Building an iPad recording studio; Part 8 – How much does it cost to build an iPad recording studio?

finger on a tablet computer screenWe have covered a lot of ground in the first seven parts of this series. We have looked at how the concept of a DIY multi-track recording studio has evolved to the point where you can building such a system around the humble iPad (Part 1).

In Parts 2, 3, 4 and 5, we have also looked at the key additional pieces of hardware you might need over and above the iPad itself; an audio/MIDI interface, a MIDI keyboard, a microphone and a monitoring system (although there are plenty of things we could add to this).

Then, in Parts 6 and 7 we focused on the software – the various iOS music apps you might need, including a suitable multi-track recording app – to complete your iPad recording studio.

So, we have identified what might constitute our ‘starter kit’ for an iOS-based recording studio… but what we haven’t done – at least not in any detail – is turned this equipment wishlist into a budget; taking the iPad itself as a given – that is, you already have an iPad or you know how much the model you want to buy is going to cost – just how much will it cost to build the rest of this iOS recording studio as outlined in the first seven parts of the series?

Hit the sweet spot

Where possible, throughout the series, I’ve tried to give some example prices and, with the hardware at least, I’ve focused on the price ranges that are more realistic for someone just starting out with DIY recording for the first time. Yes, you can easily spend significantly more if you have the budget and the desire to do so but, if you are just dipping your toe into the DIY recording waters, starting with equipment nearer the bottom of the market is a sensible move.

The Audio Technica AT2020 might be a 'budget' microphone but it can deliver good clean results if used with due care and attention.

The Audio Technica AT2020 might be a ‘budget’ microphone but it can deliver good clean results if used with due care and attention.

However, don’t be too concerned that only being able to afford equipment towards the bottom of the food chain is going to stop you making some very credible recordings. The advances in consumer electronics we have seen over the last 30 years mean that, even at this starter price point, while you are not getting ‘the best’, neither are you getting a bad deal. In fact, if you compare what a UK£100 microphone (or set of speakers or headphones) sounds like now compared to what they sounded like 25+ years ago, then actually you are doing pretty well.

The other issue here is that the quality of your recordings is not just down to the absolute specification of the equipment. Sticking a UK£1000 microphone into your studio doesn’t suddenly guarantee that everything will instantly sound like sonic gold dust. One (relatively) weak link in the audio signal chain (and that might include the operator!) can very easily remove the advantages gained from one stellar item. You have to take care of every stage of the audio signal chain and use some common sense to ensure you maximise the quality you can get from the equipment you have available.

As with lots of objects you might purchase – be it cars, cookers, computers or TVs – I think most of the hardware products you need to complete your iPad recording studio have something of a pricing ‘sweet spot’. You know, the point at which you get maximum amount of value from the kit and it does 95% of the things any competing device might do whatever the price. However, the other 5% of performance might cost you 100% more and might mostly consist of bling. If you are a guitar player, a good analogy might be a ‘stock’ UK£1000 guitar from Gibson or PRS as opposed to the UK£5000 ‘special edition’. Yep, you would love to own the more expensive guitar but you know the cheaper one will be more than adequate for getting a very professional job done.

Now, I’m not suggesting the ‘starter kit’ budget that follows below is in the sweet spot for DIY home recording; it’s not….   but neither do I think it is so far away from it that this is not something you could aspire to if your initial experimentation develops into a fully-blow recording addiction. I’ll pick this topic up again in the Part 9 but, for now, let’s put a typical budget together for what would make a solid starter kit for our iPad recording studio….

The price is right

OK, so we have identified the key items of kit in the previous parts of the series. All I intend to do here is put together what might represent a shopping list and then actually do the sums. For each item in the list, I’ll simply pick a suitable example and quote the current street price for that item. I’ll use UK£ here (that’s the currency I’m used to) but, as far as I’m aware, these prices ought to translate into US$ or € fairly well if you apply the current currency exchange rate. In other territories, you might have to think about the relative levels of your local sales tax (we have VAT here in the UK at 20% and which is included in all the prices listed).

So just how much is it going to cost to build a recording studio around an iPad that can deliver both decent results and some flexibility?

So just how much is it going to cost to build a recording studio around an iPad that can deliver both decent results and some flexibility?

One other point; do note that this is not really me recommending any of these specific products (although, for the money, I’m sure they would all do a very respectable job), but more so that you can get a sense of the overall budget. You can then do your own calculations based on items you think you don’t need, things you would swap in as alternatives, or additional items you would like to add to your own personal list from the off.

So, with that all in mind, the table below shows an example shopping list – iPad excluded – for an iOS-based recording studio ‘starter kit’. I’m assuming here that you want to include MIDI sound sources (synths, etc.) in your recordings even if you don’t actually record (and edit) MIDI parts. I’ve therefore added both the MIDI equipment and audio equipment discussed in earlier parts of the series to this list. Whether you want to record just audio, or audio and MIDI, will obviously influence your choice of iOS recording app (both Auria or Cubasis are listed here as examples).

