Pro-quality Audio/Composition on MB or MBP, other stuff

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by field pi, Oct 26, 2008.

  1. field pi macrumors newbie

    field pi

    Oct 26, 2008
    New York City
    Hello all, and thanks in advance for your time.

    Short on time or don't care to know my little mac history?, please skip down to "The question" below.

    I'm looking to get back into pro-quality audio mixing, some tracking, and also to get back to the classical-style pieces I left abandoned in Finale a few years ago. I need buying advice please, especially from MacBook users, Pro or no.

    Some background:
    I bought a bunch of equipment about 10 years ago that lasted me some time. Had a G4 desktop running OS9, bought Logic 5 (that's right, 5), a Layla interface, an external midi synth device (what did I know?) by Kurzweil called I think PC2r, a mixer and mics, and went to town; I went to town especially on that steep but interesting Logic learning curve. That was nice for some time. I could load in tracks off my 4-track analog, or later digital tracks from recording sessions, and mix them to quite decent results for vanity release or better.

    Later I picked up OSX Jaguar, got sick of running Logic in Classic so got a nice little crack to run Logic in X (probably part cause of my problems, so I won't repeat that again, all legit now), and to get into my true passion which is classical composition, I bought Finale 2005, and also a nice keyboard controller, amp and Alesis MK2 speakers. I never emailed or gamed and never cared to; the computer might have been on the internet three times for software authorizations. Trouble in paradise however as my tower always was a lemon. Hell, Tekserve here in NYC replaced practically everything in there over time and still these bizarre problems recurred - but this isn't a post about that. I don't want a tower anymore, and my faith in Apple was not destroyed:eek:.

    I wrote music in Finale that was classical based, and so employing traditional instruments that I'd like sometimes to hear in playback; and I mixed mostly my improv-rock band's efforts in Logic, employing editing and plug-ins and whatnot. I also used Logic sometimes for composition because obviously things can be done there that can't be done in Finale.

    To finish the background, and with apologies for length, I never was satisfied with the playback sound in Finale, and the Kurz was no use there because the classical instrument sounds were not resampled for range (yuck). I came to understand how much better using software synths/samples would be, but didn't know where to begin. I still don't know. Then, simultaneous with a protracted financial problem, my G4 tower acted up for what would be the last time. I shut it all down and now, two years later...

    The phoenix:
    I can no longer stand not composing, plus there's a strong possibility I can get a copy writing gig for an orchestral piece, so I need to get back to Finale (well upgraded by now). And as for my band, though we don't meet often, I have an astonishing backlog to deal with. Thirdly, I plan to begin working on a project with a singer/songwriter friend of mine living in London, probably over the net since she got Reaper (she uses windows, but I see there's a mac beta). Anyway, composing and dealing with that backlog are the main things.

    My job has not been effected by the economic down-turn (merits another :eek:, add some beads of sweat) and I have some cash I might spare.

    The question:
    If you got this far you are a saint in my personal pantheon. I would like purchase advice. 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 since laptops for audio have come so far in recent years - I'd be happy to own any macbook that'd 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 an external synth, go all software. Software synths and all that are the most foreign subjects of all to me.

    Like anybody, I'm trying to keep costs as low as possible. 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.)
    • Is it OK to just go on eBay or Craigslist to buy the macbook? Other sites I should be aware of?
    • 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. Again, 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!! :confused:
    • 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:D. I may want the mac to go on the internet sometimes, but only to send/receive music files with the friend in London I mentioned earlier, and maybe to work on my website occasionally.
    • Anything else I'd need for my purposes which I've failed to mention (but nothing for bells-and-whistle's sake).

    Thank you a thousand times. And yes, I humbly accept the award for Most Hated Newbie 2008. I will endeavor to be of use to others in these forums down the road.
  2. techound1 macrumors 68000


    Mar 3, 2006
    I'll dip my toe in parts of this one.

    1. get a refurb. Big savings; same quality of machine.
    2. Yes, but be as aware buying a used computer as you would be buying a new car. Check in the transmission case for sawdust. If you know macs well enough, go the cheaper craig's list route; otherwise, go with a veeerrrrrry reputable seller on ebay (and check the cashback deal to get even more savings on a BIN model).

    ?. FW drives. Most FW drives are daisychainable, meaning you can hook them up in a string - no extra ports or hubs required.

