Your Home Studio For Only $500 – Part 1

| Pro Tools

Note: The below Pro Tools rig no longer exists. For two different options of studios for only $300, check this out.

The number one question I get as a music producer from bands, songwriters, and worship leaders is this: “How much do I really need to spend on home studio equipment to get a professional sounding recording?” In this simple 2 part post, I am going to cut through the hype and tell you exactly what you need (and don’t need) to not only get started with home recording, but to excel at it and create quality recordings. (I’ll give you a hint…it ain’t much).

Computer – $0
I’m going to be honest with you. I am assuming you already have a computer (mac or PC, laptop or desktop) that is relatively new (within 2 years or so). If you don’t have a computer already then I don’t know how you’re reading this blog to begin with, and I don’t know how you’ll get much more out of this post. So make sure you have a decent computer to start with (not the cheapest processor, 1 to 2 gigs of RAM, a hard drive with plenty of space on it to record to). Each type of recording software will have certain requirements but that should get you started no problem.

Recording Software – $0
PRO TOOLS 8 NICE 2Since computers have become so powerful, they have replaced the mixing console, recording tape (DAT, 2 inch, etc), as well as all the outboard gear (compressors, EQs, reverbs, etc). What you need is recording software, specifically known to recording geeks as a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). There are many to choose from these days, and I have used a whole slew of them. But at the end of the day, the program I keep coming back to is Digidesign’s (Avid’s) Pro Tools…and here’s why:

  • It’s both mac and PC compatible. This means you don’t HAVE to get a different kind of computer to use it. Run it on your PC or mac, or both!
  • It’s easy to learn and use. Of all the DAWs I’ve used, Pro Tools is by far the easiest to get up and running in, while at the same time offering so much depth. Plus, since it’s so widely used and loved, there is an abundance of free resources online to help get you started!
  • It’s a complete package. You don’t need any other plugins, virtual instruments, or software to make amazing recordings. It’s ready to go out of the box!
  • It’s the ‘Industry Standard’. Despite the controversy surrounding this, Pro Tools is far and away the most used recording software in the industry. You’ll find it in practically all major studios for music, film, and TV. The great thing about making your studio a Pro Tools studio is that you can take your sessions with you to almost any other studio in the world and your files will open up flawlessly on their system, ready for you to keep working!

Now, that sounds great and all Graham, but how is this wonderful Pro Tools software FREE? Simple, just purchase on of their audio interfaces (see below) and it comes free! You can’t get a better deal than that.

Audio Interface – $295
Since you don’t have a $500,000 mixing console in your bedroom you’ll need some way to get your sounds (guitars, vocals, keyboards, etc) into your computer and into the recording software. This is where an audio interface comes in. They come in many shapes and forms (and brands of course), but I’ll give you my simple recommendation… Get the Mbox 2 Mini from Avid.

mbox2miniIt is a simple device that plugs into your computer via USB. It doesn’t even need a separate power cable. It is a 2 channel interface which means you can record up to 2 channels at a time (guitar and vocals let’s say). It comes with a great microphone preamp, guitar and bass input, and stereo keyboards inputs. You can plug in speakers and studio headphones to it to listen to your tracks. It of course comes with a free copy of the latest version of Pro Tools LE (version 8 as of this writing), which as I mentioned contains everything you need to make top notch recordings.

I don’t think people realize just how good of a deal this is and just how powerful Pro Tools 8 with an Mbox 2 Mini can be. With the exception of being able to multi track drums with more than 2 mics (more on this later) you can do EVERYTHING with this box!

Studio Microphone – $99
With the exception of recording virtual instruments or guitars/bass/keyboards direct, you will need at least one quality microphone to handle all “acoustic” recording. And by that I mean your vocals, acoustic guitars, guitar amps, drums, percussion, salt shakers, or anything else you can find in the physical world that makes a cool sound! Again, you could spend thousands of dollars on one mic alone, but why…when you can get a top notch studio mic for less than $100. Here are my recommendations in no particular order. Pick one and be done.

Audio-Technica AT2020

Studio Projects B1

Samson C01

M-Audio Nova

Behringer B1

These are all studio condenser microphones which means they are sensitive enough to capture the crisp air on your vocals and acoustic guitar as well as the fat tones from your rocking tube amp and your kick drum. If you grab one of those five mics above you will have a swiss army knife type mic that will get the job done for you every time!

