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8 track simultaneous recording - with a budget laptop?


alexclaber

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Looking to upgrade from my Fostex MR-8HD which does a fine job of 4 track simultaneous recording but is no longer sufficient for my musical situation.

 

I was originally planning on going to a Yamaha AW1600 to get 24 bit 8 track simultaneous recording and then transfer to my desktop PC via USB for overdubbing and mixing. However it seems that there are cheap enough interfaces, like the Presonus Firepod, and laptops, to achieve the same 24 bit 8 track live recording and give me a dedicated computer to do all the further recording and mixing.

 

I'm all but 100% set on the Firepod - great balance of features, sound and price.

 

So the big question is what do I need from a laptop? I'm expecting to add an external hard drive to give me extra storage and a reliable way to back up onto my other computer. I don't care how big or ugly the laptop is. I will be recording 8 tracks at once at 24 bit 44.1 kHz - I presume the key factor there is hard drive write speed. I'll then be adding maybe another 8-12 tracks during overdubbing.

 

I don't use a huge amount of plug ins - one reverb for everything with various amounts from different tracks sent through it, plus some compression and EQ on the tracks that need it, and then a mastering plug in for multiband compression and saturation. So the processor demands should be relatively low.

 

The Firepod comes with Cubase LE so that's the obvious software option, though I've heard good things about the very cheap N-track. And of course whichever laptop I get, it has to have a Firewire port, though it doesn't need to be 6 pin as the Firepod is self-powered.

 

All this technology moves so fast I seem to have to start from scratch when researching a purchase! Is anyone out there clued up on this?

 

And in terms of budget, I'm looking at buying used, around the £300 mark (which equates to the new price of the cheapest Dell laptop you can buy, for cross-Atlantic comparisons).

 

Alex

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I have a firepod, and have used it with a MAC and PC. Are you sure you want a PC. I personally have had many problems running music software on one.

 

Ok, the nitty gritty.. I sometimes run 8 ins (for drums or live recording) into my mac (with CuBase SX) which has the following 2gb of Double data rate ram. 1.83 ghz dual processor, 80 gig HD with 7200 write speed, firewire and usb ports. I can tell you that this set up works great. I personally think the RAM is the most important.

I had a PC that had 1gb DDR ram, 3.6 processor, and a 7200 60 gig HD and it sometimes didnt do well with 4 ins. Never tried 8 with it.

 

Your best bet IMHO is to call sweetwatersound at 1800-222-4700 (oh damn,... thats in the states) and ask them what you need as far as requirments go. Also in the firepod manual is gives the requirments and the recomended specs for a the computer.

Hope that helped mate, Jonathan

 

 

 

 

 

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I've been using MAC Logic, following a daliance with Cubase. I find Logic, er ... more logical and MAC systems are generally very reliable. The big two are Logic and ProTools (PC) and so these would be the obvious ones to start with. Further, getting to know these programs may be useful in other situations in the future, in contrast to using more boutique software.

 

Having said all that as long as you can save .aiff files then they should all be interchangeable. And a bit of training would save hours of frustration with recording software!

 

Keep us informed of what you select.

 

Davo

"We will make you bob your head whether you want to or not". - David Sisk
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I'm open to Macs as well as PCs - though Macs seem to be more expensive on the used market. I currently use a PC for recording but that's all one track at a time, though the total track count gets pretty high.

 

Is that Mac you're using a laptop or desktop? Pretty powerful either way!

 

Alex

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Alex, the most important number is your sampling rate - the higher the better. Commercial CDs are pressed at a 44.1 kHz sampling rate, so either a 48 or 96 kHz sampling rate will give you better audio quality, even if the final product becomes a jpg file. 192 kHz is even better, but it's probably going to require more CPU and storage than you have available at the moment and it's very debatable if the results are worth the extra effort.

 

You don't need to spend big bucks on the latest laptop either. Currently a friend and I are mixing some tracks using an older HP notebook with (IIRC) an Intel 1.8 GHz processor and a 40 GB HD; I've seen that model sell on eBay for between $300-400 USD. Software is a product called Audacity (no idea on pricing) and it seems to give us decent results but we're also using an external 60 GB USB 2.0 drive to store the tracks. There is a light edition of ProTools (a better product) that is usually bundled with some of the digital interface products out there, so it might pay to shop around a bit. M-audio is one of those companies.

