Studio Gear Guide

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Ultimate Studio Gear Guide

Getting your sound and style right can be hard work for newbie producers and beatmakers alike. Before I learned how to produce quality tunes on my home studio setup I played around on all types of controllers, analog gear, and software in my bedroom.

Those of us who produce house and electro are going to want a totally different vibe from hip hop heads and drum and bass producers, unfortunately, most of the content you’re going to read online has been created for bands and recording artists which is why those other guides ain’t gonna give what ya need.

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

The first thing you need is a quality Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). And when I say need, I mean you really can’t move forward without one. If you’re even newer to making music than the rest of us, a DAW is an application software or electronic device that you can use for writing, editing, and producing audio files. If you’re tight on cash, a good DAW is easy to find in their trial version so you can make sure it has what you’re looking for before committing.

What Is The Best D.A.W For New Producers?

  1. If you are ready to take your production seriously then FL Studio wins hands down for creating electronic and hip hop music, I really can’t recommend FL Studio enough.
  2. Alternatively, if you use a Mac then simply get started with the free version of Garageband to start making simple tunes from my laptop.

I played around with quite a few different DAWs, some trial versions, and some free versions before I landed on something like this. The difference between FL Studio and some of the other DAWs lies in its usage design. It was designed with bedroom producers and beat makers in mind, along with your standard mixing, recording, and composing. Don’t feel compelled to jump in the deep in right away, either. FL Studio different versions, each at varying price points. Plenty of people have been happy with the low-cost introduction version.

FL Studio is also available for demo. It might not be what you’re looking for, and that’s fine. You may find that a cheaper or even free version of a different DAW works for what you’re trying to produce. Different DAWs work differently for different people. They all more or less do the same thing, but the set-up and how they feel are just as crucial to making music as to how they work.

Audio Interface

So you’ve got your DAW all picked out. Now what? You’re probably itching to get right into recording your masterpiece beats. Crisp, quality sound isn’t going to just magically appear using your computer’s microphone and speakers. What about using instruments or synth? That’s where an audio interface comes in. It’s an essential tool for hip hop or electronic artists.

An audio interface, at its core, is just an external sound card. The audio interface acts as a bridge between your computer and the rest of the equipment that you’re using to create your music, whether that be actual instruments, microphones, or your studio monitors (but more on those later).

You can certainly try to create music with your DAW and your computer alone, but that’s going to leave you severely limited in what you can do. Has a cursory google search of “audio interface” left you overwhelmed? Don’t sweat it. That’s what I’m here for.

How To Choose The Right Sound Card?

First and foremost, anyone looking to buy an audio interface should know the input/output (I/O) configuration that they need. Audio interfaces range from 2 inputs to hundreds. It all depends on what you’re looking to record not only now, but in the future as well.

If you’re looking to add instrumental flair right to your beats, you’re going to want to make sure that the audio interface you choose has instrumental level inputs (we call this “hi-Z”). The most critical choice following I/O configuration is connectivity to your computer. The standard audio interface connections include USB, FireWire, Thunderbolt, and PCle. If you’re working off a PC, you’re more than likely going to go with USB. Older Macs might still have a USB port, but the newer Macs, especially laptops, are switching over to be exclusively Thunderbolt.

PCIe (also known as PCI Express) is an internal card-based interface. They’re a little more expensive and can’t be used with a laptop, but you gain some advantages by installing your audio interface right into your desktop’s motherboard. After you’ve figured out what you need, you’re ready to start looking at actual audio interfaces. When you’re just starting out getting everything you need for your sound studio, you’re probably not ready to drop a lot of money on something you’re not sure works for you.

I totally get it, because I was the same way. Take a look at the Focusrite Scarlett if you’re still shopping around. It might look small, but being compact is part of Focusrite’s charm. You’re still going to get all the necessary ports for what you need to get done while maximizing your desk space. The USB connectivity works best with PC laptops, desktops, and Macs that still have a USB port.

Studio Monitors

Contrary to what the name sounds like, a studio monitor isn’t actually a screen like you would think of when you picture a computer monitor. A studio monitor is a must-have, high-quality speaker that is specifically designed for recording studios. The term ‘monitor’ refers to the linear phase and frequency response. A studio monitor isn’t going to emphasize specific frequencies over others, and it’s going to deliver an “uncolored” version of the audio being played through it. Simply put, this means no distortion and accurate sound.

Studio Monitors For Beginners

Long answer: Yes, and here’s why. The difference between a studio monitor and your run of the mill speaker is, of course, sound and the precision of the sound quality. When you’re playing back your mixes, it’s imperative that you hear precisely what is being created.

Any hip hop or electronic artist will tell you the same thing: You can’t produce quality work when you can’t accurately hear what you’re creating. Listening to your tracks through your computer speakers or headphones may give you an idea of what other people will hear, but not an idea of what you’re really making.

A studio monitor isn’t being used just to make your music sound good. Sure, if you’re creating fantastic work, it’s going to sound just as amazing when you play it back through your studio monitor. But the primary goal of these particular speakers is to be another tool in your repertoire of precise and musical creation.

four studio monitors on speakers stands

Like most equipment necessary for a recording studio, studio monitors come in a variety of different styles, sizes, brands, and weigh in at drastically different price points. When you’re just starting to build your studio and produce music, shelling out hundreds of dollars for a studio monitor is a tough pill to swallow. Thankfully, there are some fantastic quality monitors that you can get for just under $200 that will still get the job done.

