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A lot of people ask us for advice on what to buy for their Pro/Home studios or just for fun adventures. Here's our FAQs concerning what to buy (or GAS (Gear Addiction Syndrome) as the Pros call it). If you don't get your questions answered from our FAQS Email us!

 

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Q: I'm just starting, do I have to use a computer for MIDI or Digital Audio?

A: No. There are many dedicated hardware options available. Depending on your needs you may find one of them suits you. The most important part of the buying process is deciding on what you need. If you're brand new to this, it can seem impossilbe but it's not. The FIRST question to ask yourself is what do you want it to do. (And don't say make music or CDs) It's important to be as specific as possible. You DON'T have to know the how to do it but WHAT it is you want to do and WHEN you want to do it is very important. Prices and features are constantly changing so don't worry about pricing/features until you have the money ready to spend. (I know a guy who still waiting to buy a color TV because he doesn't want to buy a TV that will become obsolete so now he's waiting for digital HDTV. He has yet to watch much TV !!!) This, by the way, is always a problem with dedicated systems, they do get obsolete and usually can't be updated or have their use be redefined like computer systems.

Shopping with a local dealer who knows their stuff is always best (like The Electronic Music Box-shameless plug!). Don't spend your money at shops that can' or won't help you before AND AFTER THE SALE. The big chains may seem to offer help before the sale with their seminars (by sales reps who job it is to sell their product) but unless they are able to help after you buy don't give them your money. The big shops wouldn't change until the money stops coming in so support the shops that are helpful even if it may cost a bit more because they will save you hours of time and money if you look at the purchase the way businesss do. COO (Cost of ownership) and ROI (return on inverstment) rule in business (For more on this, click here). Of course, learning about the techology and features is always a good idea so buying books, surfing the net sites that info/educate users (like The Electronic Music Box-shameless plug again!), news groups, magaiznes and hanging out with your firends that already have a studio or setup. Education can save you hours of time and money because you really know what you want and how to use it.

Say, how about an example? Ok, you want to record 8 tracks of audio (this is being general not specific), then almost any system that supports 8 tracks would work. Now if you add specs like being able to record 8 tracks at once so you could record your band with the drums on four tracks (kick on 1, snare on 2, toms on 3 and cymbals on 4), bass on track 5, guitar on track 6, keyboard on track 7 and vocal on track 8. You have now eliminated over 50% of possible dedicated and computer systems on the market. See, it's not that hard to find what would work for you. Now lets add price, say we don't want to spend more than 2 thousand dollars which includes the computer (if needed). Now you're down to just a few systems (iMac or PC computer with M-Audio Firewire 1814 or Fostex, Korg, Roland dedicated systems). How about realtime efxs for that price What about punch in recording? On the fly (not having to set punch in and out points) With a footswitch? Mike preamps, Hmmm, now we may have to rethink the whole thing!!!

The best way to determine which way to go is to make a spreadsheet of what features you want and what features the systems offer. This makes it easy to add or delete features or systems so you can compare. Keep in mind that it's almost impossible to find a perfect system but easy to find a useable one. Here's one possible spreadsheet for an audio system with a minumin of 8 Tracks, 2x2 Audio In/Outs, Digital In/Outs and under $2,000 :
 System

 # of tracks Playback

  # of tracks Recording

 # of virtual Tracks

 Support Interleave Stereo ***

 # of Analog Ins/Outs

 SN Ratio

 Total Harmonic Distortion

 Frequency Response

 Digital  Ins/Outs

 # of EQs

 Types of EQ

 # of track Inserts

 # of track Sends

  # of Master Inserts

  # of Master Sends

 # of EFXs

 Types of EFX

 Sync to MTC

 Bounce to Disk Interleave Stereo

 Editing

 Automation

 PC w/Creamware Scope Home  System Dependant

 10 using 2 analog and 8 Zlink

 Software Dependant (Included Software is for Onboard DSP Mixing, EFXs

 Software Dependant

 24 bit Stereo AnalogI/O, -10, MIDI

 >113dB

 <.004%

 20Hz-20kHz

 Sp/dif, Zlink

 Software Dependant  

  Software Dependant

 System Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 35 DSP Based EFXs  MasterVerb pro-quality reverb, filters, dynamics, modulation effects, etc.

