Category Archives: Computer Music – Hardware

Time to light the FUSE?

Arturia has announced that possibly one of the most awaited audio interfaces of all time is imminently due to arrive with us.

Initially unveiled back at the NAMM show in January 2015 and billed as a “revolutionary next gen-pro audio interface” the AudioFUSE got a lot of interest as a feature packed interface that looked to be a step ahead of lot of the competition at the time.

So what happened? Well Arturia have published a little video explaining the delay and to be fair it’s commendable. They take on board that they may have been a little keen in the initial announcement and have spent the time since listening to feedback from their beta testers as well as improving the manufacturing process. All good to hear and hopefully should result in a far superior product. You can hear what they have to say in their own words below.

So two years down the line and now that it is finally due to arrive with us how does it look now?

Still very promising from what we can see. 

The goal of the interface hasn’t changed. What we have here is a ultra-portable recording solution that doesn’t rely upon troublesome breakout cables for all its I/O handling. It’s built in a solid aluminum chassis and promises to be able to be capable of being thrown in your bag and taken out on the road in order to give you studio quality recordings wherever you are.  

Audio Fuse Specifications

1. Inserts

Add external line-level devices such as compressors into the signal flow before digital conversion.

2. MIDI in/out

Connect any MIDI instrument or equipment with the supplied MIDI cable adapters.

3. Word Clock & S/PDIF in/out

Sync any Word Clock equipment or connect to any S/PDIF digital audio device.

4. ADAT in/out

Connect to any ADAT equipment with up to 8 digital inputs and 8 digital outputs.

5. USB hub

3-port USB hub to connect your master keyboard, USB stick, dongle, and more.

6. USB connection

Connect AudioFuse to your computer, tablet or phone. Most features are available even with only the USB power supplied by a computer.

7. Phono/line inputs 3&4

Connect external phono or line devices to these RCA+ground and balanced 1/4” inputs.

8. Speaker outputs A&B

Connect two pairs of speakers to these balanced 1/4” outputs for easy A/B monitor switching.

9. Input control sections 1&2

Direct access to each feature of analog inputs 1&2: input gain with VU-metering, true 48V, phase invert, -20dB pad and instrument mode.

10. Output control section

Direct access to each of the analog output features: output level with VU-metering, audio mix selection, mono mode, output dimming, mute, and speaker A/B selection.

11. Direct monitoring

Enjoy zero-latency monitoring of the recorded signals and blend them into your mix.

12. Phones control sections 1&2

Direct access to each of the features of headphone outputs 1&2: output level, mono mode and audio mix selection.

13. Talkback

Press a button to communicate with talent in another room via the built-in microphone.

14. Input channels 1&2

Connect microphones, instruments or line devices to the 2 XLR/balanced 1/4” combo inputs.

15. Phones output channels 1&2

Don’t bother looking for a 1/4” or 1/8” phones adapter; AudioFuse has both connectors for each phones output.

Sound Quality

Outside the physical product features, Arturia are keen to show off their DiscretePro preamps with a signal to noise ratio of <-129dB and frequency response between 20HZ and 20kHz of +/-0.05db promising an extremely flat and clean signal path for your recording.

Designed to achieve low distortion rates and dedicated pre-amps for both the line and mic channels they’ve clearly strived to make this a great unit for recording and the is a  bit on the testing and development process to be found in the video below.

Final Thoughts

Its been a long time coming, but the AudioFUSE should finally be with us around June the 8th. The feature set promises to give us a very capable and flexible product if it proves to be a strong performer. The biggest unknown here however is just how great a performer it will be, and as Arturia are a new entry to this arena driver performance is going to be an unknown quality until we see one on the bench.

The is a lot of competition at the £500 price point this unit is landing at, including a number of high performance Thunderbolt and USB units. The included feature set certainly has enough of a punch to keep it relevent in todays busy marketplace and hopefully that all that  extra R&D time is going to pay off for the patient user in the end.

The Arturia AudioFUSE range @ Scan

sE Electronics Expand Their X1 Series With The New X1 S Studio Condenser Mic

The X1 is renowned for its sound quality and versatility at a budget price. There’s been several variations released over the years and just last year we saw a follow up to the original X1, the X1 A. Now we have another revision, the X1 S which boasts some new and improved features. This latest revamp comes housed in an all-metal body and utilizes a hand-made condenser capsule.  It features two high-pass filters as well as a 3 position attenuation switch. An SPL rating of 160dB is also worth a mention… Not bad for an all-purpose large-diaphragm condenser mic.

