Upgrading Your Home Studio

Upgrading Your Home Studio


In this post, we get some home studio tips from our favourite audio engineer and sound designer Rob, who works for one of the biggest recording studios in London. Rob is also a smashing voice over artist with years of experience behind his belt. We are very happy to have him on our books. Rob is has already shared his wealth of knowledge in our previous post on how to set up your home studio for voice overs. Read on if you're planning to upgrade your existing set up.

 
"So, you have your microphone, your interface, your headphones and you are rocking along nicely at home. In fact, you may be recording so much from your living room that you decide to take the plunge and invest in a full home studio.
 
It's a big step to take but it can be massively beneficial if voice over is your main source of income. It will require patience, and a willingness to learn more about the recording process. You’ll also need to develop proficiency on your chosen DAW (recording software). Get this right, and you can create a space not only perfect for you to record and deliver top quality VO but one that can be hired out to other professionals to use.
 
N.B. DAW = Digital Audio Workstation (ProTools, Audition, Logic, etc)
 
Space
 
The first consideration is your space. You'll need to do away with the microphone shoved in the cupboard and develop something more permanent. Sound isolation is the top priority.
 
You need a booth. Fortunately, there are a couple of options here. Firstly, you can buy made to measure flat pack booths, such as this one from Kube
 
These start from £3000. They can be made to fit your requirements and provide excellent results.
 
Alternatively, you can DIY your own. You'll need space, wood panelling and lots of foam but it's a great way to create a booth on a budget.
 
 

 
There are tons of videos on there, as well as forums dedicated to home studios. A little acoustic treatment can go a long way.
 
A few things that are important to consider in your own booth:
 
Heat - Booths get hot! It's an isolated space without much air flow. Think about using LED strips for lighting and have electronics outside of the booth if possible. If you have the money, an air-conditioning unit may be a godsend. Just make sure it’s got a quiet mode.
Usability - Make the booth practical for use. Have the screen, mouse and keyboard routed into the booth (they run fairly cold). You may also want direct access to your interface, so you can set the gain. If the interface runs cold, it can go in the booth. If you’re using a preamp that generates a lot of heat, invest in one with digital gain levels that can be controlled via your computer.
 
Gear
 
You have your isolated booth, now let's get some pro gear in there!
 
Microphones
You may well want to upgrade from the £200 model you started with. The differences may not be significant on first listen, but a professional microphone can make your recordings stand out from the pack.
 
The best of the bunch is the Neumann U87, but they cost thousands brand new may well be out of budget. Keep an eye on eBay though, as there is a big second-hand market for microphones. If you see one for under $1000 and it has a good returns policy, buy it!
 
Another suitable model at a more reasonable budget is the Neumann TLM 103 which retails around the £850 mark.
 
Preamp
Another link in the chain that usually gets overlooked in home recording is the preamp. Most basic interfaces like the Focusrite Scarlett have a basic mic preamp built-in. However, using a more powerful microphone, a dedicated mic preamp can really bring out all the warmth that the mic has to offer
 
The Universal Audio 710 is a personal favourite.
 
Recording Machine
Honest opinion: do away with the laptop. Get a dedicated machine for recording on. Laptops are great for convenience but lack the power at the same price point as a Mac Mini or Mac Pro. 
 
If you’re on a budget, look at eBay for deals on reconditioned Mac Pro 2012 models onwards (better known as flowerpots) to get better spec for less.
 
Another honest opinion: a Mac will always beat a PC for ease of use and cross-functionality when it comes to audio recording. They are designed for it and you won't have to scrabble around to find every single driver for every piece of kit! They cost more, you may have to learn a new operating system, but they just work! 
 
DAW
 
Time to step up from Audacity! 
 
Try ProTools, Logic Pro, or Audition. You will need to get comfortable with the software and learn its quirks, but it is going to be a must if you are going to tackle long detailed recording sessions and multitracking. 
 
Additional Gear
Have a look into Source Connect Standard or Pro (not to be confused with Source Connect Now). 
 
If you are doing sessions with other studios around the world you may have been asked to connect with a device like this. It allows high-quality audio to be transmitted between you and a second party over the internet. It's perfect for remote sessions.
 
Additional Reading
With all the new equipment you have purchased, you'll need to understand more about signal flow and recording. 
 
Start by looking into the different audio formats (WAV, MP3, AIFF, etc) and why you may use each one. Look into sample and bit rates, what they mean, and their uses. Making some practice recordings can help.
 
Take it one step at a time. I don't have any recommendations as to which guides to read.  Most of the books I've read over the years are unnecessarily overcomplicated in their description of these terms.
 
If you’re a visual learner, you can find plenty of information on YouTube, too.
 
Most importantly, have fun and treat home recording as a new hobby. Don't be scared of trying out new gear and experiencing the frustration when it doesn't work. 9 times out of 10, it will turn out that you just forgot to turn the speakers on!"

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