Over 10 years ago I started a leader column by saying: "The cold reality is that the musical hardware and software available five years ago almost certainly already did everything that a talented engineer/producer actually needed to create great recordings." OK, a few more genuinely useful polishing tools have become available over the past decade, but in reality, what developments in technology since then have actually improved the quality of your final projects?
As I pointed out in a leader column written some years before even that one, the real divide between pro recordings and home projects comes down to musical ideas, playing skills and the space used to make the recordings — the technology needed to record them was perfectly adequate even back when everything was 16‑bit. As long as you have decent monitors or headphones so that you can hear what you are doing, you can make perfectly good release-quality recordings using budget audio interfaces and microphones and a 'lite' DAW. In most cases you can also get by with the plug-ins and sample sets that already come with your DAW, though I have to confess that I do occasionally give in to the temptation to buy third-party plug-ins and sample libraries when I find something that can do a job that my basic plug-ins can't. What I do find frustrating, though, is when one piece of CPU intensive software causes my computer to wimp out, then when I look at the activity monitor, I find one core of my machine is maxed out and the other seven are doing almost nothing.
So, what do I actually want from technology? Apart from a cure to the above load‑sharing issue, which would be a great start, my wish list starts with a computer that has enough power to run my music software with capacity to spare; I'd like it to be upgradable without having to ditch the whole thing to buy a new model every three or four years; I'd like the software to be perfectly stable and I'd like upgrades in the operating system not to kill off some of the old software upon which I still rely. I'd also like to see new machines with enough of the peripheral ports that I need to plug in my various drives, controllers and monitors. But then I'd also like to be able to cure all health problems, be around to see world peace, live under a government that has the best interests of its citizens at heart and have the major online music distribution/streaming companies pay musicians a fair cut — so it looks like I'm destined to be disappointed for a while longer yet.
Still, it's not all bad news, as some things have definitely improved over the past decade — my six‑year‑old Mac Pro still just about manages to get the job done, and the spinning beachball of death doesn't visit quite as often as it once did. So maybe when you come to read a Sound On Sound leader in another 10 years time, probably delivered by laser retina projection sunglasses, everything will work perfectly all the time. Place your bets please.
Paul White Editor In Chief