Recording Studio Software Comparison

Which recording studio software to go for? Mac or PC? Let's compare popular software tools.

Pro Tools
Digidesign’s Pro Tools system includes a software application and various hardware components. The hardware consists of one or more cards for the computer along with one or more audio interfaces. The software includes a multitrack waveform editor window, a mixing console window, and controls and commands to let you record and play back audio from hard disk. One of the reasons this system has achieved such widespread popularity is because Digidesign has always encouraged other software developers to include options to use Pro Tools hardware for recording and playback of audio. So plenty of musicians and composers who bought Pro Tools systems chose to control the hardware using the MIDI + Audio sequencer of their choice – such as Logic Audio or Digital Performer. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly, if you needed to do any MIDI sequencing, previous versions of the Pro Tools software were so poorly equipped for this that you had to be crazy even to attempt anything much more than a simple bass line or keyboard ’pad’. Secondly, many people who bought Pro Tools systems had previously used one of the popular MIDI sequencers and bought Pro Tools hardware as this was the first audio hardware supported by Opcode, Mark of the Unicorn, Steinberg and Emagic – in that order, as it happens. For these users it was much simpler to continue using the software interface they already knew and loved. Recording engineers and producers were always more inclined to use the Pro Tools software – especially if they were working on audio-only projects. With Version 6, Pro Tools finally ’came of age’ as an integrated MIDI + Audio recording environment which can competently handle most straight-ahead MIDI programming sessions, although the accent is still on the audio capabilities.

Steinberg’s Nuendo has only been available since the year 2000 but it has already won the attention of leading engineers and producers working on surround productions. Nuendo 2.0 was released in the summer of 2003 – updated with features that will please the most demanding of users. Nuendo 2.0 is serious competition for Pro Tools. It is actually a better choice of workstation than Pro Tools for music production and any kind of work that involves working with MIDI or musical scores. And the way you can hide the MIDI features if you are working on an audio-only production is very neat. This will make audio engineers feel even more comfortable with Nuendo – and Nuendo does not lack for technical features compared with Pro Tools. You can use any hardware for which ASIO drivers are available – including the Pro Tools HD and MIX cards. Support for 32-bit floating-point operation, comprehensive support for file formats, bitdepths and sample rates, and the first-rate user-interface design are even more compelling reasons to use Nuendo.

Cubase SX
Cubase SX represents a major re-design of Steinberg’s popular Cubase VST software. It falls in line with the way that Nuendo works – bringing the user interface bang up-to-date so that Cubase can compete very favourably with software from Emagic and the rest. Cubase is aimed primarily at users who make heavy use of MIDI and work mostly from a musical perspective. Nuendo is aimed primarily at professional recording engineers and producers who work mostly with audio, and particularly those working to picture or working with surround sound. Nevertheless, Cubase will do most of what Nuendo will do, and vice versa – and the user interface designs are so similar that if you learn one you will know 90% of the other. However, unlike Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Logic Audio, SONAR, and even Nuendo, Cubase SX does not yet support the OMF interchange file format that allows projects to be easily

Cubase SX
Cubase SX represents a major re-design of Steinberg’s popular Cubase VST software. It falls in line with the way that Nuendo works – bringing the user interface bang up-to-date so that Cubase can compete very favourably with software from Emagic and the rest. Cubase is aimed primarily at users who make heavy use of MIDI and work mostly from a musical perspective. Nuendo is aimed primarily at professional recording engineers and producers who work mostly with audio, and particularly those working to picture or working with surround sound. Nevertheless, Cubase will do most of what Nuendo will do, and vice versa – and the user interface designs are so similar that if you learn one you will know 90% of the other. However, unlike Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Logic Audio, SONAR, and even Nuendo, Cubase SX does not yet support the OMF interchange file format that allows projects to be easily interchanged between OMFcompatible systems. (Cubase SX 2.0 is expected to support OMF Interchange.) Also, there is no support for Pro Tools TDM hardware, which will be seen as a major disadvantage by many professional users. The real-time automation modes in Logic Audio are more comprehensive than those in Cubase SX and the selection of plug-ins is better. On the other hand, the virtual instruments supplied with Cubase SX give it the edge compared with Logic – so it’s ‘swings and roundabouts’ here. Also, in contrast to previous versions of Cubase (and to Logic), Cubase SX is much easier to learn and use. And if you need help, it’s there in the Help menu as standard help files plus Acrobat versions of the manuals and links to the Steinberg website. Steinberg has clearly decided to make life as easy as possible for Cubase SX users, which is as it should be! Overall, Cubase SX is a serious option for professional users once more.

