Setting up a home recording studio

2009 April 27


One of the questions I seem to get more than any other is from people wanting to know how to record their own flute playing. As I use fairly expensive, pro equipment and software for my recordings I’m never sure how to answer this as I assume that most people don’t intend to spend a lot of money.
So I called my friend Hal the person I buy most of my gear from at West LA Music and picked his brain a little. Hal gave me a few options for people wanting to put together a small, inexpensive set-up to record themselves and we’ll look at two different options in this post. At the bottom you’ll find contact info for Hal and I highly recommend you contact him before buying anything.

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WHAT IT ALL MEANS: Understanding the terms
Before we start let’s talk about a some of the components and what they do.

A Mic converts sound waves to electronic impulses. The better the Mic, the better the conversion, the better your recording sounds.

Audio Interfaces:
An audio interface (or I/O) converts the electronic impulses from a Mic into the 1s and 0s of digital code. The better the audio interface the better the conversion into digital code. Audio interfaces also convert the digital code back to electrical impulses that go to your Monitors (speakers). Again the better the audio interface the better the sound delivered to your speakers and thus your and your listeners ears.

FireWire and USB:
These are types of cables that carry the digital code between your computer and the audio interface very quickly.

Monitors are very refined speakers that ideally give you a flat response across the frequency spectrum. This means they don’t color the sound. Monitors are a lot like Mics in reverse.

Recording Software:
Recording Software is the application that displays and edits whatever you record to your computer. Think of it like a very powerful virtual studio. A Multitrack tape deck, mixing board and studio effects like echo, EQ and others all in your computer. Recording Software application also go by the accoynm DAW for Digital Audio Workstation.

Obviously you need a computer and for this article unless otherwise specified we’ll be talking about PCs and equipment and software that works with PCs. (Personally, I’m a Mac guy…)

OPTION #1: Studio in a Box
The first option that is out there is to buy everything you need in one box. There is a package
just like this put together by Røde Microphones called The Røde to Recording System. It includes:

1 Røde Microphone
2 Studio Monitors
1 Firewire Audio Interface
1 Steinberg Cubase LE (the recording software or DAW)
Cables, a setup manual and some other goodies.

This set up comes with a mic stand for table top use, but for recording a Native American flute you’ll need a full studio/stage mic stand. Usually these are not much money although you can certainly find expensive ones. The manufacture’s suggested price for the Rødes system is $1099.95 but you should be able to get it for about $750. Just like buying a car, you don’t pay the sticker price. That said retailer can only haggle so much before they lose their profit.

OPTION #2 Build it Yourself
This second option is to put together all the components yourself. This give you more control over each piece and could end up saving you money. The prices listed below for each component is a ballpark as to what the unit should cost, not the sticker price. The actual price may vary but not much.

M-Audio Mobliepre USB Audio Interface. $150.00
M-Audio StudioPro 3 Studio Monitors. $100.00
Audio-Technica AT 2020 Microphone. $100
Cakewalk Home Studio 4 Recording Software. $100

The total of these components adds up to $450.00. However you still need to purchase a Mic stand. Never-the-less you will most likely spend about $100 less than the Studio in a Box option.

The next step up is to move into Pro and Semi-Pro gear. I use MOTU’s Digital Performer (Mac only) and a couple of their audio interfaces and a fairly high quality Audio-Technica microphone. Each of these cost between $750 and $1000.00. I also use a stand alone a stand alone Aphex Tube Mic Pre-Amp, rather than the mic pre-amps in the I/Os.

I know that for many of you spending $500.00 might be a lot of money, especially in today economy, but to put this into perspective a top of the line iPod costs about $350 and all it does is play back music. Most studios spend thousand of dollars on their equipment and software. A single microphone can cost $3,000 and or more. So this relatively speaking, this is the best way to go.

Many of you have asked me if the sound card on your computer will do the stuff that an Audio Interface does. As a Mac user I don’t really have a “true sound card”, but I do know that the process of crunching the digital numbers from your mic to your computer and back to your speakers takes a lot of computer power. If you have your sound card do all that work it takes power away from your computer’s built in processor and will slow things down like redrawing windows and can even cause digital audio clipping and distortion. Also most sound cards are not built for professional audio recording and are not made using the best and cleanest components. However, if you’re really on a tight budget you could use option #2 and not purchase the Audio Interface right away and use your sound card temporary. Trust me, you’ll want a better sounding I/0 sooner than later.

Just like the flute makers listed on my site, I only recommend people or companies that I use and like dealing with. I buy 90% of my studio equipment from Hal Stevens at West LA Music. I find him to be straight forward and knowledgeable. While West LA Music does sell to the average Wannabe Rocker they also sell a lot to professional musicians like myself and understand our needs. Plus I think Hal is just a nice guy and easy to deal with. Don’t forget that out of state purchases don’t pay sales tax and West LA Music ships all over the world. Plus I just like dealing with a real person. He can be reached at (310) 477-1945 or at

You can also find gear at but I would recommend that what your purchasing is actually sold by and not one of their affiliates. There is also Musician’s Friend, which is owned by Guitar Center, with whom I’ve have mixed experiences, and Sweetwater who I never dealt with. There are any number of online outlets.

There is a lot more information about Native American flutes, recording them, playing them and their history on my website If you’re not a member of my E-mailing list you can sign up there as well.

76 Comments leave one →
2009 April 28
jim cook permalink

great idea for a topic and solid info. for those not in california, Sweetwater is a great online source with excellent service during and after a purchase.

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