For beginners, entering the world of music production and recording can be a life-changing decision. We remember the day (or night, considering we made our first track until the sun came up) we downloaded a free trial of Sonic Acid Pro (now with Sony) and some random sounds we were able to scrounge up from search engines with little to no knowledge of how all of this even worked. To our surprise, the song came out pretty coherent, and since then, we were hooked! Fast forward to today, and we not only continue to make music semi-professionally, but also have this website to provide others with knowledge and information we’d like to pass down.
With that being said, the best music gear for beginners is a very broad phrase, so today we decided to compile a large guide not only explaining the necessary equipment to get your home studio up and running, but also our favorite picks and recommendations for each category to help you narrow down your search. Considering how many e-mails we get from you all (keep them coming), perhaps this guide can serve as a “FAQ” for those intrigued by the creative process and music equipment industry as a whole. As always, feel free to ask us any questions if you need further help. Let’s get started, and again, congratulations on your new music journey!
Table of Contents
Although our highly rated music equipment and gear guide helps spell these out as well, let’s take more of a starter route and simplify what all of this means. We remember when we first begun our production endeavors and felt quite overwhelmed with how much “gear” is out there. In our opinion, you’ll be able to upgrade later down the road with other, smaller additions to your studio. You do always have the option to skip buying everything at once and perhaps looking into recording studio bundles. Otherwise, we’ve been able to simplify what you’ll need right out of the gate below.
- Music Software: We’ve listed music software first as your number one priority because without it, any gear you may have already purchased (or have thought about grabbing thus far), simply will not work without your software backbone to control and use it all. As many in the industry call them ‘digital audio workstations’, which music software to use will always be a big conversation (rightfully so). We’ve seen musicians and producers only stick to Pro Tools while other professional artists still use simpler solutions such as Garageband or FL Studio to this day — many will say it doesn’t matter ultimately, and it’s all about the artist and creativity. Although we do agree (somewhat), for today and the sake of us just getting started, in our experience and research we want you to keep in mind that you should buy music software that has a mixture of affordability, widespread support from the brand as well as users on the internet (questions will definitely come up, and yes, prepare to Google questions through out your learning endeavors), as well as a solid learning curve to give us not only a simple starting software to make music right out of the gate but a DAW that also provides us with advanced features that we can learn later down the road when we start to up the ante in our music production workflow.
- Production Computer: Next up, what’s some music software and gear without a rig to run it all? If you already have a computer, great news: it may be able to hold up for music production, especially when you’re just starting out. Our first advice is to at least try the current computer you’re on (if it’s a laptop, you can still try, but be wary that you may need a new rig with more power and speed). If you do need to buy a new production computer, here are our guidelines for choosing one:
- Make sure you have an SSD (Solid-State Drive) to handle the requests from your DAW and various music equipment
- 8 GB of RAM or higher
- Processor of at least 3.0 Ghz or higher
- Dual Core processor type or higher (preferably i5 and up)
- Video card doesn’t matter — nowadays, pre-built computer rigs have great video cards to where your programs and VST’s will run quite fine with no lag
- 1TB of hard drive memory (even though that’s more than enough and your actual hard drive memory isn’t too relevant when it comes to making music unless you save various sounds, FX and tracks consistently alongside your projects — or if you’ll be using this computer for other office work or leisure applications as well)
- Studio Monitor Speakers: There’s a big difference between regular ‘computer speakers’ and what musicians of all types around the world term ‘studio monitors’. Computer speakers are great for everyday use, gaming, leisure listening and more; however, studio monitors on the other hand have a special internal build that is specifically for those making music, mixing and mastering in the studio, or really, those who want a ‘accurate sound’. The most important part to note is the separate components inside of studio monitors — tweeters for the high frequencies and subwoofers (yes, mini subs inside of the speaker) for the low frequencies. The result? A more accurately depicted sound so musicians can have a cleaner canvas to work with and know exactly what they’re presenting to their listeners.