Mark of the Unicorn Digital Performer
Mark of the Unicorn’s Digital Performer is ‘the thinking person’s’ alternative to Logic Audio or Cubase SX. For me it has the edge over its rivals in terms of its user-interface design, which is incredibly logical and effective. Originally popular with film composers and classical musicians, MOTU has been busy developing hordes of new features to appeal to the zillions of musicians making the various forms of popular ‘dance’

music. Performer was the first computer-based sequencer I used, back in 1985, and I continued to use this regularly until about 1999, when Logic Audio leapt ahead. More recently Pro Tools has been my preferred environment. Now that DP4 is available for OSX, I can work in Digital Performer as easily and efficiently as within Pro Tools but with the benefit of far superior MIDI features – and I can use my Pro Tools TDM hardware with Digital Performer as the ‘front-end’ once more. And it is very easy to swap Digital Performer projects to and from Pro Tools software – which makes Digital Performer an ideal choice for anyone who has Pro Tools hardware. Digital Performer is also the best choice of sequencer when it comes to working on music to picture – which is why it has been the choice of top film composers for more than 15 years.

Emagic Logic Audio Platinum
Logic Audio, available in various incarnations for the PC and the Mac (Silver, Gold, Platinum), has been a success story since the mid-1990s when it overtook Cubase VST to become the sequencer of choice for professional users. One of the reasons for its adoption by professional users was undoubtedly its Pro Tools TDM compatibility – which allowed Logic to be used as the ‘front-end’ for Pro Tools rigs used for music production. Apple bought Emagic in 2002 and stopped selling the PC version early in 2003. Currently available for both OS9 and OSX on the Mac, the ‘flagship’ Logic Platinum version has all the ‘bells and whistles’ you could ask for. Everything you need to record, edit and mix your music is there. The MIDI

features are as advanced as anything you will find elsewhere and the software comes with a range of virtual instruments that can be ‘unlocked’ for an additional payment. These include the widely used EXS24 sampler, the ES1 and ES2 synthesizers, the EVP88 electric pianos, the EVD6 Clavinet and the EVB3 Hammond Organ. The downside is that the user interface is showing signs of age – despite recent ‘facelifts’ – and Logic can be very ‘fiddly’ to use. Recent versions support OMF and OpenTL interchange formats, allowing projects to be interchanged with Pro Tools and with Tascam hard disk systems.

Cakewalk’s SONAR software is a good choice for musicians, composers, arrangers and producers who like to work with loops and virtual instruments. You can work with MIDI tracks or audio tracks and a mixing console window is provided with full automation. SONAR comes with plenty of plug-ins and with more virtual instruments than any of its competitors. It also has good features for working with video. You can import digital video files and replace the audio with new stuff you get together using SONAR. SONAR also has professional SMPTE/MTC sync features and supports Midi Machine Control. And it supports OMF for file interchange – so you can take your work into Nuendo or Pro Tools to finish off.

