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The Best Home Studio on a Budget

12/12/2022

It can be difficult to figure out how best to build a home studio. Music production gear can be expensive and complicated! Here we’ll cover the best ways to get started and give you some budget-friendly product suggestions.

Where do I start?

We’ll start by assuming you already have a computer ready to get producing on, and you’ve picked out a DAW that you like.

The next step from here is an audio interface. No matter what instruments you play, whether you do vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, or general beat-making, you need something to record your sound sources and route sound.

If you want more information on why you need these things, check out our blog post on how to build a home studio here!

Studio desks

Lifestyle image of a two-tier studio desk with gearFinding the right studio desk for your setup is key for anyone looking to get into home studios.

Everything involved in this process takes consideration, and it’s important to know what you want to achieve and set up first.

First things first, are you looking to record yourself, and occasionally some collaborators?

If so, you might need something compact and easy to record at.

Do you want to mix the things you record yourself?

Some rack space for outboard gear might help you achieve some studio-quality productions down the line.

Do you need a MIDI keyboard for beat-making or keyboard playing?

It might be worth considering a desk with a keyboard tray.

Rack space

The next big question is to do with rack size. If you’re looking to use synthesizers, outboard mixing equipment, larger audio interfaces, or all of these things in the future, rack space is absolutely essential.

In 1934, engineers agreed that the electronic units they used for telecommunications, computing, audio, and more should come in standardised widths and heights.

The width of all racks and rack units is exactly 19 inches. Height can vary but is measured in U, or Units, for ease of reference. For example, 1U is equal to 44.45mm, or 1.75 inches.

For professional audio, the standard has stayed the same to this day. So, what do you need for rack space? If you’re starting out on a budget, the answer is probably not much.

Rack gear is expensive, and you can get external racks if you’ve used up the space on your desk. However, if the direction you want to go in involves rack units, getting a desk with rack space is a good way to futureproof your setup without having to spend more money.

Rack units come in a variety of formats, many are slender 1U units, which are great because they save you space and offer a lot of functionality.

Many classic units, vintage emulations, or stereo processors tend to be 2U – they’re larger to accommodate the bigger internal components in their circuitry.

There are also half-rack units that let you chain up to two units at once in the width that’s usually taken up by one, which can help you save space.


3-Tier Home Studio Desk by Gear4music

For the budget-minded musician with a compact space, our three-tier desk is the perfect start.

There’s space for your computer monitor, studio monitors, and audio interface on the large top shelf.

A middle shelf then offers a place for a synth, sampler, or MIDI controller.

And finally, a pullout tray provides ample space for a keyboard and mouse.

So, with this desk, you’ll have easy access to everything you need!

Shop now | 3 Tier Home Studio Desk by Gear4music


4-Tier Home Studio Desk by Gear4music

4 Tier Home Studio Desk by Gear4musicOur four-tier studio desk is the first in our range to offer rack space, providing 6U and an extra shelf.

There’s also a metal storage compartment for key accessories.

Its smaller bottom shelf is perfect for subwoofers and amplifiers.

Hard-wearing laminated wood ensures a sturdy and reliable performance that won’t get damaged while you record and play your instruments.

Shop now | 4 Tier Home Studio Desk by Gear4music, 6U


3-Tier Pro Audio Studio Desk

3 Tier Pro Audio Studio Desk by Gear4musicThis three-tier pro audio desk is wider than the previous two offerings.

It’s ideal for serious production-focused home studios, with a broad lower tray that’s suited to larger MIDI keyboards.

Offering 8U of rack space, this desk is also heavily expandable, perfect for filling with key pieces of rack gear.

Its raised top shelf is ideal for computer screens and studio monitors alike.

Shop now | 3-Tier Pro Audio Studio Desk by Gear4music, 8U

Audio interfaces

Once you’ve decided your needs on studio desks, you need to decide on an audio interface to start with. There are plenty of good, budget-friendly options out there and I would always recommend picking one that has at least two combo inputs. This gives you the flexibility you need to connect what you want in the future.

For recording up to two microphones, a stereo keyboard or synthesizer output, a guitar and vocals, or a bass and guitar at once, two inputs are a great way to start. They mean you can record without worrying about having to upgrade for some time.

You may need more than just two inputs though, depending on what instruments you play or the material you want to record. If you’re going to record drum kits or full bands, you’ll probably need 8-16 inputs to ensure you can capture all your microphones simultaneously.

We’ll cover a few options, spanning a range of inputs. But bear in mind that the more inputs you want, the more expensive it’ll be.


SubZero AI2 USB Audio Interface

SubZero AI2 USB Audio InterfaceOne of the most budget-friendly two-input interfaces on the market, the SubZero AI2 is the cheapest and quickest way to start recording.

Dual microphone and instrument inputs with phantom power give you everything you need to get started.

High-quality preamps then provide excellent signal clarity.

This interface doesn’t feature some of the additional options of some more premium models but its focused design makes it more lightweight and portable.