The X1 S is set to be priced at $249/€249 and is expected to be available in May.

The Vocal Pack and Studio Bundle have also been updated. The X1 S Vocal Pack and X1 S Studio Bundle are set to be priced at $299/€299 and $399/€399 respectively.

Head on over to their product page for more info.

SE Electronics Products @ Scan

To D Or Not To D…Behringer Targets Classic Synth Revivals

Last week the internet spontaneously combusted at some news from Uli Behringer that his company was thinking about developing a cheap ($400) Minimoog Model D clone. Ok, that may be a little bit of an exaggeration but the salt was definitely flowing over at the Gearslutz forum and it’s safe to say that Mr Behringer sure knows how to split people into two distinct camps. His following comment rubbed some people up the wrong way:

“Many people have asked us to revive synth jewels from the past and make them affordable so everyone can own one. This very much resonates with me because when I was a kid, I spent hours in stores playing and admiring those synths – however I couldn’t afford them which was tremendously frustrating.

Frankly, I never understood why someone would charge you US$ 4,000 for a MiniMoog, when the components just cost around US$ 200.”

I actually see a lot of merit in this and hot on the heels of the success of the Deepmind12 I see no reason why the company shouldn’t use the engineer talent from MIDAS for every good use they can possibly think of. I highly doubt with that level of talent on-board that they will settle for simple clones, the Juno 106 clone that slowly transformed into the DM12 is a prime example of this train of thought.

Anyway, I digress. On one hand we have a group of people who think that this behaviour is total sacrilege. More so coming from Uli’s company who have the manufacturing facilities and buying power to make this cheap Model D a reality. Certain commenters have been quite vocal about this being a case of big B throwing a serious spanner in the works for the smaller boutique companies who simply cannot compete in terms of buying power and manufacturing cost – especially as Moog have reissued the Model D recently themselves.

On the other hand we have struggling musicians and those who don’t care what badge a piece of gear has, as long as it sounds good and they can afford it then its a win-win. After all the posturing and proverbial mud slinging, Uli posted a gorgeous little render of a Eurorack compatible Model D clone…and with it the internet fire seemed to be suffocated by the lack of oxygen due to the communal gasps.

Some of the staunchest naysayers on the thread seemed to relax a little once Uli revealed it wasn’t going to be just a cheap 1:1 clone. Among the ashes of the weeks bickering and moderated comments, there were posts that say Behringer may have plans for another 20 synths. Wait, what?!

Fast forward a week, Uli has now teased that the OSCar and ARP 2600 are high on the priority list and I am personally over the moon! He left this comment on Gearslutz last night

“Aside from the Oscar synth, I can confirm that the 2600 is high on our priority list as it is a truly remarkable synth; I always wanted one for myself:-)

We are currently trying to acquire an original unit for benchmark purposes.

We hope we will be able to show you a first design draft within the next few weeks, while we’re studying the circuit diagrams to provide you with an estimated retail price.

Once ready we will reach out to you to see if there is enough interest.”

Considering I’m not rolling in dosh, I have never had the opportunity to play on any of these mythical beasts, and his projected price range is much more suitable for someone like myself. I personally don’t see these units taking any market share away from the likes of Moog as they are aimed at completely different price points and completely different customer bases that very rarely venture into each others gear territory.  Uli Behringer I salute you!

For more info be sure to head over to the Gearslutz forums, unfortunately some of the more colourful posts have been moderated but these threads are still a fantastic read.

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/electronic-music-instruments-electronic-music-production/1142144-behringer-mini-model-d-good-idea.html

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/electronic-music-instruments-electronic-music-production/1141074-what-synths-should-behringer-make-next.html

Uli’s post regarding the OSCar and ARP 2600:

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/electronic-music-instruments-electronic-music-production/1141074-what-synths-should-behringer-make-next-9.html#post12499056

If this little article has got your synth buds salivating, why not take a look at the oscillating goodness we have in store!

https://www.scan.co.uk/shop/pro-audio/instruments/synthesizers

AMD Ryzen First Look For Audio

Ryzen is finally with us and it is quite possibly one of the most anticipated chipset launches in years, with initial reports and leaked benchmarks tending to show the whole platform in very favourable light.

