Need help buying a computer for audio recording/DAW
Jun 24, 2015 at 3:25 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 20

zanderson

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Hey guys, I'll introduce myself before I begin with the questions. My name is Zach, and I love music. My influences range from Floyd, hendrix, and Neil Young all the way to Eminem, Mac Miller, and blink 182. I've been looking into buying a laptop for recording and mixing audio, basically I want to create music. Truth be told, I am a newbie. I've been reading all about processors, rams, and hhds and sdds, and it's all a bit overwhelming. I guess that's why I'm here haha.
Anyways, what I'm asking is what would you guys recommend for starting out? I need a laptop, not a desktop because it will likely be used for school papers and whatnot in addition to audio mixing. I want a PC because I don't think I've ever touched a Mac in my life haha. I understand that I'll need a pretty decent processor, along with 2gb+ of ram, and a decent sized hard drive (I'm still a bit vague on all the terminology so feel free to correct me). I will be a broke college freshman in the fall, so I need to have a budget.
What comes after the computer? Like what are some recommended softwares that I should install? I think this is where the actual DAW comes into play?
And how do I create the actual musical sounds? I think this is what a MIDI controller is for? But some softwares have a built in midi type thing?
Basically what I'm looking to create is a kind of new age sound, similar to awolnation, alt J, those type of artists, but still unique.
Also I've heard that building your own computer is significantly cheaper than buying one from best buy. I've never worked on computers, but I can learn. So if anyone else has worked on computers and would recommend building one to save money, that is also a viable option.
Sorry for the lengthy post, but I need to be thorough!
 
Jun 24, 2015 at 11:54 PM Post #2 of 20

classycans

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ok so i think i can help you with the computer side of things. first off i would say go build your own pc, it might sound hard but a little research and patience will make it a breeze, and you will save money.
first off the proccessor. considering your doing a sort of media editing, the processor will become somewhat important. I would suggest an AMD processor, as they give you alot of cores for cheap. get one with onboard integrated graphics.
next your going to want to get a fair bit a ram. the amount you get will depend on your budget but i do have one tip. DONT GET SUCKED INTO ALL THE HIGHSPEED NONSENSE. seriously if 2 gigs cost 50 bucks one place, but 200 bucks the next, just get the cheaper kind, as long as your being reasonable.
next you gotta think about the mother board. its going to need to have the number of usb jacks, headphone jacks you want, and it will also need to support your other computer parts. shouldnt be to hard finding one of those.
next you need to select a power supply, just go with something cheap like 300-400 watt, you really dont need much for your set up.
don't worry about buying a graphics card unless your planning on doing a lot of modern gaming.
next is a part that is important to mainly you... the sound. you dont want to stay with the the onboard sound if you really want to hear your music clearly. you could buy a dedicated internal sound card, but i wouldn't really recommend it, and if you do don't buy one that boasts "super ultra gaming surround 360 potato lasers" trust me you wont be able to hear anything over all those bells and whistles. so i suggest getting an external DAC/AMP like one made by fiio.
 
well thats about all i can say. reply back if you got a question
 
Jun 25, 2015 at 1:29 AM Post #3 of 20

inthere

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It is not a breeze building your own computer, especially if you've never done it. Building an audio computer is even more difficult. 
 
Go here:
 
http://www.adkproaudio.com/laptop3.asp
 
ADK builds pro audio computers from the ground up and are very helpful; they'll answer any questions you have about pro audio and how to get set up.
 
Also, ADK will tell you which version of Windows to use because they've tested all versions with their hardware configurations. They'll sell professional audio apps, midi controllers, audio interfaces, keyboards, and even microphones. 
 
Jun 25, 2015 at 2:29 AM Post #4 of 20

cel4145

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It is not a breeze building your own computer, especially if you've never done it.


