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DAW vs. Stand Alone?

The topic title speaks for itself. Which do you think is the best approach? Advantages of one over the other? I’m not questioning software but rather hardware issue. Your opinions please?


What does ITB mean?

ITB = "in the box" = mixing and summing digitally in the computer

What does OTB mean?

OTB = "out the box" = mixing and summing analog

What does DAW mean?

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is music production software that allows users to record audio on a personal computer. DAW software works on both the Mac and Windows operating systems. It is used for audio recording, audio editing, MIDI editing, mixing, and mastering, among other functions.

What is a stand alone approach in recording?

Stand-Alone approach in recording means the process does not include the features or functionality of any of the Exclusive Products and Services

  1. Radar might be an example of a stand alone ITB system however it really is only a repackaged DAW or computer that has its own DA included.
  2. A Tascam Portastudio might be a good example for an OTB recorder however you still require other parts to complete the recording system like tape.

Dollar for dollar, ITB is the better option.


anonymous Mon, 01/27/2003 - 04:53
That's a great question. I recorded a solo album in a friend's home studio based around a roland VS1680. I'm really happy with how it came out, he did a great job, but i was quite frustrated with the limitations of the machine during mixing.

I'll give two examples, one of a design flaw (IMO) and another where the machine just couldn't handle the basics. The first case is about track limitations. The machine is 16 tracks, but since it's a digital hard disk recorder, they give you the flexibility of "virtual" tracks, meant for multiple takes of the same part. But there's no decent way to comp a take from these virtual tracks! You just take the best full one and that's it, unless you want to do some fancy PITA workaround. That's a design flaw, i'd say.

The second was a case where i'd created two comletely different arrangements for two sections of a song, so i wanted a full crossfade between them. Eight tracks would fade down while eight more would fade up. No go. The processor just wouldn't do it. There was ugly stair-step jumping all over the place. We worked around this using the built-in physical faders, which weren't the best and which ruled out recall.

Now time for the apples-to-oranges comparison. This experience with the Roland was several years ago, and I have not experienced any of the same limitations with my new Mac running DP3. To be fair, I'm sure Roland has ironed out these and other kinks in their newer models, and I'm sure DP had some trouble in earlier years too. But DP2 owners upgraded cheaply to DP3, while VS1680 owners had to just junk it and start all over (as my friend did -- he bought the new VS2480, or whatever it's called).

So what's the point? If you buy a standalone, you're stuck with its limitations, whatever they turn out to be. But software-based DAWs are much more flexible, and a lot of what you get depends on your choice of host computer and interface. So it's a more customizable setup, and it's easier to upgrade parts of it as your needs change.

That said, some people (like my friend) just like to have everything in one box, it just suits their workstyle. That's cool. Me, I find the computer-based DAW to be more flexible and i feel more directly in control. So i'd say it mainly comes down to personal style.

aloomens Mon, 01/27/2003 - 07:06
The DAW approach is definatley the most vesatile. But just be carfull on what PC you will use. If you don't know a LOT about PC's, either get your PC from someone who knows digital audio, or get the EXACT same PC as someone who uses the software you are going to use. I spent about a year trying to get a particular PC (a server with SCSI RAID etc.) to work for recording. I was never able to get it to play back without adding some type of noise (usually clicking). I finally gave up (it must be an IRQ or memory timing issue) and bought a KORG D12 Stand Alone. It's got real faders, it has never locked up, and I can do almost everything I wanted to do with the PC with no hardware/driver/software incomptabilities. When I upgrade, it will probably be to another Stand Alone.
If you decide to go the DAW route, be sure you get a PC that plays well with audio fromt he start.

Ethan Winer Mon, 01/27/2003 - 08:35

I agree with Jajj that a computer is far more flexible - choice of software and ability to easly download updates, lots of differentplug-insto choose from, you can add more and larger hard drives as needed, etc. Editing is also much easier, especially if you have two monitors.

There's no question that a computer takes more effort to set up properly and learn. But hey, you gotta know your tools! Years ago to be successful you had to know how to align and demagnetize tape heads, adjust the bias, clean dirty faders, and use an oscilloscope. Today you have to know how to optimize a computer for audio, how to install more memory, a new hard drive or CD burner, and so forth.


