How to Upgrade Your Home Recording Studio For Only $1,000
Originally, this post was an exercise in how the Audio Issues Community would spend $1,000 on upgrading their studio.
We even awarded some prizes to some really great shopping lists from the audience but today it’s my turn.
My hypothetical $1,000 will be spent in a variety of ways, and I’ll argue my case for each piece of gear.
Update: Since the publication of this post, I’ve actually gone ahead and bought some of the gear listed below. However, I still think there’s quite a lot of value to be had from the gear purchasing methodology I outline here so I’m leaving the post mostly as is, with some minor updates along the way.
Wants VS Needs
First off, instead of drooling over replacing stuff I already have I’ll be looking at stuff I actually need.
This is something I think is important and should be stressed. When you’re shopping for gear, think about needs rather than wants.
Sure, I’d LOVE a new high-end monitoring system but do the THREE separate monitoring systems that I have do the job?
So in that regard, I’m all set. Don’t need to look at monitors, however much I’d like some new ones.
I don’t actually want new ones, but for the sake of argument let’s assume that I think a fourth monitoring system would be a good idea…
Update 2017: Since joining forces with my studio partner at Icelandic Embassy Studios, we’ve swapped out one of my monitoring systems with his Focal CMS50s that includes a subwoofer. They’re my bass-checking speakers as well as the highest quality monitoring check I have when I’m making my mixes translate. I still check my mixes on earbuds, but it’s nice to listen to the Focals!
I’m also relatively set on acoustic treatment. My home studio is pretty well treated, as you may know from the expert advice I got from Auralex (and how I saved over $300 by finding simple alternatives to their expensive treatment).
So that leaves a few things that I actually want, which fall into two categories:
- More inputs – I’ve realized that my small home setup is still large enough to adequately record drums so I’ve been meaning to increase the number of channels I can record. At this point, we usually set up an extra interface from my drummer to record drums but I’d like to minimize the hassle and have the option whenever I need it, not just when we want to record.
- More microphones – With that enhancement, I’ll be needing more microphones. I already have a selection of dynamic and condensers but I don’t have a particular set of microphones for drums. Besides, it’s always good to have more flavors to choose from so I wanted to see what’s available that’s fairly multi-purpose.
I have a very specific method for shopping that helps me get the biggest bang for my buck while also not getting the cheapest stuff that sounds awful. I give you a thorough overview of how to do the same in my Recording & Mixing Strategies bundle.
So here’s what I got for my $1,000.
I had a hard time choosing between a couple different interface styles.
I could either go budget and save money for microphones or get more versatility and quality at a higher price.
Budget – Behringer Ultragain Digital ADA 8200
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Behringer?!? Really?
At only $199 in addition to great customer reviews. Since the Midas acquisition, Behringer has actually stepped up the quality of their gear quite a bit so compared to the older ADA model this one might be a great addition if you need extra microphone inputs. However, it’s not an actual interface that I can hook to the computer so I would always need my Apollo if I wanted to do an on-location recording.
Quality – Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
As far as 8 channel interfaces go the Scarlett series gets a lot of recognition. Many of the commenters in the Window Shopping Challenge cited either the 2i2 or the 2i4 as something they would purchase.
At $300 more you would hope that you’re getting higher quality pre-amps because otherwise, it would be hard to justify the purchase. In addition, it does work as a stand-alone interface if I wanted to throw it in the backpack with my computer for some on-location recording.
Winner? Behringer ADA 8200. What can I say, I’d like a bigger budget for microphones!
With $800 left I want a combination of versatility and quality. I don’t want to buy bottom-of-the-barrel microphones but I also don’t want to splurge on a single microphone either.
With that in min, I need to think about my needs. Sure, I’d LOVE a $799 Royer ribbon mic, but then I wouldn’t have anything to mic a kick drum or a bass cabinet.
So here’s what I decided:
I originally thought buying microphones separately would give me more options drum mic and then cobble a drum mic kit together with the microphones I already have.
But then I thought, I actually really want a ribbon! Even if it isn’t the best ribbon ever made I think having that in the mic arsenal is important.
So I went looking for relatively inexpensive ribbon microphones and cross referenced them to one of my favorite websites, Recordinghacks, where I found this excellent article.
After some Amazon searching, I came across this ribbon pair that I thought was too good of a deal to be true. So I dug even further into the Recordinghacks database and found this article on the Fat Head II. At that point I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a pair of ribbon microphones in the studio.
Imagine the possibilities!
Smooth overhead sound, thick guitar cabinets and in a Blumlein configuration I could easily try cool new stereo tricks!
Update 2017: I bought this ribbon mic pair this year and they’ve served me well on guitar cabinets and as room mics for drums.
So that left me with about $400 to spend on drum microphones.
After scouring the internet and finding articles such as this one, and this one from Graham (of course!) I was still debating whether I should settle for a $400 drum mic pack like this one from CAD, this one from Audio Technica or this one from AKG.
Graham Cochrane has a good point when it comes to drum packs:
“With a lot of these bundles, you’re getting good dynamic mics that clip on your toms and snare, a dedicated kick mic, and some condensers for overheads. That might work great for drums, but there’s not much you can do with 80% of those mics when it comes to recording guitars, vocals, piano, etc…I’d recommend you start by spending that same amount of money on a couple of all around solid mics and build from there.
That’s a great recommendation!
But I already have a few condensers and dynamic microphones as well as my imaginary ribbon pair I just bought.
So I just spend $400 on some more plug-ins…
I would hazard that the small diaphragm condensers in these packs would be perfectly fine on instruments as well and considering that I don’t have any small condensers it might be worth it to buy the pack just for that.
But you know what’s cool on toms?
So if I decide to leave the tom miking to the various mics I have left over I can buy my favorite kick drum mic and a stereo pair of small condensers.
Hypothetical shopping is fun and showing my results to my thousands of readers is interesting because it makes my recommendations more serious.
In my case I wasn’t looking to set up a home studio from scratch. I already have an article on that.
I was looking for very specific pieces of gear that would complement what I already have. With a limited budget and a mindset of finding the best stuff that suits my needs (not wants) I think I was able to give you some insight into how you can become smarter at shopping for your equipment whenever you need it.
Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. How do your shopping methods compare with mine?
Image by: CarlosPacheco