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SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

For anything relating to music-making on Windows computers, with lots of FAQs. Moderated by Martin Walker.

SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Nov 22, 2005 2:23 pm

Hi Everyone!

So many people here seem to be interested in discussing the likes of PCI Express, MADI, FireWire 800, and other powerful formats that I though it would be useful to get a handle on just what musicians really want to achieve.

In a recent test my single Seagate Barracuda SATA drive managed 76 24-bit/96kHz tracks before dropouts started to occur, which is way beyond the requirements of any music I ever work on - the limitation I always run into is that of CPU overhead, largely when running softsynths (and particularly those that use physical modelling, like the AAS Tassman and String Studio). I also tend to push my hard drives more when streaming softsynth samples than playing back audio tracks.

So, what maximum track, plugin, and softsynth counts are you all attempting in typical songs? I'll attach a simple poll to this post, although I very much doubt that a few questions can deal with everyone's different approaches, so please feel free to add more details, whether you typically run 100% softsynths or full orchestral mockups.

One thing the poll doesn't easily address is audio format, which will have a direct impact on both hard drive and CPU load, so please indicate in a separate reply what you normally use (24-bit/44.1kHz, 24-bit/88.2kHz, 24-bit/96kHz, and so on), and if appropriate, why you chose this format.


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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Henry-S » Tue Nov 22, 2005 3:21 pm

interesting poll :)

I also think that the whole Track count isn't that important anymore, I mean as you said you got over 70 tracks at 96hrz and 24 bit? I mean your talking enuff tracks for micing up an Orchestra piece by piece? lol

I would agree that the main thing which struggles for me are things like VSTi's like say BFD and the like which really start hitting your CPU hard.
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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Nov 22, 2005 3:39 pm

Thanks for the feedback Henry!

So far the results are exactly as I suspected - few musicians ever run more than 30 simultaneous audio tracks, a couple of plugins per track (but with a few tracks needing more treatment), and mostly less than eight softsynths and softsampler instruments. That most definitely places the CPU as 'most important' component, and I suspect softsynths as the most demanding single item in the vast majority of songs.

However, we may yet get a glut of orchestral musicians demanding more than 30 tracks yet few software synths. Let's see.

Thanks for your votes so far, and please keep them rolling in so we can find out what's most important to you all.


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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:07 pm

The survey results are now changing slightly, but only in that newcomers are favouring even more softsynths per song - it looks so far as if available CPU is far more important than hard drive performance for the majority here :lol:

So, believe it or not, most musicians here could probably get away with a typical 5400rpm laptop drive :beamup:

Keep those results coming!


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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Henry-S » Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:23 pm

So Martin the main strain of track numbers, is mostly to do with the Hard Drive speed?

Its just currently I have 2 x 80gig (5400rpm) drives and I really thought that i would ave to put in 7200 drives, but would that only really be needed if i was to go over say 20-30 tracks?

Its just i was under the impression that doing say a recording of say 6-8 mics might choke the system? but it would be great to have your opinion on it. Its just i'm hoping to have

Motu 828 with an ADA8000

then this going into my Laptop to record say a drumkit with 6-8 mics?

would i get into trouble cause the drives are only 5400rpm?
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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Andy Cobley » Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:31 pm

it looks so far as if available CPU is far more important than hard drive performance for the majority here


Arr,

But what you've not asked about is how often people freeze their softsynths for the final mixing stages. They then effectivly become an audio track with the disk performance problems.

Ocasionally I've run into this, too many CPU cycles so I freeze and the disk throughput becomes a new problem...

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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:31 pm

Hi Henry - You should be fine recording with 6 to 8 mics onto a single 5400rpm drive, unless it's heavily fragmented, or extremely old.

If you can't than you've got a problem elsewhere in your system. One thing to check is that your hard drives are benefitting from DMA, by looking in Device Manager in the Advanced Settings page for your various IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers - for each device on the chain the Transfer Mode should read 'DMA if available', while the Current Transfer Mode should have an entry such as 'Ultra DMA Mode 5'. If you see any mention of PIO mode then this is the cause of your problem, and although Windows is supposed to set the optimum setting for you automatically, it's not unknown for it to make the odd mistake.


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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Smithee » Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:31 pm

The thing with me is that my track count and the number of plugins and soft synths I use are actually quite small most of the time. But I'm now often using high sample rates (88.2kHz, 176.4kHz into DSD and SACD on ocassions) and the synths and effects I do use, are very resource intensive, so I find it generally cancels out.

The UAD1 and PowerCore cards I use help a lot, and also my external effects boxes take some of the strain.

Having said that, I'm just finishing a community film project which weighed in at 80 tracks at its peak. My Athlon XP system coped suprisingly well (with a few Western Digial Raptors helping it along :lol: ).

But in truth I rekon many people probably could get along well with a less esoteri hard drive (like the Raptor) and adding a bit more RAM, or indeed a UAD1 instead. My new Samsung Spinpoints are not quite as blisteringly fast as a Raptor, but they have a lot more space and are still plenty fast enough for my needs.
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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Nov 22, 2005 6:25 pm

Andy - there's a limit on how many questions I could reasonably ask in one hit, so let's assume that all softsynth tracks remain 'unfrozen' when voting. After all, I was more interested in my survey on how people's songs were divided up - there are always some optional trade-offs between CPU and hard drive, but these are largely because the CPU has run out, forcing people to freeze some tracks. Hence my interest in the breakdown of typical tracks.

