Hardware

Hey everybody.  I'm looking into getting a professional music lab to go with the composition degree I'm working on and I was hoping to get some input.  I'm going to be running on a PC, hopefully a monster with 2GB Ram, Pentium D, Windows XP and the nicest sound card I can get my mitts on.  I already have a nice MIDI keyboard, VDL2 and Sibelius 3.  I want to add at least a good sampler and sequencer program, and probably Garritan Personal Orchestra as well.  I've been looking at stuff like Cubase, Logic, SoundForge, and ProTools.  I actually haven't found much about pricing for just the ProTools software, and the manual for VDL2 says Digidesign designs their stuff to work only with their hardware.  What do all you professionals run, and how do you like it?  What else, if anything, do I need to be able to do some good music production from home?  What should I at all costs avoid?

J. Peter Wolk-Laniewski
George Fox University
I doubt any program anywhere is functionally superior to Sibelius for notation.  However, if you can write a piece, just export as a midi file from Sibelius.  Anything will work from there.  You just can't go back and forth.  Once you've exported to Logic with a midi file, you strip out all of the notational info.  So the point is, if you need to adjust notes as you're working with playback, be aware it's a bit of a PITA.  That's why I was looking at options.  Sibelius is still notation king.
[quote author=erath link=topic=1390.msg6336#msg6336 date=1161639389]
Apparently Logic Pro is the way to go. And the fact that it has notation on it is cool, but I am a HUGE fan of Sibelius and would like to keep working with that. Is there any way to import a Sibelius file into Logic either directly or by way of Midi file? Or is Logic's notational capabilities superior to Sibelius?

I'm really most interested in utilizing sound libraries and having a place to mix and master the final product.


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Depending on the level of notational detail and flexibility you're looking for, Logic may or may not be your answer for notation. I use Logic Pro a lot, but haven't spent a lot of time learning its notational functionality yet. From what I understand (which isn't much), it can do quite a bit, but I don't know how it might handle the intricacies of handling all the varied keymapping found in VDL. In that regard, using a notation program that has VDL templates for the percussion staff mapping is probably the best bet for achieiving notation and playback simultaneously.

Tweaking recordings after notation is written is pretty common for VDL users. It's very easy to import midi files into Logic, so if you were to start in Sibelius for notation, export to MIDI, placing that MIDI into Logic (or any sequencer that imports MIDI) is a snap.

With Avid's recent aquisition of Sibelius, it'll be interesting to see if/when/how they'll incorporate its notational functions into Pro Tools. That could be pretty interesting for sure and may be an option to consider for sequencing.
[quote author=Jim Casella link=topic=1390.msg6339#msg6339 date=1161641800]
With Avid's recent aquisition of Sibelius, it'll be interesting to see if/when/how they'll incorporate its notational functions into Pro Tools. That could be pretty interesting for sure and may be an option to consider for sequencing.
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Good point - I hadn't thought of that. I wonder if with this partnership Sibelius/Avid will bridge the gap between notation and ";production."; Up until now, I've lived in a world where I am very comfortable with Sibelius, but have had to occasionally make side trips into the realm of sequencing. For me at least, that's quite a learning curve!
I'm still a bit new to the whole digital music thing.  Just to make sure I have it straight:  Programs like Cubase and ProTools are Digital Audio Workstations, and combine sequencing and audio editing capabilities.  Do they also have some sampling functions?  They can also host plug-in instruments like VDL2.  Kontakt 2 is a straight-up sampler that you can load VDL2 instruments into, but doesn't sequence?

I'm looking for the ability to produce professional quality audio music recordings and something I can use for live performance, if it comes up (which it has recently).  I know you can use Kontakt 2 for many, many things, but should I get that first and then something like Cubase or ProTools, or should I start with the big sequencing/editing program?

I have also seen alot about sound cards, or audio cards.  I still want to play computer games, do I need a sound card for that, or can I run Half-Life 2 with a pro audio card?  What kinds of numbers and features should I be looking for?  24 bit?  Hz?  RAM?  If I knew what stats a good card needs to have it'll help me figure out which ones are best for the best price.  Thanks again for all the help so far!

J. Peter Wolk-Laniewski
George Fox University
I'll take a stab...

You are essentially correct.  The programs are for creating music through sampling, and more.  Cubase and ProTools do not themselves have the ability to create virtual instruments like VDL, but rather, they can use them.  In fact, they often come with some basic instruments, but none that I've ever heard that are spectacular or as specific as VDL2.

Cubase, for example, isn't really for live performance.  It can do a lot of things, but that's not its purpose.  Cubase, along with others like PT, Sonar, Logic, et al, are essentially programs that create media.  You make some midi, and then tell it to use a specific virtual instrument, and it spits out high quality audio that you made.  For live performance, though, you want to have an efficient engine like Kontakt as your host for virtual instruments.  Cubase is really good at non-live stuff. 

