Seeking General PC/DAW Advice

Discussion in 'Computing' started by gumboots3, Oct 22, 2007.

  1. gumboots3

    gumboots3 Guest

    My apologies in advance for my first post being so lengthy, but my old recording haunts seem to have grown inactive.

    I am finally ready to make the move from an all-in-one multitrack box (Korg D1600) to a PC/Software based DAW. I am fairly well versed in PC specs and how they impact the performance of a system, but I have a few particular questions on how they relate to pro-audio production.

    I have done a bit of homework, and am ready to start making purchases (soon!). I definately don't want to cheap out on anything, as I am looking to produce professional and polished recordings, but my budget is not unlimited, so I am willing to compromise on bells and whistles, so long as it doesn't affect the quality of the finished project.

    I imagine that I will typically be working with about 20-25 tracks per song, mostly audio, with 2-4 midi, and a handful of basic plugins/effects as needed (compression, reverb, delay). I am experimenting with Sonar at the moment, but havn't made a final decision on which DAW software to go with.

    Any advice or suggestions from your experience would be eternally appreciated. Here goes:

    1. Laptop or Desktop?

    I had originally decided on a desktop, thinking it would be cheaper and more stable. However, I think the portability of a laptop would come in handy in the long run, and it seems you can get a PC laptop with solid specs for a decent price these days.

    So, with at least 1 gig of RAM and a decent HD in mind, what type of processor should I go for -- the fastest around, or are there quality, lower cost processors that are optimal (or good enough) for pro-audio?

    Secondly, would you advise I get a pre-built laptop from a retailer, like Toshiba, HP, etc., or have the specs custom built, as through Dell, or a local computer shop? Which ends up being cheaper or more reliable?

    2. Sound Card

    I know nothing about sound cards and how they affect audio input/processing. Will a quality laptop have a quality soundcard by default, or is this a separate piece of the puzzle that needs attention and investment? What do you recommend for solid performance within a budget?

    3. Interfaces

    I understand that I will need an interface to plug instruments and mics into the cpu, preferably via Firewire. I'd prefer 4 inputs, but could live with 2 if cost was an issue. I've read a few reccommendations for M-Audio boxes and was wondering if these are solid middle-of-the-road solutions.

    I presume (though I've done no reading on this) that I will also need some sort of 'output' interface to which I can connect my monitors. How does this work, and what are some good options?

    4. Sonar

    I am experimenting with Sonar at the moment, and noticed that "Home Studio" is infinately more affordable than "Producer Edition." Is the only difference between these products the amount of plugins included with PE? Can HS do everything (DAW-wise) that PE can do, without the extra bells?


    Thank you all in advance for any light you can shed on this mysterious realm I am about to dive into!
  2. tzer

    tzer Active Member

    Oct 23, 2007
    I am NOT ANYWHERE NEAR A PRO - but I have spent the last many months doing the same thing you are doing on a slightly smaller scale.

    1. Laptop or Desktop?
    I have a Toshiba Satellite with very low specs (1.5Ghz processor, 192m RAM) nothing special at all and it has been able to handle Sonar projects with many tracks. I am not sure what the max is, but I know I've had projects with over 16 tracks + plugins, etc... and not had problems.

    So as long as you are not hoping to CAPTURE 20 to 24 tracks simultaneously, I can see you using a laptop for editing and arranging.

    However, if you want to be able to capture multiple tracks simultaneously I think you would have to spend a lot more on a laptop with sufficient specs to handle all that.

    I would go for a desktop. You can get a lot more computer for a lot less dough and when it comes to this sort of thing, more computer = better.

    Interfaces/Sound Card
    I went with a Delta 1010LT for my desktop. It provides 8 in, 8 out + midi and more. I finally got my little basement studio configured so that my project band can record each to his own track (drums = 3 tracks) pretty effortlessly.

    I love Sonar! I use PE, but I would imagine you could do a lot with Home Studio. With 64 Audio tracks and Unlimited Midi, I think you can do just about anything a project studio would want to do using Home Studio.

    The hardest thing for me was the signal chain. Getting all band members routed into the mixers, the Delta, the headphone amp, etc... It was very confusing - but I finally solved it.
  3. gumboots3

    gumboots3 Guest

    Thanks tzer for some solid advice.