- Studio Headphones: We’ve heard debates in the mixing and mastering world when it comes down to headphones vs. speakers to track. For us however in the beginners world, it really just comes down to our mood — sometimes we like to produce with headphones on to have a more intimate and focused environment, while other times we’re in a bumping and thumping mood to blast what we have thus far out loud (usually at the end of the song as opposed to the beginning). In our opinion, and if your budget allows — we recommend both to give us versatility to switch accordingly. One more quick note: don’t let that ‘studio headphones’ term (quite saturated and over played) fool you — there’s a big difference between headphones marketed as ‘studio-grade’ (looking at you Dre) and an actual pair of studio headphones (that also have a unique build like studio monitors — they help us have more clarity in our mixes as opposed to headphones that up the bass and start to clog our sounds that our listeners won’t necessarily hear).
- Audio Interface: This was a relatively newer piece of music equipment we hadn’t heard of when we first started making tunes. Think of a device that’s made to specialize in processing audio, organizing gear, and giving us further customization in certain settings for how we want to record sounds — gain, master volume, switch between devices, and more. Our computers just simply aren’t made (yet, or those that are cost quite a few thousand dollars) to be as efficient and optimal as possible for audio processing. We used to refer to these as ‘external sound cards’ — the mechanisms inside are just better at storing and processing audio signals. They can also provide something called ‘phantom power’ for various instruments, especially microphones (many condenser microphones, which are preferred by studios everywhere, need additional power since their smaller build can’t provide it properly if it goes straight into your computer). Aside from mics, you can plug-in all of your gear (headphones or studio monitors) as well as instruments (MIDI controllers, guitars, digital pianos, and more). Our biggest piece of advice here is to make sure you find an audio interface that has enough connections to handle all of your intended gear and instruments — look for “ins and outs” and the count (if you’re using multiple microphones, look for more than one XLR input, and for instruments, TRS.
- Recording Microphone: Whether or not you need a microphone will of course depend on what type of music you’re intending on creating. For singers or instrumentalists, you’ll of course need a device to capture those beautiful sounds — and to keep it simple, if you’re in a studio, we highly recommend buying a condenser microphone (our choice below is our favorite for beginners). This is because condensers are ideal for applications that call for accuracy (just like studio monitors and headphones), frequency ranges of most vocalists or instruments that don’t have high SPL (sound-pressure level, typically drums), as well as overall sound and power to suit studio musicians. For those performing on stage, look into dynamic microphones as they’re ideal for live applications. If you’re doing both, you’ll have to buy one of each.
- MIDI Keyboard Controller: Buying our first MIDI keyboard controller changed our life. To define what they are if you’re unaware, they are essentially a ‘blank keyboard’ that uses external sounds (Virtual Instruments, also known as VST’s, listed later) to customize what you’re playing on the device. These sounds are controlled in your music software. The possibilities are endless — you can find VST’s for everything, such as drums, strings, vocal choirs, orchestras, weird spacey FX, or the traditional piano sound we all love. Some even come with drum pads to assign individually like a drum machine. We’ll admit that we were sample-based producers for nearly a decade and didn’t even know how to play the keys. However, once we finally got ourselves to grab a MIDI keyboard, it opened up more windows and doors of opportunity than we could count. Let us say this — even if you don’t play keys right now, buying a MIDI keyboard can help jump-start your abilities or ultimately inspire you to learn. Even if you can’t ‘play the piano’ or never want to, you can still use a MIDI keyboard to add additional sounds or FX to your tracks. It’s more of a ‘why not?’ question, and in our opinion, remains as one of the staple-points of home studios in the new age and technological era we’re currently in.
