One way to tell a professional recording studio apart from a regular studio is the equipment. Clients will be on the lookout for many of the pieces of equipment that we’ll discuss, so it’s important that you already have them in your studio.
Because you need to buy a wide range of equipment, it can be quite difficult to create a thorough list. In this article, we’ll talk about our favorite vital professional recording studio equipment, how they work to produce pleasing sounds, and how the environment (studio) affects the sound. Soon you will find that choosing the right equipment is not as daunting a task as you once thought.
Essential Professional Recording Studio Equipment
1. Backup HDU
A backup HDU serves as an external storage device. It can be connected through a wireless connection or via a USB cable. A recording professional uses a backup HDU to store recording data and protect recordings if there’s damage or hard-disk failure.
2. DAW Software
A digital audio workstation or digital workstation is recording software for music production that permits users to record audio, edit, mix, master, etc., on a personal computer. DAW converts analog audio to a digital sequence for a computer to process. It appears on the computer screen as music notation or sonic waveforms.
3. Audio Interface
DAW software does a great job at adding power to a recording, but it is still dependent on the external hardware called an audio interface. This device provides a way to plug in your microphones, speakers or headphones, and different types of instruments for recording through a connector.
You can connect an audio interface to a computer, laptop, or desktop through a thunderbolt port or a USB. It is compatible with iOS devices or Apple when using an additional adapter. Some audio interfaces allow users to connect any MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller (MIDI keyboard, for example) to a computer through an input. The input provides a way to play virtual instruments through your DAW (either stand-alone or built-in).
Through the interface’s MIDI outputs, users can connect an external MIDI sound source like a drum machine, synthesizer, etc., and have it played through the MIDI data recorded on the DAW. An interface should have a balanced line input to connect all these things for applying sound effects and mixing. This connection is important because it blocks any outside noise and assists in producing the desired sound.
In a professional recording studio, you’ll need many audio interfaces to easily plug in multiple musical instruments, microphones, and monitors, especially if you’re recording multiple audios. It would help if you also had a computer that could handle enough processing power to record simultaneously. The chosen interface should have mic preamps with expandable input and output to handle all the audio source signals received at once.
4. Software Plug-ins
These are added to your DAW to boost the sounds of the recorded audio tracks. You can input the software plug-ins in the mix window of a DAW program.
5. Studio Monitors
The main purpose of a studio monitor is to mix music. It allows users to hear all the frequencies present so they know how to balance the sounds they hear. Laptop speakers or hi-fi speakers may try to do the same thing, but not how a studio monitor would. These speakers are too small to pick up the tiniest frequency and are sometimes only useful for boosting the sounds produced.
This poses a problem because users need to hear every bass frequency and raw sound (whether it sounds bad or not) when mixing. It helps guide them on where, when, and how to make various changes to those sounds.
When getting a professional studio monitor for recording, aim to get a monitor that:
- Has a built-in-on-board amplifier to transmit highs and lows in audio so that you can hear it clearly and equally
- Can deliver ultra-linear frequency feedback for referencing and mix translation. To test if a monitor can do this, connect it to a digital piano and play the lowest octave. It should be able to imitate that quality sound without the aid of a subwoofer.
- Can produce an acoustic and neutral sound
Studio monitors are required in a professional setup because the room has gone through acoustic treatment, meaning it is designed specifically for mixing and listening to music. Acoustic treatment has a major effect in terms of the difference between the sound produced in a bedroom studio vs a professional one.
A quality studio monitor will do the following:
- Point out volume inconsistencies
- Hear what sound is getting lost
- Single out when two or more instruments are fighting for the same space
- Point out what EQ ranges need cutting or boosting
- Fish out the sounds that need to be louder or quieter
You can also pair your monitor with a studio monitor. It should be placed in an adjustable position at ear level and not downwards.
6. MIDI Controllers
This equipment helps to control the sounds in the DAW. It can be a drum-pad style or keyboard. Contrary to popular misconception, not all keyboards are MIDI controllers.
7. Studio Headphones
Headphones are important for several reasons in the studio. Their most significant use is to record. Often, musical instruments get recorded first, and they are then played back for vocals to be recorded. It’s best to use headphones to record because there’s a high chance the microphone will also pick up the pre-recorded instruments. That way, recorders don’t bleed into the microphone.
Bleeding is when sound leaks into the vocal mic from the speakers. You can avoid this by making the musician wear headphones. That way, only the user hears the instruments, and their voice is the only thing the mic picks. People often want that deliberate bleed in their recordings to give it a live feeling, so bleed is not always a problem. Additionally, recording with headphones results in a more clean and isolated product, which makes it easier to mix and control the instrument levels.
You can also use studio headphones to monitor the performer for any unwanted noises, flaws in vocals, etc. Your studio headphones must be able to pick up any raw sound (especially if it’s displeasing) so that you can fix it accordingly.
