WHAT IS ALL THIS, WHY DO I NEED IT, AND WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT TO SPEND?
Your Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW) consists of your mic, which connects to your interface/pre-amp, which connects to your computer, which will have recording software installed on it. Can you record things that “sound fine” without all this? Sure, but if you’re getting serious about recording for voice-over or music, you’ll want to start looking into upgrading your set up to give you more control and achieve higher quality sound. Keep in mind that pricing for gear and gadgets is certainly all over the place, and recommendations tend to be very personal.
Some vendors will bundle some of these products to save you some money! You won’t be able to handpick your products, but if you don’t have any preferences it’s a good way to get started! You can always upgrade individual items once you get more familiar and start becoming a gear nerd like the rest of us 😀
Hot tip: If you start to get a little cross-eyed as this list goes on, skip straight down to the BUNDLES section at the bottom! You can’t go too wrong there!
SHOP SMALL BUSINESS!
You’ll see some great deals around this time of year, it’s the perfect time to invest in equipment since you’ll likely get some of the best prices of the year! While it’s very common for a list like this to include affiliate links that would send me a small commission for my recommendation, my goal this year is to promote small businesses and struggling retailers because 2020 be crazy and I want to pay some good will forward! Sweetwater customer service has been so so kind to me, so I’m going to primarily use their websites as a thank you to them. Bonus, every shipment comes with a bag of candy! And speaking of shipment, it’s been my experience that Sweetwater has very quick shipping—which is also important to me!
If you can, I recommend that you buy early and buy from small local music stores, and smaller (than Amazon) retail companies like these:
- Sweetwater Black Friday Sale
- Musician’s Friend Black Friday Coupon deals
- Guitar Center (who have been struggling for the last several years!)
(While the above retailers aren’t exactly SMALL businesses, they could use your business, and Amazon will be fine without your gear purchases this year!)
- Jim’s Music Store in Tustin, CA
- Feel free to submit any SMALL MUSIC STORES you love and I will add them here! Even if they aren’t close to So Cal!
Microphone recommendations are very personal (all voices are unique and will require different mic needs) and prices are all over the place. I did a lot of research based on some recommendations, and finally settled on a mic to buy. I purchased it, but it was (thankfully) out of stock. Thankfully, because the nice sales rep, AJ from Sweetwater, emailed me to ask me if I wanted to wait for that mic to come in, or if I wanted recommendations for something I could get sooner. Uh, sooner, please! I told him about my voice quality (loud ha!) and that I was planning to use this setup for online voice lessons, as well as tracking vocals for remote vocal directing. He recommended a mic that was the same price as the one I was trying to buy, and he even thought it was a better choice based on what I told him about my needs.
Great Black Friday Deal! I paid $299.99, the sale price is $239.99
*This is what I use! I’ve loved this mic. The sound is very clear. I feel like it represents my voice very well, and it’s relatively quiet, so there’s not a lot of “room” sound captured. Comes with the shock mount as well, which is a bonus!
This is the mic I was originally trying to order! Many people love this mic, and bonus, it comes with a shock mount AND a pop filter! See the bundle at the end of the list for even more savings opportunities!
This one is recommended a lot on the professional singer Facebook Group I’m in as a budget mic that some have said performs even better than $1000 mics they’ve tried! I haven’t used it so I don’t know personally, but for the price, it’s a good place to start!
This one comes highly recommended. After some research, it didn’t seem like the right choice for me, but some people swear by it!
When you start to look around, you’ll hear names like Rode, Shure, Neumann, Warm Audio, Blue… These are all good brands for home audio! Let me know when you’re ready for some higher price point recommendations and I can pass on a few more ideas.
Paul Bothner Music says, “Because of the thin diaphragm, condenser mics are used to pick up delicate sounds. … While condenser mics are great for capturing acoustic guitars, they don’t work well for big booming sounds. If you want to mic up a singer with a powerful voice, or any big booming sound, your best option is a dynamic microphone.” I’ve chosen to feature condenser mics because even with big voices, you’ll want more detail in your lower tones, and you can always back off the mic and the gain as to not overpower the mic. Again, mics are highly personal and there isn’t ONE truly “all-purpose” mic. My best advice is to just get started with something, and you’ll learn as you go!
I used to use the Blue Snowball. I like it because it has 3 settings: one for speaking, one for louder instruments and voice, and one that uses a circular recording pattern so it will pick up sound from all around the mic instead of just from the front. Many people also use it’s cousin, the Blue Yeti, but as far as I know, the Yeti doesn’t have the setting adjustments like the snowball does, although I believe it records in slightly better quality.
USB mics are definitely limited when it comes to audio recording, but they are “plug and play” which is more user friendly if you are just looking to upgrade your basic sound from your computer’s icky internal microphones.
What is an Interface and why do I need it? For a great breakdown on what an interface is, check out this article from Yamaha
Or from this fairly quick video from Music Repo that breaks it down quite nicely!
