February 13, 2007 01:40 AM PST
One of the original reasons that I justified buying a PC back in 1996 on my tiny grad student research grant was the prospect of turning it into a recording studio where all the effects and synthesizers were software and storage was digital: lossless copies and no bouncing tracks around on 4 track tape recorder. No more racks of expensive dedicated gear that you'd have to lug around and best of all, no wires, power cords, MIDI cables, or patch cords. U2 had even talked about releasing one of their then upcoming albums with raw instrument tracks for fans to remix, which sounded too cool. That never happened, but it would have been fun to mash up Edge's guitar tracks:
"Bono always messes with my settings"
The thing is, I just never got around to setting up my home studio. There were practical considerations for this: the only disk I could afford in 1996 was 1.6 GB which is about the size of an MP3 these days or "Hello World" in .NET, and the music software was just too expensive for a student like me. I had Guinness to buy! And bus fare. Alas.
Now that I have a job, I can actually afford to buy the software (and disks!) that I need, so I'm looking at starting some serious audio recording. I just have to choose which software package I want, which I guess will choose the platform. I'm going to do this in sort of reverse order though, and say that I'm leaning very heavily in favour of an all Mac OS X solution. Not to turn this into a platform war, but I've had some pretty crappy experiences with Windows and plugging peripherals into it. But if there were some amazingly compelling software out there that was Windows only, I'd consider using it as one stage in the audio production pipeline.
I have some pretty specific things I want to be able to do:
- Plug my guitar in, record it raw (no effects) to disk, then apply effects as a series of transforms. This is similar to how Picasa keeps your original photos intact, and saves the edits separately so you can always go back to the start, and always have an undo history.
- It needs to support a high input sample rate such as 24 or 32 bit at 192 kHz.
- It has to support input from microphones, for when I hook up my Telecaster to my tube amp, or my acoustic guitar.
- Have a large number of software synthesizers available. I should be able to buy software synthesizers from other stores or programs, and just plug them in.
- Have a large number of plugins for effects and an open, royalty free API, so that I can use Xcode or Visual Studio to write my own plugins.
- Support all formats of loops and samples (I've already bought 4 Apple Jam Packs for GarageBand / Logic at $99 each).
- Have an easy to use interface. Most software of this type tends to try to mimic real world equipment with 400 knobs and sliders, which makes it really difficult to know how to do anything until you've got 7 years of experience. I also don't want to have to read a 500 page PDF manual.
- MIDI in and out. I want to be able to use a MIDI keyboard to play synthesizers, and I want to be able to use the software to drive MIDI devices I already have such as my Roland U220 rack synth.
- The software should not require a data center worth of resources to run. I'm going to want to run this quite often on a laptop, so 2 GB of RAM and an Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.33 GHz (i.e. today's Mac Book Pro) should be more than enough to run it with no slow downs.
- I don't want 5 different bits of incompatible software, I want the music equivalent of "photoshop": recording, composing, editing, mastering, and output. It doesn't need to burn CDs or read RSS feeds, but it does need to be "mission control" for all music tasks.
- No dongles. I don't want to have to have some hardware key that I can easily lose or break. I have more than one computer, and I don't think that it is unreasonable to ask that I should only need 1 license for my laptop and desktop since there is only one person using it, and never at the same time on multiple machines.
Packages that I'm currently looking at, in decreasing order of likelihood of purchase: