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Advice on a laptop & software for recording

Messages
6,968
The last time I did any serious studio work was in the days of tape and vinyl. So I'm basically starting from scratch. Looking to get a Windows based laptop & software, mostly for recording and perhaps for occasional solo performing. I'd welcome suggestions on interfaces/controllers too. I have monitors & mics, no console. Budget is $2-3K.

So, a great computer for recording?
Best DAW for a dinosaur?
High quality basic interface?
Recommended keyboard/controller units?
Thanks.

For more specifics, and if you're willing to offer detailed advice, please read on.

Computer:
They don't seem to be rated by clock speed anymore, are there certain core processors that are better suited to recording than others?

Does more onboard RAM offer better fidelity / less latency? How much should I be looking for? Certain models are set up for gaming, would something like that be a good choice or are the requirements very different?

I've been told that some laptops have solid state storage rather than a hard drive and are much more durable because of that, is this woth taking into consideration?

Software:
I am familiar with multitrack recording & mixing, having been a pro recordist decades ago. But my computer skills are pretty rudimentary. Ideally I'd want something with sophisticated capability and very intuitive operation. Which DAW would you recommend to someone in that situation?
I will be doing keyboards & drums virtually; will this require separate programs, or software plug-ins, or do most modern recording systems now include it? Guitar processing capability would help too; I have world class guitar equipment but will also want to record direct tracks for digital reamping.
Does modern software allow an unlimited number of recorded tracks or are you still limited to twenty-four or so? and does having virtual tracks cut down on the number of ones available for actual recording?

Interface:
Need a good mic pre or two, and a pair of DIs/line ins. Will not be recording more than two tracks simultaneously. It might help to have a handful of ins & outs available during mixdown so I can use outboard gear (don't need XLRs tho). But if the software has great effects and decent simulations of vintage compressors & EQs, then extra ins & outs may be unnecessary.
Lastly, I'll need a keyboard and some sort of control surface to make things manageable. Maybe one of the keyboard controllers that has soft knobs & a bank of faders built in? Considering that I'm not too digitally tech-savvy, do you think it's overly ambitious to expect that I'd be able to make that work? Does the modern equipment interface pretty well without hours spent configuring it all using charts & tables? And are some controllers more user-friendly than others?

Thanks again for your time! I sure appreciate any advice you may have for me.
 

oldhousescott

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
2,798
Dell XPS 15" fairly well equipped should come in less than $1500. I'd spring for Win10 Pro over Home. Either a SSD or a hybrid drive. At least 8Gb RAM. I5 or I7 processor. Yes, you can get by with less, but this setup should last 5 yrs at least.

I like Presonus Studio One Pro for the DAW. It's both comprehensive in its capabilities and fairly easy to get around on. It has enough virtual instruments and plugins to get started, but of course there's tons of others with which to expand your system. I like the Steven Slate plugins. He has the "everything bundle" now where you basically rent all the plugs for $25 a month. He's just added a license for Scuffham S-Gear too, so that would handle your guitar amp sim needs. S-Gear is fantastic, definitely one of the best amp sims currently available. His Slate Drums is a good package, too, as is EZDrummer or Superior Drummer. Can't go wrong with any of them.

For interfaces, you could go with a Thunderbolt interface, but that would be overkill for your needs. A USB interface, like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4, will work just fine. Unless you have some really unique hardware pieces, I wouldn't worry about extra ins/outs to patch them in. Just use plugins.
 

Lele

Member
Messages
1,656
I agree a i5 or i7 processor will be ok, and with as much RAM memory as you can...
A solid state hard disk is not necessary, even if I love mine, and it's for sure very good for its speed, since in the laptops they often use only slow hard disks. One thing I noted with my current solid state hd is that the temperature of the laptop is lower even after many hours, and it's good for the longer life of the laptop for sure. I'm not so sure on the contrary that a solid state hd is more durable than a traditional hd, unless you use it in a room/place with a lot of dust (I mean like a workshop).
If your budget allows for it, and the size is not a problem, I'd suggest to have a look at 17" monitors, since when you use a DAW it would help to see better any information.
I agree that a gaming PC could be a good choice, but you do not need any powerful graphic card, so you can save on that aspect.

