Home Studio Gear on a Budget

If you are anything like me, and many other DIY musos around the world, then you probably don’t have thousands of pounds (or dollars/euro/rand/rupees/etc) to spend on gear and software for your home setup. It’s still currently just an (all consuming) hobby after all, so there’s no return on investment, no tax relief, no sponsorship… And audio stuff is expensive!

So how are we supposed to get hold of all the studio gear we need to create the wonderful music that we want to, without having to sell our less important possessions like clothes, cars and houses? I have a few suggestions that might help…

Getting by on a Budget

My DIY Music ‘home studio’ (Work in Progress)

We now live in an age where the technology required to record and produce great music is a lot more affordable and available than it was for previous generations. And although some of it may still be out of our price ranges there are other options. I’ve personally managed to build up a fairly decent home studio without paying over the odds by sticking to a few basic principles.

Do Your Research

Before you buy anything you need to be sure of a couple of things. Do you really need it? And are you buying the best available product in your price range?

Fortunately we have a wonderful resource at our fingertips; it’s called the internet! And there’s no excuse not to do a bit of research before you invest any of your hard earned money.

There are some great websites out there which offer solid, in depth reviews and analysis of audio hardware and software. Most notably Sound On Sound, which is a well established and reputable online audio magazine. Also worth checking out are TapeOp, Mixonline and of course, the DIY Music home studio gear articles.

I personally also like to trawl the forums, where you can get real life information from people like yourself who’ve bought and used the kit your thinking about and will give honest feedback without any sales spin. Try looking for forums linked to the the manufacturers you’re interested in, or more general forums like GearSlutz.

Often, simply googling “insert product name reviews” or, even better, “insert product name issues” will bring up some very informative articles and posts. It’s always a good idea to look carefully at negative reviews and get a balanced idea.

Proper research should lead you to the best balance between cost and quality for the product you are after.

Once you’re absolutely sure you know which bit of kit or software you want, don’t rush straight to the big retailers to buy it straight away. There are some other things to consider first, which may save you a lot of money.

Buy Second-Hand

Just because something has been used doesn’t mean it’s now unusable. In fact, many used items are in perfectly good working condition but much cheaper than buy brand new simply because you can’t sell used products at unused prices. So before you even hit the shops you would do well to check sources of second hand gear.

One thing I’ve done a few times with great results is simply put a post on social media asking if any of my friends have any gear they want to sell. Many of my friends are involved in music and I’ve ended up getting some really great deals. For example, I have a Zoom R16 recorder, controller and interface which has become a core part of my setup and cost me just £140 (with some microphones, leads and a drum machine thrown in too) from a friend who’d bought all the kit then realised he wasn’t really interested in recording. He was happy to get a bit of cash back and I was very happy to get that gear at such a great price.

You will also find that some outlets specifically sell used audio equipment. Ex-display is even better than used as it will have barely been touched and certainly not used in an actual studio setup. Websites such as Studio Spares and Soundbase Megastore are well worth checking out as well as high-street ‘cash-converter’ and buy-and-sell shops. I got my studio bass guitar from Music Man in Reading in exchange for a couple of old acoustics and £50, and I love it.

Finally there’s a lot of local buy-and-sell Facebook groups you can find but be careful, not everyone on there is trustworthy and there’s often no guarantee you’ll be safe from scammers.

Take Advantage of Sales and Competitions

The next things to consider are sales. Most manufacturers, developers and retailers will have the occasional sale. Often these are timed around specific events such as Christmas or Black Friday. If you’re smart (and patient) you can keep an eye out for the time when the thing you want is available at a reduced price and pounce on it.

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 20.15.50
Waves Audio also offer multibuy discounts…

Some software companies, Waves Audio being a prime example, have sales on constantly and seem to just rotate the products which are reduced. This means that you often don’t have to wait long for the one you want to pop up at a better price. There’s also often great deals at resellers such as Plugin Boutique and Audio Deluxe  Though it’s a bit of a double edged sword as some deals for things you don’t really need may be too tempting to ignore.

You will also find that there are often competitions online and on social media where you can win all sorts of high-end gear. Usually the cost to enter is a social share or signing up to a mailing list, which isn’t much to ask at all if the prizes are good. Of course, there’s no guarantee of winning so this is just a bonus idea and no way to get everything you need.

I’d recommend joining the Audio Plugin Deals and Freebies group on Facebook to keep up to date with the latest offers and giveaways. I’d also keep an eye on our little brother website, Audio Plugin Guy and associated Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Seek Out Affiliate Deals and Discount Codes

Every few weeks I like to take my wife to the cinema. I don’t have insurance with compare the market but I have a few friends who do, so on a Monday I can ask on social media for a Meerkat Cinema Code and be confident that I’ll have one by Wednesday and be able to watch a film at half price.

There are similar deals available for audio stuff. Waves Audio, for example, offer referral links to their customers.

So before you buy, ask around to see if you already know someone who’ll be glad to help you get a discount. In these situations, everyone’s a winner!

For everything else there’s Mastercard… :-/

I’m not actually going to recommend the use of credit but I will mention it as a possible consideration. Let’s be clear though, using credit means getting into debt. If you are not absolutely sure that you will be able to make the necessary regular payments then you shouldn’t consider credit. 

Bearing that in mind, a lot of retailers will offer the opportunity to spread your payments over a few months to make the damage less painful to your bank account. The most expensive single part of my home studio setup at the moment are probably my Yamaha HS7 studio monitors. To ease the load I paid for those on my credit card, but it was still in the interest free period and I paid it back off in a couple of months so I never incurred any charges. I’m lucky enough to have a regular job with a guaranteed salary so there was little or no risk in doing this. If you don’t have a steady income then I would definitely leave any kind of credit well alone.

Did I Miss Anything?

So those are my main methods of acquiring software and gear for my home studio set-up without breaking the bank. I hope they have given you some ideas and encouragement to work on your own without having to worry too much about not being able to afford the things you need. And don’t forget that ultimately you can still make music with just the most basic equipment. You don’t need to buy everything all at once!

Do you have any other suggestions I missed? If so then please do write in the comments below this article, on the DIY Music Facebook page, in the Facebook group, on Twitter or via the contact form. I really do value your feedback and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

– Stu

1 thought on “Home Studio Gear on a Budget

  1. A simple thing like a 9V power supply ruined a piece of essential equipment – I have learnt my lesson! I had the (unimpressive) Korg AX3000G – negative centre polarity! I plugged in the 9V adapter I had found in a drawer (positive centre polarity) and then wondered why the AX3000G never worked again!?!?!? I checked the forums – where my first understanding was the PSUs – even though the plug has the same fit – can be a deadly choice if the polarity is wrong.

    I had never considered the rather small, tiny diagram which is in place on almost every PSU – and I had never closely studied the back of the AX3000G either. But it’s done: f r i e d ! ! ! And no way back. The positive side to it is that it was a very poor FX unit – and the 50Hz hum from having the power plug directly next to the audio input – what impoverished brain ever thought of that at all? More fool me for buying!!! 🙁

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