Which All-In-One Recording System Beats PC/Mac?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by tifftunes, Aug 14, 2007.

  1. tifftunes

    tifftunes Active Member

    I've had it with PC crashes. I was sailing along fine 'til today. Nothing seems to work with the PC today.

    I use Cubase (LE and SX) on a custom made desktop and a potent Dell Latitude laptop, Presonus Firestation, and assorted outboard gear (preamps and comp/limiters). I think it's the Presonus' fault this time... The only thing new to this setup are the BNC connectors from the Focusrite ISA428 to the Firestation. The 428 is setup with External clock.

    I get signal but can only activate (arm) 2 tracks in Cubase... I should have 8 analog from the Firestation, and another 8 ADAT tracks from the 428 through the Firestation. What gives?

    I've recording with a PC for 7 years, and absolutely hate having to rebuild/replace upgrade/update device drivers and programs just to get going again...

    I'm looking for a do-it-all digital recorder, if it can compare to a PC quality-wise. Any recommendations?

    If nothing is as good, I'm ready to tackle the maintenance of tape again. At least then I could follow a wire (or another electro-mechanical logical path) and get it working again.

    Frustrated!!! :evil:
  2. jonyoung

    jonyoung Well-Known Member

    Have you checked out Radar? I've not used it myself, but everyone I know who has it or has used it, raves about it.
  3. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Fredericksburg, VA
    Unless you're willing to drop some serious dough on a Radar or on a SaDiE, I would say NO WAY!!!

    No all-in-one unit can compare to a quality built computer system.

    My advice would be to ditch the POS Dell (trust me, I used to work for Dell as an on-site repair technician!) and go for something from a dedicated manufacturer. I would advise going with someone like ADK. First, they're reputable. Second, they're regular contributors to this forum so you know you could get in touch with him or get his attention if need be and third, the guy knows his stuff.

    A well-engineered PC should NOT give you the trouble you're having. I've been running on-location recording from my PC for years now and not one single crash. (1 glitch and couple minor hiccups, but no crashes.)

    Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Cheers -
  4. tifftunes

    tifftunes Active Member

    Well, I got lucky...

    I checked out a few options and discovered most digital systems will suffer from the same maladies as the PC. However, if it weren't for the $$$, RADAR would definitely give me a nod, as would the Alesis for a bit less cash... But, their short-comings bring me right back to a PC.

    I think the problem I experienced is between the Presonus Firestation firmware and Quicktime. But I'm not sure...

    Tonight (Wed) I was finally able to record ten drum channels into Cubase, and it sounded and performed fine! I wrote down the steps I had to take so it can be repeated if necessary. Not the least of which was reinstalling Cubase SX and "repairing it several times.

    I built my desktop, and I'm on my 3rd Dell laptop. Quite satisfied with Dell, and their 3 year on site warranty, thank you very much!

    My last laptop was a Dell Inspiron 9300, which lasted me 3.5 years, and is now being beaten by my 14 yr old son! Like the Eveready Bunny, still going! :D
  5. VonRocK

    VonRocK Active Member

    Perhaps you are just not cut out for this type of work?
  6. EricWatkins

    EricWatkins Active Member

    Decatur Il
    Wow, thanks for the additional help with your your clairvoyant for-sight. With amazingly constructive insight like this, we'll all be experts soon.
  7. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Sometimes, whether it's PC or MAC, you just have to keep slogging through until you solve the nagging problems. Like it or not, it can take a LOT of time and manpower to figure it all out, no matter what you're doing - digital audio or printing or networking, or whatever.

