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Home recording for fun and [no] profit

By ToadyClese in Media
Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 08:27:01 PM EST
Tags: Music (all tags)

After many months of doing research, reading books, hacking code, and otherwise wasting time and aggrivating my significant other by talking about the 16 channel limits of MIDI, I've finally got my home recording setup complete.

This is the first of what will, provided theres enough interest, become a set of articles on how to build your own home recording studio (on the cheap), and, more importantly, how to use it.

In this first column, I'm going to focus on how to set up the systems involved. I'm going to focus on guitar and piano, since that's what I play and what I built my system around. Adjust as you see fit for your particular needs.

The Software
There are many choices to pick from here. I'm going address the two most popular out there. Steinberg Cubase and EMagic Logic. There are many reasons to use one of these, even if you have to 'borrow' a copy. The most important is their support for just about any hardware out there, and the wealth of resources (newsgroup, IRC, etc.) where you can get support.

Personally, I prefer Cubase, so that's what I'm running, but from a hardware perspective, the two are interchangeable.

The Computer
The PC you select for this is going to be the most critical piece. Although I address it early-on, when buying equipment, I suggest you plan out a budget, buy everything else you need, and spend everything else on the PC. You don't get the instant gratification of playing with each toy as you pick it up, but you get the best PC you can afford. Remember, if the PC can't handle this, none of the equipment you connect to it really matters.

Make sure you get a large case, something that can handle a couple (think 4) hard drives, and has a few open 5 1/4" bays (Some music hardware like the sound card needs one for inputs/outputs). The box should have alot (1GB at least) of RAM, and 2 processors if at all possible. A good power supply is also important, you don't want interference in your signals from a poorly shielded PSU.

The soundcard is naturally the most important thing you can chose. I personally settled on the SoundBlaster Audigy because it offered MIDI, a wealth of input/output ports including RCA and digital (fibre). Any nice card that will offer the I/O ports you need, MIDI, and ASIO support should do.

You may wish to consider 2 or 3 cards if you plan on using more than 16 devices, or if you like to record with a group (affordable cards will only record one track at a time). If you plan on using more than one card, 2 processors and alot of RAM are even more critical.

When recording, the soundcard is only half the battle. You also want fast HDDs. I suggest you get 3 or more large (70GB+ if you can afford it) IDE drives (ATA100 is ideal) and a RAID-capable ATA controller, and put them into a RAID5 array. Some people disagree with RAID5, but I personally would hate to lose a piece that I've been working on for a month when a drive dies. Make your own call there. Dont forget the CDR drive when shopping for parts.

Another consideration is video. Any video card with 32MB will do, this isn't 3d gaming, but get a nice 19" monitor at least. I recommend 2 17" monitors if you can afford it. All those windows get cluttered and make it tough to work effectively.

Operating system, Win2k. 'Nuff said.

To give you some reference, here's the beast I built just for the studio. Modify the specs as you see fit.
  • Dual AMD (1.5GHz)
  • 2GB RAM
  • 4 120GB IDE HDDs - RAID5
  • SoundBlaster Audigy Platinum
  • 2 ATI XPert 2000 video cards (32MB)
  • 2 KDS 15" LCD flatscreens
  • Win2k Pro
The MIDI Box
On to the more interesting pieces of equipment. No matter what you do, if you plan to use more than one piece of MIDI equipment (you will), you'll need a MIDI patch box. The patch box takes the MIDI in and out cables from each of your devices and lets you patch them through a pretty front panel, instead of constantly moving MIDI cables around. You can also take the poor man's way and patch MIDI using the midi-thru port, but that limits your midi to 1-way, and isnt very useful. If you want more info on that, google is your friend. For those willing to shell out a few hundred bucks, I suggest an Edirol 550. This box has 4 inputs and 4 outputs (plus one set on the front). If you think you'll need more, move up to the Edirol 880. This is a USB box, and has worked great for me, but feel free to shop around and use a different brand.

The Keyboard
There are many MIDI-capable keyboards out there, and any one will work for home recording. After all, the sound will most likely be generated by the computer using something like Steinberg's The Grand, a sampled piano plugin. The keyboard is just there to send the MIDI signals. The keyboard is a very personal choice, especially if you play, and the only advice I can give there is make sure it has what you want. Touch sensitivity is important, everything else is just features you may or may not use, you have to decide. I went with the Casio WK-1630, which is basically a music processor combined with a keyboard. This is probably overkill for an entry-level studio controller keyboard, but I wanted something that I could play without the PC, and still record. Again, this is your choice.

The Guitar Unit A keyboard is essential whether you play piano or not. This section is for the guitarists out there. If you don't play guitar, skip ahead.

Selecting a guitar effects unit isn't easy. Its a question of what sounds good to you, what makes sense to you from a control point of view, and what you want. Some people swear by their POD, others prefer the DigiTech Genesis series. Alot of people are fans of the Korg Pandora series, and some people want to stick with their good old pedals. Incidentally, if you love your pedals, the SoundBlaster Audigy Platinum I mentioned above will let you plug the pedal right into the panel on the card.

The key factors in picking up a unit is that it have a digital output (spdif), MIDI input/output for controlling the unit, and any other inputs/outputs you may want. I find the monitor port on my Genesis3 useful, it lets me hear a clean version of what I'm playing out of my amp, which eliminates any latency the sound card may introduce.

If you play acoustic and don't have a preamp, you'll need to either buy a pickup or a mic. Any pickup or mic will work for home recording, go to any music store and play with them. Get whatever sounds best to you and fits in your budget.

Putting it all together Getting the setup put together isn't very hard. Just make sure you bought enough MIDI cables and that they're long enough to reach. You'll want the keyboard positioned on your side as you face the monitor(s), that way you can keep an eye on the screens while youre playing.

Depending on the MIDI box you settle on, you will have to plug the MIDI-IN and MIDI-OUT of each of your devices into the respective ports on the box. Some boxes have you plug MIDI-IN to MIDI-IN, some have you cross over and do MIDI-IN to MIDI-OUT. Read the manual there. The computer's MIDI ports go into the same box.

Thats pretty much it for putting the basic components in. I'll go over configuring it all and testing everything in the next article.

Things to consider Not every device was covered here. You may want to add some other tools that you find useful. A drum machine is always handy if you know how to use it. Theres all sorts of signal processors, instrument tuners, and even voice processors (same as the guitar one above, but for singing) out there. Which devices you buy is really a question of budgetting and need.

The best advice I can give with what to get is go to MusiciansFriend and look around. Mix and match what you need, but make sure your MIDI box can handle all the devices.


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Was this helpful?
o Yes 11%
o No 15%
o Not to me, but it would be if I were into recording. 51%
o Yes, but make it more detailed next time 15%
o Yes, but not so much detail next time 0%
o No, more detail next time please 5%
o No, less detail next time please 0%

Votes: 52
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Google
o Steinberg Cubase
o EMagic Logic
o SoundBlast er Audigy
o Edirol 550
o Steinberg' s The Grand
o Casio WK-1630
o DigiTech
o Korg
o MusiciansF riend
o Also by ToadyClese

Display: Sort:
Home recording for fun and [no] profit | 154 comments (145 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
Windows? (3.66 / 6) (#1)
by Edwards on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 05:33:29 PM EST

Excuse me? You simply cannot get the same out of Windows as you can out of Mac OS X. Pro Tools, one of the main programs for musicians, is almost a painful experience. Ask anyone who engineers music.

unfortunately (none / 0) (#5)
by VoxLobster on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 05:49:29 PM EST

Pro Tools is the only Mac recording software that works with OSX, Logic is still a version away from compatability, and what home musician can afford Pro Tools?.

I was raised by a cup of coffee! -- Homsar
[ Parent ]

Actually, ProTools is not yet running on OS X... (4.00 / 1) (#117)
by MadBrowser on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:50:52 AM EST

ProTools for X is supposed to be out before the end of the year...

Also, MOTU should have OS X Digital Performer out before the end of the year, along with Cubase SX and Logic for OS X... That will be a nice day indeed!

Right now, I can use Reason with OS X without any trouble... Can't wait for my sequencer...

[ Parent ]
Most electronic music producers I know (none / 0) (#6)
by jjayson on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 05:50:35 PM EST

use Windows. It is rare that I go into a home or small professional studio and see a Mac. The software is mostly the same, but many plugins (VST and otherwise) I see used are Windows only. I am not sure if there are other reasons.

"I'm the crazy doped-out drug manic with red-rimmed eyes and semen on the front of his pants from excessive masturbation!" — Parent ]
Windows people don't use Pro Tools (5.00 / 1) (#10)
by Delirium on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 05:54:28 PM EST

They use Reason and Logic.

[ Parent ]
That's A Nice Overly Broad Generalization. [n/t] (4.00 / 1) (#25)
by kcidx on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 06:40:26 PM EST

[ Parent ]
If I could afford that, (none / 0) (#12)
by Run4YourLives on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 05:55:28 PM EST

I'd say fuck the home recording, and go drive my new porche...

It's slightly Japanese, but without all of that fanatical devotion to the workplace. - CheeseburgerBrown
[ Parent ]
Pro tools is cool, but.. (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by ToadyClese on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 05:56:37 PM EST

I'm a big fan of Pro Tools, and I love my Macs, but I'm going on the assumption that most people that do this are like me, and won't shell out thousands for software, they'll use 'otherwise obtained' copies. Now, granted, I use cubase so much I bought it, but where are you going to find a pirated copy of pro tools? And what are you going to do with a mac if you prefer cubase? As someone mentioned, logic is still a version away from compatibility, and windows gives you other options, like cooledit. Plus, with a wintel box, you can always install linux and use it's set of music processing software gadgets. Personally, I dual boot to do my development work for sound under linux (thats a future article).

[ Parent ]
Win2k: nuff said (none / 0) (#23)
by speek on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 06:26:33 PM EST

Is that because you didn't check out Linux as thoroughly, or is it because there's absolutely nothing comparable on Linux?

what would be cool, is if there was like a bat signal for tombuck - [ Parent ]

Not comparable (none / 0) (#71)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:03:01 AM EST

I actually dual boot to linux to do midi development. The toolkits are all the for linux (one of the following articles will have the linux coding stuff in it), but theres nothing like cubase out there thats mature yet.

[ Parent ]
ok (none / 0) (#110)
by speek on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:53:13 AM EST

I'd still be interested in knowing what is there, mature or not.

what would be cool, is if there was like a bat signal for tombuck - [ Parent ]

Ardour (5.00 / 1) (#149)
by ColPanic on Sat Aug 31, 2002 at 01:54:48 PM EST

Have a look at Ardour, it's not really mature yet, but it's improving rapidly.

[ Parent ]
Pro Tools Free (none / 0) (#27)
by ovie on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 06:55:08 PM EST

There is actually a free version of Pro Tools available. It's a bit limited, but it is totally legal :).

Personally I bought a digi-001 a year ago and couldnt be happier, paid about $900 which is comparable to most specialist audio I/O hardware with a similar feature set. Now if only digidesign would write ASIO 2 drivers it worked with cubase SX!

[ Parent ]
Pro Tools Free... isn't. (none / 0) (#50)
by pin0cchio on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 11:13:04 PM EST

The royalty-free version of Pro Tools is not free at all. It costs $200, the price of a single-user license of Windows 98 Second Edition, because Pro Tools Free does NOT run on the operating system that comes pre-installed on 99% of new x86 PCs, namely Windows XP.
[ Parent ]
No fans either, or so I hear [nt] (none / 0) (#39)
by DodgyGeezer on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 09:50:04 PM EST

[ Parent ]
ProTools only one system (5.00 / 1) (#44)
by Anatta on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 10:16:11 PM EST

And, contrary to popular belief in some circles, it is not the be-all and end-all of computer based music. Many programs, such as Cakewalk's Sonar, Steinberg's Cubase, or EMagic's Logic, can produce quality near as high as Pro Tools' (24bit/96k audio), and do a whole slew of things that ProTools cannot. Also, we all know how Moore's Law works, and I certainly wouldn't want to be in the DSP/hardware business for much longer.

ProTools is currently unparallelled for mastering audio, however it's not all that great for the main component of creating electronic music: sequencing. It has no step-arpeggiators, no analogue-style sequencers, etc. Hell, it only got MIDI support about 2 years ago, and it is still unable to do unlimited number of tracks (limited by processor power) like Sonar2XL can. If you have a studio with a couple of Arp 2600s, a Moog Modular, and an EMS Synthi A, you probably don't need a virtual analogue step sequencer on ProTools. However, most of the musicians that will take advantage of the incredible capabilities of computer music will not have such setups. They will use their computer as a replacement for recording at the local studio, or they will use it to create electronic music on its own.

It seems to me that ProTools is the high-end "name" brand that people gravitate to because they know it's good, rather than because they know it's good for what they want. ProTools has some serious competition in the coming years, and you can already see by the movements towards MIDI and away from proprietary setups that DigiDesign already sees the competition biting at its heels. Add that to the fact that many of the plugin-making companies that used to make fx exclusively for ProTools have now jumped ship and started to release the same plugins for the standard PC sequencers. As non-DSP processing power increases, we will likely see more of this movement.

Again, ProTools has its place, and is the best tool available for mastering, but it is generally a terrible choice for a hobbyist trying to simply record demos that would have once been recorded in a local studio, or for an electronic musician that wants to sequence techno/drum n bass/etc. style music. This is what most "home" musicians want computers to do for them, and it is one of the true wonders of the computer "boom" we've seen over the past 20 years. No longer do you need a $5million studio including an expensive ProTools setup to sound great! Now you just need a computer, a good sound card, a few pieces of software, and the creative spirit.

My Music
[ Parent ]

Ever used a MOTU? (none / 0) (#11)
by VoxLobster on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 05:54:54 PM EST

A friend of mine whom I record with has a MOTU, and it's the greatest thing I've ever seen for digital music recording on a computer. You get 8 inputs via firewire into your favorite music recording application. It makes life fantastic, and means you no longer need a mixer, or a special sound card, or a digital recorder. Imagine, 8 channels of 96Khz, 24 bit quality sound at the same time...It's absolutely amazing.

VoxLobster -- FIN, ACK, FIN, ACK!

I was raised by a cup of coffee! -- Homsar

I looked into these (none / 0) (#16)
by ToadyClese on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 06:03:50 PM EST

and really was thinking about going all firewire. A MOTU on one side, firewire drives on the storage side, etc. etc. When I did some cost comparisson though, my entire system cost $6k, with 2 flat screens, a 16 track motorized mixer, and all. If I had gone the MOTU/firewire route, I would have been way over the 10k mark, which was double the target ($5k was the goal).

[ Parent ]
motu boxes aren't that much... (none / 0) (#58)
by Ceej on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 11:49:16 PM EST

Why so much? The MOTU 2408 is only about $1K, and considerably less if you go used. It's the core of my all-Macintosh home studio (Digital Performer, MOTU for midi + input, Mackie mixer, a pile of synths, etc. etc.) It totally ended any speculation I had about going with a multitrack tape system instead of hard disk recording.

[ Parent ]
$1k? (none / 0) (#70)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:01:50 AM EST

The cheapest I Could find one when I was shopping was $5k..

[ Parent ]
where the heck (none / 0) (#121)
by VoxLobster on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:42:52 PM EST

were you shopping? A friend of mine got his 968 for about $600 canadian.

I was raised by a cup of coffee! -- Homsar
[ Parent ]

Mars (none / 0) (#141)
by ToadyClese on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 09:45:57 AM EST

[ Parent ]
MOTU is better called MoFu (none / 0) (#96)
by mrsampson on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:42:49 AM EST

I had a MOTU MTP AV (parallel port) and it was by far the worst piece of audio equipment I've ever owned. It did a fine job of routing MIDI signals, but it dropped SysEx, and it's timing was horrible. But worst, was the customer support from MOTU. Approx. four years went by without an update to the drivers despite acknowlged bugs on their web site! They are well known for favoring the Mac side of the house while ignoring their PC customers. My advice is buy anything else instead of anything MOTU. Some details on my audio page.

