How to Set Up a Mac-based Recording Studio*

How to Set Up a Mac-based Recording Studio*

1. Exo 2.1 Stereo Monitors ($349,; 2. Digidesign Mbox 2 ($450,; 3. LaCie Porche 320GB Hard Drive ($103,; 4. Samson CO3U Condenser Mic ($89.99,; 5. KRK Systems VXT4 ($299.99,



Now that you know which pieces of gear are essential for your home studio, it’s time to start pricing things out. Where? Well, one of the best ways to shop for gear, which is probably not a secret to anyone, is to simply search Google for it. For example, with the Mbox 2 mentioned below, a search brings up,, and - just to start. This lets you find out more about the gear and check out the best prices. Then you might even go to your local store with a printout from the Net and negotiate an even better deal.


The Audio Interface

Digidesign’s Mbox 2 ($495 list/$450 street) is an extremely flexible audio interface that comes with a boatload of extras. You get Pro Tools LE software, which runs 32 simultaneous audio tracks and includes 37 DigiRack plug-ins (software effects that run with the app) such as EQ, delays, reverb, and so on. The sleek little Mbox itself connects to your computer via USB, which provides the power for the unit (meaning no extra power cable!). It’s got a headphone output with dedicated volume control, a studio monitor output control with stereo output jacks (on the back), MIDI I/O for hooking up keyboards or other MIDI devices, and digital I/O via Sony/Philips digital interface format (S/PDIF). You also get two mic inputs, two direct interface (DI) inputs, and two line inputs via TRS (which stands for tip, ring, sleeve cable). Digidesign also throws in a bunch of free extras like Ableton Live Lite 4, Propellerheads Reason Adapted 3, IK Multimedia software guitar amps and samplers, and even a Pro Tools Instructional DVD. The Mbox 2 Educational Version can be found for around $350, so get out your college ID and see if you can still pass.


You could also go with a Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) UltraLite audio interface ($595 list/$550 street), which has a total of 10 inputs and 14 outputs and connects to your Mac via FireWire 400. Housed in an aluminum alloy body, the UltraLite lets you record high-resolution audio (up to 24-bit/96KHz) and monitor the level meters on the front panel or with the provided CueMix Console software. With a portable product like this, you can use it to capture audio with an app such as Logic or Digital Performer on your laptop. It’s perfect for small live recordings or capturing band rehearsals.


Add a Microphone - or Three

A good mic can boost the quality of your recordings. One of the all-time classic mics, the Shure SM58 Dynamic Cardioid Vocal Microphone, can be had for around $99. Many audio pros in the know call it (and/or its cousin, the SM57) their “desert island all-purpose mic.” Kicking it up a notch, you might check out the Rode Podcaster, a large-diaphragm mic that connects via USB and can be found at various online outlets for just over $225. If you want extras, like a guitar-recording mic, check out the Audio-Technica Artist Series ATM650 ($169 list/$100 street). Another versatile mic is the AKG C1000 S, which can be found online for around $230, or $300 packaged with AKG’s C2000 B condenser mic.


Time For a Listen

When it’s time to review your work, headphones come in extremely handy - mainly because they let you work into the wee hours without Johnny Law, or a sleep-deprived spouse, knocking at the door. Sony’s MDR-7509HD headphones are on the pricey side at around $220, but they deliver the goods. AKG headphones are also very popular with pros, and the K 240s can be had for under $130. Beyerdynamic’s DT 770 PRO headphones ($279 retail/$240 street) are designed for critical music and sound monitoring. Good headphones are essential tools that let you make sure your mix is well balanced in the low, mid, and high range.


If you’d rather skip the headphones and to hell with the neighbors, check out Yamaha’s MSP5 studio monitors, with a 40-watt 5-inch woofer and a 1-inch titanium tweeter. A pair can be had for just under $500. If that busts the budget, try out the Alesis M1 Active MkII, which have a 6.5-inch woofer and can be had for just under $300 a pair. Also check out the M-Audio Studiophile BX5a ($399.95 list/$299 street) 70-watt studio monitors. It’s always best to ensure that any monitors you buy have magnetic shielding, which allows them to sit near your screen without buzzing.


The cheapest way to go, of course, is to plug in a set of outboard consumer PC speakers. A quick glance at the Apple online store reveals a few choice selections. Harman Kardon’s SoundSticks II will run you $169.95, and include a pair of satellite speakers and a subwoofer. Klipsch Ultra 2.0 Pro Speakers have two magnetically shielded satellite speakers with 2.5-inch drivers and 1-inch metalized polymer tweeters. And they can be had for $99.95, which might leave you a little extra dough to spend on additional mics.