However when it comes to pro audio handling we tend to have different concerns over performance requirements, than tends to be outlined and covered by more regular computer industry testing. So having now had a chance to sit and work with an AMD 1700X for a week or so, we’ve had the chance to put this brand new tech through some more audio-centric benchmarking, and today we’ll take a first look at this new tech and see if its right for the studio.

AMD has developed a whole new platform with the  focus based around  improving low level performance and raising the “IPC” or Instructions per clock cycle figure. As ever they have been keen to keep it affordable with certain choices having been made to keep it competitive, and to some extent these are the right choices for a lot of users.

Ryzen Chipset Features

The chipset gives us DDR4 memory but unlike the X99 platform restricts us to dual channel RAM configurations and a maximum of 64GB across the 4 RAM slots which may limit its appeal for heavyweight VSL users. The is a single M.2. connection option for a high speed NVMe drive and 32 lanes for the PCIe connections, so the competing X99 solutions still offer us more scope here, although for the average audio system the restrictions above may offer little to no real downsides at least from a configuration requirements point of view.

One thing missing from the specification however that has an obvious impact in the studio is the lack of Thunderbolt support. Thunderbolt solutions require BIOS level and physical board level support in the shape of the data communication header found on Intel boards, and Thunderbolt itself is an Intel developed standard along with Apple backing. Without either of those companies appearing to be keen to licence it up front, we’re unlikely to see Thunderbolt at launch although the little to say that this couldn’t change in later generations, if the right agreements can be worked out between the firms involved.

Early testing with the drivers available to us have so far proven to be quite robust, with stability being great for what is essentially a first generation release of a new chipset platform. We have seen a few interface issues regarding older USB 2 interfaces and USB 3 headers on the board, although the USB 3 headers we’ve seen are running the Microsoft USB3 drivers, which admittedly have had a few issues over on the Intel boards with certain older USB 2 only interfaces so this looks to be constant between both platforms. Where we’ve seen issues on the Intel side, we’re also seeing issues on the AMD side, so we can’t level this as being an issue with the chipset and may prove to be something that the audio interface guys can fix with either a driver or firmware update.

Overclocking has been limited in our initial testing phase, mainly due to a lack of tools. Current windows testing software is having a hard time with temperature monitoring during our test period, with none of the tools we had available being able to report the temps. This of course is something that will no doubt resolve itself as everyone updates their software over the next few weeks, but until then we tried to play it safe when pushing the clocks up on this initial batch.

We managed to boost our test 1700X up a few notches to around the level of the 1800X in the basic testing we carried out, but taking it further lead to an unstable test bench. No doubt this will improve after launch as the initial silicon yields improve and having not seen a 1800X as yet, that may still proved to be the cherry picked option in the range when it comes to overclocking.

One of the interesting early reports that appeared right before launch was the CPUid benchmark result which suggests that this may shape up to be one of the best performing multi-core consumer grade chips. We set out to replicate this test here and the result of it does indeed look very promising on the surface.

Ryzen 1700x CPU id results

We follow this up with a Geekbench 4 test, which itself is well trusted as a cross platform CPU benchmark and in the single core performance reflects the results seen in the previous test with it placing just behind the i7 7700K in the results chart. The multi-core this time around whilst strong looks to be sat behind the 6900K and in this instance sitting under the 6800K and above the 7700K.

GeekBench 4 AMD 1700X

So moving on to our more audio-centric benchmarks and our standard Dawbench test is first up.  Designed to load test the CPU itself, we find ourselves here stacking plugin instances in order to establish the chips against a set of baseline level results. The AMD proves itself strongly in this test, placing mid-way between the cost equivalent 6 core Intel 6800K and far more expensive 6900K 8 core. With the AMD 1700X offering us 8 physical cores along with threading on top to take us to a virtual 16 cores, this at first glance looks to be where we would expect it to be with the hardware on offer, but at a very keen price point.

Ryzen DPC Test

I wanted to try a few more real world comparisons here so first up I’ve taken the Dawbench test and restricted it to 20 channels of plugins. I’ve then applied this test over each of the CPUs we have on test, with the results appearing under the “Reaper” heading on the chart below.

Sequencer AMD 1700X

The 1700X stands up well against the i7 7700k but doesn’t quite manage to match up with Intel chips in this instance. In a test like this where we’re not stressing the CPU itself or trying to overload the available bandwidth, the advantages in the low level microarchitecture tend to come to the fore and in this instance the two Intel chips based around the same platform perform roughly in line with each other, although in this test we’re not taking into account the extra bandwidth on offer with the 6900K edition.