Studio Headphones

Even though studio monitors are going to give you an accurate representation of the sound being produced, there’s still no way to go forward with making hip hop or electronic music without a good, sturdy pair of headphones. Don’t rely too heavily on either studio monitors or headphones; you need both to get your beats off the ground. I’m not talking about your AirPods, either. Studio headphones are a specific type of headphones that is useful for critical listening. Much like the studio monitors, studio headphones flat frequency response that makes it easier for you to hear what’s actually being created.

headphones on piano keys

Headphones Buyers Guide

Like most of the other equipment on this list, there are different brands and styles of headphones and choosing one depends on what you’re creating and how you need them to work. Let’s take a look at some different styles of studio headphones and decide which works best for electronic and hip hop music creation.

Open-back Headphones or Closed-back Headphones?

The “back” of the headphones here is referring to the part that goes over the ear. Closed-back headphones are going to keep the sound closer to your ear, while an open back is going to allow the sound to extend outward. Choosing between them really just depends on whether you’re working in a primarily quiet or loud environment. In a quieter studio space, the open back headphones will sound brighter and crisper, while the closed-back headphones will block out any other sounds in a noisy environment.

On-the-Ear or Over-the-Ear Headphones?

Just the way they sound, “on-ear” headphones sit on your ear while “over-ear” headphones encompass the entirety of your ear. When it comes to hip hop and electronic music creation, I have to recommend any brand of “over-ear” headphones. The ability to have complete sound isolation when you’re doing those late-night mixes is a huge advantage. Since the “on-ear” headphones don’t seal over your entire ear, there’s no way to get an accurate sound quality from them.

What is the Frequency Response?

Pretty much any brand of studio headphones is going to advertise the frequency response. When looking for quality headphones, don’t make the rookie mistake of being taken in by a wide range of frequency alone. If you’re not familiar, human hearing is measured in hertz (Hz), as is frequency. Humans can usually hear anywhere between 20 and 20,000hz. Some headphones will advertise a frequency response that goes as low as 5hz and as high as 30,000hz.

You’d think that a high-frequency response means better sound quality, but that’s not always the case. The frequency response curve is the actual significant bit; this tells us the dips and peaks that a headphone has compared to others. What a high-frequency range is good for, however, is giving you the ability to hear the “openness” of the mix that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to hear with standard headphones. This can stop you from making any mistakes in editing your tracks.

MIDI Controllers

Last but not least, your studio setup won’t be complete without a MIDI controller. So what is it, and how does it work? And more importantly, how do you choose? “MIDI” is short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. A MIDI controller is a device that facilitates communication between your computers, musical instruments, and other hardware.

It helps transmit data rather than transmitting the actual audio signal. A MIDI controller is super beneficial and compatible with your DAW of choice. MIDI controllers go hand in hand with the MIDI instruments, also known as synthesizers. This is where all of the flair and style comes in, to really make your beats stand out. The synthesizes come with hundreds of different instrumental sounds. Drums? You got it. Guitar? Definitely. Bass? You bet. MIDI instruments and MIDI controllers are also compact and portable.

How To Choose The Best Midi Controller?

Obviously, choosing a MIDI controller that works best with your electronic beats is your number one priority. Other than the type of music you’re looking to play, you’re going to want to consider a whole host of different design and configuration needs. Let’s get into it.

mixer vs audio interface cartoon letters

Controllers vs. Keyboards

MIDI controllers are often sold hand in hand with the MIDI instrumental keyboards. However, you may find that you prefer one over the other (or both!). MIDI controllers don’t produce any sound themselves. Instead, they use the sounds from your computer or a sound module.

There’s plenty to love about a controller: namely, the prices are relatively reasonable, and you can upgrade your software without having to upgrade to a whole new keyboard. The controller is the device with the square tiles. MIDI keyboards are the small keyboard controllers that range in all different sizes and octaves. They’re perfect if you want to have more control over the sounds you’re producing.

Number of Keys

If you’ve decided on purchasing a MIDI keyboard along with your controller, you need to have a vague idea of how many keys you need. A MIDI instrument has keys ranging from just a single octave to a full piano of 88 keys.

If you’re pretty skilled and want the entire range, a model with four or five octaves will work just fine. But, if you are just looking to play a basic chord and add some flair to your beats, then a one or two-octave key setup will be better. Of course, even if you do find yourself proficient with a full-size MIDI controller, you might find that the smaller, more compact versions work best for you depending on your studio space and your travel needs.

Other Controls

MIDI controllers and keyboards can be used for more than just simply entering notes into the software. Depending on the type of MIDI controller you decide to use, you may also have the option to use faders and extra controls. Most MIDI controllers come with some kind of sliders, knobs, and faders to get into the nitty-gritty of your electronic composition.

music studio monitor with daw

Summary

Ever dreamed of having your own home recording studio to help you really cash in on your electronic and hip hop beats? Dream no more. This comprehensive guide will help you figure out what you need, the best brands, and the best equipment that works for you, your style of composition, and your budget.