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Author Topic: Setting up your PC for Recording  (Read 138047 times)

Offline KitC

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Setting up your PC for Recording
« on: April 21, 2007, 01:29:47 PM »
Ok.... rather than set up a tutorial thread, let's make this into a Q & A sort of thread and the emphasis will be on setting up your PC regardless of the specs. Remember, however, that some pc configurations are not compatible with audio no matter what you do. Also remember that most pc's coming out today have a decided slant towards powerful video capabilities, something which often conflicts with glitch-free audio performance. If you are decided about great audio performance, you will have to give up great video performance (which means you will have to give up that 8800GTXProMillenium+1 and go for a considerably less powerful vidcard).

I know this thread will get unusually long so I will be adding to it as time progresses. Any pertinent info will be added to this initial post and I suggest that anyone posting new questions refer to this first post so we can avoid duplication.

Let's start...



One of the most important considerations when choosing a pc for recording happens to be not the pc, but the SOFTWARE.

Strange, but true. It is the software that determines what soundcard you will use, and what the minimum requirements are for running that software. Word of advice about minimum requirements... follow that and your pc/software combi will function, but just barely. You need to factor something like 150% of the minimum just to have something workable; so if the minimum cpu is 1 GHz, you really need at least 1.5 GHz to be able to do any real work... 200% to 300% of minimum is suggested.

Software also determines the platform you will use. Sonar, Audition, Wavelab and Soundforge are strictly pc while Logic, Digital Performer, Bias Peak and Soundhack are mac. ProTools, Cubase and Nuendo are dual-platform applications. Let's not turn this thread into a mac vs. pc thread because, in my view, these are nothing but tools... machines that are designed for a purpose. Each has it's strengths and weaknesses and I'd rather we concentrate on how we can maximize the usefulness of these tools. No mac vs. pc flame wars, get it?

Now that you've decided your software, if you do some digging into its feature, you will often find a list of compatible soundcards that go with it. Please, please choose a soundcard with a known compatibility. If you decide to use that cheap 300 peso CMI soundcard or USB cdrking sound dongle, your on your own. I have nothing against using inexpensive gear but often you will find that support is sometimes non-existent or that drivers are POS and are hardly updated. To add insult to injury, the performance of these cheap cards are often not up to par and sound quality often suffers. You CAN use these cards (I did not say you can't), but you will have to work extra hard to get even demo quality sound from them so if you decide to go that route, don't forget that I told you so. I have used soundblaster cards early in my delvings into digital audio and over the years, my ears have become attuned to what they can do well, and what they cannot. I will say that blasters are good for learning the craft.

Now, finally, the pc...

So you got your software and you've chosen your soundcard... now what? Put it all in that pre-assembled pc and then click on that record button in your software and hope you nail that perfect take? NOT!

Most pre-assembled pcs skimp on some important very important parts like the motherboard, ram, vidcard, power supply... you name it. Even Dells are guilty of this fact plus, pre-assembleds are more tuned towards office applications and the occasional game or 2. Audio pcs are a different breed. Audio pcs eschew 3D video performance in favor of increased audio capability. Capabilities like low latency, high track counts, quiet operation and very good 2D screen redraw performance (playback of movie videos is also a consideration for post production suites).

Some soundcards are also picky about the motherboard chipset. Research well on the chipsets that go with your soundcard. You don't want a repeat of that Via debacle that happened with soundblasters. Via chipsets starting with the KT166 were horrible with computer audio; it was only with the K8T800 Pro chipset that Via redeemed itself. Intel chipsets were stable with the i865 chipset, but the i915 and i925 were disappointing for some; the present 975XBX and 965P chipsets are proving to be very good performers. Nforce chipsets were quite good up to Nforce3, the Nforce4 was a disappointment plus the combination of pcie proved to be a real problem. If you already have chosen your software, it pays to lurk in their user forums since they often post which motherboards work well - that's how I happened to choose my present day N3 mobo.

So what does this mean for most pc-based platforms? DIY systems are the way to go. You get to choose your own parts and you can most likely get the best and most compatible components for your needs. At times you can save a lot by going DIY but you then have the responsibility of installing the OS, tweaking it for audio  and installing all the software and hardware; a process that can take 2 or 3 days at least. Mac users have it easy, their machines just work out of the box but they have to pay for that ease of use (I call it the 2:1 ratio but lets not go into that).