    I have five PCs and one MAC in my studio operation, three of them are DAWs, all of them networked, all of them sharing three printers, all of them able to at let get on the web for updates from trusted vendors, etc. (No, I do NOT surf the web for fun or porn from ANY of them.... ;-) )

    I recently moved, and it's been a long, seemingly endless struggle to get them all back online the way I used to have everything at my old place. I recently had a lightning strike that (unknown to me at the time) took out two of five network cards - without harming anything else. The time it took to troubleshoot routers, hubs, cables and software was unreal, and you can imagine how shocked (and annoyed) we were to find out it was just a couple of $15 network cards. This was WEEKS of on again, off again software trouble-shooting, whenever one of us had a few minutes to try to track it down. (Eventually we just went gonzo and began swapping network wires, opening machines up, pulling cards, etc.)

    Ditto for automatic upgrades and downloads from Microsoft and vendors; they can cause unexpected problems as well. One computer recently developed a problem where it could get on the web, but was a total mess in terms of the LAN. Couldn't see any other computer, couldn't be SEEN by the others as well. Turns out one of the automatice upgrades by Norton or MS had turned the firewall settings up to max, closing it off from everything else EXCEPT email....grrrrr....

    My most-hated apps are all of the Norton & McAfee anti-this and anti-that devices. They are a total pain in the butt, and in most cases for me, completely unecessary - until you get a bug or a virus. I once had a "virus" show up that alerted Norton AV (which I had let the subscription lapse, coincidently). I had no other choice (it seemed) but to upgrade Norton AV and get rid of the bug. Mysteriously, once I got the upgrade, the bug vanished before we did a thing, never to be seen again. Regardless, unless I'm having a serious issue with a virus or potential threat, I turn all of that stuff off anymore. NO ONE surfs on any of the machines for junk sales, porn or whatever, and all attached files are scanned before downloading, so we've been pretty lucky, and I plan to stay that way.

    My point in all of this is that your'e not alone with bugs and problems. YOu have to be ever-vigilant and ready to roll up your sleeves to find and fix new "issues", ALL THE TIME. Getting complacent and comfortable is sure to lead to trouble, sooner or later. You can never let your guard down with computers, ESPECIALLY if they're your source of income.

    When running a PC or a MAC for ANY kind of serious work - be it networking, or printing (or what we REALLY want it for - digital audio/video), you can never be "finished" with tweaks and repairs, even with just software apps and drivers.

    Oh, I didn't even mention Vista.....I just upgraded the office machine in my setup, and now I find I've got up upgrade the network protocol software on all the OTHER computers, so the Vista machine can now "See" them.....all in the name of better online security. (Here's a new horror story: You have to go to MS's website, click on the proper download options, and - this is the kicker - let MS check your copy of Window to make sure it's "Valid" and THEN download the software for your PC's network card. Otherwise, your VISTA machine won't "See" Your other computers anymore on your existing XP-based LAN.)

    THrough all of this, I just shake my head and say: "All I really wanted to do was just record & mix MUSIC!!!"

    Yeah, right! :twisted:
  8. VonRocK

    VonRocK Active Member

    What JoeH said was exactly what I meant.

    Your PC crashes, and lo and behold, everything crashes. Just like cars and airplanes and kids on bikes. If you are not the type of person that can get through that, then maybe you are not the type of person that will derive any pleasure from this type of hobby/career.

    I think tifftunes was just venting, and needed someone to tell him to buck up. We all feel your pain.
  9. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    North Vancouver
    I am mostly an optimist, but I do think somebody should deal with the operating system issue.

    Mackie made the SDR, MDR and HDR to poke at the operating system issue.

    The problem is when we pick a PC we want it to do more than just record audio. So we add a few bell and whistles, like the network.

    If you had a choice for a rock solid stand alone machine that just did recording or a multi-tasking PC that allowed you to surf the net and play solitaire while you tracked boring artists….

    What you choose?

    I would love to see a operating system programmer develop a operating system specifically for audio recording. No frills, just put the power where it needs to be. I think this the idea behind the Mackie SDR based products. Maybe it can used as a starting point.

    VonRocK is right in the sense that you have to be able to maintain your tools, but I also think we have had our audio tools damaged more by the operating system than the actually software we are trying to use.

