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Old Oct 26, 2008, 05:59 PM   #1
field pi
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Audio and composition - help with outfitting

I would like purchase advice. Like anybody, I'm trying to keep costs as low as possible. I was years ago a desktop G4 user. Long story short I hopped out some years back, and I'm now looking to get back into doing audio (mainly based around my improv-rock band, mixing tracks) and classical composition (my real love, plus I have a shot at professional orchestral score copying). But boy has the field changed.

I'm under no illusion that I can afford anything new that doesn't have to be new. I know that I would like to use a laptop for the blessed portability and because laptops for audio have come so far in recent years - I'd be happy to own any macbook (or mbpro) that would do the job: '06, '07, whatever. When home I'll use an external monitor so I don't care about laptop screen size. However, concerning audio off the analog jack (only that jack I believe), I came across this terrifying thread yesterday - I didn't know about this issue! And people are so fast and loose (ie. expert) with their discussion and specs that I began to lose track of just which machines have the issue and which don't (help with that would be nice: which MBPs? never MBs?). Then apparently the most recent (only?) MBPs have no firewire - screw that! - and another model has one 800 and another 400 but sometimes the 800 only runs at 400... Look, I know I'd be quite happy after all this time with ye ole 400 rate. Also I think after reading this thread that I can daisy-chain to an external audio interface (computer - Glyph HD - MOTU or whatever). Totally fine for now. My Pro-88 controller is USB, so I shouldn't even need any midi cabling. Which brings me to the fact that I of course want to stop using my old external synth, go all software. Software synths and all that are the most foreign subjects of all to me.

Admittedly I have a lot of questions, I apologize. And please, if anything below can be answered in some fantastical pre-existing thread kindly direct me to it.
  • What laptop models would you recommend I pickup, used or maybe even refurbished? There are so many releases of MB and MBP, please try to point out which one. (And I want the dang firewire and don't care if the machine has seen a year or two.)
  • What fixes, installs, habits, adapters, tricks might be necessary for best audio, software and peripheral performance?
  • Which FW audio interface(s) do you recommend? 4 to 8 quality ins/outs (plus of course optical) would be fine. Something that won't give me a lot of trouble.
  • Would you recommend I go back to Logic (8 of course), or can I save the dough and go with something like Reaper at this point? (Reaper almost looks to good to be true.) I love Logic, but I'm sure I never needed all that. I want to edit sound files, cut and paste sections, multitrack (but I'm sure not tons of tracks), automate fades and plug-ins and such, mixdown. Probably need mastering software too.
  • What about synths/samplers? I'm a total babe in the woods on this point. What I care most about are high-quality reproductions of classical and jazz instruments (also great drumsets would be nice, but the need isn't urgent). Is that what Reason is for? Or is that some sort of interface and you add to that? How or why would the necessary communication get from Finale or Logic to that software and produce sound? Help, I don't get it!!
  • I know I'm sticking with Finale and will have to upgrade. This is probably where I'd often use the most processor power and RAM - working with full orchestral scores with lots of graphical elements, and not forgetting the occasional need to playback.
  • Additional or better external hard drives? And if I add drives then what about the fact that I may have only one FW port?
  • Bear in mind no gaming or emailing or other such. I have a stupid PC for that kind of thing.
  • Anything else I'd need for my purposes which I've failed to mention (but nothing for bells-and-whistle's sake).

Sorry about the typical long newbie post (I thought I was better than that... how wrong). Thanks for your time!
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Old Oct 27, 2008, 12:56 AM   #2
Luap
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Bar saying you cant afford a 'new' Mac, you have not said what your budget is.. But pretty much any Intel mac laptop should do you fine for music use. So even an early MacBook would do.. So long as you don't mind the 13" screen. However, you can always add a monitor at a later date for better desktop use..
Anyway, the computer is pretty much the most important part of the setup, so get the best and latest one you can afford.

Software: it sounds like you really need Logic 8. As you perhaps know already, it's got pretty much everything you'll ever need. But perhaps has a steep learning curve, depending how much experience you may or may not have with similar software. It has samplers and synths a plenty.
It should certainly allow you to ditch your old synth hardware anyway. I guess if you are on a budget, its not cheap, but then again, for what it can do, its an absolute bargain. You might find Logic Express a better option as its cheaper. But you do miss out on a lot of the bundled sounds and synth stuff that the full version has. I think on the Apple site somewhere you can compare what each version has.

