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Buying New System - Feedback would be appreciated

Discussion in 'Recording' started by mellowj, Feb 25, 2006.

  1. mellowj

    mellowj Guest

    Hi Everyone,

    I've read through a majority of the posts on this forum and tried to take the info that would be relevant to my situation. Still I feel I can't find the base info to get me started on my way.

    My situation is such,

    I am planning to buy a new computer dedicated strictly for audio recording and production. It will be a PC based comp.
    I need to know the specs and namebrands to look for in order to match what I need.

    Goals:

    - To do all facets of music creation/production through a computer
    -- That includes recording, efx, mixing, mastering

    - I do not plan on doing any live show work, so I don't need a mobile setup.

    - MOST sounds will be coming from samples, not live recording.
    -- At this stage, I am not interested in recording
    Vocals/drums/guitar/etc.... Just finding/utilizing/manipulating samples.

    - I don't need many inputs as one input at a time will suffice

    - I need the computer system to be able to 'comfortably' run 6-8 audio wave channels as well as midi/vst samples without the program freezing or breaking up.

    - Be able to have full-duplex recording --- full range sound of playback audio as well recording audio.

    From what I've been reading, certain choices seem to pop up.
    Here are the varying factors involved. I'm hoping someone can clarify to me which is best.

    COMPUTER

    CPU

    Intel or AMD -- The verdict seems to overwhelmingly be Intel which is fine with me
    Single or Dual processor -- Choice seems to be dual
    Processor speeds -- Not sure on this, if going the dual processor route - what should I be looking at a minimum for both processors?
    Motherboards -- What motherboards go with your suggested processors?


    HARDDRIVE

    Type -- I hear Maxtor and WD are not the best. If not, then which ones?
    Size -- Seems like having 2 HD is important (1 for OS & 1 for Audio programs and samples). Also I assume 120GB HD for OS & 200GB HD for audio stuff should suffice?
    Other -- Does the HD have to have certain specs for how fast it reads? Does this affect latency issues?


    RAM

    Size -- Again, I'm assuming more is better. For the suggested processors and mobo, what type and amount of ram would do?


    VIDEO CARDS

    Does this choice impact computer audio functions and performance?
    If so, what suggestions and/or makes?

    SOUNDCARD

    I keep hearing the Tascam and M-Box names being bandied about.
    I'll explain what I'm going to be using, please let me know your suggestions.

    My minimum needs:
    - MIDI so that I can run a keyboard controller
    Inputs
    - 1 XLR - to run a mic in
    - 1/4" - I don't have gear that has that type connection
    - 2 RCA - To run a tape deck/VCR/DVD sources in

    Outputs
    - 2 RCA - To run to a receiver for speaker output
    - Output for Headphones


    SOFTWARE

    As I've heard alot about Reason, i've been informed that it wouldn't be able to provide everything I need.

    I need:

    - To be able to sequence audio waves, virtual synths
    - Have Efx plugins of all types
    - be able to mix all elements
    - Need an excellent sample program (in the vein of the akai mpc series), able to chop efficiently, has alot of efx(time stretch,filters,etc.), able to map out samples on keys to play and add to sequence
    - Mastering program(s)

    In regards to software, a friend of mine suggested the combination of Ableton Live and Reason would suffice.

    Based on these loose headings, I would hope to get tech specifics/brands for me to research and look into seriously.

    I am planning to go to a music store in the coming days to do more research, but I'm not sure how much info they have on computer requirements.
     
  2. skygod

    skygod Guest

    How much do you want to spend? [low limit --> high limit?]
     
  3. mellowj

    mellowj Guest

    How much to spend

    The question is how much could someone be spending?

    For what I'm asking, it doesn't seem like it should cost a huge bundle of money.

    I would hope with a great computer system, soundcard and a keyboard controller -- I'd hope to spend about $2500-$3000.

    Is that too little or too much?

    Mind you, I am in Canada, so maybe that amount of money means less in those terms.

    Any suggestions?
     