    Every time someone wants a new feature the whole operating system has to change, and we get those little system updates. You know the ones that Joe was talking about, the ones "#$#%^" up everything you really need, but leave you solitaire game intact and give you a new skin windows media player.

    My own PC is not online. I am perfectly happy to use a sacrificial internet pc for any downloads required. I don’t upgrade my operating system until I absolutely need too. If it ain’t broke, it stays the same. But that’s just me. Right now my machine is running well, and I am happy.
  10. jonyoung

    jonyoung Well-Known Member

    ...which is why I own an SDR for tracking, Tracktion 2 for editing and comping (since it will open the SDR project files with two mouse clicks) and Sonar for mixing and the occasional overdub. Gotta say, I love being able to arm 24 tracks and hit record, spend no more than 10 seconds to dial up a new set of virtual tracks for another take. There's a place in the world for standalone decks. :wink:
  11. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    I'm totally in favor of stand-alone decks, I just wish there were more choices. AFAIK, with Mackie out of the game, there's really only Alesis and Fostex selling 24 track stand-alone HD recording machines, at least in terms of what's affordable. Neither seems to use MS-compatible file format now, so you're forced to do transfers - and in the case with Fostex - in real time. :-(

    I'm stuck at a crossroads for systems like this; my main system is a Sequoia-based laptop - up to 24 track system (which works fine, and reads/writes to MS/PC compatible standard wav files). I can record and save to a standard Wirewire/USB 2 equipped hard drive, and simply bring the project back to my studio, plug it in to the main mixing system, and away we go. Simple and neat. There's virtually no transfers or wait time involved.

    Not so with my second (backup) Fostex 2424 (and the Alesis, if I'm reading their product info correctly), I have to do transfers in real time, via ADAT optical or network cards, because you can't simply pull the drive out and read it elsewhere on a standard PC or MAC. The file format (at least with Fostex) is proprietary. You cannot open or view material on a Fostex-formatted HD on any other system.

    In addition, I have my Fostex 2424 in a complete stand-alone rig, (an Odyssey rolling rack, weighing roughly 100 lbs or so, including mixer, CDr, service drawer, cabling, etc.) It's a total a pain in the butt to haul back home, into my studio after live gigs.

    There's no other way around this than to do the transfers in my garage/warehouse (where the Fostex lives when not in use) or to buy ANOTHER Fostex unit that would live in my studio full time and drop in the drives. Of course, even then, I'm STILL stuck with doing 8, 16 and 24 track transfers, in real time. This might sound like I'm whining, but this adds up quickly, esp. when working with 2-3 hr concerts and operas, etc.

    I was interested in the Alesis as an alternative, but again, it too seems to (now, in the latest version?) write to the HD in a proprietary format.

    I wish I'd bought the Mackie when it was out and available. I have a friend/colleague who uses the Mackie on live gigs all the time, and simply brings the HD back to his studio, pops it open and works on the files with Samplitude/Sequoia. Aside from the HD mechanics, there's not much else that could fail, so in theory, any used Mackie (or Alesis, Fostex, etc.) should be around for a long time to come.

    Anyone know of any other options than these?
  12. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Home Page:
    For file transfer from an Alesis HD24, try HD24Connect with the HD24 caddy plugged into a ViPower USB adaptor. Many times real time transfers. HD24Connect is part of HD24Tools, available from http://www.dnd.utwente.nl/~mrjb/hd24tools/
  13. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Thanks, but that looks and sounds just as dificult, if not downright impossible with WinXP or MAC OS.

    What I want is this: A simple, standalone MDM system with removable hard drives, that are readable in PCs or MACs as wav files.

    Why is this so damn hard to do? Samplitude/Sequoia does it with the PC, so does a bunch of other great software, whether it's for PC or MAC. It just strikes me as stupid & counterproductive to make proprietary systems that can't be read by all the STANDARD wav-based systems. What are these manufactuerers THINKING?!?!?