Smithee - thanks for your format clarification. Tell me - what audible improvements have you noticed after moving your softsynths to 88.2kHz and 176.4kHz, or are they primarily a choice dictated by the end format? And did that 80-track peak result from lots of foley (FX) tracks on that film project, or were they all music?

Thanks for the continuing info everyone!


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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Henry-S » Tue Nov 22, 2005 6:29 pm

Well I've never tryed recording 6-8 tracks at one time, but I had always been told u want min of 7200 rpm, and i know that its good to have faster drives for reading and writing performance, but thought that 5400 wouldn't be upto the challenge.

I have recorded 2 mics at the same time with the motu and the laptop, but just wanted to have a think about doing a drum mic recording if i got the ADA8000.
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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Ooblecaboodle » Tue Nov 22, 2005 8:43 pm

The most important aspect of a DAW for me is low latency monitoring.
I track mostly in RADAR, but have recently started tracking in a 32 channel Sonar system when necessary. I can get by with around 2 ms latency (128 buffer setting), but it would be nice to know that I could use that buffer setting with enough processing headroom left over to go and make me a cuppa!

I know I could get zero latency monitoring using the desk, but with a typical session in our studio, I've got enough to think about as it is without having to concentrate on whether I'm feeding aux sends from bus or from tape.

Out of curiosity, I tested the monitoring latency we get through RADAR, and it's easily sub 2ms. Hopefully, with the talk of QoS on PCIe soundcards eventually becoming a reality, then maybe native systems will have this capability too.

So, i guess that Processor power is the part of my DAW that is being pushed hardest, although I still feel I have enough horsepower to handle it with an Athlon64 3500+ - go figure.
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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Kaw-Liga » Tue Nov 22, 2005 8:44 pm

Hello:)

I do 96/24, in my home studio, tho I can't tell the difference, for four reasons: Firstly, professional mastering people I guess would be able to do more with the sound of my recordings when they are big; secondly the next commercial audio format probably will use this kind of higher samplerates; thirdly, I have lots of space on my harddisk anyhow; and fourthly, my burning/mastering program dithers it down in realtime as I burn the CD.
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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby robinv » Wed Nov 23, 2005 12:18 am

Hello,
I generally run at 24bit 44.1kHz the reason being the following:
1. when mixing to CD nothing has to be resampled, just a bit of dithering down to 16bit going on.
2. The CPU load is dramatically increased in using plugins at 96kHz for bugger all sound improvement as far as my poor ears can tell
3. My MasterX Powercore plugin runs at 48kHz max
4. Uses less disk space
5. The whole system just works better and having a bit of CPU headroom makes for a less stressful life :)

Just a note on drive speeds and that - it's never a question of "need" it's a question of getting the best technology you can to do a job. You may not need 7200rpm drives but you might benefit from the faster seek times and better bearing technology and buffering that comes with a modern drive. Same as SATA just takes the load of the IDE bus - you can almost hear the motherboard sigh with relief.

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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby Martin Walker » Wed Nov 23, 2005 11:39 am

So, with 53 votes we still have an overwhelming proportion of PC Musicians running 10 to 30 audio tracks, and none at all (so far) over 50 tracks. Most people are running one or two plugins on each track, and about half running four or fewer softsampler instruments.

The biggest differences are with softsynths, where everyone is doing something different - perhaps this is because (as I identified earlier) these are the most demanding single item in a song, and (neglecting 'freeze' functions) we write music that is partially dictated to the amount of CPU we have on offer i.e. those with more powerful processors tend to run more softsynths simply because they have that option.

Ooblecaboodle raises an interesting point about low latency, since it's well known that CPU rises as the latency drops below about 12mS. In a live recording environment where sub-2mS latency becomes more important so musicians can monitor their performances in 'real time', this may become the limiting factor as fas as CPU is concerned.

Kaw-Liga - I understand your points, but if you can't personally hear any improvement in moving to 24-bit/96kHz, you're probably wasting a lot of CPU in the process if you're running any plugins or softsynths. Yes, it can be wise to be prepared for future commercial formats, but in moving from 44.1kHz to 96kHz you're not just using more than twice as much hard drive space for your audio tracks - any plugins and softsynths you run will also take more than twice as much CPU as well. I somehow doubt that professional mastering people will necessarily be able to get a better result from a 96kHz file than a 44.1kHz 'if it's well recorded', unless it features acoustic instruments and in particular percussion. Of course it's your choice though ;)

robinv - like you I run at 24-bit/44.1kHz, and I know what you mean about that motherboard sigh of relief ;) I agree about using modern 7200rpm SATA drives, my point about the 5400rpm drive being partly tongue in cheek because so many people seem to reach for RAID as soon as they want to run more than a dozen tracks.

Keep those votes coming in!


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Re: SOS PC Music Users Typical Song Survey

Postby James Perrett » Wed Nov 23, 2005 12:25 pm

Henry-S wrote:Well I've never tryed recording 6-8 tracks at one time, but I had always been told u want min of 7200 rpm, and i know that its good to have faster drives for reading and writing performance, but thought that 5400 wouldn't be upto the challenge.

That's one of the problems with forums like this - misinformation is easily spread by people who have heard something but never actually done it for themselves.

I've actually recorded 16 tracks simultaneously (at 16 bit 44.1kHz) on a PII 233 MHz machine with a standard 5400 rpm hard disc (or it might even have been 4200rpm in those days). There were no dropouts on record or playback.

Cheers

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