Audio waveform editors
There comes a point during your music or audio recording project when you need to create a final mix, typically to stereo, although mono is still used for some applications, and the various surround formats form a specialized but growing area. You may be using Logic Audio, Digital Performer, SONAR, Nuendo or Cubase. All of these let you handle audio in a similar way to Pro Tools, so let’s take Pro Tools as an example here – and consider mono and stereo projects, which form the majority. There are various ways to create a final mix using Pro Tools. You can record to DAT, various disk-based digital audio recorders, or even to analogue tape formats. If you are working entirely in Pro Tools you can even bounce the entire mix to disk as a single stereo file that includes all the mix moves and signal processing you have applied. Whichever of these methods you have used, it is quite possible that you will want to carry out further editing and processing before these mixes make it onto CD or other release format. If this is the case, you can always transfer your mixes back into your Pro Tools system and edit these using the Pro Tools software. In fact, Digidesign have been recommending this application of Pro Tools – especially since they stopped developing their dedicated mono/stereo waveform editor, Sound Designer II, in the late 1990s. For some types of edit it can be useful to have more than two tracks available, and it is easy enough to create a Pro Tools session template to suit your purpose with maybe four, six, or even eight or more tracks. You might want to set up long crossfades between songs using the volume automation, for example. Or you might want to lay in some sound effects over the top of some of the music – or between the selections. However, when you simply want to edit a mono or stereo recording, then a dedicated mono/stereo waveform editor is a much better choice. Think about it – Pro Tools is not designed as a stereo (or mono) file editor, just as a multi-track analogue tape-recorder is

not designed as a twotrack analogue tape-editing machine. Several software packages are specifically designed for this purpose, including BIAS Peak, TCjWorks Spark and Prosoniq sonicWORX on the Mac and Steinberg WaveLab, Sonic Foundry Sound Forge and Syntrillium Cool Edit Pro/Adobe Audition on the PC. I strongly recommend that you use one of these. They are much faster to work with when you are compiling mixes and the user interfaces are not cluttered with all the extra features that the Pro Tools software provides. Note that all of these software packages can act as ‘host software’ for a range of plugins – although some are more flexible than others in this respect.

Mac waveform editors
Peak is the leading Mac application for stereo waveform editing, processing and mastering. Use plug-in effects to process your audio files prior to mastering, or use DSP processes with the waveform editing tools to perform ‘major surgery’ on your favourite samples. You want to convolve? You can convolve! Peak will do just about anything you ask of it. Peak is available for OSX and versions are still available for OS8 or OS9. Peak TDM is a special version for those using Pro Tools TDM hardware.

TCjWorks Spark
Peak’s main rival is TCjWorks Spark. This features a highly integrated user interface that presents the waveform editor together with the Playlist and Tracklist all in one subdivided window. TC offers Spark XL and LE versions – both with support for VST plug-ins. The Spark FXMachine lets you work very effectively with VST plug-ins using a matrix of audio streams into which you can insert various combinations of plugins and virtual instruments. Interestingly, the FXMachine is itself available as a VST plug-in that you can use with other VST-compatible applications. As with Peak, you can export a playlist from Spark as an image file which you can open into Roxio’s Toast or Jam software to burn to CD. And Spark XL versions from 2.7 onwards can burn CDs from the Spark Playlist directly from within the application.

Prosoniq sonicWORX
Competition for both Peak and Spark comes from Prosoniq sonicWORX. SonicWORX Studio offers extremely powerful processing and metering and has an excellent user-interface design, but doesn’t offer TDM support or OSX compatibility. SonicWORX uses either the Apple Sound Manager or an ASIO driver – depending on what audio hardware you have installed. It can use Pro Tools hardware, but only via an ASIO Digidesign DirectIO driver, not via TDM. This means it cannot use TDM plug-ins either – unlike Peak and Spark, versions of which do work with TDM. Prosoniq offer two versions of their sonicWORX software for Mac OS9 – sonicWORX Artist, which doesn’t support VST plug-ins, and sonicWORX Studio, which does. One of the advantages of sonicWORX is the wide range of high-quality effects and processes that are included. Another is the excellent batch-processing feature. Ideal for sound designers, sonicWORX also makes a good choice if you are working on music for multimedia or games. If you do not have a TDM system, then sonicWORX could be the best choice of the three editors discussed in this chapter. Its built-in offline effects, real-time DSP, effective analysis tools and flexible and comprehensive batch processing features combine to make this a musthave software tool for any audio professional working on the Mac platform.

PC waveform editors
Steinberg WaveLab
On the PC a popular waveform editor is Steinberg’s WaveLab. This is not just a waveform editor – it’s a complete editing environment which lets you create databases of files on your disk drives, provides workspaces for particular projects, includes powerful backup features, lets you pre-master CDs, burns discs directly, and even prints CD labels!

