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  • Hardware Selection, Sonar X2 Producer

    Hello all!

    I last used Cakewalk eons ago as a MIDI editor for my backing tracks.  I used to earn my living doing a fulltime high-tech (for the time) solo act playing guitar, keyboards and singing. At the end of my fulltime musical endeavours, I was using a Casio PG370, Korg M1, Yamaha QX1, Alesis HR16, AKG headset, Rockman XPR, three Sampson wirelesses, QSC power, EV mains, playing the nicer pubs, restaurants and the like.  I started the high-tech aspect of my solo career with a brand new (for the time) Roland TR-606 & TB-303.

    I'm 58 now and feel like building a hobby studio given there are no consequential venues in the VancouverBritish Columbia area, and thus I would hardly even have my transportation costs covered at many of the venues that would hire me.  I have no plans for recording live bands, just myself (singer / guitarist / keyboard player) and lots of toys. I have no aspirations about becoming rich and famous (and in fact never have had any).  I am pleased that there was a period of time in my life that music was my source of income, and I am satisfied with my fulltime teaching position in an unrelated field (I would like my wife to stop being so crabby, but we can dialogue on spousal dynamics another day).

    Yep, to the point of the matter at hand.

    I recently bought Sonar X2 Producer (might upgrade to X3) and I am trying to decide how best to go about using a computer with it. As discussed, I am setting up a hobby studio and have no plans for recording live bands, just myself (singer / guitarist / keyboard player) and lots of toys.

    I have a laptop I could use. I am not committed to using it, but it would be nice for portability and cost reasons, however:

    a) it does not have a 7200 RPM HD (it's 5400 RPM), so I assume disk access times may be compromised.

    b) it does not have a second HD for audio files, so I assume disk access times may be compromised.

    c) it does not have an SSD, so I assume disk access times may be compromised.

    d) it does not have a dual head video card, so I assume I can't run dual 24 inch LCD monitors.

    e) it does not have a dedicated video card (not 100% sure how can I tell?), so I assume processor cycles would be compromised.

    f) it does not have an 1920x1080 LCD, so I assume viewing would be compromised.

    g) it does not have a 17.3" LCD, so I assume viewing would be compromised.

     

    ASUS Laptop Model R500A

    15.6" LCD

    Intel Core i7-3630QM

    1TB HDD 5400

    8GB RAM

    Windows 8

    USB 2 & 3

    Video 1377x768

     

    Questions:

     

    1) Am I correct in my assumptions a) through to g) above?

     

    2) How well suited is Sonar X2 Producer for mixing, editing, controlling with no external hardware-based control surfaces and no external hardware-based mixers (expect of course for an 88 key MIDI keyboard controller)?

     

    3) I'm torn between the Roland Octa-Capture and the newer Focusrite 18i20.  It would be nice to have the Roland's reverb and compression for zero latency monitoring, four monitor sends, digitally controlled preamps and auto-levelling, however it would be also be nice to have two separate headphone outputs, (the presumably nicer) Focusite preamps plus newer gear (as is the case with the 18i20) usually means better gear in the fast moving world of digital audio plus the Focusite is $100 less than the Roland. I would be using this for my hobby studio and I like the idea of flexible routing and numerous I/O's, but I have no plans for recording live bands, just myself (singer / guitarist/ keyboard player) and lots of toys which I would rather leave plugged in at all times. Comments on the Roland Octa-Capture versus the newer Focusrite 18i20?

     

    4) I have run LatencyMon Home Edition Version 5 a number of times and by shutting down of a number of Windows Services etc, LatencyMon informs me that my laptop will do the job.  Is this a reasonably reliable starting point for my ASUS laptop?

     

    5) Most of what I've read suggests that Sonar X2 Producer really comes alive with 1920x1080 dual 24" LCD's.  Now I am sure Sonar X2 Producer can function with less resolution and less video real-estate, but does what I've read have merit in the light of the fact that I have no intention of mixing, editing, controlling Sonar X2 Producer on external hardware-based control surfaces or external hardware-based mixers (expect of course for an 88 key MIDI keyboard controller)?

     

    6) If I was to get a higher-end laptop such as the Cakewalk recommended HP EliteBook units, would the LCD on a 17.3" HP EliteBook basically negate the benefits of having dual 24 inch LCD monitors (assuming I cannot run dual 24 inch LCD monitors on a 17.3" HP EliteBook)?  Or would having dual 24 inch LCD monitors still be substantially easier than having the single LCD on a 17.3" HP EliteBook (assuming I can run dual 24 inch LCD monitors on a 17.3" HP EliteBook) given I have no intention of mixing, editing, controlling Sonar X2 Producer on external hardware-based control surfaces or external hardware-based mixers (expect of course for an 88 key MIDI keyboard controller)?

