Into the Catacombs II: The essential gear for a home audio book studio

In the first of these blogs I told you about the most crucial component of a home studio designed to produce audio books: a quiet room.

Now, we move to the gear you will need.

First let me say that what I present here is intended as a minimalist approach to production of professional quality audiobooks in a home studio.  It is minimalist in the sense that I am attempting to pare things down to the bone, no fluff included. But the gear I list below does not cut any corners when it comes to the ability to produce a first rate product.

Also, I have no financial interest in any of the products I will mention.  This is not paid advertising for anyone.  Rather it is what I have found to be the best way to go.

I will add a few notes in passing, but I plan to follow up this blog with others that contain greater detail about the components.  For the moment, I simply want to give you a complete list of the gear. I will put the approximate price of the item in parentheses so that you can get a sense of how much the entire project will run.

Shure SM58 dynamic microphone
Shure SM58 dynamic microphone

1.  A microphone.  Microphones run the gamut from inexpensive USB models to large diaphragm condenser models that sell for thousands of dollars.  My pick is the work horse of the music industry, the Shure SM 58 dynamic  microphone ($100). To connect the SM 58 to the next component below, you will need an XLR cable ($10).

MBox 3 mini

2.  An MBox 3 mini. This is the interface between your microphone and your computer.  The picture above is the back of the unit.  On the far right is the socket where the XLR cable from your SM 58 inserts into the box. The Mbox attaches to your computer via a USB port and is powered by your computer.  As part of the purchase price of the MBox, you will receive Pro Tools Express software, the state of the art software for digital audio production ($210).

3.  A computer.  More than likely you already own a computer that can do the job, but here are a couple of suggestions. The computer can be a desk top or laptop.  The thing with desktops is that they generate a lot of fan noise, which is a big no-no in audio work.  A laptop will also produce fan noise when it gets hot enough, but it is easier to deal with that issue with a laptop than a desk top.  The Pro Tools software will run on a Mac or a PC.

One other consideration with your computer is a fire wire or USB 3 connection. You will need this for your stand alone back up hard drive (see below).

I decided to purchase an HP laptop with a USB 3 connection ($500). I also made the decision to dedicate it strictly for use in the studio. It is running Windows 8, which is another learning curve for me.  However, it also has a slot for an external video monitor.  This helps with the fan noise problem, because I can position the laptop further away from the mic and use a wireless mouse and keyboard to navigate on Pro Tools on the second monitor.

4.  A high speed stand alone back up hard drive.  Audio files eat up a tremendous amount of disk space. For that reason alone you will want a separate back up.  Also the size of the audio files makes a high speed back up essential so that you can have the data available for use instantly as you work in Pro Tools. Finally, you will want to back up your work almost  minute by minute to ensure that you don’t lose it ($100).

5.  A boom microphone stand.  This is important for a couple of reasons.  First, you need to be able to position the microphone correctly. With an SM 58 mic, you will want it directly in front of your mouth.  If you choose a large diaphragm condenser mic, you will need it slightly above you.  The second reason is that a boom mic stand allows you to suspend the mic so that it doesn’t pick up vibrations from movements you use to enter keyboard commands or other movements you will make.  A mic stand sitting on a table in front of you will pick up any of these movements and transfer them to the recording, i.e., it will mess things up.

As to the boom stand itself, you will find two basic models, those with a tripod base and those with a heavy round base.  The round base models are probably more stable, although a little more expensive ($85).

pop screen filter

6.  A pop screen filter. The purpose of a pop screen is to prevent bursts of air from hitting the microphone.  When a person is narrating he will naturally produce these bursts when he reads Ps and Ts and certain other letters. The pop screen takes the edge off this and prevents spikes in the recording ($25).

7.  A studio quality set of headphones. The operative word here is studio. While you are reading you may or may not want to listen to yourself  on headphones.  But the time will come when you are editing, etc., when you will need to listen, and you will need studio quality headphones to hear every little thing.  You may already own headphones that are noise canceling. These won’t work for you in your studio because part of what they cancel out are the things you need to hear in your recording so you can remove them.

The headphones will run anywhere from $50 to $200.

A consideration here is the length of the cord that connects the headphones to the MBox 3 mini.  Depending on how you have your studio arranged, you may need a longer cord than the one that is stock.  To remedy this, you can buy a headphone cord extension.

The connection for the headphones to the MBox 3 mini is what is called a quarter inch jack (also known as a phone jack). If you want to plug the headphones directly into your computer at some point, you will probably need an adapter that converts the quarter inch jack to an eighth inch. Any store that sells electronic gear will have these adapters.

8.  Speakers.  In the audio world speakers are called monitors. You will need a set of computer monitors good enough to hear the fine points of the recording ($50-$150).

9.  A reference book for Pro Tools. Pro Tools comes with an extensive manual in PDF, a keyboard short cut guide in PDF and a basic intro to Pro Tools in PDF. I’m sure everything a person could ever want to know about Pro Tools is covered somewhere in those documents.  However, I bought a couple of reference books to assist me in learning the software.  Jeff Strong’s Pro Tools All-In-One for Dummies is comprehensive and reasonably accessible to a novice like me ($45).

10. Some place to put the script you will read. Again, depending on how you decide to arrange your studio, you will need a music stand or some sort of surface where you place your reading material so that you can read while still maintaining the correct position vis a vis the mic. I am reading most of my stuff on a Kindle Paperwhite.  I can adjust the font as needed and turn pages with a swipe of a finger, which doesn’t produce any noise.

11.  A chair, or stool.  The thing here is that whatever position you assume while you narrate your chair or stool or rubber pad on the floor or whatever should be noise free.  You don’t want to ruin a recording with a chair that creaks.

12.  An electrical outlet. If you have selected a closet as the home for your studio, you may find that there aren’t any electrical outlets in the room.  However, you will almost certainly have an overhead light fixture.  For a couple of bucks at Walmart you can buy an adapter that will convert the overhead fixture into an electrical outlet.  This little adaptation may be important because if you run an extension cord out of the closet to the nearest outlet, you will have to crack the door open, and this will let exterior noise into your studio.

Okay.  So there you have it. Later I may mention a couple of external devices that might prove useful to you.  But I’ll hold off on that for now, because I believe the list above includes everything you will need to produce professional quality audio books in a home studio.

Everything, of course, except your time, voice and practice.

You can’t buy those at Walmart.

 

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    I will follow your advice, pick up these essentials for a home recording studio, pray for good fortune, then call for help when I have a problem, which I foresee happening somewhere between buying the electrical cord and plugging it in.

    • Christina Carson

      Caleb you are a hoot.

  • Bert Carson

    Wow! Way more than meets the eye (and ear) in this project. Thanks, more than you can imagine, for these posts.

  • Christina Carson

    And may I say to anyone reading this blog, from one who had worked in radio, Stephen’s results are excellent. I thought the review clip he sent was an example of a professional he wanted me to hear. But it was Stephen. You know, you never give your friends their entire due. Plus you can count on his info, for he’s not one to wimp out in the midst of all those wires and that new learning curve.

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