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Yes

 iMac G5 w/GarageBand  System Dependant

 Stereo with built in hardware

  Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 16 bit Stereo Line In, 24 bit Stereio line out

 

 

 

 Optical Digital Out only

 Software Dependant

  Software Dependant

 0

 0

 0

 0

 16  Amp Simulation, Automatic Filter, Auto-Wah, Bitcrusher, Chorus, Compressor, Distortion, Echo, Equalizer, Flanger, Gate, Overdrive, Phaser, Reverb, Treble/Bass Reduction, Tremolo

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Yes

 MacG4/PC w/software & Gina 3G Card  System Dependant

 10 using 2 analog and 8 ADAT

 Software Dependant (comes with Trackton V1)

Software Dependant

 24 bit 2x8 -10/+4 includes Mic Preamps, Headphone, MIDI

 110dB  <0.002% A-weighted 10Hz-20kHz, ±0.1dB

  Sp/dif/ Optical Optical switchable to ADAT

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant  Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant  Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 iMacG5/PC w/software & Tascam US122  System Dependant

 Stereo

 Software Dependant (comes with Cubase LE and GigaStudio 3 LE)

 Software Dependant

 24 bit Stereo includes Mic Preamps, Headphone, MIDI

     

  None

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant  Software Dependant

 Thru Hardware

 Software Dependant  Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 iMacG5/PC w/software & M-Audio Firewire 1814  System Dependant

 18 (8 Analog, 2 Digital & 2 ADAT)

 Software Dependant (Comes with Ableton Live Lite 4

 Software Dependant

 24 bit 8 Inputs includes 2-Mic Preamps, Headphone, MIDI

 -105dB (typical, A-weighted)  0.00281%  +/- 0.1 dB, 22Hz to 22kHz

 Coxial or Optical /ADAT

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant  Software Dependant

 Thru Hardware

 Software Dependant  Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 iMacG5//PC w/software & Digidesign Mbox2  System Dependant

 4 (2 Analog, 2 Digital)

 Software Dependant (Comes with Pro Tools LE)

 Software Dependant

  24 bit Stereo includes Mic Preamps, Headphone, MIDI

 106 dB (A-weighted)  0.003% (-90.4 dB) @ 1 kHz   +0/-0.5 dB, 20 Hz ­ 20 kHz

  Sp/dif

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Software Dependant  Software Dependant

 Thru Hardware

 Software Dependant  Software Dependant

 Software Dependant

 Fostex VF160EX

 16

16 (8 Analog & 8 ADAT

 8

  No

 8 18bit In, 12 20 bit out

 88dB or more

 >0.01% (typical) 20Hz--20kHz

 Optical

 3

 EQUALIZER: Low - 400Hz ±18dB (Shelving); Mid - 500Hz--20.2kHz ±18dB (Parametric); Hi - 500Hz--20.2kHz ±18dB (Parametric, Shelving)

 2

 2 Analog Outs

 0

 0

 3-band EQ with parametric mid and high, master EQ, channel and master compressors 2 independent multi-effects DSPs including a preset library  

 Yes

 Cut/Copy/Paste/Move Editing  99 mix scene memory
 Korg D1200MKII

 12 (at 16 bit playback, 6 at 24 bits)

4

 96

  No

  24 bit Stereo includes Mic Preamps, Headphone, MIDI   95dB (Standard)@IHF-A   0.02%(Standard)  10 Hz~20 kHz:+_ 1dB@+4dBu, 10k-ohm load

 Optical

 2

 High/Low

 8

 4

 2

  106 types  three independent effect systems, Overall EQ, compression/limiting, etc. to the master L/R channels. Modeling modes Guitar, Bass, or Mic

 Yes

 Yes

Copy, insert, erase, delete, swap, reverse, time expansion/ compression, fade, normalize, optimize