:wave:

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Cubase LE is great software, but it'll only record 4 tracks at a time.

 

I'd get as fast a hard drive as possible, which on a laptop is expensive. An external Firewire drive combined with a relatively inexpensive laptop might be a safer bet.

 

I run a ton of plugins simultaneously on a Pentium M 2GHz, and the process goes fairly smoothly. I think you'd be fine with most production laptops nowadays.

 

There are a couple of companies that actually make laptops dedicated for music purposes. One of them that got pretty good reviews was the Rain Recording Livebook (www.rainrecording.com). It's not very cheap, but it's supposed to be very, very reliable, and they've got a special hard-drive cache that boosts recording performance.

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Its an IMAC. Its a desktop... but its only the size of a flat screen monitor(no tower) so it an be portable if you find a way to cover the screen. I would suggest something other than CuBase. I hate it and wasted $600 on it. I wish I had nother program but dont want to shell out the money for one.

The firepod: It is very sensitive to cliping... so watch out. But works great otherwise. I love the expernal controls.

OH! I do regret not looking into and saving for a pro tools set up. If for no other reason than its popularity. This allows you to record at home and take to someone else for mastering very easily.

 

 

 

 

 

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Originally posted by dnkritr:

I have a firepod, and have used it with a MAC and PC. Are you sure you want a PC. I personally have had many problems running music software on one.

Not to start the whole PC vs. Mac thread here, but I've done all my recording and mixing on PC systems (running Win2K no less) with no problems. At work, I produce radio shows and podcasts on a clean Windows XP machine running Pro Tools LE, and it has run very well--although it would be happier with a second drive, something true for computers of either persuasion (the Final Cut guys in my department have two or three Firewire drives each).

 

You buy the machine that works for you. Right now is not the best time to do music on a Mac, in my opinion, until more plugins are moved to Universal Binary. On the other hand, if you have an OEM copy of Windows, you could buy the Macbook and then run your software in Microsoft's OS.

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Cubase LE only does 4 tracks at once?! What use is that with a Firepod?!

 

I'm not bothered about Pro Tools - I do everything myself and rarely do anyone else's music, so I don't need to pay for an industry standard. I don't think the rest of my hardware or the lack of acoustic treatment justifies higher sample rates than 44.1kHz, though I strongly believe in the greater headroom and resolution of 24 bit resolution.

 

If I'm using a Firewire interface, can I chain another hard drive to that same Firewire? Or would I need to use another method? I assumed I'd use an external drive for back up and archiving but not necessarily actually working on projects. I currently have 1GB RAM on my desktop PC which seems fine, though the hard drive is some speedy SATA thing.

 

I've considered mini PCs and iMac type things but they all have a portability disadvantage compared to sticking a laptop in the rackcase with Firepod.

 

Alex

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Hey man...just wanted to toss out an idea. One of the sound guys at church has a racked-mounted PC-based recording rig with two 8-track audio interfaces and a rack-mount PC (can't remember what he did for a monitor, but I'm thinking that was rack-mount as well). It would be a larger package than a laptop plus interface BUT...it would be one piece of gear to lug around with everything you need onboard, and you can probably get a more capable standard machine cheaper than a laptop (although I'm not sure how getting a rack mount deal affects the price). Anyway, just a thought to consider.

 

I don't know if TigerDirect.com could supply you in the UK, but here's their search page of rack-mount servers...some as low as $400-500 USD.

 

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/category/category_slc.asp?Recs=10&Nav=|c:330|&Sort=4

 

HTH,

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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Originally posted by C. Alexander Claber:

Cubase LE only does 4 tracks at once?! What use is that with a Firepod?!

Beats me. That's the reason I was a little surprised when I saw that it comes with the Firepod. Maybe they assume that you'll have everything hooked up, but you won't necessarily be recording from every input. It's a little screwy--but as far as I know, Cubase LE is also the best low-end bundled software, so maybe that also played into their decision. I mean, Ableton Live Lite is nice and all, but it only lets you have 4 tracks total, recording or playback. Cubase LE at least lets you have 64 total tracks for playback.

