Buying a home recording studio desk on a budget

Studio RTA Producer Station

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I’ve finally been getting around to setting up our spare room as my home studio, and wanted to look into a new home recording studio desk. After finding a bunch of crazy expensive options (along with some less expensive ones), I realized that there’s not many for most of us to choose from.  But if you have a bedroom or project recording studio, it’s something that does require a bit of thought, and some planning.  And money.

This very topic is actually one of the reasons I started this site.  After doing enough research on this, I figured that putting together a list of great studio desks, along with deciding factors, would be helpful.

A few notes on this article:

  • This will be mostly from my point of view during my research, and probably won’t go into nuts and bolts details about each desk, but mostly my observations that would figure into a real-world decision
  • I will, however, cover some cool smaller options available as well
  • I won’t really be covering any of the more expensive units out there, such as Argosy, bigger Omnirax, AZ-Studio Workstations, bigger Ultimate Support, RAB Audio, etc.  Maybe for another post.
  • I’m specifically not including anything from AZ-Studio Workstations because their desks look like they were made by a high school shop student, and they charge WAY too much.
  • The price ceiling will be around $1000.  I know.  “Only” a thousand bucks, right?  Honestly, I don’t even want to cross the $500 threshold, but I know it will happen at some point.
  • I won’t be covering sidecars or other extraneous furniture other than the main desks

I also plan on putting together an article about using non-specialized desks for as a home recording studio desk, and that will come soon enough.  But for now, let’s get on with the show.

What features do I need in a home recording studio desk?

A good home recording studio desk needs to do a few things well, and thankfully it’s not much.  But depending on your current gear, your planned upgrade path, and your room situation will dictate most of it.

Main surface space

Take a look at your current desk.  What’s on the work surface?  What can go, what needs to stay, and what do you wish you had there?  Some people want room for a MIDI controler.  Keyboard, faders, button strip, full control surface, etc.  Others just need their keyboard, mouse, and that’s it.

Personally, I don’t have plans to add a keyboard or other sort of instrument controller, as I pretty much never use one.  So far.  But I do want to add a second set of monitors eventually, and with that some sort of monitor control box.  I’m not terribly demanding here, but many do need to have their controllers right in front of them.

Rack space

The main difference between a recording studio desk and a regular desk is the rack space.  A majority of desks above 45″ is usually the presence of 8U of rack space, usually divided up into two 4U bays.  So look at your gear, what do you have?  What do you plan on buying for sure?  Personally, while I don’t have anything rackmounted other than a power conditioner, I do plan on upgrading to a larger interface, and perhaps a nice mic pre or two.  Having the gear in racks is nice, keeps it out of the way, hides your cable clutter, and generally keeps things in order.

Display space

What’s your current display setup?  Single widescreen display?  Dual widescreens?  Planning on being a baller and upgrading to a nice big ultrawide (or two)?  Well, not only do you have to think about the top shelf room for the display(s), but also for your studio monitors.

If you have 5″ or 6″ monitors, it’s not the end of the world to put them and a single 23″ to 27″ all on the same surface.  More than that on either piece of hardware, however, and you start looking into either much larger desks, or speaker stands for your monitors.

Cable management and computer placement

Need a keyboard tray?  Is the desk high enough to accommodate one without slamming your knees into it?  Most desks don’t come with a tray, so you’ll have to buy one separately, and take the main surface height into consideration when you do.

Do you have somewhere designated for your computer tower (if you don’t use a laptop or small form factor PC/Mac?  Is your tower currently resting on the carpet?  You should probably fix that, and a desk with a bottom shelf is a great option.

Speaking of the computer placement, cable management is also critical for an easily organized and operable setup.  Will your new desk have some management trays and routing holes?  Or will you need to go crazy with the cable ties or cable clips?  It’s always easier to find a desk with good options here, as it will reduce the amount of extra work involved.

What size home recording studio desk should I get?

Now that we’ve looked at the general features that are pretty critical to your setup, let’s get into the overall footprint.  The size of desk you buy is often the most deciding of factors when look at when setting out to find a desk.  A lot of home, project, or bedroom studios are limited in space, and so choosing a recording studio desk that fits whatever is available is paramount.  I currently have an Ikea Linnmon desk with Adils legs that is about 47″ by 24″.  Initially purchased years ago when I moved out from a roommate situation, it was just my computer desk.  It’s big enough for two 23″ monitors and small speakers, but currently I have one monitor and my Tannoy Reveal 502 monitors.  I also have the monitor on a much too tall riser, with my Furman M-8X2 Merit Series 8 Outlet Power Conditioner and Surge Protector and old M-Audio Fast Track Pro sitting underneath it.  Before the riser, the Fast Track Pro always sat awkwardly on the desk, and adding the power conditioner just exacerbated everything.

