Category Archives: Computer Music – Hardware

AMD Ryzen 3600, 3700X & 3900X DaWBench tested – 3 is it the magic number?

*Please note, further testing is currently ongoing due to new test builds being made available and due to community feedback requesting a few different usage scenarios. Some interesting results are being seen, updates will be posted in detail over the coming week.*

The AMD Ryzen 3000 series has been well anticipated and in fact the last time there was this much buzz around a release, it was quite possibly the first Ryzen generation a couple of years back. At that time we saw the platform pull AMD back into the limelight and whilst the results were mixed across many usage scenarios, it was clear the platform certainly had the potential to live up to.

In the interim we’ve of course had the 2000 series, which built upon the gains we’d already seen and continued to close the gap even further. AMD, of course, has continued tweaking the platform throughout this period, acknowledging some of the internal latency issues we also saw in the first round of testing and generally showing positive improvements along the way.

I’m coming to this with a short delay after launch due to a shortage of hardware over the first week. The mainstream reviewers looked to have got their hands on them in the week prior to launch, so there is already a lot of coverage out there regarding the more common applications and the hardware has performed well. The upside of this is that I only managed to put one of the chips across the bench before the launch day AGESA BIOS update surfaced which after applying I also saw a small improvement to performance and so ensured that all testing was done with this in place.

I’m going to be putting the 3600, 3700X & 3900X through their paces here and as normal I’ll be looking to max turbo clock them where I can. This ensures we don’t have a slowest core scenario tipping things into overloading earlier than necessary, but it does mean that on a stock setup you should allow for some variance.

The 3600 for a none X series chip did well, allowing us to take it to a steady 4.2GHz on all of it’s 6 dual threaded cores. The 3700X allowed us to max out all of 8 of its cores at 4.4GHz, and the 3900X managed 4.3GHz whilst sitting around 70 degrees even under maximum load. I managed a 4.4Ghz but not without seeing a huge increase in temperatures alongside it.

Whilst the promotional headlines have been focused on the 7nm die shrink, it should be noted that the entire architecture has received an overhaul in the process with AMD noting a sizable 15% increase in IPC performance. Other notable improvements include further tuning to the internal memory latencies and a sizable increase to the L3 cache, both of which should be beneficial to our performance scores.

For the Ryzen testing, I’m using the X570 Asus Tuf board which was the first of the new range to land in the office. It has been fully updated prior to testing with the latest BIOS and running 3200MHz Corsair LPX memory


With news over the past 12 months of security concerns and various performance affecting patches that have since followed, I’ve set up a new test bench where the Windows 10 build being used is the current 1903 with all drivers being freshly installed. Also given all these changes I’ve benched a number of the Intel chips in this round of testing, with both of the Z390 and X299 boards being fully updated Asus Prime boards.

On top of that reinstall and due to exceeding the benchmarking overhead in the last round with the largest available chips, I’ve made a few modifications to the standard DAWBench tests this time as I suspect that I run the risk of easily surpassing the tests in their default forms.

With the DAWBench DSP test, the SGA1566 plugin now has all instances set to the high-performance setting, running at 24/48 and this gives us plenty of headroom for our needs.

The Kontakt based DAWBench VI test, on the other hand, I would expect to quite quickly outperform with the CPU’s we have here.

I’ve attempted to soak up some of the available performance we have on offer by applying two instances of the SGA1566 plugin in high-performance mode to each of the 16 hidden sine tracks, which on my 9900K testbed took up about 50% of the available performance. This should give us a reasonable baseline to start from and still have the ability to check for any performance affected by latency.

Since the Native KA6 interface has had a generational jump and the older model is now discontinued, I’ve now gone and retired the old testing interface. I’ve now switched it up to an RME Babyface on this round of testing and shall be sticking with that going forward.

Another change is that both sets of tests are being reported using Reaper this time. I completed the testing initially using both Reaper and Cubase, but upon looking over the results I saw an irregularity that sent me back to retest again using Reaper for both sets, more of which I shall cover in the results section.

Having made all those changes, please be aware that these results and prior results are in no way comparable. I’ve changed the following and have retested all CPU’s listed in the results.

OS version.
BIOS versions.
Reaper version.
Cubase removed.
Different audio interface.
Modified DAWBench versions.

The one benchmark that can still be used to loosely compare is CPU-Z and that is where we shall start.

AMD 3600 clocked to 4.2GHz
AMD 3700X clocked to 4.3GHz
AMD 3900X clocked to 4.4GHz
3600 @ 4.2GHz – CPU-Z Bench Test
3700X @ 4.4GHz – CPU-Z Bench Test
3700X @ 4.3GHz – CPU-Z Bench Test

I’ve used the inbuilt 9900K metric as a baseline comparison. I’ll note that the result they have recorded is within 10% of my last round of testing, so it seems quite fitting to use it here.

So first up DAWBench wise is the classic DSP test, running the SGA1566 variant as covered up top.

Dawbench-DSP-Chart-2019Q3-1
Dawbench DSP – Click To Expand

This test sees us stacking up plugin instances on a thread by thread by thread basis until the whole CPU hits a breaking point. An impressive result from the sub £200 AMD and the top end 3900X is trading blows with the £1000+ Intel chips. This test is our raw performance test and as hoped the results are impressive.

The second chart we have is the DAWBench VI Kontakt test, which I imagine is going to be the interesting one for most readers following on from prior writes ups.

DAWBench Vi Test – Click To Expand

And interesting it certainly was. The cross core latency we’ve seen in earlier models has gone on the 3600 and we were hitting 95% on the 64 buffer on the 3700X with 100% leveraged on the 128 buffer, both of which are certainly welcome sights.

The 3900X with its new dual chiplet design was the only model to not come away with a clean sheet, although given we have an extra die section to deal with, this might not prove to be a huge surprise. I would expect it to mature in much the same fashion as the other chips below it in the range have done over future iterations and no doubt looking forward to them fine-tuning this new design further.

With the first round of testing as noted up top, I used Cubase 10 initially for the DAWBench VI testing and everything looked great right up until the final test. On the 3900X I saw a 30% performance drop at 64 buffer with only 70% of the CPU being used at maximum load and 128 gave me 80% – 90% with the full CPU being leveraged at the 256 buffer and above mirroring the low buffer latency we’ve seen in previous generations.

It’s at this point where I wondered if we’d see any difference with a sequencer switch out, it didn’t help in the previous testing, but C10 had a few major changes under the hood over earlier versions and I’m keen to see if any of those have impacted here. I rebuilt the new test in Reaper and took another look at it with Reaper offering differing results. I still saw a performance hole at the 64 and 128 buffers, but this time it was more like 80% (64 buffer) and 90% (128 buffer) of the CPU being leveraged before it started to top out.

So, interesting to note variance drift between sequencers and how efficiently Kontakt appears to be running within them. I did upon seeing this completely re-bench in Reaper and those are the results presented. but do be aware of the sequencer variance that appears to be in play.

It’s also worth noting that some sequencer may not be able to address the full 32 threads efficiently, even if it can currently see them. I can foresee a lot of optimization being required by various DAW coders in order to ensure that their software can still keep up with the new hardware that is currently emerging.