  4. RaS

    RaS Guest

    CPU: Why not dual core? If you get a "true" dual socket system, then you will be paying A LOT for a pair of Intel Xeons or AMD Opterons. Those are NOT cheap. You'll also need a workstation class motherboard. I paid $500 for mine (for VIDEO). With that price alone you could get a cheap laptop... You should also notice that you'll need XP Pro then, that costs extra... Your motherboard would very likely be of the SSI-EEB form factor, not ATX. This leads to the requirement of a bigger and more expensive case and EPS12V compliant powersupply. No, ATX power supplies won't work. Your money would probably be more wisely spent somewhere else. If you go the Intel route, then note that both processors share the memory bandwidth of a single "north bridge" anyway. A dual core might thus be just as good - and beeing a lot cheaper you could afford a faster one. AMD has one memory controller per cpu, so it's faster for huge databases... and *probably* for *video*. Or then not. I have a pair of AMD Opterons, which is nice for my video work, but a double core AMD Athlon would probably be rather nice for your needs. I've heard that AMD has done the dual-core thing in a better way. Most software, on the other hand, is optimized for intel. So, who cares? Intel or AMD? Audi or Ferrari? Just get a fast one. I don't remember which one is faster just today... It's application dependant. Usage pattern dependant... (look at Anandtech.com or "Tom's hardware" site) Maybe the audio folks know better, though. I'm not an audio pro.

    MEMORY: Don't get the "low-latency" stuff. You'll get a 2% speed increase and 100% cost increase. Only "needed" for overclocking, which is risky and complicated. Don't go there.

    MOTHERBOARD: Just make sure it has a firewire port or two. Then you can put a firewire audio interface there and keep it away from the usb device clutter. Beeing portable, this interface can then be easily connected to your desktop pc and maybe a laptop when you decide to leave your desk and do something "on the road". Some motherboards have the nVidia nForce 4 pro chipset that has a "hardware" firewall with internet traffic offloading. That's a nice feature that frees your cpu (&software firewall) from processing incoming attacks all the time. Or don't get a costy nForce4 pro, but get a dsl/cable modem with built-in firewall to keep the network clutter away from your computers interfaces. Or just unplug the net :) A file scanning virus scanner could POSSIBLY also be replaced with something like PrevX. Just a guess. I haven't tried.

    DISKS: You can spend all eternity at storagereview.net trying to find a "good" disk. Just keep the operating system on one disk and audio on the other. Disks spin. Spinning causes noise. You want to eliminate that. Samsumgs Spinpoints have been told to be rather quiet. If you want "fast" disks, then get one with fast SEARCH TIME. Not bandwidth. The drive is spinning and thus spending most of its time waiting for the correct place. You want something with fast RPM (read: not 5400). Something like 7krpm. You could also get 10krpm WD Raptors (quality, speed, noise). There are noise isolation boxes available for hard disks. Get a few. They really quieten the hard disks, which is important.


    In short: Don't get dual processors. Get dual core and spend the hundreds/thousands you save on 1) professionally quietening the computer, 2) more and better audio hardware/software, 3) computer upgrade in 2008

    Hope this helps


    ps. http://www.silentpcreview.com, http://www.quietpc.com
     
  5. RaS

    RaS Guest

    I must add a disclaimer: I do not really know the requirements of audio production, so the suggestions above are based on general hardware knowledge only. Latency issues have NOT been considered.

    If a dual cpu system is really needed, then you should pay attention to the motherboard form factor, PSU etc. and only get hardware (mobo, cpu, memory, psu) that ALL have been CERTIFIED to work together. Maybe it would be safer to buy a ready made "digital audio workstation" tested and certified to work? Hardware features on the sound card probably play a role, too.
     
  6. RaS

    RaS Guest

    I don't know why Intel is so much recommended. Maybe because AMD used to have really bad chipsets a while ago?

    At present the AMD processors with their low latency memory controllers (one per cpu) and dedicated memory banks (one per cpu), direct-connect architecture/hyper-transport, nVidia nForce4 Pro chipsets etc. probably hold a slight technological advantage... Just maybe. Just as an alternative to Intel: Would a dual Opteron 252 (power saving technology and SSE2) system with Tyan Thunder K8WE and a few gigs of DDR400 be fast enough (but be warned: it has PCI-X slots in addition to those two PCI-E. Two different things... And not all PCI cards fit in PCI-X slots...)? http://www.tyan.com/products/html/thunderk8we_spec.html

    Anyway, go and get an Intel solution if someone can recommend you a complete Intel-based setup that is known to work :)

    - 120GB of disk space for OS+apps would be enough. I have 70GB for OS + video editing apps + much more.

    - It might be good to get at least one gigabyte of memory. Windows tends to want more than 256MB, so 512MB is really the minimum that I would recommend. 1GB is better and a bit more future proof. Get 2GB if you can afford it well.
     
  7. skygod

    skygod Guest

    Latency?

    RAS you're killing me softly:) :) My dear Canadian brother and dear heart
    ********************************************************
    ********************* LATENCY **************************
    ********************************************************
    is the central thorn and scourge [since the latter part of the 20th century and now early 21st century] of the digital recording medium -- home based to commercial production studios. Latency to digital audio is analogous to AIDS!

