Music production has never been so accessible as it is today. There’s no shortage of free software and inexpensive gear to help you make compelling tracks.
If you want to build a cheap home music studio, you’re in luck. These are our recommendations for building out your home studio for under $200 without sacrificing quality.
Note: These recommendations are based on the lowest available prices at the time of writing. Prices are subject to change.
Let’s start with hardware:
First things first. Without the proper gear, you’ll have a really tough time producing music. You won’t need much outside of these items:
- Microphone & XLR Cable
- Audio Interface
- MIDI Keyboard Controller
This is where almost all your budget is going to go. So let’s go over our picks for each item.
Computer – $0
For this list, we’ll assume you already have a computer. Is this cheating? Maybe. But if you’re a living, breathing human being in the year 2022, then there’s a good chance you have a working Mac or PC.
Microphone & XLR Cable – Tascam TM-80 Condenser Microphone – $38
For a low-budget microphone that’s still decent quality, you can’t go wrong with the Tascam TM-80. It’s a shockingly good microphone for the price.
The TM-80 is a multi-purpose workhorse with a flat response. So you can use it for recording vocals, violins, saxophones, guitar amps, or whatever else you can think of.
The best part is, this mic comes with other accessories like an XLR cable, shock mount, and tabletop mic stand. So right off the bat, that takes care of a few of our needs.
An ideal first XLR microphone for recording vocals and other audio sources. This set comes with a shock mount, tabletop stand, and mic cable.
Audio Interface: Behringer U-Phoria UM2 Audio Interface – $45
The UM2 is a shockingly great audio interface that’ll handle most work you throw at it. It has two inputs – one mic input and another line input for guitars or other instruments.
It’s a simple, no-frills interface with just three dials on top. Plus, it’s small and takes up very little space on your desk.
Read more: The Best Beginner Audio Interfaces
Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Monitoring Headphones – $50
You don’t need a fancy set of speakers to monitor your audio. A good pair of monitoring headphones will do nicely.
These Audio-Technica headphones sound great and deliver an accurate frequency response for checking proper audio levels. Plus, they go over your ears so you can block out other noise when tracking or monitoring.
A budget-friendly pair of headphones with a flat response. They produce an accurate sound that's great for mixing and monitoring.
MIDI Controller: MIDIPLUS AKM320 MIDI Keyboard Controller – $39
A MIDI controller is an absolute must in any home studio. You’ll need it for entering notes, playing melodies, and creating drum beats.
And although it’s small, the MIDIPLUS AKM320 gets the job done. It’s a 32-key micro keyboard with a set of pitch/mod wheels and a volume slider. You can also transpose or change octaves to make up for its smaller size.
An ultra-cheap, compact MIDI keyboard controller with 32 keys. It's small enough to fit any studio setup, and easy to carry around for making music on the go.
Total Spent: $172
With this selection of gear, we’ve stayed well within our $200 limit. You won’t need much beyond this.
And while you could substitute some of these for even cheaper items, the goal was to get decent gear without scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Now Let’s Get Some Software
So now that we’ve invested in some gear, you’ll need software for your cheap home studio. Thankfully, there’s an abundance of freeware alternatives that are extremely good at what they do.
Here’s what you’re going to need:
- Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
- Virtual Synthesizer
- Other Software Instruments
Digital Audio Workstation: Cakewalk by Bandlab
I strongly believe that Cakewalk is one of, if not the most powerful free DAWs on the market today. It’s pro-level software that can compete with even the most expensive DAWs, and Bandlab doesn’t skimp out on any features.
Cakewalk does everything you’ll ever need, from recording, mixing, and mastering to MIDI sequencing and high-level audio editing. And it’s compatible with VST plugins and instruments, making it infinitely expandable.
Cakewalk is a professional-level DAW with features that stand up against other premium applications. It comes with a robust set of tools for recording, editing, and mixing audio. The DAW also features light integration with Bandlab's online platform.
