The $1K Home Recording Studio, Just Add a Mac

The $1K Home Recording Studio, Just Add a Mac

Trent Johnson
Mar 10, 2010

Musician Preston Lee of Phoenix area band Whiskey Three leads a multifaceted life: part-time blogger, self titled "technologist, businessman and entrepreneur," and owner of a pretty sweet home recording studio. While it's full of quality components, capable of laying down track after track, it doesn't brake the bank. See his setup after the jump.

Music composition, production and performance is a big part of Preston's life: his band, Whiskey Three, plays out of Phoenix Arizona. In addition to playing live shows every few weeks, they also work collaboratively on other local music projects. Preston also produces tracks for other local musicians.

20 years ago, digital home recording didn't really exist. Just 10 years ago, according to Preston, the technology available for home recording became available but was over-priced, high-noise and high-latency. Now however, much in thanks to the capabilities of Macs or open source software on PC's, anyone can build a personal studio "capable of producing DVD-quality records by adding a thousand dollars of equipment to your existing computer and music rig."

Preston's original setup was all driven by a single Mac Mini and cost around a grand. He has since made some substantial upgrades, those noted after the initial setup.

Preston's Setup:

  • Mac Mini (Intel) with a DVI-HDMI converter cable.

  • 1080p LCD television/monitor

  • Logic Pro by Apple (Now included as part of Logic Studio, $499) with distributed processing via additional household Macs via Xgrid over gigabit Ethernet. Logic Express ($199) will do the same job without the distributed processing.

  • Behringer HA4700 ($159.99) headphone amp with studio headphones for laying down track on top of track

  • PreSonus FirePod (Now known as the FP10, $399) rack-mountable FireWire/optical 24-bit/96k recording system combining eight high-quality PreSonus XMAX microphone preamplifiers and 24-bit/96k sample rate conversion.

  • Microphones and stands

  • Instruments: Full-size Yamaha keyboard (pictured), a bunch of vocal mics and guitars, and a rack of miscellaneous inputs.

Preston has since made some upgrades to his setup however it should be noted that everything above is all you really NEED to get started. Here are Preston's additions:

  • Logic Studio 9.
  • Mac Mini Server (Snow Leopard) with two LCD panels replacing the 1080p television for increased resolution.
  • MacBook with Logic Node, connected to the Mac Mini via gigabit ethernet. 4GB RAM.

(Pictured above a 4U mobile recording rack with the following components (from top to bottom): Furman power conditioner, Alesis 3630 compressor/limiter, PreSonus FirePod and Behringer Powerplay PRO-XL 4-channel headphone amp.)

Why Macs?

Preston migrated years ago from a purely Windows-based setup to a Mac only setup and has been much happier. Logic Studio, a significant upgrade from the basic GarageBand (which would actually work fine for someone just starting out), doesn't require specialized hardware. Logic Nodes comes built in for distributed processing via the network, something that is unrivaled at this price point on PCs. To prove his point, Preston recorded and produced a U2-inspired acoustic version of "It's Alright" available for download on his blog.

For any questions about his setup or for information about the band/production, feel free to contact Preston (Vic) Lee by email.

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