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  Real Basics
  Real Recording
    The old way
    The new way
  Computer Components
    What Type?
    Sound Card
  Software Components
    Core Software
    Software Instruments
  Other Hardware
    Sound Sources
  Recording Environment
  Digital Formats
  Singing and Vocals
  Lyrical Song Writing
  Musical Song Writing

Music Library
  Music owned by
    The Work (rock/pop)
    Unhealed (rock)
    Shovel (rock/pop)
    What's Next (rock/country)

Computer stuff
  Backup Raspberry Pi SD
  pcDuino3 flash update
  What type of Computer?

In trying to describe the best platform to use for multi-track recording on a computer there are many variables that need to be considered. You can perform these functions on all popular hardware and software platforms currently offered. Like with everything, there are trade-offs and compromises that only you can sort out. Put away your biases because they don't apply in reality. There are Mac, Windows, and Unix fanatics all over but that's computer stuff... save the emotion for the music and don't waste it on what tools you use. Here are some things to think about though... consider these factors:
  • How much money do you have?
  • What is your intended listening audience?
  • What are you familiar with?
  • What do you already have for equipment?
  • How much time do you have?

The quality you expect from your recording makes the biggest difference in what hardware and software combination you use. It also makes a massive difference in the price you are going to pay. The expense can be traded-off for spending extensive time messing around with software installation and tweaking. If you don't have a lot of money, tons of excess time and the end result is for personal satisfaction, you could get by using your older Windows-based Intel or older MAC OS (non-OS-X) Macintosh. On the other hand, if you want to absolutely put your best foot forward, don't mind investing you might opt for a high-end MAC running OS-X or Multiprocessor Intel and the latest expensive recording software and sound cards. A third approach would be for those with extensive knowledge in computers and plenty of time to leverage the power of an Intel based system with FreeBSD or Linux (Unix and Unix-like systems). See , there is no "Buy this stuff" answer available. It all depends on you.

Don't want to spend money?

If money is your primary shortage, it's easy to take older OS versions (Mac OS 9, Windows ME or 98), a cheap sound card, and free recording software such as Protools Free or near free software (<$100) such as Magix Studio Deluxe and start recording. Indeed, this may be the way to go to get ones feet wet. The frustrations that that may eventually result in recording quality won't even be noticed at first and you start building competence and comfort in the concepts of using the computer for recording. I started out much this way with an Athlon 900Mhz, 128 MB of memory, a very inexpensive software package called Magix and a SoundBlaster!Live Value with built-in software sythesizer. At first I didn't even notice quality at all. I was so happy with being able to quickly compose and record a song that I had total satisfaction in my setup. I became more critical after awhile and began to realize that my audio tracks were slightly off from my MIDI tracks and eventually that became irritating every time I'd listen to one of my recordings. I also experienced the frustration of crashes and hangs that are common when trying to work with that family of Operating Systems... of course at the worst possible time. I lost a few good adhoc compositions that way.

What went wrong? Nothing really, I spent almost nothing, I was familiar with the OS and the hardware, and was able to get my ideas down in a reasonable way most of the time. I was getting much accomplished musically but it was just a hassle. The problems were the typical issues of taking an OS designed for generic hardware and where it's design has classically been based on user-driven window events. These two things caused conflicts and interruptions to the recording software that created occasional consternation. I'm not familiar with old MACs, but it's my bet you would have the same issues at times.

I could have gone cheaper and simultaneously eliminated some of my basic technical problems. I could have implemented a Unix (FreeBSD or Linux) on my old Athlon and kicked up my computer performance and reliability quite a bit. If that sounds good, look at the drawbacks. I would have spent months seeking out the individual tools (Yes, they do all exist) to record, sequence, convert and mix audio and MIDI information. The quality would have been limited only by how much time I put into tweaking but I'd bet that would have been extensive. Each audio software component in that environment would have been a discrete process. For example, I'd sequence MIDI with one package, record audio with another, mix and add effects with others, convert to the final output format with possibly yet another. Additionally, if one didn't have a reasonable comfort with that OS environment, the learning curve would be staggering.