Basic Accessories – $99
The remaining items you’ll need (and you do need these) can be had for under $100 easy. These aren’t very exciting accessories, but believe me you will use them every time you make music and will come to depend on them. Not much detail here so just trust me on these. Here we go…

Mic stand ($29) – It holds your microphone in any position you need. Grab this one from Samson and be glad you didn’t get a cheaper one that will break on you in a month.

Mic cable ($25) – You obviously need a quality mic cable to hook your microphone up to your Mbox’s preamp. Nothing fancy here.

Pop filter ($20) – This keeps your vocals sounding nice by blocking the loud plosives (“P” and “B” sounds). Again, not interesting at all, but trust me you will need this.

Studio headphones ($17) – You will need these while you are recording. It allows you to listen to previously recorded tracks so you can sing or play along without the sound “bleeding” into your microphone. Plus these are great for editing and even mixing your songs in Pro Tools. Can’t beat the price on these puppies.

Summing It Up
Whew! If you’ve made it this far in the post than you truly must care about getting a home studio up and running. Good for you. Too many people think it’s either too expensive to do it right OR it’s not worth their time or money to make a small investment in their music. Both ideas would be dead wrong. There has never been a better time in the short history of recorded music to get your hands on some basic gear that will allow you to create pro sounding recordings for this cheap!

So summing it up. If you follow my advice you will have a simple, portable, powerful, and professional Pro Tools studio with a versatile microphone and accessories to help you capture your ideas as demos and as studio quality recordings. And you will have done it all for exactly $485 before tax! If you don’t have an extra $500 or so laying around then sell some junk, work some overtime, or eat nothing but ramen noodles for a month so you can get the cash you need to make a sound investment (no pun intended) in your music career.

Still To Come…
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where I’ll talk about how to get the most out of your $500 home studio setup!


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84 Responses to “Your Home Studio For Only $500 – Part 1”

  1. Shannon

    Graham, I’m planning an upgrade from my Korg 16 track to a Pro Tools based setup. So this kind of advice is *exactly* what I need. Thanks!

  2. charles

    I’m considering purchasing the Mbox 2 Pro. I am a guitar player in my band that is interested in saving some money in a professional studio by picking up the Mbox 2 Pro and learning Pro Tools. Have you had any experience working with the Mbox 2 Pro? The price is a little steep ($699-$799). Are there any noticeable differences in quality between the Pro and the lower model versions? What are your thoughts?

    • Graham

      Hey Charles – The Mbox 2 Pro is a great box. It costs more than the original or the mini because you get more inputs/outpus and firewire connectivity. You also get some digital connectivity like S/PDIF and word clock. In terms of noticeable differences in quality among the Mboxes, I would say heck no. Just grab whichever one fits your needs I/O wise and roll with it. You’re getting digi conversion and pres and Pro Tools LE all across the board. Can’t go wrong!

  3. Barco van Rhijn

    I’m a newb and am looking at setting up a home studio initially for song writing and recoding Ideas and demos. And am looking for gear that will be flexible enough for use in a live worship band as well. I would basicly want to run loops and sometimes backtracks and maybe some IEM and in future maby a soft-synth hooked up to a keyboard on stage.

    It’s so hard to find out what you really need. Like you said in your article, salesmen and the industry are trying to get you to buy as much gear as possible.

    It seems that most gear is not extendible. How many I/O would I need?

    I was looking at the M-box mini’s specs. According to information at it can only record up to 24-bit/48 kHz. How much sound quality difference are we talking between 24-bit/48 kHz and 24-bit/92 kHz. In theory it seems to me that the quality should be double before you downsample?

    Will this interface be sufficient for what I plan on doing?

    • Graham

      Barco – I record everything at 24 bit/44.1kHz because I don’t hear a difference good enough to warrant taking up more space on my hard drives. I think the Mbox Mini will be plenty good for you in terms of sound quality. As far as I/O go, it is great for songwriting and recording (minus multitrack drums). Thanks for being a reader!

  4. charles

    Thanks for the response. I have a question regarding recording guitar. I have a Mesa Dual Rectifier that I would love to use to record guitar but currently live in an apartment, so hooking up the amp to mic it does not seem realistic. Is there anyway to plug the amp direct into the Mbox 2 to record directly to Pro Tools? Should I plug the guitar direct into the Mbox 2 and use amp models in Pro Tools (which I assume there are plugins for) to record guitar. What would be a good option considering my circumstance? Thanks!

  5. Graham

    If you can’t turn up your amp in your apartment, your next best option is to record direct to the mbox like you mentioned and use something like Eleven Free (which comes with Pro Tools 8). They even have a mesa model! I do this all the time.