For applications like recording podcasts on the go or going to a separate space to record, the AI2 is an excellent companion.

Shop now | SubZero A12 USB Audio Interface


Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen)

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2If you’re getting into music production, you’ve definitely seen these iconic red boxes before!

One of the most popular and widely-used interfaces on the market today, the Scarlett range is instantly recognisable for many reasons.

The Scarlett 2i2 features two great preamps, a high-quality headphone amp for monitoring, and a wealth of other features at an excellent price that have helped it dominate home recording spaces.

Its mono and stereo monitoring modes offer a way of checking your mixes will translate, and an Air mode adds a silky high-end to your recordings based on Focusrite’s famous ISA console.

All these features make the Scarlett a formidable starting option.

Shop now | Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen)


SSL 2 2-Channel USB Audio Interface

Solid State Logic have an incredible history of making high-end consoles for recording studios. And now the SSL 2 offers you a bit of that console sound in a portable desktop unit.

Drawing its look and sound directly from their history, the SSL 2 is a no-frills, high-grade interface for its price point that lets you access the pristine, clean sound of their preamps.

Plus, the conversion of the SSL 2 is extremely formidable, outclassing many by offering up to 24-bit/192 kHz audio.

Phantom power lets you connect condenser microphones, and a switchable line or Hi-Z input lets you easily adapt to keyboards or electric guitars.

Plus, their Legacy 4K mode replicates the gentle, natural, high shelving, and harmonic distortion of their 4000 series consoles.

Bundled with the SSL 2 are a range of their own Native plugins, recreating several of their famed mixing tools, as well as free samples and virtual instruments to get producing with.

Shop now | SSL 2 2-Channel USB Audio Interface


Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820

The Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820 is the most affordable option when it comes to interfaces, with eight inputs currently available.

It boasts eight combo inputs with top-of-the-line MIDAS-designed preamps, latency-free direct monitoring for artist playback during recording, and ten outputs for routing to your monitors, outboard gear, and anything else in your studio.

SPDIF and ADAT inputs and outputs allow you to expand the interface by eight extra inputs. Using both of these will let you create a system of up to 20 channels for full, expansive recording.

Plus, there are MIDI inputs and outputs for beatmakers to connect controllers, synths, sequencers, and more.

Whatever workflow you need, the U-Phoria is extremely adaptive, with its features offering exceptional value for money. If you need something that does it all, the UMC1820 is the way to go.

Studio monitors

If audio interfaces are the brains, studio monitors are the heart of any good studio. You need to be able to hear what you’re working on, and you can’t skimp on good sound. Fortunately, you don’t have to, you can get excellent studio-quality sound to record and mix even at extremely affordable prices.

For home studio applications, you’ll generally want active monitors. These sets don’t require the additional expense of external amplification. I also recommend studio monitors with woofers of 5-8 inches, anywhere in this range should provide powerful enough sound with clear bass to let you hear everything.

This guide will show you some of the best, inexpensive pairs that are available today. These all come in under £300 for a pair.


SubZero SZM-4X

Lifestyle image of SubZero SZM-4X studio monitorsThe SubZero SZM-4X is a great entry-level pair of monitors that’s just over £100.

They don’t have some of the bells and whistles of the more expensive monitors on this list, but they make up for that with great, clear sound, from 50 Hz up to 20 kHz.

Reliable, accurate, and portable, the SZM-4X are definitely formidable for the price.

Not only that, but this set includes monitor isolation pads, reducing desk rumble and ensuring the sound you hear is accurate.

Even better, monitor isolation pads will get you started on acoustic treatment in the process!

Shop now | SubZero SZSM-4X Studio Monitors with Isolation Pads, Pair


PreSonus Eris Studio 5 

PreSonus Eris Studio 5The PreSonus Eris Studio 5 are some of the best value pairs of studio monitors on the market.

I personally started on the Eris E3.5s, and they remain in my studio to this day as their smooth, full sound is accurate and easy to listen to.

However, the larger and slightly more expensive E5 improves on the main shortcoming of the smaller model by producing a full, balanced low-end, courtesy of a larger woofer and a bass port.

Their smooth, silk dome tweeter provides accurate and detailed treble.

And if that’s not enough, PreSonus have loaded these speakers with room compensation controls, allowing you to tune the frequency response to exactly what you want to hear!

The Eris E5 is an excellent set of monitors that punch well above their weight.

Shop now | PreSonus Eris Studio 5


KRK RP5 Classic

Pair of KRK RP5 Classic Studio MonitorsAn absolute classic of modern music production, the KRK RP5’s instantly recognisable black and yellow colour scheme is one you’ve probably seen before, even if you didn’t know them by name.

The cabinet of these monitors is designed to be free from resonances, so no extra frequencies interfere with your sound.

The RP5s offer adjustable voicing modes, like the room compensation of the Eris monitors with exact settings.