[ Parent ]
Interesting, but possible to do computer-only? (3.50 / 2) (#13)
by Delirium on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 05:56:33 PM EST

I've been vaguely looking on and off at various computer-music type things, but the prohibitively high cost of purchasing special-purpose equipment (when it's really just something to fiddle around with, not my job or even a major hobby) has generally turned me off. I've played a bit with DOS-based MOD/XM/IT/etc. sequencers, but that's about it. Anybody with more experience in computer-only music creation want to write an article on that?

Thats actually how I started... (5.00 / 1) (#15)
by ToadyClese on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 05:58:52 PM EST

If you read the next few parts I'm writing you'll get what you're looking for. Anywhere where I say use the keyboard, just use your mouse to click the buttons on screen, or get KeyMIDI, which maps your keyboard as a Midi controller.

[ Parent ]
MIDI vs sequencers (none / 0) (#30)
by Delirium on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 08:57:33 PM EST

Is it a better idea to use something like the KeyMIDI you mentioned, emulating a MIDI keyboard on the computer, or to use a traditional Amiga-style computer sequencer (Impulse Tracker/FastTracker for DOS, Soundtracker for Linux, etc.)?

[ Parent ]
Modplug, and how to make a bass sample (none / 0) (#48)
by pin0cchio on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 10:47:37 PM EST

Is it a better idea to use something like the KeyMIDI you mentioned, emulating a MIDI keyboard on the computer, or to use a traditional Amiga-style computer sequencer (Impulse Tracker/FastTracker for DOS, Soundtracker for Linux, etc.)?

If you want to make music on Windows without using professional-priced equipment, your best choice is Modplug Tracker, along with a wave editor such as Cool Edit.

Here's the formula for a bass guitar sample in Cool Edit:

  • Create a new sample, at 44100 Hz.
  • Generate 0.01 second of white noise, followed by a few seconds of silence.
  • Echo, at 15.289 millisecond. Set initial echo and subsequent echo to 99%, and turn the highest EQ band all the way down, leaving the others all the way up.
  • Preview, and play with the settings until you like it. When you have the sound where you want it, click OK.
  • Downsample the result to 16726 Hz, copy it to Windows's clipboard (C-6 C-c), and paste it into Modplug.

That's called the Karplus-Strong algorithm and can be tweaked to make decent-sounding pluck or hammer sounds such as a guitar, a piano, or a drum.

[ Parent ]
computer-only is hard (none / 0) (#22)
by j1mmy on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 06:20:06 PM EST

Especially if you want to make something that doesn't sound overly synthetic. Barring making your own recordings, the only way to get really good, high-quality samples is to buy them. I've never found great samples for free.

[ Parent ]
creativity (5.00 / 2) (#28)
by KiTaSuMbA on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 08:16:53 PM EST

While I do agree with you that good samples are usually paid for, it's not impossible to get a good sound with free ones or bundled with software. Of course, everything is related to the kind of music you are into, if you want some realistic glass piano samples I'm afraid buying is the only way but say a slap bass can be easily found and then adjusted to exactly your likings with a myriad of vst/dx effects available on the scene. Even more importantly you can take your own samples and no it doesn't have to be an instrument. The fact is that it's more important what you actually do with the sound than the sound itself. You could "ruin" a perfect piano sample or you could make touching music out of a noise sample. The nice thing about computer music is that you have less limits messing with your creativity than with "standard" instruments. Sure, if you simply try to "emulate" acoustic instruments with your computer you are bound to fail flagrantly, but a "synthetic" sound doesn't lineary associate to "bad" sound. And this is going to get better and better as the technology improves and the audience gets more accustomed to such sounds rather than only-natural ones.
There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
[ Parent ]
i'm an idiot (none / 0) (#42)
by j1mmy on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 10:00:43 PM EST

The nice thing about computer music is that you have less limits messing with your creativity than with "standard" instruments.

Yes, I realize that. I guess I was looking at it from the perspective of someone coming from the world of tracker software. The lack of limits is certainly it's strongest point. It's similar to programming in a way. You can mess around with your song at a high level with composition software. Or you can screw with it at a very low level, by editing the waveform directly.

Sure, if you simply try to "emulate" acoustic instruments with your computer you are bound to fail flagrantly,

A well chunked sample set of an instrument can be indistinguishable from the real thing for simpler pieces of music. Where it fails flagrantly is in the real nuances in a more technical piece of music.

but a "synthetic" sound doesn't lineary associate to "bad" sound.

Never said I thought that way -- I listen to lots of electronic music. My real complaint here is just badly sampled instruments vs. good samples. Bad samples stick out glaringly in a song.

And this is going to get better and better as the technology improves and the audience gets more accustomed to such sounds rather than only-natural ones.

I don't see that happening anytime soon. The nice thing about acoustic instruments is that you can just pick one up and play. No wires, no hardware, no software to deal with. Just you and your horn/guitar/piano/drum/etc. There's something fundamental going on there that electronic music will never be able to fully replace.

[ Parent ]

two points (none / 0) (#47)
by KiTaSuMbA on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 10:34:44 PM EST

A well chunked sample set of an instrument can be indistinguishable from the real thing for simpler pieces of music
You must be a genious to accurately reproduce the natural vibrato of a violin in the simplest of music pieces. In any case, you do get my point: it's not about the guitar or the violin per se, it's about the style of your music (read: you can't possibly hope to write a symphony in a computer).

The nice thing about acoustic instruments is that you can just pick one up and play
Although I don't see the relation to my point about the listener's perception of a "good sound," I do agree with you. The GUIs have improved greatly, emulating real-world instrumentation to make it easy to perceive and interact but still you are trying to operate real world-like stuff with a single finger (mouse pointer): there is something unnatural about it. Music app interfaces have to escape the classic "point and click" paradigm but with the current technologies I just can't think of a better solution (if I do, perhaps I get rich! :-PPPP)

There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
[ Parent ]

counter-point (none / 0) (#109)
by j1mmy on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:44:14 AM EST

you can't possibly hope to write a symphony in a computer

Sure you can. The computer can't play it very well.

[ Parent ]

hahah! Ok! (none / 0) (#123)
by KiTaSuMbA on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:50:24 PM EST

You are right, I didn't express myself correctly there.
After all, the classics used a single piano to do that job anyway (writting). It's performing that needs more.
There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
[ Parent ]
Eventually I'm going to write an article (none / 0) (#35)
by Anatta on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 09:30:54 PM EST

on computer music, synthesis, software syntesizers/sequencers, and all that stuff. I just haven't gotten around to it yet. I will try to do so soon, as there's a lot of fantastic tools out there.

My Music
[ Parent ]

please do so (none / 0) (#75)
by Delirium on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:15:03 AM EST

I'd be happy to find out what all those tools are and how to use them. =]

[ Parent ]
Buzz Tracker (3.50 / 2) (#17)
by Echo5ive on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 06:05:58 PM EST

Buzz Tracker is a very interesting tracker that generates sound dynamically trough different generators called machines and then passed through several other machines that modify the sound.

It can do very advanced stuff -- I have a friend who is a real devil at Buzz. And best of all, it's free.

Frozen Skies: mental masturbation.

Looks nifty... (none / 0) (#18)
by ToadyClese on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 06:08:34 PM EST

downloading it now<G>

[ Parent ]
It's a bitch to use though (en tea) (none / 0) (#21)
by noogie on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 06:19:04 PM EST

[ Parent ]
I LOVE BUZZ (none / 0) (#20)
by j1mmy on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 06:18:21 PM EST

I used it to do the final composition for a project in one of my college courses (listen here. Too bad it's been stagnating so long. Granted, the basic program does just about everything you need it to -- all the real power comes from the machines -- but I always found the interface a little clunky. I haven't used it in a while, though, so maybe things have changed.

[ Parent ]
Why such an elaborate PC? (3.80 / 5) (#29)
by FlipFlop on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 08:22:08 PM EST

I know nothing about home recording so perhaps my questions will seem a little naive. It seems to me, you should be able to record quality music using consumer technology from the mid 1990s.

How much processing power does home recording take? Why do you need a dual 1.5 Ghz system? Why do you need enough ram to hold three hours of CD quality sound without compression? How fast are you generating data and why do you need RAID for it (a drive that transfers 8MB/s is 45 times faster than an audio CD)? Why do you need 280GB (or even 210GB) of storage? How do you justify a second monitor "to build your own home recording studio (on the cheap)"?

You're not just throwing this story around so your significant other will let you get a fancy new computer, are you?

AdTI - The think tank that didn't

honestly (none / 0) (#31)
by VoxLobster on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 09:07:05 PM EST

he probably doesn't, unless he's going to have a large amount of tracks (like over 20 tracks). All the music editing I do is on a 433Mhz Apple G3 running OS9 and Logic Audio Platinum, and it's handled up to 16 tracks with software effects. Anything it can't handle, you just bounce the track down with the effect and then run it clean. I do get the feeling that ToadyClese is building a machine that he won't have to upgrade until about 2008 or so. Still, I wouldn't mind doing work on a really fast machine, it would cut down time to edit samples and such by quite a bit, and of course, zero latency due to swaps and low latency on retrieving data...that'd be sweet.

I was raised by a cup of coffee! -- Homsar
[ Parent ]

tracking is fun (none / 0) (#68)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:57:48 AM EST

Especially when you're trying to cover up huge mistakes in that solo you made. I've actually gotten up to over 100 tracks trying to cover up all my mistakes in really hard pieces.

[ Parent ]
Too much hardware (or not) ? (none / 0) (#32)
by ethernet0 on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 09:10:16 PM EST

well, i tend to agree. the system you are building may seem like a good one for audio but then again, it just might not be. You seem to have selected what is top from the *commercially* available products. For example, you select a dual display system (!!) but on the other hand you get SB Audigy. SB Audigy is considered good for games etc etc but its not considered good for music development. I my self have used one and many other friends and the results werent all that nice. Maybe you could save some money and replace it , instead of getting a dual display system... About the OS, win2k, well, i will only say that i agree with the posts refering to Linux and MacOS. There are alternatives, you just havent tried them out yet :) And as for the software, try something more basic at first.. I would reccomend Fruityloops for a start. Sure Cubase is great, but you have to start with something more basic than that. ( if you already know it, i apologise). happy composing /dev/eth0

[ Parent ]
music apps (none / 0) (#45)
by KiTaSuMbA on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 10:18:18 PM EST

It is my opinion and practical experience that no single app can do the job for you. Moreover, I don't think that fruity loops will help the user getting anywhere closer to understanding cubase, on the contrary its completely different design and philosophy could make it harder to later find his way with a sequencer.
I use wavelab for editing samples, soundforge mostly for "acidizing" them, cooledit for fast and simple cuts & pastes, fruity/orion/buzz to generate basslines and beat loops, Logic to record midi sequencies and AcidPro to finally built up the entire project plus quite a variety of extra vst/dx plugins and utilities. If you ask me what of all that I actually bought and what I "borrowed," well... that's a good question! That's why a computer-music "newbie" would be better off with an x86 platform than a Mac. You can't afford to burn some $K until you find out exactly what apps do it for you (what if you hate acid and find abbleton Live awesome? more $ down the drain, etc...). Furthermore, x86 PCs are nowdays pretty close to the power of a G4 (if not more), cost less, can "wear" a larger variety of peripherals (e.g. some semi-pro soundcards are not trivial to set up with a powermac or not supported at all) and most windows audio apps are equally mature.
As far as linux is concerned, I have not personally tried anything. My "home studio" card is unsupported and using the lagacy SB 128 i have for playbacks would only be worth for "experimenting," not actually getting any job done and I can't spare that "time for nothing." Yet, by visiting some projects suggested in various discussions with other linux users it seems like it is possible but more painful. That's the real problem: not if it can be done, but if I can learn to do it fast and easy without killing myself in the process. Would you write a poem with "ed"? It sure can be done, but I can't even do it with emacs! I still use plain ol' paper and pen. The very process kills the inspiration. You shouldn't have to think no more than the artistic content and not the way and procedures to take it down to the real world.
There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
[ Parent ]
No way (none / 0) (#34)
by Anatta on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 09:25:57 PM EST

Having a more powerful processor makes a mammoth difference in the ability to make music on a computer. The biggest advantage to a 1ghz+ processor is the ability to run effects on input. Many software packages offer it now... if I want to record a guitar into the computer, I used to run it though distortion, etc., off-board, then apply any echo/flange/etc. effects to it after I've completed playing the part in. Now, with the ability to run fx on input (need LOW LATENCY) I can put all the effects on and hear what they will sound like as I record it. This is a HUGE advantage. A 1ghz+ processor can bring audio input latency down to around 3ms, which is like hearing the sound 3 feet away. You can easily record audio with that kind of latency. Now your computer has become by far the most powerful digital fx processor on earth.

Also, you can go up to 24bit/96k (depending on the sound card) which will improve the overall quality of the sound. Yes, any audio will eventually have to go down to 16 bit for CD burning purposes, but recording in 24 bit means not as many bits get truncated when you process fx. This improves the overall quality of the sound, and you only drop it to 16 when you're done mastering.

Also, the ability to run multiple instances of softsynths is extremely advantageous.

I'll take any processing power I can get!
My Music
[ Parent ]

more on this (5.00 / 2) (#37)
by KiTaSuMbA on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 09:41:55 PM EST

 "...using consumer technology from the mid 1990s."
No way, sorry! Perhaps you are mistaking a "good quality" (more like tolerable, if you are to use that kind of equipment) sampling capability to record, say, from an anologue audio source with the current issue of actually producing music.
Yet, I do believe the author exagerates a bit on the hardware specs. I would spend a little less on the main pc hardware to get a soundcard with more "credentials" than soundblaster audigy.
To be more specific:
- CPU power: some vst instruments and effects can be real chockers so the more you get the better you are, especially in response time (it can be very frustrating turning around a "knob" and waiting 0.5 - 1 sec to hear the effect on your sound, sometimes I get this kind of behavior even on my athlon XP 1700+). However a dual CPU system seems like an overkill especially if you keep in mind that win2k does not handle SMP optimally unless you try some very serious tweaking. Also, keep in mind that Athlons seem generally to perform more poorly than Pentiums on the ASIO front (I went for an athlon both out of limited budget and the fact that my box is generic purpose, not just music). Moreover, most dual CPU motherboards have pretty limited pci slots (they are mostly intended for server useage) and this can be very problematic if you have a certain amount of periferals (right now, I have 5 on 5 PCIs used on my Asus A7A266). I would choose a single >2GHz Pentium4.
-RAM: the more you got the better you are, especially if you plan to use large "chains" of plugins and make mostly "loop-based" music. Moreover, most modern soundcards use the system RAM to store midibanks (the sounds to use with your MIDI signals - i.e. keystrokes) so, you will have to use quite some of it for loading extra sounds (the General Midi standard ones are very crappy by today's criteria). Another issue is that you don't only need lots of RAM but fast RAM if you want to have respectable response times. Although 2GB are a bit too much, 1GB is just about "everything you need." Loading more RAM than you actually need for "future requirments" is not wise since you should probably scrap your system altogether in 2 yrs time (audio apps and requirments tend to grow exponentially).
  • Hard Disks: IDE RAID is not a nice choice for this kind of work. You will only have an overhead in CPU useage and system complexity (thus chances of breaking it) as well as extreme costs. I suggest a couple of SCSI3 disks (one for system and the other for your music files - you never know when you have to scrap your windows). Keep your backups current, burn finished projects on CDs (both audio and CDROMs with the entire project dir).
  • Video cards: why go for 2 video cards and load your IRQs and all the complexity when you can do fine with a dual head? Desktop real estate is very important when working with audio editing (especially in windows that lack the virtual desktops) but it seems like you are mooting your own reasoning by choosing 15'' monitors. The TFTs can be relaxing for the eyes but you need at least 17'' (two 15'' can be a lot worse than a single 19''). Good quality "traditional" monitors are nowdays more than acceptable in radiation and cost far less than TFTs.
  • Soundcard: saving what $ you can from the rest of the PC, opt for a pro/semi-pro card. What you should keep an eye for are the sampling rates, on-board processor(s), midi latency, loadable soundbank functionality, ASIO compatibility, full duplex operation (record and playback concurrently), number of channels, connectivity ports (you do need an S/PDIF digital I/O, stay out of XLR analogs if you can't afford the support hardware, mics, amp and all). An external rack tends to come with serious hardware but in no way is a "certificate" of quality. Soundblaster got that hype but their rack offers not much more than alternative connectors to their standard codec (and no real on-board processor). My personal suggestion is the M-AUDIO delta1010 which can be found on some online offers at about $600 and is supported by the alsa project for those that choose to go for the linux music-making adventure (anyone cares to write me a cheque please? :-PP).    
  • OS: Win2k seems to be your best choice since XP can give really hard times with drivers and win98 is like asking for the BSODs to happen (win98 can respond very poorly under this kind of useload). However you should take an extra care on what exact version you install and with what options. You don't need to run an IIS web server while trying to juice out all that you can from your CPU to make some music!
In conclusion, it is important to have a "balanced" system. Since you don't have an infinite bag of money, it is wise to avoid spending everything on one flashy thing that cannot do much with its other, less competent, hardware partners.

