DAW considerations

Discussion in 'Computing' started by sleuthfoot, Aug 9, 2001.

  1. sleuthfoot

    sleuthfoot Guest


    I apologize if the answers to this are in a FAQ somewhere. If so, I would be happy to look there for my information. Also... this one is post is looong, so Im sorry for that too!!!

    I am planning on piecing together a DAW for home audio recording. I intend to do all this on a PC. To date, I have some experience recording on analog and digital 8/16 tracks, but I have never worked with PC/computer based recording mechanisms. This leaves me with a few questions, now that I am having to consider hardware requirements for recording, etc.

    For cashflow reasons, I would like to buy one piece at a time here and there. Currently, I have a Pentium 2 300, 128MB RAM, an UDMA Hard drive, a SB Awe32 sound card and a Riva TNT AGP video card. I am planning a MASSIVE upgrade in the near future.

    I am thinking that I will just start off buying an Echo Layla (thoughts/alternatives?) and upgrading my ram. I am also considering using Pro Tools or Nuendo for the software end. Since I am becoming impatient and would like to start learning how to use all this stuff as soon as possible (not to mention getting ideas recorded/documented!!), I would like to start by adding the Layla in to my current computer.

    So, I guess I have two questions:

    1) Is it even worth putting the Layla (or an alternative) in to my PII350? Will this slower computer put out really bad recordings? What, if anything, will be affected by the slowness of the computer?


    2) Would someone please let me know what "must haves" need to be included in a modern DAW setup? From what I have gathered so far, one would need some type of 24/96 digital multitrack recording/mixing in/output hardware of some sort, a wide/fast data bus on the motherboard, fast disk drives, lots of RAM, mixing/editing software, an external mixer and some mics, a CD burner, and some type of monitors.

    OK, I lied... :) I have more questions!

    As I understand it, I can handle both audio input and output through the Layla, but I am wondering if I would benefit by having a second sound card for output/general PC sound (for mixing, or gaming, or whatever). Is there a scenario you can think of that would require a second sound card (eg, games might not support the Layla as a sound output device)?

    The computer I am planning on building is Pentium4 or Xeon system on a Supermicro Motherboard. The SuperMicro MB has onboard Ultra160 SCSI channels, so I will be going Ultra160 on the disk drives. I am also looking at an AGP video card of some sort (GForce3?) and a Plextor SCSI CD Burner. The Layla (at this point) will be my Digital IO/Mixer, and I am thinking about getting another Sound Card if needed (SoundBlaster Live?). Additionally, I am thinking about buying a rack-mount PC case for it, so I can mount the computer in a case with the external hardware (compressors, reverb units, patch bays, etc). Is there anything else that I should consider? How much power is too much power? I mean, would I be able to tell the difference between audio mixed/recorded on a nice computer and an overly powerful beast computer?

    Any other considerations I need to make?

    Thank you for your time. I look forward to your replies.

  2. Opus2000

    Opus2000 Well-Known Member

    Apr 7, 2001
    From what I have heard the new Layla drivers and modules are somewhat buggy..but those are very few and far on the numbers being reported..if it is on Win2K that's where the issues lie. Otherwise the Layla cards are awesome...you could have 2 layla's in one system and have Nuendo use both efficiently.
    A PII 350 is below the minimum requirements for a DAW based system..most systems reccomend a PII400 or higher...but that was quite a few months ago..now it's probably a PIII or higher since programs are getting more indepth on the code and more RAM intensive.
    building a system I would look into Asus or Abit motherboards for DAW systems as that are the two most commonly used boards amongst the serious PC users..stability and reliability are the factors here. Plus usually you dont have to add drivers to the motherboard with Asus or Abit since they come with them all installed and not half assed fabricated..if you get my drift. SCSI is a good way to go but I would not get a motherboard with a built on SCSI controller..too much to configure. Get the system working then add a SCSI card that is known to be good..such as an Adaptec card. Trust me on this one..I've built way too many PC's for audio and come across some silly issue dealing with on board items on a motherboard.
    One does not need 24/96...it's only numbers that make some impression on people's mind that make it seem like the audio is better...the best recordings come from those who are confident in their playing and knowing how to record using good mic placement techniques and so forth. I come up with recordings that sound amazing using 44.1/16 still...yes the layla offers it..dont forget that 24/96 takes twice as much data room then 44/16.
    Yes having a faster busing system will get you further...and more plugins...for 24/96 I would reccomend going dual processor even.
    Of course dual monitors is the way to go..better vieing and so forth. More memory the better..memory is cheap these days. I will post more as I am about to leave work and make my way the the maze we call the LA freeways!!! Until then
  3. sleuthfoot

    sleuthfoot Guest

    Thanks for the reply! If you don't mind, I am still curious about a few things:

    1) How much power is too much?