You mentioned and gave a link to MacBook pro audio output sound problems. To be honest, although it is far from great news.. From what I have read, it highly depends on the impedance of the equipment you connect to the headphone/line out port which determines how much unwanted noise is produced. However, even if there is no noise, the sound quality from that port on modern macs really isn't all that anyway, and as you intend to use an external audio interface, then you really are not going to have a problem anyway. So I wouldn't worry about that too much.
As for which audio interface to choose. Theres a multitude of them! But I certainly recommend Firewire ones over USB, as Firewire tends to be that little bit more dependable in my experience. Either new, or secondhand, you certainly wouldn't go far wrong with a MOTU interface. Like the 828s or Ultralights. My 828 mk1 is 7 years old now, and still works great, and MOTU still support it and update the drivers! An RME Fireface 400 is also a popular choice and may suit your needs, but I have no direct experience of those, so I don't know about new/secondhand prices etc.
Most/all of those interfaces use Firewire 400. But you can connect them to Firewire 800 ports just fine. So, so long as you have a firewire port of one sort or another, you are all set.

I guess altogether its still going to be a costly little rig. But it should serve you very well for a few years, so should be a good investment Food for thought I hope.
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Old Oct 27, 2008, 05:45 AM   #3
field pi
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Luap,

Absolutely food for thought and then-some. Thank you.

I might have mentioned (but post was too long already) that I have a good amount of hands-on experience with Logic; I think the last ver I used was 6. It's wonderfully designed and I actually enjoyed the curve (call me crazy). Same goes for Finale. These are two "difficult" programs with enormous dividends. It's just that, though I'd never give up Finale (too tied into classical community), this Reaper looks a lot like Logic at a fraction of the cost. But yeah, goes without saying Logic runs rings around it in deeper ways. Just don't know if I can work in Logic on a project someone started in Reaper or vice versa, but that's another thread. (Probably would have to just use both, or maybe that's what Reason helps with.)

Thanks for lifting my fears over that MBP noise post. I agree of course with all angered that this just shouldn't be, but...

Budget-wise it's a big help to know that certain audio interfaces age so well. It means I have a shot at a good deal on used. Anyone else recommend another unit that ages well and is supported, or anyone second the 828?

Mainly I take away from your post and other threads I've read:
For the distinction one would expect from the word "Pro", not many people insist on a MacBook Pro over a MacBook for purposes like mine. Interesting.

Thanks again.
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Old Oct 27, 2008, 05:48 AM   #4
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I've had very good experiences with Edirol's Firewire interfaces.

Look for a previous-generation (last of the old design) MacBook Pro. FireWire 400 + 800 = a chance to connect sound card and hard drive. I've got a 2.2 GHz 'Pro and I wouldn't want to change it for the latest MacBook Pro, even if I was paid to...

Logic Pro 8 sounds like the software you want.
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Old Oct 27, 2008, 12:03 PM   #5
field pi
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Killyp,

Man oh manischewitz, I love it that I'm getting replies and people are giving such strong opinions. But at the same time it hurts the ole pocket to hear that I really ought to buy refurb. And then you so strongly endorse your last-gen pro - so I look at the refurb site and the slowest MBP in there (2.33GHz) is going for nearly $2G's. To see that and then hear that I could spend more on other equipment, it's disheartening. I know, I know, it's the way that it is; if you want to play you pay.

I have to admit I haven't come up with a hard budget per se. But what if I were to say I want to cap at $2G's? Then I guess if I say I want a laptop it will have to be used and I just won't imagine it lasting past a year or two. (Not that I like the sound of that...). Here, it's not very scientific but I just looked into your model (2.2GHz, 15" screen if I'm not mistaken): $1,100 obo on Craigslist in NYC, Adobe Ill and PShop incl, and I'm sure if I dug I'd come up with better; $1,000 according to Mac2sell (for what it's worth). And maybe I'll have to live without Logic somehow for some months. I don't know.

Thoughts? Would used really be so bad? A total toss-up?
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Old Oct 27, 2008, 01:57 PM   #6
bytodaystandrds
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field pi, I will copy my post here and try to further expand my opinions.
So, about the computer.

(Again)Please don't buy 2nd hand. Not that used machines are all broken/worn to death.. don't misunderstand me- there are really good deals out there! What you should consider is the true Value of a given machine, whether if it's used, refurb or what... Mac2Sell is a good place to start- it's not always up-to-date though and as you figured out on your own, you also need to check prices on eBay or Craigslist.
You will find out that most of the time it's better to get "the previous version " of a certain machine as Refurbished instead of used.This way you may even pay $100-200 more(than the used) but you get the official warranty, Apple Care if you like down the road And a clean, sealed, zero-milage machine as well.
Imagine your life with an out of warranty machine, even having minor hickups(knock wood) could drive you crazy about what bad may the previous owner have done to it... Man, you need that machine to be available and do it's job! You're not a teen Facebookin' all day long... You're a musician(as I am) and you depend on your equipment!
To me, this means better value in an officially covered new machine!

