Required Tech for Sound Engineers
You can be a FOH, Monitor Engineer, System Engineer on the road, a freelancer working at corporate events, a house tech at a bar, or AV tech setting-up breakout rooms. There are tools, supplies, gadgets and tech that can make your life easier and safer. The list of required tech will make also your life easier and more enjoyable.
Owning and/or working at an audio mixing/recording studio can be a rewarding hobby or simple labor of passion. No matter what your goals or the work you want to do, a studio needs tools to function well.
Learn more about audio technology. You will find here information about required tech, gadgets, and audio technology. You will find information about audio technology such as headphone amplifiers and digital-to-analog conversions (DACs), microphones, headphones, and other gear.
Headphones are an integral part of any studio, be it professional or private.
Headphones can be used to hear the audio in the DAW. You can connect them to dedicated headphone amplifiers and audio interfaces. If you don’t have an audio interface, they can also be connected directly to the computer.
- Most Popular Headphones over $100
Sennheiser HTML25 is capable of handling extremely high sound pressure levels. This unit is extremely quiet to block outside sounds. It comes with a hard case for travel.
- Most Popular under $100
Sony MDR-706 – For a long time, the Sony MDR-706 headphones have been a popular choice for audio enthusiasts. They are a solid option.
- Our Other Favorites
Audio Technica ATH-50x – The ATH-50X headphones have two key features. One, they come with a removable cable so that you can replace it easily. Two, they are available in different colors to suit your personal style. They provide studio-quality sound with extended bass.
Beyerdynamic DT990 – The frequency response of Beyer DT990 is 5 – 35kHz. Made in Germany Ear pads made of soft velour ensure maximum comfort.
In Ear Monitors
There are many quality In-Ear Monitors out there, and you can also spend a lot for very expensive sets. These are budget-friendly, good-sounding sets.
Shure SE215 in-ear monitors – The Shure SE215 IEMs balance audio quality and price. They are lightweight, low-profile, and come with an assortment of accessories.
Westone UM Pro10 In – Ear Monitors – The Westone UM Pro10 IEMs offer excellent sound quality, extra rugged twisted cables and a 2-year guarantee.
Engineers and musicians can now make a living from their laptops thanks to technological advances. While professional studios can have huge benefits, the computer plays an important role in creating these systems.
It’s great news for those who want to start producing music and other audio-related projects. You probably already have a computer, if you’re reading this article.
All computers are not created equal. You’ll need a computer that can run a Digital Audio Workstation as well as all the plugins. This will ensure you get optimal results. Optimizing your computer and gear will also help to reduce latency.
A new computer should allow beginners to use most production software. For multi-tracking and mixing and mastering as well as working with video files, a more powerful computer or additional processor will be required.
Recording is possible without a computer. There are many digital and analog recorders. But, the computer is the centerpiece of any modern recording studio. Computers are the most affordable way to learn music/audio production, even for amateurs.
Digital Audio Workstation
Although a computer has many important functions, they won’t be as useful without a digital audio system (DAW). DAWs are where the magic happens. It is the software on the computer that records, edits and produces audio.
It is important to note that integrated DAWs used to be standalone units. They consisted of a controller and an audio converter. Digital signal processors were also included. These systems are quite expensive and are now not in demand for software DAWs.
While computers and digital audio workstations software continue to improve, their prices are becoming more affordable.
There are many options for digital audio workstations, and almost all of them can deliver professional results. The decision to choose the DAW for your studio comes down to personal preference and industry compatibility.
An audio interface is an interface between the computer’s audio equipment and the computer. You could consider an interface a sound card with more inputs and outputs.
An audio interface should have both digital-to–digital and analog-to–analog converters. They will allow for communication between the computer (microphones and instruments, etc.) and any analog devices connected to it.
Audio interfaces come in a variety of functionality and quality. The interface that you choose for your studio is likely to depend on your budget and needs. Let’s take an overview of some audio interfaces along with their basic specifications.
1). Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a great interface for beginners. Here are some highlights:
- 2 combo inputs (mic/line/instrument)
- 1 output for headphone (1/4’s)
- 2 line/monitor inputs for left and rh stereo channels (1/4’’)
- Phantom power switch (for microphone input
- Air switch (emulates original Focusrite ISA Preamps).