Sonic Foundry Sound Forge
Also for the PC, Sonic Foundry’s Sound Forge is a first-rate waveform editor for sound designers and anyone who needs to work with video files – editing or replacing the audio belonging to the video file. The DSP processes and plug-in effects provided are of the very highest quality and you can use the Audio Plug-In Chainer window to create chains of up to 32 plug-ins that you can apply simultaneously.

Adobe Audition/Syntrillium Cool Edit Pro
Syntrillium’s Cool Edit Pro software turns up on most PCs used for editing audio, sooner or later. It will open and save just about any type of audio file you are likely to come across – so you can use Cool Edit as a file translator, if necessary. Excellent audio analysis tools, de-noising tools, lots of plug-in DSP effects, and advanced looping tools make Cool Edit Pro a great choice for sound designers. It even has a multitrack mode – although this is no match for Deck, let alone Pro Tools. Note: Adobe now own Cool Edit Pro and are currently marketing the software under the name Adobe Audition.

Propellerhead Reason
For many new users it is a toss-up whether to go for an entry-level version of Logic or Cubase, or whether to go for Reason instead. Propellerhead’s Reason has the advantage of its built-in rack of synthesizers, drum-machines and samplers allied to a simple-to-operate main sequencer. From the point of view of the user on a budget, Reason has just about everything you might want in one package. The fact that the sequencing facilities in Logic or Cubase completely blow away those in Reason cuts no ice with this person. What Reason offers is relative simplicity in the sequencing department with all the sounds you need to get started – and more.

Ableton Live
A relative newcomer that seems to be cropping up more and more is Ableton’s Live software. Live is not a MIDI sequencer and it is not a full-blown audio recording, editing, mixing environment – although it shares some of these features. It is a specialized environment for working with audio ‘loops’ that lets you mix and match samples and short audio recordings that were originally recorded at different tempos, playing these back at whatever new tempo you choose. Import a sample containing a well-defined musical loop of one, two, four or eight bars in length and Live will automatically time-stretch this to play back at the tempo you have chosen to work with. New audio can be sourced from the inputs to your audio hardware, or from a ReWire application (such as Reason) running at the same time as Live, or from Live itself. Talking about Reason, this makes something of an ideal partner for Live – especially if you want to create music using MIDI as well as audio – and offers great ‘bang for your buck’. Live has a full ReWire implementation so it works either as a ReWire Master or as a ReWire Slave application under Windows, Mac OS9, and Mac OSX. Under Mac OSX, Live versions 2.1 and later can connect via ReWire to Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Cubase, Nuendo and Logic. Live 2.1 includes Direct I/O support, providing integration with the complete

range of Digidesign audio hardware.

If you are looking for an alternative to Pro Tools and you mostly want to record, edit and mix multiple tracks of audio, then you should check out Deck – one of the original digital audio applications developed for the Mac. In its first incarnation, Deck was used as the ‘front-end’ software for Digidesign’s Pro Tools hardware during the first year of its existence – until Digidesign got around to writing its own. Since then, back in the early 1990s, Deck has been through various changes of ownership until it ended up at BIAS. For many years, Deck simply had maintenance fixes to keep it working with newer OSs. Version 3.5 reversed this trend with a major rewrite for OSX, incorporating all the latest developments, such as 5.1 surround sound, and supporting OSX’s CoreAudio standard with its super-low latency times and many other benefits. BIAS Deck is a multi-track recording, editing and mixing application like Pro Tools. Deck lets you record

tracks, adjust the level and EQ, add effects, and mix down your recording. Deck also offers waveform editing and moving-fader mixer automation. In the Mixer window you can insert up to four VST effects plugin per track and Deck ships with over 20 Mac OSX-compatible VST audio effects. You can record and playback up to 64 tracks at the same time – while working with up to 999 ‘virtual’ tracks. Deck is not a MIDI sequencer, although it can replay MIDI files. Deck makes an excellent choice if you are doing audio-forpicture, offering 5.1 surround sound, OMF import, SMPTE sync to external devices, and chase positioning.

