In the ever evolving technological landscape of 2023 there can be an overwhelming amount of product choice and opinions within the audio marketplace. Whether you're a young freelance sound editor forging your future in the industry or a Sound Design veteran in Pro Tools, we all need a range of equipment to complete our projects. Today on the 344 Audio blog, we're going to throw our hat into the ring and put forward 2 suggestions for each piece of gear we believe essential in enabling you to begin your audio journey with the strongest possible foundation.
There are many pieces of equipment that are crucial to our craft. One such thing, is the audio interface. An interface allows you to record into your DAW of choice and more importantly, monitor the sound coming out of your system. There are a few things to have in mind when deciding on an audio interface. Things such as; How many inputs/outputs do I need? Which microphone type(s) will I be using?, will govern the specifications and features that you require. Here's our recommendations for audio interfaces we feel give some incredible value for money and are used by engineers at a wide range of stages in their careers.
Focusrite 2i2 - £120 - This option will more than likely be the first and most common recommendation, for good reason. Focusrite offer these beginner friendly models in a variety of in/out configurations dependant on your needs while remaining fair with their price points. The 2i2 is also a very sturdy interface known to last most people who invest in one a very generous amount of time. Provided you like the colour red, we're confident you wont be disappointed if you decide on a Focusrite interface.
Audient iD4 - £120 - Recently, Audient have been shaking up the home studio gear market with some of their offerings. The incredibly sleek and compact design will no doubt make these units look the part with other modern equipment setups and set them apart from most other competitors, whilst also offering the same functionality and specification with a common compliment they receive being how quiet the pre amp is. Although the Audient offering isnt as tried and tested as Focusrite, It's still a solid call and maybe a better option for you if aesthetic is an important part of your setup.
Now, studio monitors are something which have and always will be a subjective matter. The acoustic conditions of your room will also have a heavy role to play in how monitors can sound so what works for one person, may not for another. It's incredibly easy to hide behind fancy bells and whistles on certain gear in this day and age. Thankfully, monitors are not something this seems to have happened with (yet), making researching which monitors have stood the test of time and which have disrupted the status quo easier than other pieces of equipment. Before buying monitors we strongly suggest listening to something you're familiar with where possible. Getting a feel for the tone of the sound produced will be a huge help in your decision without much thought of the technical aspects. ADAM Audio TV7 - £330 - ADAM Audio have been making waves since releasing their T series, a budget friendly version of their renowned AX and S series monitors. The impressive sound quality along with the well made and durable nature of these make them a worthy purchase for us.
JBL LSR 305 - £229 - These monitors are widely recommended as your first. To get such great detail on all frequency ranges for this price is very rare, with the biggest downside to these being some of the build materials feel a little low quality and wouldn't be as durable as other options.
The next area we're going to look at today is microphones. There will be thousands of options in every different price point here, and inevitably you will move on at some point and upgrade to the universally loved and used microphones when the time is right. Having said that, there are some budget friendly microphones which are extremely well made products and can give some of the biggest companies in the industry and good run for their money.
Aston Origins - £195 - Aston are a relatively new company on the scene (est. 2015) and their first microphone was released to almost universal acclaim. The Origin not only looks fresh and stylist, but delivers a very clean sound on a range of sources including instruments, vocals and props. We firmly believe this is one of the best budget friendly microphone options available market wide.
Sennheiser MKE 600 - £235 - Shotgun microphones can be incredibly expensive, whilst being incredibly important if you work in production sound. Having a good quality boom can make or break the dialogue quality of a project, put simply there are lots of shotgun mics aimed at videographers or YouTube creators (this one included to an extent). However for the price point, the specs and sound quality this short shotgun mic offers can't be overlooked.
Similar to studio monitors, headphones are a subjective matter for slightly different reasons. Comfort is a hugely important aspect, different job roles prefer or require different frequency responses, where you'll be recording/working may mean you require noise cancellation are some common issues to have in mind when considering which headphones are best. One thing we always look out for and be mindful of when considering headphones is if there is a wired option available. As with monitors, we suggest listening to something you're familiar with through any headphones you're considering before buying.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro - £110 - Most people seem to agree that the DT770's give a very solid performance in terms of sound quality and durability. Where they may fall down a little bit is their size, being quite bulky means they could get tiresome to wear after long periods of time and doesn't make for easy transportation.
Audio Technica ATH M50x - £130 - Similar to our other recommendation, the M50x headphones give a great all round sound quality, although a complaint we have heard a couple of times is the low end lacks a little punch. These headphones are incredibly comfortable to wear for a few hours at a time and can be folded up into a pouch for transport whilst compromising none of the build quality.
Being ready to record at the drop of a hat is crucial in any field recordists workflow. As much as we'd love to carry a fully kitted out recording setup at all times, there are many practical issues that would come with it. There are 2 sides to the portable recorder spectrum. Handheld recorders that come as an all-in-one unit with built in microphones, usually at the cost of noisier pre amps and some missing features. Then we have portable recorders which are small, lightweight recording devices that come with no built in microphones but commonly have better pre amps and recording format options. The most noticeable difference between handheld and portable recorders is often the price range, with handhelds being aimed towards the entry level needs and portable recorders aimed at higher end productions. Handheld:
Zoom H6 - £300 - The H6 is a great tool to have in your arsenal. The changeable mic capsules (Mid-Side, XY included. Shotgun can be purchased) are a great addition. Plus, the inclusion of 4 external XLR inputs allows you to achieve a portable stereo or multi microphone set up without anywhere near as much bulk. We felt the biggest downside of the H6 were the slightly noisy pre amps when trying to record some quiet sources.
Sony PCM D100 (D50) - £600-£700 (£150-£250) - This option might be both a little harder to get your hands on and more expensive than the previous option. But the Sony PCM recorders are notoriously well crafted pieces of kit that field recordists have loved and sworn by for years. The only thing missing from these units are the ability to connect external XLR's, but the built in microphones are that sensitive (occasionally a little too sensitive) most of the time you wont be thinking about additional microphones.
Sound Devices MixPre-3 II - £999 - Some won't consider this a budget or beginner friendly option. If you're a look to the future type of person and know this is an industry you will still be around in 5 years to come. Investing in a Sound Devices MixPre is something that might be of interest to you.
Accessories & Additional Resources:
Once you've decided which gear is going to be best for your career path, it is essential that you acquire accessories to allow for the capture of clean recordings and keep your gear in good condition. Important accessories to purchase are; Pistol Grip, Windshield(s), Microphone Stands, Carry cases/bags (For microphones, recorders, headphones) and Spare XLR cables.
Acquiring gear is just the start of your journey. Learning how to best use it and how to make sonic magic after the recording process is another path completely. Reading through instruction manuals, especially on electronic gear is something we cannot suggest strongly enough for safety and ease of use. Being able to efficiently navigate, use and export from your chosen DAW is another essential part of the process. If you're interested to learn more about this side of the process, our sound design course at 344 Audio teaches the professional skills to efficiently use Pro Tools and perform any role in the post-production craft. All from within an active UK Audio Post workplace. For more information on our Audio Post Essentials Course, book a free call here.
If you enjoyed this post please check out our ultimate guide to audio post-production: https://www.344audio.com/post/the-ultimate-guide-to-audio-post-production-sound-design
344 Audio is an Audio Post Production studio in Manchester.
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