My home recording studio

Home studio equipment has revolutionised how we make music and not least the costs involved. With just a few affordable components you can record, mix and produce your own songs or a whole album in the comfort of your home.

When you’re setting up a studio, in this case a home studio, you should have some idea of how you’ll be using the studio. I’ve built mine for the purpose of only recording my own vocals, guitars and software instruments. That means that I don’t need large pre-amps or lots of inputs and outputs.

Bjørn Riis - Home recording studio

I also think that having too much stuff is only distracting. Obviously, if you’re a professional studio with lots of clients, you want to be prepared for as many situations as possible but my main objective is to write good songs and to record them with as little distraction as possible. Some producers and engineers are talking about detoxing your studio, which means that every once in a while you should go over all your plugins and hardware and throw out the ones you really don’t use.

Above anything, I think it’s important to know the gear you’re using. It’s easy to get caught in that spiral of always wanting more but filling up your computer with plugins or spending all your savings on expensive mics won’t make you sound better.

People are writing and recording their songs at Starbucks these days and Steven Wilson mixed all of the Porcupine Tree albums in his old room at his parent’s with the gear he bought when he was a teenager. It’s all about being comfortable with the equipment you have and exploring all its potential.

Bjørn Riis - Home recording studio

My studio is a small 15m2 room in my house. There are neighbours all around and I have a three-year old daughter that sleeps next door. The desk is placed right up to the wall, leaving no space behind the speakers and there is a window right next to it. There’s a wall to wall carpet on the floor, which helps a bit but there’s no additional acoustic treatments on the walls.

It’s far from ideal but I know the room very well. When I record and mix, I always do cross references with music I know well and on several different sources – headphones, the hi-fi in my living room, car stereo etc. If my songs sound good in my studio room I know it will sound good almost anywhere.

Still, I don’t do the final mix here so there’s really no need to create a perfect studio environment. I do vocals, most of the guitars and what I call the “blue print” mix for the producer. Drums, loud guitars and the final mixing and mastering are done elsewhere.

Bjørn Riis - Home recording studio

I have a few mics but I mostly use two. My main vocal mic is a Rode NT2. Not top of the line but it’s very clean and honest sounding. It can also handle loud guitars, although I mainly just use it for vocals and acoustic guitars.

The guitar cabinets are usually mic’ed with a Shure SM57. I always come back to this one and no matter how many mics you stick in front of that cab, in most cases the 57 will be your main source in the mix.

Bjørn Riis - Home recording studio

The mics are fed into a Universal Audio 610 Solo tube preamp. I also plug the bass guitar straight into it. It doesn’t really get any simpler than this. Two knobs and tons of warmth and musical compression. I’m using a lot of digital guitar modelling and adding a bit of tube flavour rolls off the harshness. It also makes vocals and acoustic guitars sound natural and fit right into the mix.

Bjørn Riis - Home recording studio

My sound card is a very basic two channel Balance from Propellerheads. Unless you intend to tracks drums or several performances at once, this is all you’d need. There are lots of different models out there but what I like the layout of the Balance, with the two large volume controls and there’s no noticeable latency. The pre-amps are pretty good too. I also use this to feed the monitors.

If you do intend to record multiple instruments, you will need an interface with more inputs. You probably also want a headphone preamp so that each musician, and you as the engineer or producer, can have their own headphones with separate volume controls.

Bjørn Riis - Home recording studio

The monitors are a pair of M-Audio BX5a’s, with 5″ speakers. I bought these years ago and I know them too well to replace them. Besides, I couldn’t possibly have anything bigger in my room. The BX5a’s are well-balanced and very transparent and punchy, which makes it both easy and fun mixing the songs.

I also got these stands from Iso Acoustics, which allow a minimum of contact between the speakers and desk. It makes the speakers sound much more open and dynamic and the bass doesn’t just disappear down to the floor. A great addition to a cramped studio.

