AF’s Weblog

August 21, 2012

Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

To read the full detailed article see:  Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

This is how you can easily build and maintain a professionally equipped music computer to power the digital audio workstation for your home recording studio.

Music Computer, or a computer specifically intended for processing digital audio simply means that there are several components that you need to look at and understand in order to optimize for this environment. These elements are crucial to performance, and can have a massive impact on your workflow and overall efficiency.

You may use your computer for other functions as well as music production, but to get the most from your computer in order to power a digital audio workstation, you need to understand how to optimize it best for home recording. Faster is almost always better, and perhaps the most important ingredient to optimum performance in THIS environment is MEMORY.

Today, you will learn how to assemble a computer for your home studio. We will look at the several options for doing so, as well as my recommendations. You will also learn what specific parts and components you need to understand that play an integral role in designing an effective system.

You will learn some ways to protect your studio computer, because having a solid backup system is worth it’s weight in gold. Lastly, we will cover a few key maintenance actions that you can integrate into habit to keep your system healthy and working like a champ.

This article isn’t meant to be a comprehensive “textbook explanation.” I’m not writing a paper to a professor. I’ll be moving quickly as i condense a lot of years of dealing with and learning about first-hand, down into a few short paragraphs that tell you the key things you need to know.

So let’s get it…

Options For Building/Buying a Music Computer

Although there are variety of options that exist and we will cover them shortly, i want to point out that in my personal experience Apple (Macintosh) computers offer a great “out of the box” solution for most beginners and are a great starting point. Further, with just a few upgrades you can arm yourself with a world class digital production experience.

  1. Build the computer yourself. You can pick out all the components you need, order them and then assemble them just how you want them.  To build your own computer you will need to have reasonable technical expertise so unless you know what you are doing, or have someone who does assemble it for you, i wouldn’t advise going this route.
  2. Buy a new computer from the store.  I can assure you that a new Mac, off the shelf, will be adequatelyoptimized for recording music in most cases and there are quite a few PC models that would also be well optimized. Again, in either case there are a few key components that you need to consider, which we will be covering shortly.
  3. Buy a music computer that is custom built specifically for music recording.  There are a number of computer companies like MusicXPC that create specialty computers which are built and optimized for audio and recording. However, expect to pay a bit more for a custom computer like this. It’s worth checking out, do your homework and ask a lot of questions as you compare.
  4. Buy a computer off the shelf and then replace some parts.  This means that you are purchasing a computer for their bare-bones platform and then buying parts separately to upgrade the overall performance. So for example, buying a computer basically for its operating system, processing power and ease of use; then buying memory and hard drive upgrades, etc. from a third party source.  You can either install them yourself or have someone install them for you. In most cases this is a fairly simple procedure.

Option #4 is the route i always take now. It is in my experience the BEST way to cost effectively build a super powerful DAW computer. As you know i am a big proponent of Apple, and have been for the last eight years.

See the little secret about Apple is, their parts are RIDICULOUSLY expensive. Not as if they were cheap to begin with…!

But if you buy a Mac Pro or Macbook Pro for their processors, motherboard, delicious and simple interface, operating system, support, and other lovely little inclusives…

THEN you purchase some high quality third party Memory (RAM) and Hard-Disk upgrades, you got the best of both worlds for a killer price!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Home Studio Computer Maintenance

Lastly, let’s top things off with something i hope you’ll do regularly and make habit of. Don’t neglect the maintenance of this machine. It is the brains of your home studio. Here are a few basic maintenance tasks that’ll get you on your way.

  • Keep your computer clean by dusting it off once a week, also dust off all electronics in your home studio weekly.
  • Always keep at least 20% of your hard drive space free. Ensuring this amount of free space will keep your computer from lagging or losing response time, and won’t put any unneeded strain on it.
  • Backup your work regularly, setup time machine or other service to back it up on a physical hard drive; and then also setup the second backup of your most critical files through a virtual storage service.
  • Run a disk utility weekly and verify all volumes. This is just to check and fix any errors, and to verify the disk is working properly.

I’ve done this stuff every week, and have had computers running like a champ for over five years.

So there you have it. Tried to keep it straight to the point, although it went a little longer than most, but I hope you’ve found this article helpful and i’ve answered your questions about what it takes to setup a DAW computer for home recording.

To read the full detailed article see:  Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

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December 17, 2010

Gifts for Geeks

Clock is ticking, and there is still time to please and be pleased. Here are some ideas for Christmas gifts for musicians and gear heads to fit all tastes and wallet sizes.