Sonic Foundry Vegas Video
Vegas Video is a fully fledged multi-track audio- and video-editing environment. You can import digital video clips, strip off the audio and place this into Vegas audio tracks, record, edit and mix new audio alongside existing audio, and output new video complete with the ‘finished’ audio tracks. You can also edit video, so you could use Vegas Video to help you produce promo videos for the band you are working with or for your studio. It is getting much more common for people to develop multiple skills encompassing music, audio, video and so forth – and Vegas Video caters for the multi-skilled.

Sonic Foundry CD-Architect
Both Sound Forge and Vegas will let you burn a basic CD, but for true CD-mastering Sonic Foundry offers a dedicated package. CD-Architect provides Red Book audio CD mastering with full PQ code editing and effects processing for professional users. You can create overlapping crossfades between tracks, apply volume envelopes, create live-style CDs with audio between tracks, and even place hidden tracks on the timeline. There are more than 20 real-time Direct-X audio effects including EQ, compression, reverb and noise gating. A full-blown waveform editor is included, so you can do any last-minute edits without having to go back to your main waveform editing software. You can zoom to sample-level, do fades and crossfades, cut, copy, paste and split events, normalize tracks, and do pitch-changing and time-stretching. CD-Architect handles up to 32-bit/192 kHz source audio and can open an extremely wide range of file formats. Any supported file types can be added to the timeline and burned to CD without any preconversion to .WAV format.

Sonic Foundry Acid Pro
Acid Pro is an interesting software application that was originally designed to let you work with audio and MIDI loops to build up pattern-based music. It has grown beyond those original aims to the point where it now starts to rival the major MIDI + Audio sequencing packages such as SONAR and Cubase. Not only can you use Acid to create new songs or remix tracks, you can also do music to picture, produce 5.1 surround sound, or create music for websites and Flash animations. The software comes with a library of more than 400 loops in different genres to get you started. Change the tempo and the loops will play correctly at the new tempo – and you can even work with alternative time signatures. You can use Direct-X plugins along with VST virtual instruments, and there is virtually no limit to the number of tracks of audio or MIDI you can use. The editing features are optimized for working with loops, but you can easily record vocal or instrumental tracks along with loop sections that you have built up into a complete song arrangement. Acid features both list editing and piano-roll graphical editing. You can open multiple file formats into the same project and Acid supports a wide range of these, including MP3s, Real Networks and Windows Media Audio and Video files. You can also save to a number of audio file formats including WAV, Windows WMA, Real Audio RM and MP3. As with Sound Forge and Vegas Video, you can also burn files to CD directly from within the software.

Cakewalk FruityLoops
FruityLoops is a pattern-based sequencer that lets you quickly program up patterns, such as four bars of a bassline or a two-bar drum loop or whatever, using its excellent selection of built-in synthesizers – or using third-party plug-in synthesizers. You can string these patterns together to form songs – just like on a typical drum-machine – and add effects to ‘spice up’ the sounds. The resulting song/loop can then be exported to a MIDI file or rendered to a WAV/MP3 file. The Step Sequencer forms the main part of FruityLoops’ interface. This has buttons for each channel in your song that you can use to open its Channel Settings and Piano Roll windows. It also contains a pattern grid, where you can create drum loops and simple melodies. Each channel in FruityLoops controls one synthesizer that you can use to create a bass line, string melody, kick drum, snare drum, cymbals or whatever. FruityLoops comes with several ‘virtual’ synthesizers including 3xOSC, Plucked!, BeepMap, Wasp (demo), SimSynth Live (demo), MIDI Out, DreamStation DXi and JX10. FruityLoops also supports third-party plug-in generators in VSTi format and its own plug-in format. The audio outputs from these synthesizers can be processed using various effects including reverb, phaser, flanger, delay line and many others. The advantage that FruityLoops offers compared with software like Cubase SX is in the simplicity of the programming method, which is similar to that of a typical drummachine. Of course, once you have programmed up some promising-sounding loops or whatever, you will usually want to export these to use in your main sequencer so that you can add more instruments, record ‘live’ audio, and so forth.