Large recording studio desks

At the time of purchase, my little Ikea desk was only a computer desk.  Somewhere to put a monitor, small speakers, mouse, keyboard, and various other little things (USB hub, card reader, etc).  Now that I have the room to grow, I’m thinking more and more that a larger desk is in order.  I also have plans to replace the Fast Track Pro with something much more new and capable, so that will be (most likely) another rackmount device.  So let’s check some of these options out:

Studio RTA Creation Station

Studio RTA Creation Station recording studio desk

Not long ago, the Studio RTA Creation Station (most often listed as the “Studio RTA Work Station” nowdays) was a popular choice.  It’s basically a 60″ wide desk, with the top shelf at about 55″.  It’s big enough for two 23″ (maybe 27″) displays, an ultrawide, or a single normal display and your studio monitors up on the top shelf.  Dual 19″ rack bays keep your outboard gear organized, and there’s enough room on the main surface for a keyboard smaller than an 88-key device.

Not much going on in the way of cable management, but there’s room for your tower down below, and I suppose you could always install a keyboard tray underneath the main surface if you need it.  But finding this desk is getting increasingly more difficult, which is a shame because it’s a great compromise between the size groups above and below it.

Studio RTA Producer Station

Studio RTA Producer Station recording studio desk

If you search for a recording studio desk, the Studio RTA Producer Station will often be one of the first ones you find.  And this thing is huge.  72″ wide main desk surface, with the top shelf at 60″, it will easily accommodate most display/studio monitor combinations within reason.  There’s plenty of cable management options, and dual CD racks.  Y’know, if you still keep physical media all over your desktop.  And rackspace.  5U rack bay up top, dual 13U bays below.  Table top large enough for an 88-key instrument, keyboard tray, mini keyboard tray.  And wheels.  And like most Studio RTA studio desks, it comes in the maple pictured above, or a cool dark cherry finish.  Although that one seems to not be easily found in most online retailers anymore.

But yeah, it’s big.  It would take up at least 80% of the wall where my mix position needs to be in my room.  But it would also negate the need to get speaker stands for my monitors if I wanted to run dual displays (or an ultrawide).  And for some rooms, this would be perfect, for sure.  If you have the space and also have a ton of outboard gear, this desk is pretty much the answer.

 Studio Trends 46 Desk

Studio Trends 46" recording studio desk

Studio Trends is another manufacturer you’ll find in your search for a budget recording studio desk, and hence its inclusion in this article.  They have just about the same style of products that Studio RTA and On-Stage Stands stuff, coming in a maple or cherry/mahogany finish.

In Studio Trends’ infinitely clever naming scheme, it’s readily apparent that this is a 46″ desk.  So don’t plan on running dual displays or an ultrawide unless you plan on putting your monitors on separate stands.  Just like most other studio desks it does some with casters (which are optional on most desks) and some cable management, however unlike the Studio RTA gear, there’s no bottom shelf to place your computer tower.  Gotta put that on the floor, or somewhere else.  Or you can be a cool kid and get yourself a computer tower caddy.

All in all, it’s a good desk though.  Dual 4U rack bays, cable management, and it matches up with their various extension sidecars.  They also make a 30″ desk that has a single 4U rack bay, which is good for a much tighter space, or maybe a secondary station in your project studio.  If you have a studio assistant whose sole purpose in life is to time-align things, stick them on that.

Omnirax Presto Studio Desk

Omnirax Presto recording studio desk

The Omnirax Presto is basically your middle point between the Studio RTA Creation Station and the Studio Trends 46″ desk.  With both main and shelf surfaces at about 55″ across, you’re not losing any shelf space, while you slim down the overall shape, shedding about 5″ to maybe help fit into your mix desk location.  Just like the Studio RTA though, it does have a bottom shelf for CPU tower placement, along with the dual 4U rack bays.

