Written by @TreBouncee
There was a time when, if you wanted to do professional music, you needed a professional studio. And a professional studio isn’t cheap. Nowadays, you can take that professional studio home for a fraction of the cost. So, let’s look at how Micro Center can help you set up a studio to record music. I'll walk you through everything you need to set up a home recording studio, including recommended parts and the best bang-for-your-buck setup for beginners and intermediate recording artists. And, by the end, you’ll have everything you need to create like a professional.
When it comes to home production, one thing is absolutely required: computer hardware. I generally recommend a MacBook or other Apple device, as tools like GarageBand and Logic Pro are exclusive to the Mac environment and make audio work a breeze. But, if you’d like to go with a PC, you won’t need much. An Intel Core i5/AMD Ryzen 5 with 16GB of RAM and a decent-sized SSD will cover your bases (though going above and beyond can help speed up render times and minimize hiccups with your tools).
After your computer, the next step is hardware – the microphones and cables you’ll use to actually record your audio. Micro Center offers a few bundles that work as fantastic entries into the audio recording space and won't break the bank. The Focusrite Scarlett Studio Solo (3rd Generation) USB Audio Interface Kit includes a pre-amp (sometimes called an interface – it’s what will physically connect your equipment to your computer), microphone, monitoring headphones, and XLR cable. For a beginner, this kit gets you everything you need for less than $250. This combination along with a free digital audio workstation like Audacity (we’ll talk about this in a moment) can make for a professional-sounding introduction to the music-making world. There are alternatives like the PreSonus AudioBox 96 Studio Hardware & Software Recording Kit that offer a few extra features, like a second input so a second person can record simultaneously, but if you’re flying solo and just want to get set up, you can’t go wrong with the Focusrite bundle.
Once you’ve got your hardware up and running, you’ll need what’s called a “digital audio workstation” commonly referred to as a “DAW.” This is where you’ll do all your audio recording and editing. While I normally recommend more advanced applications like Logic Pro X or Protools, I believe those could be daunting for a beginner (though they’re good to keep in mind for when you’re ready to take your music production to the next level). For someone just starting out, I think free alternatives such as Audacity and GarageBand are not only intuitive but can act as a guide to the more advanced software later on.
And that’s really all you need to start creating your own music! There is, of course, a lot of room to grow, and sooner or later you’ll start looking at newer and higher-end equipment. When that happens, you’re ready for the Intermediate Setup
The intermediate user has been around the block a bit, and has at least a few months of DAW and recording knowledge under their belt. Generally speaking, they also probably have a lot of the basic gear already ready to go. So, with that in mind, this section is full of recommendations that are a bit more advanced and might scare away folks who would otherwise try and jump into the deep end first.
Let’s kick things off with the major equipment upgrades, as there’s a definite – but necessary – jump from beginner to intermediate. Your interface is an integral piece in your setup and for the intermediate, I believe the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface is a fantastic option. The Scarlett 4i4 interface gives you four inputs for microphones and/or instruments. That level of versatility can be incredibly useful for an intermediate user.
Your microphone may be the most important piece of equipment in your lineup, and I highly recommend the Blue Spark SL XLR Condenser Microphone. The Sparks SL is a rich microphone that sounds great for a very reasonable price. As an XLR microphone, you’ll get the benefit of phantom power and a preamp or interface giving you a significant boost in sound quality. I would also recommend a good set of studio monitors to go along with your monitoring headphones. This will allow you to mix and refine your work with accuracy and clarity. The Mackie CR5-XBT 5" 2 Channel Stereo Computer Speaker Monitors - Black are a great, affordable studio monitor option that will allow you to hear what you record and repair the imperfections. Of course, recording artists customarily wear monitor headphones so they can hear what the recording actually sounds like, rather than what the music sounds like in the room. The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x Wired Professional Monitor Headphones - Black are rated extremely well for accuracy and can serve in a dual capacity for recording and playback.
With the major pieces of equipment out of the way, there are a few accessories that can really help your setup sound professional. The CAD Audio AS34 Acousti-Shield Audio Recording Noise Dampener is a tool that goes around any microphone and serves to dampen outside noise and help create that booth-like effect. Additionally, there is padding you can put on the wall that helps neutralize the sound they come in contact with, minimizing echoes and outside noise. The process of adding elements like these is called acoustic treatment. The Gator Frameworks 12" x 12" Thick Acoustic Foam Pyramid Panels 4 Pack - Charcoal Color can really help improve the recording quality of any room, making them an absolute requirement for any aspiring home artist.
If you’re a producer as well as a recording artist, then devices like the Novation LaunchPad X or the Novation Launchkey Mini MK3 25-Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller could help you bring your thoughts to life through your DAW. Both of those will allow you to work in a physical space, rather than exclusively through your computer, making for a natural, intuitive experience.
Lastly, I’d recommend upgrading your DAW to Protools. Over the last 20 years or so Protools has become what most would consider an industry standard. Though a potentially daunting DAW to learn, it will be rewarding when you master it.
With everything we’ve discussed you’ve built a versatile, capable home studio that will produce high-quality audio for years to come… or until you’re ready to upgrade!
Whether you’re just starting your music production journey or building on your past work, the equipment and software we discussed can help you create an impressive, budget-friendly home studio that can rival professional studios. Ease of use and ease of setup was a major factor in my recommendations and I anticipate everyone being able to set up their studio in 15-30 mins and get to creating immediately after. Going forward there will, of course, be upgrades to make. And when those upgrades happen, all this equipment suddenly becomes fantastic backup microphones and interfaces. For now, though, the creative possibilities are limitless, so get out there and get to recording.
Looking for more from the Micro Center Community? We’ve got a full section dedicated to reviews and buying guides as well as The Essential Creator Laptop Buying Guide, and The Best Laptops for Under $1000, both great resources for getting gear for your home studio! And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to post a new discussion and the Community will be happy to help!
Don't forget your wall of too many instruments!
Great guide! Now I've gotta try not to rework my setup, though I really want to 😂
This guide is awesome! Thank you for writing it and putting it together. I bought a Yeti mic before they were bought out by Logitech and use it record song covers casually, and that works decently well, since I'm not really making my own music (yet?? maybe??).
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