- VST Plug-ins and FX: As we had explained MIDI controllers to act as our blank canvas to be programmed to sounds and FX, here’s what we would title the palette and color switch of the process as a whole. Standing for Virtual Instruments, VST’s are essentially just that — instrument sounds that have been converted to data to keep in your PC and use with your MIDI controllers and other music equipment gear. When they were first introduced into the world, we were stunned at the opportunity to here. Nowadays as technology continues to advance, if there’s a sound that exists in the world, there’s most likely a VST for it — be it pianos, strings, keys, synthesizers, drums, multi-cultural sounds, space FX, sounds you’ve never heard of before, actual voices, literal choirs from churches, and more. The whole VST game is very broad and in-depth, so once you get into it, you’re going to be collecting sounds forever — just embrace the process if you can, sometimes it can be overwhelming with how much is out there.
- Control Surface: As we had seen previously a MIDI keyboard leave us a blank slate to customize how it will sound, control surfaces work in this manner as well, however allow you to control and tweak sounds, FX and settings aside from just keys and drum pads. Control surfaces commonly give us external “control” over our DAW, such as mixer capabilities, faders, footswitch jacks for punching in recording, looping, blank assignable keys to program as you wish, transport buttons, and more. Control surfaces vary extremely when it comes to overall shapes, sizes and capabilities, so we found one of our favorites to get started on, but keep in mind there may be others out there to buy as well. It will all depend on what exactly you want to control with your fingertips, or to leave to your software with your mouse and keyboard. To us, it’s listed lower here because many can get away with not having one, but if you do feel it can be of use to your recording studio, be our guest.
- Audio Mixer: Last but not least, we’ll talk about one more hidden gem in the music equipment for beginners realm. This isn’t a “necessity” by all means, but we do feel that audio mixers can be useful to some if your needs match up with what it can bring your home studio. Although many control surfaces bring us mixing boards on the unit themselves, those that do are often quite expensive. So depending on what exactly you wanted with your control surface, an audio mixer could be a great addition if you don’t have the ability to combine sounds, rout, change volume levels, pan, tweak the timbre, or transmit different audio signals (if you’re using multiple microphones). Many are quite affordable and the particular model we chose is well under $100, but we still feel it will entail the question of “will I really use this?” or perhaps “will this help streamline my work flow?”. Who knows, it may be something to revisit later once you get a feel for how you work with your software and other gear.
Up first, and as explained previously, we have the backbone of a digital home music studio — software. There will always be much discussion (which is fine, without debates, we won’t learn as much) on which software is best to start out considering how many amazing solutions there are in the world today; however, with our personal experience and research through out the years, we’ve come to the conclusion that FL Studio is by far one of the simplest yet most powerful DAW’s to start learning on. It is software that is known to be one of the best in multiple “production and recording levels”, so it isn’t just for starting out — it will be an investment well into the future. FL Studio comes with everything you need in one package to compose, arrange, record, edit, mix and master professional quality music. It also offers full audio-recording and post-production features that allow you to record and manipulate external and internal audio including pitch correction, pitch shifting, harmonization, and beat-detection to name a few. The software also includes over 32 software synthesizers covering acoustic/synthetic bass, electric guitar, multi-sampler tools such as piano and strings, general sample playback, and beat-slicing. The interface is extremely easy-to-use, with great visualizations of your tracks to help you mix, copy, paste and edit your canvas. It’s compatible with all MIDI controllers and other external gear you’ll be grabbing for your studio, and you can even sample or import separate tracks on top of it all. This is just a brief highlight of what FL Studio is capable of — we recommend trying out the free trial to see what we mean and really experience it all (even if you don’t have gear yet, just download it and play around to get a feel for it). It also comes with tons of support for future questions, not to mention the great learning curve that’ll last you years (perhaps a life time, we know many professional musicians who still use FL Studio today!).
