$350 Music Studio - Computer Included
I have put together the cheapest music studio possible. Everything you need to start making music for $350 - including the computer! Yes, the computer, audio interface, speakers, keyboard, and software. Can you record songs, vocals, guitars? Yes! Make beats? Yes! Will it run FL Studio, Ableton, Maschine? Yes!
I recorded a song with this $350 studio - 19 tracks of simultaneous virtual instruments, effects, and recorded audio. You can hear the track in my video here.
$350 Studio in a nutshell
1. Computer - Lenovo T430 (Used) $160
2. Speakers - Mackie CR3 $90
4. Keyboard - Nektar SE25 $50
5. Audio Interface - Behringer UM2 $50
6. Software - Cakewalk (plus free plugins) $0
I bought the computer used on eBay for $160. This is a Lenovo T430 laptop. YES, its a laptop which means you can make music on the go! Its got 4GB of RAM and an i5 3320M 2.6GHz processor. Its around eight years old. I wouldn’t recommend getting something older than that. An i5 processor and 4GB of RAM are the minimum specs required by Ableton, Cakewalk, and FL Studio - these are Digital Audio Workstations - the software you’ll use to record music. And it works with all of them! Its also got a 500GB Solid State Hybrid drive which is great for storing samples and plugins. I didn’t cut corners here. This laptop has everything - Wifi, ethernet, USB ports, and it runs Windows 10. The Lenovo T430 is pretty popular on the used market so you shouldn’t have a hard time finding one like this - if you want to get the same one I have. I recorded this song and tested all the software with the 4GB of RAM that this laptop came with, but to see if performance improved, I later installed another 8GB fo RAM - it was pretty easy to do. Performance was better, and that extra RAM only cost me $32. Maybe its something you can upgrade yourself later.
I chose the Nectar SE25 as the keyboard because of the low price. So what can this keyboard do? A lot more than you think. In addition to just playing your tunes with decent velocity sensitivity, it gives you DAW control with play, record, forward, and rewind. You can adjust the velocity sensitivity. I made it softer and the playability was pretty good. You’ve even got some pitch bend and modulation features. The keys are small and a feel a little spongy when you press them, but hey, for this price, you can’t beat it. It does a lot and I would recommend this keyboard if you’re on a budget and want some playability and DAW control in one. Now if you want to go for something with better keys and you’ve got around $100 to spare, check out my list of the best midi keyboards.
I chose the Mackie CR3 studio monitors for the price as well. They’re powered, so you don’t need a separate amp. The CR3 speakers are pretty small, but are meant to be nearfield monitors so you’ll use them up close. When I turned them on, I was surprised at the boominess of the bass. Pretty surprising for the size. I mixed my song just fine on them. Now, are you going to miss some of that bottom end bass on an 808? Yes, but for most projects, especially if you’re just getting started, these are totally fine. You can't beat the price, and they feel pretty well made. They have 3" woofers and .75" tweeters. The frequency range is 80Hz to 20kHz. They have a convenient headphone jack in the front which automatically mutes the speakers when you plug headphones in and also an auxillary input in the front.
You’ll need an audio interface to record an external instrument like a guitar or a microphone. I chose the Behringer UM2 because it's extremely cheap. It has a microphone and instrument input and direct monitoring. It also has phantom power so you can use it with a condenser microphone. If there’s one component from this list I would upgrade, it would be the audio interface. The Behringer UM2 was the cheapest I could find, but if you’re a guitarist or want to use a nice mic, I recommend spending around $100 on an interface. I’ve rounded up the best $100 interfaces in a video here. Don’t get me wrong, you can make do with the UM2, but it would be the first thing I upgrade in this setup.
Mic instead of an audio interface
If all you need is a mic, you can replace the audio interface with a USB microphone. I recorded the vocals in my song with a FiFine USB microphone which is decent. I actually tested this one and compared it to a $1,000 microphone in a video here.
OK, so what about headphones? Well, most of us already have some headphones around the house, and if you’re low on funds, just use those for now. But when you’re ready to upgrade, check out my list of the best studio headphones here. I’ve reviewed headphones that start from $30 all the way up to $500.
Alright let’s talk about the software. You don’t want to skip out on this part, because the software is really the hub of your studio. To keep the cost low, I used Cakewalk by Bandlab as my DAW - my main recording software. I really wasn’t missing any feature of the paid DAWs - except maybe more included sounds. Cakewalk had all the features, including compatibility with all the popular software instruments and effects, automation, mixer controls, and editing. If you prefer using another DAW like Ableton, FL Studio, or Studio One, those will work fine as well with the computer I chose. I even tested the Maschine betaking software and it worked well too. For the song I recorded, I used some of the included sounds in Cakewalk, and also a bunch of free plugins including
- Native Instruments Komplete Start
- ADSR Sample Manager
- KeyZone Classic
- Aubit Sounds for free samples.
I processed my vocals with all the stock plugins in Cakewalk and just added Graillon for some pitch correction.
So, what’s my final advice for putting together a studio like this? Well, two things. First, I was surprised that I was able to do so much with this setup. It just goes to show you that you don’t need a lot of money to start making music. Second, a couple components made me think, "Well, I guess you get what you paid for." It was the audio interface and the keyboard. Now I talked a little bit about the audio interface before and I have a helpful video about choosing a good one. I explain everything you need to know about audio interfaces in simple terms. Now, I’m a keyboardist, so the feel of this keyboard wasn’t great. If you just need something to lay down some ideas, it’s fine. Check out some of the keyboard reviews on my channel if you want something better.