There are lots more to discuss but let's take it one step at a time.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2007, 12:32:55 AM by KitC »


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Offline stilljey

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2007, 04:04:55 AM »
thanks sir kit 2 ur wonderful n gracious tips, so if i decide to have protools as my software, i compulsary upgrade my processor from P4 to Core Duo? (base on what i read sa forum na ito, whewww....!! ang haba nga eh way back 2006..enjoy naman) and what soundcard do you prefer for PT.

Offline KitC

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2007, 04:13:00 AM »
thanks sir kit 2 ur wonderful n gracious tips, so if i decide to have protools as my software, i compulsary upgrade my processor from P4 to Core Duo? (base on what i read sa forum na ito, whewww....!! ang haba nga eh way back 2006..enjoy naman) and what soundcard do you prefer for PT.

PT is a closed system. You cannot use any soundcard other than Digidesign hardware for PT HD systems and PT LE, or M-Audio cards for PT M-Powered. If you want to experiment with PT Free, it only works with Win 98/ME only.
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Offline jaime

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2007, 05:27:52 AM »
suggestions about which PC sound card will be good enough to be able connect my mixer with RCA I/O to my pc? budget 3 to 4K pesoses. i used my PC stock sound card before with the 1/8" but nasira na kaka suksuk hatak ko nung 1/8 jack. better yata ang RCA, wachhathink?
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Offline nicolle

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2007, 08:15:53 AM »
hi, Sir KitC!

do you have an office? i was thinking if it is possible for us to request for a hands-on demo on how to set up our pc for recording...a lot of postings are too complicated for me...it would be easier if i watch how you do it....

thanks a lot!


Offline KitC

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2007, 10:43:29 AM »
@ jaime - if you look around the classifieds, you might be able to grab a deal on a very good soundcard like M-Audio. The M-Audio 2496 is a very good card for the money although brand new cards will set you back twice your intended budget, it comes standard with RCA I/O (note that the s/pdif digital connections are RCA also). A very good alternative is the Behringer UCA202 which is USB2 and has RCA I/O but it is usually bundled with other Behri products. Someone is offering the Behri FCA202 which is a firewire equivalent of the UCA; if your pc has firewire, I recommend this card but there are a few caveats about onboard firewire, namely, Via firewire chipsets on most mobos are notorious for poor handling of audio so be forewarned.

An alternative to your 1/8" problem is to fashion some 'adapter' plugs, sort of like a mini patchbay. Most electronics stores carry stereo 1/8" to mono RCA y-cables; I suggest connecting these semi-permanently to your soundcard and just use the rca connections as your 'point-of-contact' with other gear like mixers - just add rca to 1/4" adapters if needed. It's much cheaper to replace these y-cables than a soundcard.

@nicolle - my 'office' is a midi project studio which sorta resides in my bedroom, the end result of downsizing on gear and the direct result of going virtual. There are plans of relocating to a place more conducive for visitors, so to speak. I can, however, set up a sort of demo in collaboration with BAMF at his studio over at Sto. Domingo. PM me your location and maybe we can figure something out.
Sonar 4.04PE/5.2PE/7.02PE/8.31 PE, Project 5 v2.5.1, EmulatorX 1.5, Cubase SL2, Ableton Live 7.14,  Intel Q6600 MSI P43 Neo 4Gb Crucial Ballistix Tracer DDR2-800, Emu 1820m, Yamaha DSP Factory, Terratec DMX 6fire

Offline nicolle

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2007, 03:26:05 AM »
@ jaime - if you look around the classifieds, you might be able to grab a deal on a very good soundcard like M-Audio. The M-Audio 2496 is a very good card for the money although brand new cards will set you back twice your intended budget, it comes standard with RCA I/O (note that the s/pdif digital connections are RCA also). A very good alternative is the Behringer UCA202 which is USB2 and has RCA I/O but it is usually bundled with other Behri products. Someone is offering the Behri FCA202 which is a firewire equivalent of the UCA; if your pc has firewire, I recommend this card but there are a few caveats about onboard firewire, namely, Via firewire chipsets on most mobos are notorious for poor handling of audio so be forewarned.

An alternative to your 1/8" problem is to fashion some 'adapter' plugs, sort of like a mini patchbay. Most electronics stores carry stereo 1/8" to mono RCA y-cables; I suggest connecting these semi-permanently to your soundcard and just use the rca connections as your 'point-of-contact' with other gear like mixers - just add rca to 1/4" adapters if needed. It's much cheaper to replace these y-cables than a soundcard.

@nicolle - my 'office' is a midi project studio which sorta resides in my bedroom, the end result of downsizing on gear and the direct result of going virtual. There are plans of relocating to a place more conducive for visitors, so to speak. I can, however, set up a sort of demo in collaboration with BAMF at his studio over at Sto. Domingo. PM me your location and maybe we can figure something out.

hi!

thanks a lot...maybe the demo at BAMF studio at Sto. Domingo would be fine for a start.  is there a fee?