There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
[ Parent ]

Some thoughts... (none / 0) (#69)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:59:39 AM EST

The 2 video cards are simply because I couldnt find a dual head card anywhere for <$150, which is what the 2 cards cost me. <BR>
The RAID made sense to me at the time since I had been given a free ATA100 RAID controller card and drives. Cheap is good, free is better.

The Audigy seems like it was a mistake based on what everyone is saying, but then I only paid $100 for it, I can always just upgrade there.

The dual procs are essential if you're going to have a couple of VSTi's going.

[ Parent ]
Why not 2 computers? (none / 0) (#114)
by pyramid termite on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:47:18 AM EST

One for the VSTis and the other as a recording box?

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
All electronic? No vocals? (4.75 / 4) (#33)
by ktakki on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 09:19:47 PM EST

If you play acoustic and don't have a preamp, you'll need to either buy a pickup or a mic. Any pickup or mic will work for home recording, go to any music store and play with them. Get whatever sounds best to you and fits in your budget.
Maybe I'm an old fart, but there are some of us who still consider the microphone to be the most important part of the signal chain. Even if your music consists of all electronic instruments, running a synth through an over-driven guitar amp and miking it with an SM-57 gives it a certain something. Same thing with drum machine tracks: one can add a live ambience by placing an actual snare drum on top of a speaker and feeding them the drum machine snare track. Position the drum snare side up and mic it with a -57 or a condenser. Let some air in.

Besides, without microphones, what would you feed the vocoder?

I think the monitor (speaker) side of the signal chain has gotten short shrift, too: the right amp and speakers are crucial. What "right" is depends on the size of your control room and the thickness of your bankroll. Instead of two 15" LCDs, you can get one 17" and a pair of Event 20/20 monitors. A slight retreat from dual 1.5 Ghz/2 GB/120G Raid 5 will get you a Hafler amp to drive the Events.

Then there's soundproofing and tuning your room...

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people
are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

57s are nice... (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by BadDoggie on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 09:43:06 PM EST

I love 57s and 58s. There's very few microphones which will give you a more realistic "live" rock-and-roll sound, since they're the stage standards (and I have at least a dozen, myself).

However, if you're doing more "serious" studio work, especially with high-class vocals, you want to save your pennies for a ribbon mic. It's a rather old technology, but there's a reason Johnny Carson and Davd Letterman always had those big ribbons on their desks. There is no warmer, fuller, richer sound.

The best mic I've ever put on a kick was a Sennheiser, but there are some EVs which come damned close, and which are the best if you want to mic, say, a jet engine from 12 ft away. It pays to get a good book on microphones to learn and understand the differences in the types, patterns and styles, along with the response spectrum. A Shure SM-57 is a fantastic mic, but fat lot of good it'll do me on a double-bass, piano, kick or floor tom.

Don't skimp on your preview speakers, either. But don't forget to listen to the music in $10 headphones, because that's what half of your listeners will hear it from.


Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense.
[ Parent ]

Ribbons are nice... (none / 0) (#55)
by ktakki on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 11:35:34 PM EST

...but they are delicate devices. I had a matched pair of B&K ribbon mics on loan from a friend that I was loathe to use except in very controlled circumstances. I think I used them no more than three times: recording a string quartet, an acoustic rock act (a la Cowboy Junkies), and a quiet electric jazz ensemble.

ObRibbon: when I was 12 I made my own ribbon mic from two magnets and a strip of aluminum foil. Didn't quite work as well as I thought it would.

That Johnny Carson desk mic is the RCA 77, btw.

For kick I prefer the AKG D-12E, though the D-112 is an good low-priced substitute. If the Sennheiser you're referring to is the 421, that's what I prefer to use on toms and horns.

I've never really trusted the printed information I've seen concerning microphones. Too much of the content -- editorial, graphic, and quantitative -- has been supplied by the manufacturers. I can understand the need to have photographs provided by Shure, AKG, EV, Neumann, Beyer, etc., but the frequency response and polar charts should be done by an independent source.

Besides, miking is a black art. One needs to apprentice with a wizard for fifteen or twenty years or so.

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people
are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

[ Parent ]

kick drum mic setup that I saw once (4.00 / 1) (#127)
by thirstyfish on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:57:24 PM EST

Used a pzm, taped to the wall or a 4x5 piece of plywood, facing the kick, and then a blanket was layed over the whole thing, a tent covering the facing kick head and the board where the mic was attatched. Didn't get to hear the playback, wasn't a session that I worked with, but seemed interesting.

A friend of mine, a drummer, had his home studio set up, and commented to me that he really liked hearing his drums in the headphones, post mixing board and effects. Seems that there was a bit of distortion that he could get out of the preamps if he hit the kit a bit hard, and he liked it, but had to be careful with his playing to get the tone that he wanted.

.02 etc.

[ Parent ]

Well... (none / 0) (#67)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:54:32 AM EST

As I say at the end, mic's are a personal thing, as is the voicing thing. I did forget to put in monitoring, it's on the list for updates in the next part of this. I didn't focus on voice mic's for one simple reason, I can't sing, I dont know mic's, and I dont want to discuss things I have no first-hand knowledge of.

[ Parent ]
Mics. (4.00 / 1) (#72)
by ktakki on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:32:08 AM EST

I didn't focus on voice mic's for one simple reason, I can't sing, I dont know mic's, and I dont want to discuss things I have no first-hand knowledge of.
Mics are good for more than vocals. Here's a partial list of things I've recorded, most of which I've used in songs I've tracked:
  • A late summer thunderstorm.
  • Crows in the trees around my house.
  • The sound of an Amtrak train carrying me away from someone I loved.
  • The buzzing of a nest of hornets.
  • Rain.
  • The sound of a television set being thrown from the roof of my house.
  • The sound of a pumpkin being thrown from the roof of my house.
  • The sound of someone slipping and falling from the roof of my house.
  • An ambulance arriving at my house.

This is in addition to the guitars, basses, horns, woodwinds, strings, and percussion instruments I've recorded with microphones. Do I have to set up the filmstrip projector and show "Our Friend the Microphone" to get the point across? Sheesh...

This post has been brought to you by the National Microphone Board.

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people
are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

[ Parent ]

Digital pianos? (3.00 / 2) (#36)
by bartok on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 09:36:26 PM EST

This article is interesting for me because I will soon be buying a digital piano. Basically, a keyboard who's key have the same "resistance" as piano keys. I think it's called hammer-type action.

Anyways, I know that digital pianos are not as great if you want to do some sampling n'stuff but I was wondering if it's possible to use external MIDI equipment to get the same effects as a regular synthetiser keyboard?

My main interest is playing classical piano peices but I'd like to have the option to mess around with other sounds that don't come with the digital piano.

Any recommendations for digital pianos that fill my needs?

digital pianos (none / 0) (#40)
by droobie on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 09:54:56 PM EST

i personally have a 3 year old korg sp-100. it doesn't have the greatest of piano feels. i think korg replaced it recently with the sp-200, which sounds a lot nicer and feels more natural. for the "cheap" pianos (<US$1K) i think the yamaha p-80 is pretty decent; it's what i would get if i could afford a new one =) i'd avoid roland; from my personal experience (ymmv of course) they have nice sounds but poor feel. most digital pianos these days have midi built in, so you can just buy a sound module or connect to a computer if you want to play with new sounds/effects. <p> one word of warning, there's no way that a digital piano can ever replace the tactile response of a real piano. i've had my keyboard for years, and i go to mars music or guitar center every other week or so to fiddle around with the new models, but any chance i get i will track down a baby grand and will play the real thing over an electric one any day of the week.

if you're in the market for one, though, make sure that you go to a store with decent selection to try them out for yourself, even if you plan on ordering it online or mail order.

[ Parent ]

I would recommend getting a good synth. (none / 0) (#41)
by RofGilead on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 09:59:22 PM EST

Firstly, what is your budget?

The immediate recommendations from me would be:

 A Korg Triton, can do sampling, plus comes with good piano sounds I hear.  A bit expensive, these haven't fallen in price : $1000-$2000.

 What I use is this:
 An old Kawai K5000W digital synth workstation. It has pretty decent piano sounds, a very nice velocity sensitive keyboard as well.  Plus it is an incredible synthesizer.  I picked her up for about $700.  I also have a sampler, an Akai S3200xl, which I can play from the K5000W master keyboard.  So, I can record or purchase real piano samples, load them into the S3200xl and play them like I'm playing a piano from the K5000W.

 Another option, get a DX7 (a cheap old digital synth), and a sampler, and get some piano samples.  The DX7 also has a nice velocity sensitive keyboard.

-= RofGilead =-

Remember, you're unique, just like everyone else. -BlueOregon
[ Parent ]

velocity sensitive (none / 0) (#57)
by bartok on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 11:48:17 PM EST

I'm no expert but I think velocity sensitive is not the same thing as hammer-type action. With hammer-type, the keys actually feel heavy to press down on just like a real piano.

[ Parent ]
Ah... (none / 0) (#61)
by RofGilead on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:36:22 AM EST

Yeah, keyboards like that are typically more expensive.  You'd have to buy something typically labeled "Digital Piano", not a synth.

Few synths have weighted keys.  Few also have a full 88 keys too...  Those aren't factors that usually affect me though..

Being a poor college type, I'd rather spend those extra hundreds that it would cost for those two things on how it actually sounds.

Plus, synths are fun. :)

-= RofGilead =-

Remember, you're unique, just like everyone else. -BlueOregon
[ Parent ]

Some ideas if looking second hand. (none / 0) (#52)
by static on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 11:23:40 PM EST

Firstly, the Yamaha digital pianos sound far better than Roland, Korg or Kawai digital pianos. Ensoniq also have some really good piano sample sets, but they're geared for their sampler range (e.g. ASR-10). And while I mention Ensoniq, their TS-12  reputedly had quite good piano feel, unlike the smaller TS-10 which was not weighted (but VS, of course).

I found buying Roland in particular is too much of a gamble. Sure, they make good stuff, but they make a lot of utter crap, too. Oddly enough, the only decent Roland digital piano sound I found was in a pre-General MIDI module from 15 years ago! That said, their A-90 has a decent piano as well a huge range of other good sounds.


[ Parent ]

Weighted keyboards (none / 0) (#56)
by dachshund on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 11:41:29 PM EST

This article is interesting for me because I will soon be buying a digital piano. Basically, a keyboard who's key have the same "resistance" as piano keys. I think it's called hammer-type action.

You're looking for a fully-weighted keyboard. I have an 88-key, fully-weighted Fatar keyboard in my studio. It's a MIDI controller only. I bought it several years ago, and the upshot is that while I've been through a handful of external rack-mounted synthesizers and samplers over the past few years as the technology's advanced, I never felt the desire to buy a new keyboard. The weighting is excellent.

You can certainly do the same with a digital piano. In fact, if you're more comfortable with a weighted-keyboard, you should absolutely look for something to use as a MIDI controller. However, you should think about the premium you'll be paying for the internal piano sounds. There are a lot of excellent standalone boxes you can look into that provide you with a variety of excellent pianos, or piano and other instruments. Plus, most digital pianos come with an ungainly built-in stand that'll limit your ability to move the damned thing-- buying a controller keyboard and a separate stand has simplified my life in a number of ways. (Note that it's still not fun to move it around, but it is doable.)

It helped that the keyboard I bought was very well priced (Fatar builds keyboards for other synthesizer companies, but sell their own brand for less. Though my information may be outdated :)

[ Parent ]

so.. (none / 0) (#65)
by bartok on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:49:40 AM EST

Let me get this straight.

1- I can buy something like the Yamaha P-80 digital piano for 900$. It has a very decent sound and has weighted keys.

2- I can buy a keyboard with weighted keys that is a midi controller like this Studiologic keyboard (made by Fatar). It costs only 479$.

Please correct me if I'm wrong:
If I understood well what you said, this keyboard would not produce sound itself so I would have to buy an external box called a Synth Module? (Example) I picked an expensive one but I'm aware there are cheaper ones available. And these things are interchangable and usually come with a much better sound samples (or whatever you call the instrument sounds) than what is probably shipped with a digital piano?

If what I said is correct, I think I'm gonna go with solution 2.

[ Parent ]

Exactly (none / 0) (#74)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:13:36 AM EST

A lot of those "digital pianos" are actually a Fatar keyboard bundled with a synth module in a single unit. I think the only companies who currently make the keyboards themselves for pro keyboard units are Fatar (who makes mostly hammer-action), Roland (who makes some weighted-action and some hammer-action), and Yamaha (who makes mostly spring-action; IIRC they just buy the weighted and hammer-action keyboards from Fatar and Roland). This was the case a few years ago, anyway, though I don't really keep up with these things. I know that the spring-action keyboard in my Korg 01/W was actually made by Yamaha though (it's actually a Yamaha DX-7 keyboard).

BTW, hammer-action and weighted-action are a bit different. Hammer-action uses actual hammers and so on, so you get the precise feel of a real piano, whereas weighted-action only simulates it and so you don't feel the catch at the end of the key travel. Whether that's important is just a matter of personal preference. Personally, I find that weighted is fine for me, and I typically make do with spring-action anyway. :) (Not that I'd mind having money to spare for a nice Fatar controller though.)

"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Yup (none / 0) (#140)
by dachshund on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:29:00 PM EST

If I understood well what you said, this keyboard would not produce sound itself so I would have to buy an external box called a Synth Module? (Example) I picked an expensive one but I'm aware there are cheaper ones available. And these things are interchangable and usually come with a much better sound samples (or whatever you call the instrument sounds) than what is probably shipped with a digital piano?

That's pretty much it. Fluffy grue said the rest. The thing to do now is seek out a store with a good selection of both types and play them so you know exactly what you're getting.

[ Parent ]

Technics SX-P50 (none / 0) (#92)
by mberteig on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:06:33 AM EST

is what I have.  It is a 88 key weighted digital piano.  The action is good and it has a small selection of decent internal sounds.  It does not have a built in stand which is nice for me: I have it up on a wide desk beside my 'puter.  It does not have built in speakers - right now I'm using Altec Lansing ATP3's - again an advantage for flexibility.  It also looks really nice.  I tried out a few others: Roland, Korg and Yamaha models and none felt and sounded as good (to me).

http://www.technics.com/p50.html for more info.