Kurt Foster Wed, 01/29/2003 - 17:04
I am finding this very interesting. When I first joined RO last year, opinions on this were split. It seemed half the readers were advocating stand alone systems and half were for DAW. Now it appears, everyone has voted for DAW. Anyone there for stand alone??? Fats
Tannoy, Dynaudio, Blue Sky, JBL, Earthworks, Westlake, NS 10's :D , Genelec, Hafler, KRK, and PMC
Those are good. …………………….. Pick one.

jdsdj98 Wed, 01/29/2003 - 17:55
My vote goes for DAW, hands down. Too many reasons, most of which have already been mentioned. Easy upgrade paths, highly customizable, compatability with other users/facilities, and ever increasing performance to price ratio, all kinds of stuff.

And I'm proud to say that as a younger generation "engineer" in this modern world of "engineers" not really being engineers in the true sense of the word, I just learned how to use an o-scope to align our deck and high speed duplicating line and trouble shoot a problem I was having. Damn, I love learning new things.

anonymous Wed, 01/29/2003 - 20:25
I would go with the DAW also. I absolutly love it. I had a stand alone once, akai Fat rack unit (big berly beast). It started loosing the start time of my songs so midi sync was way off. Even loading back ups were a pain (dat through spdif). I forgot about that unit. I got it before my first adat. I should have added this to your other post of worst equiptment purchases. That moment of my life sucked. Sessions were pissed - I was pissed. I almost got pissed writting this reply..... I am normally very easy going.

aloomens Thu, 01/30/2003 - 05:27
As I mentioned, I like the stand alone route. Beleive me, it's not that I don't know enough about PC's. I've built more PC's than I care to think about. I deal with PC's at work all day, and when I get home and want to record, I don't want to HAVE to deal with driver updates, hardware/software that doesn't work together etc. I LIKE being able to just turn on the stand alone, and start recording. It's got real faders, buttons and switches. Doing everything with a mouse is just not natural for humans! :-)
On the other hand I do see the attractions of the DAW, especially cost/performance. But to me it's always best to use the simplest effective method.
Anybody see this yet? This looks like a really cool idea, as long as they can keep the cost down enough:

Eric Best Thu, 01/30/2003 - 05:58
I'm a DAW fan.

I worked on a CD with a friend of mine and he used his roland to track with. We used about 40 different rooms to record in all over the city. Very cool. Mix down is a pain, so we dumped it down to my computer and mixed it there. It sounds great even though the A/D converters and compression scheme compromises the sound a little.

So, how about both. (though I now have a laptop set up so I can do the same all on computer)


anonymous Fri, 01/31/2003 - 19:54
i have a korg d=1600 that is so easy to use it insane. i love it. a friend of mine has a computer set up and if you click the wrong thing you end up erasing the performance you just recorded. its a steep learning curve that he hasn't climed yet and when he tracks there is so much "hold on a sec...we're not ready trying to figure out how to...i know when i click this its supposed to do something else...ect..ect". it destroys the groove. i like to just push "record" and do the damn track with no fuss.

finally, im about 2 days from finishing my studio and actually MOVING THE EQUIPMENT IN AND RECORDING AGAIN!!!!!

man i feel like opening a bottle of champayne

Kurt Foster Fri, 01/31/2003 - 20:43
Hey Man!!! I saw your posts on the "other side"... How ya been. Yeah it's a steep curve to learn but once ya get it down it's so cool (DAW). Tell your friend he needs to save his songs in two places. I have 2 drives, one with a partition so it shows as 3 drives on the computer. "C" for the OS, "D" is the second partition of the OS drive and then I have a removable drive "G". I work off the "G" drive and save backups of everything on the "D" drive also. That way if I ever do a "dumb click" as you described, I can retrieve my last save from the "D” drive.... In digital, you never have it until you have it twice.... Fats
Tannoy, Dynaudio, Blue Sky, JBL, Earthworks, Westlake, NS 10's :D , Genelec, Hafler, KRK, and PMC
Those are good. …………………….. Pick one.

SonOfSmawg Sat, 02/01/2003 - 13:03
Yo, Al! Don't worry Bro, we'll get you onto a computer DAW one way or the other! LOL
Al and I were good friends WAY back in high school. He sent me an email a couple of days ago asking about DAW computers. I sent him a FULL reply early this morning.
Really Al, once you have the computer assembled and all set to go, it's just a matter of learning the software. As long as you get the right components in the first place, it'll be a long time before you'll need to go in your tower and do anything major. You'll have a lot more power and versatility at your disposal, and as mentioned by a previous poster, you'll be able to upgrade the hardware and software as technology advances. You're already a computer wiz, so you really should take advantage of that!

anonymous Mon, 02/10/2003 - 19:41
Kinda commenting on Fats suprise of the number of DAW users ...