How to make comparisons
To make an informed decision about which software package to buy or use is not always an easy task. Many of the software applications featured in this book are packed so full of features that it could take even the most dedicated person weeks or months (or even years) to learn how to make full use of and get the best out of them. To narrow down your choices, you need to take into account the ways you like to work and the things that you will need to do. If you are primarily a mixing engineer, then you will want software that has a mixer that can do everything you want. If you are primarily an editor, then the editing features have got to be comprehensive and appropriate. You may have a computer system already, so your choice narrows to what is available for that platform – unless you are willing to buy a new computer as well. The user interface is crucially important: is this well designed, attractive to look at, efficient and intuitive to work with – and technically capable? After all, whichever software you choose, you are going to spend many, many hours working with this if you want to master it. How are the windows organized? What about navigation within your session – is there an overview of the timeline? Are the editing features you need implemented effectively? What about plug-ins and virtual instruments – are the ones you would like to use included with or available from third parties for the software of interest? If you plan on working in surround formats does the package provide the features you need? What about MIDI features? How about working to picture?What about file and interchange formats? Can you burn a CD directly from within the software – or do you have to use another software application? The chapters that follow look at each software application in some detail to help you make these comparisons. You may be able to make a decision after reading this book. However, I highly recommend that you spend some time ‘hands-on’ with the software you are interested in. Ultimately, this is the best way to find out. And, of course, you can visit recording studio software website.

Which software?

So which to go for? Lots of professionals use Logic Platinum, while Cubase leads in the educational and

hobbyist market. Nevertheless, Cubase SX has many new features that all users will value. For example, Steinberg’s unique VST System Link. This lets you connect multiple computers (even cross-platform) using VST software and ASIO hardware. So you could run all your VST instruments on one, all your audio tracks on another, and create your effects on a third. This is a very powerful innovation – especially for those who already have more than one computer. However, Cubase SX does not support the OMF interchange file format that allows projects to be easily interchanged between OMF-compatible systems such as Pro Tools and Nuendo. And there is no support for Pro Tools TDM hardware, which will be a major disadvantage for many professional users. The real-time automation modes in Logic Audio are more comprehensive than those in Cubase SX and Logic’s selection of plug-ins is better. On the other hand, the virtual instruments supplied with Cubase SX have the edge compared with Logic. Sonar XL is a good choice if you are working on the PC and using loops for music composition and production. On the Mac, Digital Performer provides a viable alternative to Logic Platinum for Pro Tools hardware owners and is as suitable for film work as for producing the next big dance-floor hit. Pro Tools is the best choice if you are not doing too much with MIDI. It is OK to do basic MIDI stuff with Pro Tools, but for anything more demanding you will need to use, say, Digital Performer or Logic Audio instead. Overall, I prefer Digital Performer to Logic Audio, as I value the smoother user interface that Digital Performer provides. However, Steinberg’s Nuendo is the best choice for anyone who wants a cross-platform solution that is a viable alternative to Pro Tools. The stereo waveform editors are probably easier to choose between. I use Peak on the Mac and WaveLab on the PC most of the time – but I occasionally use Spark or sonicWORX on the Mac, Sound Forge or Cool Edit Pro on the PC when there are particular features that I want to work with. Propellerhead’s Reason can be used to sequence its own rack of synthesizers, samplers and effects and you can play these back in sync with your main MIDI + Audio sequencer. Or you can sequence Reason’s sound modules directly from your favourite MIDI + Audio sequencer. Cakewalk’s FruityLoops is useful for quickly programming drum loops or repetitive patterns that you can output either as MIDI files, or as WAV files. Once you have created some audio loops orsourced these from a CD or CD-ROM (or from Acid Pro’s own library), Acid Pro lets you work extremely creatively with these loops to take them to the next stage before outputting these in any of a wide range of formats. Ableton Live is similar to Acid Pro in many ways – and has the advantage that it is available for the Mac as well as the PC. BIAS Deck is a possible alternative to Digidesign’s Pro Tools LE systems for Mac users – and is better for working to picture. If you are working with video on the PC, Vegas Video has lots to offer with its advanced video capabilities. You can also use Vegas Video purely as a multi-track audio system. And when you’re done with all your recording, editing and mixing, you can burn your audio onto CD using Sonic Foundry’s CD-Architect on the PC or using Roxio’s Jam on the Mac. Mac or PC? There have been many debates about the pros and cons of the two rival desktop computer standards. All I can do here is to offer my personal guidelines and opinions for you to take into consideration. First of all – does the software application that you want to use run on Mac or PC, or both? If it only runs on one platform, then the decision about which platform has been made for you already – if you want that software then you must get that computer. If the software runs on both platforms, then you need to know whether the feature sets are identical on both platforms, or not. Often the software is developed primarily on one platform and the feature set leads on that platform and lags on the secondary platform. This is the situation with Pro Tools, for example, which is primarily developed on the Mac – although Digidesign say they aim to achieve parity between Mac and PC versions as soon as possible. You also need to find out which computer is technically more capable. Sometimes the Mac leads the pack, which it looks likely to do with the G5 64-bit dual 2 GHz models. But for a twoyear period prior to the introduction of the G5, the PCs were running at much faster clock speeds than the Macs; this became obvious as soon as you tried to run lots of virtual instruments – a Sony VAIO 2 GHz laptop model could run twice as many as an Apple G4 1 GHz laptop model. If performance is important to you, it can obviously sway your choice of computer platform. Price is another consideration. My advice is to buy the fastest, technically most capable machine you can afford. After all, in 12 months’ time it will be showing signs of age, and after a couple of years or so you will definitely be wanting to buy a new fast machine again. The fastest machines, by definition, are the more expensive models. And, particularly with PCs, there is always the question of compatibility with your