Bjørn Riis - Home recording studio

These AKG K272 HD headphones are very similar to the industry standard K 240s only a bit more comfortable to wear. They also got a bit hi-fi flavour without compromising the clean tone and neutral EQ response. They’re also closed back, which you need when you’re tracking. I also use my iPhone plugs a lot for reference mixing.

I wouldn’t recommend doing a final mix with headphones but they’ll give you some clue of whether your panning is working and if you’re like me, mostly listening to music with headphones, you can easily tell if your mix holds up to anything else you might be listening to.

Bjørn Riis - Home recording studio

In addition to recording my guitars the conventional way by micing a cab I also use a lot of effect and amp modelling. Mostly for when I’m recording demos but also when for when I need a certain tone for our albums. Guitar tone modelling has come such a long way and I think it’s foolish to just ignore these things if they can make life easier and produce what you need.

Recording distortion guitars is a hassle. At least for me so all the heavier rhythm guitars and riffing are done one the POD. It’s also got some really cool sounding delays and other weird effects, which I use a lot. I also occasionally use IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube and even the feature amp sims in Logic although I prefer the POD over these.

Bjørn Riis - Home recording studio

I’m using Logic. Apart from being a powerful tool for recording and mixing it’s also got some really great sounding instruments. And yes, I record and mix everything digitally. For one thing, it’s convenient but renting a studio with an engineer that can operate the tape machine and the analog desk costs a fortune. A lot of so-called purists seems to forget that. Digital has come such a long way and there’s lots of things you can do to make your projects sound more analog. With Lullabies, we also did the mastering on analog tape, which made a huge difference.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the Mellotron and one of my favourite plugins is the SampleTron from IK Multimedia. I used this a lot on Lullabies. I also use some of the stuff from Waves, Soundtoys and if you look around there’s a lot of really great free plugins.

So, there you have it. I’m pretty happy with the setup and I feel inspired to write more music and explore new sounds, which is really the essence of it all. Again, as I said above, all kinds of fancy stuff won’t make you sound better. Prioritize and get the best you can afford but most importantly, know your gear. Being able to produce high quality recording require a lot of hard work and the more time you spend practicing and experimenting the better you get at your game.

59 comments on “
  1. Dany Lavoie says:

    Great …you said it..know your gear.
    M audio Bx5a…i have those & very pleased with them.

  2. It is alway great to see a Home Studio. Maybe it is the most personal place for a musician, and everybody has a different approach and differents gears.
    Just one great studio trick : the Torpedo Wall of Sound III is one of the greatest plugin I’ve ever heard! It’s a power amp/cab simulator, and it’s really great to get into this High gain sound with a pedal like a Blackstar. Or even if you can’t afford a good mic for your amp, or just simulate another cab, you can plug the preamp section of your amp directly into your audio interface.

  3. Ronald Jochems says:

    Hi Bjorn, many thanks for this brilliant explenation! I guess it helps people like myself to just continue with our little projects at home, and in the end maybe have a finished recording ! Could you maybe elaborate on how you create the drum tracks ? For me this is always the most difficult part in the home studio. Sofar i have been using the Ultrabeat within Logic, but maybe you can share some tips ?!

    • Bjørn says:

      Hi Ronald! For my demos I just pick a fitting drum kit featured in Logic (I’m using Logic 9) and play some really basic stuff with my midi keyboard. All of the drums on the albums are done by our drummer in a professional studio. I’m not comfortable with tracking drums and I don’t have the facilities either so I leave that to the pros. If you’re good at programming midi you can easily create some really great sounding stuff that you can use on your finished tracks as well. A lot of musicians do that now and done right, you can’t even hear the difference. Playing midi is an option but you got plugins like Slate and EZ Drummer, which has some powerful loops and sounds.

  4. Anaon says:

    Hi Bjørn! Again, another great page here! I love this kind of “behind the scenes” studio insights ;) Your album sound great and it’s a good example of what you can do now at home with all the recording gear being more accessible (it’s just a part of the equation of course, the other being talent!).