About DAW software I love "Mixcraft", and I think it's one of the easiest in the beginning, even if it offers advanced functions, too.
Anyway, I think that most softwares are similar today, and it's just a matter of personal preference and practice.
It's nice when the maker (like Acoustica Mixcraft, but others, too) offers a forum to help the users. You can get many information at those places too.

About drumming software, I like EZdrummer2 and I think you can get very good tones of it. Probably you will need some extensions (of Toontracks or other makers) to have more midi loops available for your choice, even if later it will be easy to make your own, or just modify the standard loops. But a little more "stock" is always useful, and you could choose loops in your favorite styles.

Most budget soundcards will be good for your application.

I'd like to suggest a book: Mixing secrets by Mike Senior, imho it's invaluable.
You can find good info also in http://therecordingrevolution.com website.

About plugins: before spending money, you could find that the plugins included in the DAW you buy will be more than enough. And there are many very good free plugins, too.
Here you can find many free plugins: http://bedroomproducersblog.com/free-vst-plugins/
but focus your attention on mixing with the most common plugins, even if this is specially an advice for me... to avoid keep on loosing too much time with strange miraculous stuff. ;-)

I can't help about keyboards, because I just use a very cheap keyboard, and anyway I'm just a guitar player.
And about guitars, S-Gear is excellent. But free plugins are very very good, too.
Here for example: http://www.igniteamps.com/en/audio-plug-ins
you can find all the guitar virtual stuff you could need, except for some IR files (cab/mic simulations), that you could find here:
http://www.ownhammer.com/free/v4-demo/
http://www.theampfactory.com/free-stuff/
(to be used in "Nadir" plugin).

Welcome, and enjoy the current fantastic software!
 
Messages
6,968
Okay, I really appreciate the advice so far. Am back with a couple more questions.

Have a pretty good idea what I'll need in a laptop. Still undecided on an interface- might choose to forego extra ins/outs and save myself hundreds. Thinking that with good enough plugins I could probably do any reamping right inside the computer if I want to.

Can those Thunderbolt interfaces be used with Windows systems? It seem like they might only be compatible with Mac. (The Apollo looks really excellent with its integrated sims of vintage mic preamps. If the thing's usable with a Windows computer.)

After some more thought, I'm wondering about controlling a DAW. I hate the little scratchpad that laptops use instead of a mouse. All the DAWs seem to require quite a lot of cursor use, is it practical to use one with the little PITA touchpad, or do you guys use an external mouse?

Not sure which DAW I'll go with; intending to try a few sample versions once I have the hardware. Suggesting one with a dedicated forum was a good steer, thanks.
 

bayAreaDude

Member
Messages
3,221
I'm getting great results lately with a Lenovo Y50, all solid state drive. You can get it with a hybrid ssd+platter combo, but I'd go all SSD - fast as hell. Reaper is the DAW I would recommend to anyone who isn't already super familiar with another DAW - lacks no features, it's well documented, super high performance, maybe my favorite piece of commercial software ever. I've been using a Roland quad capture for my interface for a few years - it has really great pre-amps - it's the little brother to the octa capture, which you can read about here http://tapeop.com/reviews/gear/82/octa-capture-usb-20-audio-interface/ . It also uses the ASIO drivers, which are rock solid stable and can get you to very low latency if your hardware permits.

I have no issues just using the touchpad - in fact, with reaper, you can do much with alt+ shortcuts, not using a mouse at all.
 

basso17

Member
Messages
300
I have a Roland Quad Capture as well, and I love it. They're about $269 new, or a little less, but sometimes you can find them used.

Tracktion (now on v7) is my favorite DAW. Doesn't come with much in the way of plugins, but I've always found it easy to use and understand, and it's getting more powerful all the time. It also comes with a free license for Melodyne Essential. It's currently $60, I believe, and major updates tend to be in the range of $30.