- Direct monitoring switch
- Supported sample rates are: 44.1, 48.2, 88.2, 95, 176.4, 192 kHz
- Connect via USB
2). PreSonusAudioBox 96 is another excellent option for a primary audio interface. Let’s look at its specifications:
- Phantom power switch (for microphone input)
- Air switch (emulates original Focusrite ISA Preamps)
- Mixer control is the ability to switch between direct inputs or playback.
- 2 combo inputs (mic/line and instrument).
- 1 headphone output (1/4’’)
- 2 line/monitor inputs for left/right stereo channels (1/4’’
- 5-pin MIDI output and input (5-pin).
- Supported sample rates are: 44.1, 48.2, 88.1, 88.2 or 96 KHz
Connect via USB
The Universal Audio ApolloX16 is more complex and makes for an excellent interface in both professional and home studios. Let’s look at some details:
- 16 balanced line inputs via DB25
- Surround monitor controllers up to 7.1 format
- HEXA Core UAD Processing to track through UAD plugins with near-zero latency
- Compatibility: Up to 4 Thunderbolt-equipped Apollos can be combined with 6 total UAD device
- 24-bit/192 KHz conversion
- 1 digital input (AES/EBU: 2 channels @ 44.1 – 192 kHz) via XLR
- 16 balanced line outputs via DB25
- 2 balanced monitor outputs via XLR (left & right channels)
- 1 digital output (AES/EBU: 2 channels @ 44.1 – 192 kHz) via XLR
- Word clock input & output
- Alt Speakers, Talkback mic and assignable Dim or mono controls (front panels)
- Thunderbolt Connects
A pair of studio monitors can make or break your studio. These reference speakers can be used to help us monitor our recording and mixing sessions. The acoustics of smaller rooms will affect the performance of studio monitors. Professional studios have larger listening spaces, and monitors are often placed farther from the wall to achieve better results.
These studios are likely to have acoustic panel, bass traps, and diffusers in order to “treat the space” to improve the acoustics. A pair of studio monitors capable of reproducing the frequency and stereo image of the mix is a step in the right direction. It’s a must-have for audio studios.
The kali Audio IN-8 is an intuitive, budget-friendly studio monitor. It has a 3-way design and better imaging with a coaxial mid-range, tweeter, and tweeter. This excellent monitor delivers transparency, low distortion and a soundstage far above its price.
The KH420 is Neumann’s flagship studio monitor. This 3-way tri-amplified class AB midfield studio monitor offers exceptional bass depth (26Hz) along with high sound pressure (122.4dB).
Studio Monitor Stands
You should get stands if your goal is to buy a pair studio monitors. Monitor stands are essential for two reasons: isolation, and placements.
Monitors come with small feet made of rubber that isolate the vibrations from the surfaces on which they are placed. This helps reduce vibration transfer to adjacent bodies (e.g., a desk or a stand). This in turn improves the overall performance of monitors and the sound quality.
Monitor stands can help improve isolation. These stands are used to hold the monitors. They also provide additional isolation to reduce resonances and increase the system’s sound quality.
The stand can be used to position the monitor in the most appropriate listening height and width. It’s not a good idea to position monitors on the back corners of a desk that houses your computer or interface. They might be too high or too small. We can use stands to adjust the position and mix position of the monitors within the room.
The Onstage SMS6000 is an affordable pair of tower stands suitable for studio monitors. These stands are affordable and will work well in most studios. There are also more expensive models, but they are still a good option for studios, both home and professional.
You can find a wide variety of desktop stands. All are designed to attach to your computer or sit on top of it. These include clamp-on desktop stands, regular desktop stand and simple isolation pads. Let’s look at a few:
The IsoAcousticsIsoStand is a great pair of desktop stands for studio monitors. Additionally, the Python PSI03 is an example of a quality acoustic isolation system for studio monitors.
Wall-mounted stands are less popular and best suited for permanent installations in homes and professional studios. These mount to the wall. These stands are popular for studio monitors, rather than bookshelf speakers. The K&M24171an example of a pair wall-mounted studio monitor/speaker stands.
A MIDI controller can greatly improve workflow and creativity, particularly when the purpose of the studio’s music production is music.
A MIDI Controller, which can be a keyboard or trigger pads, buttons, knobs and dials, as well as faders and faders, dials, or a combination of these, will make it easier to communicate our ideas faster.