 

Originally posted by C. Alexander Claber:

If I'm using a Firewire interface, can I chain another hard drive to that same Firewire? Or would I need to use another method? I assumed I'd use an external drive for back up and archiving but not necessarily actually working on projects. I currently have 1GB RAM on my desktop PC which seems fine, though the hard drive is some speedy SATA thing.

If it's got a second jack, I think so. We chain Firewire drives at work all the time, and the interface for my Pro Tools rig has another jack for daisy-chaining a drive to it.
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You can do a lot of things with a PC if you set it up correctly; having a nice, lean OS set up is a bit of work to get running, but it is the cost of doing business with a flexible OS.

 

My main set up is a Dell X1 laptop with a 1.1gHz Centrino, 768mb memory, and an internal 60gb hard drive. I use either a MOTU 828mkII firewire interface with Cubase SX 3 or a Mbox 2 with Protools LE 7.

 

I can run 18 simultaneous tracks at 48kHz/24-bit with the MOTU without a problem (10 analog in, 8 ADAT in). Again, my Windows XP Pro setup is very, very lean. There are walk-throughs on the internet that will help you set things up.

 

The Dell X1 is by no means a budget laptop, but the specifications for performance are similar to many budget laptops. Of course, the X1 weighs under 3 lbs., which is where the cost comes in.

 

I prefer mixing on a faster machine with a bigger screen. That's where my desktop comes in...

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Alex, check out the FAQ's

http://presonus.com/compatibility.html They give you minimum system requirements.

 

Also check the ASIO drivers for the POD allow you to record at the rates you want. The POD may be capable of doing different rates but it depends on the ASIO that Cubase uses what rates you will be able to use with it. I came unstuck with my soundcard that only records multiple inputs through ASIO at 48000, so I had to dither down. Although it supports loads of other sample rates at stereo.

 

I would also advise partitioning your hard disk into 2 if you want to use your laptop for anything else. Keeping one partition solely for recording use and the other for games and internet use etc.

Feel the groove internally within your own creativity. - fingertalkin

 

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I love how people's opinions on Mac v. PC always seem to come into these topics. I also love how people's opinions are usually swayed one way or the other by ignorance and lack of knowledge about either/both platforms.

 

Go with whatever platform you prefer. It's not really that important for what you are trying to do. Its going to be easier to find a decent PC based laptop for really cheap v. a Mac just because of the simple fact that Mac hardware tends to cost more.

 

When recording you are going to be most interested in drive speed and performance. You dont need gobs of processing power to record unless you plan on running a lot of software based effects while recording. If you plan on running a lot of software based effects while recording you should give up now because youre not going to get a cheap laptop that will allow you to do this. RAM is your friend but it isnt going to be a deal breaker. More is always better but I wouldnt sweat trying to get 1GB+ for this thing. A fast harddrive, with a big buffer, with a fast interface is going to be your friend. When youre recording 8 tracks of live audio at once you are going to be throwing a lot of data at your harddrive and it is going to require some degree of badassness to keep up with all that data.

 

My suggestion would be an external SATA drive (7200 RPM+) with an 8MB+ buffer with a firewire interface. Do not get USB. Period. Very simply put USB requires processor cycles to do stuff and that is going to severely affect the drives ability to perform optimally given the fact that you want a cheap laptop; because cheap almost always means slower processor. A firewire drive to record to is going to be an excellent choice given your input device is also going to be firewire. Once the data transfer is initiated (recording starts) the firewire bus can manage all the data itself and at a high rate of speed. You should have no problem recording 8 simultaneous tracks on a slower/older/cheaper laptop. Recording to the laptops internal harddrive is going to give you the same problems that recording to a USB drive will give you IDE interfaces require a lot of processor cycles to get stuff done.

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Originally posted by TimR:

I would also advise partitioning your hard disk into 2 if you want to use your laptop for anything else. Keeping one partition solely for recording use and the other for games and internet use etc.

