout the years of transforming thin and weak home recorded drums into punchy and powerful drum mixes.
- Quick Mixing Using Stock Plug-ins – If you’re strapped for time, take a two hour journey with me as I mix a song from start to finish, stopping every 10 minutes to tell you exactly what I’m trying to accomplish with my EQ’ing, compression or effects. I also include productivity and workflow tips to help you create better mixes in less time. This is for you if you know the basics of mixing and want to improve your workflow.
- Live Sound Basics– For the live, on-location engineer, improving their skills should be their first priority. Transform yourself from an amateur sound-tech to the professional live sound expert bands love to work with.
Audio Issues Approved Training
- Mixing Breakthroughs – If you constantly get frustrated by the invisible barrier between your mix and that extra 10% the pro mixes have, then you might be due for a mixing breakthrough. Let’s punch through that glass and make your mixes explode through the speakers just like those commercial mixes you love so much. This course features over three and a half hours of training, specially designed to give you the tools that you need to not just mix well, but to be a great mixer. To mix quickly, efficiently, without second-guessing yourself. To make sure that the process is as enjoyable for you as it is for the end listener.
- The Pro Audio Files Training – The guys over at The Pro Audio Files have come up with some great training products on multiple genres. So if you need something very specific, like how to mix EDM or hip-hop, or other genres, there’s plenty of training to find.
What’s On Your Wish List?
Finally, I wanted to know what’s on your wish list? What audio related stuff have you been eyeing lately?
I hope you enjoyed this gift guide and have a better idea of what you need for your home studio.
Buyer's Guides, Home Studio