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Audio Workstations: Not So Simple

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The world of professional recording has changed massively since the PC multimedia revolution. You donít need a multi-million recording studio to make an album or radio show (ďpodcastĒ to you cool kids), you just need a modest modern computer and some digital recording gear. You can have single microphone setups and multiple simultaneously recording audio sources. For the more elaborate setups special input hardware and audio processing equipment might be needed, but whatever your configuration, at the heart of it is a dead-ordinary personal computer.

Or is it?

Itís true that an average computer, say a quad-core with 8GB of RAM, has more than enough power to cover most home recording situations. If youíre making podcasts or editing your indie bandís multitrack a computer like this can get the job done. If you want to do audio work at a professional level though, you shouldnít just take these sorts of specifications into account.

Reliability and quality, especially if audio editing is what you do for a living, is also very important. Thatís not something easily expressed in a spec-sheet. Itís not perfect, but your first clue is often that the price of a computer is too low. Many mainstream computer manufacturers will pour a computerís budget into headline specification like RAM and CPU model because these are easier to market to non-technical buyers. Other, less sexy components such as the motherboard or power supply suffer and are usually less expensive, lower quality and off-brand components.

Thatís why many lower end professional computers, the kind that would work for audio editing, seem inexplicably expensive next to similar (on paper) computers at places like Walmart.

These mass-produced machines may seem like a bargain, but in the long run youíre better off buying a professional grade computer.

For one thing, all of the components are high quality. Reliable hard drives, RAM and PSUs arenít cheap. An electrically noisy PSU can wreak havoc on your recordings with hums and buzzes that you canít get rid of completely. Bad RAM, low end-hard drive? Say hello to stuttering recordings and hiccups with multitracks. You might even face an inability to get multiple tracks to stream in sync and various other small but critical glitches. Professional audio software is notoriously sensitive to minor instabilities that donít affect video games or office work in an obvious way.

Even when components are all good quality brands and models, itís still possible that your computer has a dud in it. Which is why professional computer builders do long burn or stress tests so that any faulty component will fail before the computer is shipped. Thatís a service included in the price, your Walmart special might have a return rate of 1 in 10 PCs, but because of the total volume they still make a profit. Pro-builders like Titanus focus on quality over quantity, which is why we burn test our builds for 24-48 hours before they go to a customer.

Professional computers are also quiet, some even completely passively cooled, which means that some semi-pro studios that donít have a separate soundproof chamber are viable for high grade recording.

To illustrate, look at our own X189 audio workstation, a hexa-core computer with 16GB of RAM. As a base computer itís great for editing simple to moderately complex multi-track audio. Every component is appropriately balanced in terms of price and quality compared to the rest of the computer. If you wanted to handle more threads and thus more streaming tracks you could scale it all he way to 18 cores and of course up the RAM for larger projects too. Youíd also swap the Primary drive for an SSD and have the audio data on a separate secondary drive to eliminate latency or read/write contention.

The system, although already very small and quiet, can be made more so with an ultra-quiet PSU option and a water-cooling setup. All put together and burn-tested by us.Not to mention, professional computers also come with way better after-sales support, something the part-time high school kid at the local megastore isnít going to provide.

Buying a professional pc, especially if itís at the lower end, can seem like a waste of money if you donít know where the money goes, but every cent is put into making something thatís consistent, reliable and well-rounded.