Computer Music

Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer

Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer : and your iThing speaks MIDI

Together with an Apple iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, and the free MIDI Memo Recorder app, MIDI Mobilizer can play, record, and backup MIDI information any time, any place. Whether you want to capture a quick musical idea or back up the settings of all your MIDI gear, MIDI Mobilizer is a simple and compact solution for everything MIDI.  Price: $70

Peavey AmpKit Link

Peavey AmpKit Link :

Turn your iPhone into a virtual amp for $30. The sound quality is fair considering the price. The marketing strategy of offering a free amp and then have us pay for additional amps is not so bad, considering that guitar players usually have their favorite amps and do not play with 15 different models.

Plugin Lexicon

Plugin Lexicon :

The new software package makes all the effects processing of Lexicon’s PCM96 available as a plug-in designed to add “inspirational new sounds to a user’s DAW that are not available anywhere else.”  The PC- and Macintosh-compatible PCM Native Effects Plug-In Bundle is designed to work with DAWs like Pro Tools and Logic, as well as with any other VST, Audio Unit or RTAS-compatible host.  Price: $1200.

Apogee One

Apogee One : All in one in your pocket

ONE is described as a single input, stereo output USB music interface designed to work seamlessly with Apples iTunes, GarageBand, Logic, Final Cut or any Core Audio compliant application on a Mac. Unlike any product in its category, ONE features an internal reference condenser microphone, ideal for capturing inspired musical moments, according to Apogee. ONE also includes a microphone preamp, an instrument input for guitar, bass, and keyboards, and a studio-quality stereo output for headphones or powered monitors.  Price:  $249

 

Native Komplete 7

Native Komplete 7 : The Bundle of the Decade?

The latest version of the Komplete bundle combines a range of NI products, while the Komplete 7 Elements collection is designed to set a new price point for music production enthusiasts on a budget.  The seventh generation of Komplete now comprises 24 individual products, including the latest Reaktor 5.5 version as well as the new Reaktor Prism, Rammfire, Reflektor, Traktor’s 12 and Vintage Organs. Other products now contained in Komplete include the Abbey Road 60s Drums vintage drum library, the performance effect The Finger, the electric pianos and an electric bass by sampler Thomas Scarbee, the four acoustic pianos from the Classic Piano Collection, the cinematic Acoustic Refractions instrument and the Reaktor Spark synthesizer, amounting to about 10,000 sounds and 90 GB of studio-grade sample material overall.  Price: $559.

Guitar Pro 6

Guitar Pro 6 :

Version 6 is definitely a major update for Guitar Pro. What used to be a small software tool has become the ultimate reference in its category thanks to its intuitive user interface, well thought-out features and an absurdly low price. Should you upgrade your previous Guitar Pro version for $29.95? Yes, a thousand times yes! You’ll benefit from a better design and a much better sounding and efficient audio engine than in previous versions. Should you buy the full version for $59.95 if you don’t own a guitar tab editor? Yes, a thousand times yes!

Pro Tools 9

Pro Tools 9 : Compatible Soundblaster (among others) !

Pro Tools 9 is an open platform that doesn’t require an Avid/M-Audio interface anymore, but can work with or without any Core Audio or ASIO compatible interface – on Mac AND PC.  The new version enables bigger mixes with more tracks, and pro features including Automatic Delay Compensation, multitrack Beat Detective, full Import Session Data dialog, DigiBase Pro, and other separately priced add-ons—now standard.  Price: $599 for the full version.

Pianoteq Play

Pianoteq Play :

Pianoteq Play is a virtual piano based on the physically modeled Pianoteq software instrument, appraised by many musicians for its close intimacy and responsiveness.

Modarrt says there is no need to tweak settings and parameters, as Pianoteq Play is delivered with “perfectly designed instruments.”  Pianoteq Play supports all Pianoteq instruments, and the grand pianos K1, C3, and M3 are embedded.  Price:  $99

RME Babyface

RME Babyface :

RME succeeded in launching a compact and rugged interface with remarkable sound quality. At about $750, this baby provides two quality mic preamps and converters, ADAT in/out, a jog wheel, a transport bag, and a pair of nice-looking VU-meters. Add TotalMix FX —the virtual mixer that allows you to manage all 22 channels and process the signals (EQ, filter, reverb, and echo)— to the package and you get the best mobile audio interface on the market.

Akai APC 20

Akai APC 20 : Enter the Matrix

Yes, the APC40 is much more comprehensive than the APC20! But if you have only $200 for a Live controller, the APC20 has only one competitor in the form of the Novation Launchpad. The latter is less expensive but doesn’t have any faders, which makes it less interesting…

DJing and Live Sound

Traktor Kontrol S4

Traktor Kontrol S4 :

Combining an extended version of the existing Traktor Pro software with a dedicated hardware controller, the Traktor Kontrol S4 is aiming to provide an all-in-one solution for digital DJs. The controller comprises a four-channel mixer, an integrated 24-bit/96kHz audio interface based on NI’s Audio 4 DJ, and interface sections for looping, cueing, track browsing and effects control.  Price: $1000.