I finally decided to bag the Intel-based platform and spend a bit more in the hopes I would have my cake and eat too. For a fact this has happened but... had I known what "spend a bit more" meant up front, I might not have jumped in so fast. I chose to get a Mac G5 so I could benefit from it's massive power combined with Apple finally implementing a professional operating system (OS-X) competent to multi-task in the same manner as FreeBSD or Linux. Unfortunately, in that environment, matching the same recording software components I had in the old crude environment turned out to be a nickle-and-dime-you-to-death experience. For example, your recording software includes no software instruments, your software instruments include no usable samples... you just keep getting your credit card out. It appears this would now be true if I had attempted to build my current recording setup based on the modern versions of windows too because in general, the companies producing the recording software seem to fragmenting their offerings so you need to purchase multiple products to cover all aspects of your needs. Guess that makes good business sense.

Ok... you'll see I've given no definitive answer here yet. Late model Macs and PCs running current commercial operating systems and recording software are going to eat you up monetarily, but give you better quality. Older OS's and hardware will let you run on a shoestring but leave you frustrated with limitations at times. Non-Mac Unix setups are free but will require you learn a lot that has nothing to do with recording before you record one note. Here's my chart, whether it's totally accurate or not for you, I can't say, it is just my opinion.

HardwareOperating SystemCostPerformanceReliabilityTime InvestedLearning Curve
Existing Intel/CloneWin ME/98GoodPoorPoorOkGood
Existing older MacOS-9 & belowGoodPoorPoorOkGood
Existing Intel/CloneFreeBSD/LinuxGoodGoodGoodPoorPoor
New Intel/CloneWin XPPoorGoodPoorOkGood
New MacOS-XPoorGoodGoodGoodGood
New Intel/CloneFreeBSD/LinuxPoorGoodGoodPoorPoor

Can I justify my Good, Poor, and Ok ratings?...
  • Cost: Existing hardware costs nothing and is usually going to be a sub-1.7Ghz CPU with 128 to 512 MB of RAM. New hardware is obviously going to cost something and to do it right means either a Dual processor Intel Xeon or Mac G5. If you have to spend 2500 to 3000, the cost must be rated poor. A special note about the Mac environment. The hidden costs to build barely usable system (not even referring to recording) are high. For example, it comes with a single button mouse... an intensely irritating blast from the past that will slow you down in everything you do. Other examples are the simple software that you expect to be on your machine must be purchased, like a simple drawing tool or even an easy access menu of your installed applications (i.e., you have to purchase a program to have a button similar to Start->Programs!).
  • Performance: Older minimal hardware will not run fast on any operating system other than Unix, new hardware will.
  • Reliability: Two concepts cause a Poor reliability rating IMHO. The PC world with windows always has the element of hardware conflicts which cause crashes and odd events while recording (e.g., perhaps modem and sound card cause one another to work incorrectly if both are in use simultaneously). Additionally each component you add to this architecture causes a new round of having to sort out getting everything playing together again. Thus reliability would have get a Poor rating. Old hardware also would have to get a Poor rating just because it's old and computers do not last that long. Plus, there is the additional issue of trying to mate up newer software with older Operating systems. This definitely gets a Poor reliability rating.
  • Time Invested: As mentioned under Reliability, messing around with mating up hardware or software combinations wastes a lot of time, PCs waste a lot of time. The Unix entries also have to be Poor in this category because that environment is rife with obscure setup and configuration that requires you be intimate with it's tools to even load software yet alone use it.
  • Learning Curve: Both the windows and Mac Operating Systems (all variants of them) are pretty intuitive and there is little learning curve. Unix is not there and the attitudes of those doing development tend to remain "if you have to ask you shouldn't be using it or worse RTFM". Thus the learning curve is pretty steep for someone who doesn't want to become a computer guru and presumably you just want to record.

        1. I don't include OS-X in the Unix category because, though they will benefit from OS-X being based on Unix, most people will never access Unix within a Mac. Apple has done an exceptional job of creating an intuitive front end to Unix.
        2. I don't include Win 95 as a possibility and early versions of Win 98 are probably not usable either. This is due to lack of USB support in those operating systems. USB has become quite important to recording now due to the sound card offerings of many companies.

What do I have?

For my recording studio, I now have the Mac G5 Dual. It's the best platform for me for recording but only because my hobby is recording and the investment was justifiable. If my hobby were say, racing motorcycles, I'd have stayed with the PC for recording and spent the money on a new bike. I can't get rid of my PC only because I refuse to spend the money required to make the Mac do many simple things I do with a computer. To top all that off, my favorite system is FreeBSD and I keep one of those too... I just don't use it or the PC for recording anymore.

Which should you get?

Of course I can't and obviously won't answer that. You have to figure out all the variables and compromises and answer it yourself. Music Friends Music Computer Recording Contact About Links Home

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