Offline redcomet_m

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2007, 03:44:10 PM »
@nicole

well, i believe Master KitC is a very reasonable man to negotiate with nicole, im sure you could work something out

So to continue KitC's insightful narratives, lets start with memory. If you have the budget get maximum memory that youre mobo can handle although i doubt it will help since the program is 32bit and XP is 32bit unless you work on a 64bit OS and 64bit proc. Id suggest dual core proc as it helps with real time performance.

With regards to hard drives, do simple but clean disk management. Its better to have a system drive, a programs drive and a project/files drive. Disk size is upto you since you have the money not me. But id do settle for a huuuugggeeee project/files drive because all of the biggest data will be handled there. And it doubles as a swap disk to so...oh and get the latest i believe its sata.

Externals are ok but even FW800 cannot match SATA II perf unless youre the mobile type.

Graphics card...hmm do we need that? I dunno, can onboard grpx handle sound editing. Maybe KitC has an answer.

Now thats PC users, Mac users...buy an IMAC, external drive and external audio interface and your done :) if you could, boost your memory. Thats all folks

Offline KitC

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2007, 05:21:40 PM »
Very nice insights, redcomet!

I'd like to add that although XP is a 32-bit OS, most (if not all) audio programs in the windows platform still operate at 32 bit with the exception of Sonar which is 64-bit ready. In terms of RAM, this mean the OS can only address a maximum of 4 gigs (actually 3.2 gig addressable) and you have to use the 3 gig 'switch' because XP only recognizes 2 gig by default. Does this mean the end of the world for audio usage? No. Because unless you are streaming huge samples from ram, 2 gigs is actually more than enough. One can actually work at 512 megs, but you will have to trim down the amount of background services so that you gain more ram real estate.

About SATA drives... early motherboard implementation of sata often caused problems with audio devices. This is because of how the host controller interface 'sat' on top of the pci bus allowing the drive to communicate with the entire system. The Nforce2 mobos were a 'victim' of this implementation that's why it was often recommended to go PATA with Nforce2. Present day mobos don't suffer from this design quirk
anymore.

I'd go with redcomet's advice on having a separate system and data drive. Not a single drive partitioned into 2 drives, but 2 physical drives. Also have some means of storing data. Right now, cdr's are the safest bet but use known media. Writable dvds are becoming popular as a storage medium but there are reports that these don't hold data as long as cdr's. When in doubt, use branded media manufactured by a reputable firm. (There are branded fakes, however, like branded TDK's and Verbatims but when you go into the manufacturing details, these were often manufactured by a particular taiwanese firm/s. They're easy to spot since they're so cheap.... And stay away from generics!)

Graphics? Decide early on if you're building a gaming machine or an audio workstation since high end video cards are notorious for stealing all available processing bandwidth. Onboard graphics are becoming more powerful, but they often share onboard ram and they sometimes have limited resolutions, like you may have a 19" monitor but if your graphics can only do 1024 x 800, that's simply a waste of monitor real estate. You will want higher resolutions if you want to see more of your work. Interestingly, going multiple monitors is increasingly becoming the standard way of working as it allows you to have a track view on one screen and a console/mixer view on the other - a very efficient way of working sometimes. One more thing, audio applications DO NOT need flashy 3D graphics capabilities but often require very good 2D performance; Matrox vidcards are often good in this regard.
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Offline redcomet_m

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2007, 07:32:15 PM »
thanks sir kit

ive searched among the plethora of local websites and ive summed up the items indicated and came up with a conservative estimate. The CPU alone will cost you round 40k-ish. pretty decent so here are the candidates:

2.16GHZ core2duo:     11500
gigabyte 965GM-S2:      7400
GEIL 2GB PC-533:         7000
Seagate   160x2:          6000
                 320:             5000
INNO3D GT 7300LE:      2300


total:   39K smackers

Again this is pretty conservative, you could still trim this down if you decide to settle for Pentium D or AMD AM2, or get one IDE DISK so you would have enough leg room to buy a new monitor if you dont want to use your ol' crappy crt monitor. Man sarap magbuo :) though my purpose is very much different than this, pegging my choice around 55k, i felt that pro audio and pro graphics isnt that very far apart in terms of budgeting a workstation.

Anyway, we could still argue on this since there might be issues.

Offline KitC

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #10 on: April 26, 2007, 11:54:45 AM »
Nice specs!