Also on the same chart we  see two other test results with  one being the 8 Good Reasons demo from Cubase 8 and we tried running it across the available CPUs to gain a comparison in a more real world project. In this instance the results come back fairly level across the two high end Intel CPU’s and the AMD 1700X. The 4 core mid-range i7 scores poor here, but this is expected with the obvious lack of a physical cores hampering the project playback load.

We also ran the “These Arms” Sonar demo and replicated the test process again. This tests results are a bit more erratic this time around, with a certain emphasis looking to be placed on the single core score as well as the overall multi core score. This is the first time we see the 1700X falling behind the Intel results.

In other testing we’ve done along the way in other segments we’ve seen some of the video rendering packages and even some games exhibiting some CPU based performance oddness that has looked out of the ordinary. Obviously we have a concern here that the might be a weakness that needs to be addressed when it comes to overall audio system performance, so with this result in mind we decided to dig deeper.

To do so we’ve made use of the DAWBench Vi test, which builds upon the basic test in DAWBench standard, and allows us to stack multiple layers of Kontakt based instruments on top of it. With this test, not only are we place a heavy load on the CPU, but we’re also stressing the sub-system and seeing how capable it is at quickly handling large complex data loads.

DAWBench Vi

This gave us the results found in the chart above and this starts to shine some light on the concerns that we have.

In this instance the AMD 1700X under-performs all of the Intel chips at lower buffer rates. it does scale up steadily however, so this looks to be an issue with how quickly it can process the contents of a buffer load.

So what’s going on here? 

Well the other relevant information to flesh out the chart above is just how much CPU load was being used when the audio started to break up in playback.

AMD 1700X 3.8 @ GHz

64 = 520 count @ 70% load
128 = 860 count @ 72% load
192 = 1290 count @ 85% load

Intel 6800k 3.8 @ GHz

64 = 780 count @ 87% load
128 = 1160 count @ 91% load
192 = 1590 count @ 97% load

Intel 6900k 3.6 @ GHz

64 = 980 count @ 85% load
128 = 1550 count @ 90% load
192 = 1880 count @ 97% load

Intel 7700k @ 4.5GHz

64 = 560 @ 90% load
128 = 950 @ 98% load
192 = 1270 @ 99% load

So the big problem here appears to be inefficiency at lower buffer rates. The ASIO buffer is throwing data at the CPU in quicker bursts the lower you go with the setting, so with the audio crackling and breaking up it seems that the CPU just isn’t clearing the buffer quickly enough once it gets to around 70% CPU load at those lower 64 & 128 buffer settings

Intel at this buffer setting looks to be hitting 85% or higher, so whilst the AMD chip may have more RAW performance to hand, the responsiveness of the rest of the architecture appears to be letting it down. It’s no big secret looking over the early reviews that whilst AMD has made some amazing gains with the IPC rates this generation they still appear to be lagging slightly behind Intel in this performance metric.

So the results start to outline this as one of the key weaknesses in the Ryzen configuration, with it becoming quite apparent that the are bottle necks elsewhere in the architecture that are coming into play beyond the new CPU’s. At the lower buffer settings the test tends to benefit single core performance, with the Intel chips taking a solid lead. As you slacken off the buffer itself, more cores become the better option as the system is able to spread the load but even then it isn’t until we hit a 192 buffer setting on the ASIO drivers that the performance catches up to the intel 4 Core CPU.

This appears to be one section where the AMD performance still seems to be lacking compared with the Intel family be that due to hardware bottle necks or still not quite having caught up in the overall IPC handling at the chipset level. 

What we also see is the performance start to catch up with intel again as the buffer is relaxed, so it’s clear that a certain amount of performance is still there to be had, but the system just can’t access it quickly enough when placed under heavy complex loads.

What we can safely say having taken this look at the Ryzen platform, is that across the tests we’ve carried out so far that the AMD platform has made some serious gains with this generation. Indeed the is no denying that the is going to be more than a few scenarios where the AMD hardware is able to compete and will beat the competition.

However with the bottlenecks we’ve seen concerning load balancing of complex audio chains, the is a lot of concern here that it simply won’t offer the required bang per buck for a dedicated studio PC. As the silicon continues to be refined and the chip-set and drivers are fine-tuned then we should see the whole platform continue to move from strength to strength, but at this stage until more is known about those strength and weaknesses of the hardware, you should be aware that it has both its pros and cons to consider.

The Full Scan 3XS Pro Audio Workstation Range

Back To Black – Antelope Bring Out A New Addition To The ORION Family, The ORION32 HD

Bulgaria seems to be a bit of a busy place for Pro Audio at the moment with Antelope pushing out some absolutely fantastic gear and progressing on the software side of things at a staggering pace. The Balkan Mountains truly are alive with the sound of music…courtesy of Antelope’s pristine AD/DA conversion and supreme clocking!

Truth be told, it’s a pain (in a good way) keeping the content updated for their products, the guys and girls over at Antelope are like a machine, churning out updates to their FPGA based ecosystem of interfaces – giving their customers extra functionality and making additions to the free FPGA FX packages.

Enter the new addition to the family – the stunning looking ORION32 HD was announced at NAMM and I imagine Pro Tools HD users are pretty happy. It’s compatible with any DAW on the market via a HDX port or USB 3.0. This means no matter what you choose to use in the studio you can benefit from 64 channel 192kHz audio I/O, Zero Latency Monitoring, industry-leading AFC clocking and as you’d expect, flawless conversion. Throw in the usual plethora of connectivity such as ADAT, MADI, S/PDIF, Wordclock and mastering-grade Monitor outs and you have a beast of an interface. Now if you have a Pro Tools HD setup and a customer comes in with a laptop project made on Cubase, Logic or Presonus etc then you can simply use the USB port to integrate their project directly into your existing setup – no extra interfaces needed!

Coming back to the free FPGA FX package, if you’re not aware of it – Antelope have integrated a fine selection of free hardware-based vintage FX. The ever growing library includes hardware-based vintage EQ’s, compressors and Auraverb. The exquisite collections of Vintage EQ’s include authentic models of Lang PEQ-1, BAE 1073, 1084, 1023, UK-69 and many other classic British and German vintage units. If vintage compressors are more to your favour, how about a life-like model of the FET76 aka the legendary UREI 1176LN?

One more thing to note is the impressive software control. The routing matrix is pretty neat and even that has had some little tweaks over the last few software revisions to make it even easier to use. The control panel can be run on any machine on the network allowing for remote access to all the important stuff and as a side bonus, the control panel can be resized at will – its the little things that can make a huge difference in the right circumstances!

The ORION32 HD is available for pre-order at Scan Pro Audio, go take a look!

Roland Announce Rubix Line Of Audio Interfaces

Roland have announced their new line of portable USB audio interfaces for Mac, PC and iPad. The Rubix line consists of 3 units – The Rubix 22, 24 and the 44 all of which are designed with transparent, low-noise pre-amps and support for audio resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz.

The Rubix 22 has 2 ins/2 outs, the 24 has 2 ins/4 outs and the 44 as you can probably guess has 4 ins/4 outs. All 3 interfaces also support MIDI I/O and feature combo jack inputs, Hi-Z inputs and headphones outputs. The 24 and 44 also feature a hardware compressor/limiter! A ground lift switch on the back should also help laptop users with ground loop issues. There’s a switchable power source on the 22 and 24 which allows you to power the interfaces with a USB battery when connecting them up to an iPad. The 44 does however require an AC adapter. The activity LEDs are visible from the front and the top of the units, making monitoring signal input from any angle very convenient .

Key Features

  • 2-in/2-out / 2-in/4-out / 4-in/4-out USB audio interface.
  • 2 / 4 low-noise mic preamps with XLR combo jacks.
  • Hardware compressor/limiter (Rubix 24 & Rubix 44).
  • Hi-Z input for guitar and other high impedance sources.
  • MIDI In/Out ports.
  • Extensively shielded, low-noise design.
  • Sturdy and compact metal construction.
  • Easy-to-read indicators show vital information.
  • Low latency, class compliant drivers.
  • Ground lifts for quiet operation in a variety of venues.
  • Includes Ableton Live Lite.

Info on pricing & availability yet to be confirmed.

Roland Hardware @ Scan

Take Kontrol with Native Instruments winter deals

Live now and running through to early in the new year, we have a selection of superb deals from Native Instruments giving you even more reason to keep warm in the studio over coming months.

Traktor Kontrol S8

The flagship all in one controller hits our lowest price point yet, retailing at just £799.

Capable of running as a 4-channel stand-alone mixer, professional audio interface, and featuring enhanced Stems ready decks for ultimate control over the included latest 2.11 version of Traktor Scratch Pro.