Hercules DJ Console 4-MX

Hercules DJ Console 4-MX :

Hercules launched this year the newest version of their DJ Console line for Pro DJs, the DJ Console 4-Mx, a controller featuring large jog wheels (each equipped with touch sensor) a built-in audio interface tailored for DJing, and control over 2 and 4 virtual decks.  The DJ Console 4-Mx has steel and aluminium crafted body with a variety of controls including 89 controls in 2-deck mode and 150 controls in 4-deck mode.  Price: $450.

Pioneer DJM-2000

Pioneer DJM-2000 :

Let’s be clear: this is a great piece of gear! Well thought-out, nicely finished and with a great sound, it offers countless possibilities to allow the most demanding DJ’s to have endless fun. With this product, Pioneer targets night clubs with big budgets who want to offer the best to their DJ’s. The latter will have the possibility to prepare their sets before performing, and to come to the club with only a CD or a USB key — no need for a computer.  Price: $2500.

Denon DN-X1700

Denon DN-X1700 :

The DN-X1700 is a four-channel tabletop mixer with rubberised knobs, 60mm Alps K Series channel faders, 45mm FLEX cross fader, a color LCD display, extended 24-point LED channel and output metering, and LED ring metering around the control knobs.  In operation, the principal features related to the power and flexibility of the DN-X1700 are its Matrix Input Assignment with digital input and MIDI/USB audio, independent and parametric three-band EQ with Kill on each channel, and dual independent EFX processors.  Price: $1800.

Fender Passport 500 Pro

 

Fender Passport 500 Pro :

The eight-channel Passport 500 PRO is the new top-of-the-line Passport system:

  • A port that lets you record your performance with CD quality (.wav) straight to a USB flash drive.
  • CD-quality .wav and mp3 file playback.
  • Sub-out jack for an external powered sub-woofer.
  • Redesigned speaker system with 10″ woofer and improved clarity.
  • Price: $1000.

 

Presonus StudioLive 24.4.2

Presonus StudioLive 24.4.2 :

StudioLive 24.4.2 sports the same user interface, feature set, and I/O configuration as the StudioLive 16.4.2 but with several additions and enhancements. The main difference is that the new mixer provides 24 input channels and 10 aux buses, whereas the StudioLive 16.4.2 has 16 channels and 6 auxes. In addition, the new mixer’s Fat Channel has fully parametric EQ, rather than semi-parametric, and the gate and limiter have been enhanced. Instead of one stereo 31-band graphic EQ on the main bus, you get four dual 31-band graphic EQs that can be assigned to the mains, subgroups, and aux buses.  Price: $3,300.

To see many more gift ideas see:  Gift for Geeks- Xmas Shopping 2010

December 1, 2010

Lifting the Lid on Audio Laptops: The Test

In Part 2 we go deeper into PC laptops for music production and put a few choice models to the test.

 

The most sure fire way of removing the headache from selecting a laptop is to pop along to someone who knows what they are doing. If you pick up a laptop from a specialist Audio PC builder then you can feel assured that the DPC latency will be under control (see Part 1), and it would have been tested with numerous audio interfaces. However, regardless of the marketing materials, no laptop is going to be “designed for audio”. With desktop computers Audio PC specialists can carefully choose and combine components to produce a system that will work well for music production. With laptops this isn’t possible. Unless you order direct from the Far East in large container loads then you are not going to get any say over what goes inside a laptop. Audio PC builders have to rebrand and sell someone else’s laptop.

Some name brand manufactures release what’s known as a “whitebox” version of one or more of their range of laptops. This is essentially an unbranded, vanilla laptop chassis without CPU, RAM or hard drive installed. The specialist would then add the missing components to order, rebrand and sell it as their own product.  In the UK at least whitebox laptops are increasingly rare. Asus, MSI and Intel have all had a go in the past but the general feeling is that the money to be made supplying specialist builders isn’t really worth it. That leaves a company called Clevo. Clevo specialise in whitebox laptops, they do nothing else and don’t tend to sell them under their own brand – so they’re not competing with their own customers like the name brands do. They supply laptop shells to all the little companies and shops that wish to brand and their “own” laptop – been doing it for years. There’s nothing wrong in any of this. For people wanting a properly tested and supported laptop for audio then this is the best route. The only downside is that the choice is very restrictive. The chances are that wherever you go the specialists will be selling the same laptop. The laptop won’t have any features specific to music making, it will probably be designed for gaming as much as anything and the best the Audio PC company can do is tweak it and support it for audio use – which is a great thing in itself. The value in having a laptop properly set-up and supported to do the job should not be underestimated. It’s one of the downsides of buying from Apple – you’re not going to get that specialised music production support in the event of trouble.

