The Beginner’s Guide to Studio Rack Mounts for Home Recording

25c-studio rack mountsAs home studios mature…

They naturally have a tendency to move away from budget desktop gear…

In favor of the pricier, but generally higher-quality rackmounted gear, typically found in pro studios.

But before you can buy any of that stuff, you obviously need a place to put it…

So for today’s post…

My plan is to help you find the right one…

By showing you everything a newbie should know in this post entitled: The Beginner’s Guide to Studio Rack Mounts for Home Recording.

First up…

Assembling Your First Rig

For beginner’s, the biggest challenge in designing their first rack is…they have no idea what a completed rack should look like, once it’s finished.

So let’s start things off with a glimpse into the future, shall we?

While every rig is unique, almost all home studio racks start off with 5 key items:

  1. multi-channel mic preamp – which is used to record several tracks at once (usually for bands).
  2. headphone amp – which is used so that each member of the band can monitor the mix while tracking.
  3. power conditioner – which provides a reliable unified source of power for all the other items in your rack.
  4. monitor management system  – which allows you to distribute the mix to a variety of playback devices.
  5. audio interface - which provides the inputs and outputs to connect all the previous devices to your DAW.

For most folks, its starts with the mic preamp, and headphone amp, which they need when they start recording multiple musicians at once.

Next immediate purchase is the power conditioner, because all racks must have one.

Then later down the road, people add the monitor management system, and upgraded interface as necessary.

For more info on each of these items, check out these posts:

9 best microphone preamps

1d-headphone amps

68d-power conditioners

monitor management

audio interfaces

Otherwise, let’s continue…

Choosing the right size

The next question to ask yourself is:

How many space will I need?

Assuming you will eventually add all the previous items to your rack, the best size to start with ranges between 6-12 spaces

Since some of those items can occupy more than 1 rackspace, and there is always a chance you will add something new in the future.

For most cases, I’d say that 8 is the perfect number to start.

The 3 Basic Rack Styles

studio rackThe 3 general categories of racks are:

  1. Basic Studio Racks - which are cheapest, and ideal for most home studios.
  2. Portable Racks - which are slightly more expensive, but are also durable, and better if your studio is mobile.
  3. Premium Studio Racks – which are the most expensive, but offer several high-tech features such as temperature control, and noise isolation.

These are the top brands I recommend for each category:

1. Basic Studio Racks

Raxxess 10 space slant rack

Among the most well-known makers of affordable studio racks and accessories…

Three of the top brands are:

  • Raxxess
  • Middle Atlantic
  • Odyssey

They’re good because they’re reliable, affordable, and all have great reviews.

The only real difference is…which brand has the look you prefer most.

For Raxxess, here are the options I recommend:

For Middle Atlantic:

For Odyssey:

As you may have noticed, the Odyssey racks are a little more “heavy-duty” than the other two.  And that’s because they’re more of a “hybrid” between a studio rack, and this next category…

2. Portable Racks

SKB 4U Shallow X Rack

If you’re a musician, and you perform live, then SKB and Gator need no introduction.

Because for several decades now, they’ve been industry standards for working-class musicians.

If you ever meet a guy who says he’s not a fan of SKB cases…

You can almost guarantee it’s because he’s loyal to Gator instead.  And vice versa.

For SKB, here’s what I recommend:

Gator Rack

For Gator:

Up next…

3. Premium Studio Racks

IsoBox RackNow so far, all the racks we’ve covered have performed two basic functions:

  1. mounting your gear
  2. protecting it from damage

The really good studio racks however, can do so much more.

A long time favorite of the pros, the Isobox solves a number of common problems, which can’t be easily solved otherwise.

First, the Isobox also functions as a soundproof enclosure, and can reduce noise levels from fans and hard drives by up to 30dB.

The reason cheaper racks are unable to do this is that normally, soundproofing blocks off air flow.  And restricted air flow causes your gear to overheat and get damaged.

The Isobox solves this problem by adding silent exhaust fans to keep your gear cool without adding any additional noise.

And if computer noise is a problem for you, as it is for most people, you can add a special tray to house a computer tower as large as a Mac Pro.

While most of us can’t afford this option, it’s still nice to know the solution is available for us later on.

Up next…

The Do-It Yourself Option

middle atlantic rack railsIf you don’t mind doing a little handy-work…

One way to save yourself some money is to build your own rack instead of buying one.

All you need is 4 pieces of plywood, some glue, nails and screws, and one of the following pairs of rack rails:

Up next…

What to Do with the Extra Spaces

rack accessoriesHate seeing blank spaces in your rack?  Me too.  But you can fix that in two easy steps:

  1. Leave single open spaces between units that get hot.  This allows them to stay cool by providing added ventilation.
  2. Buy some blank rack panels to cover them up.  They’re cheap, and they look great.

I recommend these vented ones, which allow for better cooling:

  • blank panels - (1U/2U)

Another smart option is to use those extra spaces for a drawer instead.  These are the ones I recommend:

  • drawers – (1U/2U)

Just to be sure you always have enough on hand to change something out when you need to…

Get yourself a box of extra screws.  I recommend one of these:

And finally…

What You Can Add Later

pro studio rackWhile most home studio racks are quite simple…

Pro studio racks are often FAR more complex.  Some can even require hundreds of rackspaces.

So what do they use it for?  Well here are some common examples:

  1. digital converters – even though most audio interfaces include their own digital converters, some studios will use separate ultra-high-end dedicated converters for optimal sound quality.
  2. word clock – even though most audio interfaces have their own internal clock, some studios use a dedicated digital master clock.
  3. analog hardware – even though most sound processing in home studios is done through software plugins, many pro studios still prefer analog hardware because of it’s subjectively superior sound quality.

So once you’ve got all the basics in place for your studio, here are some things you might gradually decide to add as the years go by, to make your studio that much better:

The reason elite studios will elect to add these items is because they offer subjectively superior sound quality, compared to the cheaper alternatives used in the vast majority of home studios.

However the key word here is subjectively.  Because while some people will tell you the difference is huge…other’s will tell you it hardly matters at all.  And since each of these items cost several-grand-a-piece, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to everyone.

However, the one optional item I definitely WOULD recommend everyone adds to their rack at some point is a snake cable.

They don’t cost much, yet they add tons of value to your rack in terms of both functionality and organization.

If you aren’t yet familiar with them, here’s a post that explains it all in great detail:

58d-audio snake cables