This could include laying down a beat, recording MIDI information to a virtual instrument, controlling/writing automation parameters, triggering play/stop/record or other tasks. A MIDI controller is tactile and allows you to program the device with a mouse or keyboard.
The Akai Professional MSK Mini Mk3 is a very popular compact MIDI controller. You can see that it has a 25-key keyboard, with 10 octave buttons up/down, 8 assignable trigger pad buttons, 8 assignable 360 degree knobs, and a few other buttons. It can also be connected via USB.
The MAudioKeystation 61Mk3 is a bigger, keyboard-centric MIDI control. It features 61 keys. You can also choose from 32, 49 or 88-key versions.
Keystation 61 Mk3 also includes a 5-pin MIDI output to control synths and other instruments. It features directional and transport buttons as well as pitch, pitch, and modulation wheels. Advanced functionality allows you to link these controls with different DAW parameters.
The signal chain begins with the microphone. While microphones are not necessary for mixing and mastering audio, they are essential for almost all other audio recordings. Unless your only use is to produce with visual instruments or synthesizers and/or direct-inject boxes you will likely need microphones to record your sound. This is especially true if your goal is to record voiceovers or vocals.
There are many microphones on offer, and there are also different types. If you’ve been in the audio and music industry for a while you will likely be familiar with which microphones are best for your studio.
For beginners, dynamic microphones are ideal for noisy, loud instruments. Condenser mics, however, can pick up more sound than dynamic mics.
The Shore SM57 is known as the “studio horse” and is the most widely used microphone in music studios worldwide. While this dynamic microphone may not be the most precise, it is nearly indestructible. The legendary SM57 sound great on drums, guitar amps, and many more sources.
The Neumann U 87 is a legendary condenser microphone, is a symbol of professionalism in a recording studio. This microphone has been a hit, despite being criticized for its high quality. However, it is certainly one of best choices, especially for vocals.
Mice work better when supported by stands. A stand is better than a microphone that can be carried (e.g. for vocal recording). A microphone stand holds the microphone securely in place. This ensures consistent and accurate mic placement. If you have microphones, these stands should be a must-have.
There are many types and styles of microphone stands. A microphone stand generally falls within one (or more!) of these categories:
- Standing desk
- Low profile stand
- Tripod stands
- Round base stands
- Tripod boom stands
- Overhead stands
Tripod boom stands are one of the most used and versatile types. Let’s take an example of each of these mic stands. The Onstage DS7200 a simple, reliable desktop mic stand. It features a movable shaft and a die-cast metal clutch that allows height adjustments of 9′ to 13′.
The K&M25900 mic stand is low-profile and affordable. This sturdy stand holds microphones securely and is easy to use. The 25900 is adjustable in height from 16-3/4″ to 25-3/8″, and the telescopic boom can be adjusted from 18 to 30-1/4″.
The Ultimate Support MC125 is a 6 pound overhead microphone stand. It has a rollable base, a rollerblade-style wheels, a heavy-duty clutch that allows height adjustments between 52′ and 83”, as well as a friction-free clutch which allows its boom arm’s length to range from 35’’ to 61’’.
For heavier microphones, and for longer spans, the MC125 includes an easy to adjust 5.75-pound counterweight. This will increase its already outstanding stability.
A pop filter is a filter attached to a microphone stand that is placed in front a microphone. It greatly reduces the plosive (from hard consonant sounds), before it reaches a microphone.
Pop filters block unwanted plosive energy and allow sound to pass though them. As an example, the Nady MPF-6 is a nylon mesh filter while the Stedman Corporation’s Proscreen XL a metal mesh popfilter.
To connect all the pieces of a recording studio, cables are needed. Cables are required in any studio, regardless of whether they are used for digital or analog audio, electric power, data transfer, and even the internet.
Although a lot can be transmitted wirelessly these days, cables will be required to connect a studio.
Audio Plugins: Effects/Processors
Audio plugins can be software packages that enhance the functionality and usability of our digital voice recorder. They are an integral part of any DAW and digital audio studio.
There are many different audio plugins (both paid and free) available for us to choose. A digital audio system will usually have the most basic requirements for audio plugins. However, there are times when we may need or desire a third party plugin to help us achieve our audio goals.