As an Audio PC builder whitebox laptops can be quite frustrating because you don’t have any control over the internal technology. When a new version arrives there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to get it work for music production and you are off again trying to find a new solution. This has been particular difficult with the latest laptop technology from Intel. The mobile Core i3, i5 and i7 CPU’s seem to have brought with them a bumper set of features and components that all get stuffed into the laptop making it really difficult to minimise the DPC latency impact and maximise the firewire bandwidth.

So, instead of restricting ourselves to only whitebox laptops let’s take a look at some name brand manufacturers that just might do the job.

The Laptop Face-Off

Our search resulted in five possible solutions from three manufacturers:

  1. Asus N61JQ i7 720QM 1.6GHz 4GB ATI HD5730 ~ £1000
  2. Fujitsu Lifebook E780 i5 520M 2.4GHz 4GB Nvidia GT330M ~ £1050
  3. Fujitsu Celsius H700 i5 540M 2.6GHz 4GB Nvidia Quadro 880M ~ £1900
  4. Lenovo Thinkpad T510 i5 520M 2.4GHz 3GB Intel HD GFX ~ £1100
  5. Lenovo Thinkpad W510 i7 720QM 1.6GHz 2GB Quadro FX 880M ~ £1650

These aren’t cheap and cheerful, they’re high spec, professional laptops comparable (arguably) to the MacBook Pro – that’s the idea anyway.  It was interesting how out of the box they all had various problems and barriers to working well for music production. I’m pretty experienced with these things and so I knew how to approach the issues but I often wonder how non-technical people get past this point – or even if they do.

Let’s look at them one at a time and then compare some test results…

Conclusion

The similarity between the results of the Fujitsu E780 and Lenovo T510 shows that the technological differences between the two laptops has little effect on the performance. Both units have the Core i5 520M 2.4GHz processor and although the E780 has one more gigabyte of RAM it didn’t make a substantial  difference. The question remains though if the E780 had a graphics solution that didn’t cause a blue screen would the performance be even better? The two Quad Core’s were not as fast as expected but then the comparison between at 2.4GHz dual core and a 1.6GHz Quad core is difficult to make assumptions about – essentially you are comparing 4.8GHz to 6.4GHz and so we should be looking at a 25% performance difference and that is actually not far from what we got. The perception of a Quad Core though would assume a much bigger increase! The Fujitsu H700 was largely untested due to the driver clash problems and so its results are inconclusive. The Asus was always lagging behind the W510 in all but one test – probably down to the lack of available BIOS editing to stabilise the CPU speed but it’s also the cheapest model on test. On performance alone the Lenovo T510 and W510 take the crown although the Fujitsu could equal the performance if the clash with the graphics drivers was sorted out.

The performance differences and behavior of the audio interfaces is worthy of note. The Edirol FA66, which has the most uninspiring driver and control panel, seems to outperform the other, arguably more professional, interfaces by a fair margin. The FA66 also worked the same whether it was connected to a TI chipset card or the internal firewire port – it didn’t seem to care. When plugged into the Fujitsu it was the only interface not to blue screen – instead you got crackly playback. Edirol obviously know what they’re doing in terms of programming – shame they have no sense of style. At the other end the Firestudio misbehaved the most, failing to work successfully on everything except the T510. The Saffire Pro 24 sits safely between the two. I know very little about how driver architecture actually works but my assumptions are that the differences are to do with the amount of channels the interface requires – the FA66 only needs 6in/out, the Saffire 16in 8out whereas the Firestudio needs 24 in/out. Maybe the interface has negotiate the full bandwidth to accommodate all of its ins and outs when plugged into the firewire socket  – further testing required I think. That said, once working the Edirol was a clear winner on performance which must be down to a combination of the technology in the box and quality of the drivers.

Was that helpful? Who knows! I think it shows some of the trials and tribulations involved in choosing a laptop for music production and how performance can vary not just between laptops but also between audio interfaces. As the majority of users don’t get the chance to compare their laptop to others then it all comes down to whether it’s doing what you want it to do. If you can make music on it then it’s doing a good job.

To read the full detailed article see:  Choosing a Laptop for Music Making Part 2

November 17, 2010

Choosing a Laptop for Music Making: Part 1

Finding the right laptop for music production can be rather troublesome. In this, the first of two articles, we’re going to look at the reasons why laptops have problems and what can be done about it.

With a desktop computer you can select a few good components, screw the thing together, tweak Windows and you’re off making music. With a laptop there’s no real knowing what’s inside the box and you certainly couldn’t build one yourself. So, you have to make a choice, take a stab, and hope for the best.

The thing is that it really should just work. You should be able to buy a laptop, plug in a compatible interface, install some software and make some music – why would that be difficult? In many cases it’s not and often people do exactly that, but sometimes you can run into trouble with audio dropouts, glitching, clicks and pops or simply a refusal to work.