So, overall thoughts are one of being largely impressed at each given price point. I don’t think I’d drop as low as the 3600 personally, but the 3700X has a strong claim as a superb all-rounder at the entry level and both of these chips seem to have largely shaken any concerns that remain about internal latency handling.

The 3900X has the noted performance latency still, although it seems to vary between applications and we don’t see that occurring with either the Reaper or Cubase test on the Intel side. I wouldn’t normally be happy with seeing anything drop out at 70% or 80% load but there is certainly an argument that it still offers reasonable value as even then it exceeds the 9900K which is currently sat around the same price.

Certainly, anyone working above a 128 buffer has little to no concern there as it appears to recover in full by the 256 buffer.

So there we have it, a great first outing for AMD’s 7nm design. I’ve seen comments aplenty about the lack of overclocking capabilities and yes we’ve come up short of the all core clock that I was aiming for in two of the tests, but I do kind of expect that from any first generation chip after a die shrink. I’ve certainly no doubt that we’ll have refinements over the next couple of years that will successfully extract every last bit of performance from the Zen 2 platform.

My only reservation at this time is compatibility with third-party hardware and mainly interfaces. We saw some compatibility issues with Ryzen 1 & 2 with some PCIe sound cards and some USB based interfaces. ASMedia have a bit of a poor rep on Intel board where they’ve provided their third party USB3 solutions as audio devices don’t tend to play too well on them. We saw similar incidents with the implementation they packaged for the Ryzen board on generation one and thankfully it was less common on Ryzen gen 2.

Ryzen Gen 3 has an AMD designed USB implementation but built around an ASMedia package and at this point, I’ve little idea how it will hold up with all the device we have available. I was testing using a Babyface Pro this time around, so that’s validated, but I would certainly check with user groups for your key devices for any compatibility issues prior to buying.

Looking forward, unsurprisingly Intel’s next refresh details have started to leak across various sites. The Cometlake refresh has a 10 core chip and various price reductions being dangled via those leaks, which obviously look to challenge this Ryzen release when they arrive.

Whilst some people might already be rolling their eyes at this leak timing, those who remember back to the last time we were entrenched in some good ole CPU wars, they’ll remember that this is pretty much business as usual and I can see price wars on the horizon as AMD snatches more and more market share.

But that’s all still to come in the future. Right now, for the time being, the third iteration AMD Ryzen series is easily their most compelling offering yet.

3XS Audio Production System @ Scan

Introducing the TW390W – OUr quietest 8 Core is also our visually loudest.

Over the past year or so the Intel i9 9900K has proven itself to be a superb flagship CPU amongst our mid-range systems. With the chip having some of the best IPC (instruction per clock-cycle) results that we’ve seen on any platform and the ability to leverage up to 16 threads of that performance, it has proven the perfect fit for many studio upgrades already this year.

Indeed you would have to spend a sizable chunk of cash more in the enthusiast range above it, in order to find a chip that can stand up to this powerhouse. Needless to say, it’s proven to be one of the most popular CPUs we’ve ever supplied when it comes to audio workstations.

When I took a look at the chip at launch, we realised that cramming this many cores into a CPU of this size, there would be some questions about heat dissipation and that we would have to carefully consider the cooling. This caused us to set out and try and construct a new solution for our ultimate 9900K based system and the result is the TW390.

3XS TW 390
Click to expand

So what sets this apart from our other systems?

A few years back I took a look at a number of cases that had appeared that featured bottom to top cooling solutions. Heat rises and given the majority of our noise comes from fans having to force air through the case, the thought process here was one of letting nature take it’s course.

At the time the testing went well, but the available fans couldn’t prove themselves capable and quiet enough for us to introduce them into our system range. Super large fans were still relatively unheard of at that time and of the options available to us back then, none of them had been specifically developed with quietness in mind.

Fast forward back to the present and this design idea has been revisited by a few more case manufacturers and in the meantime, more and more firms have begun to concentrate on larger format fans and specifically making them more sonically pleasing.

The perfect time to take another look perhaps?

Enter Cooler Master in the shape of the MasterCase SL600M.

Click to expand

The case features the required bottom to top airflow with a set of 200mm mounting points at the bottom of the case. We set out to test all the fans that would fit and see which ones sonically would stand up to the task in hand.

We found a winner and they were LED-based. It was at this point that we decided that we’d run with this new case design and introduce our first low noise, windowed, illuminated and overclocked studio solution.


The cooling allows us to run the 9900K at its dual-core turbo, but we have more than enough room to overclock all cores to that same turbo speed of 4.9GHz. In real terms, this means no changing of CPU clock speeds on the fly and that ensures that the power is always there when recording. No concerns here about potentially being caught short by your system power saving as the performance is always available when you need it.

We’ve chosen a board ideal for the task as the model here features full Asus AuraSync functionality. This allows you to have full control of all the connected addressable LEDS both inside and outside of the machine. We’ve set it up with 4 strips around the case and those colour changing fans, but you can also hook up a keyboard, mouse, mouse mats, monitors and anything else that features similar compatible RGB LED’s including the Philips home Hue system and have your whole room sync with the system!

Those fans, however, are not just about the light show. After all with all this power to cool you would expect it to be working hard and generating a sizable amount of background noise. This system, however, is tuned to allow us to run the fans at under 700RPM even with the machine running at a 100% full CPU load and in conjunction with the BeQuiet! cooler inside of this machine, it remains well below our demo room noise floor of 28db/a at less than a meter away!

This is a very, very quiet machine… at least sonically. To see more check out the video showcase below.

The TW390

This system is available now with your choice of storage and memory options allowing up to 64GB of RAM to be included.

You can take a look at the system page and configure your ideal machine here.

Intel’s i9 9900K and the Coffee Lake refresh.

Coffee Lake has been with us now for just over a year and it’s been a rather turbulent period for Intel. AMD’s continued gains over the last 12 – 18 months has marked a change in the marketplace and the first generation Coffee Lake launch perhaps felt a little rushed last time around, especially as Intel was attempted to respond to the opening volley in the now ongoing CPU wars.

This time around I find myself looking over the selection of chips in front of me and the key question on my mind right now is one of “have they managed to extract the platforms potential this time around?”

So, I’ve got 3 different models here all new to the Intel mid-range:

1. The new flagship in the form of the 8 core  + Hyper-threading i9 9900K running at 3.6 with a turbo clock of 5GHz out of the (oddly) shaped box.

Chip is being run at all core 5GHz

2. The i7 9700K featuring 8 cores but no Hyper-Threading. The chip is clocked to 3.6GHz and 4.9GHz out of it’s rather more normally shaped box.

Chip is being run at all core 4.9GHz

3. Lastly the 9600K in another boring box. 6 cores, no Hyper-Threading and 3.7GHz with 4.6GHz on the turbo.

Chip is being run at all core 4.6GHz

So, we see some firsts here and some repositioning in the range. The i9’s go mainstream and in this case, we’re seeing a few notable key differences there. The big one is that it’s the first time we’ve seen Intel put out an 8 core mainstream chip. Given we only got our first mainstream 6 core back on the last range refresh, it’s good to see them again being pushed into cramming more value onto the die this time around.

The i9’s are also promising us solder under the heat-spreader this time around, rather than the paste found in models elsewhere in the range, so this should in theory help with overclocking for those wishing to push them a bit more.