    Experts can write several technical engineering papers on it and explain the physics of it, but for a moron like me, it is

    [Hardware Latency = Embedded delays and artifacts recorded onto tracks that cannot be removed after the fact = $*^t!] That's my technical summary and conceptualiation of it.

    Here's some for thought before you spend any money:

    If you're gonna record, then record everything at 24Bit/96kHz regardless who tells you otherwise to record other instruments at 24/48 etc. 24/192kHz for all intensive purposes despite the marketing drive and commercialism to sell it is a sham. [See Dan Lavry's website and read all his tech papers.] You can do it all at 24/96 and regain back all the analog warmth, harmonic overtones, and everything else we lost when we left the analog console analog tape era behind. The key becomes the good mics, converters, time clock, and recording surface ....

    The fools option:
    Any computer based CPU system is going to have a latency issue inherent to its hardware architecture and software system. For stand alone computers the only reach-around is the Icon architecture offering from digidesign (who I personally hate, their product, and entire yuppy company and proprietary culture, and refuse to use their products if you offered me a million dollars tax-free check this instant) -- having said that you can realize I am not a fan nor advocate, however, their business model is a sound architecture of a 'CPU within a CPU' that alleviates the computer's CPU memory and processing load to reduce latency.

    Thus you are forced to buy a very expensive CPU witha min of 3 GB RAM, running on Windows buggy software, married to Digidesign hardware card core + whatrever else card du jour depending on number of channels you need, and are relegated to the TDM software for tracking. mixing, and mastering. Any good? Those who have invested the $40,000 +- --> $80,000 +- in the system swear by it, but then again, either have never used the real outboard gear in their lives and have no point of reference, or have used it and have rationalized the expenditure because, of the Jonses -- "everybody else is using it now -- therefore so must we." Digidesign converters are NOT the highest regarded in the land ... nuff said ...

    The wise man's option in 'this order of priority': Build a modular eclectic studio that will expand and grow with you
    1 - Invest in good soundproofing
    2 - Invest in a very good monitoring system (multiple systems)
    3 - Get a good collection of mic pres (from clean, to very clean, to colored, to very colored API, Great River, Harding, SSL, Daking, GML, Neve, Neve clone, whatever etc)
    4 - Get the best outboard EQ (GML, Pultec, Daking, etc.,)
    5 - Get the best outboard compression (several types) read all the forums (Empirical Labs, Pendulum, Drawmer, dBx, etc)
    6 - Buy a good external tracking machine (Alesis HD24XR/Radar Nyquist)
    7 - Buy Apogee Converters AD/DA and DA/AD and Big Ben Time Clock
    8 - Buy a very good desk with British EQ (E.g., See trident 8T16 or dream cosole -- Biggest bang for the buck in world history! John Oram is the Man!!!! or get a digital mixer, or see API summing mixers, or DON'T buy a mixer, use patchbays and a lot of high quality connectors)
    9 - Buy and Alesis Masterlink CD Redbook vanilla milk-shaker (and get the converter mod if you want to)

    The poor man's option: And a very good one at that!
    - Steps 1-9 above add-ons as you go in order of precedence/priority above
    - Akai DP24SMKII - great pres, great surface, great mixer, and can be used as a regular mixer for non-recording too ...
    - Alesis HD24XR - for additional channels,

    There are no cheap solutions. [Garbage in = Garbage out]. Recording is neither a cheap hobby nor a cheap profession ... unless you want to record 4-tracks to a tape TASCAM potatostudio with an SM57/58, and an electronic drum machine ... but, that's good too.

    Recording is not rocket science. You learn the frequency range of the source, define the landscape you want to put it into, get the right mic or instrument for the right source task, imprint it to a medium, join it to other instruments and voices into a three dimensional sonic landscape, and reduce it to two tracks. Pretty simple stuff huh? Not really, it requires attention to detail, being an anally obsessive person, it requires good hearing and listening skills, and being a technically minded persona that can live in a confined space with no noise, friends, or social life other than your electronic toys.

    If you possess these skills, go ahead and join the fray and spend yourself poor, otherwise, invest the money in the stock market or the illegal drug market where you at least have a 50/50 chance of not losing your pants in the long term, and might gain a substantial return on your investment instead lol :)

    Bonne Chance ...
    et Bonjour mon ami -
    /vr/rrc/
     
  8. mellowj

    mellowj Guest

    Dare I say... Mac??

    Ras and skygod,

    Thank you tremendously for your detailed experiences and suggestions.

    To throw a big wrench into this conversation, I talked to a coworker who does music production as a hobby and he swears by the mac systems.

    What is your take on the mac option. I am aware that pretty much all major studios/production centres use mac for audio as well as video applications.