In this, the first of two articles, I’m going to be looking at the reasons why laptops have problems and what can be done about it. In the second article I’m going to be looking at whether there are some smart choices out there for music production and live performance and I’m going to be revealing the testing I did in trying to find the next model to use as the Rain UK Livebook.

The Apple MacBook Pro

Before we do, let’s get past the ubiquitous Apple MacBook Pro.

It’s everywhere, the glow of that white piece of fruit, throbbing annoyingly. Every electronic musician or DJ seems to have one. Every piece of marketing from a music manufacturer with a laptop product seems to feature one. It would be silly to do an article on audio laptops without mentioning it. The MacBook Pro is beautifully designed, elegant and ergonomic. The aluminium shell has a great quality to it, the backlit keyboard fantastic for live performance, it’s built with quality components and runs OSX which works wonderfully with Apple compatible products.

 

The biggest down side is the price. A 15” MacBook Pro starts at $1700, but that’s only the beginning. The standard 5400rpm drive really needs to be upgraded to a 7200rpm one for audio work which adds a further $200. Standard tech support is only for 90 days unless you purchase the AppleCare Protection Plan for an additional $349, so without even thinking about it you’re over two grand and that’s for the entry level machine. Apple do somehow manage to generate a kind of mystical energy field around their products which makes them appear head and shoulders above anything else. In reality they are simply good quality laptops which share many of the same pros and cons of other good quality laptops. They have a tendency to run hot and the fans can be noisy; the battery life can be poor (although the latest generation are much improved, many Mac users complain of poor battery life after a years use so we don’t yet know how the new ones will pan out); they only have a couple of USB slots and with the standard version described above there’s no ExpressCard slot.

On the up side they do have powered firewire which is a fabulous thing that’s sorely missing on PC laptops. As with all Apple products you have the security of knowing that whatever works with it will work very well – however, that also means that your options are limited when compared to the PC. You can also run Windows on a MacBook Pro, but then it becomes a very very expensive PC as many of the advantages are to be found in the smooth flowing proprietary nature of OSX.

I don’t think you’d ever be disappointed with a MacBook Pro, and at that price you’d hope that you never would be. Are there alternatives? I believe so yes. I believe the laptop you get free when signing up to Tesco (popular supermarket chain in the UK) broadband is capable of making music, however, if you want to do things a bit more properly and can aim for a quality laptop then they can be completely capable of doing the job just as well.

Now let’s take a look at some of the problems with laptops…

Firewire Bandwidth

This is increasingly an area of concern. With most professional audio interfaces favouring the firewire connection then you need to have a good, working firewire connection on your laptop. But these things are never straightforward. It seems that not all firewire connections are the same. The specification appears to allow for enormous variation in the quality of the chipset and the drivers. In most cases, for most devices, such as cameras and external hard drives, then it all works fine.

For real-time, multichannel, high definition audio it can be a different story. It’s become accepted now that the Texas Instrument (TI) firewire chipset is the best choice for audio interfaces. Very few, if any, laptops come with a TI chipset firewire socket, the chipset is usually by another manufacturer and would appear as a generic “OHCI IEEE1394 Firewire port” in Windows. The only way around this is to get an ExpressCard firewire card (like this one from Startech) which fits into the side of the laptop (assuming it has a slot for it). Unfortunately our troubles are not quite over. The Firewire card connects to the system via the PCIe bus. The PCIe bus has a finite amount of resources and has to share them with other devices attached to the system. Modern laptops tend to pack in components so you get modems, Bluetooth, fingerprint security, the inbuilt firewire port and the graphics engine all vying for the same resources and the same bandwidth. Firewire is designed to negotiate for what it needs, however, multichannel audio needs more bandwidth than any other firewire device and it may be that there simply isn’t the room with all the other junk connected.

The best solution is, of course, to use a USB audio interface! There’s a sense of frustration in the industry with firewire at the moment. The amount of problems people have and the subsequent technical support load it causes for the manufacturers are having an impact. USB 3 has just arrived giving much greater bandwidth and speed than firewire and I imagine that it won’t be long before we see professional interfaces with USB3 sockets on them.

With all that in mind the chances are that your choice of laptop will work fine! DPC latency can usually be tackled by disabling stuff, and the firewire bandwidth problem is not that common. But they are both worth checking out as soon as you get your laptop so you can return it within the 7 day cooling off period.

In part 2 I’ll be looking at getting a laptop from Audio PC companies and also how Rain UK came up with their new Livebook.

