There are three critical decisions that you have to make in putting together a DAW(Digital Audio Workstaton). When I started this process I assumed that the DAW software was the most important. Given my experience I'm going to put it third. The other two components are the computer and the sound module. I'm going to start out talking primarily about the computer but I'd probably place the sound module at the top of the list in terms of importance and the DAW software last.
In a traditional recording situation some sort of tape is used. When I was in my mid twenties I got together with my brother and some friends and we recorded several tracks at a home based studio with an analog eight track reel to reel deck. That was a blast, but it's nothing compared to what can be done today for a fraction of the cost if you have the right equipment.
I've had my DAW workstation for about eight months now. The amount of time I've gotten to spend on it has been limited by a combination of technical problems and other hobbies getting in the way. The technical problems were primarily due to a combination of ignorance on my part and having the wrong hardware. Initially I was trying to use my then one year old HP laptop. It's a nice enough system but something is happening that causes the time it take to respond to "real time" tasks to be excessive. This inability to respond isn't noticeable when I'm writing BLOG posts, cruising the web or even playing the occasional game but it was causing dropouts in my audio recording which was not good.
I tried a number of different things to fix the dropout issues with my laptop before giving up and deciding to invest in a computer that was designed from the ground up to work with DAW applications. To fund that acquisition I sold off one of my old acoustic guitars. It was a tough choice but one I'm OK with. I was able to buy a nice laptop from a company called ADK Pro Audio
. I would have gotten more bang for my buck with a stand alone computer but the laptop is portable and thus more flexible. Plus I haven't owned a non laptop PC in five or six years and it's difficult to get my head around changing that.
I made a mistake at this point. I installed the Valve Steam client and a number of games. The laptop is a powerful gaming machine as well and I figured I'd try it out. The problem with this is that additional software introduces the potential for problems as it makes the system more complex. My early impression is that Digital Audio Workstations are a bit fragile. Installing non essential software isn't something I'm going to do again as I ended up having to wipe and re-install from scratch and that took awhile as there are a lot of different software components involved in the process. DAW's are like finely tuned race cars. They do one thing really well.
On to the second most important component. I actually went through three sound modules before I found one that worked well in my setup. Initially I went for something cheap with lots of ports. This was my second mistake. The sound module is incredibly important to the overall performance of a DAW system. Good ones have very low latency and provide high quality conversions between the analog and digital realm.
I won't talk about my first sound module since I can't say anything nice or even neutral about it. My second sound module was the focusrite 2i2 (http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Scarlett2i2/reviews
). There was nothing wrong with the 2i2. It was easy to install and worked very well. I have some inexpensive condensor microphones though that require phantom power and the 2i2 doesn't provide phantom power. The third sound module I tried, and the winner for now is the Steinberg UR28M (http://www.steinberg.net/en/products/audio_interfaces/ur_series/ur28m.html
. The Steinberg offers latency on par with the best firewire sound modules and many other bells and whistles that make it a great choice for a small home studio. It's right in the sweet spot for my needs. </span>
If you're going down the DAW path make sure you download, install and use the ASIO (Audio Stream Input Output) Driver called ASIO4ALL that works in conjunction with Windows WDM. (http://www.asio4all.com/
). The ASIO4ALL driver is in my experience extremely stable and offers by far the best latency and performance for a given piece of hardware. I've tried it on three different USB sound modules at this point and in every case it was a better choice performance wise than the manufacturers driver.
There are a number of other things I'd like to talk about including the software I chose but this post is getting kind of long already.
Fingers crossed I'll manage to find the time to actually become proficient with this setup over the next year.