    Ideally, I would like to save money by putting only as much power in to the computer as necessary, but not much more. How many folks are using older systems to record on? Would I be fine on a 1.7-1.8Ghx P4 system or would I benefit from dual processor MB? At what point would I start to not gain anything from the extra power in my computer? In other words, are faster disks more important than a fast processor in the grand scheme of recording? How does each componant (HD, processor, MB) in teh DAW affect the recordings? What priority should I assign to each componant?

    2) Is a secondary, regular sound card necessary?

    I have a hard time believeing that video games would be able to play audio out through the Layla. Is this the case?

    3) What "Must Haves" should I consider for the DAW/computer or any external componants?

    I mean, I'll probably need an external amp and some monitors, possibly an external mixer, etc. Anything that yall can think I should consider.. -anything that you guys would never consider building a DAW without?

    4) Is it a good/bad idea to mix and match hardware and software from multiple vendors?

    I noticed that ProTools and Nuendo both offer their own proprietary hardware (mixers, digital sound cards, etc) for use with their Software. Would staying "in house" with your software/hardware packages (eg an all-Nuendo DAW) be a good thing, or will I get more/equal quality/problems/ease of use out of any mix-and-match setup?

    5) What are some things to keep in mind when considering new equipment that would work alongside the DAW?

    For example, would a digital mixer of any type just "work" (talk to the computer), or would I need to make sure that it was compatible with my software? An external effects unit would not apply here since it would not need to "work" with the computer/recording software.

    Thanks again!!!

  4. AzureCrystal

    AzureCrystal Active Member

    Aug 14, 2001
    Lipid; I tried using an existing Celeron 433 mhz machine with 256 megs of ram as a DAW. I flashed the bios, added a 40 gig 7200 rpm drive, but performance with that machine was still horrible (In Pro Tools, Sonar was almost acceptable). I ended up spending about $300 for an ASUS A7A266 mobo with an AMD 1ghz 266fsb CPU. I also had to buy a new ATX tower because the original power supply was only 100 watts, DAWs need at least 250-300 watts. Now my machine screams !! That is the price I had to pay, don't frustrate yourself, that configuration will NOT WORK for serious digital audio work. Hope this helps ! -Azure ;)
  5. Opus2000

    Opus2000 Well-Known Member

    Apr 7, 2001
    OK..some indepth questions! I like it!
    Lets' see here...
    How much power is too much power...I cant say that there is such a thing at the moment for DAW systems..the more power the better performance you get. Plain and simple. With Dual processors you would have a severe advantage to be able to laod a lot more plugins without using all the system resources. Also one thing abviously to account for is the program to utilize two processors. Luckily you are opting for Nuendo which utilizes that. I'm pretty sure Cubase is as well but not positive about Sonar/Cakewalk..Doc?
    It's really a combination of fast disks and processors. ATA100 specs with UDMA 100 drives at 7200RPM are perfect for PC DAW systems. You put that in a Dual PIII 1Ghz with 512MB of RAM your a happy kid
    With Video Games..it depends on where it looks for the audio..if it runs without the CD then it's fine..in the Windows Multimedia settings make the Layla the default playback device. If it runs off of a CD for the audio then you would have to be running either Win2K or WinME..either one of those has the option to turn on Digial Audio in the device manager.
    External gear is so hard to narrow down and say you should get this or that..everyone has different needs and ways to accomplish them. I use a Mackie 1402Vlz mixer for my mics and keyboards and guitar processor. for a mixer I use the Tascam US428 surface and for audio I use a Layla 20bit interface. I even use the 428 as audio and both work great. For everything to work together then the true area to be picky about is your setup. How things are assigned within windows..how your signal flow is hooked up..ie no audio cables running with power cables. I could go into the major details but I wont..you have to spec out what you need not what you want.
    I guess I would not build a DAW without a Power Conditioner!!
    If you do your homework and make sure that everything works together then go for it. There are so many combinations out there today it's hard to make a decision. Pick out some gear in question and we can tell you whether it works or not.
  6. doctordale

    doctordale Guest

    Yes, Sonar supports dual processors, I don't think Pro Audio does...
  7. Azur,
    "I ended up spending about $300 for an ASUS A7A266 mobo with an AMD 1ghz 266fsb CPU"

    Is this the Thunderbird chip? How long have you had it now? Obviously your happy, what software are running? Could you give an example of the performance your getting? Are you using DDR memory? Are you still running 256mb ram?

    Thank You!
    Martin Barringer
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