     

    7) I am somewhat reluctant to buy a desktop for the following two reasons, one I enjoy the mobility that a laptop allows such as working on Sonar X2 Producer with headphones in the living room, and two, once a desktop has outlived it's usefulness as a DAW, it can't be easily used for casual use and becomes a boat anchor to me (I have too many old desktops in the basement as it is). Thus my question is, would it be the case that the desktop plus the dual 24 inch LCD monitors' total cost would be about the same as a similarly spec'd 17.3" HP EliteBook?  If so, and if I cannot use dual 24" monitors with a similarly spec'd 17.3" HP EliteBook, I understandably might opt for the desktop. Comments? Very much thanks for you kindness!

    I've been posting here for years, but lost everything with HC 2.0!

  • #2

    I just started writing you a long reply, got half way through, and then when I tried quoting a different part of your message so you'd know what I was answering, it wiped out several really useful paragraphs that I'd written. I hate how this system works when quoting an original messge in a reply. so I won't try it again. I should know better by now.

    Here's a quicker answer, sort of out of order from your questions:

    First off, your computer is perfectly adequate for running a DAW, particularly given that you work by yourself. Unless you'll be recording a full drum kit with each of 20 mics on its own track mostly you'll be recording one or two tracks at a time. Recording is no sweat. Your internal disk drive is plenty fast enough to handle the task. If you've built up 50 or 90 tracks and are about to mix them, you can make the buffers as large as it takes to avoid glitching. So don't sweat the computer.

    But . .  how important is portability? Do you travel and record when you're away from home? Do you have limited space for setup? Do you even have room for decent monitor speakers? I'd worry about that before worrying about your computer. The reason why I bring this up is that a laptop-based system can't grow very much. As one starting out in this field, you don't really know what your actual requirements are going to be a year or two from now. If you assemble (or as I do, buy a two year old model at a junk price) a not-laptop system, you can add more monitors, more disk drives, more memory, and so on. It can grow with you. And you can stash it under the desk and leave plenty of work space.

    I get that you like to record in different places around the house, but considering that you'll have to move the computer, power supply, interface, cables, and such, you probably won't be moving around very often. It's not the same as plugging a mic into a sound card and going to the beach (or the living room). I can't imaging a desktop computer that you can put together for less than half the cost of a new laptop will become obsolete very soon. computers become obsolete only when you let them, or when they break. And it's easier to fix a desktop computer than a laptop if you want to keep it going forever. Furthermore, if you get a computer for music, it's easier to keep it dedicated to music applications and not get cluttered up.

    As to whether Sonar is right for you, that depends on how you work. You have the program and a computer that should run it just fine. Play with it for a while. Record and mix a few songs. See how well you two get along. The biggest difference between one DAW program and another these days is the user interface, the look-and-feel, and if it's particularly strong in one area or another. For instance, if you work a lot with loops, there are programs that are stronger in that area (or rather, make it easy to do what you need to do). They all come with pretty useful signal processing plug-ins, and they all sound about equally good. The way to decide which DAW to use is to try them.

    As to mixing with a mouse alone, scholars, musicians, engineers, producers, and software developers differ on this issue. Personally, I hate it, and I don't do it. I like to "play" the mixer like an instrument and react in real time to what's going on. You can't do that with a mouse. You listen to your mix, you decide what needs to be changed, you make a change, you listen again, you decide if that's what you want and either leave it and move on to the next thing or change it again (or put it back the way it was). I simply can't work that way. I want to be connected with the knobs.

    I have a mixing console that does what I need, so when I use a DAW program, it's as a recorder, an editor, and sometimes as a signal processor if the EQ on the console or my outboard compressors or effects aren't doing the job.

    But don't let me stop you from using your DAW to its full capability. It may be very well suited for your music.

    As far as interfaces go, I've never worked with one of the Cakewalk/Roland interfaces, though I'm a fan of Focusrite. Nothing has zero latency (except for large values of zero!) but the Focusrite Scarlett series is so good here, only a few tenths of a millisecond from mic in to headphone out, that it doesn't get in the way. There are tricks that allow you to use a reverb plug-in in your DAW to add reverb to your monitor while tracking. That's something you'll learn as you go along.