If you mean having it setup to dual boot that is an excellent idea. If you mean having the OS on one partition and record to the second partition this is not going to gain you anything - it's still one spindle. I believe you mean the dual boot option but I just wanted to be clear. :)
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Originally posted by Bumpcity:

A firewire drive to record to is going to be an excellent choice given your input device is also going to be firewire. Once the data transfer is initiated (recording starts) the firewire bus can manage all the data itself and at a high rate of speed. You should have no problem recording 8 simultaneous tracks on a slower/older/cheaper laptop.

Bump, you are the man! So Presonus Firepod plus badass external firewire drive plus fairly basic (1GHz 512MB 40GB) laptop will do the job, I believe?

 

And now to sell all my surplus gear to fund this extravagance... Though continued input will be appreciated, I'm sure Bump isn't quite the be all and end of on computery thangs... ok, maybe he is! ;)

 

Alex

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Getting 8 track simultaneous recording with a BUDGET laptop is almost impossible. Some of the laptops suggested here are NOT budget. It is hard to find a budget laptop with Firewire and many used laptops are not USB2. Even some of the cheap new laptops still come with outdated USB1. These will only give you 2 channels of simultaneous recording. An external drives helps a lot but you need to be careful. Some USB ports share bandwidth. While specs for USB2 may handle 8 channels of simultaneous recording, sending that date over the same USB2 BUS to an external drive can cause problems. To avoid this I use Firewire for output to an external drives. Another option is to avoid USB or Firewire for input. If you are going to try it I suggest a PCMCIA based system. RME makes a nice system but you are looking at about $1000 for the card and the rack mount input box.

 

Robert

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My Sweetwater Gear Exchange Page

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And now to sell all my surplus gear to fund this extravagance...

 

Got anything interesting? Not really looking to spend right now, but you never know...

 

I've not noticed any deals being done on the Forum, is that generally considered bad form?

The bass player's job is to make the drummer sound good - Jack Bruce
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Originally posted by RABid:

Getting 8 track simultaneous recording with a BUDGET laptop is almost impossible...

Cool info, thanks! My research on eBay so far suggests there are laptops in budget - generally ~1 year old big chunky desktop replacement models - which have the requisite Firewire and speed. I suppose the key is that they're not BUDGET laptops but big ugly fairly expensive laptops which are a little old.

 

Alex

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Originally posted by Lenny B:

And now to sell all my surplus gear to fund this extravagance...

 

Got anything interesting? Not really looking to spend right now, but you never know...

Well I'm lending my Line 6 DL-4 to Phil for testing, and my irritable Deep Impact (needs a service but I'm confident it'll be ok), and my Fostex MR-8HD (which I love but it's 4 tracks too short on the simultaneous front) have gone onto eBay - but I'm open to offers!

 

Alex

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Originally posted by RABid:

Getting 8 track simultaneous recording with a BUDGET laptop is almost impossible. Some of the laptops suggested here are NOT budget. It is hard to find a budget laptop with Firewire and many used laptops are not USB2.

The Thinkpad R60, Lenovo's lower-end line, has Firewire (they refer to it by the technical name, IEEE 1394) on the 1.66 GHz model for less than US$1000. I don't know what Alex was going to set as his budget limit, but that counts as far as I'm concerned. And while Dell can be hit or miss, many of their Inspirons offer firewire built-in for US$650. I wouldn't call it hard to find.

 

Since, as Bump rightly points out, he's not going to be using a lot of plugins and mainly just needs the I/O, probably either would be a fine machine.

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By Budget I was mostly talking about those $400-$700 laptops that my CEO keeps asking about. I just picked up a decent Compaq core duo today for an employee. It had everything but Firewire and was about $900. That is not bad for a core duo with 512 Meg of fast memory. The biggest problem with the $400-$700 range is small memory and slow bus. Memory can be a future investment but you need to check the maximum that the computer will hold. While the recording process does not require a lot of memory it does act as a buffer and low memory computers are more likely to glitch when recording a lot of channels. Another thing to try for is a decent video card with dedicated memory. While most think that this is important for playing games, video that is dependant on the main processor and memory can cause sound to glitch if a window is changed or the screen saver pops on.

 

I upgraded my laptop in July with a mid-level core duo, 17" wide screen, good graphics card and 2 Gig of memory. I skimped on the drive and the audio because I depend on external devices for both. So far it is doing well running both music software and Microsoft Visual Studio. One problem with music software is some DAW's don't yet utilize both cores, and some instruments seem to have problems if you load more than one instance on a core duo system.