  6. Barco van Rhijn

    Graham, one more question I need to settle. Do I need midi? I would like to play midi tracks in by using a keyboard. Can I do this without midi i.e. by using an kb with a usb interface? Would I be able to record piano this way while singing?

  7. Allison

    Hey Graham, awesome blog. I was wondering about the name and function of that device that envelops the mic (like you used to record your demo for the SL 150 mic on youtube). Is to better capture sound when recording in open spaces? where would it be placed in a room ideally (against wall, etc)? Thanks again man.

    • Graham

      Thanks Allison – It’s called The Portable Vocal Booth from Editors Keys. It basically functions as sound isolation and absorption close to your microphone to eliminate room reflections and unwanted noise getting into your mic. Helps you get a cleaner recording.

  8. Aaron

    What do you think of the Shure SM 57 and 57 microphones? I have read that they are good, and was wondering why you did not include them under your selection of studio mics.

    • Graham

      Aaron – The Shure SM 57 and 58 are great mics, but I typically use them for live settings rather than studio situations. Not that you can’t still use them in the studio. If you could only have one microphone for your studio however, I would get a large diaphragm condensor microphone (The 57 and 58 are dynamic microphones).

  9. Paul Shapiro

    This is the best description of the basics that I have heard! Obviously you need an input device, for me a keyboard. I was considering the Yamaha mm6 but it only has 32 note polyphony. Where do I get more sounds and capacity to work with? Some kind of virtual instruments card? Also, do you need powered speakers or can you just go from the MBox to a stereo system?

    • Graham

      Paul, thanks for being a reader. If you have a keyboard controller you can access the virtual instruments that come with Pro Tools. Powered speakers are a great way to go, but to begin with you can just go with a pair of studio headphones.

  10. Michael


    I appreciate your level of dedication to helping people like myself become professional recorders. I wish I had seen this blog earlier, because by now I already have a DAW (SONAR Home Studio 7, which I might upgrade for sixty dollars, as I had originally intended to buy the XL version, just mistakenly bought the regular), so instead of buying the Mbox 2 mini and making my current DAW obsolete, I am planning to buy the Behringer XENYX 1204 on amazon for $130. What are your thoughts on this? Does it matter if I buy from amazon, if it is a trusted source? Also instead of the B1 I am going to buy the AKG Perception 420 for $214.95 on amazon with a 20 ft mike cable. Considering the microphone alone retails for $580, and with good reason (I am pasting the stats here: Back-to-back large-diaphragm multi-pattern transducer, Complete with spider-type shock mount and aluminium carrying case, High sensitivity and 155 dB maximum SPL capability, Switchable 20 dB preattenuation pad & Switchable bass cut filter, and like I said, the twenty foot cable) I think this is a deal worth the endevour. I am now addicted to your blogs as I am not only trying to put a band together but am going into the music production buisness (we already have one band lined up which is incredible considering the fact we will mostly use their equipment untill we can get our own) and my partner is taking care of the studio. It will be portable: carpet hung from pvc pipe. The portable feature suits us well, so we can take it to the drummers house, since we obiously don’t have the money for instuments of our own. Anyway, thanks for the amazing and detailed posts, I really enjoyed them and hope you will continue your video reviews, guides, and tips, as I have always enjoyed seeing what I’m planning on buying.

    Thanks again,


    • Graham

      Michael – So glad that my site has been helpful to you! I think the options you are looking at are fine. If you know and are comfortable with Sonar then just get the audio interface and microphone(s) that suit your band’s needs (how many channels do you want to record at once, preamps, etc) and go from there. Sounds like you’re on the right track! Oh, and Behringer’s MIDI keyboards look like a great option!

  11. Michael

    Also would you recomend the Behringer UMX250, UMX490, or the UMX610 as a good midi keybored? Thanks again!

  12. Paul

    Hi Graham,

    Why would you want a keyboard with an on board sequencer as you midi input instrument (i.e a workstation) if you are creating a digital studio as you mention in this article. Seems redundant and you may be paying more for that feature. I was thinking of just getting a regular keyboard as opposed to a workstation or dedicated “midi controller” so I could possible use it in a live situation as well. (I guess it doesn’t hurt to have a work station if the cost is comparable). In the old days (15 years ago) I used a Roland D-70 as my input device (into my Atari ST!). Thanks for your help!

    • Graham

      Hi Paul… the keyboard controllers I recommend are simply that, they trigger software samples. So you’re right, you don’t need an internal sequencer.

