There is a question that we are asked over and over here at Production Expert - “What insert type of studio gear here should I buy? The challenge that we often face with this type of question is that we need more detail to be able to help. A version of this frequently asked question would include what you intend to use the gear for as well as a budget. For example: “I have a budget of around $1,000, I want to buy a studio starter kit that will enable me to record my songs. What gear should I consider buying?
To help as many people as possible we are producing a series of articles over the coming weeks, which will presents a range of different studio gear starter kits with a budget of around a $1,000 that with cover a variety of typical audio recording production fields including:
Voiceover, dialog and podcast recording
Audio post production for video content creators
$1,000 may not sound like enough money to buy all the appropriate studio gear for these fields but you will be surprised what is available if you put in the research. To stay within the $1,000 budget we have assumed you already own a computer, which may need updating a little and that you can start off using free DAW software for recording, editing and mixing audio. Taking out the computer and the DAW software means you have the full $1,000 budget available to spend on the key audio elements that matter the most like microphones, interfaces and monitor speakers that, if chosen well, will serve you well for many years to come.
Recommend Computer Specifications For Studio Starter Kits
If you are looking to buy your first studio starter kit then it really doesn’t matter what type computer you use. Mac or Windows, desktop tower or laptop, in reality computers all do roughly the same thing at the end of the day. What you will need to do is check that the computer you intend to use has enough power under the hood to support and run your DAW of choice and other audio production applications you want to use in your audio production field to get you going.
Typical minimum specifications for audio production computers are as follows:
Minimum of 16 GB RAM: In most cases 16 GB RAM in a computer for a studio starter kit is enough to get going with, though 32 GB is recommended if you intend to produce music using sample based virtual instruments. Such VI's demand lots of RAM are typically piano, drum and orchestra libraries. Most affordable off-the-shelf desktop computers come standard with 8 to 16 GB of RAM, laptops vary between 4 to 8 GB RAM. Most DAWs system requirements state a minimum of 4 GB RAM, while this modest amount of RAM will get your system running it may not be enough to support track counts in excess of 8 channels along with several plug-ins instantiated in a session. Keep in mind that you may need to upgrade your RAM at some point in the future if you are using a computer that has 4 to 8 GB RAM. A tell-tale sign that you need to increase your RAM is when your computer struggles to run a session, or starts taking a while to do something. Luckily, RAM isn’t expensive and can be sourced from companies such as Crucial or OWC and is, depending on your system, usually quick and easy to install.
Two Hard Drives: All computers come with one main boot drive. This main drive hosts your computer’s operating systems, applications, and documents, which is sufficient for everyday domestic digital life but a single drive isn’t always enough for the demands of audio production. A second drive, being either an internal drive or an external USB drive, for all your media will prove to be very handy as you can use this to record and store your projects. This will help to improve the performance of your computer when editing and recording audio which should help to limit the chances of your computer crashing when under the load of using a DAW for audio recording and production. There’s no reason to not get a second drive as they are inexpensive these days. We do recommend that you go for SSD drives as they are super fast compared to traditional HD drives, though if you intend to buy an older style drive that we refer to as spinning rust drives then you must get 7200rpm drives, anything slower may not be able to keep up with your DAW. For more on buying hard drives check out our Buying Guide - Everything You Need To Know About Hard Drives For Digital Audio Workstations.
Processors: You are typically looking for at least an i5 processor or an AMD multi-core processor. If you look at the specifications of the different free DAWs later in this article, you will see that some of them are more choosy when it comes to processors. Note that Pro Tools First is not approved with any AMD processor, Cakewalk is a Windows only free DAW and that Studio One Prime is the most ‘forgiving’ of all the free DAWs that we feature here. In simple terms, the faster the clock speed the more things a computer can do in a finite amount of time, the aim should be to have the fastest computer with the highest number of cores. However when budgets are tight choices will need to be made. When it comes to processor speed versus the number of cores (processors), there is the debate as to whether you should have more cores (dual, quad, etc) and slower processing speed or higher processing speed and less cores. When it comes to audio and DAWs they tend to support what is called ‘multi-threading’, which means that more cores at a lower speed is preferable to higher processing speed and fewer cores. That said,
Recommended Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) For Studio Starter Kits
There are a range of DAWs, the industry standards include the likes of Avid Pro Tools, Apple Logic Pro X, Presonus Studio One and Steinberg Cubase, all of which are exceptional audio production applications. However, to purchase a perpetual license for any one of one these would put a significant dent in the $1,000 budget. Please avoid the temptation of using cracked versions of any of these as software piracy is theft… For more on this read our article Using A Cracked DAW Or Plug-in For Free? Stop Now - It's So Easy To Be Caught Red Handed & Prosecuted. Watch This Music Producer's Video Confession In Which He Admits The Error Of His Ways
…instead, to save money on investing in a DAW to get you started we recommend that you go for one of these free DAWs:
Pro Tools First
Released in 2015, Pro Tools First was designed to offer a complete set of audio and MIDI features for easy music creation. It offers the same core tools as Pro Tools, though this is a free slimmed down version so don’t expect all the bells and whistles of the full fat version of Pro Tools. First enables you to save your audio productions as projects of which you have three projects (songs) that will be stored in the cloud for free. Pro Tools First comes with 23 stock plug-ins including Xpand!2 instrument library.