There ARE USB mics you can directly plug into your computer, which would bypass the need for an Interface, but this is limiting and will give you lower quality results. The pre-amp in the interface allows you to control the level of your (vocal) input. If you’re singing very loudly, the Interface will allow you to “turn down” as to not distort the sound, or if you are using Zoom and someone says “I can’t hear you”, you can turn up to be heard better. The Interface covers more range and converts the sound with more clarity than a USB mic.
Your audio interface will help you to prevent “clipping” which is when your voice overpowers the mic, by allowing you to control the gain. The gain is essentially the how much sound is able to enter the microphone. Your interface will usually have indicator lights: green, yellow, and red. You’ll want to stay in the green/yellow area. Red will mean clipping and distortion of the sound. When you are singing loudly, you’ll want to turn the gain down and stay in the green/yellow area of the indicator. If you’re in the red, you’ll need to turn the gain down. You can also turn the gain up for when you are speaking or using a quieter volume. You can always make the volume a little louder after the fact in editing software, but if the sound has been distorted, there’s no way to fix it.
When shopping for an interface, you’ll want to make sure that the inputs (what you plug into it) are sufficient for your purposes (I need two inputs since I use voice and piano) and that the cable that connects to your computer is appropriate for your needs (I use PC and Android, so any interface that only has a lightning cable and no USB will require me to purchase an adapter).
*This is what I use (2 inputs, so a mic and a keyboard at the same time). It’s a fine beginners interface. Many seasoned producers will want more power (and I can tell you, after a few months using this, I agree and will need to upgrade soon), but upgrading is appropriate for me and my volume of use, whereas most people will be fine with this model, or even with the solo version listed below. Having the two inputs allows me to control the volume on both my keyboard and my voice, which is really helpful when teaching lessons.
(1 input, mic only) It’s a fine piece to learn on. You can plug in a microphone or an instrument, but only one at a time. Most people just starting out should be fine with this model. If you play an instrument and sing, you’ll have to record each individually (whereas the 2i2 above allows you to record “live” both voice and instrument symoltaneously) but if budget doesn’t allow, this one will do just fine.
Apollo Interfaces are well known to be better quality interfaces and pre-amps. The price point is definitely farther away, so if this is not in your budget, start with the Focusrite, and when you’re ready to upgrade, keep this line in mind!
A pop filter acts as a shield between your mouth and the microphone. It cuts down or even eliminates the “pops” created from fast-moving air and consonants, or plosives such as P’s and T’s. These, like all other gear, vary in price and quality. There are 2 different designs, 1) a nylon mesh type material, and 2) metal. I’ve been given advice to stay away from metal, but I think that was just a personal preference or maybe a matter of finding the right metal pop filter. I like that metal filters are more hygienic since they can be cleaned easily. There are some great recommendations for pop filters, as well as other recording gear at E Home Recordings Studio
Note: some mics have a pop filter built into the mic’s grill! That’s a fun feature!
I’m still on the hunt for my perfect pop filter. I don’t like the gooseneck design (even though that’s currently what I have) since it gets knocked around, and the gooseneck joints tend to lose their grip and eventually won’t hold their position. I’m going to try these out:
I’m really excited to try this style! It won’t fit all mics. If you’re using a dynamic or any other hand-held style mic that has a longer shape, this won’t fit. But since I am constantly swinging my arms around and flailing, and playing piano for my students, so it will be nice to reduce the clutter in my space.
At $69, this is higher than your average $15-20 nylon screen. And it IS part gooseneck, which we know I dislike. But it’s nice for me to have a gooseneck option for my other style mics, and this one comes with a good review from Front End Audio on youtube
This one also comes recommended from ehomerecordingstudio.com
Boom Stand / Mic Stand
Just like the other recommendations, you CAN start with a cheaper flimsier stand. But at some point you’ll want to upgrade and use something more durable and quality. I have Ultimate brand, but the part that twists tends to strip and I will buy these ones next time I need to buy stands:
Boom Stand: Hercules boom Stand
Straight Stand: Ultimate Straight Stand
I do like a straight stand for my Snowball mic, and for my H4N recorder (which I didn’t talk about in this post, but I’ve also used to record live audio)
Great Black Friday Deal!
These are the monitors I use. Yes, they are very expensive, and not necessary for everyone to have. I bought mine originally to use on stage as in-ear monitors for my live band performances. They are AMAZING and worth every penny. I just looked at my receipt and I paid $649.99, so this is a HUGE discount! They have 5 drivers and really do a great job separating the sound/instruments so I can hear myself better. I was using some low quality headphones for teaching lessons before until someone recommended I try using my in ear monitors. The difference was not only obviously better, it was DRAMATICALLY better, it was like the clouds opened and the angels sang.
Westone UM Pro 20 $189.99 Great Black Friday Deal!
These only have 2 drivers but still great reviews! This is also on a great Black Friday Deal with savings of $110!
For an over-the-ear option, these come recommended. They have a semi-open back, which means there is a little bleeding into the recording, but allow the singer to hear a little more ambient sound. This means they can hear themselves better (This is why singers often sing with one ear phone out of their ear, but it’s harder to get a true representation of the sound this way, and can even be harmful to the ears in some cases).