Agile Advice - How and Why to Work Agile
[ Parent ]

What I have: Kawai MP9500 (none / 0) (#144)
by inspire on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 02:06:18 PM EST

Pros - great piano samples. Great key action (keys are wooden and work on a hammer principle). Cons - heavy (~75lbs). Expensive. Works well for what I use it for (which is a practice keyboard for when I'm away from home). I primarily play classical music.
What is the helix?
[ Parent ]
not explained (3.00 / 2) (#43)
by mpalczew on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 10:12:45 PM EST

Way to many things went unexplained.  Like what is midi and why I should use it?  I've been just pluging my electric guitar into the back of my sound card and it works well, after you mess with it a little.  

Why do you need a keyboard?  I'm a guitarist why would I get a keyboard, ever?

Wtf is a guitar unit? Does it do something with your guitar?  Is it some special type of guitar?  If it is count me out, I'm playing on my own guitar not some fucked up special "computer" guitar.

Do I have to get a bass unit if I or a band member plays bass?  What about drums?  A drummer isn't going to like to have a drum machine play his part.

"Operating system, Win2k. 'Nuff said."
no not really why?  
-- Death to all Fanatics!

Guitar unit (none / 0) (#49)
by ph317 on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 11:10:07 PM EST

You can get a MIDI pickup that straps onto any existing electric.  It's a thin little thing, you put it between the bridge and the first real pickup, usually wired to a little volume knob unit velcro'd to the guitar nearby your normal controls.  Out the back of that knob is a MIDI jack.

There's some effects boxes out there that will take both your normal traditional pickup output and the midi output simultaneously.  It allows certain effects to know exactly what string you used and exactly what note you fretted, regardless of how you're bending things around and how slightly out of tune you may be at the moment, which opens up some new possibilities in effects.

In the box I was playing with, you can apply effects based on both signals to the analog signal, you can synthesize pure-digital noises based on the MIDI, and you can mix the two into the output.  Obviously tools this powerful leave a lot of room for talentless hacks to go crazy on the effects and not do anything useful - but used wisely and subtley, it's a powerful tool.

[ Parent ]

I was trying to be generic, but... (5.00 / 1) (#84)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:57:52 AM EST

1. MIDI is the musical instrument device interface. It lets your PC control your instruments and vice versa. I.E. your pc can send instructions to your keyboard and it plays the notes it gets from the PC, or you can send the keys from the keyboard to the PC and it records the keys to play back later. Basically you can let the PC control all your gear (if its midi capable), letting you do all your work from one screen.

2. You need a keyboard if you do any sort of notation, or even if you just do midi. Its alot simpler to send a midi signal for C# by just hitting the key than by clicking around. If you dont read sheet music and can't play piano, you probably won't need the keyboard.

3. A guitar unit is like a Line6 POD. If its easier, think of half a dozen pedals tied together in any way you prefer. You use your standard guitar, plug into the first pedal on the chain, and plug the end of the chain into the PC. Your pedals process the signal and it goes into the PC with effects already in. The advantage with the guitar unit is you get lots of presets, more effect variety, MIDI control of what effects play when, and cost (its the equivalent of 20-30 pedals, which would run more than $200).

4. Like with guitar, you can, or you can not. There are bass units (Line6 has a Bass Pod) that do the same thing as guitar units, but basically, you take the cable that normally goes in your ampt, and plug it into the PC. Anything on top of that, like the effects unit, is just icing on the cake.

5. Win2k is the only OS thats been stable enough (in my experience) to do production on. XP and 9x have always crashed after 3-4hrs of heavy cubase use. Win2k pro has gone 3 weeks with cubase on the screen (not even an app restart in that time) while I was working on a 50 track composition.

[ Parent ]
I had problems (none / 0) (#94)
by FredBloggs on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:15:58 AM EST

with Win2K. I used Win98SE and cakewalk as it was pretty stable. (Cubase just didnt keep time for me on fast drum`n`bass hihats - sounded drunk. Cakewalk was rock-solid).
Has Win2k sorted out the problems I seemed to be having with Midi support? I`ve only skim-read your article, but i`ll check it out later - i`m getting a new pc soon so perhaps I`ll take your spec into account (though I`m minded to just copy exactly a system that is up and running properly now, rather than pick and mix components).

[ Parent ]
Its been working great for me (none / 0) (#95)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:40:33 AM EST

I havent had any problems, and I've really been beating the thing up lately, lots of tracks, VSTi's, etc.

You probably dont want to just copy my PC, its really overpowered for what you'd likely need, and take a look at the soundcard posts on here. Apparently my audigy was a bit of a screw-up on my part. Other than that though, if it has midi support and does what you need, you're probably good.

[ Parent ]
Good Questions, Simple Answers (none / 0) (#115)
by virg on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:49:51 AM EST

> Like what is midi and why I should use it? I've been just pluging my electric guitar into the back of my sound card and it works well, after you mess with it a little.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Device Interface, and it's one way of getting instrument signals into your machine. What you're doing (direct feed to (I'm assuming) the microphone jack on your sound card) works as well, but it's a lot harder to work with that signal once you've got it. MIDI isn't necessarily better than a direct recording, but it's popular because it's a good way to get an easy-to-work-with signal. There's also the obvious benefit that it's easier to get multiple signals in, but that can be handled with a mixing table as well.

> Why do you need a keyboard? I'm a guitarist why would I get a keyboard, ever?

In a word, versatility. Think of your musical keyboard that same way you think of the keyboard on your computer. You can use it to "type in" a tune, and then add effects and signal processing later. It's also handy for filling your sound and correcting errors in play. Again, if you're old-school (like me) and don't like twiddling with the signal after it's in the machine, there's not much need for a keyboard, but if you can get one cheap (think garage sale cheap), it adds to your capabilities even if you can't (or don't want to) play it in real time.

> Wtf is a guitar unit? Does it do something with your guitar? Is it some special type of guitar? If it is count me out, I'm playing on my own guitar not some fucked up special "computer" guitar.

A guitar unit is a MIDI interface for a guitar and a bunch of effects and signal processors tied up in one case. The best description I can think of is a bunch of programmable pedals all stored in one piece of hardware, with regular line outs for an amp and a MIDI port to plug into the PC. So, put simply, it does the same things with your guitar that a chain of pedal would do (or wouldn't if you set full bypass). The MIDI-ready guitars are just regular axes with a MIDI pickup attached near the bridge. It's tiny, and it has no effect on the sound, and it can be hooked up to a MIDI port while the regular pickups feed a regular amp, so a lot of players that need direct MIDI opt for this.

> Do I have to get a bass unit if I or a band member plays bass? What about drums? A drummer isn't going to like to have a drum machine play his part.

It's a good idea to use a bass box (or a bass MIDI pickup) if you're feeding bass into your MIDI port, and they work the same way as the guitar units and pickups. The reasoning for a separate box for bass is the same as the reason you'd avoid using a guitar chorus pedal for a bass (different frequency range). As for drums, the best setup I've seen is setting up all of the drum mikes on a mixing table dedicated to the drummer, then plugging that signal into your MIDI port. There's no need for a drum machine unless your drummer is too drunk to play (oh, wait...8) ). Again, you can record any (or all) of your signal the analog way, but it's easier to work with a MIDI-processed signal when you're mixing down the whole song, so usually you'll go with a mix of analog signals and MIDI-processed signals.

> "Operating system, Win2k. 'Nuff said." no not really why?

Author's preference. Read the other comments for more on this.

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
You need a professional sound card (4.50 / 2) (#46)
by memerot2 on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 10:28:35 PM EST

Like this or one of the others here. Pay like $500 - $1500, get multitrack recording straight to your hard disk on a much more minimal computer. Don't spend several grand on your box, and put a $200 - $300 single track sound card in it, buy a good sound card. The high end ones you can record a whole band at once, 12 guitar size plugs straight to hd.

Why NOT Creative (4.00 / 1) (#60)
by artemis3 on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:34:58 AM EST

I completely agree. But just in case the budget is limited, it is possible to use a decent card instead of throwing money to the trash can that creative is. The so called "prosumer" cards featuring (for example) IC Ensemble's Envy24 chipset are a good example of this. They are in the 125$~250$ price rage, and are very good "entry level" choices.

For example: Hoontech's SoundTrack Audio DSP24 Value, Terratec's AudioSystem EWX 24/96, M-Audio's (midiman) Audiophile 2496 or echo digital audio's MIA (balanced INs/OUTs only, Cubasis VST bundled).

Hmm just for your information, i read once someone made a quality test on the Audigy, as a reference, a typical 16 bit board SB Live achieves 75db signal to noise ratio (not bad for a 16 bit board), but the Audigy, a "24 bit" (out only) achieved 76db. (True 24bit 96Khz boards can reach 110db).

Just so you can have an idea of Creative's record, compare the now defunct (aquired by creative, of course) Ensoniq AudioPCI (chip ES1370) which used to cost a quarter of the price of a Sound Blaster Live!, had 4 channels as well and did not resampled everything to 48khz like the Live! (amd all AC97 crap) which uses the Emu10k chip does. The Audigy uses Emu10k2... Oh yes, Creative aquired Emu long time ago...

So if you are going to hand 150$ to something, it may as well be a worth something, not a thing with the quality of your average ac97 on board card...

[ Parent ]

Wish I had read that before I got the SB (none / 0) (#66)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:50:54 AM EST

Everyone seems to be knocking the Audigy. I haven't had anything but good experiences with mine, but I haven't finished a track to burn to CD. I'm guessing I'll notice the sampling difference when I do..

[ Parent ]
If you use an AC97 device, then sample at 48khz. (5.00 / 1) (#83)
by artemis3 on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:55:41 AM EST

When using AC 97 hardware, i recommend you to sample (record) at 48khz, then do a slow, quality resample to 44.1khz. Tools like SSRC can help you. Typical audio editing programs like Cool Edit can also be used. The key here is not relying in whatever method the driver uses for real time resampling, which is normally not good enough. While resampling artifacts may not normally be noticed, i feel better to be on the safe side. A real PC ABX style test can be done to ensure this.

Some people are also using quality real time software resampling for playback as well, for example, a waveOut output plug-in replacement for winamp 2.x which uses ssrc (gui configurable) to resample before sending the stream to the driver.

Of course, good boards don't resample, they switch their oscilators to the requested rate as it was commonly done in the days before ac97... The Creative Sound Blaster Live! cards were notoriously known for its bad resampling routine, with very audible artifacts... Unfortunately their stability issues seemed to shade the quality ones, as most people were too busy making the thing work on the first place ;)

[ Parent ]

The Audigy Completely Blows (none / 0) (#107)
by kcidx on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:07:45 AM EST

It's good if you want to play Games.

Other than that, it sucks...royally. I have an Audigy, and an M-Audio Delta 44. The soundfonts on the audigy suck, it doesn't actually record at 48/96 like it says it does in all the docs. And I have never had Cubase freak out so much with a soundcard as I did with the audigy. All of a sudden it would just stop working, and make all sorts of crazy noises.

I installed the M-Audio Delta 44, and all the problems disappeared. It actually does what it is advertised for, and does it well. Plus the 4 ins, and 4 outs are really useful. (For me anyway)

Creative products are overpriced toys for gaming, or watching DVD's. For about the same price as the Audigy, or just slightly more, you can get a real soundcard. Which is what I recommend.

[ Parent ]

Not 48/96 - I meant 24bit/96khz. - Oops [N/T] (none / 0) (#108)
by kcidx on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:23:20 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Avoid Hoontech (none / 0) (#73)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:07:15 AM EST

Once upon a time, I spent a lot of money on a Hoontech SoundTrack 128 Ruby, and I could never get it to work right (the drivers were total crap), and Hoontech wouldn't even support the card or take it back. From my experience with them back then, I cannot in any good faith allow anyone to recommend Hoontech products.

Personally, I've found that some of the best cards are the $6 OEM cards based on ESS chipsets. (Note: ESS != Ensoniq. And yeah, Ensoniq has been total crap ever since Creative bought them out; even their keyboards suck now.) They're only singletrack, but they're really damn clean (well, the chip itself is, though the cards themselves can be hit or miss), and of course they're so cheap that you can just buy a whole bunch of them and put the best 3 or 4 into your computer. :) Yes, they're only 16bit 44kHz, but unless you're mastering audio for dolphins, that's enough.

Of course, the lack of balanced inputs means you'll want some power conditioning (something I haven't gotten around to spending money on).

The thing that bugs me about this article, though, is that it assumes that having the best gear in the world is more important than having an idea of what you want to record. Personally, I've found that some of the best stuff I've done was recorded on an old Tascam 424 analog 4-track recorder. It's important to know what you're doing with music before you spend lots of money on expensive equipment, and knowing how to work the classic analog stuff will definitely help in working with digital stuff.
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Variety is the spice of life? (none / 0) (#76)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:21:18 AM EST

The idea behind the equipment I got was to be able to record anything that strikes me. Some days I feel like doing a pagannini piece on a 6 string acoustic, sometimes I'm in the mood to cover wanted dead or alive on a 12 string. Then again, there's the times when I want to do a piano/distorted electric duet of moonlight sonata. Its all about flexibility. The equipment you get cant just be for one specific type of recording (unless thats all you want to do, in which case, more power to ye).

[ Parent ]
But the tech you list isn't really that liberating (none / 0) (#77)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:32:33 AM EST

I mean, you can do all of that on a 4-track just fine. It's a very poor musician who blames the equipment for lack of creativity.

Currently, my recording setup consists of the 4-track (which I mostly use as a mixer now, though every now and then I'll use it for recording too), a cheap (but surprisingly clean) soundcard in a cheap Duron 800 box with a 20GB hard drive, and using Impulse Tracker for sequencing (both using its internal wavetable softsynth and its external MIDI support) and CoolEdit Pro for recording and mixdown. With my setup, I always feel like the only limit is my own creativity, possibly because I'm so used to the tools I've limited myself to. (Actually, CEP was a very recent addition; I used to just use the plain single-track CoolEdit, but I finally got sick of that method of mixing.)

Call me old-fashioned, but I just think that musicians should focus on the music before the tools.
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

I definately agree (none / 0) (#81)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:50:44 AM EST

the music comes first. But if the tools are out there, I'm not adverse to using the shortcuts they offer. Yeah, I can get a 4 track and start recording that way, but cubase is so much more pleasant to work in.

[ Parent ]
Quick Cubase question (none / 0) (#86)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:01:02 AM EST

It sounds like you actually use Cubase, and although I've played with it briefly, I didn't really pay it much mind since at the time I wasn't too interested in it. It sounds like it's come a really long way though... the main thing I'm wondering about it is how well-integrated the audio mixing is with the MIDI stuff. Like, could I use it to record my MIDI-sequenced tracks and have it already be synchronized to the digital audio tracks? That's the one thing that still irks me with my Cool Edit Pro-based setup - having to manually record and synchronize the MIDI track.

If it offers this feature, I might give Cubase another look. :)
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Yes (none / 0) (#106)
by kcidx on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:02:19 AM EST

As long as you get your latency down low enough, using an ASIO driver, you should be able to play along with a pre-recorded track and have it sync right up with whatever you are recording.

If you have to previously recorded tracks, and just want to sync them up, it's something you will have to do manually.

[ Parent ]

No, that's not what I meant... (none / 0) (#125)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:44:08 PM EST

Basically, with the sequencer I use (Impulse Tracker), I can export two separate tracks, one as a WAV file (for its own internal softsynth) and one as a MIDI file (for the external sequence data). Then for my final mixdown I have to merge these back together. Currently, what I have to do is manually record the MIDI sequence into a WAV and then manually align that with the softsynth WAV tracks. The issue isn't tempo alignment, but timebase alignment. It's also just a major pain to do.