Touch-sensitive controls and high-res displays deliver DJ workflow that permits you to connect anything your setup needs, Traktor Kontrol S8 boasts the most expansive connectivity on a DJ controller yet.

Traktor Kontrol S8 @ Scan

Komplete Kontrol S-Series

The full range of the S-Series keyboards has taken a price tumble with the S49, S61 & S88 all receiving around £80 our previous price. The keyboards are all built around superb Fatar keybeds and offer NKS functionality which offers more in depth mapping with Native plugins and selected third part instruments. Of course regular VST support is included although anyone who already own Komplete will benefit most from some of the extra functionality on offer here. In fact the keyboard itself ships with Komplete Select and in support of the Keyboard price crash, we are offering a number of Komplete upgrade deals from Select that could save you a packet over the regular stand alone prices. For example if you pick up a Komplete Kontrol S49 and Our Komplete 11 upgrade package, this would save you almost £300 off our regular pricing!

Check out the full range of Komplete Kontrol Offers here.

Komplete Audio 6

It’s always a popular offer when we run it, and the Komplete Audio 6 has always been well regarded here in Scan. Tank like build quality combined with some of the best performing drivers we’ve seen on any interface under £500 make this a very popular interface. Offering a 4 in / 4 out I/O selection, MIDI control, a pair of pre-amps and a very handy physical volume control, the Komplete Audio 6 is a great interface for anyone getting into making music or even those making their first upgrade.

The Komplete Audio KA6 for just £149 @ Scan

See the full Native Instruments range @ Scan

Keith McMillen Instruments Launches K-Board Pro 4 Expressive MPE Keyboard Kickstarter Campaign

Keith McMillen Instruments are already known for their innovative engineering when it comes to MIDI controllers. Well they now aim to take the standard keyboard controller to the next level with the K-Board Pro 4. Utilizing their Smart Sensor Fabric technology, the keyboard itself has the look of a conventional keyboard but has no moving parts and the keys are made of silicone. Each key press is capable of sending attack velocity, release velocity, continuous pressure, horizontal position, and vertical position data. This allows greater control of the individual notes as you play. It also features 4 additional controller strips along the top of the keyboard.

kmi-k-board-4

There are other MPE controllers out there with similar functionality but they’re not cheap. Examples include the ROLI seaboard, LinnStrument and Eigenlabs’ Eigenharp. The K-Board Pro 4 is expected to retail for around $495 making it somewhat affordable in comparison.

Check out the teaser trailer.

See the Kickstarter site for more details.

The K-Board Pro Homepage

Keith McMillen Hardware @ Scan

Arturia Announces MiniLab MKII

Featuring some refined improvements over the original MiniLab, the MiniLab MKII features 25 velocity sensitive keys, RGB back-lit performance pads and 16 rotary knobs. Aimed at musicians who are primarily on the move it promises to be lightweight yet rugged. It also comes bundled with Ableton Live Lite, Analog Lite and UVI Grand Piano Model B.

Arturia MiniLab MKII

Main Features

  • 25 note velocity-sensitive slim keyboard
  • 2 banks of 8 RGB back-lit velocity-sensitive performance pads
  • 16 rotary encoders
  • Dedicated octave up and down buttons
  • 2 ultra-responsive pitch and mod wheel touch-strips
  • Foot-switch input for sustain pedal
  • Includes Arturia Analog Lite, Ableton Live Lite & UVI Grand Piano Model B
  • 8 user pre-sets
  • USB Powered

The MiniLab MKII is expected to be available at the end of this month.

All Arturia Hardware @ Scan

Arturia MiniLab MKII Homepage

Intel Broadwell-E – The New Audio System CPU Of Choice?

In our first benchmark update of the year, we take a look at the Broadwell-E range, taking over as the new flagship Intel CPU range. Intel’s Enthusiast range has always proven to be a popular choice for audio systems, based around a more established and ultimately stable server chipset, whilst still letting you get away with the overclocking benefits founds on the mid-range solutions, making this range very popular in studios up and down the country.

The previous round of benchmarks can be found here and whilst handy to have to hand, you’ll notice that results that appear on the older chart when compared with newer results obtained found on our 2016 results chart show a marked improvement when the same chips are compared side by side.