The i7 & i5 models this time around are limited to 8 cores and 6 cores respectively with no hyper-threading. Whilst it helps to differentiate between the respective ranges, it is going to come as a bit of a shock to anyone used to the current i5/i7 naming convention. On first thought, we wondered it this meant that we could expect the new 8 core with no HT to be outperformed by the older 6 core + HT models or not, although this could very well come down to specific workloads.

Hyper-Threading by its very nature is based around stealing unused clock cycles to get more work done, so if your workload is already thrashing the CPU, then having Hyper-Threading isn’t really going to have much of an impact. In previous testing I’ve tended to note anywhere between 20% and 60% gains with it turned on depending upon the software in use, so it could be argued that having an extra 2 real cores, could equate to somewhere in the region of 4 or even more lost Hyper-Threads (once again, workload permitting) and we’ve also got to consider clock and IPC gains here, so playing off the 9600K & 9500K’s against their  predecessors are going to be certainly interesting.

So lets get down to it.

9600K Benchmarked in CPU-Z
i5 9600K Benchmarked in CPU-Z – Click to expand
9700k Benchmarked in CPUz
i7 9700K Benchmarked in CPU-z – Click to expand
i9 9900X Benchmarked With CPU-z
i9 9900K Benchmarked With CPU-z – Click to expand
i5 9600X - Geekbench - 4.6GHz
i5 9600K – Geekbench – 4.6GHz
i7 9700K - Geekbench - 4.9GHz
i7 9700K – Geekbench – 4.9GHz
i9 9900X - Geekbench - 5GHz
i9 9900K – Geekbench – 5GHz

All the standard tests to start with and nothing unusual going on so far. Whilst they are all clocked fairly close together as far as the cores go, you can note differing amounts of L3 cache on each of the chips, which is no doubt going to help a little in both the single and multi-core benchmarks.

DAWbench SGA Classic DSP Test
DAWbench SGA Classic DSP Test – Click To Expand

So on with the DAWBench SGA DSP Test and we can see the 3 new chips in Yellow above. Starting with the 9600K the obvious comparison here is against its predecessor and frankly, it’s a little underwhelming with a somewhere between a 1% – 10% increase depending upon the buffer in play and scaling upwards as the buffer size is increased.

The 9700K is next and we get to compare its new design configuration of 8 true cores and no Hyper-threading, which also appears to come off poorly here when compared against the older 8700K with the results showing up a 20% – 40% drop off against Intel’s own previous generation class leader.

The loss of Hyper-threading here really looks to have impacted the testing on the new generation at least under the DAWBench classic test. I do get the thought process here with the chip design itself, as the largest new segment in recent years that seems to have captured the marketing teams imagination has been the rise in content creation users who are live streaming. True cores for that sort of content generation is far more beneficial, especially gamers who wish to live stream at the same time, so I fully understand this design choice, in fact it could be argued that this style of chip would be preferential for anyone working live but for anyone looking for raw performance in the studio it’s all a bit disappointing so far.

The flagship here, however, is no longer the i7 model, but rather the i9 9900K and it’s at least here where things are making rather more sense. It’s the first time that we’ve seen an 8 core in Intel’s mid-range line up and looking at the result above, it looks to have settled itself just above the 7820X from the Intel Enthusiast range (X299) and to be fair, on paper at least it makes perfect sense that it would replace that chip.

It’s the same core count, a few generations newer and clocked higher, so it was always going to be a contender, what it does mean, however, is that once again we see one of Intel’s mid-range chips start to cannibalize their own enthusiast class of chips. In fact, we’ve now reached the point where the lower end i7 enthusiast class has had a dearth of releases over the last 15 months and largely been killed off, wherein the same period AMD has successfully taken a sizable bite out of that part of the market space too and we see them continue to take advantage of Intel’s lack of new competing models.

Indeed, in the chart here sat above it, we see the large core count AMD’s as well as the older generation i9’s outlining exactly what this test is good at, which is small files being spread efficiently over the all the  available processing space and honestly, the results here once again don’t really give us any surprises as to how and where the chips are being positioned in the range.

Dawbench Vi Kontakt Test Chart
Dawbench Vi Kontakt Test Chart – Click To Expand

Switching over to the DAWBench VI Kontakt based test we see a more interesting picture as the higher single core clocks appear to give us a welcome boost here. In the one thing, it does really outline for us here is that the Kontakt handling looks to benefit from IPC figures all around.

Having the dedicated cores looks to help when working at tighter ASIO buffer settings on both the 9600K and 9700K, although we can see that this benefit disappears on the 9700K once we slacken that setting off to around the 256 buffer. It appears at this point that the Hyper-threading on the older 8700K finally gets a bit of room to breath and flex it’s stuff once you open up the buffer far enough and this in itself is interesting information.

Thinking about this from a live point of view where you’re aiming for the tightest RTL score and quite likely to be making use of Rompler style libraries, this does outline that going with these new chips that feature all real cores might well pay off for you in this situation. However, if you’re working in the studio, the loss performance at the larger buffer settings, at least in comparison with the older generation might once again prove a little perplexing. 

Taking a look at the i9 9900K by comparison and it starts to make more sense again, with it doing rather a good job at once more making the older 7820X chip irrelevant. There is less challenge up this end of the chart from the red team largely due to the lack of solid benchmarks obtained in the last round which you can catch up on if you hit the link. 

What this means is that the options here do seem to be becoming even more divided. It’s been pointed out that the higher latency jobs that the Zen chips were excelling at are applicable to all sorts of media editors still and with each additional chip it becomes ever more clear that these continue to remain very scenario dependent, and that Kontakts way of working tends to favour highly clocked cores and larger IPC figures over the workload being spread out over more numerous but slower cores.  

Before I round up I just want to throw out a couple of additional charts. I didn’t get a chance to do it with all of them, but I did record the i9 9900K at both stock and at the all core overclock, largely so you can see the difference it can make by setting it to the all core turbo.

i9 9900K DB4 all core
i9 9900K DAWBench DSP – All Core Turbo Test  Click To Expand
i9 9900K DAWBench Kontakt - All Core Turbo Test
i9 9900K DAWBench Kontakt – All Core Turbo Test – Click To Expand

Depending on the test and buffer size it’s up to around 8% in these benchmarks, although this can grow as you use more complex chains of processing in your projects. A chip is only really as strong as it’s the weakest core, as once you max out any given core you begin to run the risk of audio artefacts creeping in.

I mention this specifically with the i9 9900K as a lot of premium boards have been shipping with 5GHz profiles now for a few years and it’s rather easy to hit the results I’m showing above with a halfway decent cooler solution. Above that, you’ll probably want to move to a water cooler solutions with 5.2GHz looking to be the target for anyone wanting to really drive it.

I’ll also note that the i7 9700K was running comfortably just below 80 degrees by the time I all core turbo’d  it, whereas the i5 9600K was sitting nicely around the 60 degrees mark even with Prime 95 absolutely thrashing it, so I reckon for anyone wanting true cores only, you might have quite a chunk of headroom there to play with if you want to tinker with it.

So, overall, what are my final thoughts?

The i5 9600K and i7 9700K both feel like a step backwards for our part of the market to a degree. Sure, they have some strengths and I’ll come back to the example of low latency machines for live use again being a prospective user base, but their value proposition in comparison to other chips already out there is where it really falls over in the studio.

Having a sideways move in the overall performance is a little disappointing but we’re seeing an initial street price on the i7 9600K of around £350 against the i5 8600K historical showing of around  £250. Similarly the 8700K was around £350 for most of its lifecycle and the 9700K sits at £499 at launch, so we’re seeing price increases with each of those ranges, although I suspect as supply catches up with the initial demand we may find some price realignment over the coming months and I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see the new chips reflect older price points once the market stabilises. This is a fairly common occurrence with any new chip release, but admittedly it leaves me feeling a rather underwhelmed given all I’ve discussed already from a performance point of view.

The i9 9900K, on the other hand, replaces the 7820X which spent most of its lifecycle between £400 – £500 in the UK and the i9 9900K has landed at £599. Assuming it’s going to drift over the coming months we’re still essentially looking at £100 mark up over the older model.

The DAWBench classic test here shows us mixed gains depending upon the workload and it’s up against the AMD’s which manage to still outperform it within this test. By contrast, the DAWBench VI test flips it with it outperforming the chips on the chart and keeping in mind the Threadripper results previously. 

So, does even the i9 9900K make sense? Well, yes, it’s the one that really does here. With the change to the Z390 platform, we see a cost saving over the older X299 platform complete with a more advanced feature set. With the cost differences between boards often totalling and surpassing the £100 amount, the overall cost of going with an i9 9900K over an i7 7820X looks to come out in the i9’s favour and that’s before considering the performance gains it offers.

The additional good news here is that the other previous sticking point with the Z390 platform for some users is it’s restricted memory capabilities, as the four slots could only handle a maximum of 64GB. We’ve seen an announcement recently however that they are going to start offering double stacked DIMM’s over the coming months to support this platform, so hopefully, it shouldn’t be all that long until these boards can handle 128GB as well.

Overall this feels like Intel’s real response to AMD’s advances last year although given the swift execution and release of the second generation Zen chips, perhaps they are still a tad on the backfoot here. It’s kinda where Coffee Lake should have been last time around and it’s of course good to see more power in the mid-range. It does leave me questioning where exactly it’s going to leave the enthusiast class, as anything less than an i9 on that platform is going to prove to be poor value at this point and given the age of that platform I really can’t help but hope that the next Intel enthusiast platform can’t be all that far off now.

It feels like this is the repostioning that Intel needed to happen to put it’s own range back into some context, but it may not prove to be the change that everyone was looking for, at least in our small corner of the market.

At the very least here the i9 9900K emerges as a rather strong contender for us audio users and I suspect any other i9 based refresh over the coming months is going to make this all make a whole load more sense when the dust settles. But with AMD already promising updates to its own platform and announced tweaks for their memory balancing promised over the next few weeks Intel may have to work even harder over the coming months.

All DAWBench Testing

Audio Workstation Systems @ Scan

Novation Update Their SL Series of Controller Keyboards

Today sees the release of the third iteration of the SL49 and SL61 controller keyboards from Novation. The MKIII is much more than your standard run-of-the-mill controller keyboard with an emphasis on being a standalone centerpiece for controlling all of your hardware!

The keybed is Novations finest, most playable and expressive synth-style keybed to date with sprung action and the highest scan rate they have ever produced. There are 8 assignable faders, 16 tactile RGB pads and comprehensive transport controls for all your bread and butter needs but it doesn’t stop there – 

The new SL series come packed with an extended feature-set including:

• 2x CV, Gate and Mod outputs

• 8 Track Sequencer

• Arpeggiator

• 56 preset templates for mapping popular hardware (new and vintage)

• Chord and Scale mode

• RGB LED feedback

• Routable Clock

As you can probably tell, this makes the new SL MKIII series quite an attractive option for producers whether you work completely in the box or have a studio crammed with expensive hardware. The 5 beautiful OLED screens give you visual feedback on parameter changes. The 8-track sequencer really helps this stand out as a standalone product and opens up lots of DAWless possibilities. The Chord and Scale modes are integrated with the RGB feedback allowing you to instantly see what keys are in the scale – there is also a snap mode which will automatically assign whatever key you press to the nearest in-scale note. The Arpeggiator will be a welcome addition for anybody running synths without a built-in arp, I have a couple of bits of hardware myself which would benefit massively from this alone!

Novations very own Calc gives us a nice little performance video exploring the connection and sequencing capabilities of this exciting new product line featuring alsorts of different audio sources.

For anybody still reading who is really interested in this new release I’ve saved the biggest and most informative video till last…a massive 45 minute deep-dive by Calc. This will no doubt answer any lingering questions you may have in a better way than I possibly could! Enjoy!

SL49 MKIII is available here: https://www.scan.co.uk/products/novation-sl49-mkiii-midi-and-cv-equipped-keyboard-controller-with-eight-track-sequencer

SL61 MKIII is available here: https://www.scan.co.uk/products/novation-sl61-mkiii-midi-and-cv-equipped-keyboard-controller-with-eight-track-sequencer

UR22MKII Production Pack limited edition – now available for pre-order.

We’ve always found that Steinberg’s UR interface series have proven to be solid options at their respective price points, normally proven to be extremely capable all-rounders with great pre-amps & signal path, as well as having a general tank-like construction.

Production packs have always been popular with users who are just starting out and with this one we see what looks to be a complete solution for anyone wishing to get started with writing and recording music at home.

In the box you can expect to find the standard UR22 recording pack:

  • UR22mkII interface
  • Studio Condenser Microphone ST-M01
  • Microphone Mount
  • XLR Cable
  • Studio headphones ST-H01
  • USB eLicenser
  • Cubasis LE download info (this is the iOS version of Cubase LE, so user can also use the interface/mic/headphones on an iPad).

But that’s not all! The bonus to be found within this limited edition pack is that you also receive a full copy of Cubase Artist edition 9.5 (including Elicencer) as well as a full copy of Wavelab Elements 9.5.

With the package expected to come in around £342 this pretty much equates to a free copy of Cubase Artist which in itself has a value of over £200, making this a superb deal for anyone wishing to invest in a complete solution to get going.

The package is available for pre-order now and we are expecting to be shipping them over the next few days.

Please be aware that this offer is extremely limited and won’t be around for long!

The UR22MKII Production Pack @ Scan

Native Instruments unleash their largest ever range refresh!

Native Instruments have really gone all out this year, with a huge range refresh taking place and a raft of new products fresh out of Berlin.

Komplete 12 

The Komplete 12 Edition

The flagship collection package reaches it’s 12th revision and adds even more instruments and sound libraries to the collection.

Amongst the headline updates here include a follow up to the now legendary “Massive” synth with Massive X making it into the pack. The original Massive had a huge impact upon the softsynth world as well as EDM and dance music in general, so whilst current details are still scarce the promise of a whole new engine and a modular workflow is certainly going to have people eagerly awaiting the full reveal in the coming months.

We also see the release of Kontakt 6 as another heavy hitter and various sound libraries like Session Strings 2 and a host of extra expansion packs such as the Middle East discovery series, Analog Dreams, Ethereal Earth and Hybrid keys packs also for Kontakt.

