There’s never been a better time to build a home music studio. The pandemic has given quarantined musicians new technology and pricing options to practice scales between emails and lay down a few tracks like the pros do. Once the exclusive domain of Architectural Digest spreads and MTV cribshome studios are now within reach even for those who haven’t planned a 22-city tour.
With an ambitious young musician in our house, we saved up, borrowed, and splurged MacGuyver a home studio good enough for our son to produce. a real album. Here’s a look at some of the gear we’ve used, along with a few dream items that get great reviews but remain on our reach list. For the serious amateur musician, consider these among your tools of choice:
Vanguard Audio Labs packs its second generation V4 large diaphragm ($599) and the stereo V44S Dual-Capsule Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones ($1099) to almost look like vintage watches. But these classic-style pickups are anything but throwbacks. the V4 and V44S offer powerful sensitivity, plus warmth and texture that surpasses much more expensive setups. Both models are classified as J-FET transformerless mics, meaning they use less expensive transistors to perform the same functions as transformers. A kit version includes a metal shock mount and rubber O-rings to protect these beauties when you’re not saying “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” I also appreciate that the pickups are designed and finished here in Southern California, where the brand is based. Vibrations and performance as solid as a vintage muscle car.
A Los Angeles-based company with a space-race design aesthetic, Soyuz handcrafts sleek microphones for the home and professional musician that look like something 007 would wear to get out of a jam (and by jam, I mean ordering the karaoke bar with “The Spy Who Loved Me”. Take a look at how the The Soyuz 013 FET is manufactured. The brand microphone known as The Bombette might be an even better choice for those upgrading to their first home studio. It costs the same as a pair of 013s (around $1200) and delivers unrelenting clarity across the entire frequency spectrum. In addition to pickups, Soyuz manufactures an active in-line preamp called The launcher ($199), a kind of secret weapon for a signal chain designed to take the most common mics in any studio (Shure SM58, 57, SM7bs, for example) and give them more color, character and depth.
After noticing the Mojave Audio mics that Grammy-winning artist Jacob Collier uses, we had to try one ourselves (everything Collier does makes an impression here, he’s so talented.). And Mojave does not disappoint. The streamlined Microphone MA-50 captures an impressive range for vocals, snares, or for splashy room sound. It’s also perfect for podcasting, Zoom calls or video recording. On the design side, it is elegant without being too show-off. $599.
For real shivers of nostalgia, Trash Talk Audio makes microphones which not only look like classic telephone receivers; they also create a low-fidelity “narrowband” telephone effect in the studio and on stage without the need for digital processing or EQ. The PP-1 payphone mic delivers the sound of loneliness on the other side of a call or “Clean up on Aisle 3!” type effects. It’s funny? He is. Available in red, yellow or black, for $99.
Instruments and sound technology
Yamaha CP Reface The keyboard, a re-imagining of the iconic 1970s Yamaha Combo Piano, is a home studio miracle – an anytime, anywhere instrument that’s perfect (and perfectly within budget) for any space. very restricted. The 37-key mini keyboard plays like a full-size piano when you activate a switch that lets you switch between octaves. Other options, like analog-style delays, bring warmth and depth to your playing. at the lush electric grand piano. Tight and fast for natural performance for dabbers and pros alike, at $399.
If, say, Skrillex and Dr. Frankenstein went into the music equipment business together, they might give something like The Moog 3 sound studio, a semi-modular three-stage flash and poppin synthesizer that takes any home recording area to a bold new level. The stunning patch-wired console includes a polyrhythmic Subharmonicon analog synthesizer, the Moog DFAM percussive analog synthesizer, and the Moog Mother-32 analog synthesizer. These sets come with various accessories to help them work together. The results of all that synth power are a limitless source of inventive bloops, pings, ba-beeps and k’thumps to add to any experimental-leaning recording. The look and experience is somewhere between retro and futuristic, infuriating and intensely soul-satisfying, and all in all a way to create soundscapes that are as bold and unusual as the setup looks. A portal for free-form musical exploration. If nothing else, it will look sick in the background of your first home Concert of the small office. About $2,000.
orchestra tools is a recently launched sound sample library SINEPlayer – an all-in-one virtual instrument player engine, instrument organizer and app store that gives home musicians access to libraries of virtual instruments you would normally need full-fledged concert hall to find. Whether it’s a full orchestra with string, percussion and brass sections, or single instruments (Need a cheap oboe or French horn solo?), the SINEPlayer and showcase allow you to mix and match to suit your recording desires. And with optional Orchestral Tools creative sound packs, you can dig deeper into custom instrument sets or musical vibes, whether you’re cutting up a neo-soul track or aiming to outdo the LA Phil. Virtually amazing!
SENSATIONAL READING MONITORS
Be ready. Ocean Way Pro3 Reference Monitors deliver readings so detailed and authentic, you can practically taste the notes. The company, founded in the 1970s in Santa Monica by Allen Sides, has long set the platinum standard for professional studio speakers, but these large-format monitors typically cost $10,000 and up. At around $3,000 for the pair, the compact Pro3s are the most affordable, user-friendly speakers Ocean Way has ever released. It’s hard to describe the listening experience other than to say that the Pro3s puts the music right in front of you. The sound is so immersive as to impress, as you might feel when peering down the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time. A “dream list” item for sure. But the 14-inch x 9-inch x 13.5-inch two-way monitor speaker system is exactly what you want on your control desk.
MIXING TABLES, INTERFACES
Here’s another one for the “one day” list. Big Six by Solid State Logic is a professional recording and mixing desk that is manageable – in size and relative price – for the serious amateur musician-producer. Some say mixing on a big console is old-fashioned, a throwback to the 1980s. But there are advantages in certain situations, like when you have to work live with lots of musicians and manage levels and controls, or if you integrate equipment into a DAW-based system. Big Six is a step up from its sibling SiX and offers 12 main inputs (six more than SiX), built-in high-quality 16-channel USB AD/DA converters and more. It’s a super-analog vibe – turning dials and pushing levers with lots of physics – that gives home producers more tactical mixing sense than computer interfaces allow. Here’s how to make this wall of sound by hand! $2,999.
I recently upgraded from the Focusrite Scarlett Solo to Universal Audio Volt 276 audio interface, and, whoa, the improvements are mind-blowing. Connecting the microphones is quick and easy. You can take it anywhere. Latency is extremely low and this Volt has incredible preamps and a vintage sound mode that gives warmth to whatever you record. Feels like a steal at $299.
UniversalAudio Apollo Twin X is a solid step up from the Volt, although more affordable than UA’s Apollo 8 and 16 flagships. You can easily connect the interface to your computer via Thunderbolt for tracking, overdubs, and mixing with A/D and D/A conversion, two Unison-compatible preamps, and available DUO or QUAD Core plug-in processing. The console design puts everything at your fingertips with a central knob that lets you adjust and track the output levels of your microphone, preamp channels, monitor, and headphone output. It is useful in a recording situation to have these controls physical rather than digital. The Twin X is a powerful hub for a home studio, and it’s priced competitively at $1,200.