Advice: Building an Audio Production PC

Discussion in 'Computers, Electronics, IT & Gaming' started by Webmaestro, Mar 15, 2017.

  1. Webmaestro

    Webmaestro Ibanez Fanatic Contributor

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    I want to convert my 6+ year old, self-built, AMD-based 'gaming PC' into an audio production PC. I've recently started recording on it, with Reaper as my DAW and Scarlett 2i4 as my interface, and she struggles a bit.

    Right now, it's only got a single, 500GB HDD @ 7200RPM. From what little I've learned about "audio pc's", this is probably my biggest bottleneck as far as system performance. So, it's probably where I should start. But, that's where I'm a little lost. I don't know what I need, nor where to store things once I get some new/better drives in place.

    I'd like to add something like Komplete, add an external midi controller, etc. Also planning to buy one-off plug-ins and stuff too.

    I know I should probably get a smaller SDD for my OS, DAW, and other software, but I'm not sure what I should do for sample libraries, plug-ins, general storage, etc.

    Any advice here would be greatly appreciated.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2017
  2. sakeido

    sakeido Contributor

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    Check hours on your existing HDD ... it is probably worn out and won't be good for audio production. The demands recording places on a computer will show a bad HDD before anything else will.

    you should have two drives minimum

    #1 - SSD, buy now before prices go up ~10%. Put OS, DAW, all VSTs, sample libraries if possible, on this drive

    #2 - 7,200rpm HDD (ie. WD Black). This is your project disk that will contain your audio projects, sound files, etc.

    Ideally you should have three drives but that is mostly for faster load times and moderately better stability while recording

    #1 - SSD, OS, DAW and VST only
    #2 - SSD, sample libraries
    #3 - HDD, recording drive

    I recommend Samsung EVO SSDs, and WD Black hard drives... but pretty much every brand performs more or less the same. Avoid SSDs with enterprise features (greatly inflates the price). OCZ used to make trash SSDs as well but I've heard they are under new ownership and so might be indistinguishable from other guys now. Aim for 480 gig capacity on your SSDs and 1 terabyte for the HDD.

    RAM and processors will also bottleneck audio production. Old AMDs are not known for their performance, like at all... unless you have a 6 core one which is a good advantage to have. 16gb RAM is also generally recommended as the absolute minimum for an audio PC.

    A new build would be best but is of course a little cost prohibitive... Ryzen looks tempting, your main OS drive should be an M.2 SSD for the highest possible performance, you only need a cheap graphics card, but if at all possible your audio PC should be completely air gapped, never (ever ever) connected to the Internet, and used in conjunction with another PC or a laptop.
     
  3. Webmaestro

    Webmaestro Ibanez Fanatic Contributor

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    EXACTLY the kind of info I was looking for. Thank you sir. FYI, after doing some tech research and pricing-out parts, I've decided that a whole new build may be better. My max budget is $1500, and I realized I could build a pretty decent system for that.

    I'm really curious about this statement:


    I get where you're coming from with regards to never connecting to the Internet, but is this really feasible considering I'll be installing Komplete, which requires Native Access? Would it be okay if I only connected for updates and whatnot, then disconnect?
     
  4. sakeido

    sakeido Contributor

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    I'm not familiar with Komplete, but I know I can re-authenticate my Slate Everything bundle by taking the iLok out of the computer and plugging it into another one to update my licenses once per month. This should be possible with any iLok plugins, and I know I can get Cubase authenticated like that as well.

    There was a support ticket here of guys complaining about exactly that with Native Access. https://support.native-instruments....cts-with-Native-Access-on-an-offline-computer

    Seems insane to me that they would go for that model in this day and age... having a studio computer be totally offline is very, very common. I suppose if you start with a totally clean computer (no pirated software installed!) and only plug in ethernet long enough to run your Native Access stuff, you'd be alright, but still... hopefully they've introduced an official workaround, because plugging in a Windows PC for even a moment will start it updating and mess up your totally clean, isolated computer.

    If you have $1,500 I'd definitely recommend a new build approach. The trick would be deciding between Intel or AMD... Intel has Thunderbolt support, in case you want to step up to a new Universal Audio interface or something, but AMD is much faster at multi-core workloads... often equals the performance of the $1,000 top end Intel with a $500 AMD. You'd be an early adopter in that case though which could get frustrating.. Intel platforms are much more mature and well understood at this point.
     
  5. Webmaestro

    Webmaestro Ibanez Fanatic Contributor

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    Right now... CPU research is what's reeeeallly got my head aching. I've been reading articles, comparisons, and watching videos all damn day.