Is that an E6400? You might want to check out the E6x20 series as well as the E4420. From what I've been reading lately, these are going to be priced quite close to the existing E6x00 series and will feature larger L2 cache, which also means that the older 6x00 should be experiencing a price drop! This is a good time to go C2D.

The Gigabyte is a nice board but has only 2 pci slots. I tend to favor at least 3 pci slots especially if your soundcards are still pci based. If you are using firewire, get a TI-based firewire card since most onboard firewire is based on the problematic Via chipset. Gigabyte, I believe, uses TI firewire chips but I've read about some lower end Gigabyte mobos that do not, so YMMV. The Gigabyte P965-DS3 is a good 3-slot mobo; don't confuse it with the DS3P mobo which eschews one pci slot in favor of another 16x pcie slot, an allusion to dual video Crossfire support.
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Offline bindoy

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2007, 12:01:02 PM »
peace redcomet_m  pls see PM..gbu
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Offline redcomet_m

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2007, 01:08:41 PM »
Youre right Kit, prices of these chips will definitely go down since AMD will release new native  quad core that will compete with intels quad, although AMD will first release Server type chips, news like these shake the proc industry. If the new AMD chips perform as it should, we could possibly anticipate intel upping the ante by releasing much smaller and faster chips, and if that happens, who knows, we might see quad core chips priced at say...20-24k.

The only downside is if they change the slots of the mobos, but thats a different issue.

Hmm 2 pci slots...well i would like em clean and lean but anyway its just a matter of preference and consider the size of audiocards(professional) that youll insert. You would want to put some distance between em and the Vid card. Its always good to let those things breathe.

Anyway regarding PC wirefire, im always finnicky on them on-board firewire. Id rather have something 3rd party like SIIG or ADS PYRO, but theyre pricey and hard to find locally.

To add, i didnt include a power supply, i dunno if 300watts is enough, though based on experiece id buy a decent powersupply paired with a reliable UPS. So maybe 10k more on that prized estimate
« Last Edit: April 26, 2007, 01:11:26 PM by redcomet_m »

Offline xjepoyx

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2007, 01:16:31 PM »
AMD Quads will be release in Socket F format. It'll take a few more months before they release the AM2 versions of AMD Barcelona.

Re: PSU's Dual Cores and specially Quad Cores... YOU NEED more than 500watts.
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Offline KitC

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2007, 01:45:05 PM »
jplacson mentioned you can find Lacie FW cards at Mac stores. I'm not exactly sure if they're TI chipsets but Lacie's tend to be reliable.

I was looking prices for the E4300 and was pleased to find them already in the P6k range with the E6320 already listed at P9k. The New Barcelona core will definitely make dual core prices drop and maybe even Intel's QX cores will plunge soon. Pretty soon, somebody will be making 16-core cpus that will give rise to the T1000 Terminator. (Ah'll be bahk!  8-) )

I long for those days when pci cards like the Aardvard were shielded from internal EMI and RFI, looks like external is the way to go. For sheer track count, pci is still the game in town; I just wonder why it's taking manufacturers a long time to make pcie versions... I predict the next NAMM or Musik Messe  will bring out pcie flavors of soundcards. My guess, though, is that pcie performance is really slanted towards video which is why audio manufacturers are slow in putting out pcie soundcards and mostly concentrating on FW and USB2.0 versions; less hassle in trying to fight head on with video.

As for onboard FW? It seems RME have done a good job adapting their Fireface 800/400 to Via firewire but like all things with Via and audio, YMMV. I'd rather go the safe route and get a TI chipset anytime. AFAIK, the Gigabyte mobos usually feature TI firewire chipsets, one of the reasons the Gigabytes are so appealing to me; got my sights set on their P965-DS3 or DQ6 (which is 2 slots but I researched its IRQ allocations already), my other alternative is the Asus P5B Deluxe or even the P5B-E (I much rather prefer the P5WDH though). A dark horse in the running is the DFI Infinity P965 Dark-S which is quite inexpensive; although more known for gaming, DFI boards have very good overclocking potential plus it has 3 pci slots. A much darker horse is the Asus Commando RoG P965 mobo which has 4  :-o pci slots! This mobo is decidedly built for gaming so I can't comment on how well it will mesh with audio. Tempting though...

Get a 500W branded PSU, you won't regret it. I have a CM 350W PSU and a HEC 500W, my present A64 3200+ MSI Neo2 Plat behaves much better at 500 watts than at 350, and that's with 2 drives and 2 soundcards (Emu 1820m and DSP Factory). The new C2D are recommended at 500w to begin with.