    In a nutshell, he told me that the windows design and chipset structures are flawed from the getgo vs the macs structure.

    My biggest fear about macs has always been it's price point and the value I was getting back vs the PC option.

    He's told me that their price points have come down substantially and are within the realms of what I speak of.

    On a side note, this computer will be dedicated to audio, no internet connection nor virus scanning software and the like.

    I like your suggestions ras about the dualcore option.

    In regards to dedicated outboard gear, I feel that's about 2-3 steps ahead of where I want to be.... I need to crawl before I walk.

    I really want to be able to get my head around using all that software can provide within a desktop setting to make music.

    If/when the time comes that it's very serious production pieces on my part, I have no problem taking it to a 'proper' facility to maximize the potential quality of my recordings.

    Basically, I just want to be able to turn my computer on, open up software where I can track audio and virtual keyboards/sounds, etc. to make music.

    I want to have be able to put expression in the music, hopefully through a keyboard controller or some type of drum pad based machines, then be able to tweak the samples/sounds to my chagrin and mix the whole lot together and master all-in-one.

    I know this is possible as well as the quality b/c I have heard productions from friends of mine that can be played in big club settings and/or radio (okay for radio, maybe a bit of eq sweetening and compression to match everyone elses mixes).

    I'm starting to realize that it's not about having all the 'right' or 'top' gear that makes great music. I don't want to get so bogged down on perfecting a system that I'm not creating anything and not learning how to use anything.

    I am considering companies who can create a system tailormade for my needs, but I'm not sure if;

    1) they exist in canada
    2) will companies in the US be able to get it to me as well, and/or can it be as cost efficient (due to currency conversion, shipping, and the dreaded duty if they choose to 'open' my package up) as getting it from Canada.

    Suggestions on this part would be most helpful.

    I'm planning to go to Long & McQuade on wednesday (my day off) as well as Steve's music in downtown Toronto.

    I don't really know of other places besides Saved by technology (I believe a mac based audio store).

    If there are online retailers who can put together what you've suggested, please let me know...

    Thanks for your feedback and anticipating some responses from you guys.. :lol:
     
  9. RaS

    RaS Guest

    When you are looking for a low latency system you have to remember that the processor is only the water pump. You'll need good plumbing, too. Separate pipes for memory I/O, hard disk I/O, PCI I/O, firewire and USB - and graphics, of course... The more separate these are kept, the less of a traffic jam.

    As far as I know, the AMD+nForcePro infrastructure should be rather good latency-wise. Do check the AMD "direct connect" thing. Intel probably has good enough systems, too. I don't want to put these in any specific order of suitability for audio without any experience and because I don't know how big/small latencies are in question (and WHERE) and what they mean in audio production. I liked the AMD tech so much, though, that I got one at great expense, and it's worthy to be considered as an option.

    When the Mac people tell you that the Windows chipsets are flawed, they probably speak of these inefficient old Intel northbridges/southbridges. When all traffic goes over the same bridge, you'll get a traffic jam, right?

    Again, compare the AMD dual proc system with an dual proc Mac. I guess there is not that much difference in the hardware (read: routing of I/O) anymore.

    By the way, did you notice that Mac is now in the process of switching to the Intel platform? Speed advantage, many say. So, this would suggest, that although AMD seems to have an advantage, the Intels are good enough, too.

    Mac could be a good option, too. Windows is a lot about OFFICE and GAMES. You can do a lot with it, but 90% of Windows users are either office users or gamers. Mac tries to be and profile itself as "the creative professionals choice". Maybe that's reflected in operating system design, too? It's Unix-based, so I like it a lot...

    Windows is NOT known for beeing the worlds most trusted real time operating system. Maybe a set of good ASIO drivers will help - especially if you disable all those unnecessary services and eye candy. But there are always services that you cannot disable (like the "file protection" thing). For Linux you can get real time kernel patches to make it RESPONSIVE. But what audio apps run on Linux? Forget it. Maybe Mac has better real time features and lower latency? This is something you should really check out, as my knowledge on Macs is very limited.

    To sum this up I would say that today you can get both low latency PC hardware and probably low latency Mac hardware, but the operating system and drivers need to be suitably designed.

    It would be a safe solution to contact someone building audio workstations. It will potentially save you a lot of time and/or trouble.

    ps. Macs are beautiful.
     
  10. RaS

    RaS Guest

    I'm sorry, but I cannot recommend you any DAW builder bacause I don't know any. Maybe a search using "digital audio workstation" or "DAW" as keywords would prove to be usefull?

    Or try your friends/colleagues system and if it works, get the same one. It's probably not a "state of the art" setup, so you'll save some cash that you then can spend on some nice audio monitors...
     

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