+1

Don't just jump into into building your own without doing a good bit of research. You don't want to end up with incompatibility problems to troubleshoot when you don't know how to troubleshoot.

next you need to select a power supply, just go with something cheap like 300-400 watt, you really dont need much for your set up.


While 300-400 watts may indeed be enough depending on the rest of the setup (use PSU calculators!), don't go too "cheap" on the specific PSU. Cheap PSUs can cause problems with hardware reliability. And some may have a higher risk of early failure where they take out the motherboard with it.
 
Jun 25, 2015 at 5:37 AM Post #5 of 20

ProtegeManiac

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Hey guys, I'll introduce myself before I begin with the questions. My name is Zach, and I love music. My influences range from Floyd, hendrix, and Neil Young all the way to Eminem, Mac Miller, and blink 182. I've been looking into buying a laptop for recording and mixing audio, basically I want to create music. Truth be told, I am a newbie. I've been reading all about processors, rams, and hhds and sdds, and it's all a bit overwhelming. I guess that's why I'm here haha.
Anyways, what I'm asking is what would you guys recommend for starting out? I need a laptop, not a desktop because it will likely be used for school papers and whatnot in addition to audio mixing. I want a PC because I don't think I've ever touched a Mac in my life haha. I understand that I'll need a pretty decent processor, along with 2gb+ of ram, and a decent sized hard drive (I'm still a bit vague on all the terminology so feel free to correct me). I will be a broke college freshman in the fall, so I need to have a budget.

 
If you're on a budget, go for a 15in laptop with an AMD A8 or A10 processor, but make sure to upgrade the RAM. The thing with these processors is that they're APUs, with both CPU and GPU integrated into the same unit, so you'll get a Quad-core CPU that can help with multitasking, and a GPU that can help with media performance (I use one for work too, and that's where I edit photos when I don't want to run my gaming desktop). The problem there is that both of them need RAM, and as it is, 4gb usually isn't even enough, and now you have the GPU taking some of it. Some Lenovos with A10 processors already come with 8gb, so go for those; if you find a better deal, in case it has 4gb, factor in the 8gb upgrade cost.
 
One other thing, don't cheap out on the bag, and factor this in the total budget. You're getting a larger laptop that saves you a lot of money vs a smaller but more powerful Intel-NVidia laptop, but the thing is now you're lugging a larger, heavier, thicker laptop that will be relatively hard to find bags for. I suggest you invest on a good backpack or messenger bag with vented padding and a strap system that manages the weight well. I have old laptop bags that are lighter than the Crumpler and BBP bags I use, but once you fill all the bags and put them on your shoulders, these bags actually feel lighter on the shoulders and back than the cheap bags that are lighter on their own. On top of that, I'm actually carrying more stuff: both those bags have camera compartments (although I'm not using any of those large, heavy DSLRs). Aside from Crumpler and BBP, I suggest you look into Tenba and Timbuk2 as well - check Amazon, Newegg, and B&HPhoto for any internet price cuts - sometimes some of them can go as low as $40. Just note that in some cases when they note "15in laptop" they probably mean "15in Macbook," so unless it's a bag much older than a new, thin Windows laptop, it might not fit. I ordered the 17in Macbook insert for my BBP bag, but with my Crumpler, it's sized for 15in Macs but my 15.6in Acer fits properly.
 
Jun 25, 2015 at 6:33 AM Post #6 of 20

inthere

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Also beware of name brand laptops because some of them have tons of bloatware that slow down performance considerably. 
 
Jun 25, 2015 at 6:48 AM Post #7 of 20

sattech

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Hi,
 
Welcome to Head-Fi!
I've been recording for 35 years, since the neolithic age of reel to reel and everything since.
I was there for most of the 80s computers from Commodore, Amiga and some of the first speech synthesis.
Also for the difficult birth of digital samplers and workstations, drum machines, AKAI S3000 samplers, Ensoniq EPS, Synclavier, Fairlight, as we moved toward PC based music.
(Making me feel like a relic here...)
 