Audio-Technica also comes highly recommended, although I haven’t used them myself. These come in a gorgeous purple color, and a fresh white! I am tempted to get some… I do need a pair of over-ears to have in the studio… hm… (See? Gear nerding out!)
Shure SE215 Sound Isolating Earphones $89.00 Black Friday Deal!
These are no sale for $10 off their normal price, and while the discount isn’t massive, it’s a great option for a higher quality earbud monitor for less that $100. I have these and they are great! My Westone UM Pro 50’s blew them out of the water, but they were a HUGE step up from the low quality purchased-at-Target ones I was using before.
This one is important. There are WILD differences in the quality of cables you can and will buy. A lot of times when there is a malfunction in your sound experience, the problem is a bad cable, which is why it’s good to have a couple extras on hand. We buy our cables from Pro Audio LA They are a small business in Los Angeles that custom cuts and creates your cables. This custom experience has allowed us to purchase higher quality cables at lower prices. They have different brands of cables available and can put any connectors on them that you could need. And if you’re in or driving through LA, you can choose to pick them up instead of paying for shipping.
If you’re going to double your purpose and use your cable for a small live setup, you’ll want a longer cable (at least 25-30 feet) but if you’re just using it for recording, you’ll only need the length it takes to go from the mic, wrapped around the stand, to the interface, so about 10-15 feet, and you’ll want a male and female connector.
Nick (my boyfriend/guitar player/bandleader) recommends the brand Canare Quad XLR Cable with Neutrik connectors (male and female) And while our primary purpose for cables was live performance, I’ve been using these cables for in studio purposes for years and they’ve worked very smoothly and lasted through many many hours and years of use and abuse.
For ProAudioLA.com it does require you to know what you’re looking for since everything is custom, but from this page you should be able to just select the style and the length and you’ll be good to go.
Nick says Mogami is also a high quality, popular brand. This model number comes recommended as a great all-purpose cable.
If you don’t want to bother with the custom selection, here are some links for premade cables of the same brands.
It’s good to have a few of these around. I have one of these plugged into my interface so I can plug in my earbuds monitors that have an 1/8 inch standard headphone connector. Many studio headphones will have a ¼ inch connector, so you might not need these right away, but much like a back-up pair of earbuds, they are useful to have around.
LOWER PRIORITY BUT HELPFUL
These come in very handy! I don’t have this particular model, but it’s a trusted brand, and the next time I buy one I will most likely try this one.
I have and like this one! It’s very useful to be used on stage, for work, for teaching, for recording, etc. Highly recommend adding this to your arsenal!
Active Speakers/Studio Monitors
You’ll need these when you get more serious about mixing and producing, or when you just want to know what it sounds like “in the room” on proper speakers. Placement for studio monitors is just as important as quality. There are also shock absorbers you can buy. I don’t have recommendations for these since I have a beautiful pair of Roland monitors that were passed on to me from (literal) Rockstar friend of mine who couldn’t pack any more in their suitcase when I worked on a cruise ship, and that model is sadly discontinued.
As I mentioned before, sometimes you can get a great deal on a bundle, especially when you’re first starting out! You can upgrade each item as necessary overtime, and add to your arsenal as you go, but sometimes this can be the best way to just get going! When buying a bundle, it’s important to look at “What do I actually need?” If you don’t need two boom stands, it might not be a good deal for you.
This one is the solo Focusrite interface, the AT2020 mic, and a cable. The savings on this is only about $15 and the cable is most likely cheap. All you need is a stand for the mic and some headphones you’re in business!
This is the mic I was originally trying to buy. This bundle is a great deal! It comes with the mic, an awesome looking pop filter that is specific to this mic, a shock mount, an interface, an XLR cable. These are all Rode brand
This is part of a “choose your microphone” option. There are 3 mic options, but this is the least expensive. I love Blue mics and have used them for many years now. This comes with the mic (you can read about the differences if you scroll down), a stand, a cable, and headphones. All you need is the interface!
This is part of a “choose your microphone” option, but the P220 and the C214 options are what I would recommend. These do not come with an interface, but they do come with a stand, cable, mic, and headphones, so pick up an interface and you’re ready to go!
This bundle came recommended from that Facebook singer group. It comes with a decent mic, an interface, a boom stand, a pop filter, a cable. The AKG mics come recommended and this comes with a beautiful carrying case plus the shock mount. This is a very good starter kit, with a savings of ab out $50 when you buy in the bundle versus purchasing individually.
Quick note about Computers: As you get more serious about all this, it’s important to have a computer with high processing functionality such as upgradeable or max RAM and/or an SSD Drive. This can all seem overwhelming and like a big investment, and it is. Try to remember, it’s important to start where you are, to determine what your needs are and then upgrade gradually as you start to grow.
I know this can be VERY overwhelming. Start with the basic needs (computer, cable, interface, microphone, and something to put the microphone on) and go from there. Keep budget in mind and remember you can always upgrade later. And there are a GAZILLION reviews, comparisons, and tutorials on YouTube, YouTube is your best friend now!
Happy Holidays, and I’m excited to hear what you create with your new Digital Audio Workstation!