What I was wondering is if Cubase has support for tracks which are just MIDI data, and if so, when you want to convert it to WAV data (for the pre-mixdown stage), is it able to record that with (simulated) zero-latency in the same way that it's able to record everything else. i.e. it records to a WAV track as it plays back the (pre-sequenced) MIDI data.

If I were playing the keyboard live, I wouldn't have mentioned MIDI. :)
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Ok, bouncing over to this thread (none / 0) (#134)
by Anatta on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:56:18 PM EST

What I was wondering is if Cubase has support for tracks which are just MIDI data, and if so, when you want to convert it to WAV data (for the pre-mixdown stage), is it able to record that with (simulated) zero-latency in the same way that it's able to record everything else. i.e. it records to a WAV track as it plays back the (pre-sequenced) MIDI data.

Well Sonar certainly does, and I think Cubase would, too. What you're describing seems to me that it could be done a couple of ways. First off, if you used Cubase/Sonar's (C/S) clock as the master MIDI clock to control Impulse Tracker (IT), everything should be in sync and you should be able to move MIDI and audio files around between them at will. As long as C/S is used as the master clock, everything will stay in sync. Something like MIDIYoke or Hubi's Loopback (viritual midi throughs) should do the trick. You could export audio out from IT, and bring it into Cubase/Sonar (C/S), and everything would sync to C/S's master clock. You could also save the IT data as a plain MIDI file, and then open that MIDI file inside of C/S. It would then play in sync with the rest of the audio already inside C/S (not 100% sure on this for Cubase, but I know you can do it with Sonar).

The easier way to do it (that builds on the previous way) is that you could record audio out from IT into C/S, while having C/S send MIDI sync out to IT. When you press start/record on C/S, C/S would send MIDI sync to IT, triggering IT to start and stop and progress in time with C/S. You could then have IT (or whatever other program) send MIDI notes out to your synths, and have C/S record the audio out from the synths into itself. The audio recording would be done inside C/S, C/S would send MIDI sync to IT, and IT would be sending the specific notes out to the synths.

I believe Cakewalk has a trial version of Sonar available online... I'm sure you could try it out with the demo, and if it works, go from there.

Hope this helps!
My Music
[ Parent ]

Okay, um, a couple of points (none / 0) (#136)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:17:05 PM EST

First, forget about Impulse Tracker communicating with anything. :) It's a DOS app. It just exports a .wav and a .mid for the final high-quality mixdown. Typically what I do is I load up the exported .wav in CoolEdit Pro, the .mid in some MIDI player (doesn't matter which one, since MMC seems to keep the timebase correct), hit record in CEP, play in the MIDI player, and then prod the newly-recorded MIDI track around until it's aligned. Oh, and actually, IT can't play to the external synths under Windows anyway (I usually drop down to plain DOS to do the actual sequencing; Windows insists on DOS apps only having access to the crappy internal GMIDI softsynth). I'd switch to something newer except that I haven't found anything else with as nice a sequencing interface as Impulse Tracker.

What I'd really like is something where when I hit record in CEP (or equivalent), it simultaneously starts playing the MIDI track. So really, what you said does apply, just not quite as directly as you mention. :) However, it still sounds like I'd still need a MIDI player which will respond to the MIDI clock; CEP will (apparently) put out a master MIDI clock, but the hard part is triggering the playback from the MIDI player. The only MIDI sequencing software I have (well, not counting Impulse Tracker) is Voyetra Orchestrator Plus, a really crappy and old Win16 application which came with some soundcard.

Actually, one time I tried using Voyetra to trigger CEP's recording (by using an event trigger) but apparently Win16's MIDI events aren't visible to Win32 apps or something, or maybe I was just missing a device connection or something somewhere. Frankly, MIDI under Windows makes my head hurt. (But at least it works, unlike under other OSes *cough*Linux*cough*).

Also, there's still no point to doing MIDI sync between the WAV and the MIDI tracks - again, the MIDI track that IT puts out seems to have a timebase which matches perfectly with the WAV track. I don't think clock sync would work at all anyway, since there's no timebase in the WAV file, and the MIDI file doesn't appear to have proper time stuff, it just puts out some arbitrary time signature and uses a timebase based on that. (Impulse Tracker's methodology isn't exactly designed for a modular studio setting... It's basically a relatively-modern tool for composing MOD files from the Amiga, only much, much more powerful. Like having a buttload of channels and MIDI sequencing. :)

The main thing I want is a multitrack audio editor which happens to also support MIDI-based tracks (like Acid Pro 3, except non-sucky, and able to import .mid files). That seems like it'd be the easiest way to handle stuff - just record into a new track, hit 'play,' and be done with it. Audacity looks like it'll support that eventually, though in the meantime it doesn't.

I'll try Sonar, in any case... it sounds promising. I just hope it's not too expensive... I don't have a very big budget for this stuff. Music's just a hobby for me. :)
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Oh, never mind! (none / 0) (#137)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:20:21 PM EST

You could also save the IT data as a plain MIDI file, and then open that MIDI file inside of C/S. It would then play in sync with the rest of the audio already inside C/S (not 100% sure on this for Cubase, but I know you can do it with Sonar).
I must have overlooked that. That's exactly what I was asking if it could do. Sounds like Sonar's right for me. Thanks. :)
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Possibly (none / 0) (#112)
by Anatta on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:23:00 AM EST

I'm not exactly sure what you're asking here... I don't use Cubase, I use Sonar (which I think is better than Cubase at this point)... the way sonar works is it syncs to audio clock, meaning that you can record midi or audio and they will sync perfectly (960 pulses per quarter note -- very very solid tempo sync), and any audio you record inside Sonar (or Cubase) will sync perfectly with midi recorded with Cubase/Sonar as the master midi clock. However if you have an audio file that was recorded outside Cubase/Sonar and occasionally drifts slightly out of time, Cubase and Sonar aren't smart enough to automatically adjust the tempo accordingly. You could manually insert a millisecond of silence here and a millisecond there to keep the song in the correct tempo, but that would be a serious pain to do.

However, (at least with Sonar) you can now somewhat alleviate that problem by "Acidizing" the audio files. Acid is a not-so-great sequencer from Sonic Foundry, but the one really cool thing it did was allow you to convert wav files into acid format. Basically, acid searches for the rhythms and chops each beat into a transient. It then quantizes the transients, fixing any tempo errors (though if there is a lot going on in the section, it can sound bad). You can then change the tempo of the audio track, and everything will stay in sync and in the same pitch. It's most useful for loops, but you could potentially use it for an entire song.

What is really sweet with the way Sonar lets you work with acidized loops is that you can take say a 16 beat drumloop that drifts slightly out of sync at the end of the loop, convert it to acid format, and the tempo errors will be alleviated. Once you have it in acid format, you can edit each of the transients in the beat (each of the steps in the rhythm). You can take the 3rd beat and switch it with the 9th beat, and raise the pitch of the 5th beat, etc. You can resequence the steps in the loop by just dragging them around into a new pattern, or you can mix and match. You get instant Autechre style weird IDM music.

My Music
[ Parent ]

Drift isn't a problem (none / 0) (#126)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:55:33 PM EST

At least, so far I haven't had any drift problems with Impulse Tracker's output tracks (and miraculously enough, the timing on its output MIDI file seems to always be perfect with respect to the WAV file it puts out).

I'd tried using Acid in the past, but I quickly became frustrated with it because its idea of (for example) 160bpm was different from everyone else's. The only time I've ever had clock drift issues was when trying to use Acid as a multitrack. My only choices were to disable Acid's per-track clocks (making it useless for its intended purpose, and even harder to work with because the snaps would be totally wrong), clock everything to Acid (which sucked because then if I wanted to put some audio back into a different program it'd have the opposite clock drift), or try to figure out what BPM Acid was really mixing at and then hope that setting Acid to, say, 160.1bpm and everything else to 160bpm would be close enough (which it wasn't).

With my current setup, the only clock rates I have to care about is Impulse Tracker's and whatever I use for recording its exported MIDI track back into a WAV, and so far as I can tell, the exported MIDI track recorded back through another program has never, ever drifted clock on me (or at least, not enough for me to be able to tell). (See my other second-order response for an explanation of why I'm doing this to begin with.)

I find it odd that an old DOS-based sequencer which people look down their noses at seems to do a better job at these complex things than every modern program I've looked at...

In any case, what I'd really just like is a multitrack recording program which will start playing the MIDI file exactly when I hit 'record' on it, and adjust the latency accordingly. CoolEdit Pro seems to have that functionality, but I can't get it to actually work (though it seems to be geared towards to syncing with external sequencers, and not other pieces of software). I mean, that's all I want... something which will (conceptually) press 'play' on the MIDI file at the same time as 'record' on the multitrack recorder.
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

My setup and some kvetchins (4.50 / 2) (#51)
by Leon Pron on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 11:17:22 PM EST

First of all, why win2k? The latest version of Cubase, Cubase SX, was designed with XP in mind, so I don't know how you can simply say "win2k, nuff said" and leave it at that. Never mind that many musicians using other apps like Sonar swear by win98. And don't leave out Mac OS, either, a lot of musicians also swear by their Macs. Personally, I would go either XP, 98, or OS X. I have no clue why you picked 2k, could you explain?

Next, I think you may be going a bit overboard on your computer specs. Unless you're doing some _really_ heavy duty work there, a RAID setup is completely unnecessary, as is a gig of ram. Producing drum and bass on my Athlon 1400 with an ATA/66 hd and 512 megs of DDR RAM has done me juuust fine, and I know a _lot_ of great _professional_ producers who are working on far less powerful setups and producing excellent music with Cubase.

As for your sound card, I could never endorse an Audigy for a sound production system. The thing isn't even truly capable of 24 bit audio. If you've spend that much on a computer, why not go for something better from, say, M-Audio.

Your guide leaves out monitoring/headphone details, but I can understand that you want to leave it brief.

Overall, I'm left questioning the wisdom of some of these purchases and at least desiring some further justification for recommending them.

Why win2k... (none / 0) (#64)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:48:32 AM EST

Quite simply, Win2k is the only OS I've managed to run under that hasnt crashed on me dealing with large scores. Admittedly, the latest cubase version is made for XP, but I haven't tried it yet, so I can't really endorse it. Cubase 5.2 running on win2k has run for a week straight with no crashes, hence my recommendation there.

As far as hardware spec's, again, I track like a fiend, mostly to hide my own playing screwups. When you have 500 layers in a song (rare, but happens) 2CPUs really help. As for RAID, as I say, YMMV, its what I wanted to feel safe. Call it a safety blanket, it gives me the warm and fuzzies.

I agree with you on the soundcard, something bigger and better will likely be my next purchase, but the audigy has served me very well for almost no money. As for monitoring, I left that out intentionally to keep this from being a book.

[ Parent ]
$6k + who knows what for kit (none / 0) (#53)
by Anonymous 242 on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 11:29:07 PM EST

And not five words explaining how to go about recording at home for fun and [no] profit.

I want my money back!

Kit.. (none / 0) (#63)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:44:02 AM EST

Ovation CS2000
Guild DM52
PRS Custom 24 Artist
Cort MGM-1
As for how to use all this stuff, next article:)

[ Parent ]
and not only that. . . (none / 0) (#80)
by moron on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:49:38 AM EST

... the author coughs up for a 4 or 5 thousand for a rig but he doesn't see fit to buy a decent sound card? If you are going to blow that much cash on LCD monitors, you should perhaps be considering an RME hammerfall or some other professional quality card instead of a bargain basement option like a Sound Blaster (price and quality-wise). There is no mention about dealing with system noise (microphones just love to pick up fan noise which a dual CPU system will have bucket loads of) or backup options (swappable drive bays would be a good idea). Folks wanting to read up on home studios would be better off looking through the archives of Sound on Sound which has had plenty of good type on the issue.

Not to say that the idea of dual headed LCD displays doesn't get me a little randy.


culture: http://industrial.org
music: http://deterrent.net
code: http://codegrunt.com

[ Parent ]

Noise considerations... (none / 0) (#93)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:12:40 AM EST

Since I dont really use mic's, noise wasnt an issue for me. As for backups, RAID helps, and theres the CDR for anything else.

[ Parent ]
Cheap way to go: (3.50 / 1) (#54)
by busonerd on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 11:33:27 PM EST

My personal favorite of the cheap way is:
  • any +400mhz mac or +1ghz PC
  • usb midi connector (mine is midisport 1x1)
  • Reason
  • and any midi equipped keyboard.
The total runs to about $1500 Canadian if you don't bargin hunt. I got mine all running for 500 CND on my Mac G4 (I already had the keyboard, but a midi only keyboard is about 200 CND)

Logic and Cubase are both great programs, but I would recommend Reason because of its shallow learning curve.
This is just me though, so dont take my word for it.


possible options (4.00 / 2) (#59)
by poopy on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 11:57:00 PM EST

1. cheaper pc. Dual CPU may not be required. Heck laptops are a very good option. I am considering an ibook for live stuff. 2. Professional Soundcard. Soundblaster is NOT one of these. Terratec make a sweet 24 bit recording soundcard with good ASIO drivers. 3. Reason. Very yummy program and good for anyone who wants to get into the whole realm of music creation. 4. Midi controller. Roland and Midiman make good controllers for PC and Mac. 5. Good recording mic. Shure sm58 is a good recording mike for voicals. Drums and Acoustic guitar may be a little bit more expensive to record and set up. Drums can be a hassle. 6. Good speakers. Monitor speakers or a good hi fi setup will make a difference. 7. Read Sound on Sound and Future Music magazine for lots of free demos and good hints and tips. My home setup is avoiding VST altogether and is primarily a loops based system. I use reason 2.0 and Ableton live and Fruity Loops. All fun programs and they sound great (with a good sound card and speakers). Lastly there is a lot of free ware sound appz that are as verssatile as the commercial/paid stuff. -Poop

All good points.. (none / 0) (#62)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:42:19 AM EST

I was trying to steer more towards a setup that would scale up, and I've always found slower PCs to be the holdup when I'm working, but you make valid points. I dont know much about mic'ing drums, but it definately looks like an ordeal.

[ Parent ]
Variations for solo / monitoring suggestions (none / 0) (#78)
by edAqa on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:32:47 AM EST

The equipment that one requires can be greatly reduced if you wish to record one track at a time and use a drum machine.   The first part, one track  (stereo or mono) at a time, is quite normal in a recording studio, the drum is the exception since typically that can require anywhere from 2-16 separate tracks to be recorded at a time (the drum machine has just one stereo channel).

In this situation the high-end sound-card is not necessary, as the single line-in feed on a SoundBlaster Live/Audigy will be able to handle all of the recording needs.

If you have several MIDI driven synthesizers, you can either record their output track by track, but it is probably easier to edit the MIDI data to tune the performance, then record all MIDI devices at the same time (although, if you are quite concerned about dynamic range and noise you can record them separately).

The difficulty comes primarily from needing to setup the monitor (not that one you're reading now, the one that makes sounds).  The single-line can be a problem, because you need to mix a signal.  There are some options here that I've noticed, that can be combined to provide basic monitoring:
-the mic-in and secondary line-in on sound cards often provide MONO only sound, but this may be good enough for monitoring
-your speakers (computer set, or live cabinets) may have a parellel input, which is good enough for mixing two channels also
-your preamp, keyboard amp, or other amplification devices (that aren't actively being used to record) may also have parallel inputs

This may allow you to mix from 1-6 channels for the monitor (depending on equipment).  More than that and you can get an external mixer (a soundcard with 4 inputs will help, but if you need a lot of mixing it will quickly be over capacity also).  If you need to play live, and have a vocalist, you can get a decent PA system, which will allow for 6-12 channels (depending on brand) and should meet all your recording monitoring needs.