All DAW apps to some extent will let you create midi through a piano roll or staff view,  interpolate that into midi events (";code";, sorta), and then render out the audio into a perfectly timed creation.  They essentially paste all of the sample sounds into one big wav file based on the midi events, thus you get a perfect exporting of your audio.

If you want something like a live, performance situation, you simply want the software to run the instrument.  Kontakt does that.  It offers lots of ways to tweak the audio in an efficient, live way.  Cubase offers lots of good ways to tweak audio in super-cool ways, but the processor is used so much that it's not conducive to a live performance and would make playing it crappy.

Think of it this way, as a bit of a dodgy analogy.  If you have an electric guitar, alone it's pretty useless.  That's what the samples inside of VDL2 is.  Then you have the Kontakt Player that comes with VDL2.  It's an average, not-many-dials amp.  It works, but it's not stellar.  Kontakt 2, the proper commercial Kontakt is a smokin' kick-butt electric guitar amp with waa-waa pedals and reverb knobs and ";goes to 11";.  However, that doesn't get you a CD to sell.  Cubase is your ";recording studio";.  That's where you create the good stuff that's highly polished.

As for your sound cards question, that's a great question.  Any card will still play games.  In fact, you'll wish you had it before.  I personally am using an Edirol UA-101.  I also have an internal SB Audigy.  The Audigy is excellent and offers an easy way to do 5.1 surround.  The Edirol though now pushes a lot of better sound through the same speakers because it's externally powered.  Same speakers, same computer, better sound.  However, it makes no difference with the audio files you make.  Better sound cards don't render better audio.  What they do accomplish is that they take the processing off your main CPU chip.  It allows for lower latency and better output live.  In my case, it would be the difference between telling the sound guy to make a low power 1/8"; plug work, or a high power pair of 1/4"; outputs work.  It's minor, but the quality for that goes up quite a bit.  They'll both work, but with anything you get what you pay for.

I'm sure others will jump in with other recommendations.  But I think we'll also all tell you that you need to see what it is that you'll be doing first.  Defining your requirements clearly up front will save you a lot of money in the long run.  In my case, I wanted balanced outs, enough outs to run surround, usb not firewire, and optical in and out, plus an xlr in for other stuff.  I did some research and got a bargain with an open box for $399 on something that was $499 at the ol' Guitar Center.  You will likely have different needs, like maybe you prefer firewire as most do, maybe you don't care about balanced outs, don't need optical, etc. etc. 
OK.  You guys have given me alot of great information so far, thank you very much.

Now just a couple of things.  First, Cubase vs. ProTools.  I've pretty much narrowed it down to those two.  If any of you have had experience with both, which do you prefer and why?  How exactly do the two programs compare?  Cubase has plenty of details and videos on their website, but all I know about ProTools is its reputation as an industry standard.  I want actual facts-what kinds of bells and whistles does it have?  Can it do things Cubase can't?  Can Cubase do things ProTools can't?

Second, and somewhat related.  Internal vs. External soundcards.  I think there was a post about this, I'll look for it later.  ProTools seems to only come with external hardware like the M-Box.  Do you necessarily need/want external?  Or can you do fine with internal?  The Audiophile card has been mentioned alot, is it internal or external.  Is external better?

I appreciate all the posts so far, thank you again.

J. Peter Wolk-Laniewski
George Fox University
Some thoughts...

Cubase offers a ";freeze"; option.  PT is missing that.  Depending on your computer, your hard drive setup, etc., you may find this to be immeasurably useful.  Essentially, you'll put a midi track down for all of your instruments.  Then you assign a VSTi to each, such as VDL2.  If you have too many instruments drawing at the same time, you may use up all of your hard drive's ability before feeding all the samples.  Then you get dropouts, crackling, etc.  Freezing a track allows you to render all the audio for a particular instrument into an audio track.  All of the frozen audio gets combined into one output through the magic of software, and it makes your ram usage and hard drive pull much, much lighter.

For example, I'll render an entire band score -- roughly 24 staves.  About 16 never change; they're the wind score.  Instead of 24 virtual instruments being sampled at once, I now have 8, plus the frozen audio, and it all sounds the same - and it's accurate to the sample because essentially rendering is ";pasting"; the sampler's wav files in the precise spot.  It can do this faster that real time, depending on your rig.  That way, it plays right along with your remaining not-frozen tracks.

The trumpet sampler instrument that I use is 1.3g alone, so when you only have 2g, you can see how this is handy...

PT is also the ";industry standard";, so don't just breeze past it.  However, it also has severe hardware tie-ins.  Cubase on the other hand requires a dongle for use.  Personally, this is why I use Sonar, but that's beyond the point.