The features in Pro Tools First are limited to a maximum of 16 audio tracks, 16 Aux tracks, 16 Instrument tracks, and 16 MIDI tracks, more than enough to record and mix a song with. We have a range of free tutorials here… Watch our free Pro Tools First tutorial videos
To get Pro Tools First, visit Avid to sign up and download Pro Tools First for Mac & Windows
Pro Tools First System Requirements:
Intel Mac with macOS Sierra (10.12.6), macOS High Sierra (10.13.6), or macOS Mojave (10.14.4)
Note: OS X 10.9 or earlier will not work, and there are known issues with OS X 10.10 Yosemite
Intel PC with Windows 10 (build 1809)
Note: Windows 8.1 and previous are no longer tested or supported with Pro Tools First
Intel i5 processor
4GB RAM (8GB or more recommended)
Minimum 1280 pixel wide monitor screen
Internet connection for installation
15GB disk space for installation
USB-port, FireWire-port or Thunderbolt-port for CoreAudio-supported audio device
Supports Marketplace in-app purchased AAX plug-ins in Pro Tools | First
PACE hard disk authorization (no iLok required)
Presonus Studio One Prime
Project page (Mastering, DDP, Red Book CD burning, digital release)
Chord Track and Harmonic Editing
AAF (Advanced Authoring Format) import and export
Import Song data
Third-party plug-in support (AU, VST2, and VST3 plug-ins and ReWire applications)
If you decide not to buy Studio One after 30 days it continues to work in Studio One Prime mode, so you've not wasted time creating songs that no longer open. For more on using Studio One Prime check out our article Studio One Free - You Want A Copy Now? Here's How To Get It Today And Use It For As Long As You Like
Visit Presonus to download Studio One Prime for Mac and Windows.
Studio One Prime System Requirements:
macOS 10.11 or higher Intel CoreTM 2 Duo processor (Core i3 or better recommended)
Windows 7 (SP1 + platform update), Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 x64
Intel® Core Duo or AMD AthlonX2 processor (Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon X4 or better recommended)
Studio One 4 operates on 64-bit operating systems only.
4 GB RAM minimum (8 GB or more recommended)
Internet connection (needed for installation and activation)
Monitor with 1366 x 768 resolution (Retina display recommended)
A multi-touch enabled monitor with TUIO support is required for touch operation
40 GB hard-drive space
For Apple Mac computer owners, GarageBand is a free DAW that you can download from the Apple App store for all Apple laptops, desktops and iOS devices. It’s a credible DAW, which is also compatible with Apple’s flagship DAW Logic Pro X. GarageBand has all the tools that makes it incredibly easy to record, mix and master. If you own a Mac, don’t underestimate the power of GarageBand, think of it as a one-stop-shop for creative music production without the headache of having to learn a complicated application.
Visit Apple for more information about GarageBand.
Windows users often feel a bit left out when they hear about GarageBand on Apple devices as there isn’t a comparable free DAW for Windows… or is there?
In April 2018, BandLab Technologies having bought the intellectual property when Gibson closed Cakewalk, released Cakewalk as a Windows only free DAW package which delivers a free professional DAW for all with no barrier to advanced music production. Cakewalk offers unlimited Audio, MIDI, Instrument, Loop, and Auxiliary Tracks in every project, regular updates delivering significant stability and performance enhancements and ARA2 technology. For more on the latest free version of Cakewalk check out our article Did You Know That There Is A Free DAW That Has ARA Support? - We Investigate What Cakewalk Can Do
Visit BandLab to download Cakewalk for free.
Cakewalk System Requirements:
Windows 7, 8/8.1 or 10 (32- or 64-bit)
2.6GHz Intel or AMD multi-core processor (at least Intel i5 or AMD A10 APU recommended)
5GB hard drive space for minimal install (20GB recommended)
1280x800 monitor resolution (1920x1080 recommended)
ASIO compatible hardware is recommended
Studio Gear Starter Kit For Specific Audio Applications
As we said at the start of this article, the question “What studio gear should I buy?” isn’t a detailed enough question. You need to consider and establish exactly what style of audio application you intend to use the gear for, otherwise you’ll end up buying equipment that you won’t use at all or not use to its fullest potential. It’s smart to start by getting just the essential gear you need to get you going and then slowly add to your rig as your requirements change over time.
In this series of articles we will present a number of different studio starter kit suggestions based on a variety of common audio production fields to help you to not only find the gear you need but to also help you to understand why we have suggested the gear we’ve chosen for each application and offer a range a alternatives too. They will all be based on a setup where you already have a computer you can use and will be based on you choosing one of the free DAWs to get you going.
For example, the next article in this series will suggest a studio starter kit for self producing songwriters. In the article we will provide three different kits, each under $1,000 that will include the microphone, monitors, audio interfaces and headphones, all the essentials you will need to get started to produce and record your music.
Don’t forget that many plug-in developers also offer free plug-ins, and we have free plug-in searchable database. We aware though, that Studio One Prime does not support any 3rd party plug-ins and although Pro Tools First does support some additional plug-ins, these have to be purchased through the Avid Marketplace to make sure you get Pro Tools First compatible plug-ins.