Switching to Mac for Home Studio

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by alarmo, Jun 30, 2005.

  1. alarmo macrumors newbie

    Jun 30, 2005
    Atlanta GA
    Hi, folks,

    I'll do my best to keep to just the facts:

    I'm looking to switch from PC to Mac for purposes of building a 'portable' home studio. I'm thinking of something that will mainly stay in my apartment for solo work, but that I can pack up with minimal hassle (i.e. minimize number of loose heavy or fragile parts), put in my car, and re-set up at a practice or recording space for band stuff.

    I'm looking at doing both straight- ahead digital audio (garage band stuff) as well as heavy MIDI and sample use (boards of canada, M83, blah blah blah), so I believe I want a high performance machine. Lotsa clock ticks, lotsa RAM.

    Software-wise, I've done a lot of reading, and it looks like Logic Pro 7 is the bomb (true for Express too? I don't know), in that it can handle a lot of audio processing that would crash Cubase and the non-$10000 Pro Tools. The only reason I mention that is it seems to lock me into a G5.

    So, what I'm thinking is a 20" Imac G5 with at least a 1 GB of RAM. (I'm thinking of an Edirol FA-101 for the sound card, but still looking). I want to avoid lugging around a tower and separate monitor if I can help it. This is all going to push my budget to the limit... I might be able to get a deal on the Logic Pro 7, but the hardware I'm planning to get through the Apple Store.

    Assuming this seems reasonable (and if it doesn't, I'm totally open to suggestions- I've used Macs off and on, but I'm not familiar with them to this extent), should I buy now or wait for the Intel chips? I'm mainly concerned that I won't be able to make another purchase on this scale for years, so I'd like to make this purchase last as long as possible (in terms of upgrades, additional production software, etc.).

    Currently I'm using a PC that I've had for about 5 years, and that I've been able to keep current for the most part. It's now running XP w/ SP2 and Sonar. Its CPU is slow (P4 1.7 GHz), but it can handle digital audio. It just can't handle soft synths or heavy digital production (it never could).

    Why do I want to switch? All the standard reasons you hear, I imagine. Better OS, better hardware, better software. I've heard the claim that Macs have zero audio latency, and that this is built into the hardware (latency from soundcard output to speakers, I guess?) The semi-portability of the Imacs I find very appealing, though I may be wrong in estimating how portable/fragile they are. Mainly, though, I don't like GUIs, and I hate DOS. I cut my teeth on Digital Unix, and my work computer runs RHEL 4, which I interface with using xterms running bash. I only bought PCs for home use because I couldn't afford anything more. With this Tiger OS, it looks like I can use unix without having to deal with linux issues (I'm good at using unix, not administrating it). And there are no real audio production programs for linux, of course. I guess that doesn't have a lot to do with the home studio, but I plan to have this machine for a long time, eventually retiring it for general home use.

    So there it is. Any insight would be most appreciated!!!

  2. macSwitch macrumors newbie

    Jun 29, 2005
    KC, MO
    I am new to Macs, too. But, I would recommend getting( if you want something halfway portable) and IMAC G5. Go the website and get the best possible machine that they have availble. As far as what I have read, no one really knows what the Intel chips will do for the PPC users (as far as new software compatability). Personally though, you may wnt to just get a Dual G5 becuase they are much more powerful from what I heard.
  3. spinne1 macrumors 6502a


    Mar 12, 2005
    Hermitage, TN USA (near Nashville)
    Yeah! I am glad for you. But, I would forget about the "portable" part. You will find it a huge hassle no matter how you set it up. Believe me. You are far better off doing this: Get a "main" computer that is very powerful. At least a Dual 1.8 G5. Use it in the location where you will do your most serious work (most taxing on the computer). Leave it there all the time. Buy an external firewire hard drive for recording your files to. Get a second computer CHEAP (an early G4 tower) that will meet minimal needs for basic midi recording and editing (my OLD Blue and White G3 (upgraded to G4/450) will record and playback MANY tracks of midi and/or audio no problem with Digital Performer 4.52.) The only problem with a less than stellar machine is in using software synthesizers and effects. If you avoid that, you can safely use almost any G4 tower. I can still use SOME soft synths and effects even on my machine, just not too many at once.

    I have never used Logic, so I don't know how much I would like it, but I have always liked Digital Performer. It is very powerful (albeit a little too powerful sometimes--you need to dig in the manual to do many things because it has so many darn options!) You should talk to people familiar with both to get their opinions.

    http://www.osxaudio.com is an excellent resource for you to dig into. EDIT: I just tried to go there and it is GONE. Maybe it will be back shortly after some maintenance.

    I agree. What is boards of canada and M83? Anyhow, do you mean using an external sampler, or a software sampler? (either way is not too taxing to the computer--after all a sample is only a small audio file) And as of now MIDI doesn't even register on the "I am taxing the computer" scale. You could run dozens of midi tracks for a single song without any trouble on a modern computer.

    The iMac would undoubtedly work, but just not quite as well as a Dual G5 tower. The ram of at least 1 GB is right on. You need anywhere from 1 - 2 GB.

    Wait? Do you need to do work now, or can it wait? I'd suggest buying now. As for what Mac to get, your latest statement about having it last several years gives even more weight towards a tower rather than the iMac. The iMac screen is an unknown for the long haul. The upgrades possible are almost non-existent. There may be PCI devices that come out in a year or two that you would really want (dedicated PCI card sampler for example, or a PCI video in/out card for video work--yes, you could just get a firewire interface, but maybe you'll like the particular PCI options better, AND you'll still have firewire available to you.)

    Strange. If my lowly G4/450 Mhz with 100 Mhz front side bus can do some soft synth work (it can...barely), surely a P4 1.7 should be able to, I would think.