To read the full detailed article see:  Choosing a Laptop for Music Making Part 1

 

May 21, 2010

Mac vs. PC

How to Choose a Computer for Music Making (Part 2)

More controversial than the Stones vs Beatles, more uncompromising than a Bush vs Obama debate, and hotter than the cold war, the Mac vs PC question ignites passions, endless debates and might even be responsible for violent outbreaks in some circles. But then again, that’s not a reason not to ask, is it? So we’ll try to answer the question as peacefully as possible.

“I am neither Athenian nor Greek, I am a citizen of the world.”
Aristotle
(while starting OS X)

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”
Martin Luther King
(while buying his PC)

This question is all the more relevant given that nothing looks more like a Mac than a PC and viceversa. In fact, both are computers using the same components (CPU, RAM, hard drives, etc.) to deal with the same tasks in almost the same exact way: mouse and keyboard allow you to control software tools that offer almost the same functions: can you copy/paste with a PC? Then you can do it also with a Mac…

Anyway, comparing a Mac and a PC isn’t really fair because these words don’t really describe the same thing: a Mac is a computer assembled exclusively by Apple while a PC is a technical standard applying to hundreds of manufacturers (Dell, IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, etc.) and including thousands of computer models.

Why? When computer technology exploded back in the 80’s, rivals IBM and Apple chose different strategies: while Apple decided to stay the only manufacturer of Mac computers, IBM laid the bet to open its technology in order to create a standard, the PC (Personal Computer). Afterwards, hundreds of manufacturers started to buy PC-compatible hardware and this competition greatly increased the PC market to the detriment of the Mac.

While Apple’s market share was around 15% in the 80’s, it fell to less than 3% in the 90’s before increasing again these last couple of years thanks to products like the iMac, iPod or iPhone. Nowadays they have a 10% of the market (according to the newest figures provided by Net Applications). But we have to consider the figures in context: in the small audio world, the picture does look better for Apple considering that, even if no serious study has ever been made regarding this, Audiofanzine’s traffic statistics show that Mac has a 19.6% market share.

Considering this background, you can clearly now understand that it is difficult to compare a computer model with a technical standard: the only point of comparison is the only common component in all PC’s that distinguishes them from a Mac: the operating system.

Windows? Mac OS X?

And Linux?

Like OS X, Linux is a variation on the UNIX system. Linux is an alternative and open source solution which is available in different “distributions.” The advantages? This system is stable, powerful and gives access to numerous free software tools while promoting an enthusiastic sharing philosophy. The disadvantages? Although it is becoming more accessible to the masses every day, Linux is still an environment for computer freaks — even if only because it is supported by very few hardware and software manufacturers. Making music with Linux is possible but not always easy for beginners. And since this system is not very widely used, you’ll have difficulties finding users who can help you out in case you run into problems, despite the few excellent specialized websites available.

You probably know these names very well considering that every time a computer comes out of the factory these two operating systems (Windows on one side, Mac OS on the other side) are mentioned to distinguish both platforms.

OK, so what is an operating system? The operating system is sort of a big program that manages all essential functions of the computer and allows you to install and run dedicated software (for text and photo editing, web browsing, music production, etc.).

The first thing you have to know about operating systems is that they are not compatible with each other: a software conceived for Mac OS X won’t work under Windows, unless it has been ported (which means the software developer made a dedicated version for Windows). However true that there are certain software tools available for both platforms, most of them are only available for one of them: Cubase, Nuendo and Pro Tools are available for both, but Sonar, Acid and Samplitude are PC-only applications, while Logic, Garage Band and Digital Performer work only on a Mac. Thus, if choosing between Mac and PC means choosing an operating system, it also means choosing a software library.

In fact, when it comes to music production, the “Mac vs. PC” question can be answered very easily if you already have an idea of the software you intend to use: Do you want to use Sonar? You need a PC. Are you a Digital Performer fan? You need a Mac.

Now let’s delve in deeper…

Conclusion

Whether you buy a Mac or a PC is up to you, but we hope that the information above will help you make your decision. Should I be more precise? OK, here’s my opinion — which I share knowing that it will receive a lot of talkbacks:

  • If your budget is limited and below $1000, buy a PC and forget the MacMini.
  • If you don’t have enough money to buy software, get a Mac with GarageBand (or a less expensive PC) plus the light version of any sequencer and the freeware available will do the rest.
  • If money is not a problem and you want a computer to make music, for office automation and multimedia, buy a Mac. It’s like a very good PC.
  • If you are a video game freak or you use professional and specific business programs, buy a PC.
  • If you have no computer skills at all and you aren’t sure that it will ever interest you too much, buy a Mac.
  • If you wish to customize your work environment, and say things like “the register has to be compressed” in public, buy a PC.
  • If your best friend agrees to teach you about computers, choose the same as him to make life easier for both of you.
  • If you’ve already made up your mind about the software you want to use because you already know it a bit or any other reason, buy the computer that supports it.
  • If you already have some Mac knowledge, stay on this platform. The same applies to PC.
  • Finally, if you don’t feel sure: don’t forget that it is less critical than taking a road in a Robert Frost poem. Anyways, you’ll probably end up buying a new computer within the next four years because by then yours will be totally obsolete.