    I'm sure any minute now, Fostex will discontinue the 2424 anyway, not sure what the future holds for Alesis, but if it goes the way of the rest of them (including Mackie, Tascam, etc.) it wont be a surprise.

    At this point, I'm simply going to have to get another Laptop, mixer & converter with an external HD. The results will be the same, and I'll end up with swap-able HDs from one system to another.

    I guess they brought it on themselves. Even though my Fostex works perfectly, I wouldn't advise anyone to get another one in today's market. You just can't "here" from "There." Not easily, anyway.
  14. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Home Page:
    Not difficult or impossible with either. It's just not as convenient as having the drives in a format that's native to whichever computer you are using, as there's an extra transfer step involved.

    They are thinking integrity and reliability. The file formats in the Windows world (FAT32 and NTFS) are designed for rapid random access of indeterminate length files and, importantly, efficient writing to gaps left by previous deletions. As a result, PC audio programs work pretty well with multiple channels of audio data as long as there is no other activity to sap processor power or demand access to the disk drives. But these audio programs cannot guarantee that you will not lose data through their not keeping up because they do not have control of the filing system. The proprietary formats adopted by Alesis, Fostex and others do guarantee no data loss, providing you use a drive of the minimum spin speed and step rate.

    I'm with you there, Joe, but I still choose to use my HD24s on live recording gigs because of all the hassles and failures I have had with trying to do it with laptops. There's also more stretch in a dedicated disk setup. Several times I have turned up to a gig where the contract has said 18 or 20 channels and have actually had to use 30 or more. Knowing that I have guaranteed data integrity through slaving HD24s is more reassuring to me than wondering whether my laptop can take another 10 channels without stuttering.
  15. tifftunes

    tifftunes Active Member

    ...If only I had grabbed one of the Mackies when I had the chance...

    Until 18 months ago I would capture to tape, then transfer to the custom made desktop for dubs and mixing. Now I'm trying to do as much as possible on the laptop (using external HDDs), and have plans for portable recording with the laptop in the future. From what I'm hearing however, I may skip the portable stuff!

    As much as I didn't like VonRocK's comment about not being cut out for this type of work, there is a bit of truth in that comment. I got into this type of work as a singer/songwriter. Due to lack of funds, I began recording myself. Then found it was more lucrative and less work all around to record others for money than try to sell my music. That way I could get paid to buy equipment.

    But it was much easier then to habitually maintain tape machines than trouble-shoot an illogical piece of equipment run by software. Even my car is mostly software driven!! I've had enough of the software domain, and want something more predictable, stable and dependable.

    Since I vented, and then succeeded in regaining control over my laptop to record the necessary tracks, I am once again motoring along. However, I'll never be "at ease" with a computer handling the important tasks. Even with backup, they just don't inspire confidence like tape used to. I never needed redundant systems with tape...
  16. jonyoung

    jonyoung Well-Known Member


    If it's any comfort to you, my Mackie deck throws me an occasional curveball, and to make matters more frustrating, the embedded firmware was designed by some Belgian engineers that have since scattered and Mackie doesn't know what any of the Error codes mean. :roll:
    I recently replaced the battery on the mobo, and they didn't know it had one! There's no such thing as perfect stabitlity in the audio world.
  17. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    I hear what you're saying, Boswell, it's only one more step. And there have been some great points made by all from Tifftunes original comments.

    I agree that aside from the inconvenience of transferring tracks, there's nothing that beats the reliability of simply hitting "Record" and go with a dedicated system like the Alesis or Fostex. (I'm old enough to remember multitrack tape machines, and as long as you could check signal on the repro heads, you knew you were capturing. THAT's the feeling we all want while out on the battlefield, capturing live events and such.)

    As for HD writing schemes and reliability, I hear what you're saying there as well. Perhaps someday they could give us a CHOICE of what HD format we want to use - theirs or ours, with the caveat that we're "on our own" if we go with NTSF or FAT.

