Voice Over Blog

Home Studio Essentials - Your Computer choices

In a previous post, I mentioned three must-haves for producing audio: a computer, an input/output device, and a microphone. Today, I want to spend a bit of time discussing your computer needs.

As you might realise, computers are one of the fastest evolving technologies. So it can seem daunting when choosing a computer for your audio needs. Can I use my current computer? Do I need to upgrade? Should I go with a Mac? Or a PC? Let’s try and answer some of those questions?

What do I need most in a computer?

There are two things that your computer needs regardless of brand or operating system. That is hard drive space and memory (RAM).

When producing audio, you will be recording audio to your hard drive, and potentially filling it up very quickly. Having ample hard drive space will mean that you have plenty of room for many hours of recording (and lots of recording is what you need to keep getting better at your craft!).

If your current computer doesn’t have the largest hard drive space, do NOT go out and buy a new computer just yet. Part of being a home-studio audio producer is recognising what are and are not good investments. You might not need a new computer just yet. An external hard drive might be a better solution. External hard drives are excellent for audio production for two reasons: 1) You can set your default audio file location off the same hard drive that is running your OS. This makes your DAW operate slightly faster. 2) External hard drives are easily upgradable. Run out of room? Buy another. You’re probably doing something right if you’ve done enough recording to fill up an extra hard drive or two!

You also will need plenty of memory, that is, random access memory. This is different than your hard drive space. RAM allows your computer to store bits of information for immediate use and is something your DAW will use heavily as it stores certain information in memory as you edit your audio. The more RAM you have available, the better. This is especially true when you start to add effect plugins to your tracks such as EQs, compressors, and other plugins. Each plugin used requires some usage of your CPU and of your memory. Keeping a healthy ratio between used RAM and available RAM will allow your software to work at its peak.

At this stage in technology, most new DAWs will require a computer system to have at least 4GB of RAM, and likely will scale to 8GB within the next five years. That being said, you certainly can make quality recordings on older DAWs that have lower requirements. Figure out a budget and what computer system is best for you considering your current and future needs.

Mac vs. PC?

This can be a pretty heated discussion. First, let me be clear that both Macs and PCs are more than adequate for making great home recordings. There are some advantages to having one over the other.

On the one hand, Macs have some built in features that are really helpful to the budding audio producer. Mac has built in drivers for audio and MIDI that are far superior to the standard ones that come with a PC. Also, with GarageBand as a free DAW that comes with Macs, you have almost everything you need to start making great recordings right away (you still need a good I/O and microphone!). However, all this comes at a pretty hefty price.

On the other hand, the money you save on a comparable PC can go towards buying other equipment such as an I/O interface or a good microphone, both things you will eventually need. You will, however, with a PC, need to download ASIO drivers to do audio producing and might need a few other third-party softwares to do everything you could do “in-box” with a Mac. Consider all of these factors if and when you choose to buy a new computer.

Should I Upgrade?

This is a question to consistently be wary of as an audio producer. There will come a point where your equipment begins to inhibit, rather than enable, your abilities. Always consider what the most important thing to upgrade in your home-studio might be before throwing money into a new computer. Have you acoustically treated your space yet? Are you using quality monitors or studio headphones? Are you still using a cheap microphone or a poor quality I/O? Knowing that computers can be rather pricey, be sure that you are getting the most audio production quality for your investment before running off to purchase a new one. 

Remember, a slightly faster computer will not change the fact that your room sounds funny or that your microphone does not capture your voice well!

Recap

Your goal is to have a computer that meets or exceeds the requirements of your DAW. That being said, you do NOT need to the greatest and best computer to make quality recordings. Many of you have powerful enough computers right now to do great work. But, be aware of these few things when making a decision regarding purchase or upgrade of your computer.

They will make a big difference in the performance of your production software!

Coming up next: you guessed it .. a closer look at the I/O device.


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