    I have not heard this. It seems optimistic to me. Especially the "zero" part.

    I think it would vastly contribute to wear and tear. Just the continuous car rides back and forth would help contribute to failed solder joints over time, I would think, not to mention scratches, drops, etc.

    I think if you want to use a Mac for digital audio, get used to using a GUI. I don't know how much audio work you can do digging into the unix underpinnings. (but you can certainly have much fun doing so)
  4. Peyote macrumors 6502a


    Apr 11, 2002
    I was recently facing the same situation....I sold my older Powermac and bought a Mini, but hated the thought of taking it and a monitor with me places to record voiceovers for various projects I'm working on. I also couldn't afford an additional Mac such as a laptop, on top of mics, headphones, etc.

    You might consider doing what I did: Keep your Mac at home, and use a hard disk based mixer/recorder. The one I use I got from Sweetwater (kick ass company):


    I've used this item along with a Rode NT1-A mic, AKG 271 phones, and an Art HeadAMP to record a voiceover session, and the results were superb. Setup took maybe 5-10 minutes. I know $500 isn't exactly cheap, but I thought it was worth buying that over a laptop for several reasons:

    1. more than likely a digital workstation will be more robust
    2. Cheaper unless you buy an older used laptop
    3. no need for a breakout box for XLR, 1/4", etc inputs.
    4. Easier to setup, use, and maintain than a whole nother mac
    5. phantom power for the mic
    6. multiple inputs with high, low, and pan adjustments
    7. digital effects controls on the workstation

    Considering that in order to do any decent recording with a laptop that you STILL have to buy an input or breakout box, which is going to cost at least $150, I still think the workstation is the way to go. I bought a huge lockable 16 x 22" case from http://www.casesbysource.com that holds the Tascam workstation, Rode mic, Shure mic, most of the cables, headphone amp, pop filter, and microphone shock mount. The only thing I don't have room in there for are my two sets of headphones...for that I used a Vanguard X-pedition Universal Series Black XL Deep:


    And it works better than I ever hoped for headphones.

    Another thing about that Tascam workstation...I was able to learn how to start recording with it in under 5 minutes. Not the ins and outs mind you, but I was able to lay down tracks right off the bat.
  5. cr2sh macrumors 68030


    May 28, 2002
    I'm just getting back into the home recording mindset... but I've given up on the powerbook idea and jumped to a cheap home-built pc.

    The benefits being for $500 I got a machine that screams... and all the illegal software I can download for free. Plus the Reason 2.5 software that I actually own (it's really amazing).

    For a mobile audio solution I'm sure an iMac would kick some butt.. but it is heavy, delicate.. and you're still going to need a lot of cables, mics, a mixer... I think in the end you'll find it to be a huge hassle. I dunno. Getting levels and noise sources out of the mix, takes time.. and its not exactly something you want to setup every time.

    If I were in your shoes.. I might think of building a cheap machine (or Dell) that you can leave at the practice place.. get mics, levels, everything fine.. and have a external harddrive you can take to anf from. Work on mixes away from the place and do what you need.

    He's right.. these things are freaking awesome.
  6. everybodylikepi macrumors member


    Mar 12, 2005
    If you decide to go with the iMac and still want to take advantage of its semi-portability, you might want to invest in a carrying case like the iLugger:

  7. alarmo thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 30, 2005
    Atlanta GA
    Wow! Thanks for all the advice! I have to agree- I have to drop the "portable" idea and instead get two machines. In that case, the tower looks a lot better than the iMac (the budget's really gonna take a hit, tho... hmmm). The Tascam sounds pretty sweet, and it's actually about the same cost as a lot of multi-input soundcards like the Edirol. I'll head out to Guitar Center this weekend and see if they have any in stock.

    Boards of Canada are very ambient, like Brian Eno... lots of mellow sample loops and almost unnoticeable audio effects. M83 are really synth-heavy, beyond that I have a hard time describing their sound. Halfway between Vangelis and techno, maybe. To my ear, they use layers and layers of synths, which I would do with soft synths. My little PC tries to do it, but it's not pretty. Sampler-wise, I want to keep it as much on the software side as possible. More upgradeable, easier (for me) to incorporate into the sequencer, stuff like that. Of course, I'm still fairly new to that side of things.
  8. Peyote macrumors 6502a


    Apr 11, 2002

    Also, if you don't need phantom mic power via XLR, you can get this model which is $100 cheaper, but only has 1/4" TRS inputs:

  9. pulsewidth947 macrumors 65816


    Jan 25, 2005
    sorry to bounce in on this thread, but I notice you mention Boards of Canada (who are in my opinion the greatest Electronic act I've ever known) then M83. I've never heard M83, but listened to some samples on BoomKats site. Could you recommend a good album?

    On a slightly "more on topic" note, I write electronic music, nowhere near as good as BoC, but a similar feel. I use the Powerbook from my sig, with Reason and it does the trick. I dont use any external MIDI devices (cept all my controllers), so Reason is perfect for me. I want to use Cubase SE when they finally release a Tiger compatible installer, as Cubase was my weapon of choice on PC (I find Logic too confusing, nothings where it should be!).

    My stuff is usually fairly minimal, so I dont ever really push my powerbook, but it seems to handle just about everything I can throw at it!
  10. alarmo thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 30, 2005
    Atlanta GA
    M83 is way more dense sound-wise than Boards of Canada. I was just giving some examples. My favorite album of theirs (by far, frankly) is Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. To me, it's pretty much a monument to computer music. I believe their songs are available on their website.

    Hmmmm! I completely forgot about Reason- I'm glad you mentioned it! I'm gonna have to work that in there somehow. I'm also happy to hear it works on the Powerbook. I've always been curious how well audio production programs work on a G4 notebook.

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