I appreciate DIY desktops, been putting them together for 25 years too, since PCs made their first sounds.
But laptops now, even 5 year old laptops have more than enough grunt to process some basic, or quite complex Audio, into multitrack DAWs and supporting higher sample rates, if you're into that. The OP wants a laptop, so the "Build your own desktop" advice offered he is not what he requested.
He also mentioned that the tech gibberish gets a bit much, so I'll try to keep it simple as I can, but it is difficult, specifications are my bread and butter.
 
About the only rule I apply when putting together a Music PC, is; "Take the load off the processor" (or CPU).
Make the peripherals do the work, as much as possible and set them up optimally.
Of course, get all the CPU grunt you can afford, quad core is good, Intel i5 or better, but no need to go crazy and by gamer level stuff, we're dealing with audio here.
Get a soundcard that does all the Digital/Analog, Analog/Digital conversion number crunching, good battery life from your laptop and as much RAM as you can afford, 4GB is OK, 8GB is better.
 
I cobbled together, quite cheaply, a 2nd Hand Dell Latitude E5510, a 64 bit machine, a solid, reliable model.
I did a clean bare bones install of Windows 7, 64 bit, with NO bloatware or autonomous updating to interfere with recording duties.
(Nothing worse than an adobe update in the middle of that perfect take!)
 
Unless you plan on recording a full band, with 16 or more inputs, you'll only need a small sound card.
I made sure the PC has USB 2.0 support for this sound card and that it is a robust machine that would accept an upgrade to 8GB of DDR3 RAM.
I've loaded up on Hard Disk Drive space, with a simple 320GB C:/ drive for running programs, like Windows and a 1TB D:/ Drive as a target directory for all recordings.
This arrangement has worked very well over both desktop and laptop PCs over the years.
Plus, when C:/ drive crashes, all your valuable recordings are sitting on D drive, recoverable.
Of course there are 3 tips for recording musician's data; Backups, backups, backups!!!
 
I bought a Tascam US366 USB soundcard, giving me 4 inputs and 2 outputs.
http://tascam.com/product/us-366/
That came with Cubase DAW, but I have a Presonus DAW instead, it works fine.
It also came with 2 condenser microphones.
 
For recording, I work in a DAW, use Audacity wave editor and a few other favourite audio programs to achieve my results.
 
For simple music listening duties, I go through FOOBAR2000, from the Tascam US366's Stereo monitor outputs, through an Objective2 Headphone amplifier and into any one of my old Sennheiser collection, preferably HD250, or HD250 Linear II, for monitoring and mixing duties.
 
It's very simple, entirely battery powered. (I keep a second laptop battery for off grid situations, you can get massive batteries for the Latitude range)
The US366 soundcard supplies Phantom Power to 2 microphones and runs off USB power.
An external HDD can be bought for as little as 50 bucks (or remove the optical drive from the laptop and put in a $6 tray and internal HDD, as D:/ drive).
It all fits into a decent Dell PC laptop bag, plus a small bag of cables and can be carried anywhere.
It records at 24-96k nicely across all 4 inputs, into 4 tracks, without a single glitch or latency issue.
It will run for 2 hours without going near a power outlet, then I have a spare 9 cell battery, giving me another 3 hours of light editing and recording if needed.
 
You'll want good screen resolution as a DAW may want to open many windows, packed with faders, and menus.
I run a 2nd monitor sometimes at my desk, but that does require mains power.
 
$300 for the PC, new battery and Ram upgrades
$100 for a new 1TB D drive & tray upgrades
$250 for the Tascam US366 soundcard and 2 microphones included
$? for whatever headphones you want to use.
And you are in business.
 
You could easy spend 10X this amount on current models.
But this rig is not bad considering all this cost many (sometimes tens of) thousands of dollars 10-15 years ago.
 