The Presto does come in black (or gray, according to some), maple, or mahogany/cherry finishes.  However, don’t be fooled about that keyboard tray–it’s not included, sadly.  But overall, if you need something bigger than the Studio Trends 46″ but can’t fit the Studio RTA Producer Station, this isn’t a bad option at all.  And from what I can tell from the reviews, the hardware seems to be a better quality, as no complaints about the assembly could be found.  But at more than twice the cost, it seriously better be solid.  Good god.

Ultimate Support Nucleus-Z Explorer Studio Desk

Ultimate Support Nucleus-Z Explorer recording studio desk

Okay.  This one is a bit of a reach in the whole “budget recording studio desk” range, but hear me out.  It’s a 60″ wide desk with dual 4U rack bays, full-width top shelf, and the main surface is about 23″ deep.  As far as a recording studio desk goes, this is pretty great for the money.  And Ultimate Support is a company that I’ve always felt good about, going back to my childhood.  My dad was a working musician, and I remember when he upgraded from his heavy, clunky PA speaker stands to some nice, light Ultimate Support stands.  And they never once failed during all of his gigs over decades.  So yeah, I have no qualms about putting my studio on top of one of their desks.

The Nucleus-Z Explorer does have most of the other features as the rest on the list, including some built-in cable management and the ability to add on a keyboard tray along with extra floor-standing rack space, but it definitely looks completely different.  This is probably the closest you’ll get to that “Argosy look” without dropping the “Argosy cash”.  Not saying that the rest of the Nucleus line is cheap by any means, but this is definitely the little brother to the Navigator, which starts at well over a grand.

Honestly, I’d love to have something like this in my room, but it’s definitely a bit of money.  And it doesn’t have a bottom shelf for your CPU tower, but that’s not necessarily a dealbreaker.  Also, it’s one of the higher main surface heights in the list at about 30″.  Most of the rest of these are around the 26″ height, so keep that in mind if you’re looking into the Explorer.

Small recording studio desks

I initially wasn’t going to cover any of these just because I dismissed them for my own search.  But honestly, might as well show what options are available in the under 46″ range.  Sometimes space is at a premium, and that shouldn’t stop you from working, so let’s take a gander, shall we?

On-Stage Stands WS7500 Wood Workstation

On-Stage Stands WS7500 Wood Workstation recording studio desk

This is probably the absolute first desk you’ll run across when you start searching for studio desks.  While I’m including it in the small desk category, it’s not tiny.  I thought it would be less wide than its actual 43″ width, but there it is.  It will most likely cap you out at a 23″ display and 5″ monitors, and I’m guessing that will be a tight fit.  Don’t even think about dual displays or an ultrawide unless you plan on throwing your monitors on speaker stands.

On-Stage Stands makes all sorts of support gear for musicians and studios, and this desk is pretty highly rated on any site you find it for sale.  If the Ikea Linnmon is just a hair too big, but a 30″ desk is too small, this one’s a great option, and available in a maple and all black.  There is also a side car rack and a corner angle extension so the rack can be easily reached and still maintain a contiguous table surface.  Overall, a good option when working in a price (and space) budget.

Studio Trends 30 Desk

Studio Trends 30" recording studio desk

I briefly mentioned this desk when discussing the 46″ version, and it’s basically identical, sans 16″ in width.  As a result, it halves your rack space down to a single 4U bay, but hey, if you’re cramped for space, most likely there’s not enough outboard gear to need more than that.  All in all, it’s a solid little desk.

Conclusion

I know that this is a bit of a scattered article, but I suppose it somewhat reflects my whole thought process on what I’ll be doing when it comes to picking out my next recording studio desk.  On one hand, I really want to get as big of a desk as I can, but on the other hand, I know it’s not always practical.  And possibly expensive.

I could always go the cheaper route and buy a desk that isn’t necessarily made for a recording studio setup, but I’d be missing the desktop rack space this way.  Unless I build a rack bridge (or find one online somewhere that isn’t crazy expensive or look ridiculously bad), I’d be in the same predicament as I am now in regards to organizing outboard gear.

My room isn’t terribly big, it’s just another bedroom in our house.  Because of that, I’d like to keep my current (and future) rack gear consolidated, so I’ll most likely end up going with one of these desks.

What about your setup?  Do you have a recording studio desk you love for your home studio?  What sort of cool hacks have you found?  I’d love to see anything clever or unique down in the comments below, so post your photos and let us know what you’ve done.

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[…] setup. There are a lot of studio-friendly desks out there, and I’ve previously written a guide on buying a home recording studio desk on a budget that you may want to take a look […]