How to Set Up a Mac-based Recording Studio*

How to Set Up a Mac-based Recording Studio*

1. Shure SM58 Dynamic Cardioid Vocal Mic ($99,; 2. Exo 2.1 Stereo Monitors ($349,; 3. Sony MDR-V6 Headphones ($59,



Even though you’ve halved your budget, there’s still some pretty good gear that will get the job done. You’ll definitely have to make tough decisions - if you opt for the higher-end audio system, for example, you’ll have less money to spend on mics and speakers. Again, hunt for those bargains online.


The Audio Interface

You might start with an M-Audio Fast Track Pro ($199.95) audio interface. Compatible with most popular Mac music software, it connects via USB and has two Mic/Line inputs, a single MIDI I/O, and two 1/4-inch TRS outputs. It also comes with Live Lite 4 and GT Express software. The FastTrack Pro unit itself is really pretty light, fits nicely in a bundle with your laptop that you could take into the field, rehearsal studio (or a live setting), or just leave on your desk while recording. And it sounds great. As an extra bonus, it doubles as an audio interface for Pro Tools M-Powered software. For even less ($99.95), you can pick up the M-Audio Fast Track USB, but it doesn’t have inputs for a microphone. It’s primarily an instrument/line input for recording your guitar/bass or keyboard.


For around $99, you can pick up the IK Multimedia StealthPlug, which is a compact, cable-like USB audio interface for guitar and bass. It comes with Amplitube 2 guitar amp modeling software and will work as a plug-in or by itself. That means you can run it quite nicely with GarageBand, Pro Tools, Logic, or whatever else catches your fancy.


And don’t forget the external hard drive, if you can squeeze it in: Try the EZQuest Pro Audio FireWire 400 160GB model ($169.99 list/$139.99 street).


M-Audio's Fast Track Pro packs a power punch for just a hair under $200.


Add the Mics

The Samson Q1U is a pretty versatile handheld mic with a built-in USB interface and a desk stand that can be found for under $60: Plug it right into your Mac and record. The Audio-Technica AT2020 can be found for a street price of just under $100, and provides a wide dynamic range. This could make an excellent overall mic to cover your acoustic guitar or percussion. The Studio Projects B1 is a large-diaphragm condenser mic with a Mylar capsule that makes for some hardy and acoustically true sound capture. It also comes with its own shockmount, for about $125. Large-diaphragm mics generally sound better with vocals, as they produce audio that is “warm” by most standards.


Listen Up

For headphones in this category, check out the Sony MDR-7502s, which are perfect for DJs and home audio buffs at just over $50. Audio-Technica has the ATH-M3X headphones, an open-ear design with a decent amount of low end, coming in at just under $40. Yamaha’s $20 set, the RH2Cs, have isolated ear cups and an adjustable headband.


To round out the under-$500 package, the Tascam VL-S21s are a pair of cool flat-panel monitors with an 8-inch subwoofer. These are perfect for the desktop and cost around $100. Once again, M-Audio comes to the budget rescue with its Studio Pro 3 Monitors, offering up a 3.25-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter for just under $100. If you’ve run out of money at this point, just settle for those internal computer speakers and hope for the best - at least until you can save up a hundred more bucks to buy yourself some decent monitors.



The difference between a pro studio and a home studio - outside of the cost - is usually the real estate footprint. We might record at home, but lots of us would love to actually live in a studio with its huge live rooms, tall ceilings, and, we guess, the ability to make noise whenever you wanted. In any case, getting the best gear onto your desktop means getting the best gear that will actually fit on your desktop. The laptop is a given. Mics and headphones are easy to fit. Speakers, complete with resonant cabinets that can be space hogs if allowed, are now coming in smaller, truer, and more powerful formats. Our two recent faves, at two different price points, fit on most desks:


EXO 2.1 Stereo Monitoring System ($399 list/$349 street) sports 3-inch two-way satellite speakers. Their presence on a desk is discreet, and the low frequency response we got while listening to some stuff we were mixing for our podcast was impressive too. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the 8-inch subwoofer - something you wouldn’t want to be without, especially if you’re mixing dance music - is, well, gigundo by comparison. But if the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, this sounds good enough to eat.


KRK Systems VXT4 powered reference monitors ($399 list/$299 street) are 4-inchers that are so good (and small) they’re better than your ears are ever likely to be. Half the stuff you hear on the radio? Yup, they were mixed with these. If they’re good enough for Christina Aguilera, they’ll work just fine for the soundtrack you’re composing for your trip up to the mountains.




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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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