Keep in mind this is just an example; I could just as easily have picked alternative items in all these categories. Also, the prices listed reflect those at the time of writing; things do change quite rapidly and, for example, many developers have regular sale offers on their apps so you might be able to find a bargain or two along the way.

Stand by for the bottom line....  just how much is this iPad recording studio going to cost us?

Stand by for the bottom line…. just how much is this iPad recording studio going to cost us? All prices listed here are current street prices in UK£ at the time of going to press.

And….  ouch! If you are just starting out, then the figure at the bottom of this list might seem like quite a hefty total over and above the price of the iPad that sits at its centre. For many, this will seem like a big investment to make to begin a new ‘hobby’.

Please though, do reflect back on Part 1 of this series. If we had been putting together a shopping list for a home recording setup 25+ years ago (a) the recorder alone (which might only have managed 8 tracks of audio) would have set you back more than this total and (b) the total budget might have been three or four times this amount… not allowing for inflation in the meantime… and you wouldn’t even have been able to buy items in some of these categories (the software didn’t exist).

However, what I think you are getting here is a good, balanced, system that puts the bulk of the money where it will do the most good. So, for example, our audio/MIDI interface has enough features to be flexible yet is also far from shabby in terms of audio performance. Our monitoring system – while far from the best – combines compact but useable speakers with some good (actually very good) headphones. Our microphone is a solid performer that will do a decent job on vocals and acoustic guitars. And finally, our recording app, synths, effects and other software sound sources will provide plenty of inspiration and, if we choose, are easily expandable.

Cubasis (or Auria) deliver a heck of a lot of virtual studio for a very modest price.

Cubasis (or Auria) deliver a heck of a lot of virtual studio for a very modest price.

I think the key things here are that there are (a) no gapping holes in the setup and (b) no absolute weak links. No, you won’t be able to record a full band all at the same time (you would need multiple microphones and a multi-channel audio interface to have a stab at that) but you can lay down a virtual drum track, add tracks based on synths or other virtual sounds, record your vocals and ‘real’ instruments such as guitars and then apply effects, mix and finally master your musical projects….  And then your finished tracks can be up on SoundCloud (or other music sharing sites) almost instantly for the world (or at least your best mates) to hear….

For well under UK£1000 and the cost of your iPad, this is a heck of a powerful recording studio for what – in recording technology terms – really is a very modest outlay. Start saving…. you now have an idea of how to build an iPad recording studio and – roughly at least – how much it might cost.

What next?

Still, if the budget shown here is something to aim towards rather than something that is already available, then we could, of course, cut some corners to start with. Equally, if we knew this was going to be a serious long-term project, then we could go up-market with some of the items listed here and spend a little more.

And that’s where we will go in Part 9, where I’ll look at both these scenarios in more detail….

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    Comments

    1. Conor Brown says:

      Great series of articles john, well done & keep up the excellent work!

      Regards,
      Conor

    2. Chris Catalano says:

      What a great little breakdown of costs! A lot of the options there are as good as it gets software wise, and I need to be reminded now and then of how incredibly far iOS music production has come in a very short time…

      Thanks again, John, for all the stellar, thorough articles you give us…

    3. Hi John. I’m really enjoying this series, many thanks. I’m going to get greedy now, and ask for one more thing. You may well be planning already to cover this in a later part, but I would really appreciate some basics on acoustic treatment of recording rooms. Something in the same spirit as other entries, with a focus on amateur producers. What are the quick wins (and quick losses to avoid) on this topic? Is lining our walls with book shelves recommended, or just a myth that doesn’t really make a difference? That type of thing…

      Apologies for being greedy, but you have given us a thirst for more knowledge with this excellent series.

      Cheers
      Martin

      • Hi Martin, thanks for the positive comments… always appreciated. This is a very good idea…. I can’t claim to be an expect in acoustic treatment and, top do it properly actually requires quite a bit of research based upon your own recording space…. but, for some basics…. just enough to help clean things up a little, the principles are not too difficult…. When we get ourselves sorted in out new location and have settled in a bit, I’ll add this to my ‘to do’ list :-) best wishes, John

    4. justa reviewer says:

      And not one recommendation of the actual iPad to use?

      • Martin Craig says:

        From my experience, any model from the iPad 2 upwards will work with *most* of the above recommendations (thank you, John!) although the Focusrite iTrack Dock requires an iPad with a Lightning connector; meaning a 4th generation upwards. The rival Alesis iO Dock II will work with earlier iPads up to and including the 4th generation, and although the later Air models aren’t immediately compatible in terms of fitting the space, some people have rigged up compromise solutions that work.

        Other than that, you can assume you’ll get better results in terms of processing speed, the number of available tracks you can run simultaneously and the amount of plugins you can apply to your music with the newer and more powerful models of iPad. As with all things, it comes down to how much you can afford and/or are willing to spend. The other thing to check is that, if you’re going for a dock rather than a standalone interface, the physical dimensions of the iPad you fancy will fit into it – the larger iPad Pro is an example of one that won’t fit any existing dock I know about.

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