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Home Digital Audio Work Station Explained (part 1)

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Setting up your own DAW (digital audio workstation) at home is more affordable and reliable than ever. With a minimum investment you can get started with a very good sounding studio. In this article I’m going to explain the basic concepts you need to know to get you started!

what you need:

These are the basic components needed for any Music Production Session:

  • 1- Computer
  • 2- Music Production Software
  • 3- Audio Interface
  • 4- Studio Speakers
  • 5- Microphones
  • 6- Midi Controller
  • 7- Audio Accessories

1- Computer

The computer will be the center and mothership of your studio, so having a strong and fast machine will always be the best option, but this does not mean it’s the only way.

– The computer processor will be use to render your session and all the tracks, plugins, and other calculations needed for recording and editing the audio. If the processor is too slow the computer will not be able to read all the info fast enough to continue with playback, and the software will stop and give you a warning every time.

– The Ram is the temporary memory used to load your session and all the tracks for editing while you work. So the bigger the session the more ram your system will need.

– The Hard drive is where you store all the data you create when recording and editing the session. Using the local drive on your computer for software and external drives to store your Music Sessions is always the best and more reliable practice.

Never trust a Hard Drive with your valuable work! keep at least 2 extra copies on different drives for back ups

The question I find interesting is Laptop or Desktop?:

Any modern computer (by the time of this writing) with a good processor and at least 2 GB of ram will go far in a home studio. Macs will always be more reliable than PCs but that does not mean you can’t use them successfully.

If you are not planning on recording more than 8 tracks at once (and you most likely won’t ) you don’t really need an expensive desktop computer. This way you can take the advantage of taking your work with you any time! and saving some money to put on other devices you will need.

Desktop Computers come in handy when you need to install more advance Audio Interfaces that work with PCI audio cards to help process the audio and add more tracks to record at once, but I believe this will be obsolete in a near future.

2- Music production Software

Choosing the right program to star with is a crucial decision to make, since you will have to spend a great deal of time learning it. Also transferring your work years down the road to a different software won’t be an easy task.

All of the programs available at this moment are great on some tasks and terrible at others, so it comes down to your personal taste and way of work. Just remember that at the end of the day they all do more or less the same tasks, and the quality of your recordings will NOT be define by them but by the way you process the sound before going into the computer.

The main programs I recommend are:

  • Logic (Express or Pro)
  • Digital Performer
  • Pro Tools

Logic (Express or Pro):

Out of this three Logic is definitely the better more reliable program for music production. It comes loaded with a huge library of high quality sounds and royalty free loops for you to use in your tracks, as well as really good drum machines and soft synths that could challenge the most expensive virtual instruments in the market.
It also works seamlessly with Macs, integrating it self with the operating system and iTunes every step of the way.
No support for PCs anymore…

Digital Performer:

Digital Performer was my program of choice for the first 10 years of production work. It is a great platform for mixing, editing and even for working on soundtracks. The new versions 7 and 8 are much more stable than previous versions I had the chance to work with. It also comes with a great array of Guitar effects and virtual amps that are handy when producing guitar tracks.

I have been using Performer also as a live sequence software, to sync tracks on live shows with bands for quite some time now, and I have never encounter any issues so far!

It’s “Chunks” feature allows you to create a set list of songs, and program the order for shows!

Performer is compatible for both Mac and PC.

Pro Tools:

Pro Tools have been the pioneers of the music software technology. There for they have develop a great system to edit and record audio, becoming the industry standard program available at almost every professional studio around the world.

They used to force you to buy their hardware since they didn’t support any other machines, and it looks like the company simply wont offer any support to clients (even if you spend lots of money on their HD systems). For these reasons I have decided to never use this program.

Pro Tools is also compatible with Macs and PCs.

3- Audio Interface

The interface (or converter) is the device responsible for receiving the sound and transforming it into a code that computers understand. It’s the connection between the sound and the software, so having a good converter with a minimum of quality is important.

These machines are also replacing the need to have a mixer in your home studio, since they now have evolved into fully integrated systems that come with Pre-amps, Virtual Mixers, Headphone channels, Multiple outputs (for studio monitors), Built in EFXs and much more.

They also come with midi channels that let you synchronize keyboard controllers and other devices to the software.

If you are getting an interface for the first time the thing to know is how complex you DAW needs to be. By that I mean: How many tracks at once you will need to record?, and how many devices (including keyboards, controllers, etc) you will need to connect?
Having preamps in the interface will also help you a lot at the beginning, but having none preamp channels as well will give you the option to add better preamps later if your studio grows!

Interfaces from any of these companies will give you a solid star:

  • Motu
  • Focusrite
  • Presonus
  • Digidesign

4- Studio Speakers

Studio speakers are very different from home loud-speakers and others we use. These don’t add any frequencies to the sound, reproducing a flat response for playback. They also have to be stronger, since they need to process unmastered and uncompressed signals from tracks in production.

These speakers are also designed for near-field monitoring. This means that they should stand close to the listener, to avoid adding coloration to the sound from the room, and reverberation from walls.

It is a must to have studio speakers, other wise you might be hearing frequencies that are added by devices or your room, instead of what’s actually in your tracks. In other words, you could be cutting or adding frequencies with EQs that don’t really exist in your session!

go to Part 2

  1. carlos

    hola, con respecto a los sistemas operativos cual crees que sea el mas compatible (en ambiente windows) con los plugins, interfaces y para grabar ?

    • Inti Maldonado

      Hola Carlos. Realmente hoy en día no importa mucho el sistema operativo, ya q las compañías ofrecen sus productos para las dos plataformas. La diferencia es la estabilidad de la computadora para trabajar. Y Mac hace mucho mejor trabajo con sus productos en ese aspecto.

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