 

Robert

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My Sweetwater Gear Exchange Page

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Originally posted by C. Alexander Claber:

Looking at the numerous Dell Latitude C840 laptops on eBay @ ~£300: 1.8GHz P4, 512MB RAM, Firewire, 20GB HDD.

 

And then various external drives with 250GB storage, 8MB cache, 7200RPM, @ ~£100.

 

Ja?

 

Alex

That should get you going. Make sure you are stingy about what you load on the 20 Gig drive. If it has USB2 then you can consider that for audio in, if not, then you still have PCMCIA and Firewire for input. :thu:

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Originally posted by Bumpcity:

Go with whatever platform you prefer. It's not really that important for what you are trying to do. Its going to be easier to find a decent PC based laptop for really cheap v. a Mac just because of the simple fact that Mac hardware tends to cost more.

I agree, either box will work. I mean, even Linux is going to work, but at least in the past getting drivers for that was always dicey at best.

 

Just fyi on the old "they cost more" saw; I had to price out a replacement box for work and the nearly identically outfitted Dell and Apple core 2 duo boxes came out to about a hundred bucks apart at just over three grand each (complete system). Surprised even me. However, in this case you are correct; it's probably going to cost more for a used Mac than a used Wintel.

 

Actually, I like Dave Sisk's thinking. You can get a lot faster hardware for less money if you get away from the laptop packaging.

 

 

Ok, trivialities aside, let's look at what Alex is trying to do. He's got a lot of data coming in on a FireWire port, and the software is going to want to turn around and dump that stream back out on FireWire again (to a fast hard drive). I'm not a FireWire expert, so I'm asking if this might be a problem. Can one FireWire bus handle all that I/O?

 

I'm thinking the CPU is going to be involved in the data transfer. Is the software smart enough to duplicate the input stream and send one output directly to the storage device (bus mediated) and the other to the CPU? The CPU is going to be needed to update level meters, clip indicators, waveform displays, etc.

 

Nothing sucks more than finding out that theoretical bandwidth isn't being used to its fullest because of some bottleneck somewhere in the system.

 

I agree, above a certain point throwing more RAM at the application isn't going to help. Either it's going to keep up with the I/O streams or it's not; this is real time and you can't get away with a huge buffer on the input stream. A huge buffer on the hard drive itself, however, is going to be a life saver.

 

I'm thinking the system bus (connects CPU to RAM [actually cache to RAM]) is going to be a factor, too. The cache will work as intended for the program code, but it won't help at all with the input stream. So the RAM to CPU speed is going to be a factor. Unfortunately this is going to be slower on used equipment, too.

 

Are they putting SAS 10,000 rpm (or similar) in external FireWire drives yet? Or is that too little benefit for the price increase over SATA 7,200 rpm? (I can't imagine a RAID configuration is going to be affordable here.)

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Originally posted by RABid:

Another thing to try for is a decent video card with dedicated memory. While most think that this is important for playing games, video that is dependant on the main processor and memory can cause sound to glitch if a window is changed or the screen saver pops on.

Makes sense. We do a lot of graphics work and always have decent video cards.

 

Not sure you're going to be able to do that in a laptop package, are you?

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Originally posted by RABid:

Originally posted by C. Alexander Claber:

Looking at the numerous Dell Latitude C840 laptops on eBay @ ~£300: 1.8GHz P4, 512MB RAM, Firewire, 20GB HDD.

 

And then various external drives with 250GB storage, 8MB cache, 7200RPM, @ ~£100.

 

Ja?

 

Alex

That should get you going. Make sure you are stingy about what you load on the 20 Gig drive. If it has USB2 then you can consider that for audio in, if not, then you still have PCMCIA and Firewire for input. :thu:
Never ever, ever, use a USB drive for direct recording. The worst bit of advice of this bunch.

 

Use either the internal drive or a Firewire drive. The processor usage on a Firewire drive is nearly non-existent, while using USB beats the hell out of your processor.

 

Transfer speeds be damned, if you find me a USB 2.0 drive that has the same guts that is faster than a Firewire drive, I'll eat my shoe.

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