BTW, I use an Athlon 650 with only 256MB of RAM and record and mix projects with from 6-12 stereo waveform tracks, and 16 MIDI tracks.  The computer speed does however limit the number of effects I'm capable of applying real-time (it also is a real-pain to do mastering with).  

The hard-drive is 7200RPM UltraDMA/66, but it is not too big (only 12GB).  Be careful when getting a hard-drive, it is usually the seek-time that will hurt more than read-time.  Defragment if you start exceeding capacity.

-- edA-qa

Mixing and 1 chan (none / 0) (#79)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:49:00 AM EST

I've actually been toying with the idea of doing mixing in hardware completely and only sending the final signal to the PC. I was thinking some sort of embedded chip (BASIC stamp?), a couple spdif inputs and a few rca inputs, all combined and sent out an spdif port in realtime. Not sure if that will work, but its been a thought. I was also thinking of doing my hardware mixer in this as well, so I'd be mixing in realtime and using midi to control it. This is custom hardware land though, so I'll be talking to my EE friends first.

[ Parent ]
help anyone? (none / 0) (#82)
by auraslip on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:52:22 AM EST

I think the aurthor wrote this with the intention of an electronic artist on a high budget. Let me tell you my needs; I need to record my self (solo accoustica). This entails a guitar track, a vocal track, a very possible bass track, and a possible drum track.
I plan on buying the computer I need in a month, and so far I plan to get a barebones amd 1.6 gig, with 512 ram, an 80 gig harddrive(I'll use my old 3gig to run windows(ME or 98?)), and a unknown sound card as of yet(I hope under $100).
I could "aqquire" cubase or logic(I could never afford them), but I'm experianced with the free version of pro tools (check their site).  
So I'm asking, am I forgeting anything? Will I need a small 4 channel mixer? More then one mic, or a better one (right now I have a audio technica mb2000L, which I think is more for guitars and snares then vocals, sm58?)?
Any advice? good web sites?
Also I think it's safe to say that I'm on a low budget, and that the majority of people have my needs, or at least want to create electronic music on a budget. Not many musicians want to build studio or become audio technicians, they just want to record their music decently. thanks
You don't need all that (none / 0) (#85)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:58:11 AM EST

Get a $6 ESS-based soundcard and a Tascam 424 (dunno what they go for, but I bought mine used a couple years ago for $230).
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Eeeewwwww.... (none / 0) (#118)
by blixco on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:54:08 AM EST

....analog. Why get the tascam? Mixing / recording first, then pipe to PC? I avoided going the analog recording route myself, and just got a cheap Behringer mixer to plug into the soundcard. That way all my acoustic crap^H^H^H^Hrecording is done on the digital side, with visual track layout, effects, etc.
The root of the problem has been isolated.
[ Parent ]
You know, all audio is analog anyway (none / 0) (#124)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:32:36 PM EST

That is, it's analog when you record it, and it's analog when you play it back. So why not be analog while working on it? :D

My point was that you should learn how to use the basic tools before you sink lots of money into the gee-whiz-bang ultra-expensive ultra-powerful stuff. I've seen far too many wannabe-musicians buy studio gear which makes me amazingly envious and then just put out a few crappy dinking-around tracks and then lose interest in a month.
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

You should be fine (5.00 / 1) (#87)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:27:37 AM EST

Just get a sound card, you can probably get away with a $20 soundblaster using it's ASIO drivers. I didnt really write this for high budget, but I did write this to build a studio (ability do do much more than youre talking about). As far as the mic goes, yours should do ok, don't upgrade until you try it in your setup and see how it pans out.

[ Parent ]
See my other post titled "I would suggest...& (none / 0) (#105)
by nebben123 on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 08:50:27 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Dirty Sound Done Dirt Cheap (5.00 / 1) (#113)
by virg on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:56:20 AM EST

> So I'm asking, am I forgeting anything? Will I need a small 4 channel mixer? More then one mic, or a better one (right now I have a audio technica mb2000L, which I think is more for guitars and snares then vocals, sm58?)?

The first question to answer is how you like to record. Do you like to sing and play at the same time, or do you prefer to play your riffs on the first pass and lay down the vocal tracks separately? In either case, you'll need a mixing table, but that's not a lot of money. I personally use and like the Behringer MX602A, which is a six channel (well, two mono and two stereo) and goes for US$70.00 at Musician's Friend. When you're recording your guitar, you'll need to mix if you double-mike it or have a pickup-an-mike style assembly (this is by far the best for full sound; I play a classical, and I use an end block mike and a Shure SM10 (I think that's it) on a boom). For voice, get an SM-57, since they cost US$30.00 less than the SM-58 and the difference in sound is miniscule.

The second thing to ask is whether the MIDI box you choose has enough ports to get all of your signals in, and do you want to twiddle your mix in the PC or before that? I may be old school, but I always saw the PC as basically a recorder, so I like to set up so that I can pull the signal jack out of my power amp input and plug it into the computer, and handle all of the sound changes before that plug. YMMV, but unless you're going to do your signal processing in the PC, get a mixer. The money you spend will come back to you in saved aggravation.

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
Behringer... (none / 0) (#116)
by blixco on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:50:34 AM EST

...is the core of my setup. Damn fine cheap mixers, excellent for doing multiple acoustic sources. I usually have voice on 1, acoustic guitar on 2, electric on 3, and some loop-back on 4 (I have the little 4 channel). Never once had a problem with it. Ditto on the Shure mics. Have you been in my studio or something?

Anyhow. Excellent advice.
The root of the problem has been isolated.
[ Parent ]

Stacking (none / 0) (#128)
by virg on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:00:23 PM EST

The other thing I like about the Behringer little boards is that they're cheap enough that you can stack them. I've been in one situation where everyone had one (they play with mine and love it, and you can't beat the cost) and so we had a mixer each (I had three channels, two for my guitar pickup and mike and one for voice), the bassist had the same for him (well, one channel for the instrument, but mixing his own voice in) and those two fed single stereo ports on the Mackie, and the drummer had room to plug in all of his feeds right on the big board. It was great to be able to twiddle my own mix and feed the result to the board, and our little MX602s didn't add significantly to the sound floor. It made the evening so much easier, since cable routing was just "get one stereo line from the guitar station, get one stereo feed from the bass station" and not a total of five wires taped to the floor.

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
Why a table? (5.00 / 1) (#146)
by Eccles on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 05:22:42 PM EST

Do you like to sing and play at the same time, or do you prefer to play your riffs on the first pass and lay down the vocal tracks separately? In either case, you'll need a mixing table, but that's not a lot of money.

Why, if you are recording to a computer, do you need a mixer? Couldn't you just "mix" on the computer? If you can, why would you prefer an external mixer device? (I have no knowledge of this subject, just of computers.)

[ Parent ]
Old School (none / 0) (#153)
by virg on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 09:51:58 AM EST

Well, if your computer supports multiple inputs, you could do your mixing on your computer. The reason I prefer externally mixing is a combination of stage experience (I'm familiar with running a mixing board) and preference (I like to set up my mix through a power amp and when I've got it right, I pull the feed out of the power amp and plug it into my computer's input). When you're using multiple inputs for a single instrument, like a pickup/mike comination for an acoustic guitar, it's very difficult to do the mix in the machine. Ditto if you mix instrument and voice, unless you lay the tracks down separately, since the levels are so varied. Lastly, for some reason most computers don't do recording and speaker feed in real time. That is, you can't listen to the final mix and tweak it while you play/sing/do your soft shoe. Now keep in mind that the "preference" paret is by far the biggest, but I go that way because I like it. Besides, when you get famous and have to do stage shows, you'll thank me for insisting you get familiar with live mixing. 8)

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
Logic vs Cubase (1.00 / 1) (#88)
by F0084R on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:44:15 AM EST

Both of these are powerfull, feature rich sequencers, but one thing you've got to consider if you're a PC user is future support. Apple recently bought Emagic and they've announced they will be discontinuing Logic Audio for the PC. As you can imagine a lot of PC Logic users feel like they're getting shafted .

Cubase is a solid program and has been around for a very long time (at least since the Atart ST , which had built in MIDI, and I believe Cubase v1.0 was originally for the C64, but I digress.) Which sequencer to use is mainly just a question of which one you get used to. They all have similar capabilities (the ability to use VST and directX plugins for example).

It's too bad Logic will never see v6.0 on the PC though. If Apple hardware wasn't so damned expensive I'd consider getting a Mac. Oh well, maybe someday they'll port OS X to x86 architecture...

Logic (none / 0) (#89)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 04:03:43 AM EST

Logic is great, I have to admit I wasnt thrilled to hear apple bought it out. You know its going to be the next version of iTunes or something equally bastardized. On the bright side, cubase is still around, and say what you will, it is king.

[ Parent ]
midi and mixing and sequencing (3.00 / 1) (#90)
by tuj on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 04:24:26 AM EST

FIrst off, whether this is apparent to the author or not, it needs mentioning: midi is limited to 16 channels PER PORT.  Typically a 4 in/4 out interface has 4 ports.  motu has got 8 port setups, and with usb interfaces (not 'midi box') you can have multiple interfaces on a computer.  I run an Opcode studio 64 interface which gives me 64 channels of midi i/o (4 ports x 16 channels per port).

Second, if you're sequencing every instrument you plan on recording, you might as well just mix down to a 2 channel recording.  WIth midi automation, and mixing live, there isn't much reason why this isn't feasible and produce good sounding results.

While I'm at it, and you can call if flamebait if you want, but fuck cubase, logic, cakewalk, and protools.  Besides, 90% of the people using those are using Radium cracked copies.  I don't know of too many home-studios that are running legit copies.  Logic isn't going to be made for the PC anymore after emagics aquisition by Apple.  I use voyetra's midi orchestrator plus (win 3.1 / 95).  Lots of people have a favorite sequencer program, most of them are old, and cheap.

I'm not very happy with this article.  The author doesn't seem to have much experience in this area.  Afterall he/she bought basically a Soundblaster and a Casio and a 'midi box' (interface).  I don't mean to sound like an elitist fuck because we all have to start somewhere, but don't write an article called 'home recording' if don't have the experience.  There are plenty of excellent resources around the net and in the library (Craig Anderton) regarding the subject.

If you want to do music, find someone to show you their setup, see what you like, and look at as many rigs and gear as you can.  Don't believe anyone until you've tried everything yourself, don't put any stock in magizine reviews.  Look for old, good gear and buy things like $150 dx-7's in pawn shops, and $300 esi-32 samplers.  Part of doing electronic music is developing your own way of working, which isn't going to happen by reading some 'here-is-how-to-build-a-studio-in-a-paragraph.'  Shit, this guy doesn't even MENTION mixers, let alone how to set up a studio.

The author claims to 'hacks code' (midi?_.  But if that was really true, he would know that all of the api multimedia timing calls under thunk down to 16 bit.  This renders accurate timing calls virtually impossible under windows 2000, and is specifically addressed by microsoft.  The proper way to achieve accurate midi timing is with 16 bit code, or a 16 bit dll controled from a 32 bit program using windows 95/98/me.

The author failed to cover anything signifigant in terms of midi setups, such as daisy chains, local on/off, ie the basic problems that most beginners have.  Nor did he cover anything regarding monitoring.  As for the statement the a casio is a 'music processor combined with a keyboard', the must have been something Casio slapped on the box.  

I think every musician / producer will tell you roughly the same thing: buy the best gear you can afford.  Its more rewarding, and usually easier to play better equipment, and is usually more motivating.  

Hmm... read the comments? (none / 0) (#91)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 04:33:04 AM EST

Yeah, I totally forgot the mixer, its down in the comments somewhere now. As for MIDI hacking, theres a reason I say that I do that under linux (also in the comments). I know full well that midi is 16 bit, and its 16 instruments per channel, but thats not something you want to try and explain to a newbe who doesnt know what MIDI stands for. And yes, someone did in the comments what midi was. I'm trying to dumb this down and leave all the tech knowledge for a later column. As far as Win2k, the 32-16 bit issue is known, but theres workarounds for it. Most of the newer drivers for MIDI implement their own 16-bit library in-code, and get very good perfomance.

As far as using old software/equipment, thats all well and good if thats what you like to do. Personally, I'll use the radium copy, but I still harbor delusions that I may one day get to play in a real studio, and I'd like to know what I'm doing. Plus, as I mentioned, radium or not, theres more support out there for cubase than the products you mention.

[ Parent ]
Workarounds? (none / 0) (#98)
by synaesthesia on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:10:50 AM EST

As far as Win2k, the 32-16 bit issue is known, but theres workarounds for it. Most of the newer drivers for MIDI implement their own 16-bit library in-code, and get very good perfomance.

Is this possible with Win2K? I thought it was impossible to have a user process that is not subject to pre-emptive multi-tasking.

I'm trying to dumb this down and leave all the tech knowledge for a later column.

Anyone can walk into a shop and have an assistant tell them they need to spend six grand on this and that. The tech knowledge is considerably more important.

Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]

Uh... (none / 0) (#99)
by rakslice on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:24:13 AM EST

Maybe I'm missing some important fact about the NT scheduler that would screw up the timing, but can't you just jack up the base priority of a process to ensure that it isn't preempted?

[ Parent ]
Yes, but.. (none / 0) (#100)
by ToadyClese on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:29:52 AM EST

hes talking about running native 16 bit dlls which wont work under win2k, theres no 16 bit library, all calls are 32 bit. This is why the drivers now bundle their own processing library that does in-code conversion of 16 to 32 and back.

[ Parent ]
Okay... (none / 0) (#151)
by rakslice on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 06:53:34 PM EST

So, then the performance of the processing library is subject to scheduling concerns, right?

[ Parent ]
not really (none / 0) (#154)
by ToadyClese on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 12:30:03 PM EST

it runs right above the kernel, its scheduled, but unless the pc is seized with interrupts, it makes no diff.

[ Parent ]
Sonar Ignored? Net resources ignored? (2.50 / 2) (#97)
by mrsampson on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:10:11 AM EST

I was a bit surprised to not even see mention of Sonar and instead only praise for Logic and Cubase, despite the fact that Sonar/Cakewalk, by far, holds the largest market share in the US.

Interestingly, Cubase was the feature leader for a long time with ASIO drivers and VSTi instruments, but that changed with Sonar and the WDM driver model. Win2k introduced Kernel streaming which provides low latency access to the audio drivers for the same level of performance as ASIO. Sonar also introduced DXi (DirectX instruments), so Cubase doesn't have a feature advantage wrt soft synths anymore. And, what's more with a DirectX/VST adaptor, you can use any VSTi in Sonar.

However, Sonar also introduced Acid-like looping capabilities that Cubase is only now, with SX, getting around to implementing. Cubase is now the technology follower instead of leader.

Logic? Canceled for PC.

I also found it interesting that one of the best resources on the net for exactly this sort of project wasn't mentioned. There's a yahoogroup called PCDAW that discusses exactly the types of issues that the author tries to bring up.

I'd also recommend looking at the July 2002 issue of Electronic Musician for a article called Build a Personal Studio on Any Budget. ToadyClese vastly overrates the importance of PC power (the part that will mostly quickly depreciate in value, and is most easily upgraded/replaced) and underrates the importance of microphones and audio card. The money for such a project could have been, as demonstrated by the EM article, much better allocated.