A number of things have lead to this and can be explained by the various changes enacted since our last round up. Windows 10 is now the testing platform of choice, offering a marginal improvement over the older Windows 7 build, this along with new drivers and firmware for our Native Instruments KA6 which remains our testing tool of choice as well as a newly updated DAWBench suite, designed to allow us to be able to test these new chips as the first round of testing exceeded the older version of the test!

If you do wish to compare with the scores on the older chart, we’re seeing a roughly additional 20 tracks when comparing like for like chips across both set of results, so it’s possible that if you have a chip that is on the old chart and not the new, then you may be able to establish a rough comparison by simply adding 20 tracks on top of the old chip result to give you a very rough estimate to allow some degree of comparison.

Leaving behind the old results and in order to establish a level playing field, I’ve set out to retest some of the older chips under the new conditions in order to ensure these results are fair and to allow for easier comparison, so without any more delay, let’s check out those results.

2016 CPU DPC Test Results
2016 CPU DPC Test Results

As normal we’ll dive into this from the bottom upwards. At the low end of the testing round up we see the current i5 flagship, the 4 core 6600K both at stock and overclocked. A modest chip and certainly where we’d suggest the absolute lowest point of entry is when considering an audio setup. Offering enough power for multi-tracking and editing, and whilst we wouldn’t suggest that it would be the ideal solution for anyone working fully in the box as this CPU would be likely to be easily maxed out by high performance synths, the is certainly enough power here to achieve basic studio recording and editing tasks whilst not breaking the bank.

Next up are the mid-range i7’s and the 6700T is first up, offering 4 cores and 8 threads this is the low power i7 option this time around and sits as you would expect between the i5 6600K and the full power 6700K. It’s performance isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it’s certainly hitting performance levels that we would have expected from a mid-range class leading 2600K a few years back, but with a far lower power usage profile. This is a chip that certainly has its place and we expect it to be well received in our passive silent specs and other small form factor systems.
The other 6700 variant we have here is the all singing, all dancing 6700K which is the current consumer flagship offering a unlocked and overclockable 4 core / 8 thread configuration. Popular in home recording setups and certainly a reasonable all-rounder its price to performance makes it a great fit for anyone looking to edit, process and mix audio, whilst not relying upon extremely CPU intensive plugins and other tools.

But what if you are? What if Diva and Serum and their ilk are your tools of choice, and CPU’s are regularly chewed up and spat out for breakfast?

Well then, the enthusiast range is the choice for you. Popular for just this reason, the chart outlines the amount of extra overhead these CPU’s can offer you above and beyond the performance found in the mid-range.

The 5820K and 5960X scores you see are the previous generations 6 core and 8 core flagship solutions respectively and certainly the ones to beat by our new entries.

The 6800K is another 6 core CPU along with the 6850K which isn’t shown here which directly replaces the last generation 5930K. As with the last generation, the key difference between the 6800K and 6850K other than the few hundred more MHz which don’t really offer much of an improvement as far as benchmarks go, is the additional PCIe lanes on offer with the more expensive chip. For roughly 50% more over the 28 lane 6800K edition, the 6850K offers up a total of PCIe lanes making it ideal for systems running multiple graphics cards, which may require up to 16 lanes each. For audio systems that only have a single graphics card however, the 28 lane chip will be more than adequate for most users and is certainly one place you can afford to cut corners an save money in the event that you’re not working with multiple graphics cards. All this as well as the keen price when considered against the performance found in the 6700K below it, perhaps makes the 6800K the best bang per buck option at this time.

The 6900K is a 8 core / 16 thread direct replacement for the last generation flagship 5960X chip and offers a sizable performance increase over the older CPU for roughly the same price. Not ground breaking but certainly an improvement for any outlay if you were considering the options around this price point.

Topping off the chart is the new high-end flagship 6950X which offers previously unseen levels of performance from the enthusiast class CPU’s and certainly offers reasonable performance for your money when compared against the dual Xeon setups that compete with it. With a £1400 UK street price at the time of writing it may appear to offer poor value when put up against the £500 cheaper 6900K, the is little else to touch this CPU for its price if you find yourself in need of the performance it is capable of offering.

Looking to the future the next high-end refresh will be Skylake-E although that isn’t due to be with us until sometime around the middle of 2017. KabyLake around the same time next year in the midrange promises some interesting features, namely X-point and the advances it’ll bring for storage which may even appear (we hope!) in the Skylake-E chipset around the same time. Either way you look at it, Broadwell-E is looking to be the high performance option of choice for the rest of 2016 and we’re sure will find itself powering many new studio systems over the coming year.

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