UPS are a necessity now. A sudden blackout the other day made it clear how lucky i was to have my APC. Even a battery backup will do; I use the APC ES500 and it has saved me thru a lot of power outages - my hard disks love me for it..
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Offline KitC

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #15 on: April 26, 2007, 01:53:25 PM »
Jepoy! Hay nako! Another socket in the mix... :roll: I wonder what Socket G, H, I... and Z will look like (Socket Z feat. 1M pinless, cube-core design with liquid nitrogen cooling :lol: ).
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Offline xjepoyx

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #16 on: April 26, 2007, 10:08:13 PM »
Jepoy! Hay nako! Another socket in the mix... :roll: I wonder what Socket G, H, I... and Z will look like (Socket Z feat. 1M pinless, cube-core design with liquid nitrogen cooling :lol: ).

uu nga eh! GAS Attack na naman to malamang! hehehe
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Offline stanley

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #17 on: April 29, 2007, 05:08:31 AM »
sir kit, give me an overview of how a raw material( after ma record sa track ) goes to finish product, produce good dynamic processing. i dont have any hardware effects, mga plug-ins ang gamit ko.
 
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Offline KitC

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #18 on: April 29, 2007, 10:32:58 AM »
stanley,

Seeing as this thread is for setting up a pc recording solution, it would be better if you started a new thread or maybe even just read through some of the previous threads. Your scenario is usually called In-The-Box (ITB) mixing by some publications and a lot of people work in that manner and produce good results. The subject is very broad, however, and it will easily take up quite a few pages. Have a look through the Tweakheadz guides, especially the part on mixing and surf on over to the Bruce A. Miller Audio Course (don't worry, it's free). Also, try to get some copies of Mix, Recording, Sound on Sound, and other music publications since they often have articles on mixing and mastering.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2007, 10:15:18 AM by KitC »
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Offline stanley

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #19 on: May 03, 2007, 02:10:22 AM »
thank u Master Kit,  got it , also i have some Recording Magz
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Offline bindoy

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #20 on: May 03, 2007, 09:55:33 AM »
stanley,

Seeing as this thread is for setting up a pc recording solution, it would be better if you started a new thread or maybe even just read through some of the previous threads. Your scenario is usually called In-The-Box (ITB) mixing by some publications and a lot of people work in that manner and produce good results. The subject is very broad, however, and it will easily take up quite a few pages. Have a look through the Tweakheadz guides, especially the part on [/url=http://tweakheadz.com/perfect_mix.html]mixing[/url] and surf on over to the Bruce A. Miller Audio Course (don't worry, it's free). Also, try to get some copies of Mix, Recording, Sound on Sound, and other music publications since they often have articles on mixing and mastering.

salamat po dito sir kitC...grabe...malaking tulong to....gbu
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Offline stanley

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #21 on: May 04, 2007, 04:20:57 AM »
Sir Kit C, i see that u are a Sonar guy also, what is best and compatible soundcard/interface to my Sonar 6, yung affordable he-he-he.
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Offline KitC

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #22 on: May 04, 2007, 10:09:21 AM »
Sir Kit C, i see that u are a Sonar guy also, what is best and compatible soundcard/interface to my Sonar 6, yung affordable he-he-he.

I would like to say that I seem to have gravitated more towards Sonar recently simply because it's midi features were what I found to be compatible with the way I work; I've no qualms about using other DAW software since their functionalities are similar anyway.

I have had success using soundblasters with Sonar, if affordable is foremost in your requirements. The M-Audio 2496 is also quite stable with the added bonus that it lets you use PT MP. As long as you are not simultaneously multitracking more than 2 channels, these 2 cards will definitely do the job. Soundblasters have an added bonus in that they use soundfonts natively, but you can download rgcaudio's sfz, a free soundfont player if you decide on something other than a 'blaster.
« Last Edit: May 06, 2007, 11:08:00 AM by KitC »
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Offline stanley

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #23 on: May 05, 2007, 04:04:12 AM »
tenks a lot Sir Kit.
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Offline KitC

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Re: Setting up your PC for Recording
« Reply #24 on: May 06, 2007, 11:08:50 AM »
Welcome, Stanley.
Sonar 4.04PE/5.2PE/7.02PE/8.31 PE, Project 5 v2.5.1, EmulatorX 1.5, Cubase SL2, Ableton Live 7.14,  Intel Q6600 MSI P43 Neo 4Gb Crucial Ballistix Tracer DDR2-800, Emu 1820m, Yamaha DSP Factory, Terratec DMX 6fire