This function is the biggest difference between studio headphones and regular ones. While the former doesn’t conceal any sound, the latter helps to boost certain frequencies (bass, for example), in order to make the track better.
Lastly, headphones are helpful for mixing. Mixing is an important step in recording because this stage leads to the finished product — studio headphones aid in finding a balance between each element.
There are so many studio headphones to choose from, but what’s important is that you get ones with a very flat frequency response. This way, there’s no prominent element overshadowing the rest.
8. Headphone Amps
A headphone amp is a device that delivers electrical power to headphones. When monitoring through headphones, you need an amp that boosts the volume and creates quality sound. A headphone with low impedance will produce a higher volume, but on the other hand, it creates a higher distortion.
It is important to choose a headphone amp with ultra-low output impedance and low distortion. Ideally, you want to get one with no more than 2 ohms to enable sufficient electrical absorption.
Microphones seem like the most basic recording equipment, but they are one of the most important. There are two main types of these used in studios: dynamic and condenser microphones.
Dynamic microphones are suitable for recording strong sounds like drums because they can withstand and capture high-level sounds without distortion, especially in a live setting. Condenser microphones are ideal for recording acoustic string instruments, other delicate sounds, higher frequencies (for example, studio vocals), etc.., especially in a studio setting. That’s because they can reproduce a better range of sound very quickly.
A USB microphone is another fast-rising type of microphone. It has a built-in interface for plugging into a computer through a USB cable. The downside of this mic is that it cannot record instruments that need multiple microphones.
Microphones generally are used with a pop filter and shock mounts to eliminate vibrations and noises from recordings. You can either buy them as a set or individually. A microphone stand that has adjustable positioning will also come in handy.
You can get great vocal microphones for under 500 dollars. If you’re on a budget, these are a good place to begin.
A microphone preamp is also important because it boosts the signal of an instrument or a microphone.
10. Sound Mixer
Also known as a mixing console, this electronic device balances and combines different sound audio signals like instruments, vocals, and pre-recorded audios.
A sequencer is hardware or software used to program a combination of rhythms, articulation, effects, and other data. You can play it in a specific order on a DAW or any hardware synthesizer. The difference between DAW and sequencers is that DAW falls under the umbrella term sequencer.
12. Uninterruptible Power Supply
A UPS is a backup battery that provides backup power when the main power source fails or you have bad power conditions (low voltage, for example). UPS performs the following functions:
- Protects hardware from damage caused by voltage spikes or high currents
- Regulates input power
- Prevents a loss when equipment suddenly shuts down or when there’s a power outage
13. Musical instruments
There’s a selection of instruments you can choose to have in your studio. Many professionals prefer to have the instruments listed below (of course, you can add more if needed).
- Acoustic guitar, bass, or electric guitars
- Drum kits
- Guitar amp to boost the sound of electric or bass guitars, especially
- Guitar pedals (an audio unit that produces an effect in guitar signal and directs the signal to a signified path)
14. Power Conditioner
A power conditioner is another important piece of professional recording studio equipment. Although it doesn’t assist in recording, mixing, etc., it filters incoming AC voltage and regulates it, filters noise, and protects your equipment against surges. Usually, power conditioners are placed on studio racks to protect other expensive equipment in the studio.
15. Digital Converters
A digital converter converts digital audio into analog (D/A) and analog audio (such as sounds picked up by a microphone) into digital audio (A/D). This particular device sometimes comes as an integrated feature in other devices, such as music players. Professional studios would prefer to have a stand-alone digital converter because it’s noticeably different from the performance of built-in ones.
16. Master Clocks
A master clock is also known as a digital clock or word clock. You can find this device in almost every digital recording device. When digital signals are connected from two or more devices, they must align. Otherwise, the audio will be saturated with ‘clicks’ or glitches.
It’s more common to find the audio interface clock as the default master while other equipment and instruments serve as ‘slaves’ to follow the lead. The master clock serves as a precision clock to synchronize timing signals to slave clocks. This synchronization enables the data to mix accurately on the DAW. Even though this is a built-in feature, most professionals prefer to have it as a stand-alone to deliver more accurate sounds.
17. Snake Cables
These are also called multi-core cables. They are a group of various cables contained in a single outer casing that performs many functions. The logic here is: why use multiple individual cables that are hard to manage when you can have one in a single place?
18. Studio Rack
A studio rack is used for storing rack mount interfaces, amps, and power distributors. The equipment will produce a lot of heat when placed on a rack, so get one that’s cool and airy. Furthermore, equipment that generates a lot of heat should be positioned at the top, while the others should be at the bottom.
The right equipment separates a professional recording studio from other kinds of studios. If you’re looking to buy professional recording studio equipment, then here’s a good list to begin. Although it might seem like a lot, each piece of equipment plays a crucial and specific role in delivering a clean and alluring sound or vocal recording.