Kontakt 6 and its new WaveTable Module

The new TRK-01 “Kick and Bass” instrument is in there too, as well as creative effects like Phasis, Choral and Flair making up a sizable number of new and improved tools on this revision release.

For a more complete list of all that can be found in the new Komplete 12 bundle, click the image below to expand.

Komplete 12 Bundle Contents
Komplete 12 Full Bundle List – Click to expand

Komplete Kontrol – A Series

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61

Taking the already popular Kontrol keyboard range and releasing a cut-down version makes so much sense to us, that we wonder how it hasn’t happened sooner. Promising the same great design experience we’ve come to expect from the “S” series models, whilst getting the option to pick one up without all the bells and whistles.

That’s not to say they are featureless, with plenty of pre-mapped controls for all of your most used N.I. libraries software they’ll certainly help to improve your workflow for anyone who makes good use of packages like Kontakt already.

The keyboards will be shipping with a solid collection of plug-ins too, offering versions of Komplete Instruments and effects as well as the Machine Essentials libraries. They will be available in three different sizes which are 25, 49 and 61 note editions.

Komplete Kontrol – S88 MKII

Komplete Kontrol - S88 MKII
Komplete Kontrol – S88 MKII

Not to be left out, the “S” series gets an update too, although just the largest S88 model at this time. The rest of the range has already had their MK2 editions out for some time, so really we’re just seeing the S88 being brought into line with the rest of the range, but none the less always good to see an update.

Some of the smart play features feel like they might be a little un-needed for someone willing to invest this much in a good playing keyboard,but it none the less continues to feature one of the best in class fully weighted Fatar keybeds and offering the same great software packages as the A-series mentioned above make it a serious contender for anyone considering a with keyboard upgrade in the future.

Maschine Mikro Mk3

Maschine Mikro Mk3

Another model refresh and the big news here is the new touch strip, designed to add even more hands-on control. Not such a major overhaul here, but for anyone who’s been thinking about picking up a Mikro anyway, then more features to play with are always great I’m sure we can all agree!

Traktor Pro and Traktor S2 & S4 Mk3’s.

Traktor 3 is due to ship with the two new controller revisions and offers up a number of improvements under the hood. The audio engine uses the Elastique 3 time stretching engine for noticeable audio improvements whilst playing. 

Traktor 3 Pro
Traktor Pro 3

The interface GUI has been redesigned to offer additional clarity in use and the few other new knobs and buttons have been added, most notably the one knob “Mixer FX” control that can be assigned to each channel independently.

Traktor S2
Traktor S2

The S2 has had some hands-on optimizations in the shape of up-sized jog wheels and increased touch sensitivity, giving users even more control when mixing and scratching.

The big change here, however, is in the S4 model, which sees the introduction of Haptic Drive which offers us high-torque, motorized jog wheels that provide performers with haptic feedback in three modes: Jog Mode, Turntable Mode, and Beatgrid Adjust Mode.

DJs can now feel cue points and loops when scrolling through tracks, and enable Turntable Mode for natural-feeling beatmatching while nudging and stalling the jog wheels. Interfacing software and hardware within Haptic Drive™ technology means that its functionality can be expanded, and will grow over the course of future updates, giving DJs even more ways to interact with their music.

Traktor S4

The S4 places vital performance information on the hardware itself, keeping everything DJs need to know front and follow up in the booth. High-resolution displays on each deck display a waveform strip, track title, loop length and activation, key, and BPM, as well as Stem and Remix Deck components when performing with Stems and samples. Further visual feedback is provided by RGB light rings surrounding each jog wheel, which visualize deck selection, tempo, and track-end warnings.

Online Platforms

It’s not all hardware and software today through as a number of online services have had updates too.

Sounds.com is due to exit beta and is a service offering an ever-growing collection of over 700,000 high-quality loops and samples from over 250 providers for a monthly subscription fee. 

We’re advised that this is the culmination of months of continuous expansion and improvement based on user feedback, with the aim to provide musicians of all levels an easy and affordable way to access an ever-growing library of high-quality loops and samples with plenty more to be added going forward.

Also receiving a redesign is Metapop, which is NI’s online hub for music makers to share, connect, and collaborate with like-minded creators. In the site relaunch, NI is launching a newly redesigned Metapop, with a new user experience focused on making it easier to connect, share, and collaborate with fellow music makers.

After listening to the feedback from its users, NI has added new features like groups and chats, helping creators to find their community, connect with others, and get feedback on their music. Additionally, a new mobile version of the site lets users upload, connect, and listen to newly released samples – whether at home or on-the-go.

Lastly “Loop Loft” who joined the N.I. stable back in January this year is also receiving a site redesign. The Loop Loft itself continues to provide an ever-growing source of inspirational content to help producers learn and grow, including exclusive tutorials, interviews, and tips from leading industry professionals.

Check out the full Native Instruments range @ Scan

ThreadRippers 2990WX & 2950X on the bench: Just a little bit of history repeating?

I’m the first to admit that I’m a little late to the table with this write-up. The original 2990WX sample arrived whilst I was on leave and was quickly placed into a video rig and sent out for review, meaning I’ve had to locate another one at a later date. Along with that, I’m honestly a little overwhelmed with how much interest this £1700 workstation grade CPU has generated with the public in recent weeks, as I really didn’t expect this level of interest in a chip at this sort of price point.

I’ve also approached this with a little trepidation due to earlier testing. As someone noted over the GS forum, the 2990WX might not prove all that interesting for audio due to the design layout of the cores and the limitations we’ve seen previously with memory addressing inside of studio-based systems. They were certainly right there, as the first generation failed to blow me away and there remains a number of reservations I have with the under-laying design of this technology that potentially could be amplified by this new release. During the initial testing of the 2990WX this time around, the 1950X replacement also arrived with us too in the shape of the 2950X and given some of the results of the 2990WX I thought throwing it into the mix might prove a handy comparison. 

Why bring all this up at all? Well, because everything I discussed back then is still completely relevant. In fact, I’m going to go as far as to suggest that anyone doesn’t understand what I’m referring to at this point should head over to last years 1950X coverage and bring themselves up to speed before venturing forward any further.

Back again? Up to speed?

Then I shall begin.

The 2990WX is the new flagship within the AMD consumer range and features a 32 core / 64 thread design. It has a base clock of 3GHz with a max twin core turbo of 4.2GHz and an advised power draw of 250W TDP. 

I won’t split hairs. It’s a beast… something I’m sure most people reading this are well aware of given the past week or so’s publicity. 

In fact, for offline rendering, I could close the article right there. If you’re a video editor on this page and don’t happen to care about audio (hello… you might be lost, but welcome regardless) then you should feel secure in picking up one of these right now if you have the resources and the need for more power in your workshop.

But as was proven with the release of the 1950X, the requirements for a smooth running audio PC for a lot of users are largely pinned on how great it is for real-time rendering, which is a whole different ballgame.

In the 1950X article I linked up top, I went into a great deal of detail in regards to where performance holes existed. I found that low latency response was sluggish and resulted in a loss of performance overhead that left it not in an ideal place for audio orientated systems. I had a theory that NUMA load optimization for offline workloads was leaving the whole setup in a not ideal situation for real-time workloads like ASIO based audio handling. 

