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Recording music at home? You'll need these tech gadgets

Whether you're trying to record demos, create content for TikTok, or just want to play around, making music at home is easier and more accessible than ever with some of my favorite tech products.
Written by Taylor Clemons, Staff Writer
Reviewed by Nina Raemont
Fender Mustang LT25
A Fender Mustang LT25 practice amp next to an electric guitar
Fender Mustang LT25
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SteelSeries Alias Pro
Close-up of a SteelSeries Alias Pro XLR microphone and base station
SteelSeries Alias Pro
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SteelSeries Arena 9
Close-up of the SteelSeries Arena 9 speaker system on a pair of round tables
SteelSeries Arena 9
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Image of Audacity logo
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Getting your music and other creative work discovered is more possible than ever with the advent of social media, video sharing sites like YouTube, and live streaming on Twitch. And even if you don't want to end up playing on stage for a massive audience, recording music at home can be a great way to monitor your progress during practices or to get feedback on your technique. 

I've been involved with music, production, and theater for decades, and I've worked with both high-end professional recording equipment and cheap content creator bundles. I've gotten amazing results with both. So I've put together a list of my favorite amps, mics, and software that make recording at home both accessible and affordable. 

Also: The best music headphones you can buy

While technically a practice amp, the Mustang LT25 packs in enough features and rich tone to prove it can hang with the best performance and recording cabinets. It comes preloaded with 30 tone presets, ranging from signature Fender Clean and crunchy classic rock to screaming thrash metal and funky flangers and wah pedal effects with space for 30 more. 

If you download the Fender Tone LT desktop app, you can try out over 100 different tone effects and save them to your LT25 for a custom sound profile, or to suit whatever musical mood you're in that week. You can also create your own custom tone presets either directly on the amp with the built-in dials, or with the Tone LT desktop app's virtual pedals, cabinets, and amps. Reddit users compliment the amp for its beginner-friendly features, affordability, and plethora of effects. 

Close-up of a SteelSeries Alias Pro XLR microphone and base station
Taylor Clemons/SteelSeries/ZDNET

The SteelSeries Alias Pro is an excellent XLR microphone that comes packaged with everything you need to get started recording crystal clear vocals for podcasts and music tracks. The base unit contains the phantom power controller and preamp in a single, compact package, making it perfect for smaller desks as well as XLR newcomers making the jump from USB mics. To learn the difference between XLR and USB, I cover this in the sections below. 

Volume and mute controls are also on the base unit, which helps eliminate harsh knocks and bumps that can ruin an otherwise perfect track. The built-in shock mount and pop filter also help to keep things stable and at optimal levels for recording.

Also: The best streaming mics of 2024 for TikTok, YouTube, and Twitch

Close-up of the SteelSeries Arena 9 speaker system on a pair of round tables
Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

I've been in love with the Arena 9 speaker system since I got to test it in early 2024. It's a 5 speaker system, complete with subwoofer and OLED dial controller to turn just about any space into your own musical paradise. The dial allows you to adjust volume, select EQ presets, create a custom EQ setting, turn the 5.1CH upmix on and off, and use the Bluetooth connectivity settings. You can also connect the Arena 9 via USB for less playback latency or setting up a second playback device. 

And with the SteelSeries Sonar app, you can customize input and output mixes for both recording and streaming; making it a perfect choice for Twitch streamers who mix or create music live.

Image of Audacity logo

Audacity is one of my favorite recording programs. Not only because it's free, but because it doesn't have the steep learning curve that software like FL Studio or Pro Tools do. It supports a vast array of mics, instruments, MIDI controllers, and production effect packages to give you complete control over how you record and refine your demo and album tracks.  

It's compatible with Windows, Linux, and MacOS, so no matter what device or computer you use, you won't run into any issues with installation. And since Audacity is open-source, there's a dedicated community of bug-fixers and code-modders who are constantly updating and releasing new versions of the software. All for free. 

Why should you trust me?

I have years of recording experience under my belt. During my college years at Tiffin University, I was active in the music and theater programs, preferring to work behind the scenes as a stage hand or sound tech over dozens of stage productions, live music festivals, and student workshops. I even helped build the small recording studio for the music production and entertainment management students. I've also been playing both acoustic and electric guitar for the better part of 20 years. And while I'm definitely not rockstar material, I know how to find the best equipment for playing and recording on a budget at home.