    I've occasionally added an outboard monitor to my laptop. With Windows XP and Windows 7, it just plugs in and you get to choose what you see on each monitor. I don't know about Windows 8 but I assume it's conceptually the same. With two monitors, when tracking, I generally have the monitor mixer view on one and the track view on the other. When mixing, it's often useful to have one monitor displaying plug-ins so you know what you have active and how it's set. I once said that I'd consider mixing without a console if I had a monitor as large as my console. Now that's possible, but I still didn't warm up very quickly to the Slate Digital Raven system (which is, essentially, a touch screen monitor the size of a console). There's no tactile sense.

    Don't run over yourself here. Load up Sonar, use it for a month or two on your present computer, and then think about where you need to take it further.

     

    --
    "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
    Drop by http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com now and then

    Comment


    • Chumer
      Chumer commented
      Editing a comment

      Thank you so much Mike, I've read your posts for many years, they have always been very crisp and I get that you prefer tactile real-time mixing.

      I do have two mixers an old USA made Mackie 1604 VLZ and a Behringer DDX3216, neither of which I feel would be worthy of integrating with Sonar X2/X3.  I have tons of cool outboard gear but it's things like the Roland VG-99, Roland GR-55, Pod HD-500, Boss GT-10, TC Helicon Voice Live 2, etc. and not much that is recording specific such as time-based or dynamic-based rack mount processors.

      As to mixing with a mouse alone, l wouldn't mind getting a control surface for mixing and coincidentally I have been looking into the Axiom AIR 61 which has a number of pads and sliders allowing more real-time DAW control, however it has mixed reviews because the software for the DAW templates may not be a ready for prime-time.  And then of course there is the Akai MPK61 which may well best the Axiom AIR 61 with its keyboard / control surface hybridization.

      I understand I could in the alternative use the Behringer DDX3216 as a front end MIDI controller for Sonar X2/X3 but I'm not convinced it's worth the time and space considering the Akai MPK61 or Axiom AIR 61.

      Thanks for your views on the suitability of my little ASUS! I understand that a laptop gives me freedoms hard to equal on a desktop, albeit an all-in-one desktop does get some of the way there.

      Of note, I have been a very long term user of Cakewalk from the days of MIDI and have a collection of CAL's  (Cakewalk Application Language) I intend to use so Sonar Producer X2/X3 was a logical (bad pun) choice, however I also bought Reaper as an alternative.

      Thanks for you views on interfaces and I understand how you can get low latency monitoring with simple DAW effects, however the Roland Octa-Capture allows zero (well OK nothing is at exactly zero as you mentioned) latency monitoring with the on-board reverb/compression on the monitor feeds. Check out Anderton's review of same here on HC if you have not already done so. Whether zero (well OK nothing is at exactly zero as you mentioned) latency monitoring with the on-board reverb/compression on the monitor feeds matters to me is an open question however.

      I'm not likely to run over myself as I've used computers and software for decades mostly for live use and not in a home studio format so none of this is overwhelming or strange.

      To answer your question about a place for all this (Do you even have room for decent monitor speakers etc.) you betcha I do with a decent sized, fully private, super quiet music room, populated with my fave toys (some of which I've listed) nice big couch, tons of storage, however I have not settled on a studio desk yet but IKEA may well save the day here.  As to the monitors themselves I've narrowed it down to three pending a final comparo-audition: Adam A7X, KRK VXT8, Behringer TRUTH B3031A.

      Questions:

      1) Are there any consequential benefits to using a dual-head video card instead of single-head video card?

      2) If using a desktop with a dual-head video card and dual 24" LCD monitors would the need for Windows Extended Desktop Mode be negated or still be as relevant?

      3) Are most desktop people who are running dual monitors using a dual-head video card or a single-head video card with the second monitor connected to the Mobo's on-board video out? Why?

      4) I have not located any laptops with dual-head video cards, why would that be?

      5) If I used Windows Extended Desktop Mode with a laptop, how would the combination of the 15" (or 17" for that matter) laptop monitor with a single 24" LCD monitor fare in comparison to using a desktop with a single head video card and dual 24" LCD monitors?

      6) If I used Windows Extended Desktop Mode with a laptop, how would the combination of the 15" (or 17" for that matter) laptop monitor with a single 24" LCD monitor fare in comparison to using a desktop with a dual-head video card and dual 24" LCD monitors?

      Much obliged indeed, Chumer.













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