Before we get into our pick for a beginners computer, we want to shed some light on the Mac vs. PC debate. In our opinion, either option works — and again, opinion is everything, and this is just ours. In the end, either computer will work and allow you to power up all of your beginners music gear accordingly. The only time we feel this will ever be relevant is in the talk about software — we still see some DAWs only work with one OS (such as Garageband for Mac, or Sonar for PC), and until everybody is able to get on the same page with compatibility, we’ll be free of this debate forever. Today however for beginners, we love the capabilities of PC’s and flexibility they gives us. For our favorite music production computer, the Lenovo ThinkCentre is top-notch. We’re huge fans of Lenovo pre-built PC’s due to their tank-like build as well as longevity backed up not only by our own personal experience but user reviews as well. The PC has a Windows 10 Pro operating system that is easily paired with all software, programs, and equipment. The processing and overall power of the Lenovo is fast but just keep in mind you can spend more or less for different specs depending on your budget. We’ll highlight the pick we have linked above – an Intel i5-6400 quad-core processor that will be sufficient enough to run all your programs at once without any delay. Storage shouldn’t be a problem either, as it has a pretty large 240 GB solid state drive (SSD — remember, always get SSD for music recording and production!) which is good for the price you are paying. The ThinkCentre also comes with the necessary ports for your equipment; the front includes 2 USB 3.0 and 3.5 mm microphone and headphone inputs (we still recommend an audio interface), while the rear port of the desktop comes with 2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, a serial (9-pin), Ethernet, and VGA. The real meat on the Lenovo ThinkCentre is the processor and hard drive (SSD), which are both very solid for the price and more than enough to get you going on your music recording endeavors. This is a computer that is considered in the list of the best music equipment for beginners due to its speed, power, affordability and compatibility.
Here we have some of our favorite studio monitors to get you started on listening to your tracks clearly and precisely, the M-Audio Studiophile AV-42 – which deem to have a place in the best beginner’s music equipment due to their simple plug-n-play and portability, affordability, power and of course, accurate sound to give us a confident depiction of what your sounds should sound like. The AV42 speakers are two-way desktop reference speakers that have a 20-watt per-channel amplifier with Class A/B architecture for providing higher power. These budget-friendly speakers feature the internal structure and sound that can start to rival some more of the expensive competitors out there. They aren’t by any means professional, but will act quite fine for beginners or even semi-pros before you get into the super expensive thousand-dollar monitors for pro studios. In terms of inside, they come packed with a 4” polypropylene-coated woofer for a dope, tight bass, while also bringing 1” ferrofluid-cooled silk cone tweeters to supply some of the clear highs you will need in order to accurately monitor your creations. The speakers by M-Audio also have magnetic shielding for use near computer video monitors (only a concern for CRT, not LCD), which may come useful when you’re in the studio for extra protection. They also have back-panel TRS and RCA inputs for connecting gaming systems, DJ gear, mixers, amps, and so forth, along with a front-panel stereo auxiliary input for laptop, computer, MP3 player, or other audio sources. Aside from the power and sound, the build of wood cabinet framing combined with a bass reflex port design of the M-Audio Studiophile AV 42 will have you bumping your beats and songs in your home studio in no time.
Time to switch to a more private and precise listening environment? Now we move onto some headphones, and in our opinion, one of the greatest of all time — the Sennheiser HD 280 PRO. These studio-grade, over-ear and closed-back headphones have a comfortable yet durable design built for professional monitoring, producing and recording applications. Although they thrive in monitoring applications, the compact, wired over-ear design will also be one of the best beginners music gear for just about any application to give you more than just headphones for music — use them for anything else out there, even leisure listening, gaming, movies, shows and more. In terms of specifics, the Sennheiser HD’s have a high ambient noise attenuation and accurate, linear sound reproduction that will have you focused on your applications – providing you an engaging listening experience while you are learning and making music. The drivers feature a solid frequency range (8 – 25,000 Hz), while supplying a sound pressure level of up to 113dB. The Sennheiser’s also come with soft ear pads for a pretty ergonomic fit, as well as swiveling ear cups which offer a little more flexibility (especially if you want to DJ later on). Combining pretty great and clear sound for an accurate depiction of our songs, rugged construction and an affordable price, the Sennheiser HD 280 PRO is without a doubt included in the list of the best music equipment for beginners. Headphone audiophiles will back us up on this one.