Finally, on to sound cards.  This is tricky.  I love my Edirol UA-101.  It's external.  It sounds great.  It also has no effect on the audio that's created, if you render it.  If you play it live, it's vital to have a low-latency card that can handle ASIO.  If you go PT, you really need to have a PT card.  In my case, I had an Audigy 2 for a long time.  Excellent, inexpensive card.  I created the audio through rendering so all I cared about was playback.  It did well enough.  Often, higher end cards have MIDI in and outs, and you may find that useful.

As for internal/external, it's really up to you.  Essentially, I think it's necessary for you to examine your workflow.  What will you need to get the job done?  That's what should be driving your purchase decision.  Get everything you need up front, because buying 2 cards is always more than buying 1.  :)

http://www.m-audio.com/index.php?do=products.family
http://www.rolandus.com/products/productlist.aspx?ParentId=114


[quote author=drumcat link=topic=1390.msg6457#msg6457 date=1163106831]
Some thoughts...
Essentially, I think it's necessary for you to examine your workflow.  What will you need to get the job done?  That's what should be driving your purchase decision.  Get everything you need up front, because buying 2 cards is always more than buying 1.  :)

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This is by far the best advice. Your computer, the software, etc. are just tools. Find the tools you are most comfortable with and will do the taks you want them to do for your work. Good research should also include going to a music store which sells these products, whether it is a local store or Guitar Center/Sam Ash type big box outlets and demo the gear, have the sales guys show you the products.

Ted Boliske
The catch is that I'm a student right now.  I'm building the computer so I can use it for work when I graduate, and I don't know what exactly I'm going to be doing.  I'd like to get a steady composing or arranging job, possibly in the game industry, but I might end up working more with marching bands or popular music.  I don't know what my opportunities will be, and I want to be equipped to take advantage of the ones that come up. 

So, I'm looking to have a setup that will allow me to produce high quality MIDI recordings, with some sampling and recording capabilities as well.  Mainly I need to be able to produce music entirely independently, as most composers don't have access to a live orchestra.

J. Peter Wolk-Laniewski
George Fox University
OK, so what recording do you plan on doing with your desktop?  Frankly, an onboard POC card is fine if you're only rendering out midi samples.  It might not be optimal, but it's $0...
Pro Tools has the ability to use internal soundcards.  The M-Audio series of interfaces has a few cards that will run with Pro Tools M-Powered (basically the same software as Pro Tools LE, just uses M-Audio Interfaces).

A workaround for the freeze tracks option, is to record the MIDI signal to an audio track, then disable the VDL plugin on the aux track.  If you want to change something, re-activate it and do it again.

What version of Cubase were you looking at?  You can get an M-Box 2, which comes with the Pro Tools software and much more for a good bit less than some versions of Cubase.

They are basically capable of doing the same thing, however I don't know if Cubase has the ability to import video.

Feel free to PM or post up any Pro Tools specific questions, I'm a certified operator.
I'm taking a class next semester that covers ProTools.  What about this:  What's the difference between ProTools LE and Cubase 4?  Aren't the LE series more like watered down versions?  All told, I think Cubase 4 would be cheaper than the hardware plus the software for ProTools.  I could be wrong, though.  Oh, and I am totally planning to take advantage of my student status to get academic pricing on absolutely everything I can.

I do intend to record MIDI, but it needs to be of high enough quality that it doesn't sound like MIDI.  For example, most TV shows don't record live instruments-CSI is a good example of professional level music produced entirely digitally.  The same is true for video games, I don't want to trust in a cheap onboard sound card for professional work.  Also, I believe one of the main reasons you get a good audio card is to take labor off your CPU.
It looks like there are 2 versions of Cubase 4, a regular and studio.  Sweetwater has the Studio version for $799, and the regular version for $400.  There are a variety of MBoxes available for Pro Tools, which come with hardware/software/plug-ins/synths, in the $300-700 range.

There are not many major differences between Pro Tools LE and Cubase.  First off, Pro Tools LE is almost the exact same as Pro Tools HD.  Pro Tools HD uses dedicated PCI cards to process audio, while LE runs native.  There is a track count difference between HD and LE, LE only supports 32 audio tracks without the production pack upgrade (to 48).  I rarely run into cases when I need more than 32 tracks even, and with MIDI it isn't that big of a deal.

From the looks of it, it seems that Cubase has not yet added support for importing Quicktime videos.  That seems to be one of the major differences, other than track count.  I'm slightly familiar with Cubase, I haven't used it in over 2 years.  That might be a question for Sweetwater or another retailer.

Good audio cards have really nothing to do with your CPU.  Unless you have a Pro Tools HD or one of the Apogee cards, all of the audio processing is done by your CPU.  All the sound card does really is convert the analog signal into digital, and that is where the quality comes from.  Lower quality cards usually have bad converters on them, and that results in less accurate conversion into binary.
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