In the weeks following that article, we saw AMD release BIOS updates and application tweaks to try and resolve the NUMA addressing latency I had discussed in the original article, largely to no avail as far as the average audio user was concerned. In AMD’s defence, they were optimizing it further for tasks that didn’t include the sort of demands that real-time audio places upon it, so whilst I understand the improvements were successful in the markets they were designed to help, few of those happened to be audio-centric.  

At the time it was just a theory, but my conclusion was largely one being that if this is as integral to the design as I thought it might be, then it would take a whole architecture redesign to reduce the latency that was occurring to levels that would keep us rather demanding pro users happy.

The 2990WX we see here today is not the architecture change we would require for that to happen as where the 1950X has 2 dies in one chip, the 2990WX is now running a 4 die configuration which has the potential to amplify any previous design choices. If I was right about hard NUMA being the root of the lag in the first generation then on paper it looks like we can expect this to only get worse this time around due to the extra data paths and potential extra distance the internal data routing might have to cope with.

The 2950X, by comparison, is an update to the older 1950X and maintains 2 functional dies, with tweaks to the chip’s performance. Given the similar architecture, I would expect this to perform similar to the older chip, although make gains from the process refinements and tweaks enacted within this newer model. I’ll note that the all core overclocking is improved this time around and a stable 4GHz was quick and easy to achieve.

OK, so let’s run through the standard benchmarking and see what’s going on.

2990WX CPU-Z Report
2950X CPU-Z

As normal I’ve locked it off at an all core turbos on both of the chips. As with a lot of these higher core count chips, I’ve not managed to hit a stable all core max turbo clock, which would have been 4.2GHz, rather settling for 3.8GHz on the 2990WX and 4GHz on the 2950X both of which perform fine with aircooling

I’ve spoken to our video team about this and they managed to hit a stable 4.1GHz on the 2990WX using a Corsair H100, so it looks like you can eak out a bit more performance if noise is less of a consideration in your environment.

If you’re not aware from previous coverage why I do this, if you’re running a turbo with a large spread between the max and minimum clock speeds then the problem with real-time audio is that when 1 core falls over, they all fall over. So, whilst you might have 2 cores running at 4.2GHz the moment one of the cores still running at 3.2GHz fails to keep up then the whole lot will come tumbling down with it. Locking cores off will give you a smoother operating experience overall and I’m always keen to find a stable level of performance like this when doing this sort of testing.

2990WX CPU-Z Benchmark
2950X CPU-Z Benchmark

I don’t always remember to run this benchmark, although this time I’ve made the effort as Geekbench doesn’t appear to support this many cores at this point. Handily enough, I did at least run this over the 1950X last time which returned results of 428 on the single core and 9209 on the multi-core at the time.

Given that the 2990WX looks to be pulling twice the performance and physically has twice the number of cores, it looks to all be scaling rather well at this point. The 2950X, on the other hand, sees around a 10%-15% gain on the single and multi-core scores over the previous generation.

Moving onwards and the first test result here is the SGA DAWBench DSP test. 

DAWBench SGA1156 Test – Click To Enlarge

This initial test is very promising, as was the older 1950X testing. Raw performance wise we’re talking about it by the bucket, I really can’t stress that enough with both chips performing well in what is essentially a very CPU-centric test.

At the lowest buffer we see it being exceeded by the older chip, so what is going on there? Well, we’re seeing a repeat in the pattern that was exhibited by the 1950X where there is an impact to performance at tighter buffers, and it does appear that at the very tightest buffer setting that we’re seeing some additional inefficiency caused by the additional dies, although this does resolve itself when we move up a buffer setting.

Last time we scaled up from 70% load being accessible at a 64 buffer and this time, I imagine due to the extra dies being used we see the lowest setting corrupting around the 65% load level and then scaling up by 10% every time we double the buffer.

ASIO BufferCPU Load
6465%
12875%
25685%
51295%

As a note when I pulled that 512 buffer result this time around and it returned 529 instances.

The 2950X, by comparison, returned me a load handling around the 85% on a 64 buffer, rising to 95% at a 256. An improvement on the first look we took a look at the original 1950X chip, although I’ll note I was also seeing this improved handling when I did the 1950X retest a few months ago using the newer SGA1156 charts that has replaced the classic DSP test, so this might be down to the change in benchmarks over the last year, or it could also be down to the BIOS level changes they’ve made since original generation launch.

So far, so reasonable. A lot of users, even those with the most demanding of latency requirements can get away with a 128 buffer on the better audio interfaces and the performance levels seen at a 128 buffer, at least in this test are easily the highest single chip results that I’ve seen so far.

In fact, knowing we’re  losing 40% of the overhead on the 2990WX is really frustrating when you understand the sort of performance that we could be seeing otherwise. But even with that in mind, if you wanted to go all out and grab the most powerful option that you can, then wouldn’t this still make sense?

Well, that test is pure CPU performance and in the 1950X testing, the irregularities started to really manifest themselves in the DAWBench Kontakt test where it started to depend equally on the memory addressing side of things.

Normally I would insert a chart here to show how that testing panned out.

But I can’t.

It started off pretty well. I fired it up with a 64 buffer and started adding load to the project. I made it up to around 70% CPU load on the first attempt before the whole project collapsed on me and started to overload. I slackened it off by muting the tracks and took it back down to around 35% load where it stabilised, but from this point onwards I couldn’t take it above 35% without it overloading, not until I restarted the project. 

I then tried again at each buffer setting up to 512 and it repeated the pattern each time.

I proceeded to talk this one through with Vin the creator of the various DAWBench suites and a number of other ideas were kicked about, some of which I’ve dived further into.

One line of thought was that as I was still using Cubase and the last 8.5 build specifically, precisely for the reason that C9 has a load balance problem for high core count CPU’s that is currently being worked upon. The older C8.5 build is noted as not having the same issue manifest due to a difference in the engine and during testing this time Windows itself was showing a fairly balanced loads mapped across all of the cores whilst I was looking at performance meter, but even so, historically, exceeding 32 cores has always been questionable inside many of the DAW clients.  

So, to counter this concern, I went and ran the same tests under Reaper and saw much the same result. I could push projects to maybe 65%-70% and then it would distort the audio as the chip overloaded and this wouldn’t resolve itself until the sequencer was closed and reloaded.

So what is going on there? If I was to speculate, then the NUMA memory addressing is designed to allocate the nearest RAM channel to it’s nearest physical core and not to use other RAM channels until on core’s local channel is full.

I suspect with knowing that, that the outcome here is that it’s maintaining the optimal handling up until that 70% level and then once it figures out that the RAM channel is overloaded it starts allocating data on the fly as it sees fit. The reallocation of that data to one of the other 3 dies would result in it being buffered and then allocated to the secondary memory location and would result in additional latency when the data is recalled in a later buffer cycle which would result in audio being lost when the buffer cycle completes before it can be recalled.

In short, we’re seeing the same outcome as the first generation 1950X but amplified by the additional resources that now need to be managed.

This way of working is the whole point of hard NUMA addressing and indeed is the optimal design for most workstation workloads where multiple chips (or die clusters in this case) need to be managed. It’s a superb way for dealing with optimization for many workloads from database servers through to off-line render farms, but for anything requiring super-tight real-time memory allocation handling it remains a poor way of doing things.