FruityLoops (3.00 / 3) (#101)
by fuxoft on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:07:00 AM EST

I wouldn't call myself "music professional" but I occassionally compose music for commercials and/or short movies, not to mention many songs I composed for 8-bit computers 10 years ago. :) Of course everyone needs something completely different but I am extremely happy with FruityLoops which costs $99 (try the free demo, unfortunately it's Windows only). It evolved from drum/loop synthesizer into full-fledged music production suite. You need ANY simple stereo soundcard (Midi is not required but useful for keyboard and knob input) plus processor power (1GHz is enough for dozens of track and effects). You don't need extravagant amounts of memory or fast harddisk. Everything is rendered/mixed in real time, including MANY effects and plugins. It's geared primarily toward electronic music but if you invest in SoundFont plugin you can create totally realistic sounds PLUS apply lots of crazy effects to them. And did I mention they promise free lifetime upgrades? Try it out. I still consider FruityLoops the best music investment of my life.

Fruityloops is nice.... (none / 0) (#102)
by blixco on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:35:05 AM EST

....but really doesn't do the whole recording bit too effectively. I use it as a really effective, inexpensive replacement for a synth and sample box, to set up complex loops and lay down a bassline. The only other product that sounds this good (and works this well) in my opinion is the much more expensive Reason (and ReBirth) from Propellorhead Software, though I prefer the FruityLoops interface.

I tend to mix my tracks down in CubaseVST, cutting the stuff created by FruityLoops in with live stuff recorded (strangely enough) with Cooledit Pro. Way too much overlap of capabilities, but the end result is a nice mix.
The root of the problem has been isolated.
[ Parent ]

FruityLoops (none / 0) (#103)
by FredBloggs on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 08:22:57 AM EST

Has the worst, ugliest, un-intuitive interface I`ve seen since the Amiga trackers. Whats wrong with using standard OS-guidelines for menus etc? Ugh!

[ Parent ]
I would suggest... (3.00 / 1) (#104)
by nebben123 on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 08:30:30 AM EST

...NOT using a computer for music. If you're just doing home recording, a computer may be nothing but a hassle to you. I've been using computers for over half my life, but when it comes to music recording a computer is not where it's at. It is simply too hard and complex to set up and use if all you want to do is lay down a few ideas or tracks. Use something simpler so your focus is on the music and creative process, and not in getting your equipment to work (FYI I used to use Logic Audio Platinum on a Mac).

I now use a ZOOM MRS-4 digital 4-track. This thing was cheap at $230, and it's an absolute pleasure to use. It records on SmartMedia, which is really neat and fast. And even though the sample rate is 32kHz (vs 44.1kHz) I really can't notice a difference on my studio monitors. Before you go blow money on a computer or computer software, at least check this thing out. It's a 4-track recorder, nothing more nothing less, no gimmicks... and just a bit bigger than a paperback novel. I dig it.

For a MIDI controller I just got an M-Audio Oxygen 8. This is only a two-octave keyboard, but it also has 8 programmable knobs that come in handy. Works great with my EMU sampler. If you do use a computer, it connects via USB so you don't have to have a MIDI interface. For $139, I don't really have any complaints.

I leave the sound generation equipment up to you, because everyone makes different music. However I've often found that the simpler devices are much more fun to use than the complex stuff that has lots of menus, or the devices that have the "all-in-one" syndrome. FWIW.


I disagree. Computers can be a great hassle ... (none / 0) (#120)
by pyramid termite on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:04:21 PM EST

... but the potential benefits are enormous. My friend and I use Vegas on a computer to record guitars, vocals, etc. etc. We can put down our tracks and mix them to a T on a computer and then burn the results to CDR. It's not as cheap as the setup you have but we get a lot more than 4 tracks. Best of all, upgrading can be done with software instead of having to get new hardware all the time.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
But "build your own?" (none / 0) (#145)
by Eccles on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 04:41:39 PM EST

My surprise about the article (and some of the responses) is the emphasis on building a computer. Are off-the-shelf machines really inadequate for more than just their sound cards? Capturing audio to a hard drive, or mixing it once captured, doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would require a particularly heavy-duty machine. And even uncompressed 24/96K audio is only a couple of gigs for an hour of audio. Seems like a hammer to squash a gnat, and you'll spend too much time configuring your stuff and not enough actually playing.

[ Parent ]
It depends (none / 0) (#147)
by pyramid termite on Sat Aug 31, 2002 at 12:46:11 AM EST

Back a year and a half ago I built this computer I'm typing on (850 Duron, 256meg RAM, a 40 and 20 gig drive, Soundblaster Live) because it was the best deal I could get at the time - I didn't want stuff like a high-end video card or DVD-ROM - and I knew that 256 megs was a must. Well, I couldn't find a computer off the shelf that fit those needs and didn't give me a bunch of stuff I didn't want for the amount of money I could just buy the parts for and build it myself.

Things have changed. My computer's now obsolete - although it still handles every musical task I throw at it. If I were to get a new one, well, I saw a used 1200 T-bird w/ 256 megs selling for $349 at a computer show two months ago. By the time I get around to upgrading, I'm sure I'll get something better than that for even cheaper and it'll be more than enough to handle audio. In short, I won't bother to build the next one. (But it's great to do once - you learn a lot that way ...).

The system the author has is sheer overkill for a home system. And although some of the newer software needs Win2000 or "better", a lot of people swear the MIDI timing is better in Win98.

My system does what I bought it to do and I'm happy with it.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
Yes, but (none / 0) (#150)
by SomeGuy on Sun Sep 01, 2002 at 09:30:02 PM EST

But it's great to do once - you learn a lot that way ...

Personally, I learned how to fry a motherboard...

[ Parent ]
Computer is for mastering (4.75 / 4) (#111)
by slippytoad on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:20:35 AM EST

I don't screw with a computer for tracking. I make fine-sounding recordings with a Fostex VF-16, which can now be had for under a grand. In my opinion, a computer is trying to do too many things at one time already to have it do recording. I've tried several of the recording programs and remain unimpressed. Even just mixing seems to be a terrible pain in the ass. Tracking must be a nightmare. A dedicated unit is in my opinion easier to use, and ease of use translates directly into better recording. Music is a moment caught in time, and if you're dicking with 300 knobs (especially virtual knobs on a mouse menu) in that moment of time, you're probably not making a lot of music.

The author seems to be doing primarily MIDI sequencing, which can be done entirely within the soundcard by the way, and doesn't need anything fancy in the way of inputs. If you're recording actual instruments and vocals, you need the following things:

Decent mics. Your sound has to start out clean and with a good signal, or none of the other steps mean shit. I use a pair of SHS OM500 mics, which are cloned from the Shure Sm58, for most instruments and vocals. For drums my drummer went out and got an AKG set of condenser mics and a good low-end mic for the bass drum. These are expensive, but well worth it. Of course after awhile my drummer (who has a little more cash than I do) bought a set of Roland V-Drums. These are great because they don't need mics, and can be put to a stereo pair of tracks, saving all kinds of time.

If you are going to mic the drum set try not to get carried away. The more mics you use, the more interference you're going to get from them. The bass drum, and bass frequencies overall, are hardest to capture and cleanly fit into the mix. Spend extra time making sure they are right. Some recommend re-wiring the bass drum cable out-of-phase, which I did and it seemed to help. But after having miked a 9-piece drum kit I must say that the fewer, the better. 4 mics should do it almost all the time: 1 in the bass drum, 2 overhead, 1 over the snare. The snare will pick up the hi-hat also unless you are like Carter Beaufort and arrange your set some weird way. Hit Google for "drum miking" to read more -- I can't go into all the detail here. When you're getting the gain levels, make sure the drummer is hitting harder than he will during the recording. Digital peaking can put a permanent "dink" in your take that will ruin it.

For guitar it's deceptively simple. Don't ever record direct, unless you've got one of those amp simulators. Recording right out of the distortion pedal sounds terrible and flat and fake. I know, I've done it many times. If you don't have some line-6-type amp simulator, put the microphone in front of the speaker, and make the guitar player play at his desired volume. That's it. Sometimes I put a second mic back 8 or 10 feet away to catch ambient sound. If you're doing digital like I did, you cannot allow distortion to creep into your line levels. Make sure you separate guitar distortion from input distortion. There's usually a peak light on the channel to tell you when that's happening. I reach for 75% average line level to give the recording a lot of overhead -- the main advantage in digital recording over analog is that you can fix the volume later without adding hiss from the recording equipment itself.

For bass, I (of course being a bass player) use 2 or 3 channels, depending, and I usually split between an amp and a direct box. Direct bass sounds sterile. Amped bass sometimes misses the necessary lower frequencies. Sometimes I put one mic in front of the speaker, and another in the bass reflex port.

Vocals are the easiest. Just put the mic between one and three feet away from the vocalist. You should ideally be able to turn the gain all the way up without peaking unless you've got someone with an insanely loud voice. The reason for this is to keep them from making that plosive splat with their p's and d's. It sounds really unprofessional and ruins your recording. Don't let them kiss the mic. You don't need a pop filter if they just keep their distance.

I haven't done too much keyboards, but it's just like direct bass or guitar. Keep line levels middle-to high. I use a really cheesy casio keyboard which has some hiss, so my experience can't count for much.

Mixing can be tedious, but it's where sound engineering really happens. Even the vf-16, which is one of the cheapest 16-tracks on the market, allows scene memories, which means you can sequence the movements of the faders (no motorized faders, unfortunately!) turn effects on and off, pan instruments around, and so on. The vf-16 has two effects channels and two aux loops, which I've never used. The effects included are excellent, but I'm an effects minimalist, so the most I try to do is put some reverb on, usually the 'drum room' effect on the instruments, and a little echo on the vocals. Less is more. If you overdo an effect, it can dominate the mix and irritate the listener. Be sure to take a break from time to time, burn a mix down to a CD, and listen to it out of the context of the mixing. EQ should happen here. The hardest frequencies are again the bass ones. There's a whole page somewhere out there about how to use a parametric EQ and what to do with it, but you should be able to use your ears. Drop everything but the bass instruments out of the mix and see if they're distinct. If not, drop a frequency in one and boost it in the other. Finally, during mixing, make sure you use a lot of different speakers and headphones, and switch to mono a lot. Listnening in mono can reveal problems with your mix (and help solve them) much faster than in stereo.

If you're doing digital (again most of what I write here has to do with digital) make sure you stay digital all the way to the mastering, unless you've got really expensive analog equipment. That skinny little RCA to 8th-inch jack converter will make your expensive recorder sound like shit. I bought, for less than $50, an SPDIF daughtercard that allowed me to use a direct optical cable to my PC soundcard from the mixer. When I went to actually master what I had mixed, I just used the copy of Sound Forge that came with my sound card. There are a lot of opinions out there about mastering. Some recommend listening to your favorite recordings and then a/b comparing them with your own. That won't usually work unless you've got very similar equipment. What I did do was make sure again my overhead was good. If you use compression keep it to a minimum. Too much compression can ruin the mix. Since I mixed down to a .wav file and had that as my visual aid, I referred to compression as "trimming the hair" off my mix. Basically any sound that peaked above -6 DB got whacked off. I don't use any boost in the compression. If an instrument wasn't loud enough in the original mix, it's not going to get any better by boosting this or that frequency in mastering. Any instrument has frequencies that range across the audible spectrum. Go back to the mixer if you have troubles. Use compression only to even out the extreme peaks to make your recording fit into the specs of the medium. After trimming I then normalize the sound. I rarely perform this procedure twice. EQ is selective. I resist performing EQ after the mix, and if I do it's usually to take mids or bass out. I don't boost signals when I EQ, again because the nature of digital recording makes that inadvisable.
If I were the al Qaeda people right now I would be planning a lot of attacks in the next few days and weeks -- John "Bring 'em On" McCain

CSound (none / 0) (#119)
by eeee on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:03:54 PM EST

Hey, what does everyone think of CSound?  I downloaded this about a year ago and every once in a while I load up the awful "IDE" (basically just a dialog box) and try very hard to understand it and do something with it.  I'm a software engineer so I am no dummy when it comes to writing code, but CSound seems to resemble assembly language programming more than C or Java, and it still quite a challenge for me.  I am waiting for that part of the learning curve where it all starts to make sense and flow, and it still isn't happening.  I have been toying with buying the CSound book but it's expensive.

For those who don't know, CSound is a programming environment and language that allows you to feed music "source code" text files into a song "compiler" that then generates an output sound file.  Each composition requires two source files -- an "score" file and a "orchestra" file.

The orchestra file syntax allows you to specify different sound modules and the linkages (signal paths) between them that results in an output sound.  An example might be a vco module set to generate a saw wave going through a delay loop module, then through a reverb module and finally to the output.  The modules are actually called "Ugens" for "unit generators" -- legacy terminology from when they were running programs like this on PDP-11's!  In this file, Ugens are indicated by "opcodes" with arguments specifying how it is used, and each "instrument" gets a number.

The score (.sco) file allows you to "arrange" a "performance" of the instruments in the .orc file.  You do this by -- get this -- specifying, for each note in the piece, the exact time in seconds (floating point, so I could specify 23.334 seconds from the start of the piece) and and pitch in HERTZ!  Way overkill, but there are some shortcut notations that make it a bit easier.

So -- anybody used this?  Tried it, got disgusted or fed up?  Can't imagine why anybody would bother?

I've used csound (none / 0) (#131)
by chahast on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 04:59:51 PM EST

A few semesters ago, I took a class in computer music. I wasn't quite expecting to use a tool like csound, but eventually produced a rather interesting composition. I don't like the syntax when compared to programming languages, but it does make creating music -- not programs -- relatively easy.

There are quite a few good references online. I always used this one.

If you want to amuse yourself by listening to my composition, try here.

[ Parent ]

thanks (none / 0) (#133)
by eeee on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:11:11 PM EST

thanks, I checked out the links and your composition.  It's not as bad as you say it is, btw, at least in my opinion.

[ Parent ]
RE: thanks (none / 0) (#139)
by chahast on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:55:39 PM EST

Well, the "custom perl scripts" mentioned did most of the composing. I applied weighting matrices (to make certain note combinations more probable) on random notes to create the majority of the piece.

It's a good technique. If you don't like the results, just run the program again!

I guess it was one of the better ones in the class. It still sounds rather hokey, though.

[ Parent ]

Creative Labs? Give me a break! (3.66 / 3) (#122)
by kisielk on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:49:42 PM EST

Your article was going good until you got to the part about which soundcard to buy. You are spending a few grand on a PC but then skimping on the sound card. This is a really bad idea, because your sound output will only be as good as the input. Anyone who is serious about audio knows that cards from Creative Labs are generally crap. Instead, for not much more money, you can purchase a high quality card from a good manufacturer.

I would recommend cards from any of the following manufacturers: Echo Audio, M-Audio (formerly Midiman), Aardvark Pro Audio, or Mark of the Unicorn. You will get much better recording quality and performance from these cards than you ever would from those Creative Labs cards.

Talk, talk, it's only talk. Arguments, agreements, advice, answers, articulate announcements. It's all just talk."
- Elephant Talk, King Crimson

I don't mean to troll, but... (2.00 / 1) (#129)
by dmw on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:46:22 PM EST

For someone who cares so much about sound quality, I'm surpized to see you're still using MP3 in the music directory of your web site. Have you seen Ogg Vorbis?

[ Parent ]
Of course I've seen ogg vorbis (none / 0) (#138)
by kisielk on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:46:37 PM EST

I just haven't got around to re-ripping those particular songs (note that they are NOT my music), it was more a of one-time distribution to some friends from my mp3 archive. Alas, the contents HD holding my mp3 archive got destroyed so I will have to re-rip all that music anyway, and you can bet I will be using ogg this time around. Thanks for the concern though :p

Talk, talk, it's only talk. Arguments, agreements, advice, answers, articulate announcements. It's all just talk."
- Elephant Talk, King Crimson

[ Parent ]
An alternative configuration (5.00 / 2) (#130)
by dinedhel on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:31:54 PM EST

My two cents..