  3. field pi thread starter macrumors newbie

    field pi

    Oct 26, 2008
    New York City
    Thank you for taking pity on me. I've been watching one view after another of my blithering post without a reply.

    You say I could daisy-chain multiple external hard drives. But can I still put an audio interface at the end, ie. computer - HD 1 - HD 2 - audio interface?
  4. techound1 macrumors 68000


    Mar 3, 2006
    That's my understanding of how FW daisychaining works, but it's a bit antiquated (my experience, not the concept). Ideally you can sting 60-some devices, but there's got to be a drop where data doesn't pass fast enough.

    Worst case, you can chain them and if it doesn't work speed-wise you can spring for a hub.
  5. techound1 macrumors 68000


    Mar 3, 2006
    I forgot to add that you may want to post bits and pieces that are audio-specific in the audio area - you'll be more likely to hit someone with direct experience. ;)
  6. field pi thread starter macrumors newbie

    field pi

    Oct 26, 2008
    New York City

    Before I bail on this post and get more audio-specific as you suggest, a question for you if I may:

    I clicked on your link and checked out your deal sniffer. Super nice, much over my head! But I noticed your link titled "Still Jonesin’ for the black?" I actually noticed this refurby earlier today in the Apple store.

    What I don't understand is how the price for this is set at $1299, but when I plug the config into I get $810.

    I got really excited when I read about mac2sell as a way to get a mac's value, but now I'm :confused:.
  7. techound1 macrumors 68000


    Mar 3, 2006
    Don't rely on Mac2sell for an accurate picture. I have yet to find them in sync with actual market values (ebay, for all of it's faults, is a far better idea for market value because it is detailed and you can be assured it is an actual market value because you see the prices buyers are paying - M2S does not give any indication of where they get their prices). If you read M2S's fine print, they assume things like airport cards and warranties are not part of the computer and they do not factor in condition, a major element of any used mac sale :confused::eek:.

    A refurb direct from Apple comes with the following:
    # It performs and looks like new
    # You get the same one-year warranty as new
    # The computer carries the same eligibility for Apple Care as new
    # It is fully tested (including full burn-in testing)
    # It is refurbished with replacement parts for any defective modules identified in testing
    # It is thoroughly cleaned and inspected
    # It is repackaged (including appropriate manuals, cables, new boxes, etc.) - nothing is missing
    # It includes the operating software originally shipped with the unit and the custom software offered with that system
    # It is placed into a final QA inspection prior to being added to sellable refurbished stock​

    Basically, you're getting a new computer in 100% condition with a one-year warranty from the manufacturer.

    BTW - the blackbook listed in today's post is a clearance rather than a refurb. For today's discussion, it's not really relevant because the blackbooks are no longer in production ;)
  8. field pi thread starter macrumors newbie

    field pi

    Oct 26, 2008
    New York City
    Got it, very interesting. The moral: there ain't no easy way (and that ain't no double negative). I might just have to take a chance on second-hand for now, money being as it is, but them refurb sure do sound preferable!:apple: We'll see...

    I've since posted to Digital Audio as per your council. Between this and other back-and-forths I'll give it about a week, see what other advice I can get and knowledge I can gain, then I guess make some kind of move.

    Thanks so much for your time and advice!
  9. techound1 macrumors 68000


    Mar 3, 2006
    If money's tight, try the cashback deal. Depending on what ebay has negotiated with them on a particular day, it can be up to 30% off a BIN computer on ebay.

    Have fun with it! And no more long q's or we'll give you a wedgie and tape you to the flagpole. :D
  10. bytodaystandrds macrumors member

    Sep 20, 2008
    Hi there!
    About the computer.
    Please don't buy 2nd hand. 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..
    Get a refurb. Now's the best season to do it if you're getting a portable. Practically the machine will be brand new!
    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 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 way-too-compressed movies or mp3s but demanding audio applications.
    Do some shop research on brands like Apogee, RME, MOTU... they traditionally 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.
    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. :D

    ok.. where was I...

    is that enough??
    Feel free to ask!

  11. field pi thread starter macrumors newbie

    field pi

    Oct 26, 2008
    New York City
    Thanks! A follow up ...

    I have another post going on the same stuff in Audio forum; it's shorter and so getting more play. I speak to the used/refurb thing and to costs there. I'd love to know your thoughts there.

    Thanks bytoday!

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