- Based on Cakewalk's legacy Sonar DAWs
- Professional-level features for audio editing, mixing, and mastering
- Integrates with Bandlab's online DAW
- Dozens of FX plugins and ProChannel modules
- Free to download
- MIDI editing is a bit clunky
- Only available for Windows
If you’re an Apple user looking for a beginner-friendly DAW, look no further than GarageBand. Even though it’s free, it comes fully-featured for recording, editing, and mixing audio for music and podcasts. Plus, it includes hundreds of loops and sounds for creating music right away, and offers support for AU plugins.
- Free on macOS and iOS devices
- Easy for beginners to use
- Includes hundreds of loops and sounds right out of the box
- Lacks professional tools found in other DAWs
- Only available for Apple devices
- Doesn’t support VST plugins — works with AU plugins only
Virtual Synthesizer: TAL-NoiseMaker
NoiseMaker is a virtual analog synthesizer that produces high-quality sound, but doesn’t eat up too much CPU. It’s pretty simple to use, and has enough waveshaping controls to create a wealth of sounds.
Software Sampler: TX16Wx
This free sampler does just about everything you’ll need it to do. Upload your own samples, map them to different keys, then slice and edit them for seamless looping. I’ve created a few custom instruments using TX16Wx, and have been very happy with the results.
Other Instruments: Spitfire Labs
There’s a wealth of free software instruments out there. But some of the best ones I’ve ever had the pleasure of using come from the Spitfire Labs collection. There’s an extensive collection of orchestral instruments, guitars, choirs, pianos, and experimental instruments – all for free!
Seriously, these instruments are too good to be free. But Spitfire so graciously offers these instruments for free to composers and producers. No strings attached.
Some Spitfire instruments made our list of the best free orchestral VSTs – read on to discover more free plugins.
Other Software: Kontakt Player & Komplete Start
I consider Kontakt to be one of the most essential pieces of music software ever created. It’s a sample-based tool that serves as the hub for many virtual instruments.
Kontakt Player is the free version. It works with all of Native Instruments’ Kontakt libraries, plus hundreds of libraries from third party companies. Basically, it’s infinitely expandable.
You can download it for free as part of the Komplete Start package, which includes 16 synths and virtual instruments, plus several loops and effects plugins. Or you can get the full version of Kontakt with one of the other Komplete bundles, all of which include several GB-worth of instruments and plugins.
Optional Gear and Software
While the above gear and software give you all the essentials, investing just a little more into your studio can make a world of difference. The following items will put you over the $200 budget. That said, they’re still affordable for most people.
Mic Stand: On-Stage Stands Boom Mic Stand – $38
While the Tascam mic we listed comes with a tabletop stand, you might want something a bit more versatile. An adjustable boom stand will give you the flexibility to position your mic however you need it.
Just about any boom stand will do. I chose the On-Stage stand because it’s reliable for the price.
The On-Stage boom stand is sturdy, reliable, and adjustable for miking almost any audio source. Everyone should have at least one or two of these versatile stands in their studio.
Monitors: PreSonus Eris E3.5 Studio Monitors – $99
If you’ve never bought a set of studio monitors before, then these PreSonus monitors are a great first choice. They’re accurate, sound incredible, and you can push them to high volumes without any distortion.
More Software Instruments: ComposerCloud Plus – $20/month
EastWest’s Composer Cloud is a very compelling option for new composers and producers on a budget. Instead of forking over hundreds of dollars for a single plugin, you could pay a monthly fee and instantly access thousands of unique instruments and effects.
Subscriptions start at $20/month. The subscription could potentially pay for itself if you’re selling music online.
ComposerCloud gives you access to over 42,000 high-quality virtual instruments all at once. Unleash your creativity with synths, orchestras, vocals, world instruments, drums, and more.
Additional Resources for Building a Cheap Home Studio
It doesn’t take much to build a cheap home studio. For less than $200, you can have a pretty compelling setup that has everything you need to make sweet, sweet music.
We’ve put together more resources for fleshing out your cheap home studio:
- Check out our Toolbox with our favorite gear and software recommendations.
- Record high quality audio with the best beginner audio interfaces.
- Find a beginner-friendly hardware synth in our guide to the best beginner synthesizers.