    I’m curious about SampleTron… I’m a faithful M-Tron user for years but I’d be very interested in trying the SampleTron ;)

    Thanks for the music and the information ;)

    • Bjørn says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Anaon! The M-Tron is great and for me it stood between those two. They sound very similar but I was already using a few of the IK plugins so I went for the Sampletron. The Samplemoog is also worth checking out if you’re into these old synths.

  5. Aly says:

    Hey Björn – love this article, i’m finally getting a home studio sorted and am using this as my template. Thanks so much!
    ps, i got one of your spec Vick Audio muffs and it’s GREAT! Creamy, smooth but with bite. Crazy.

    Stay awesome

  6. howstd FORTON says:

    Cool. Iam encouraged and motivated by this. I have the same monitors and have a tad am portastudio which is good enough for my needs and it works.

  7. carlos-Brazil says:

    Bjorn, how are you? Unfortunatelly, it seems that the “Propellerheads’ Balance audio interface” that you are using is not available anymore. I’ve made several Internet researches (including de manufacturer’s homesite) and everything points only to some kind of edition software or very complex/expensive hardware… What caught my attention was the fact that you have mentioned that the “lag time” is practically imperceptible. Do you have any suggestions for other hardware to function as “audio interface” of good quality? I have a Roland / Boss (which works via USB 2.0 connection) that has a “lag time” sooo great, making the device difficult to use .. Regards from Brazil ! :-)

  8. Great article Bjorn. I was very curious about your home studio setup for some time. I also can’t have a perfect studio room for my stuff. It’s motivating to see that you record some of your stuff in similar conditions as me and achieve such amazing results.

    I see a Epiphone Thunderbird Bass on the wall. Did you use it to record your album? What do you think of it, did you make any upgrades? I’m considering buying one for my home studio and, since I’m on a budget, I want something that won’t break my bank but that can deliver good results…

    Cheers!

    • Bjørn says:

      Thank you, Sergio! You definitely don’t need a bunch of stuff to produce music :) I’m certainly no bassist but I wanted to play bass on my album so I bought one that didn’t cost a fortune (since I won’t be using it much) but sounded decent. I’ve always been a fan of the Epiphones and the Thunderbird is a steal if you ask me. The neck is very comfortable and easy to play and it sounds great with the active pickups. It’s a rock bass no doubt but it works for most styles. You might also want to look into the Squier Classic Vibe P-basses. They’re really nice.

      • Thanks Bjorn, already looking at the classic vibes, but the thunderbird is a mean looking bass ;-)

      • Heiko says:

        Hi Bjørn, did you record the Thunderbird direct into the DAW via the UA Preamp? Did you use any Plugins? Your guitar sound is great as always, but I also like the bass pn your album.
        Best regards,

        Heiko

        • Bjørn says:

          Hi Heiko! It was plugged straight into the US 610, with a fairly high gain setting to give it a bit more punch. The tracks are mostly clean, apart from the obvious EQ and compression but we also added some tape saturation on some of the heavier parts. Not so much for distortion but to give it a bit more bite and presence. I think we used the Waves Kramer Master Tape plug-in. Any saturation or analog distortion plugin would do the trick.

          • Hello Bjørn,
            thank you sharing!
            I’m always torn between ampsims for Bass and the DI-signal (with EQ/Compression/Saturation).
            With a soloed signal a simulated Amp sounds ok, but in a full mix I often prefer the DI- Bass Signal, where I add some EQ, compression and saturation. I often end up using the SPL Twin Tube Plugin as a virtual preamp stage for bass-sounds.

            • Bjørn says:

              I guess it depends on what tones you’re looking for or what tones that certain song needs but a clean bass is often easier to place in the mix… that’s my experience anyway.

  9. joao bicudo says:

    Hi Bjorn!