An additional “FLAT” mode then gives a consistent and accurate representation of what you hear.

There’s also a bass port to ensure a clean, present low-end.

Shop now | KRK RP5 Classic Studio Monitor, Pair


ADAM Audio T5V

ADAM Audio T5VADAM Audio have also made a distinct impact on studio monitors, with their unique ribbon tweeter setting them apart.

The ADAM Audio A-Series has been a consistent fixture in home and professional setups alike due to its variety of models, sizes, and price points.

Additionally, the T-Series, namely the ADAM Audio T5V, provides the excellent sound that ADAM is known for, at a friendlier cost to those pursuing home setups.

Their redesigned U-ART ribbon tweeters provide a clean, clear treble with a wide sweet spot for unrivalled clarity.

This also improves their transient response, meaning they can handle percussive sounds much more naturally.

While they are the most expensive monitors on this list, if you can spare the investment, they’re certainly worth it!

Shop now | ADAM Audio T5V Studio Monitors, Pair

Accessories

One aspect of building a studio that isn’t talked about too often is all the extra elements that go into it. These are both extremely important, very affordable, and give a good return on investment.

So, what do you need?


Cables

Mono Guitar CableThe types of cables you need will largely be dictated by the equipment in your studio and the connectors required. Having said this, I always recommend getting a box with a few key essentials to connect and route anything else you might come up against.

It’s also a good idea to get cables in pairs, so you can keep track and use them in stereo or when collaborating with other musicians.

XLR cables, mono TS cables, balanced TRS cables, MIDI cables, and a headphone adapter are absolutely key as backups. I recommend building these up, in addition to whatever else you need to connect your interface and monitors together.

In case you’re struggling to tell difference between mono TS cables and balanced TRS cables, balanced cables feature two black bands on the connector, whereas mono TS cables feature just one!

It might also be worth picking up a set of cable ties to keep everything well-organised.


Acoustic treatment

Home Studio with acoustic treatmentI’ve already written a guide on how to set up your studio monitors and get started with acoustic treatment. This also includes some product recommendations.

Acoustic treatment is absolutely essential to a great, professional-sounding studio space.

Often overlooked, acoustic treatment absorbs unwanted reflections and improves the frequency response of your room, helping you get the best out of your monitors.

I recommend starting with bass traps and monitor isolation pads first, before moving on to treating your walls and ceiling.


Monitor stands

Monitor stands are also important for home studio setups.

Depending on your space, you have the choice between desktop monitor stands and floor stands.

Smaller spaces will benefit from desktop stands, but floor stands are best for bigger studios with studio monitors of larger sizes.

The monitors we’ve suggested in this guide would be best on desktop stands.


Microphone accessories

Microphone Shock Mount with integrated pop filterMicrophone stands, shock mounts, and pop shields are also key to studio recording, especially if you capture vocalists.

There’s a wide range of these on offer, and your best option may depend on what microphone you own, but pop shields are mostly universal.

If you’re a vocalist or do vocal recordings of any kind, all of these mic accessories are extremely important.

Boom stands are the most versatile for studios, but if you record guitar, bass cabs, or drums, a low mic stand might also be important.

Our own microphone shock mount with an integrated pop filter is the most cost-effective way to get both of these in a single package.


Extra utilities

Lifestyle image of a home studioThere are all kinds of useful boxes your studio could use.

Firstly, a cable tester is a great option. You always want to be certain that your cables are up to scratch, especially when something goes wrong. Having the security of a cable tester to check if any signal path issues are caused by your cables can help you identify the route cause of faulty recordings.

SubZero’s Cable Tester is a good, affordable option.

A MIDI Thru box is ideal for routing synths and production hardware like samplers, sequencers, or MIDI controllers, letting you control and synchronise any electronic instruments you might have. Kenton’s THRU-5 is an extremely popular and efficient example.

If you work with a lot of guitar or bass instruments, it may also be worth investing in a quality DI box. The SubZero Active DI Box and the SubZero Passive DI Box are both great and affordable.

Finally, if you’re intending on expanding into analog hardware for mixing and tracking, a patch bay is an absolute necessity for quickly sending your tracks through outboard gear to enhance your mix. Patch bays expand your routing options and send channels to your gear without taking up extra inputs and outputs on your interface. The SubZero 48 Channel Patch Bay is a great place to start.

Of course, all of these additional products are generally optional, and their necessity will relate to your budget and the intent of your studio

However, they’re all good, low-cost products worth investing in.

Final thoughts

There’s a wide range of options for getting great home studios on a budget. The main consideration should always be what you want to record – use this to inform your purchases.

Hopefully, this guide has covered enough bases to give you an informed idea of what will suit you and how you can start your home recording journey.

 

Content Writer - Live Sound

Callum is a former audio and music technology student who has a love of punk, rock, metal, and electronic music. In his spare time, he produces music, and DJs occasionally. He's also a freelance engineer when possible, helping local bands make their noise even noisier.

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