    A few questions about the Delta 1010LT - It appears to function as the sound card and interface at the same time, eliminating the need for a firewire connection. If that's the case, I may be able to go with my original plan of popping some extra memory into an old computer, installing a card like the Delta, and away we go!

    My biggest concern in going this route was the fact that the old PC didn't have a firewire connection. But if this eliminates the need, then viola!

    Any thoughts?
  4. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    Jun 26, 2007
    At this stage of the game, you are building a bicycle when you are in want of a Jaguar. This, your first step, is not the place you want to get stingy on. Imagine it is your first borns right of passage birthday. As I do not know what country you reside in, I'll have to imagine this will not include bamboo or any kind of trek into the wilderness.

    Lavish on to this firstborn.

    Remember, you are the first born, not that insolent ungrateful pierced and tattooed freak down the hall that never says boo to you.

    Anyway, build for tomorrow not for today is what I am saying. Identify what you want to achieve with this new found stuff:) I would go desktop...but you are free to do as you please because your situation is known better to you then it is to I.

    And brush your tweeters ever now and then.
  5. tzer

    tzer Active Member

    Oct 23, 2007
    gumboots3 - you are welcome.

    While a Delta 1010 is a great solution for connecting to a PC and can be all you really need for a small-scale project studio, I agree with Space;

    ...especially the the bolded part.

    But - you can do a LOT with a little. Don't over-estimate your needs in thinking you have to spend tons all at once to get good results. But at the same time, don't be so "K-Mart" minded that you build your setup on a flimsy foundation.

    My PC also has USB 2 and Firewire ports. If I want to connect very useful things via Firewire or USB - like external control surfaces and all that jazz, I can. I can always add more RAM and bigger hard drives as needed. My base computer is pretty current (a couple of year old) and I am confident that it will handle my needs for a few years easily.

    One thing I would have done differently, however. I would have gone for the full Delta 1010 (with the break out patch bay) - I have made the tangle of connectors on my 1010LT work - but it would have been much easier with the break-out box - and easily worth the additional $$ that you end up spending anyway on adapters and cables.
  6. tzer

    tzer Active Member

    Oct 23, 2007
    gumboots3 - one more thing...

    My mission with my current studio project has included the idea of "Making what I have work for me" - in other words, not building or working from the idea that I have to spend $$ to get there. This obviously presumes I have some stuff to begin with (which I do - I already had the mixers, a computer that is pretty current and expandable, good studio monitors, a power amp, etc...).

    I am thrilled to report that you can do a huge amount of studio work without breaking the bank. You don't NEED an amazing computer - but it would help.

    So I didn't have to buy a computer for my project. If I were to invest in a new computer, I would max out my budget mostly on that. The computer is the centerpiece of your setup and if you can, you should make it as strong and long-lasting as possible. Very fast processor(s) - Lots of RAM - a fast and large hard drive - Firewire, USB 2, dual monitors, etc...

    The next thing I would pour my $$ into (if I had $$ to pour) - a really good mixing console with lots of patch routing options - one specifically designed for the recording studio. I am new to mixing consoles, but what I have learned is having a console that provides individual outputs for each channel is a hugely useful thing. That way you can patch your entire band into the console, send each channel to a track in Sonar and route monitoring mixes to various resources - like a headphone amp, in-studio monitoring, a PA, etc...

    Being able to provide adequate monitoring is essential when working with a band.

    Good luck!
  7. gumboots3

    gumboots3 Guest

    Thanks guys for the advice!

    I've checked out a great HP desktop with:

    -Intel Core Duo (I've been told that Intel is better than AMD for pro audio)
    -2 GB Ram
    -400 GB HD
    -Vista Home Premium

    If I buy the Delta for inputs, and the DAW software, I should be ready to roll. Is there a lesser Delta with fewer inputs? I don't forsee ever needing 8 at one time.

    Next Question: How do I connect my studio monitors to the PC?

    Also, will Vista eat up system resources that I may need, or is it relatively stable at this point?

    Thanks again for your input!
  8. tzer

    tzer Active Member

    Oct 23, 2007

    If you can - get XP (Home or Pro).

    Vista has proven to be a nightmare with regard to compatibility and other 'ease of use' issues.

    I have a machine with Vista (an HP with an Intel Duo Core, etc...) and it has been nothing but a headache.

    I hope as time rolls on that Vista improves and becomes more useful - but for now, my machine with Vista (even though it has rocket power) is my secondary machine for DAW.

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