    I have a Hiwatt T20HD and normaly i record guitar with a mic shure 57 .
    This amp have a emulated speaker output and it’s a guitar jack plug. I connected a jack thro this output to a mixer but i couldn’t record anything!
    I also connected the amp to my 2×12 cab. I could ear my guitar thro the cab and in my headphones that were connected in the mixer. I use a behringer pc interface that it’s between the mixer and pc and i have the right mic source selected.

    Am i doing something wrong? How emulator speaker output works?

    Do you have any suggestions?

    Cheers,
    Joao

    • Bjørn says:

      How is the mixer connected to speakers or a PC? You would need a sound interface as well, between the mixer and your PC with a DAW.

  10. Stewart Crane says:

    Hi Bjorn

    Just bought “Lullabies” and love it – it’s a great album, highly listenable whilst also being musically complex and rich. It really shows what can be achieved with a fairly small studio set up, and as several people have said, is really inspiring.

    Clearly you’ve been doing this for years, and know the technicalities of how to be record best and get the right tones and textures, but the other side of this is the underlying writing process. What would be really great would be an article on how you approached this: do you base around an underlying idea / riff / lyric / musical texture? Do you just jam and see what comes up? Do you base it around a dynamic map of the song (as I know Pink Floyd did for some of their earlier works)? Etc. Any insights would be really interesting.

    Cheers

    Stewart

    • Bjørn says:

      Hi Stewart! Thanks for your kind words and for the tip. Many have been asking for that so I’ll see what I can do :)

  11. Ralph says:

    Hey Bjorn, LOVE your music! just curious, what model Thunderbird is that? As an aspiring bass player, I’m always curious what other people I look up to are using :)

    • Bjørn says:

      Thank you, Ralph! That’s an Epiphone. I’m no bass player but I needed one in my studio and this one sounds really nice :)

  12. Daniel says:

    Hi Bjorn, I was just wondering what spec you have on your computer; I’ve been using a pretty basic set up for a while but my computer never seemed to have enough RAM to run all the plug-ins I wanted without crashing loads. I was thinking 8 GB is enough (double what I had previously). What are you using? Also, how easy is it to learn to use Logic? I’ve previously been using an old version of Cubase VST. Thanks.

    • Bjørn says:

      Hi Daniel! I’m using a MacBook Air, with 8Gb ram and a 1,7 GHz Intel Core i5 processor. I’ve never had any issues with running huge projects with Logic. I’m still on OS 10.9, which seems to go very well with Logic 9. Newer OS makes Logic very slow but I’m sure I’ll be updating both the OS and to Logic X very soon. I only have experience with Logic but I think whatever you use, it’s important to have control of the work flow. Have at least 8Gb ram, use only the plug-ins you need, create bus tracks and group instruments with master plug-ins rather than a bunch of plugins on each track – obviously you’d need compression, EQ and any dedicated effects to each track. Also, keep a tidy project. Cut long tracks, bounce and delete unused tracks… All this should keep the CPU happy :)

  13. Ben Ferwerda says:

    Hi Bjorn,
    I have just gotten into recording and I need some help. I can’t match the sound coming from my amp to the sound being recorded to my computer. I am using a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe with a sm57 being fed to my Focusrite interface then to my computer. The recordings end up sounding ok but not as warm and creamy as the actual sound. Do I need something in between my mic and my audio interface? If so, what are some options?

    Warm regards,
    Ben Ferwerda

    • Bjørn says:

      Hi Ben! Recording guitar is tricky business and it require a lot of experimenting and experience to get it right. I still struggle to get the tones I want :) Your amp might sound smooth and warm in your studio but to translate that onto a recording, you might need to use very different amp settings, experiment with different mic placement and even different mics. The SM57 is a directional mic, which will pick up the tone coming from a very small area. It’s therefore important that you mic the right area of the amp to get the tone you want. Experiment with different distances from the grill cloth, angles and on and off axis to the speaker cone.