If you intend to have that piece of equipment running for, say, 3 or so years, you'd be better off having Apple Care at least for the 3..
Now's the best season to get a refurb if you're getting a portable. Practically the machine will be brand new!
Also,
For audio and music software you do Not need a powerful graphics chip or a top notch screen... (you have an external anyway)
All you should look for is a modern, fast CPU, Firewire, fair amounts of RAM and enough HD capacity to load your samples-loops-software + space to record audio for a week...
This means that a plain 2.4 Macbook(black or white is on you) with 4GB of RAM and the fastest 7200rpm 320GB drive on the market, would probably make a powerful, compact and very convenient computer for you, that will serve you as long as it can handle the software you throw at it... Of course, best option is to get the computer stock and add RAM and HD by yourself.

The hardware.
For audio you definitely want a Firewire interface. There is no other option for this. Forget about using the built-in jacks- they are built for watching overcompressed movies and mp3s.. anything but demanding audio applications.
Do some shop research on brands like Apogee, RME, MOTU... they build products with Mac in mind. Find the specs you need...
How many ins, outs, Mic Preamps? on-board mixing? DSP? How many MIDI busses (if at all)?? size? build quality?... it's your choice- only you know your needs.
I've been working with a MOTU Ultralite as well but as my projects where not so dependant on multiple tracks and I don't have many outboard FX, eventually I sold it to get an Apogee Duet with which I'm completely.satisfied.!
Bear in mind, if you decide to get an audio interface Without MIDI, you can still get a USB-to-MIDI interface for very little money (try M.Audio).
Don't be surprised if your music gear surpasses your computer's cost. That's normal.

.. man, feel free to ask, ok?
Have a nice day.
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Old Oct 27, 2008, 04:19 PM   #7
churchrd
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You could go the refurb or clearance route on a last-gen macbook. 2.4gHz on clearance was 1299 and the refurb was even less. You still have 1 firewire on that one. I've never daisy-chained an external HD and an interface, but i've heard it works just fine.

I see you mentioned the 828 interface as well. From what i've seen and experienced with the motu stuff, it's been great, very stable. I'd check out the new Ultralite-Mk3 they just put out. 2 pre's and 6 additional 1/4" TRS line inputs. Midi i/o as well. Goes for $549.

If you went with the refurb macbook and the motu ultralite you'd still be under 2G's. You could then max out the RAM and buy an external HDD. Or get Logic Studio.

That'd be a pretty solid portable setup IMHO.

Good luck and cheers!
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Old Oct 27, 2008, 04:56 PM   #8
bytodaystandrds
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Quote:
Originally Posted by churchrd View Post
I've never daisy-chained an external HD and an interface, but i've heard it works just fine.
Actually, what happens is that if your interface is bus-powered, takes advantage of your laptop And the external firewire drive, in terms of current power. That simply means even more stable operation of the preamps and output stages of the interface is ensured. I was told so by Apogee as an answer to the same daisy-chain hookup question.

Quote:
Originally Posted by churchrd View Post
If you went with the refurb macbook and the motu ultralite you'd still be under 2G's. You could then max out the RAM and buy an external HDD. Or get Logic Studio.

That'd be a pretty solid portable setup IMHO.

Good luck and cheers!
+1

Every musician I know, ends up with his/hers version of that same setup.
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Old Oct 27, 2008, 08:26 PM   #9
Killyp
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If you can't go for a prev-gen MBP, then the prev-gen MB is the way to do it. Gives you at least FireWire 400 (as opposed to Useless Serial Bus), which allows you to connect a decent interface.

I'd agree with others RE the choice of interface. Worth looking at Edirol's offerings too, I've been using their kit quite a lot recently and it's been fantastic. Take a look at their FA-66...
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Old Oct 27, 2008, 08:39 PM   #10
field pi
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Thank you everyone for your comments and openness. And I will ask more - after taking a day for thought (plus I'm bushed after long "day job" day). You've said so many interesting things and have given me hope. (Sorry, I don't know if it's proper etiquette but I like to say thank you even if it bloats the thread.)

It's definitely becoming clearer, and I can begin to see where bytodaystandrds's comment "every musician I know, ends up with his/hers version of that same setup" rings true.

I will say before I go that I notice a 2.1GHz white 13-inch MacBook sitting right in the Apple Store for $999...
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Old Nov 6, 2008, 03:26 PM   #11
Androidvim
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Killyp View Post
If you can't go for a prev-gen MBP, then the prev-gen MB is the way to do it. Gives you at least FireWire 400 (as opposed to Useless Serial Bus), which allows you to connect a decent interface.

I'd agree with others RE the choice of interface. Worth looking at Edirol's offerings too, I've been using their kit quite a lot recently and it's been fantastic. Take a look at their FA-66...
Hi I have been using this sound card before the fireface 400 and compared to the edirol there is quite a lot of noise coming from the components of the sound card. I have been using the fireface and man, i would not part from it. It is a rock solid sound card. Expensive though but worth every penny.
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