Next on our guide, we have the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, which is known to be the face of audio interfaces in the beginner music equipment world. Now before we get into this as our pick, keep in mind that audio interfaces vary by many degrees in terms of ins, outs, XLRs, MIDI and more. This particular model is their most popular since it brings us that ‘2i2’ — which means 2 mic inputs and 2 outs for instruments. There are other Scarlett versions available (such as their 4i4, 6i6, etc. — catch our drift?). For beginners, we feel this model will be best unless you foresee yourself needing more than two microphone inputs or you also have numerous instruments you want to plug-in at once (you can always switch them out during recording, unless you’re keeping a live band all in sync). The Scarlet 2i2 is a small, 2-in, 2-out USB recording interface featuring 2 installed Focusrite preamps. In terms of build, this audio interface is housed with a rugged aluminum unibody chassis that looks quite sleek (a famous scarlet red at this point — we’re looking at ours right now) while also doing an adequate job at protecting the interior structure. The easy connect-ability make the 2i2 a good choice for recording the output of a synthesizer or stage piano, while also being able to cater to the output of an electric or acoustic guitar/bass at the click of a button. It also helps beginners out by coming with illuminated halo indicators that let you know when you’ve got a solid enough signal for recording – red means bad, green means good. The direct monitor function allows you to hear what you are recording through your speakers or headphones without having any latency delays to distract you. The Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 serves a great option for an audio interface for beginners due to its portability, affordability and simple connectivity to get those microphones or instruments powered up and organized.
A microphone may not seem like a tough piece of gear to find, but you’d be surprised when actually digging deeper. The Audio-Technica AT2020 is a side-address studio condenser microphone that is known to be a huge winner as one of the best music equipment for beginners in particular project/home-studio recording applications. The mic combines its rugged construction with a wide dynamic range to be able to handle all vocalists and most instruments (even with high SPLs fairly) in the studio easily. The AT2020 has a low-mass diaphragm that is engineered for extended frequency response (20Hz – 20kHz) and solid transient response which is important for your highs and lows to accurately grab all of what’s in front of it. The cardioid polar pattern of the AT2020 helps reduce pickup of sounds from the side and rear, ultimately improving isolation from the desired sound source – important and in our opinion mandated when recording vocals. It also comes with a pivoting stand mount for easy, secure attachment and placement of the microphone, although you’ll have to buy a wind screen and mic stand separately so just keep that in mind. This one offers solid durability and good quality sound for the price you are paying. If you need something economically priced, the Audio-Technica AT2020 is simply useful and quite powerful for the price.
Picking one MIDI keyboard was hard, believe us. When it came down to it however, we wanted to give you a mixture of what one should have — decently built keys, drum pads, some faders and buttons to top it all off, and a solid build to ensure it lasts as an investment. Also keep in mind that MIDI keyboards come in various key counts (25, 49, 61, 88), so if this particular count was either too little or too high, just know there are options. For beginners, we do feel 49 is a great, in-the-middle count to get you going. Let’s get to the details — The Novation Launchkey 49 is known to be the quick-and-easy MIDI keyboard for recording and performing all types of music using any DAW software compatible with Mac/PC/iOS (we haven’t heard of it having trouble with any DAW). The Launchkey 49 gets its name from the 49-note board that also comes with synth-action keys, 9 faders/buttons, 8 encoders, 16 pads, and dedicated transport controls to name a few. The keys are called “synth-action“, which act like a synthesizer with loaded springs that come up quickly and easily with each press — you’re not getting an emulated piano-build (those are called hammer-action and get quite costly), however you still get a comfortable keyboard that easily playable. It is also “velocity-sensitive”, which means you can pack your songs with expression and the overall “volume” of the keys you press will be determined by how “hard” you push down. On top of it all, the Launchkey 49 can be drug from gig-to-gig without any struggle, due to its plug-and-play efforts with laptops, plus you don’t need any drivers or power cables since it is USB-powered — just be safe when you transport it. It’s tough to find a solid MIDI keyboard that won’t break your wallet; however, the Novation Launchkey 49 is one of our favorites and makes it in here as a pick to add in the list of the best beginner’s music and recording equipment that transforms your studio into a capable and customizable box of tools.