I work for a retailer in the Pro Audio section..And I have noticed a huge difference in the decline of "Allin one" box sales. It may have something to do with me trying to get people into the right solutions.

I think each person is different...has different needs. Some people work along side computers all day and do not want to see one when they come home to play/record
(sheesh I understand that cause doing what I do all day I have a hard time writing music)

Some people don't have any PC skills what so ever which might make a tough call on DAW or ALL in ONE due to the nature of the beast. Usually it is best to have a friend or a salesperson that they can call on frequently in the begining to get them going.

Hnads down DAWs are more powerful than an all in one. more flexible with waveform editing with a large screen. More disk space. Plug in versatility allowing some unique tayloring of sounds which ALL in ONEs can't do. Automation and total recall ...Not to mention the variety of control surfaces which allow physical manipulation of software.

Overall the user should gather as much info as possible before making a substantial purchase. Get many opinions because there are many people doing the same thing with different opinion.

There will always be ALL in ONE recorders...soon there will be 64 track systems with hella mixing capability...effects moving faders and all...One thing often over looked though is tha fact that many parts (especially moving parts) built into one machine is the higher odds that there will be a failure in one of the components which means temperary down time on the entire machine.


3dchris Tue, 02/11/2003 - 09:56
My vote is for DAW also. I have VS-1680 and VS-1880 and use them both (sync via midi) if I have to record a band live with real drums, but then I dump everything on my PC (Piece of Crap) and mix there. Mixing on Roland is PITA (Pain In The Ass).
And let me tell you this, RME ADI-8DS converters sound sooooooooooooooo much better than Roland, even if I record in 44.1/24. Now, I have an idea: why don't we give our ideas for the best DAW. Let's list components and interfaces that we think would be best for recording and/or mastering. Let's build SuperDAW! (do not forget to add UAD-1 !!! :)


anonymous Thu, 02/13/2003 - 09:05
Interesting Question. I have been thinking about this myself. I find that I prefer the DAW because I seem to be able to cover more ground for the money. However, I don't like to mix in my DAW. I use it mostly for rough gating and volume automation applications. I still prefer to mix on a dedicated mixer with my outboard fx. I am just more comfortable with knobs and faders. I seem to hit the limit of eq, comp, and fx applications running smooth with my projects. I talk shop with a guy who likes to work 100% in the DAW environment. Hey, it works for him. I think a persons working style and habits have some influence in this area.

Looking at the topic title again, maybe I got off track. If so, sorry.


Kurt Foster Thu, 02/13/2003 - 09:33
Not off track at all. Yes, to mix completely in DAW requires a pretty powerful computer. In my case I am fortunate to have a dedicated computer for my recording applications. That helps, not having any other bs to use up system resources. I have been able to get high track counts 20 to 24 (all I ever use) with compressors, eq, verbs and effects where ever I wish, all at 6 ms latency. Keeping the bit/sample rate down to 24 / 44.1 helps in this regard.

I had all the OPUS tweaks done on my machine and it has run without a hiccup. I have to say mixing in DAW is a totally different game than analog mixing. I am doing things in DAW that I would never do in analog, like compression on the 2-bus, but that's what it takes to get the sound I want. Artifacts don't seem to be as nasty in DAW doing this. I am glad I made this move. It's a whole new world and I'm enjoying it. ... Fats
Tannoy, Dynaudio, Blue Sky, JBL, Earthworks, Westlake, NS 10's :D , Genelec, Hafler, KRK, and PMC
Those are good. …………………….. Pick one.

lambchop Mon, 02/24/2003 - 09:09
In reading this thread I think that it is apparent that while it appears that there are many more votes for DAW than stand alones, it is ultimately really a matter of user preference. One thing though - in the long run I think that people who prefer stand alones will ultimately be forced to dig a lot deeper into their pockets to keep up with DAW's.

As for the argument of having real knobs and switches , it will probably only be a matter of time till the various hardware controller manufacturers (Mackie, Edirol etc.) get the bugs out of their respective products.*

*I was tempted to include Steinberg here but they've seem to have gotten out of the hardware controller market for the moment. Maybe when their marriage to Pinnacle settles down they'll seriously get back to the drawing board.

