Essential Basic Gear for Home Recording

by John Bonnell
Copyright © 2013 John Bonnell

So, you've got a computer, an interface, and some software, or maybe a standalone recorder, well, that's the easy stuff. What a lot of people don't realize is, just about any recording device available will produce excellent results, but the far more important things to consider are the devices used to get whatever sound you're trying to capture into the recording device. If you really want to get off on the right foot, and make your life easier and recordings better sooner, you'll not want to skimp on these basic tools.

A dynamic microphone:

Namely, the Shure SM57. It is a studio standard for good reason: you can do anything with it. Dynamics are essentially trouble free, and a professional quality dynamic isn't very expensive. Condenser mics are great, and excel at picking up nuance and detail, but even if you have a $12,000 condenser, there will be situations where a good dynamic will prevail. In noisy environments, a dynamic is usually the best option, or where it will be subjected to high sound levels. The SM57 is simply a solid, basic tool to have.

Quality cables:

There are many quality brands available, such as, Canare, Belden, and Gepco, for wire, and Switchcraft, Neutrik, Amphenol, and G&H, for connectors. So many noise issues can stem from cheap cables, as well as ridiculous frequency loss.

Microphone stand:

That often overlooked purchase, but cheap stands can be more of a liability than an asset. If you're going to use an expensive mic (or heavy mic), you'll appreciate a quality stand. Quality stands function more smoothly than cheap stands, and are much more stable. My preferred stands and booms are made by Atlas Sound.

Pop filter:

I recommend the K&M Popkiller. It's the best pop filter I've found so far, and not overly expensive. High quality, and light weight, with a double layer filter.

High-quality headphones:

This is one of the single most important things to have. Get the best you can possibly afford. Your ears will thank you. My favorites are the AKG K240, AKG K271, Beyerdynamic DT 770, and Beyerdynamic DT 880.

Everything else is secondary to these basic pieces. Better microphones (either modified or stock), better preamps (I recommend getting at least one quality preamp at some point, such as the John Hardy M-1), monitors, effects, etc., all of these things are worth having, as well, but you'll make better choices when you have a solid reference to start with. And everything will just be easier, and sound better, which is what it's all about.

My clients include total beginners to award-winning producers. What I've learned from all of them is that we are all just trying to get things to sound the way we envisioned them—to sound good.

Additional Resources

Knowledge is the most essential thing to acquire in any endeavor. Here then are some helpful books:

Musician's Guide to Home Recording—Peter McIan and Larry Wichman: Excellent book on making due with what you have available. Though largely focused on analog recording, the tracking, mixing, and practical knowledge applies to digital recording, as well.

Modern Recording Techniques—Huber and Runstein

Master Handbook of Acoustics—Everest

Sound Reinforcement Handbook—Davis and Jones: While geared toward live sound, I believe the Sound Reinforcement Handbook should be required reading for anyone involved in sound reproduction and recording.

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