Now that we’ve highlighted a pick for a MIDI keyboard, how about some paint to add to your canvas? When we first bought Komplete we’ll be honest — we were overwhelmed with how many sounds we had at our fingertips. It took us a while to mess around and really explore it all — we had a hard time settling down with just one sound since there were thousands at our fingertips. Once you settle down however, we feel you’re literally set for life. Before we continue, just keep in mind this is very costly. So we’d like to at least link you to Splice — an awesome website with amazing free plug-ins, FX and more. Moving forward however, the Komplete 11 is unmatched if you’re able to invest in it. This is a plug-in collection of 45 separate types of virtual instruments, processors, and effects supplying you with everything you’ll need to create and produce professional-quality music of any genre. The 45 instrument collection spans up to 13,000 sounds totaling up to 155 GB of content, including synths, drums, pianos, cinematic instruments – you name it, the Komplete 11 can probably make it. The creative samples, powerful synthesizers, classical instruments, and other virtual instruments provide you tons of songwriting power and ideas. You can also add an extra layer on your tracks by sprinkling one of the wide array effects out of the collection in the library on your tunes. The Native Instruments Komplete 11 is compatible with virtually all DAW, AAX, VST, and AU plug-in hosts on Mac or Windows PCs. If you have some money to spend and you’re somewhat creative and willing-to-learn, the N.I. Komplete can be a good choice for beginners — as said previously, you’re essentially set for life with sounds and FX and won’t ever have to worry about this side of the music gear game.
Solid surface control is often overlooked in a studio, as people think since they have the monitors, headphones, or instruments, they have it all at their fingertips. However, it’s also important to be able to control your software when recording or performing in a more streamlined manner. You’d be surprised at how much it helps the creative process by being able to speed up your work flow and hot keys. The nanoKONTROL2 is although lower in the list, still one to add in as a tool in the box of the best recording gear for beginners for controlling your music software that comes with 8 faders, 8 knobs, 24 buttons, and even a dedicated transport control selection. It is small enough to fit in front of your laptop/computer, making it easily fit in your existing setup or to be efficiently stored when you have to go on the road. To go more in-depth, the 8 channels of the controller are all provided with a knob, fader, and 3 switches that you can respectively assign to pan, volume, and solo/mute/record – this comes into play when recording automation for multiple channels. It also comes with a marker button that assign marks, which is crucial when you need to record certain parts in your song for more efficient and easy song production. The Korg nanoKONTROL2 is a pretty cheap, simple and convenient pick for beginners music equipment, being USB-powered and also supporting a number of software titles including all major DAW programs.
Lastly, we have the Behringer XENYX 502, a 5-input, 2-bus audio mixer with powerful XENYX mic preamps that is great for beginners that allows you to easily mix your audio signals if needed. The mixer features 3 input channels (one mono and two stereo) and a 2-band EQ, which make it best suited for studio or live use. The XENYX mic preamp, two stereo channels with dual 1/4” inputs, and CD/tape I/O allow you to easily handle your input sources all in one unit. You can also easily send your mix straight to your studio monitors or sound system with 2 1/4” outputs. On top of it all, the Behringer weighs only 1.2 pounds – perfect if you are a more of a constrained setup or small performance gigger. The Behringer XENYX502 also offers a very manageable price that most of its competitors cannot match, so if you’re on a budget, this can serve as a great choice with use reviews to back up its image. It’s mostly geared towards beginners who want to perform live, or feel the need for an audio mixer instead of a control surface in their home studio. It was a tough choice to cap off our list of the best music gear for beginners, but it eventually made it in here due to its mixture of capabilities and aim towards starters.