      You really don’t need much more than a soundcard like your Focusrite. Most of these interfaces has high quality preamps. Still, using a dedicated preamp in front of the Focusrite and preferably tube driven, will give you more warmth and dynamics and compensate for your digital signal path. There’s also lots of plugins you can use to get a more analog flavour. Hope this helps :)

  14. Don says:

    Hi Bjorn, I have posted on the Gilmourish site so I always enjoy your views and articles. One of my favorite tones is from Colors. Such an awesome tone especially at the end of the solo. I have a POD XT Live. Have you every uploaded your settings to the Line 6 site. Would it be ok to use the same settings?

    thank you, Don

    • Bjørn says:

      Thank you Don! I don’t know if I’ve uploaded any settings… I still use my old POD and it’s great for certain things.

  15. Don says:

    Also, the Universal Audio Solo 610 on eBay is very expensive. Is there something similar that doesn’t cost so much. Thank you again, Don

    • Bjørn says:

      A good sound interface with good quality converters and preamps. Most units out there will do. You don’t need a tube preamp but it adds a certain something to the tone. The 610 works great for vocals, mic’ed acoustic guitars and bass. I also use it with the POD. It doesn’t sound as good with mic’ed amps for some reason but it depends on what tones I want.

  16. Don says:

    Thank you Bjorn. I can’t wait for the new album to come out. I have an ART mic preamp. I am going to give that a try this weekend.

  17. Brooks from Texas says:

    Bjorn, thanks for sharing the insights on your home studio. I’m currently remodeling a room in home to turn into a home studio/library. Also thanks for being so open with the fans and community. You have helped me countless times with your common sense approach to tone and exposure to products I didn’t know were out on the market.

  18. Kris says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    I’m Just getting started with building a small home studio. I was wondering what your thoughts were on a good beginner DAW. I don’t really have any recording experience other then on my iphone, DSLR camera etc.:) Very much a rookie, but want to learn. Basically, going to use this home studio to record guitar through my amps, and vocals to start. Also will be running this on a newer imac. Thinking of getting a universal audio Apollo twin for my interface but need a DAW. Any recommendations? Thanks!

    • Bjørn says:

      Since you’re on a Mac I’d go straight to Logic. It’s a Mac exclusive but I’ve been using it for over a decade and it’s really easy to learn and operate. You’ll also get A LOT of samples, guitar modelling and high quality synths, which you’d need to buy if you choose anything else. You may not thing that you need all this now, but once you start to record, you will, with time, want to write song and do a demo or two and Logic is very easy that way. Check out a few tutorials and also see the Logic section on Apple to get an idea. Logic is also fully compatible with UA.

  19. Robert says:

    Hi Bjorn! You mentioned your “living room hi-fi”. What gear are you listening with?

    • Bjørn says:

      An old Sony amplifier and a pair of Dali speakers. I’ve had them for years. Nothing over the top but it sounds pretty nice :)

  20. karina says:

    My name is Karina from ehomerecordingstudio.com and I just wanted to quickly introduce myself.

    I found your site the other day and I’m very impressed with your work.

    Seeing as we’re in similar niches, and share mostly the same audience…

    I’ve thought of some great ideas on how we might help each other out.

    Would it be okay if I shared them with you?

  21. evel1 (Jwff) says:

    Bjorn, are you using an Apple based iOS or Windows? I keep hearing from all that I talk to that Apple/Mac is the “only” way to go. Is there really that big of a difference?

    • Bjørn says:

      I’m using Apple’s Logic X. Always been a Mac and Logic user but there aren’t that big difference anymore. Whether you use Logic, Pro Tools, QBase or whatever, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you use a DAW that has a workflow that you’re comfortable with and more importantly, what you put into it. Good recordings can’t be compromised and when you do have that, you can make a good record on pretty much any DAW and equipment.