Nonetheless, in future articles you’ll be able to read everything you need to know to buy a Mac (quite simple) or a PC (a bit more complex). Used or not? Major brand or not? What’s the budget? Which components? Etc.

OK, I’ll stop here. Now it’s time for you to follow the link below and have some fun commenting.

PS: Mom, I love you.

To read the full detailed article see:  Mac vs. PC

April 9, 2010

Music Making with a Computer (Part 1)

A computer to make music? Sounds great. Which computer should I get and with what specification? Good question. But first things first: what is a computer and how does it work?

Computers revolutionized the way we work, regardless of what you call work: music production, accounting, management. Can you imagine having to write your CV with a typewriter (carbon copy included) instead of a text editor? Of course you can’t. The same applies to music recording and producing: it’s hard to do it without a computer… You’ll certainly find vintage fundamentalists here and there, but we all have to resign to the fact that all songs released these days have been processed in one way or another with a computer before they hit the market – even if just because all formats are digital nowadays (CD, MP3; except for the DJ and Hi-Fi freak vinyl niche market).

It is indeed still possible to record an album with a good, old multitrack recorder, and to enjoy that special sound character a tape provides, but you have to admit that it requires a lot of time and money (service, tapes, etc.), and thus it is an expensive hobby for the rich. Unless you are Jack White or Lenny Kravitz or you have enough money to rent Abbey Road for three months to edit tapes with glue and scissors, you’ll have to make do with a computer to make your music – like 99% of home studio owners and sound engineers.

What’s the purpose? With a suitable interface and software, you can control all sorts of electronic MIDI instruments (synth, sampler, etc.) and virtual instruments, you can record and mix audio with all necessary effects… What’s more, you can save as many variations as you want, repair mistakes and enjoy the wonders of cutting, copying and pasting; live or in the studio. And all of that for a ridiculous price, considering what you had to pay to do the same 30 years ago.

In short: you need a computer! Ok, but which one? Mac? PC? With which processor? And what hard drive? How much RAM? But, most importantly, how can I choose from the options available if I don’t know what a CPU is or what does RAM do?

Don’t panic! We’ll help you get things straight…

Computer Parts

Regardless of whether you have a Mac or a PC, computers generally work the same, all the more ever since Apple started using Intel processors. The difference between these two platforms resides mainly in the operating system (Window, Mac OS X, Linux, etc.), their design and the software available. It doesn’t matter if you decide to assemble your own computer or buy a pre-assembled model by a given manufacturer, a quick overview of the different parts of a computer will be very useful in order to understand their roles…

CPU

The CPU (Central Processing Unit) or microprocessor, is often compared to the brain of the computer because it manages all calculations. Considering that all data passes through the CPU, its processing power is of utmost importance for the overall performance of the computer. When it comes to audio, for example, it processes a reverb effect while displaying the graphic user interface and manages all other computer instructions (data keyboard, etc.). To use a musical metaphor, you could say it’s the musical conductor of your computer

Basically, a CPU is a small silicon square on which several millions of transistors are assembled: over 60 million on a Pentium IV and more than 731 million on the Core i7 thanks to the continuous progress in miniaturization. More cells in the silicon brain provide more power, but the number of transistors is not the only factor: the processor design and its speed also come into consideration.

The faster the CPU, the more calculations it will be able to process in a given time. This speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz). When a CPU is clocked at 2 GHz, it means it can process two milliard cycles per second. But what is a cycle? Good question! To keep it short and simple, let’s say that a cycle is a basic calculation, like adding two numbers. Multiplying two numbers takes several cycles and dividing them even more. Why? Because a CPU is extremely limited compared to the human brain. But it is extremely fast and the user can’t really notice it, which gives the impression that the machine is more intelligent.

But keep in mind that this clocking frequency is only theoretical because, in real life, our processors rarely work at full capacity. Why? Because they are slowed down by other components like RAM (Random-Access Memory). Furthermore, increasing CPU frequency is not the only nor the simplest way to increase a computer’s power. In fact, the latest CPU generations have improved their architecture implementing multi-core processors.

A multi-core CPU is a chip including several processors connected in parallel. You can find dual-core (two cores), quad-core (four cores) and even octo-core CPUs (eight cores).

By using this technology, it is now possible to improve the processing power without increasing the CPU clock, thus avoiding heat generation problems due to higher speeds.

Nowadays, these types of CPUs (mainly dual-core and quad-core) are mounted in all computers on the market regardless of whether it is a Mac or a PC.