As I’ve said previously, this is nothing new for anyone who deals with multi-CPU workstations where NUMA management has been a topic of interest to designers for decades now. There has always been a performance hit for dealing with multiple CPU’s in our type of workflow and it’s largely why I’ve always shy’d away from multiple chip Xeon based systems as they too exhibit this to a certain extent.

Much like the first generation 1950X with it’s 2 dies, we see similar memory addressing latency when we use 2 seperate Xeons and this has always been the case. I would never use 4 of those together in a cluster for this sort of work simply due to that latency and so the overall outcome with 4 dies being used in this fashion isn’t all that surprising.

I also tried retesting with SMT turned off, so it could only access the 32 physical cores in order to rule out a multi-threading problem. The CPU usage didn’t quite double at each buffer instead settling around the 70% total usage mark but the total amount of usable tracks remained the same and once again going over this lead to the audio collapsing quite rapidly.

So, much like the first generation the handling of VST instruments and especially those which are memory heavy look like they may not be the best sort of workload for this arrangement. This ultimately remains a shame, especially as one of the other great concerns from last time which was heat has been addressed by quite some degree. Running the 2990WX even with an overclock didn’t really see it get much above 70 degrees and that was on air. Given that the advised TDP here is 250W at stock, rising quickly when overclocked even to the point of doubling the power draw, the temperatures for a core count this huge is rather impressive. I think there is a lot to pay attention too here by Intel in regards to thermals and the news that the forthcoming i9’s are finally going to be soldered again, makes a whole load of sense given what we’ve seen here with the AMD solutions. If anything it’s just a shame it took the competition pulling this out of the hat before they took notice of all the requests for it to be brought back by their own customers over recent years.

Still, that’s the great thing about a competitive marketplace and very much what we like to see. Going forward I don’t really see these performance quirks changing within the Threadripper range, much the same way that I never expect it to change within the Xeon ecosystem. Both chip ranges are designed for certain tasks and optimized in certain ways, which ultimately makes them largely unsuitable for low latency audio work, no matter how much they exceed in other segments. 

There is some argument here for users who may not require ultra-tight real-time performance. It’s been brought to my attention in the past that users like mastering guys could have a lot of scope for using the performance available here and if they are doing video production work too, well, that only strengthens the argument. 

On paper that all makes sense and although I haven’t tested along those lines specifically, the results seem to indicate that even the trickiest of loads for these CPU’s seem to stabilise at 512 and above with 80%+ of the CPU being accessed, even in the worst case scenario. I have to wonder how it would stand up in mixed media scenarios although I would hope that ultimately in any situation where you render it offline that you should be able to leverage the maximum overhead from these chips.

I suspect the other upshot of this testing might be one of revisiting the total CPU core count that each DAW package can access these days. Last time I did a group test was about half a decade ago and certainly, all the packages look to have up’d their game since then. Even so, I doubt anyone working on a sequencer engine even 3 years ago would have envisioned a core count such as the one offered by the 2950X here, let along the monstrous core count found in the 2990WX. 

AMD’s Zen core IPC gains this generation as we’ve already seen with Ryzen refresh earlier in the year were around the 12% mark and it looks to have translated faithfully into Threadripper series with the 2950X  model. One of AMD’s big shouting points at launch was regarding just how scalable the Zen package was simply by upping the die count and that’s clear by the raw performance offered by the 2990WX, they really have proven just how effective this platform can be when dealing with workloads it’s designed for.

One day I just hope they manage to find a way of making it applicable to the more demanding of us studio users too.

MOTU rolls out a firmware update featuring their new Touch Console Application.

MOTU this week pushed out a new firmware for a number of their network attached models. This new update takes their Pro Audio Control web application that you regularly use for routing your interface and they’ve crammed in a few new features and more importantly, they’ve redesigned it to allow you to run it off any touch-enabled device on your network.

This feature has cropped up previously on the recently released 8PRE-es where it came pre-installed. Now, however, this new firmware release opens it up even further allowing owners of the 1248, 16A, 8M, 112D, 828es, UltraLite-mk4, UltraLite AVB, Monitor-8 and Stage-B16 to all get involved.

Whether in the studio, or out on stage full control is now in your hand and users can launch the Pro Audio Control web app on their tablet or smartphone (iOS or Android) in order to gain easy access the Touch Console, giving the user an intuitive control over the DSP-driven 48-channel mixer in their MOTU interface, with twelve buses and effects including 4-band parametric EQ, dynamics processing, classic reverb and a model of the vintage LA-2A leveling amplifier.

It’s a free download, and for existing qualifying owners, you should get a new firmware update notification next time you log into the control application. 

For more details check out the following videos from MOTU.

All MOTU products @ Scan.

The Be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 vs Scythe Ninja 5 Shoot Off

In a change from the normal component testing, I’m focusing on the bit you strap on to the CPU today, rather than the CPU itself.  For audio systems, it’s no secret that I tend to favour air cooling over water loops for a few basic reasons, namely water loops add pump noise, move the source of noise from the center to the extremities of the case and tend to require more pressure being generated to cool the more tightly packed radiator fins than you would also tend to need with larger coolers with wider spaced fins.

Of course, water loops are superb for extracting that last 5% – 10% of available performance from any system overclock, but with audio systems, we don’t tend to push it that far due to system noise being of utmost concern in the studio.

For the past couple of year’s the cooler in our most popular X299 tower systems has largely been the Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4. This twin tower cooler features a dual fan solution and offers a superb noise floor when under light and medium loads, whilst still being able to ramp right up when the performance is getting well and truly thrashed.

Recently the Dark Rock 3 series was discontinued and the newer Pro 4 made it to market. As always I’ve tested this in house, and this time I decided to pit it against a most notable challenger.

Scythe coolers have a long history in the low noise cooling segment. Indeed going back in the early 00’s there were few cooling companies with any sort of focus on noise levels. Back then, Zalman was the default go to in this regard for many people but for the true connoisseur of quietness, Scythe was often the secret weapon of choice.

Offering everything for silencing at one point, from coolers and fans, through to drive mounting’s, PSU’s they’ve built a solid reputation over the years. On a personal level, whilst I’ve always been a big fan of their hardware one little thing has driven me insane as a user and that is their lack of TDP capabilities being listed in the specs. Where a firm like Be Quiet! will splash the recommended TDP ratings all over the box, Scythe often is not always quite so forthcoming with this information. 

I mention this because I’ve frankly sidelined them over the years for anything other than a stock configuration on a system, simply as anyone user who overclocks on one might find themselves running out of cooling overhead at a most unfortunate time if they are not careful.

That all said, I would love to see a true winner come from Scythe and in pitting it against the Dark Rock Pro 4 we see it taking on one of the what could well prove to be one of the best low noise / high performance quite coolers out here.

First up, let’s check out the official shots.

Dark Rock Pro 4
Dark Rock Pro 4

 

Scythe Ninja 5 Heatsink
Scythe Ninja 5 Heatsink

I’ve chosen these two to face off, as they are the flagship models from their respective ranges and both are recommended for running on X299 based i7 & i9 systems.