For drums, I like EZDrummer 2, though I have no doubt other plugins would do an equally good job. Some of the EZD expansion kits/loops are really killer, and there are a number of third parties that build EZD-compatible loops (as there also are for Slate and others).

For piano, I really am beginning to like Modartt Pianoteq, which works not by playing samples but by physical modeling. I've got SampleTank 3 for other sounds.

For guitar, S-Gear is my favorite, though I also have Amplitube 4.
 

chrisjnyc

Member
Messages
6,881
Any PC\mac will do... get something with a quad core and at least 8GB or RAM... more RAM = less crashes

I used Audacity for a while, which is super easy but limited. Now I am using Reaper with Win 7 (I would avoid Win 10 for driver issues)

Any interface will do, I went from a 12 year old M-audio interface to a Focusrite 18i8, and it is slightly better, but has a lot more inputs.

EZDrummer 2 is great for drums

I have some free VST plugins for keys and synths

S-Gear is so good for guitar... +10000
 

PBGas

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
6,527
I would suggest a late 2012 Mac mini if you can find one with the i7 and 16 gig ram. These are easily updatable for dual drives and memory. The newer ones are not and aren't as fast. If you want more mobile, then one of the MacBook Air units works perfectly as well with the updated processor.

I would suggest one of the smaller Focusrite Clarett interfaces.

For DAW....Studio One 3 is fantastic! Logic Pro X is great as well.

Edit....sorry...didn't read that you were looking for a laptop. Agreed on the MacBook Pro unit that others have suggested.
 
Last edited:

mattball826

Senior Member
Messages
20,812
My wife just bought a Dell 15" laptop i5 12GB ram and full 1080 touch screen for $549. These are at Costco but Best Buy will price match.

Sonar Studio would be what I use for Windows. It's far more capable than other Daws, is made for touch screens, and comes loaded with plugins and many very good Virtual Instruments from Slate, Addictive Drums, Guitar Rig and more. Sonar has subscription based options as well that are very budget friendly. More and more companies are going this route. Saves from iLok and other hassles.

Interface. A simple Focusrite 4ch would easily get the job done. If you have the budget, Try the XR18 since it is a massive interface digital mixer combo in a very compact stage box package. Sounds fantastic, Midas pre's, and so many routing options. Does not tax your computer either and your on board fx can be sent to monitors. No latency whatsoever and you won't have to assign taxing plugins to headphone mixes. Just use the internal fx buses.

Costs can range from $900 to under $1500 with the XR18. Leaves a lot of $ for mics.
 

ColeW

Member
Messages
601
You can get a MacBookPro with 16 gigs of ram for under 2k from apple refurbished. then grab logic X for $200. I'd for sure get logic X though, for the price and the shear amount of software synths and etc it comes with it's a no brainer. Sadly though you must have a mac to run Logic. I use those for pretty much everything I do now. This are on the higher side of your budget, but it'll get you the best performance IMO. As for interfaces you really can't go wrong with anything from Apogee, Universal Audio (UAD), or Focusrite.
 

Ed DeGenaro

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
23,257
You can get a MacBookPro with 16 gigs of ram for under 2k from apple refurbished. then grab logic X for $200. I'd for sure get logic X though, for the price and the shear amount of software synths and etc it comes with it's a no brainer. Sadly though you must have a mac to run Logic. I use those for pretty much everything I do now. This are on the higher side of your budget, but it'll get you the best performance IMO. As for interfaces you really can't go wrong with anything from Apogee, Universal Audio (UAD), or Focusrite.
I was gonna suggest an older model macbook pro and since he said tape days mixbus and the Apollo twin usb
 
Messages
6,968
I appreciate the suggestions. Was intending to go with a Windows laptop of some sort. Touch screen would be nice.

As for the interface, it appears the Apollo will work with either format, so I'm leaning towards that. It has simulations of some of the vintage mic pres, EQs & compressors I'm familiar with from my time as an engineer, years ago. I still have some world class mics left from the studio days too. I've decided that I don't need many extra inputs- I can run most effects in the computer, and I have an old Tascam mixer that I can submix outboard keys & extra effects through if I need to.
 