Many plugins include audio effects. DAWs typically offer the basic features (compression, EQ and time-based effects as well as modulation effects and gain-based effect, among others). However, you might want to purchase more digital tools.
Audio Plugins: Virtual Instruments
Audio plugins are also available for programming as instruments. Although many DAWs provide excellent stock virtual instruments for musicians and producers, many prefer third-party software.
These instruments can either be based on sampling or audio synthesis and can be programmed/played using MIDI. You can alter the sound with presets or parameters. Different virtual instruments may be required depending on the music you make.
Direct Injection Boxes
A DI box is an important tool for any studio. This applies to the situation where you are unable or unwilling to turn your bass guitar up for recording in your home studio.
DI boxes were designed to connect electronic instruments directly with microphone preamplifiers. They allowed the signals to be transmitted over long cable runs, and were compatible with the mic preamps.
DI boxes play a similar role today. These boxes have some additional benefits for studios like:
- They might eliminate ground loops from a studio’s audio system
- They enable instruments to be recorded silently
- They enable instruments to be recorded “clean”, for future re-amping
The Radial Engineering Pro D can be described as a passive direct box, which does not require power while the Radial Pro48 DI can be used as an example of active DI boxes and also does not require power.
Vocal Reflection Screens
Vocal reflection filters are sometimes referred to as “portable vocal booths” and can be used to block natural room echo and reverb from entering a mic.
These devices have acoustic treatments to absorb some sound and block any reflective sound from reaching the microphone. These filters are intended primarily to be used for vocals. The E Electronics vocal reflection filter and the CAD audio AS32 are popular vocal reflection filter.
These sound-absorbing panels can be placed on ceilings or walls to reduce reflections, standing waves, and general noise. Acoustic treatment can greatly benefit Liverooms as well as Booths when recording takes place within these spaces. When it comes to monitoring, control rooms are a benefit.
Acoustic paneling can reduce (but not completely eliminate) resonances and reflections within a space and provide better acoustics to record and listen.
The Grageta 2’’ x 12’’ x 12’’ 12-pack triangular foam panels are affordable options; while the AuralexStudio foam Pyramid 2’’ x 2’ x 2’ 12-pack has a unique pyramid-shaped foam that reduces reflections and resonances.
Bass traps are, as their name suggests, reduce the buildup bass frequencies in an acoustic environment. Bass traps can be placed in corners or along surfaces to reduce low-end frequencies and create a disoriented listening environment. The Auralex MEGALENRD can be used as a bass trap along with the Primacoustic London bass trap.
Diffusers work on the principle and practice of diffusion, not absorption. Diffusion is the act of scattering sound wave reflections, so that sound waves don’t build up within the room.
The proper diffusion can even make a room sound larger than it actually is. It alters the reflections to cause our brains and ears to not be able to calculate the dimensions. For example, a high quality sound diffuser is the BXI QRD Diffuser.
Ceiling clouds work in the same manner as acoustic walls panels, except that they are placed near or at the ceiling. Ceiling treatment is important in both professional and home studios. Sound doesn’t just reflect off the floor and walls.
Acoustic panels are also called “gobos” and can be used to track multiple talents within a room. These panels can be used to reduce unwanted bleeding between microphones and other instrument or vocals in the same room.
An audio control table is a type a human interface device that allows the user control a digital sound system (or other audio applications). It can be used with more than just the keyboard and mouse. I think of control surfaces like audio consoles that work together with the digital sound workstation.
The control surfaces allow tactile control of audio software. You can assign the controls to various parameters within DAW, including processing plugins and virtual instruments.
These tools are similar to mixing stations (with buttons, knobs and faders). These tools are very well received in studios with digital audio workstations.
They are also much less expensive than conventional mixing consoles since they don’t have all the inputs/outputs and expensive electronics found in consoles. However, they can be used to control software that emulates these electronics. The SSL NUCLEUS 2 provides an amazing control surface from Solid State Logic.
A studio/mixing box is an electronic device that blends different audio signals. These consoles, often referred to simply as “boards”, come in a variety of sizes. They can range from inexpensive mixers for the consumer market to large boards that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars for the professional market.