Now let’s take a look at some other parts…

Conclusion

Now that you have been educated on the basic parts of a computer and what they do, in the next article we will deal with the specific setup choices available to have a computer ready for making music. And you can trust us, there are plenty of choices…

To read the full detailed article see:  Making Music with a Computer

February 23, 2009

Review: Digidesign Transfuser

Sample Transfusion
Digidesign Transfuser: The Test

A.I.R., Digidesign’s virtual instrument division, continues to provide creative tools for users of their Pro Tools software. This time, it’s a sequencer within a sequencer, dedicated to loops of all kinds and their unlimited use. Let’s take a look…

Presentation

Ouverture

There’s a big box, a DVD, an activation number. Download the iLok license key, install the sound bank (requiring 1.65 GB of disk space) and RTAS plugin, nothing complicated, it’s Mac and PC compatibility, but you must (still …) have Pro Tools (LE, M-Powered or HD, from version 7) and it’s done. Then all you have to do is open the instrument in a session. Let’s take a look at its interface and how it works.

The idea is to create Tracks within Transfuser. These tracks, which bring together several modules, read audio files (according to various processes). On the left, there’s a browser pane that can be used to load Tracks (complete ensembles) or audio (separate sounds to build your own loops), whether factory or user-created. You can preview a sound by clicking on the file, preview lasts as long as you hold down the mouse, or, if Latch is enabled, for the duration of the file. A sync option synchronizes preview to the Pro Tools session tempo. There’s also a pitch and volume setting which can be adjusted as you preview. And lastly there’s a filtered search field that searches for all items in the list that match the typed-in criteria.

At the top there’s the area to which you drag and drop complete Tracks and audio files from the browser, Pro Tools region list, Pro Tools audio tracks, or the desktop (or a folder) of your computer. Either you import Tracks, in which case the modules are directly positioned, or you import audio, which opens a window offering the choice between three types of recognition/import: Sliced Audio and Slice Sequence, Time-Stretch Audio and Trigger Sequence, or Drum Kit and Drum Sequence (we’ll come back to these three types of Tracks later on). Corresponding modules will be opened in this section. Note that you can also use an external audio signal (more on this later).

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Gater

Though Structure, Hybrid, Velvet or Strike may do their jobs perfectly, there’s nothing revolutionary about them (sampling, synthesis, emulation of electromechanical keyboards and Drumstations). Transfuser, without being completely revolutionary, does have a real concept, and can claim to be the first totally original VSTI by AIR. It’s definitely the most complete instrument geared at loop-based music at present. The number of tracks and effects available let you do almost everything necessary solely within it. To get the most out of it nevertheless requires a certain amount of learning time. The use of external controllers is also particularly well thought out.

Beatcutter

This opens up new horizons within Pro Tools, particularly for live settings. This may seem strange, to say the least, since Digidesign software is largely studio geared. But you can also see a pattern (or strategy) developed for live musicians and DJs that started with the Mbox Micro, both of which are also being offered in bundles.

Pro Tools on stage? Is it possible? The competition is fierce, from Live to Mainstage, Usine to Reason, Receptor to SM Pro … Digidesign’s version would really have to deliver, seeing how it’s Pro Tools exclusive. There’s no problem recognizing that Transfusion, which is extremely comprehensive and powerful (you’ll need a powerful computer for prolonged use) is up to the challenge. Especially since it’s use in the studio is equally handy for working with loops.

Its concept
Its three modes
Comprehensive Drum Machine
Pitch and time stretch Algorithms
Worlfkow despite its power and complexity
Midi Learn and automation everywhere
Well adapted for live settings
Audio
Drag’n’Drop Audio and Midi
Internal audio recorder
20 quality effects included
Effects are applicable just about everywhere
Numerous presets, Sequences with effects
Loop library

Info is sometimes difficult to read
Slice screen is too small
Doesn’t import MP3, AAC, CAF, Apple Lossless
Resource hog
Pro Tools only …

To read, the full detailed article see:   Digidesign Transfuser Review

February 18, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo Spectrasonics Trilian

Exclusive presentation of Spectrasonics Trilian, Trilogy’s successor, by Eric Persing.

Part 1

Part 2

To watch all NAMM 2009 video demos visit us on Audiofanzine NAMM 2009.

February 17, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo Major update for Spectrasonics Stylus RMX 1

Eric Persing from Spectrasonics goes through a bunch of new features included in the new 1.7 update for Stylus RMX.

Part 1

Part 2

To watch all NAMM 2009 video demos visit us on Audiofanzine NAMM 2009.


February 1, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo Sony Acid Pro 7

A short tour of sony Acid Pro 7 new features.

To watch all NAMM 2009 video demos visit us on Audiofanzine NAMM 2009.

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