    I had tentatively decided on the quad-core Intel i7-7700K, 4.2Ghz. But then I read that more cores might be better, despite slower clock speeds... and was looking at the 6-core i7-6850K, 3.6Ghz. Then I read a bunch of info on how single-core speed is most important with DAW's, more cores doesn't matter with audio production, blah blah blah... so I flipped back to the i7-7700k.

    Oye.

    I'll get it all figured out, but suffice to say I'd like to keep the CPU budget under $450.
     
  6. sakeido

    sakeido Contributor

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    I run an Intel 4700K in my computer and it's always handled large projects without any hiccups. Put a good cooler on it to keep the noise level down and you are laughin.

    For an audio computer, don't scrimp on the motherboard.. especially if you want to go Thunderbolt down the road, whichever unit you are most interested in - check on the manufacturer's website for their tested and proven combinations.
     
  7. Stijnson

    Stijnson SS.org Regular

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    I recently built my own pc, for about 1100€. I opted for an intel i7 6700k, 16 gb of RAM (very important to atleast have 16 gb if you're going to be running big projects with lots of samples, synths, orchestration etc), a 250gb ssd for, like mentioned above, my daw, os, vsts, and superior samples. Then all the other random stuff like projects and sound files on a 1 TB hdd. A good cooler/fan and power supply, and a medium priced motherboard. Ive been throwing lots of stuff in my mixes, with synths and what not, and have had no problems whatsoever. Its smooth sailing.

    Bare in mind, im no professional!
     
  8. Webmaestro

    Webmaestro Ibanez Fanatic Contributor

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  9. Pav

    Pav ???

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    You may be able to save a few bucks by going with a Core i7 6700k instead of the new 7700. Any modern i7 is going to be more than enough to handle audio production. Even an i5 would probably be sufficient. But overall that hardware looks just fine, that's definitely a high-end build.
     
  10. Genome

    Genome Wrex. Shepard.

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    ^ I'd still go with the 7700k if you are upgrading from a much older system. The price difference will be negligible and the 7700k is mildly faster (it's only not worth the money if you have bought a CPU within the last couple of years).

    There's always a compromise unless you're willing to pay out the ear for an i7 6900k, which is ridiculously expensive. It's all about finding the "sweet spot" in terms of price/performance for what you're going to be using it for. In general terms (although other areas of the build will affect this as well):

    If you're using huge libraries of virtual instruments and samples (for example, massive film score templates) and need to be able to record audio/MIDI with some semblance of low latency at the same time, more cores are better as long as they are not too slow. But these are obviously more expensive.

    If you only need the ability to record tracks at super low latency/buffer sizes while not going overboard with virtual instruments then a less expensive and faster CPU is better (an 7700k would be fine).

    The sweet spot on the market to cover both scenarios without paying out the ear, appears to be the i7 6800k (especially with a mild overclock). You will be paying more for the rock-solid X99 chipset, so it does creep a bit in the total budget. I wouldn't worry about the i7 6850k, you're paying more for the extra PCIe lanes which you won't need, and the couple of extra hundred MHz is not worth the extra cost.

    The elephant in the room is of course the new AMD Ryzen range which claim to give you speed and cores for a fraction of the cost. Early results look promising with a couple of problems that need to be ironed out, although the average DAW user will not notice them. Also, note that Thunderbolt interfaces will not work. Summary here: http://www.scanproaudio.info/2017/03/02/amd-ryzen-first-look-for-audio/

    TL/DR: Unless you're using huge libraries of samples and virtual instruments, get an 7700k. If you are, get a 6800k, unless you fancy taking a bit of a risk on a Ryzen.
     
  11. Webmaestro

    Webmaestro Ibanez Fanatic Contributor

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    Great input, thanks!

    I do actually plan to use some big sample libraries. Up to this point, I've just been recording basic guitar, bass, and drums. The only VST's I currently have are the stock Cockos plugins that come with Reaper (my DAW).

    However, I'm planning to buy Komplete, a midi controlloer, as well as some other sample libraries that I've really been impressed by (ex: choral and symphony samples).
     
  12. bhakan

    bhakan SS.org Regular

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    If you're looking to save some money, I have 16GB of ram in my PC and never come anywhere close to using all of it. If you were producing music where every instrument was a super RAM heavy VSTi, 32GB might come in handy, but assuming you're making "guitar" music 16GB would probably be enough. However more RAM has never hurt anyone.
     
  13. Webmaestro

    Webmaestro Ibanez Fanatic Contributor

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    Good to know--that's something I've been wondering about. Though I do plan to use some big choral and symphony samples, we're not talking discreet instruments on dozens and dozens of individual tracks. I'm just not talented enough to create something like that.

    I'll start off with 16MB and see how it goes.
     

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