Some vintage consoles have been sold for more than a million dollars. Any studio can benefit from a mixer board because there are so many options. The most expensive consoles are usually only found in professional studios, or at home by wealthy hobbyists.
A console will have a fixed number of audio channels. These audio channels typically include (but not necessarily):
- Phantom power supplies
- Channel strips (compression, EQ)
- Inserts (for outside effects)
- Sends/routing control
- Pan knob
- Level fader
- You can muffle the sound by pressing the Mute button
- Solo button
- Depending on the design of the console, it may be possible to mix digital audio with analog.
Each channel strip will be controlled by a mixer, as well as the master output (the sum all channel strips). A console will usually have metering capabilities and busses/submixes, VCA group, and other features. There may be built-in effects or power amplifiers on boards. Some digital consoles are capable of connecting to and controlling digital audio workstations.
High-end consoles for studios are built with top-end electronics. They sound great. They provide tactile control and a whole new world of possibilities for the studio. These devices are not cheap, but they often become the centerpiece of an entire studio if the budget is large.The SSL Duality Studio Console is the best on the market.
The Mackie HTML30v3 boards are a good example of affordable boards that can easily be placed in a home or project studio. They also double as soundboards when needed.
Additional Musical Instruments
When recording music, it can be a huge help to have some musical instruments nearby. An acoustic piano could be used in the living room. It can be difficult to bring a piano to the studio. Therefore, it is a good idea to have one available for use in case it is needed.
By having additional sonic resources, additional musical instruments can aid in production. If you’re responsible for producing your own music, having a few instruments to play with can spark creativity and give it a more human feel than relying only on virtual instruments.
The plugins and virtual tools could be added to the software. It could also include the following:
- Telecommunications applications
- Chat/Communication applications
- Internet Audio Patching Software, a replacement for ISD
- Software to Convert Files
- Accounting Software
We can easily patch devices from all around the studio with cable using a single panel. A patchbay allows for the centralization of the cable mess, but it only uses short patch cables. The patchbay cables will be stationary so that they can be hidden or laid neatly to reduce studio clutter.
The Samson S–Patch Plus has a 48-point balanced bay that uses 1/4” TRS patches cables. It can be mounted in a single 19″ rack mount slot. Meanwhile, the ART PH16 a 16-point balanced, patchbay that uses XLRF front and XLRM rear. It also fits into a 19″ rack mount slot.
A studio can benefit from the addition of preamplifiers for microphones onboard. Preamplifiers must be used when using mics. Although audio interfaces come with mic preamps, these aren’t always the best quality. A dedicated microphone amplifier will offer better audio quality than any other device that has mic pres.
High-end studio boxes are an exception. They generally have mic preamps of the same quality or even the exact same preamps that those available on standalone preamp markets. The 512C a single mic/line amplifier in the 500 series format. It has a polarity toggle, 48V Phantom Power and a 20 pad.
The True Systems Precision 8 is an 8-channel microphone preamp. It fits into one 19″ rackmount. Each channel features an independent 48V Phantom Power and Polarity Switch.
In an audio studio, headphones amplifiers can be a valuable tool. Two basic types of headphones amps are available.
- An amplifier that amplifies headphone signals is the first kind of headphone amp. These amps can be used to amplify (and alter the impedance of), headphone signals and drive headphones in an ideal manner.
- A dedicated amplifier for your headphones is better than using the built-in one of the audio interface. It’s especially useful when you use planar magnetic or high-end monitor headphones.
The Magni 3+ is the most well-known Schiit headphone amplifier. It is an audiophile-grade amplifier that can be used for monitoring and mixing.
A power conditioner will be a huge asset to studios that have a lot of equipment. A power conditioner has multiple outlets that combine power for multiple devices in one cable. This will connect to the mains outlet.
Power conditioners can be especially useful for rack mounted gear. Many power conditioners can fit directly into rackmounts.
Consolidation is not enough. A power conditioner also conditions the power sent to the connected device. This conditioning provides protection against surges, voltage regulation, noise/interference filtration, and other benefits that enhance the gear’s performance. A great example of a power conditioner is the Furman M-8Dx.
Uninterruptible Electricity Supply
A power conditioner will provide power conditioning and protection for studio equipment. However, an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), which will maintain the studio’s power in the event of an outage, will be used.
