If you want a computer that's completely silent, yet portable and powerful enough for location recording, look no further.
Most manufacturers who specialise in PCs for audio work go to considerable lengths to make their machines quiet. Noisy fans are replaced with quieter, low‑speed devices, hard drives are placed in insulating caddies, cases are lined with acoustic foam. And for many applications, these measures are perfectly sufficient: once the machine has been quietened down, any remaining hums, buzzes and whirrs are low enough in level to present no problems in mixing sessions, or even in recording, when close miking is used or sources are loud.
Yet there are still plenty of recording situations in which quiet isn't good enough, and only absolute silence will do. In a conventional studio this is unlikely to be a problem, because your recording machine can live in the control room or in a machine room. On location, by contrast, it's often impractical to move the computer to another space, and in any case, you might prefer to remain in the room with the performers. And if that computer suddenly decides to spin its fans up in the middle of the pianissimo section, it'll probably still be audible on the finished recording.
The measures that are commonly taken to silence studio machines also have another consequence for location recording, in that they tend to make PCs very bulky and heavy. My own rackmounting 5U machine from Scan Computers is commendably quiet, and very powerful, but I can barely lift it, and carrying it up and down stairs is no fun at all.
With all this in mind, I've long thought that there must be a market for a PC specially designed for location recording, which would sacrifice some of the power and expandability of a conventional desktop machine in pursuit of absolute silence and a reasonable degree of portability. Yet until now, none of the manufacturers I know of had produced such a machine, and if you wanted something truly silent, you'd have to either build it yourself or buy something like the 'World's Smallest PC' reviewed in January's SOS (/sos/jan12/articles/wspc.htm). Although that machine makes a capable and reliable location recorder, it doesn't exactly represent the cutting edge of technology, being outgunned by the average netbook, yet still costs the best part of £800.
All of which brings me to Rain Recording's Event Muse — as far as I know, the first PC computer designed for audio recording with absolute silence and portability as main priorities. Like most PCs, it's available in several configurations, which are prone to change on a monthly basis as new technologies become available.
The design goals are met firstly by using a finned case made from thick aluminium, which is connected directly to the CPU and serves as an efficient heat-sink, eliminating the need for fans, and secondly by the use of a solid‑state system drive, which is silent and blisteringly fast.
At perhaps three times the volume of that of the 'World's Smallest PC', the Event Muse's case is still small enough to be called portable, yet large enough to feature a much greater range of connections. These include two USB 3 and up to 10 USB 2 ports, three eSATA ports and a Gigabit Ethernet port, plus a pretty reasonable graphics processor with DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. Internally, there's space for up to 16GB RAM, a DVD rewriter, an optional second solid‑state drive, and a PCIe slot which can be used (as in the review machine) to add a Firewire card.
The processor options are also a lot more up‑to‑date here. At the time of writing, buyers can choose from a dual‑core i3 2125S clocked at 3.3GHz, a 2.5GHz quad‑core i5 2400S (as used in the review system) or a 2.8GHz i7 2600S quad‑core CPU which can be overclocked to 3.3GHz. Performance‑wise, that means the Event Muse can easily hold its head up among modern laptops, and should be able to run the latest versions of most audio software for several years to come. (If you want more detailed performance statistics, Rain Recording's web site offers DAWbench results and comparisons with their own laptop range.)
The review system was supplied with Windows 7 64‑bit, optimised for audio recording, and Cubase 6.0.4 pre‑installed. I tested it with both USB and Firewire recording interfaces, namely the Presonus AudioBox VSL1818 and M‑Audio ProFire 2626, and it operated flawlessly with both throughout the entire review period.
I'm slightly ashamed to say that said review period ended up being a lot more extended than I had initially planned, simply because I found the Event Muse so useful! In total, I used it on five separate location-recording projects, ranging from solo singer‑songwriters to a six‑piece band, and it did not let me down once. The only crash I experienced came when I plugged a bus‑powered external USB hard drive into one of its USB 3 sockets, and even then, the same drive worked fine in a USB 2 socket.
The Event Muse is, of course, not a laptop computer, and as such requires separate screen, keyboard and mouse. One of the few very minor criticisms I have of the unit is that it's supplied without any sort of handle or carrying case, and its aluminium exterior does tend to mark easily. I imagine that anyone who does a lot of location recording would want to look into the possibility of getting a flightcase made to house the computer and all these peripherals.
Like a laptop, the Event Muse relies on an external 'brick' power transformer; this makes quite a prominent whining noise when the computer is not switched on, but thankfully subsides into silence when the power button is pressed. Unlike a laptop, of course, there's no battery backup in case power is lost during recording (or in case you encounter insurmountable ground‑loop problems). In an ideal world, the PSU cable would have a locking connector; as it is, the connection won't survive getting tangled in feet or kicked, but won't work itself loose in normal use.
Unlike the 'World's Smallest PC', I personally would be more than happy to use the Event Muse as my main music computer, and, realistically, I think it would easily meet the needs of anyone who doesn't make extensive use of enormous sample libraries or has to mix vast multitracked orchestral sessions. It doesn't have quite the CPU grunt of my own machine, but in practice it feels every bit as snappy in use — in terms of responsiveness, the solid‑state system drives in both make far more difference than any other aspect of the specification. And while internal expansion space is at a premium, there is a healthy selection of external ports, so although you couldn't easily run a Pro Tools HD rig or an internal RAID array, most users are unlikely to run into serious limitations, and the single PCIe slot could be used to add a new standard, such as Thunderbolt, if needed.
For location recording, meanwhile, the arguments in favour of the Event Muse are compelling. Teamed with a decent USB or Firewire recording interface, it's more capable than most dedicated hard‑disk recorders, yet substantially cheaper, and, unlike anything with fans or a conventional hard drive, it's completely silent, so you can use it anywhere in the recording space without fear of polluting your recordings. The Rain Recording Event Muse is convenient, versatile, reliable and affordable, and if you make a lot of recordings outside the studio, you owe it to yourself to consider it!
- Completely silent — and very reliable in real‑world recording situations.
- Well equipped with USB, eSATA and optional Firewire expansion ports.
- Decent overall performance on a par with a modern laptop.
- More affordable than most comparable options for location recording.
- A carrying case would be a nice option.
- Not as portable as a laptop.
In their Event Muse, Rain Recording have successfully balanced the need for power and expandability with the goal of creating a completely silent, portable PC for music recording.
Rain Recording +44 (0)845 0943964.