Kurt Foster Mon, 02/24/2003 - 10:14
I myself, don't understand the need for hardware controllers. The minute one gets into automating a mix, the need for multiple faders is negated. I don't know of anyone who uses automation that "plays" multiple faders at once. Transport functions may be assigned to certain keys on the DAW keyboard. I have mine set up so the left arrow is "rew", down arrow is "stop", the right arrow is "ffwd" and the "0" key on the number pad is "play". The Enter key on the number pad is "Record". The “space bar” is an alternate stop. The only thing missing is a shuttle knob, which can be found for under $50! I personally don't mind mixing with a mouse. It can be a bit cumbersome I admit …. but the more I do it the less bothersome it becomes. A good mouse with a trackball or knob is invaluable. I believe that in the future control surfaces will fall to the wayside as more and more recordists let go of the old ways of working and adapt to the new ones. There may be a small segment of the market that demands control surfaces, such as upper echelon studios but IMO this will be more for "WoW! factor" rather that functionality. Fats
Tannoy, Dynaudio, Blue Sky, JBL, Earthworks, Westlake, NS 10's :D , Genelec, Hafler, KRK, and PMC
Those are good. …………………….. Pick one.

Pez Mon, 02/24/2003 - 14:33
Fats, have you checked out the "p" key? Very useful. I've programmed my 7 and 8 key to select tool 1 and 2 respectively since I find I use them the most in editing. My Kensington track ball (expert pro mouse-wireless) went kaput the other day. I gave them a call and they're sending me a new one so I also have programmed the number pad so I don't have to suffer too much while waiting for the new Kensington to arrive.

anonymous Thu, 02/27/2003 - 05:53
I started with a stand alone (Roland VS-840 - 8 track recorder), and eventually switched over to a Yamaha AW4416 (16 tracks 24 bit digital). Now nobody will argue that DAW's are more flexible, much easier to do editing with, and generally more powerful, but I think the stand-alone has it's place. I recently purchased a powerful computer with Nuendo loaded on it, and have an RME Digiset to interface the Yamaha with Nuendo. There are templates that allow the Yamaha to control many of the parameters in Nuendo. So why not have both! You can have the portability of the stand-alone and the power of the DAW. Most people want a desk controller for their DAW anyway. The Yamaha has 16 tracks and can be found on ebay for $1500 or less. I know the question was "which one is better" but my answer is ...get both!


Kurt Foster Thu, 02/27/2003 - 09:45
I know I asked the question but that was more for the sake of discussion rather than a query. I will chip in my 2 cents... I like DAW due to the open architecture. It is a steeper learning curve at first but that passes quickly and it's the computer age for cryin' out loud. Get on board. I thought about the Yamaha, Korg and the AKAI workstations. They all are very nice. But I decide against them due to lack of inputs and because of the inability to use effects and dynamic processors other than what was included in the box. With DAW you may choose to use what comes with your programs or expand your system with plug ins. Add to that the editing capabilities and IMO it's a simple choice. The need for hardware controllers in a non issue to me as I use automation and I never play the faders when running auto... I don't know of anyone who does for that matter. The mouse and keyboard function just fine for control and when it wears out is $5 or $10 to replace... Fats
Tannoy, Dynaudio, Blue Sky, JBL, Earthworks, Westlake, NS 10's :D , Genelec, Hafler, KRK, and PMC
Those are good. …………………….. Pick one.

anonymous Fri, 03/14/2003 - 07:11
Until fairly recently the standalone units were severely under equipped converter and track count-wise compared to what was available for DAWs.

The newer Yamaha and Roland standalones have come a long way. If a mix surface is not part of the equation, the new Tascam, Aesis and Mackie standalones are great for tracking due to their excellent A/D converters and dependability. Nothing worse than a cantankerous DAW when you've got a studio full of musicians and you're going live with 18+ tracks and your DAW decides today is the day to have a driver conflict or whatever. This is much less likely with a standalone. Once the tracking is done, I mix on a DAW.

Animatrix Productions
Durango, CO

anonymous Sat, 03/15/2003 - 15:38
Well there are 5 PC's around us in the studio.We have at home PC with RME 96/8 too,BUT...Nothing sounds like our Midas in a project cabin.No soft synth like my Triton!
I forget to mention that we are editing everything in Nuendo,Cubase,wavelab and Acid, but I love analog hardware.May be I'm crazy but there are no EQ's in aplications like in our Tascam M3700:)



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