But more importantly, I review and test tech products for a living. That means I'm pretty picky -- and critical -- of technology, and spend 40 hours a week researching, testing, and writing up stories about products that are worth your money. 

Are there free music production software options?

Audacity is free and open-source, making it perfect for beginners and anyone just looking to create music for their own enjoyment. Mac users have access to Garage Band, which is a "freemium" program; giving you access to limited instruments and functionality at the free, base level. But more are available for a fee. And in a pinch, you can even use an iPhone's Voice Memo feature to record quick snippets of vocals or instrumental tracks when you don't have access to your studio equipment at home. 

What is an XLR microphone? Do I need one to record music at home?

You may have seen both USB and XLR microphones if you've been shopping around for a decent mic to add to your recording setup. And the choice on which to use is really up to you and what fits your needs and budget, but there are a few factors to consider first. 

A USB microphone is a great option for beginners, as well as anyone who is just looking to try out a few recording ideas at home. Not only are they affordable, but they often feature several different pickup patterns (how it records sound) to suit a variety of recording situations like one-on-one podcast interviews, single-host live streams, and of course, home studio recording. The biggest drawback of a USB mic is that since they are meant to be more accessible, and therefore more affordable, they aren't going to use pro studio-grade components. Which means you'll sacrifice clarity and fidelity in favor of versatility and cost efficiency. 

On the other hand, an XLR mic is a better choice for more experienced home recording artists. These usually use a 3-pin cable connection as well as two devices called the phantom power and preamp modules. A USB mic gets power from your computer, tablet, or whatever device you have it plugged into, but an XLR mic requires the phantom power unit in order to work properly. The preamp module is what allows you to adjust things like gain and mic monitoring volume before running the audio signal to your PC or tablet to process in your favorite music production software. Some XLR mics, like the SteelSeries Alias Pro, come packaged with a combo phantom power/preamp module, making them more cost effective as well as better choices for smaller home recording studios that may not have space for a lot of dedicated equipment. 

Do I need to soundproof my recording space?

If you're just looking to play around in Audacity or learning the ropes of music production, soundproofing your recording space isn't a priority. Though you may want to hang some blankets to help cut down on echo if you're having a hard time capturing clean audio. 

But if you're more experienced and looking to start seriously recording and cutting demos to send to studios or to share on social media, soundproofing is definitely a good idea. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable acoustic foam options on the market. And like I mentioned before, if push comes to shove, you can hang blankets around your space to help deaden echoes. 

Other music recording tech we think you'd love 

HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless headphones
Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

If you prefer headphones while editing tracks, the Cloud Alpha Wireless is one of the best on the market. It's made for gaming, but offers great audio fidelity, especially for hobbyists or anyone new to music production. And with a 300-hour battery life, you can jam for weeks before you need to recharge. 

This is a great compact setup for home recording. The acoustic foam backing absorbs unwanted ambient noise to help you record cleaner vocals and instrumentals, while the tripod gives you nearly endless placement options if your home studio happens to be whatever room is the quietest that day.  

One verified reviewer on Amazon bought an RF-X portable vocal booth to record bedtime stories for their grandchildren who live in different states, and highlighted how the acoustic foam helped cut down on background noise from his combined recording space and workshop.  

The Elgato Stream Deck isn't just for Let's Players and Twitch streamers. With the ability to connect to dozens of productivity apps, creative programs, and near-infinitely nesting actions, you can load recording presets or unfinished projects with the push of a button.

The Novation Launchpad Mini is a great, and super-affordable MIDI controller. This piece of recording equipment lets you create digital drum tracks as well as digital recreations for hundreds of other instruments and synth effects. The 64 keys use RGB lighting, allowing you to customize input groups and remember which sequences you're triggering. 

The Ultimate Guitar logo (a capital letter G with stylized horns at the top) on a grey background
Ultimate Guitar/ZDNET

This website has been around since 1998, and offers a huge library of official and fan-created tabs, chord charts, and backing tracks for hundreds of thousands of songs across countless genres. It's perfect for players of all levels, and for anyone looking for ideas for creating cover songs or remixes. 

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