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How Portable Audio Studios Work

How to Set up a Portable Audio Studio

MacBook laptop computers are a popular choice for audio production beginners.
MacBook laptop computers are a popular choice for audio production beginners.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Let's imagine that we have the opportunity to put together a robust portable audio studio. Which equipment do we choose? Which software packages are good choices? How much is it going to cost?

Assuming we aren't going to try and retrofit a current computer system, we'll have to start from scratch. Right from the start we have a choice: PC or Mac? There are several software applications available for both kinds of computers. There are PC and Mac laptops that have the horsepower we need to run an audio studio. The choice usually comes down to personal preference. Some people think that the best choice for people with little computer experience is the Mac, which as a reputation for being user friendly. Let's go with that -- we'll choose a MacBook Pro as our digital audio workstation.


To supplement the computer, we'll need an external hard drive. This is where we'll store recorded audio. By porting storage to an external drive, we free up the computer's resources to handle all the applications we'll be using when producing music. Audio files can be very large, so it's important to choose a hard drive with a lot of space. For example, we could choose the G-Tech G-Drive Q, which has 500 gigabytes worth of storage.

What about the software? We could go with a free software package like Audacity, but that means giving up on some features. For example, as of this writing, Audacity can't edit or mix MIDI data. We could use GarageBand, a popular Mac audio sequencer and audio processor. But compared with other software packages, it just doesn't offer a lot of features. If we want a really robust studio, we'll need something like Pro Tools from Digidesign. Applications like Pro Tools give engineers more control and options when working with sound files.

Once we settle on the software, it's time to think about audio interfaces. Not all audio interfaces are compatible with every software package. That's why we chose our software package first. So the first step in choosing an audio interface device is to make sure it will work with our DAW's software. Let's assume we're using Pro Tools and need a device with at least two analog inputs. Digidesign offers the Mbox 2, which not only has this capability but also comes with a copy of Pro Tools software.

The Mbox 2 is an audio interface that you can connect to a PC or Mac.
The Mbox 2 is an audio interface that you can connect to a PC or Mac.
Courtesy Amazon

On top of this, we'll need to invest in cables, microphones, headphones and speakers. If we want to produce music using the MIDI standard, we'll probably also need to buy a MIDI keyboard controller. While it's important not to skimp on these items if we want high quality sound, we won't necessarily have to break the bank either. Let's assume we pick reliable but affordable hardware.

The cost for the studio would break down like this:

  • DAW: our Macbook Pro would cost around $2,500
  • Hard drive: the G-Tech drive retails for $230
  • Software and audio interface: The Mbox 2 retails for $495 and comes with a copy of Pro Tools software
  • Other hardware: Reliable cables, headphones, speakers and a keyboard would cost about $800

The total cost for this studio is $4,025. While that's a healthy chunk of change, it's much less expensive than a traditional recording studio. We could always cut corners and choose more moderately-priced equipment and software, but it's true that you get what you pay for. If money is no object, we could spare no expense and buy the best equipment available. Then you'd really see a hefty bill.

To learn more about recording audio and related topics, take a look at the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Apple Store.
  • Cutler, Marty. "The Incredible Shrinking Studio." Electronic Musician. July 1, 2001.
  • Digidesign.
  • Fant-Saez, Gina. "The Ultimate Portable Studio."  O'Reilly Digital Media. June 29, 2005.
  • Fant-Saez, Gina. "The Ultimate Portable Studio, part 2." O'Reilly Digital Media. July 6, 2005.
  • Sweetwater. "5 Steps to Building Your DAW."