chosen software/hardware. Often, an Intel processor and other components are required – and the cheaper models use other manufacturers’ processors and chipsets to keep system prices down. So you have to buy the more expensive models. And you may even need expensive peripherals such as SCSI drives to achieve the highest track counts with multi-track systems. Also PCs, unlike Macs, often don’t come with networking interfaces as standard – so these have to be added to the price if you want to network. Digidesign, for example, publishes details on its website ( of which computers are ‘qualified’ by Digidesign to work with their products. To give you some idea, Digidesign has specified that the IBM Intellistation M Pro 6850 and the Compaq EVO W8000 are qualified to provide up to 128-track performance and full Pro Tools functionality with the latest TDM HD systems. And if you check the prices, you will soon discover that both of these computers are more expensive than the equivalent topof-therange Apple computers – which blows away the myth that PCs are always cheaper than Macs. Ease of use and, more to the point, ease of finding and fixing problems are two other major considerations. The Mac always used to be easier to use than the PC. However, since Windows 2000 and XP appeared, the gap has closed up considerably. I own an IBM Intellistation M Pro and a Mac G4 and have been using both of these extensively for about three years. I believe that the Mac still retains its edge when it comes to ease of use – but this is a close-run thing nowadays. However, when it comes to faultfinding and troubleshooting, the Mac is still much easier to cope with than the PC when it goes wrong. If you are not sure about this, just take a peek inside the PC’s system folder and then look into the Mac’s system folder. They are both complex – but you stand a much better chance with the Mac because of the sensible naming conventions used for all the files and folders, and because of the extremely logical organization. In contrast, the naming of most of the files in the Windows 2000 or XP system folders is cryptic at best and downright arcane in general. And then there are the disk formatting options that need to be considered with the PCs. Fat 32 is the most compatible, but more recent internal hard drives are likely to be formatted using NTFS, for example. On the Mac it is much more straightforward – you can choose either the latest HFS+ or the older HFS formatting with no compatibility problems either way. So – if you want to run lots of plug-ins with, say, Cubase SX, try a top-of-the-range Apple or Compaq desktop and you won’t be disappointed. If you want a computer to serve as the heart of a professional media production system, then an IBM Intellistation or equivalent running Nuendo software, for example, will do nicely. If you want a cutting edge Pro Tools HD system, then a G5 Mac is essential. And if you want to take Ableton Live onstage, then an Apple G4 1GHz laptop will look ‘cool’, while a Sony VAIO will look equally ‘cool’ and will also deliver much more of the computing power you need – where you want it and when you want it!


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