  22. Drago Dragoev says:

    Hi Bjorn! Great website! Thank you for sharing all these things and for being so open. It is a pleasure for me reading, watching and listening to what you share as a musician.
    Best regards,
    Drago

  23. Rui says:

    Hi Bjorn
    I’ve learnt so much from this site and
    Gilmourish…so inspired…
    thank you so much!!!
    I am slowing building a small recording studio at home and want to ask you what headphones you would recommend for my Boss GT100?There are times when I have to plug them in directly so that I don’t make any noise.
    I would also like to have one dedicated just to listen to my cd collection,any recommendations?Can I use the same one I use for the GT 100?

    Cheers

    Rui

    • Bjørn says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Rui! I recommend a pair of closed headphones. There are lots of great phones out there within all price ranges and I haven’t done much testing. I’m very happy with the ones I have, although they are probably better suited for recoding and mixing, than a true hi-fi experience.

  24. howard davis says:

    hi,BJØRN
    got (Lullabies in a Car Crash) i think it sounds really good,play it all the time, please could you list all albums/music you have made before (Lullabies in a Car Crash) i wish to buy more of your great music

    all the best,
    howard,

  25. Chris C. says:

    Hey Bjorn, great job and thanks again for all the invaluable information you give away so freely. I’ve learned a great deal from you. One question I have is: at one point I remember you using a senhieser mic, the 609 or the 906? (think it was on a Gilmourish review) How does that compare with the SM57 in terms of your old bedroom setup? I have a Laney Cub as well, and a lot of similar pedals (p19/powerboost/cs2/etc). I understand the 57 is extremely universal but in this case I’ll only be using it strictly for the Laney for recording lead tones so in that specific sense, would I gain anything from looking for a more specific mic or even a condenser mic? Anything that might capture that specific sound better if I’m willing to sacrifice the versatility? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I live several hours from any metro area so I don’t get luxury of testing…usually all online purchases.

    • Bjørn says:

      Hi Chris! Thanks for the kind words! You can always trust the SM57. It’s easy to set up and get some nice tones with. The Sennheiser e906, which is the one I’m using, is perhaps warmer but also a bit more neutral and flatter sounding. It can sometimes be easier to use for smaller amps and low volume, because you can have it hanging or standing right on the grille cloth and get some nice, fat sounds. The SM57 needs some air and on low volume, you’re picking up some room and loose low end. Condensers are often much more sensitive and although they work nicely for electric guitar, you will pick up a lot of room and noise when the amp is set low. I’d go for either the SM57 or e906.

  26. Chris C. says:

    Thanks for the advice Bjorn, appreciate the input. That makes a lot of sense. With nothing major being a factor, I will probably opt for the 57 then. Room noise I’m not real worried about, in the event I have to pull the mic back for low frequency response. I plan to purchase some Owens Corning fiberglass for some diy acoustic panels. Hopefully tame the room of flutter echo and such without sounding too dead. Once again thanks for everything, your sites are amazing!

  27. Hi Bjorn, do you have any write-ups of the guitar gear you used for “Disconnected”? I am in love with that album! Great writing and look forward to your solo record this year.

    • Bjørn says:

      Hi! No I haven’t done that. Maybe I should :) For most of the stuff, I use the Laney Lionheart with a SM57 in front of it and either a Les Paul or Strat. Mostly the Les Paul I think. I mostly used the Buffalo FX TDX for rhythms and some of the leads and either the Vick Audio Tree of Life or AnalogMan DS1 for the heavier leads. Then there’s the Mistress, RotoVibe etc :) All of the delays were added in Logic.

  28. Don says:

    Hi Bjorn, based on other reviews and seeing in the picture above, I have purchased a H & K Grandmeister 36. I am excited to try this amp and to record with it. I am looking to downsize my rig. Currently, I have a Mesa Boogie Road King II and it is a monster. It is getting too much for me to lug around and I am always afraid of it getting broken. Anyway. Love your new album (Forever Comes to an End). I has been playing non-stop since it came out. Already looking forward to a new Airbag album. Take care.

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