The Dark Rock Pro 4 is a good £20 more expensive than the Ninja and there is, in fact, another Be Quiet! model around the same price of the Ninja but that is a single fan unit and rated to only 200 TDP as opposed to the 250 TDP. The Ninja as is common with Scythe isn’t officially rated although it does support the i9’s at around 165W TDP with ease, so our question here is how much further can it go beyond that? 

So, on with testing and let’s start at the beginning with mounting the coolers. Be Quiet! has a bit of a mixed reputation for its mounting schemes ranging from pretty sensible to awkwardly bonkers and Scythe in past years have certainly had some moments too.  So, with that in mind, the process for fitting both of these coolers is almost boringly simple.

Scythe Ninja 5 Mounting Bracket
Scythe Ninja 5 Mounting Bracket

 

Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4
Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4

There really is very little to separate them here as both of them have very similar X299 bracket mechanisms. You insert 4 x 2 ended screws into the CPU socket corners, place the bracket over it and then screw down some thumb screws to lock it in place. It’s a well-proven design and very, very quick to install for any user, no matter your experience level.

Now the tricky part of this design, however, is rarely the bracket itself, rather how the cooler mounts to it. Previous Dark Rock Pro models would often ship with a special spanner and you used to have to slide your hand under the cooler in order to get to the screws. Whilst it worked, it was sometimes a little awkward, even when working on a desk, needless to say trying to do the same job with everything installed into a case could prove to be rather frustrating.

The Ninja 5 avoids all of this by carefully designing the cooler to leave access gaps for the screwdriver to feed through. 

Scythe Ninja 5 with screwdriver access
Scythe Ninja 5 with screwdriver access

It’s a quick and easy design to fit and as you can see, with the included screwdriver an absolute cinch to get in there.

And then you pull the other cooler out of the box and see this…

Dark Rock Pro Top Shot
Dark Rock Pro Top Shot

Hmmm… the initial thought that went through my head (and possibly anyone reading who’s dealt with a number of larger coolers before) was one of “great, more fiddly mountings to try and deal with”.

However, this cooler has an interesting trick up its sleve.

Dark Rock Pro 4 Screws Removed
Ta daaaa!

Yes, two of those heat pipe caps are fake and unscrew, giving full access to the mount securing screws. A simple change, but one that will save an astounding amount of potential aggravation for the end user. 

But form aside, let’s talk about some function and just exactly what’s going on with some benchmarking. 

Dark Rock Pro 4 - Stock clock test
Dark Rock Pro 4 – Stock clock test – Click to Expand

The first test is the stock clock test on the Dark Rock Pro 4. We see after 30 mins a rough average of around 60 degrees across the cores. 

Ninja 5 stock test resize
Ninja 5 – Stock Clock test – Click to Enlarge

The Ninja doesn’t quite match up to the Be Quiet! at this point, although overall it holds it’s own with 70 degrees as a max not being all that terrible, it’s certainly not quite up to the Be Quiet! the performance we saw in the first test.

Following on from those I thought I’d retest the temps and try again with a bit more of a workload to cope with. I tend to advocate running CPU’s at their single core max turbo, as it normally tends to be a simple and rather straightforward overclock to carry out, assuming you have capable enough cooling to work with.

Dark Rock 4 overclock test
Dark Rock 4 – overclock test @ 4.3GHz

In this one, the Dark Rock still holds it’s own. A few of the tests in the sequence do bounce off the 90 degrees mark, which is still a good 10% below the throttle point. Otherwise, it does carry itself fairly well, given that we’re running the FPU testing component here and that will tend to elevate heat levels with mid 80’s being seen as the occasional peak, but otherwise, it spent a lot of the time around the 70 degrees level which is acceptable.

Ninja 5 - 4.3GHz Overclock test
Ninja 5 – 4.3GHz Overclock – Click to expand

Here we see where the Ninja proves to be a little weak in its performance handling. The test red lined for me almost instantly once I hit start, with a few of the cores bouncing off the 105 throttle limit over the course of the 30 min test.

But… this is only half the story for us audio system owners!

Noise is, of course, a major factor with both coolers being supplied with a promise of being super quiet, but have we really got a winner in that regard too?

I grabbed a basic sound meter and headed into our demo space here. The room whilst treated is still very much a demo space rather than a dedicated studio. We do get an average reading of a 36db noise floor in there at the time of testing which means it’s certainly as quiet or quieter as the average rehearsal space.

I measured in two positions for this whilst each cooler was under load. Position 1 had me set the mic on the GPU cooler about 2″ from the cooler. Position 2 had the mic pick up sat 0.5 meters away from the cooler. In both instances the mainboard & cooler is sat on my test bench with no case around it,  so keep in mind any result I’ve recorded here will be further muted once it’s entombed into a fully built system.

  Stock Clock 4.3Ghz Overclock
Dark Rock Pro 4    
2 inches away 44 47
Half Meter away 36 37
Ninja 5     
2 inches away 38 42
Half Meter away 36 37

As mentioned already the room noise floor is 36db.  As we can see above the Ninja 5 comes up trumps in this test when we get up close and personal, there is a clear 5db difference between the two units.

However, at half a meter it’s a different story with both coolers only just being picked up by the mic when running under the overclocked profile and sitting below the noise floor on the standard profile. I dare say we’ll not be seeing many users working closer to the cooler than half a meter and even so, with the case around it I would expect any trace noise to be completely masked. 

So, is it a draw for noise levels?

Not quite.

What the chart doesn’t show is that under more intense test cycles on that overclock profile, the Be Quiet will ramp up to a more noticeable level. The Ninja cooler is running a pair of fans that are limited to 800rpm and the figures you see above are the fans hitting their full tilt.

The Be Quiet! fans are rated to 1200 & 1500 rpm and it does give them some additional overhead to play with, but that does translate to some extra noise. 

Ultimately the difference in fan speeds explains where the better overclocking results come from in testing. At the point we see the Ninja 5 fail to keep up, the Be Quiet! cooler will then proceed to kick it up a gear to ensure everything runs smoothly. It does however become noticeable as far as an increase in noise levels go at that point. It’s not a vast difference and anyone who keeps their system down the side of the desk is unlikely to notice any difference, but for any users running a PC on the desk, well, you might want to stick with the Ninja when all is said and done. 

So, the outcome of this test just to recap depends on what you want to achieve.

Do you want the quietest system possible with an i9 in it?

Grab the Scythe.

Do you want to overclock that system and don’t care about a little background hum when you’re pushing the machine to its limits? 

Then the Be quiet! is for you.

Both are astoundingly good coolers, they’re just suitable for slightly different workload profiles depending upon your needs. 

All 3XS Audio Workstations @ Scan

Apogee and Eventide Team Up for 2018

For a limited time, if you buy an Apogee Ensemble or Element series Thunderbolt audio interface you will receive a discount code for a free six month subscription to the Eventide Ensemble Bundle!

Apogee interfaces are renowned in the industry for super clean conversion and the sound of Eventide’s hardware can be found littered all over numerous releases from the past 40 odd years so this is a match made in heaven for audio purists.

If you’ve ever wanted to try out the H910 harmonizer, Blackhole reverb, H3000 or any of the other iconic effects then now is your chance!

The offer runs from July 10th 2018 through January 10th 2019

Apogee Element Series available here

Apogee Ensemble available here