24 Jan 2012
The requirements of a PC for music production.
So you’ve decided to power your studio with a new PC for music production but where do you start with it? Why exactly would you choose to build your own music PC or order a custom system over a standard off the shelf solution?
To answer that we have to distil the requirements of what is required from a music PC system and we find that for most people the 3 key requirements are stability, performance and silence.
Stability is an obvious must for a production studio music PC. The is nothing worse than being in a recording session and watching a few hours of your bands performance or the last hours worth of sound design disappearing into the digital ether because of a system being overloaded and rebooting whilst being pushed a bit too hard.
Performance in the audio system field always comes down to “more is more” and more power under the hood of your production system will result in more plug ins, more audio channels and more options when you are recording and mixing your music in the studio.
This leaves us with the third requirement which is silence. If you’ve ever tried recording in a space which has a noisy music PC nearby and it’s fans have been screaming away then it’ll no doubt make recording music a very tricky process as those sensitive mic’s tend to pick up this type of irritating background noise. Also when your mixing down you need to be fully focused on the mix, and having a low level background noise will clutter up the frequencies you perceive which in turn will make getting the levels right far harder than it needs to be.
The three all balance themselves out when trying to build the perfect recording and editing music PC and should be thought about carefully if your building yourself.
Overclocking and getting the most from your music PC.
With the last few generations of CPU’s overclocking has moved out of the enthusiasts market segment and become almost de rigueur for those wishing to get their moneys worth from any new production studio setup and whilst it’s hard to argue against this course of action when even Intel and AMD have started to use this as a feature when marketing their CPU’s, it is however important to consider the consequences and how it’ll trade off against the other two factors in our music PC production system trinity.
If we look at the benchmark’s we have produced here we see that over clocked performance can lead to 30% or more performance boosts on the current generation music PC setups over stock scores even at reasonably safe levels of pushing the audio production system. You tend to find that when overclocking you have a fair amount of headroom before you have to start raising the voltages from stock levels which is where the problems arise. Indeed you may even find that at stock speeds you may be able to drop the voltage levels the system uses whilst it’s running which can prove quite worth while.
Why is that?
Heat is the result of increased performance and in turn it affects both stability and silence. Run more voltage through the setup and the music computer system runs hotter, although if you can run with less voltage you’ll find the reverse and less heat being generated. Most music computer system setups will tend to have a sweet spot where the CPU will run on still fairly close to stock voltages whilst still being nicely over clocked but should you attempt to push it even 1% past this sweet spot you’ll need a large jump in voltages to hold it steady, which will in turn cause more heat and either make your music PC very noisy as the fans ramp up or a loss in performance as it overheats and throttles the chips back.
Consider the whole system when choosing parts.
So stability and overclocking aside choosing a good selection of components in a audio production system can be a very wise move. We’ve all seen computer systems where corners have been cut and BSOD’s tend to occur and the PC platform can be a bit notorious for this but it can be avoided. Careful research of the components being used in a music PC system can ensure less headaches down the road and it’s never wise to cut corners in these regards.
In fact just as an example its the parts that people don’t tend to think about that can have the most impact and one of the most overlooked one’s can be the PSU which is pretty much the key to a good stable audio system having a long trouble free working life. PSU’s vary wildly in price even at the same overall performance levels and research is highly advised because that cheaper unit might be noisy, or worse it might not have stable voltages on the rail supplying your motherboard or sound card solution meaning at best they might hang randomly or at worse even burn out from fluctuations. Good motherboards and PSU’s will regulate the power well and have more protection built in but these will cost extra, although the first time you see a £30 PSU burn out half a PC from a power spike you suddenly realize that the £70 investment in a PSU unit that would have had an protection circuit or two to protect everything else wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all.
So this takes us onto the silence part of the equation. This can be ignored to some degree if your lucky enough to have a isolation cupboard for the music system, or even able to position it in another room away from your recording and mixing setup.
This however can be a critical factor for those who are not so lucky although the good news is that with a bit of thought and planning you can put together a music PC system that isn’t going to ruin your working environment. Choosing a case with a good effective front to back air flow can help a lot and the are many quiet options available now with good solid construction and sound proofing as standard.
Choosing your fan selection well with a trade off between sound levels and air pressure being the foremost concern can mean the difference between whisper quiet and screaming annoyance so once again it’s very important to read up on your options before choosing a final audio system specification. You have to bare in mind at this point that overclocking add’s heat and heat will cause instability if left unchecked which can be a reasonable arguement not to overclock music PC’s that need to be simply fitted and relied on to work day in and day out. Faster fans solve this issue but cause more overall noise so getting the sweat spot between the 3 is the key to getting the most out of your new studio PC.
In fact if your building your own music production system then good research is the key and the are many great sites out there to guide you through the process of selecting, building and even trouble shooting your new studio PC. That said even if you go and purchase a custom audio PC solution it’s worth researching the parts going in the music system yourself so that your aware of any potential issues that may exist with the kit already in your recording studio setup.
We test and develop our solutions here with all this in mind, so wheather your looking to spec up and purchase a new audio production system or even build your own you can speak to us and we can advise you on the best solution for your requirements if your buying parts to self build or tailor a complete music system solution that is right for you.