Messages
2,449
First of all I'd say get the best products you can find, spend as much as you can afford. With recording, don't settle for poor quality. Good quality products allow for a pleasant user experience, little frustration, good workflow, great sound and the posibility to upgrade part of your rig later. In the end it is about recording, you don't want to spend you recording time troubleshooting, figuring out how stuff works etc... etc...
Personally I'd go with a Mac with Logic pro. I am a big fan of Apple as a DAW computer. I'd get the best one you can afford. Preferably the top model of whichever one you are buying as you can't upgrade things like RAM anymore on macs these days, resale value will be better too. And I think it's better to overdo the specs than to have a computer that's too slow and can't be upgraded. You could also get an early 2012 or earlier mac and max out the ram, put in an SSD if it doesn't already have one etc... As a DAW I think logic offers GREAT value for the money and it is very simple to use. Of course if you rather go for windows there are great options there as well, I find Dell to be a very reliable and high quality brand. For either one I'd go with a laptop if you are in or ever plan to join/record a band or anything like that. I got an iMac and I am switching to a MacBook right now. Our band's backing singer/substitue bass player/sound guy out an XR18 mixer. It is fully functional as a 16 channel interface and we record our band with it, for things like that a laptop is quite desirable. For DAWs Pro Tools, Sonar, Reaper etc.. are good options. The latter one, Reaper, is quite complicated though... For an interface a UAD apollo twin thunderbolt would probably be my choice (if you'd go with a mac). If you decide to go with Windows there's the USB version too (works on Windows only). I use a separate Neve pre myself with my Apollo, but I find their built in pre's and their preamp sims to be pretty good!
Downside of the Apollo Twin is that the pres are always on giving you 10 dB of gain. It is clean gain so it is no big deal, it sounds great and I am very happy with results I am getting, but the always on preamps are something to be aware of though.
The other downside of the Apollo is that it only has two inputs. I pretty much only mic guitars in my home studio, but sometimes I just wish I had an extra input. I can't do two close mics and a room mic for example. The apollo twin's amount of inputs can be expanded with the optical input (with a focusrite octopre for example) but that can get a little confusing as they have to be synced by the same clock to work properly together, plus you have to spend at least 500 bucks on an external preamp with optical out. Also when using the optical in the apollo only passes through the sound to the computer, A/D conversion etc is already done inside the other input unit so the sound totally depends on that. Alternative interfaces with more inputs could be some of RME's offerings, the Apogee Quad (much more expensive though), MOTU's stuff and the rack versions of the Apollo (again more expensive, but they do solve the 'issue' with the always on preamp as well, aside from that sound quality should be about the same as the twin). I don't think the apogee duet is really competition for the Apollo twin, the Duet is cheaper and less funcional. I feel like the duet is mostly designed to be compact.
The Apollo Twin IMO has really great features and sound for it's price. I feel like it does a lot of things that i'd probably have to buy more expensive separate devices for if I had a different interface. So I think the apollo is a really great deal. The AD/DA converters also sound really, really good. The two inputs can be a little bit of a limitation but I can easily get by with them.

Again none of this will be very cheap, but it is worth the investment I think.

For a midi controller, I'd go with the Arturia Keylab, great value for the money. I am not much of a keyboard player but to me the keys feel great under my fingers. If you'd like a fully weighted keyboard the Keylab 88 offers that. The other keylabs are semi weighted. I believe all the keylabs use fatar keybeds which are commonly seen on pretty high end keyboards. I love the analog lab software (scaled down v collection) that comes with all keylabs. I maybe even like it better than the V collection. I feel like analog lab is easier to use and the presets offer the best that the individual V lab plugins have to offer. There's a really great wurlitzer plugin, and the black edition also comes with a great free grand piano plugin by UVI. And Logic has a pretty good hammond.
 
Messages
6,968
Thanks for all the info on the Apollo; it's good to hear from someone who's using one. If I need more than two mics at a time I can use my Tascam mixer; it's old enough that was made with pretty good transformers in the preamps. I think for a guitar amp the boutique mic pre sims are less important, and I can just premix the mics & use the Apollo's A/D converters. I don't foresee recording a whole band at once. This project is just for me at home.