  13. Lucid

    Meh. Screw Pro Tools. Up da free software. I’m stickin’ with Linux, Ardour, and such. 😛

  14. Andre

    Hey Graham,

    I’m loving the site and how much you are helping us all out and really appreciate it, thank you 😀
    I also am in the middle of building my home studio and I wanted to ask you a couple of questions before I actually go and buy the equipment if that’s okay.

    For my audio interface I had my eye on the Mbox 2 mini and the Focusrite Saffire 6. I really want pro tools but at the same time I have heard from allot of people that the mic pre amps on the focusrite are much better than that on the Mbox 2 Mini. Is this true?

    Also my mic choice was the se2200A. I only really intend on recording vocals (rap vocals/r&b singing) and want the highest quality I can possibly get. do you think this is a good mic choice?

    Thanks again for all the info and help on the site and thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.

    • Graham

      Andre… thanks for the comment and for checking out the site! Glad I could help.

      The Focusrite Saffire line of interfaces are great. They make some great pres and you get a lot of features for the price. But if you want Pro Tools then go with the Mbox my friend. The pres are just as good in my opinion. Don’t let the hardware get in the way of your decision. Hardware (interface) choice is important, yes, in as much as it fits your needs and is high quality. So if you just need a couple of channels and at least one mic pre, then either interface will work.

      The software you will be staring at, working with, and learning every day is pretty important. So if you like Pro Tools, then go with it. Don’t worry about another interface potentially having “better pres”. Hope that helps!

  15. Andre

    Thanks for the reply, that really helped. I think ill just go with the pro tools lol
    oh yeah and what do you think of the se2200A mic is this a good mic for pro sounding recordings (like stuff you hear on the radio) for hip hop/r&b/pop vocals?
    And just one more question. Do I really need expensive mic cables in order to get amazing quality? If so how much should I be looking to pay for a “good” mic cable, maybe a certain brand?

  16. Graham

    Andre…the SE mic will do a great job for you. I’ve never used that model, but I hear good things. You do not need “expensive” cables to get amazing quality. I buy Sweetwater’s own brand, ProCo. Affordable and rock solid.

  17. PeepRoc

    Hey, Great post. My first mic purchase was a shure sm-7. People told me this was a great all purpose mic. I’m wondering if I need a large condenser. I feel like my vocals dont have that big airy sound. I use an apogee duet for pre amp. any thoughts? I was sort of sold on the shure when they told me Michael Jackson use it for all the thriller vocals.

  18. Graham

    @PeepRoc – The SM-7 is a great mic. If you don’t have a condenser, I would pick up just one large diaphragm condenser. You don’t need to spend any more than $100 to be in business!

  19. Chuck

    You spoke earlier in the comment section about using Eleven Free plugins for amp simulation. I’m saving up for the new Mbox 3 and don’t have one yet, otherwise I would not ask. If I plug direct into the Mbox and record, can I hear my guitar with the amp plugin while recording or can you only hear it when you play back the recording?

  20. Graham

    @Chuck – Yes, when you plug your guitar direct in you can monitor your guitar through the Eleven plugin as you play. No problem there!

  21. Chuck

    Since I live in an apartment, I need to be very careful with how loud I play music. Is there anything I can do or put in my spare bedroom that will limit the amount of sound they may hear? Otherwise, I see no point in buying monitors. If I can’t crank them to a respectable volume when I decide to work on something, I don’t see a point in me springing for them yet. What do you think?

  22. Simón

    Graham muy buena información que buena disposición y conocimiento.
    ahora te hago una consulta ¿ Que equipo de preamplificación recomiendas dentro de los costos minimos y de gran calidad?

  23. didy

    Hi, Graham thanks for the info. I am an upcoming producer. Please advice me on the audio interface. I recently bought a behringer xenyx 502 but the gadget produces a nasty hissing sound at 20 db gain. Its impossible to record because of the noise. When I reduce the gain the signal is too weak, barely audible. With your experience in hardware can you advice on an audio interface with a quiet preamp even at highest possible gain? How is the Mbox 2 mini preamp? Because it has no phantom power I was forced to go for the shure sm 58 microphone but I prefer the studio projects B1.

  24. Nanthaa

    Hi sir, i am à indian musicien from France. I saw ur 31 day tuto really greate & helpfull 4 me. I am working with logic DAW but some time with protools Tnx à lot

  25. Eugene Brown

    I’d like to know if there are people who’s having a hard time using their oxygen 25 with pro tools 10. If someone has found a solution please email me,

    • Graham

      Hmm. I’m using an old Oxygen 8 with Pro Tools 10 no problem. Do you have the latest drivers?

