Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)
The Best DAW is the One You Know the Best
I've been writing and recording songs to a computer since 1989 or so. I've standardized on Logic Pro on OS X for most of my work, although I've worked with many versions of Cubase on many versions of Windows, and Pro Tools on either platform.
My first experience recording music on a Mac was back in college using Opcode EZ Vision and Deluxe Music Construction Set. EZ Vision was pretty cool, and since all the hot stars at the time were using Vision, I upgraded after graduation and used Vision through the mid-1990's. I actually have a surprisingly small back-catalog of songs recorded in MIDI; this is probably because of my switch to guitar in 1993 and focusing on writing simpler, more pop-inspired music. I'm a far better keyboardist than guitarist though, and my weak guitar chops limited the chords and keys that I could play. A bunch of the bands I've been in have been more rock-focused, but my own material doesn't necessarily fit that description.
In March 2013, I upgraded to a 2008 Mac Pro with dual quad-core Xeons (8 cores). This thing is a beast. I have run a variety of Mac DAWs over the years: 2006 Mac Pro (4 cores), Mac Mini (2 cores), G5, G4, G3, 8600, 7100AV, etc. Of course this is balls-out faster, but it's the expansion capacity of the Mac Pro model that jazzes me the most. 8 slots for RAM and 4 bays for SATA drives means it's easier to upgrade as your needs require. I wish Apple gave half a care to their pro users, the ones who kept them afloat during the 1990's. I'd hate to move to Windows or Linux for the majority of my work, because that would screw up my workflow and piss away thousands of dollars of software investments. Oh well, time marches on. After buying this Mac, Avid announced ProTools 11, and I've heard that it's incompatible with this model. What the hell? I don't want to be forced into buying some overpriced, underpowered MacBook Pro laptop ($2000?). I spent only $800 on this box and it's way more flexible.
I've been using a pc infrequently for writing and recording music since 1998. I purchased the Steinberg Dance Production package because it included Mac & PC versions of Recycle (which I never use) and Rebirth (which I toyed with for awhile, but never made full use of). Surprisingly, while PCs are cheaper than Macs, and have more software available for music, I find that more of the work I do is on the Mac whether it's using ProTools to record or Cubase for MIDI recording. It's not that I'm not as comfortable on a PC, it has more to do with the fact that for most of the time I've had MIDI interfaces wired into my Mac, not my PC. Also because since moving back in with my parents in 2008, my home studio is now an ugly, cement-floored basement workspace area that floods.
My current PC DAW is a Samsung NP550PSC-A01UB laptop -- boy, that name just rolls off the tongue. It's got a 2-core Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hybrid SSD drive, and is running Windows 8 Pro 64-bit. I haven't loaded any MIDI recording software on it yet, just Audacity. Since my old PC DAW was a dual Xeon similar to the 2006 Mac Pro, this is going to take a little bit of time for me to adjust to using. My plan is to use this time to get more acquainted with Ableton Live, although I'll likely install Cubase 7.x when it arrives. It's a very fast machine, with a crazy trackpad bug which moves my cursor to unexpected places on the screen while typing, making it an extremely frustrating experience. Hopefully this won't be a problem when using it as a DAW since I favor the mouse over the trackpad. The best part was that I bought this laptop for around $500.
I attempted to keep running my AMT-8 and Unitor-8 USB MIDI interfaces until the latter of the two stopped functioning, which is when I decided to move the Mac Pro upstairs and get serious about migrating my software licenses to it. Since Emagic is no more, and there are no drivers for Windows 7, I'm now using MOTU and Midisport MIDI interfaces. I'd have to say that I'm fairly disappointed with the MOTU Express 128 and satisfied with the M-Audio 8x8s, although it's pretty ugly.
One of the biggest changes we've seen over the past 20 years using DAW software is the exponential growth in the storage requirements of virtual instruments, specifically those which use sampled content. Back in the 1990's, folks were impressed with a 16-bit mono sampled piano; nowadays there are some sample pianos which use up to 12 layers of 24-bit, 96mhz stereo recordings. Collections like Native Instruments Komplete take upwards of 90gb of storage space. So where should we store all this sample content?
One solution is to invest in a big hard drive, say 1TB-2TB. But a far better solution is to invest in REDUNDANT storage, such as what we would find in a corporate computing evironment. RAID = a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, and it functions by copying data across multiple drives simultaneously. While this is more expensive than running one or two individual hard disks, it's the safest way to store your files. I chose to use a DROBO unit on both my Mac and my PC because it's the best technology available.
Drobos are quiet, hold a lot of storage, and are the simplest RAID I've used in 20+ years of being a professional network administrator. They make models in lots of shapes and sizes but I opted for the relatively inexpensive 4-drive model (supports USB 2.0 & Firewire 800) and 4 * 2TB drives (which yields about 5.6TB space after redundancy is in place). The Drobo software formats and handles replacing failed drives and upgrading to newer bigger drives without much user input required. My PC's Drobo is using 4 * 1TB drives but I hope to replace them all in 2013, now that both Drobo's firmware have been upgraded to support 3TB & 4TB hard drives. The only complaint so far is that access to the Drobo can seem slower than it should be given the bus speed, and it puts itself to sleep so sometimes it takes a couple of seconds to respond as it's waking from sleep mode.
Mac Pro (Early 2008)
Drive 1 - 2TB 7200RPM WD Black
Free AU Plugins
BROKEN RTAS Plugins
BROKEN in PT 11.x
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