Since I'm in the process of buying a new PC for music-purposes, I'll give an alternative to the system above. Please... no flaming about my choices, there's an untold number of possible permutations of system, some better, many worse - but I stand by my decisions.. and so should you if you know your stuff :)

The case

First, a case to fill up! There's lots of choices, but don't get cheap on the case, buy a bigtower (lots of space for harddisks, a good powersupply -> 340W minimum). I like the looks of the Chieftec Dragon, which should be about 140, but there's loads of good alternatives. Also, it has a kit with sound-absorbing mats available for about 60, which should REALLY make a difference in the sound picked up by any mike placed (too) close to the PC, and decreases the need for all sorts of clever silent cooling (which can get expensive!). Still, a water-cooled big-tower IS rather sexy :), sad but true.

--> Case: Chieftec Dragon ServerTower with acoustic dampening mats


The choice between the AMD Athlon XP and Intel Pentium 4 processors is not an easy one - basically, AMD offers more "bang for the buck" (performance-wise), where Intel offers lower power consumption and thus less heat. Personally, I'm going for an Intel system. The important first issue then becomes that you get the "new" Pentium 4 'B' type, which runs on a 533MHz clock instead of 400Mhz.

--> CPU: Pentium 4 2.53GHz. Cooling is included with the Box-version, and sufficient. If you use the recommended sound-absoring mats for the case, you might not need a silent fan solution. But if you do, there's plenty to choose from - I like the Zalman P4 Quiet CPU Flower Cooler (it looks so cute :)


Next: the motherboard. The choice of motherboard is very much determined by the choice of the chipset. If you want to avoid expensive and near-market-obselete RAM (variously called 'Rambus', Rimm, PC800 or RD-RAM - all the same thing), don't go for a motherboard based on the Intel 850 chipset - the combination of the 850 with RD-RAM may be the fastest combi, even Intel itself offers chipsets intended for DDR-RAM (also called Dimm) - this is the kind of memory formerly used on Athlon-based motherboards, and is thus widely available, relatively inexpensive, and fast.

Basically, for Intel the choice is between the Intel 845E and 845G chipsets - officially, there's only one difference between the two: the 'G' has onboard graphics. Unofficially, but definately, the 'G' also supports DDR-333Mhz RAM, whereas the the 'E' only supports DDR-266Mhz. Since the onboard-VGA is (for once) of quite good quality, I'd go for the 'G' with DDR-333.

There are many good motherboards based on the Intel 845G, but my personal choice is the Asus P4B533-V. If you wanna overclock (which I wouldn't.. reliability is WAY more important in an audio-PC than a few percent extra speed), I'd go for the EPoX 4G4A. Oh, and I'd shy away from motherboards with RAID - RAID is often not for the faint of heart to install and maintain (or so I'm told), and I wouldn't use it - even considering I'm an IT-professional.

--> Motherboard: Asus P4B533-V


At the moment, DDR 333Mhz RAM (also known as PC2700) is the memory of choice, until 400Mhz becomes widely available - but that will require an (as yet) unreleased chipset/motherboard!

Please don't remind me that you're technically overclocking the motherboard by running DDR-333 memory, I'm aware of it, but many sources have convinced me the DDR-333 support is as it was intented; I understand you can even find this speed in the manual of certain 845G-mainboards..

--> RAM: 1x512MB DDR-333 (PC2700) of a name-brand (e.g. Kingston, Dane-Elec), 2x512MB couldn't hurt of course :) and really isn't that expensive - don't buy 256MB Dimm's, you usually only have three slots, so max RAM is determined by the individual size of the Dimm's


The choice of harddrive can be very simple: the Western Digital WD1200JB drive - it's 120GB, has 8MB of cache, and has been tested to be one of (if not THE) fastests E-IDE drives. It's very popular, so widely available. Do get the 120GB version; there's also an 80GB version, but it is slightly slower. According to some, it's no longer really necessary to use seperate drives as system- and audio-drive, as was previously recommended, but two of these drive WILL make a difference in the number of audio-tracks you can use simultaneously (although, since we're already well passed maybe 50 simultaneous audio-tracks, one should wonder if this is that big a deal, except if you're gonna record 24bit/96kHz audio - in which case you need all the help you can get! :)

--> Harddrive: Western Digital WD1200JB 120GB/8MB cache


A CD-burner should be standard. Me? I'm going for an external USB2.0 burner - they're no less fast than their internal counterparts (thanks to USB2.0, which is MUCH faster than the currently popular USB1.1 standard). Why? To avoid using a master/slave configuration. Agreed, it's not really a big deal, but every bit helps - IDE performance is crucial for multitracking. But an internal model will be fine, especially if you've opted for the one harddrive and don't need the second IDE for a DVD-drive (why bother? you can always fit one when software REALLY comes on DVD's). Brand? Plextor has been the number one choice for many people for many years, and since prices are so low for burners, why not go for the leader?

--> Burner: Plextor PX-W4012TU (external)


The soundcard is of course a key component, and also IMO the major flaw of the system described above - the Soundblaster Audigy is really not a good choice. For example, the Terratec DMX6Fire24/96 has REAL 24bit/96kHz audio, many more connections than even the most expensive Audigy - including a dedicated PHONO-connection with preamp for connecting a turntable, a high-quality MIC-connection, standard MIDI-connectors, and both optical (TOSLINK) and RCA-digital connectors. It is far superior to the Audigy, and even slightly less expensive than the Soundblaster Audigy Platinum.

Of course, this card is NOT meant for multitracking - which for me is unimportant. If you wanna multitrack, there's so many factors to consider that I can't go into them in detail. A few pointers: check with your software-manufacturer of choice if the card is SPECIFICALLY supported, check if there are Win2000 drivers (see below), and check some of the websites below. This really can get very complex, so use the forums for questions of Brand A vs. Brand B. I had an Aardvark Aark 20/20 for about four years, and its sound was AMAZING compared even to current cards. But you really are spoiled for choice today.

--> Soundcard: Terratec DMX6Fire24/96


Well, you can get by with the integrated VGA on the above-mentioned motherboard - which is a first! For years, build-in VGA has been synonymous with crappy-VGA, but the Intel 845G has changed that (although gamers will, rightly, disagree). The built-in VGA of the Intel 845G is easily on par with a GeForce 2MX.. so you could even play a game of Wolfenstein if you wanna risk screwing up your carefully tweaked PC :)

--> Graphics: built-in!!!


And the last (very) expensive bit: a monitor. TFT is nice :), buy a 17" if you can afford it, but a 15" TFT will do. For music, big advantage over conventional monitors (CRT's) is the much reduced radiation - an CRT tends to increase the noise-level significantly of anything nearby. On the other hand, the price of 1 17" TFT will buy you two high-quality 19" CRT's!! Which could be significant - if you ignored my build-in VGA recommendation and actually bought a video-card with two monitor-outputs (in which case, look in to the Matrox Parhelia series). Me? I'd go for an Iiyama MA901U 19" CRT, which has a Diamondtron tube and is VERY appealing at 1280x1024, but I've already bought an Iiyama LS902UT 19" about four months ago. This is not bad either. But, given card blanche, the Iiyama AS4315UT 17" TFT is the one I'd go for. Yes, I like Iiyama! :) but I'm sure other A-brands are as good..

--> Monitor: Iiyama AS4315UT 17" TFT


Finally: diskdrive (whichever matches the case color :), keyboard (buy one you like), mouse (optical, but not wireless: wireless mice are heavy and drain bateries, Logitech is good, Microsoft is good).

Come again?

Just for the hell of it, here is the entire system again:

Chieftec Dragon ServerTower with acoustic dampening mats, Asus P4B533-V motherboard, Pentium 4 'B' 2.53GHz, 2x Dane-Elec 512MB DDR-333, Western Digital WD1200JB 120GB/8MB cache, Terratec DMX6Fire24/96 soundcard, Iiyama AS4315UT 17" TFT, Plextor PX-W4012TU external USB2.0 burner, a diskdrive, a keyboard, a mouse

For an AMD Athlon XP system, substitute the motherboard with the MSI KT3 Ultra2, but any one with the KT333-chipset is good, and buy the fastest Athlon XP you can afford.


Choices, choices. If you're a diehard Windozer, go for Cakewalk Sonar - Cakewalk is and always was PC-software. Even with many years of IT-experience, I never could get my head around either Cubase or Logic, whereas with Cakewalk and Cakewalk Sonar, EVERYTHING is where I suspect it to be. It has advantages and disadvantages over Cubase, but this is a complex subject. Suffice to say, you can use VST/VSTi plugins in Sonar by using one of the many DX/VST "wrappers".. so the choice really is one of personal preferrences over interface and more arcane functions. As for plugins, check the site below and enjoy :)


Sound on Sound The ULTIMATE resource for anything related to homerecording, synths, and audio-PC's. This UK magazine is an absolute must-read, and an amazing repository of knowledge on ANY subject related to the modern (home-) studio. Really..

K-v-R is the best VSTi/DXi-plugin site I'm aware of. Start here to choose your virtual weaponry :)

I`ve always used (none / 0) (#142)
by FredBloggs on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 10:58:07 AM EST

Creative SoundFonts as `instruments`. Ie load samples into it. But thats tedious (fiddle with sample in Cool Edit, save, load into Vienna, save from vienna, reload SoundFonts into Cakewalk...).
What do you do? I mean, assuming you`re not midi-triggering large expensive boxes of hardware. Do you just use VST instruments? How many at once? How much CPU power do you really need?

[ Parent ]
them days... (none / 0) (#143)
by dinedhel on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 02:56:51 PM EST

Well, know the drill.. no fun at all (I actually mostly cut up breakbeats in Recycle and saved them as soundfonts). Loading in Cakewalk was never much fun, or very stable. The good new: in Cakewalk Sonar I'm using a DX-instrument which loads and plays soundfonts - and it works perfectly :)! The plugin is called LiveSynth, and a demo of it is bundled with Sonar.

Since I'm currently "breaking down" my current system to be replaced with the new one next week, I haven't got Sonar installed anymore, so I can't check the CPU-load on my PIII-866, sorry. But I used LiveSynth together with at least one reverb, a delay, one or two distortions.

And yes, I've replaced an entire studio worth of digital and analog synths, drumboxes and effects with just the PC - and that's talking about the 'old' system! The new one will be much much faster. Apart from Sonar, I use FruityLoops 3.5 with various of its simple VSTi's - the CPU-load of FruityLoops seems to me to be much lower than that of Sonar.

In Sonar, I was rarely able to run more than two DXi's comfortably next to the effects-plugins. I hope to get at least a triple score with the new system (so: 6 DXi/VSTi plugs together with say 15 effect-plugs, on 20 or 30 mono audio tracks). I'll try to put the system through its paces next week, and let u know.. (remind me if I forget :)

A straight answer? Sorry, no can do - CPU needs are entirely dependent on what your wishes are.. as long as you stay with either a recent Athlon XP or Pentium 4B, coupled with at least 256MB of memory, you'll probably be amazed what you can do. If you REALLY want to go overboard and have a coupla fistfulls of 100-bills for a soundcard, buy a current Creamware soundcard - it has more CPU-power for itself than KGB-headquarters circa 2002 :)

[ Parent ]

What about Sonar? (none / 0) (#132)
by garrigus on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:09:28 PM EST

Cubase and Logic are excellent pieces of software, but they are only two of the top three sequencing applications on the market. You forgot to mention Sonar by Cakewalk Music Software. It is also extremely popular and very well equipt to handle professional recording tasks.

Best regards,

Scott R. Garrigus - Author of Cakewalk, Sound Forge, and SONAR Power! books; Publisher of DigiFreq. Win a free copy of PlayPro Interactive Guitar and learn more cool music technology tips and techniques by getting a FREE subscription to DigiFreq... go to:

Questions... (none / 0) (#135)
by skintigh on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:04:00 PM EST

Good article so far, but why did you make some of your choices?

Why a PC at all, why not apple?  I hear some of the best software only is available for apple now.  

Does all that RAM really get used or the dual processors?  I havn't seen many programs make much of any use at all of the second cpu.  

I realize almost all video cards come with tons of RAM, but your minimum requirements seem to be really overkill.  An old 4MB+/- card ought to keep up with what you need, though it wont handle two monitors.  You're displaying track info, not 3D animation.

Why didn't you mention Cakewalk?

Or the sound blaster live?

How I record my stuff (none / 0) (#148)
by unborn on Sat Aug 31, 2002 at 11:59:44 AM EST

Well, I'm not a professional musician but I've been achieving pretty good results with the following (basic!) setup:
  • Pentium III 500 w/ 512 Mb
  • 2 hard disks: one for system and apps (5100 RPM) other for music (7200 RPM)
  • Soundcard: EMU APS
  • Midi Keyboard Controller: Roland PC-200 MkII
  • Nearfield Speakers (monitors): Spirit Absolute Zero powered by a Samson amp (50W p/ channel)
  • Software: Cubase 5.1 + some plugins and vsti's.
With this setup I've managed to record songs with more than 50 audio tracks at 48Khz, plus effects, automation, etc. I'm not advising you to buy a system like this, which is obviously outdated. What I'm trying to say is that you don't need an expensive top notch PC to make some semi-pro sounding stuff, if you really want to.
Just be sure to buy:
  • Two separate hard disks for system and audio (even if you work on midi, you will eventually want to burn your songs on CD or whatever so you'll have to use audio)
  • A good soundcard (not Creative!). Mine has been discontinued but others have already suggested a bunch of good not-so-expensive soundcards.
  • A pair of good speakers (not multimedia speakers!): they will help you out in the mixing/mastering stage and they will not burn your ears after hours of continuous listening effort.
  • Besides the sequencer, start with some virtual synths/samplers like Halion, FM7, Absynth cause you get a pretty powerful sound source for a very reasonable ammount of money, unlike hardware synths
Above all, try to use the mininum ammount of technology necessary to express your feelings (which can be a lot of technology, btw!) cause that's what all this is about, right?

Sequencers and stuff (none / 0) (#152)
by NFW on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 01:49:42 AM EST

I just have to bitch for a minute. I've have a couple versions of Cubase, like 1.5 and 3.0 or something like that... I'm not sure because it's been a couple years since I used either, because they both crashed way too often to be acceptable. I upgraded out of hope that they'd gotten their shit together and was sorely disappointed (burn me once, shame on you; burn me twice, shame on me). Is the current version stable?

Meantime I've been using an older version of Cakewalk, because it gets the job done. Sonar sounds interesting... does it allow you to work with blocks of music like the 'ghost parts' in Cubase? I really liked Cubase's track/part structure, Cakewalk's 'flat' approach is sorta klunky but at least it doesn't crash.

I've also just started messing with a shareware synth called Massiva that looks really promising. Has anyone spent much time with Massiva? What do you think of it?

And a couple other random thoughts:

I bought a Midiman Midisport 8x8 8-port MIDI interface last year to replace my obsolete (parallel-port) MusicQuest 8portSE. Nice hardware, lousy software. The 8portSE's drivers let you name each port so they show up as the proper device name in sequencing apps; the Midisport shows up as Port 1, Port 2, Port 3, and so on.

Then I found out that Midiman doesn't have Linux drivers, either. Since I'm not yet aware of any good Linux sequencers, that's not a much concern, but there's a few very promising projects in the works (like Rosegarden and Anthem for example), so I hope it changes soon. Meantime, open sourcing musicians be warned.

As others have said below, the Creative Labs sound card is sort of out of place in this article. Maybe you're one of the lucky few who gets clean audio from an ADC located inside the case with all the electrical noise in there, but I've never had anything resembling acceptable results that way. An outboard audio interface is definitely the way to go if you're interested in analog audio I/O.

Got birds?

Home recording for fun and [no] profit | 154 comments (145 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
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