Music production equipment is essential in any studio setup! Make no mistake. Modern-day music production always starts with a computer and a DAW. That being said, some hardware tools can definitely improve your workflow.
Without the proper music production equipment, you will encounter countless problems…
Drawing notes on a piano roll might be an intuitive process at first, but you will NEVER get the feeling of composing with a real keyboard!
Listening to mix-downs through your cheap monitors or headphones will be counterproductive…
Not being equipped with an audio interface to connect your studio monitors and microphones to is again probably not the best starting point…
Being in a noisy, unadapted and untreated room can also severely diminish the audio quality of your mix-down…
The solution is to invest in quality music production equipment! Without further ado, dive into our essential studio gear guide!
Music Production Equipment | 5 Essential Items
1. The MIDI Keyboard, an essential Piece of Music Production Equipment
Functionalities & Added Value Of MIDI Keyboards
Why should you consider buying a MIDI keyboard?
It is an extremely useful piece of music production equipment…
A MIDI keyboards fosters creativity, and is well-suited for piano players (or to improve piano playing skills).
Such a device will enhance the process of musical composition overall. It will also make your practice music theory.
Melodies will come up naturally.
The mapping of your keyboard with drum sampling libraries will even allow you to play drums.
Music production will be much more enjoyable.
You can automate software sound parameters, through knobs and sliders you will find on your MIDI keyboard.
It will considerably speed up your workflow. Mapping different knobs and faders will be a great starting point to learn about automation and sound design possibilities.
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MIDI Keyboard Sizes & Further Thoughts
In terms of music production equipment for beginners, we wouldn’t recommend MIDI keyboards with 61 or 88 keys. A smaller size would be much more adapted. Smaller MIDI keyboards are also more portable.
The Akai MPK mini which is at the same time small, portable and easy to set up (somewhat cheap) is a very good option. A downside is that playing chords on this one will be more tricky.
Buying a MIDI keyboard is an important purchase in our opinion. You won’t make a mistake if you add this option to your existing setup!
Some days you will feel like using a keyboard to write your melodies. On others, it will be more tempting to immediately draw notes on your piano roll.
If there are other products you should probably consider before buying a MIDI keyboard (studio monitors, headphones), the latter will certainly improve your piano playing skills.
2. Studio monitors
Sound Quality & Features
Why are studio monitors an essential piece of music production equipment?
They are used at all stages of music production (arrangement, mixing, mastering)!
Nothing matches studio monitors for a sound reference..
Professional studio monitors make the whole music production process much more enjoyable and this can significantly improve your workflow.
When you have both monitors and headphones you can A/B your mixes and have several sources to check upon.
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What kind of studio monitors do I need?
The monitors that you should be looking for are the ones which have a full-frequency response (covering the entire spectrum).
Their frequency response has to be flat which corresponds to an accurate representation of sound. NONETHELESS, monitors alone won’t be anywhere near as efficient if your room is not treated acoustically!
In turn, your mixes will be more compatible with every single sound system when they are mixed on near-field monitors.
Mixing on monitors provides you with
When mixing with headphones the phantom center, the mono signal is inside your head. With speakers, the spot where two channels produce a mono signal is in front of you. This allows for a more accurate spatial dimension. With headphones, this spatial dimension is restricted.
Studio Monitors Value & Results
With studio monitors, your mixing skills will improve. But it will take time to develop a good hearing!
There is always the option to ask an audio engineer to do that job. HOWEVER, it is much more rewarding to mix your own tracks, and only send them out during the final mastering process.
The truth is that monitors will improve your productions and mix-downs. Even if your room is untreated, the end result will improve. They will bring your production skills to a higher level.
In case you’re already producing great-sounding mixes, which are limited by a low quality audio setup, you should definitely consider buying a pair!
If you are a beginner in music production you should consider several facts:
- As a beginner, your ears are not trained at listening! Therefore, you probably won’t get the same benefits as someone who is more experienced.
- Monitors only account for 10 % of rendered sound. You should not expect your monitors to improve the overall sound quality of your mix if it is flat out bad!
- Producing music is not just about mixing. Music theory, arrangement and sound design are other areas worth looking into!
3. Studio headphones
Pros & Cons Of Studio Headphones
Headphones can also be used as a reference next to your favorite pair of monitors. Some people prefer to mix on headphones!
No matter how good your headphones sound, you should always pair them with a good set of studio headphones. Headphones will not provide the best stereo image. That being said, they will give you insight
Your headphones should be flat in their frequency reproduction. As a rule of thumb, our ears have the flattest response at 80db SPL. Any studio headphones in that range will produce excellent results.