 Yes

 Roland VS200CD

18

8 Analog

 320

  No

 8 Analog Inputs, Stereo Output, includes Mic Preamps, Headphone, MIDI    20 Hz - 20 kHz (+0dB/-2dB)  Coxial Spdif  1 w'2 peak and 2 shelf bands    

 

      reverb, delay and chorus, plus dynamics processors, EQ and more. COSM® effects like guitar amp and mic modeling. Mastering Tool Kit

 No

 Yes

 copy, move, exchange, insert, cut, and erase; 999 levels of Undo

 Mixer Scenes

 

  # of tracks Playback

 # of tracks Recording

  # of virtual Tracks

 Support Stereo Interleave

 # of Ins/Outs

  SN Ratio

 Total Harmonic Distortion

  Frequency Response

 Digital  Ins/Outs

 # of EQs

 Types of EQ

  # of track Inserts

  # of track Sends

 # of Master Inserts

  # of Master Sends

  # of EFX

 Types of EFX

 Sync to MTC

 Bounce to Disk Interleave Stereo

 Editing

 Automation

*coming soon     ** optional     ***There are two types of Stereo files; Split Stereo (seperate left and right tracks written into two files - may be locked together and may be seperated from each other which are then called Dual Mono files) and Interleave Stereo (left and right tracks are written as a single file, can't seperated unless converted into Split Stereo files. Audio CDs are made with Interleave Stereo files). Interleave Stereo files are treated as a single track, Spilt Stereo files are treated as two tracks

Now why did I have the above specs in this spreadsheet? As I made this I kept adding specs as I decided on features I think are important to setup my system. While this spreadsheet doesn't have every spec possible, it does contain many of the more important ones. The audio software you use for the computer systems would determine a lot of the specs left "software dependant" columns so you may want to make one just for software. (If we get enough requests we'll set up more spreadsheets.)

Here's the reasons for the specs in the spreadsheet:

# of tracks Playback: This the number of tracks the system can playback at once. To be included, it has to do 8 tracks.
# of tracks Recording: This the number of tracks the system can record at once. To be included, it has to do 2 tracks.
# of virtual Tracks: This the number of tracks the system can have in the file available to play at anytime.
Support Stereo Interleave: This allows stereo files to be recorded on one track not two.
# of Ins/Outs: While two auido ins & outs are required, more is better and having MIDI is even better!
SN Ratio: This spec is the manufacturers signal to noise ratio giving a idea of sonic fidelity and how much noise the system will produce compared to the orginal signal.
Total Harmonic Distortion: This spec is the manufacturers figure of how much distortion the system adds to the sound.
Frequency Response: This spec is the manufacturers figure of how much of the audio spectrum the system records/playbacks. 20Hz-20kHz is the range us humans can hear.
Digital  Ins/Outs: This provides the ability to subsatue the built in audio convertors (possibly increasing the file format to 24bit), add more I/O (Adat lightpipe) and transfer digitally between systems.
 # of EQs: This is the number of EQs the system has.
Types of EQ: This is the type of EQs the system has.
# of track Inserts: This is the number of Track Insers the system has. An Insert allows processing an individual track without using a send, usually a compressor would be used here.
# of track Sends: This is the number of Track Sends the system has. A Send allows processing of a group of tracks with variable amount per track.
 # of Master Inserts: This is the number of Master Insers the system has. This Insert allows processing of the overall mix (usually a compressor would be used here).
 # of Master Sends: This is the number of Master Sends the system has. This Send allows processing of the overall mix.
# of EFXs: This is the number of EFXs the system has.
Types of EFXs: This is the type of EFXs the system has.
Sync to MTC: This allows sync to external time sources such as an analog tape recorder or video tape recorder. The system msut resolve to frames continuiously.
Bounce to Disk Interleave Stereo: This allows mixing to a stereo file that can be easily written to a CDR without more editing or using another editor to make a stereo file
Editing: This is the type of editing the system has
Automation: This is whether the system can do an automated mix and edit it.
 
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