    I agree their proprietary disc writing schemes are more robust and solid, but thanks anyway; I don't need that for the way I work on live events or sessions. My "live" recording in the field always involves a clean, uncluttered HD with tons of empty space, and I write contiguous, long-form files (usually a minimum of a half hour to hour in length, across 8-24 tracks. I don't stop and start, (even during recording sessions per se....we just let it roll and log time code till the artist takes a break) and I don't clutter up the drives with multiple events or shows. As soon as the gig is done, it comes back to home base and gets transferred into the main system and prepped for mixing, etc.

    I can only point to the success many of us have had with the Laptop/Firewire-USB external drive setup. IT WORKS. As long as I've done my setup properly and there's no "Pilot Error" involved, this system has worked flawlessly for me over the last 4-5 years. The results are always the same: Glitch-free, rock solid recording via WinXP onto Firewire HDs (Western Digital) which can be instantly hot-swapped into my main mixing system at the studio and off we go. I plan to continue to work this way indefinitely, occasionally upgrading my Laptop, software, HD caddy, etc.

    As much as I appreciate the rock-solid, total reliability of my Fostex (2nd) system, it's a labor intensive PITA to transfer tracks after the fact; usually a delay of several HOURS and much TLC before we can seriously get to work on them. In today's world, that's just too slow and needless.

    Again, I'm surprised no one has yet to capitalize on this market. Maybe it's just too fringe or niche to waste their time on us. :roll:
  18. tifftunes

    tifftunes Active Member

    Maybe we'll get luck soon and get a new and better file and/or operating system. I've heard numerous complaints about operating and file systems over the years.

    I realize we are stuck with computers, and I'll just have to learn how to trouble-shoot the occasional problems. The bottom line for me (the REAL truth) is that I'd rater be writing and singing than tech'ing in the studio. That makes the problem more *ME* than PC I'd guess... But I still need to make a living, and still cannot afford to hire an engineer for myself. My son will be old enough soon, though. I look forward to having him work with me!

    Thanks jy for the Mackie comments. Every format will have it's good and bad sides...

    BTW, thanks for all the responses. It helps to remember we are not alone in our quests, regardless of our various perspectives.
  19. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    For my second major digital upgrade or is this my third? Fourth? Whatever! After careful examination, I went with the AlesisHD 24xr. I'm one of those people that also likes a dedicated machine, like the old days. Something that only has to think about recording and nothing else. Where I can choose what kind of microphone preamps and/or equalizer's I want in-line, etc., before its recorded. The intriguing thing about the HD 24xr and what separates it apart from all of the rest is its proprietary FST file format. Unlike the other hard disk-based systems, all data is written sequentially and because of that, no defragmentation is necessary, unlike the other manufacturers! Remove the caddie from the machine and plug in the FireWire adapter. Plug it into your computer and transfer everything to your client's hard disk drive at 400Mb per second which will be in standard NTFS, FAT 32, HFS, etc. and that will appear in .wav, .AIF or whatever that blasted apple format is. This way, you will still have the original master and your client will have an NTFS master. I really think this is the way to go Joe? Plus you get your choice of 24 track at 24-bit and 44.1 or 48kHz and 12 tracks at 96kHz at 24-bit, great for orchestral. I'm loving it! Can't wait to get a second one!

    Now taking auditions for bookings of the Stratavarious mobile production environment.
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  20. jonyoung

    jonyoung Well-Known Member


    A question....with the file format on the HD24, when you hand off a hard drive copy to a client, will punches show up where they're supposed to, or as seperate wave files when tracks are loaded into a sequencer? In my case, the Tracktion software loads all editing data in its intended location, but were I to load everything into Sonar up front, I'd have to reassemble stuff. I'm trying to think ahead for a replacement when one day my beloved SDR goes up in smoke.

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