Of course, you’ll want that separate hard drive, too. Check out LaCie’s 7,200-rpm d2 Quadra Hard Drive, with 320GB of storage space for under $200. Hook it up with FireWire 800 if your Mac supports it.



1. Be a DJ. If you have any interest in mixing your preexisting iTunes music into wild mash-ups of party-esque material, you can probably do this with great ease with the sub-$500 studio (also see “Do It Like a DJ”). Using a free desktop DJ app like djay 1.2 with a USB mic, you can record every bleep and twiddle into something that someone, somewhere might want to listen to.


2. Produce a Podcast. Spending anything on studio stuff for podcasting seems a little like bringing a gun to a knife fight, but if given the choice between listening to something that sounds good and something that doesn’t, we’ll take the good-sounding thing every time. Taking the DJ stuff you’ve just recorded and laying it down as an audio track, and fading from your show bumper (the interstitial music that plays before you start talking) into your podcast can make the difference between the whole world listening to your podcast about, er, podcasting, perhaps, and just you and your mom listening.


3. Record a Soundtrack. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a picture with a well-recorded soundtrack is the single most significant way to make nearly unwatchable footage of the kids’ soccer game seem like MTV. Or at least MTV back when it actually played music videos. Add music to slideshows, photo montages, anything and everything in iMovie. A good soundtrack can elevate the worst footage into something that at least rates as “interesting.”






+ Add a Comment


If you don't mind, I would love to know if this will record decent vocals over electronica tracks:

Macbook pro 2.2ghz quad, 4GB, 115GB OWC SSD
Abelton Intro
Audio-Technica AT2020 USB Condenser USB Microphone (with shock mount + pop filter)

I'd also be doing some simple djing with various track files using abelton.
I just worry about file compatibility since some were downloaded to a pc.

Thanks for any advice/help in advance.



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Hi there,

Great article - really helpful and insightful!

At my work we're buying a new Mac Pro with the aim of having a workstation that will be able to do all of our sound and video editing. We're looking to buy a pair of JBL Control 1 Pro speakers, and I wanted to know whether we could use our existing Mbox 2 as an amp or whether we'd have to buy another amp to connect the speakers to the Mac? I've spoken to a local Mac technician, from whom we're buying our Mac Pro, and he suggests buying another amp because the Mbox doesn't have enough power to give us the sound quality we need.

I've been doing some online research and I'm still very confused, because I'm not sure I agree with the technician but on the other hand I'm not getting much clarity from my research.

So my question is, can we use our existing Mbox 2 to connect our studio monitors to the Mac and will the result be of high quality as we use it in audio (Pro Tools) and video (Adobe Premiere Pro) editing?



It’s very good article.
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Just found this forum, and I'm wondering if USB is still the recommendation for audio? I'm looking at the Konnekt 24D, and TC Electronic recommends dedicated buss, so I'm assuming unless I use the ExpressCard/34 interface I won't be able to hang the 24D off the FW400 and the external drive off the FW800? Anyone using say the M-Audio 1814 with an external FW drive on a MacBook Pro (mine is new, 15.4/2.5)?

This is a real good thread, glad I found it!



Very nice tips. I was wondering if we can somehow sync IMovie with MBox 2. I have a Macbook and Mbox 2 and would like to make videos with the sound quality of MBox 2. Any suggestions?



I am using the iMovie 08 voiceover function and trying to record audio with my MBox but I am not getting any audio.  iMovie is seeing my MBox and giving me the MBox as a choice under the audio input dropdown on the Voiceover box. Also, I have selected the Digidesign MBox under System Preferences as the Audio Input source.  The Mac is definitely seeing the Mbox and the audio is showing up under the system preferences audio input meter... but the iMovie voiceover functionality is not hearing the audio... but it is seeing the MBox as an audio input option.  I have tried the same operation with ProTools LE open and closed in the background.  It made no difference.  I tried the voice over function using the Buil-In microphone on the Mac and it worked.  Why won't the voiceover function hear the MBox??? 



I'm encountering the exact same problem but don't see any resolutions underneath this message. Can anyone help me out? Cheers!



Where can I get speaker stands like the ones used in this article?



This article makes a lot of sense....


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Studio monitors, also called reference monitors, don’t kiss up to your ears like most stereo speakers that are just designed to make all music sound generally pleasing.


Wang Chung

This article makes a lot of sense....thanks guys for the help!!

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