Another recommendation would be to mix at low volume levels with headphones. If your mix sounds good at low volume levels, it is on the right path!
How To Choose The Right Studio Headphones?
You should consider the headphones which maximize audio properties and qualities in your price range. Consider an additional headphone amplifier, if it is an accessory you think you will need. Asking yourself what usage you make of your headphones is also key!
What sound properties do you appreciate? More highs or lows? Even if studio headphones are not “colored” in EQing, some will still emphasize bass compared to other ones.
Other considerations should include the durability and resistance of the product.
Reading online forums and reviews (Reddit, Gearslutz etc..) can be useful to understand what other users think about them. But in the end, you should always try before you buy. Moreover, you will want something that is portable and convenient.
Our advice would be to produce your independent evaluation based on the comparison of a few pair of headphones!
4. Audio interface
Functions of an audio interface
A central piece of music production equipment is the audio interface. It provides the conversion between digital and analog audio signals.
Digital audio is converted from your computer (0100110) into an analog audio signal which goes anywhere from -3.3V to + 3.3 V. This conversion can also be made in the opposite way (from analog to digital).
More importantly, an audio interface allows you to plug in microphones, cables and your studio monitors!
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Important audio interface criteria
If you are looking to record live audio (microphones and guitars), you will need an interface including inputs. When you are recording a drum kit, for example, a lot of inputs will be useful.
Microphones will require phantom power most of the time. This is a feature included on most audio interfaces. XLR microphones always require phantom power. Line-in instruments such as guitars don’t necessitate phantom power.
What audio interface accessories do you need?
You will need additional balanced cables (TRS & XLR).
It is possible to supply phantom power to the microphones that require it. Some devices provide a stereo output.
Most audio interfaces only provide balanced mono inputs. Therefore, you’ll have to split your stereo into mono to make it compatible.
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Audio interfaces are specifically dedicated to the conversion of audio, offering better and faster drivers than a computer sound card (less latency).
They also provide low-noise connectors to your high-quality monitors on the contrary to a regular 3.5 mm stereo jack.
Furthermore, the ADC’s on the audio interface provide for much less recording noise than the built-in mic of your computer.
For the recording of live audio, the audio interface is a must!
Is an audio interface really a must?
An audio interface WILL NOT reduce your CPU load by any means. It won’t take care of signal processing or CPU-like functions!
It is true that some audio interfaces with DSP capabilities do limit CPU usage but most of the time it’s not the audio processor that is the issue, but the computer!
What an audio interface WILL DO is connect your computer to high-quality speakers and record audio signals with much less noise..
Audio interfaces are not a necessity but they are a nice upgrade in your studio set-up. This tool is definitely a valuable asset for your music production in the long term.
5. Acoustic treatment
Why do I need acoustic treatment?
The aforementioned tools should help you, but they won’t be efficient unless your room is accurately representing sound.
Reflections or resonances of any sort will jeopardize the whole music production process! The way this happens is that your sound will be muddy because of unwanted reflections… This will make it almost impossible for you to mix in an efficient way!
You can use any monitoring system as long as you are aware of what it is doing to the sound. If you use monitors and your room is untreated, you won’t be able to see what it is doing to the sound.
And if the mix does not sound good on your high-end studio monitors, there is a big chance it won’t on any other sound system!
How can I treat my room acoustically?
Sound travels in ALL DIRECTIONS once it leaves your studio monitors. It doesn’t simply hit your ears..
Depending on the environment, it will bounce off walls, ceiling and floor as well as other objects in your room!
To prevent these sonic reflections, or listening to music out of phase, you should purchase acoustic foam, diffusers and a bass trap.
You should know that every room is different and should be considered individually. There are small and large rooms which have furniture or curtains, responding differently at different frequencies.
The MORE surface area you cover, the BETTER your room will be isolated!
It is important to start by placing bass traps in the corners of your room to absorb bass frequencies.
Behind your monitors and at the first reflection points, it is helpful to use broadband absorption. Treating the ceiling could also improve the mixing results. If you have windows you should consider a thick acoustic theater as for isolation.
Conclusion | A music production setup comprises specific music production equipment. Building a studio adapted to your needs is not the most straightforward process.
However, a MIDI keyboard, studio monitors, studio headphones, an audio interface and acoustic treatment are all incremental music production equipment!
What all of these products have in common is that they are the first tools you should consider when starting out to produce music. Without a DAW (article: What is a DAW?) you can’t make music, but an incomplete setup won’t take you any further. While physical tools are essential, one should not underestimate the power of learning. Music theory (article: music theory) constitutes one (if not the most) important knowledge you can acquire in your path to proficiency.