Computer based home recording studios must include a reasonably powerful computer (with at least 1 GB of RAM), an audio interface, and a digital audio workstation program. If you want to record any kind of acoustic instruments or vocals you’ll need microphones. For those who interested in using synths, samplers, loops, and drum machines I highly recommend the Reason software. You will also, of course, need any sort of system for listening back to your music. You really should have both speakers and headphones (listen to your music both ways to make sure you have a good mix.)
What kind of computer should you get? Well if you already have a computer that you’re happy with then you can likely use the one you already have. But you must make sure it has a minimum of 1 GB of RAM. And in all likelihood you’ll want more than that. I recommend at least 2 GB. Your recording and mixing software will work far better with more RAM.
Should you get a Mac or a PC? In my opinion either option is fine. People make too big a deal out of this. Some programs work better with one or the other and still other programs only work with one or the other. So if you have a certain program that you really want to use, make sure it’s compatible with your computer.
What kind of audio interface you get depends on two things: Your needs & your budget. If you only plan on recording yourself then you won’t need more than two inputs (at most.) Unless of course you have a live drum set (it’s good to record drums with many inputs for the different microphones.) But there’s more to consider than just how many inputs you get with your interface, you should also consider sound quality. The more expensive models also have better sound quality. Get what you can afford.
There are a lot of choices as far as digital audio workstation (DAW) software. There’s Pro Tools (which works with the Digidesign audio interfaces.) There’s Cubase. There’s Nuendo. There’s Logic. And there’s quite a few others as well. Which one is right for you? Well first you should know that any of these programs only work with PC (Cakewalk’s SONAR & Sony Acid) or Mac (Logic & Digital Performer.) Bedsides that I think they are all quite similar actually. The important thing is which one you feel most comfortable with. You can download free demo versions to see which one fits you best. There are any general tips about digital audio workstations that I can give: Sony Acid tends to be a good choice for those who do loop based music (like hip hop and techno.) Cubase is a good choice for people on PCs or Macs. Pro Tools is a good choice for those using a Mac but I don’t recommend it for those on Windows. It tends to work better on Macs and it’s actually not as full featured as Nuendo or Cubase.
As far as microphones are concerned you’ll want to buy a condenser microphone for recording vocals and acoustic instruments. With microphones you mostly get what you pay for. Better clarity comes from better mics (and better mic preamps but that’s getting a bit too complicated for this article.) Better mics cost more money. Dynamic mics are good for recording drums and amps. I would say they are less essential unless you have a drum set. If you have any good guitar effect plugins (such as Waves GTR 3) then you’ll probably be able to get a good sound plugging your electric guitar (or bass) directly into your audio interface.
Reason is the best all in one solution for those who want a drum machine, a sampler, a synthesizer, and/or a looping program. It’s top quality software that I can’t recommend any higher. If you can afford it and you’re interesting in any sort of “synthetic” elements in your music then it’s a must have.