PC Correct?

Posted: March 5, 2009 in Music tech
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studiojan09-copy

Ultraviolence HQ 2009

Despite a frightening episode of temporary blindness a couple of weeks ago, which was how you’d imagine it only more boring, I’ve been feeling loads better lately. My chest still bugs me but there have been no prolonged life stopping periods of pain so far this year, so the guys at the Pain Clinic decided its best not to stick any anaesthetic needles in there for now. I’ve been able to do regular short cycle rides and have built a new PC for my studio.
Personally, I think the headaches associated with owning a music PC are overplayed by some. I expect slightly less hassle than maintaining small to medium size analogue based MIDI studio from ten years ago, and on the whole it is. For every hour I’ve recently been spending messing around with software licences, I’d probably have had to spend two or three routing out suspect cables, power supplies, vicious Atari mice and so forth. The aforementioned licences have been much easier to handle with a broadband connection – I decided against an Internet connection for my last two music computers but this seems to have gone smoothly enough using Windows Defender for protection on known sites. Now it’ll remain safely unplugged apart from updates every month or so. Hardware wise, the more things you connect to a PC the more hassle can be – here’s a few units I’ve had extensive experience of…

RME 9632 Hammerfall PCI (soundcard)

rme-products_hdsp_9632_1I had been through several cheaper soundcards before biting the bullet and spending £300 on this, mostly due to compatibility issues with my Powercores (see below). I certainly wouldn’t look back – the card’s user interface seems simple but allows control of every possible function, along with extensive diagnostic system and level information with good value D/A converters. However, the single best thing about the unit is that it has absolutely never caused my PC to crash with any software or hardware configuration. The last thing you need when on a creative roll is error messages, and this is rock solid.

PC Electronic Powercore (DSP card)

powercore_hardwareAlthough clocking up the years this is a great sounding unit, and has a weight and depth that most native plug-ins lack. However, stability issues make it hard to recommend. Coupled with my original M-Audio 1010LT soundcard unexplained buzzes made for an untenable config, with neither TC or M-Audio admitting any responsibility for the common situation. I replaced the M-Audio with a Focusrite Sapphire – all was well until the introduction of a second PCI Powercore where instability issues, especially when using Access’s Virus synth plug, came about again. Even with the RME card the Virus plug is still unreliable, with timing issues when running more than one instance. Why? It’s still on version 1.0.0, as TC and Access can’t agree on whose responsibility an update is. Like all things Powercore, it’s great when it works but not worth the hassle. I’ve become something of an addict, but I’d recommend non-users to stay clear.

Universal Audio UAD-1 (DSP card)

uad-1-lgThis has the opposite problem to the Powercore – it is very easy to use but I find the plugs themselves to be very retro and that, for me, means dull. I’ve a friend who mixes band music and swears by it. He tested the Neve plugs and, summing aside, found them dead-on accurate compared with the real desk. But perhaps the thought of owning the world’s best studio in 1983, and having Phil Collins in for session doesn’t consume his mind with suicidal thoughts…There just aren’t many UAD plugs that work for me – unfortunate as the system is super user friendly, convenient and inexpensive. As my spare PCI slots get rarer, this might have to go. Maybe along with the Powercore as well…as PCs get more powerful do we really need accelerators? Possibly not unless they’re a…

SSL Duende (DSP card)

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The future of user interfaces is now...draw and go

This is sublime – I have two firewire models that have effectively replaced my Tascam mixing desk, with 32 stereo channels of the giving the best EQ sound I’ve ever heard – including real SSL desks. The bundled plugs are great, but add the optional X-EQ for a frequency-busting 10 band filtered EQ using a graphic interface. I see no reasons for plugs, apart from emus, to stick to awkward virtual knobs – graphical interfaces are much quicker to edit, easier to see what’s going on, look nicer. In this case total control from floor to ceiling, bollock bashes to head splits, and the best thing for mixing ever.

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