  26. Šimon

    Hi, I´ve got a simple question about gear, although I´ve always thought I would be asking only about recording, mixing and mastering stuff, because, that´s the goal… I wonder wheather I´s a stupid idea to buy M-Audio Fast Track USB since I accuse it of having only USB 1.1 port in times when the world starts to use USB 3.0…? Would it make any problems (latency, noise, etc.), or I won´t recognise it while recording only 2 channels at a time? Thanks for any answer, I´ve googled some forums but didn´t find satisfying answer yet.

    • Graham

      I have a friend who tracked a whole EP with that same interface, it sounded amazing. USB 1.1 is slower than 3.0, but that doesn’t affect you because the interface only records one or two tracks at a time. You’ll be just fine.

      • Šimon

        Thanks, I hate how much different info you get when it comes to gear… These decisions cannot be taken back, once you bought it, there´s no “ctrl+z”. Looking forward the work using your tips for which I´m grateful.

  27. Paul Perry

    Graham, thanks for a very informitive site, good stuff.
    Just getting into home recording. Went to the store and the sales guy talked me into the M-audio Fastrack bundled with Pro-Tools SE, even tho I wanted the M-Box Mini.
    He also sold me on Addictive Drums, which i now find out wont work with Pro-Tools SE. I’m finding out that SE is pretty limited in what it can do.
    Too late to return these items to the store.
    In your opinion, would it be counterproductive for me to learn Pro-Tools on the SE version I have, and then have to relearn when I eventually upgrade [no plugins is disappointing]. Or is SE close enough to the real Pro-tools that it won’t matter?

    • Graham

      Hi Paul,

      Pro Tools SE works just like full blown Pro Tools. So no waste in learning with SE. There is certainly a limitation to the software, but what you learn will totally translate to a full version of Pro Tools.

  28. Greg

    Hi Graham,

    Thanks for putting out a great website! Quick question for you…why do the pros who record always reference the Samson COIU, but they never mention the Yeti? Seems that all the “critics” hype up the Yeti but the people actually doing the recording don’t. Any guess as to why that is? I’m a first-time mic buyer and a little confused about whether to get the Samson COIU, the Yeti or the CAD Audio U37.

    And a second question while I’m at it…will I be OK not getting an audio interface and just plugging any of the 3 mics mentioned above directly into my Mac with Garage Band?

    Thanks again!

    • Graham

      Go for an audio interface. You don’t want to record directly into your mac if you can avoid it.

  29. Courtnee

    Hello, Graham! Thank you so much for this website! I was told that I would need to spend about $5,000 to have a professional quality studio, so I am EXTREMELY excited to hear that I can achieve my dreams as a singer so much faster and with one less “0”! =D Anyway, my questions for right now are: 1. What do you recommend for sound proofing my carpeted walk-in closet which I plan on using to record my vocals?
    2. Is there any newer equipment that you recommend which might out date the equipment you referenced in your post?
    Thank you!

    • Graham

      Hi Courtnee. For your walk in closet, just hang close in there and you’ll be fine! As far as equipment goes, yes there is newer stuff to use, but the concept is the same. Simple USB or Firewire audio interface (try PreSonus, Focusrite, M-Audio, Avid) and a large diaphragm condensor mic int eh $100 range.

      • Alex

        Hey Graham,

        I’m so relieved to just have found your blog. I really want to craft a nifty home studio but the internet was filled with so many options I just didn’t know where to start. Your ebook “The 1 rule of home recording” REALLY set things straight for me and I can’t thank you enough for this!

        However, seeing that the book, and this article, are almost 5 years old, I was thinking if your recommendations of the DAW, audio interface, and the mic are still the same?

        With best regards I remain anticipating,

        • Graham

          Hi Alex, the eBook has been updated as recently as a couple of months ago, so I still recommend everything in there!

  30. Casey

    As someone who started out with the bare minimum for a home studio many years ago and has since gradually built a more sophisticated setup, I think I can say definitively that for bang/buck, sound, and versatility the CAD M179 pretty much kicks the butt of every other microphone in its price range. Variable pattern with a pad and a low cut, smooth freq response and solid on vocals drums and everything in between. You can get one right now on Amazon for $111 and it’ll be the best mic money you ever spend. I love my Rode NT1s and I still use them, but the M179 is the best “one microphone” for the money I’ve ever seen.



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