Of course, it's all a little dated, but it works, flawlessly.
A 2012 PC, a 2013 soundcard, but for a low budget, I can make some pretty good sounds.
When people hear the end product, they don't know whether it was recorded on a 5 year old Dell PC, or on the latest Mac with the latest ProTools, that's up to the musician and his production values.
 
I didn't have to build anything, just plug it together and add some RAM.
If you look to put together something on spec, not "gear madness", for recording music, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how cheap it can be.
It does require some time and thorough research, to ensure compatibility of various parts.
Good luck with it.
 
Cheers!
smily_headphones1.gif
 
 
Jun 25, 2015 at 1:42 PM Post #9 of 20

zanderson

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Thanks for all the feedback guys, I really appreciate it! So I think I've found the laptop I'm looking for:
Asus 15.6" A10 7400p with 8gb RAM and 1tb ddr3. It's installed with Windows 8. $429.99 at best buy with free shipping (is buying from best buy considered a sin?)
This would eliminate the need to replace any parts as its already equipped with a 8gb RAM. I know 1tb is a lot, but I think I might invest in a separate hhd to store completed products.
The only question I have at this point is the sound card. I'm not sure what this laptop is equipped with, or whether or not I'll have to put it a new one.
Tell me what you guys think!
Here's the link:
http://www.bestbuy.com/site/asus-15-6-laptop-amd-a10-series-8gb-memory-1tb-hard-drive-gray/4882013.p?id=1219644187138&skuId=4882013
 
Jun 25, 2015 at 2:27 PM Post #10 of 20

cel4145

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I spent $350 on a 15.6in Acer with an A8 APU, and it took me less than 20mins to delete all the bloatware. For a student on a budget, he should just learn how to delete those.


Agreed.

Also, college students in the US (not sure about elsewhere), often get very nitfy, cheap deals on Windows (depends on the schools). So sometimes possible to simply buy a standard version of Windows very cheap and do a clean install.
 
Jun 25, 2015 at 4:00 PM Post #11 of 20

PurpleAngel

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Thanks for all the feedback guys, I really appreciate it! So I think I've found the laptop I'm looking for:
Asus 15.6" A10 7400p with 8gb RAM and 1tb ddr3. It's installed with Windows 8. $429.99 at best buy with free shipping (is buying from best buy considered a sin?)
This would eliminate the need to replace any parts as its already equipped with a 8gb RAM. I know 1tb is a lot, but I think I might invest in a separate hhd to store completed products.
The only question I have at this point is the sound card. I'm not sure what this laptop is equipped with, or whether or not I'll have to put it a new one.
Tell me what you guys think!
Here's the link:
http://www.bestbuy.com/site/asus-15-6-laptop-amd-a10-series-8gb-memory-1tb-hard-drive-gray/4882013.p?id=1219644187138&skuId=4882013

 
I would think an Audio Interface would serve you a little better then an add-on external sound card.
They both use a lot of the same hardware, a sound card is more for gaming, where as the Audio Interface is more for working with audio, like editing, mixing, creating.
So I would say to find an Audio Interface that comes with software that has the features you want/need.
Here is an example of an Audio Interface (Scarlett 2i2, $150).
http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Scarlett2i2
 
Would you be using headphones or studio monitors for doing audio work?
Which headphones or studio monitors do you have or plan on buying?
 
Jun 25, 2015 at 4:47 PM Post #13 of 20

inthere

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You only need an audio interface if you're external instruments like guitar or vocals. 
 
Jun 25, 2015 at 9:46 PM Post #15 of 20

zanderson

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Atm I just have a pair of $30 Sony headphones, but I do have to say I'm quite impressed with their performance. I'm sure at some point I'll buy some speakers, nothing too serious however. I plan on buying a midi controller to create my sounds. Do I need an audio interface for that or would I just be able to plug it directly into my laptop? I'll probably buy an audio interface regardless because at some point I'd like to record some acoustic guitar along with some vocals.
 

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