I need to weigh the pluses & minuses of going Mac, I guess. My home computers have always run Windows and I'm familiar with it, but recording may turn out to be pretty much a separate world. Not sure how much of an issue compatibility between the computers is going to be, or whether it's simply a matter of familiarizing myself with all the minutiae of a different operating system. That's no small thing in itself though, even if MacOS is fairly intuitive. My Dad made the switch some years ago and has been very happy with the absence of common system headaches.
 

chillybilly

Member
Messages
3,656
Thanks for all the info on the Apollo; it's good to hear from someone who's using one.

I need to weigh the pluses & minuses of going Mac, I guess. My home computers have always run Windows and I'm familiar with it, but recording may turn out to be pretty much a separate world.
I have about 1/20th of the knowledge of the posters above but I unreservedly endorse the Mac as a recording platform. I'm in IT and have seen Windows at its best and at its worst and, unfortunately, 'worst mode' is often in effect when using DAW software. Without going into boring detail it just isn't very slick at dealing with the simultaneous graphical, disk and outboard (driver) activity whereas the Mac handles it all with ease. Even high-powered gaming-caliber PCs just can't match up, in my view.
 

MiguelDamas

Member
Messages
302
I have about 1/20th of the knowledge of the posters above but I unreservedly endorse the Mac as a recording platform. I'm in IT and have seen Windows at its best and at its worst and, unfortunately, 'worst mode' is often in effect when using DAW software. Without going into boring detail it just isn't very slick at dealing with the simultaneous graphical, disk and outboard (driver) activity whereas the Mac handles it all with ease. Even high-powered gaming-caliber PCs just can't match up, in my view.
It's 2016. IMO we're way past the point when Macs had an edge with audio. It comes down to the work flow you're used to and the software you want to run.

If the OP is used to Windows and doesn't need Mac specific software, personally I don't see a reason to switch and fork out the extra $.
 

chillybilly

Member
Messages
3,656
It's 2016.
And? All the problems I describe happened, to me and others, in Anno Domini 2016. Time is not a panacea. I'd like nothing better than PC/Windows to work well. It would have saved me a fortune.

The architecture and the diffusion of responsibility among so many providers on the Windows platform can and does cause problems. The Hardware Abstraction Layer they once were so proud of has led to chaos where drivers, OS patches, hardware, etc. are concerned. Mac/Apple have long been derided for being a closed shop but the shiny side of the coin is that their hardware and software standards are precise and unyielding. Do it Apple's way or don't do it. No registry hacks, no 'try this older driver,' no DLL conflicts caused by lazy developers who assume THEIR version of a runtime DLL is the one that should overwrite your existing copy in the system directory and hey, if it cripples your office suite, financial or other productivity software, them's the breaks. The less said about blue screens caused by hardware traps in the middle of recording/editing the better.
 
Messages
2,449
I have about 1/20th of the knowledge of the posters above but I unreservedly endorse the Mac as a recording platform. I'm in IT and have seen Windows at its best and at its worst and, unfortunately, 'worst mode' is often in effect when using DAW software. Without going into boring detail it just isn't very slick at dealing with the simultaneous graphical, disk and outboard (driver) activity whereas the Mac handles it all with ease. Even high-powered gaming-caliber PCs just can't match up, in my view.
I agree I love the way macs handle audio. Often trouble free. Not saying a Mac will always be trouble free, I had el capitan before and had some issues there, but when I went back to Yosemite everything worked great again! If there's anything I hate it's troubleshooting and with Mac I usually don't have to do that.
In terms of specs PC's give you more bang for the buck, but I feel like the OS gives a lot more issues. With Macs everything usually works perfectly. And aside from that all Apple products are very well built, they're sturdy and they'll last you years and years. I also think OSX is simply very intuitive to work with, for all purposes.
 

T92780

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
8,217
Msc, Logic Pro X and Apogee Duet is what I use, and it's great. Pretty seamless going from PC as well, especially on recording side. I'm so glad I went this route....OP, you will too.
 




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