As a backup battery for your computer , or as insurance against power cuts, a UPS can be described as a UPS. You will have enough time to save your session, and then shut down your computer safely in case of an outage.
You can purchase an UPS at any stage in the building of a studio. It is an excellent tool to have in any venture that requires important information to be stored on a computer.
A UPS is essential for professional studios with deadlines and paying clients.
The TrippLiteSMART1500LCDT is a 1500VA/900W UPS that protects a studio computer as well as up to nine peripheral equipment pieces.
Digital converters are used to convert analog audio from analog to digital audio, and digital audio from analog to digital. Yes, interfaces come with digital converters. So do other studio devices, such as some headphone amplifiers.
Why would we want to have redundant equipment? A majority of devices with ADCs or DACs (analog–to–digital converters), conversion is a side-effect and not the main feature.
Professional studios with greater budgets will invest in standalone digital convertors specifically designed to convert audio as accurately as possible. These expensive devices give professional studios a competitive edge.
The AvidHD I/O 16X16 is an excellent digital convertor designed for use with Pro Tools digital sound workstation.
A snake cable combines multiple cables and signal paths into one cable. Snakes can reduce cable clutter and help you organize your studio. This will make your studio easier to view for clients and help you stay organized.
The Box Snake Seismic Audio Stage is a good example of a box serpent. It has fan-tailed connections on one end and an input box on the other.
The Seismic – 8 Channels XLR Snake Cable shows a snake with fan-tailed connections on each end.
Clock timing is essential in the world analog-to-digital conversion. Poor clock timing can cause jitter and distortion, noise, and overall poor performance for the A-D and D–A systems. Nearly every digital audio device has an internal digital timer. In most studios, there will not be a master clock.
An audio input is required to be connected to the desktop. The interface will contain an internal clock that will, by default, act as the master timer. Digital audio signals can be sent to many digital and analog devices in more sophisticated studios. It is crucial that all audio samples arrive simultaneously on all of these devices. This means that only one audio device will act as the master clock.
All other devices will then be slaved to this source. This ensures that samples are generated by all devices at the same time and at the same rate. A dedicated master clock will not be required in most cases. In large studios with complex setups, however, a masterclock may prove more practical and efficient.
A master clock is essential equipment for audio studios working with video. Digital video can only be made up of a certain number of samples per picture-frame period. A master clock acts to synchronize audio and video sample rates in order to achieve proper synchronization.
The Antelope OCXHD master clock can be used as a fantastic master clock. It is compact enough to fit into one 19” rack mounted.
Vocal booths are also called “isolation rooms” and are usually smaller than living rooms. They have been designed to be acoustically silent, which means that they are very non-reflective.
These booths must be kept as far from outside noises as possible. This can be problematic with HVAC, city traffic, and other factors. To achieve maximum isolation, vocal booths may be designed as “rooms inside rooms”. These booths can be either hand-built or purchased as units.
- Rat Sound Sniffer allows you to test XLR cables remotely by bringing them together. It’s great for checking the length of snake lines and other long runs if you don’t have both ends.
- Hosa cable tester – This cable tester is versatile enough to quickly identify if your cable has a problem. You can test XLR, 1/4″, Phono, speakON, and XLR connectors. Also, tests DIN, Ethernet and BNC cables.
- Whirwind – This handy little box isn’t nearly as well-known. It is sometimes mistaken for a tester of cable, but it isn’t. Let’s suppose the guy who recorded the footage reports that he has nothing. You go over to the Whirlwind Qbox, take out the XLR camera from him and plug it in. The box’s speaker will turn on and you can hear your signal. You’ve now proven that your feed is being received and that the problem is at his end. A Qbox can also produce a 1kHz tone both at mic level and line level. This is extremely useful.
- Extech Meter- Measures from 40-130dB with all the features you need to know how loud your mix sounds.
- Whirlwindcab driver – The Whirlwindcab driver sends pink noise along the line to verify individual drivers in a speaker cabinet. These connectors include Speakon NL8 & NL4, 1/4’’ TS, and banana jacks. The XLR output line allows you to feed the pink sound signal to your own speakers. It is handy for system verification during a show, and then back in the workshop.
- Fluke RMS Clamp Meter: How much current does that rack drawing draw? Is your electrician correctly connecting your distro? Protect yourself and your gear by using a Fluke meter.