New computer: update

Having completed April's Burning Lodge session (should be up on the songs page soon over at Burning Lodge), I've now got a little time window which I've used to install the new computer. I'll put a picture up on this post once I've had a chance to transfer a camera file from my phone to my computer (the Bluetooth dongle seems to have gone walkies right now) but it's certainly looking good.

The Silverstone case measures about 20 cm (height) x 27 cm (width) x 40 cm (front to back). Much smaller than my previous computer, which is sticking around for business use. The Gigabye motherboard comes with good instructions and it was very easy to install the CPU and fan/cooler. As I've got no optical drives installed in the case (we're gonna be using case at gigs and there didn't seem any point carrying the extra weight around so I've just used my LG external CD-Rom to handle all the installation of Windoze etc.), and only one hard disk in there, it's actually a very airy case. The case includes a fan-mount for two additional fans - I've installed one to help with cross-flow of air, and temperature so far does not seem to be a problem (OK, so we've not tried it in a hot rehearsal room or gig venue yet... I'll get back to you on that one.) The whole thing is pretty damn quiet... a little fan noise, that's all. Quieter than my previous PC, which was an Antec case specifically advertised as quiet... still, I guess no-one's gonna advertise their case as 'noisy', are they? "Go figure".

I haven't installed wireless networking as I've now got a couple of MSI ePower 85 powerline network sockets - one's connected to the crappy BT Broadband hub (pretty duff but it was free!) and one in the studio. This powerline ethernet equipment is great - they are now down to not much over £50 a pair and I can highly recommend them. More reliable connection than wifi in my house at least, and more secure (unless your neighbours are tapping into your electricity supply, and if they are, it's not just data security you should be worried about!) The end of unsightly Cat-5 cable criss-crossing the house... give the person who invented this system a medal.

Basic Windoze installation was relatively painless (to be fair, Windows XP is a lot better than previous incarnations of Jump-out-the-Windows in this regard. I ain't gone for Vista of course... no sir, I want a working computer, please!) The previous computer, as well as being for business use, now becomes a full dual boot affair with Linux - probably 64-bit Ubuntu. That'll be some good fun right there. I'm on 32-bit Windows on this new machine despite the fact it's a 64-bit processor as I am very far from sure that Windows XP 64 is a reliable choice for the working musician. I'd rather be slower and rock-solid reliable than fast and crashing half the time, thanks.
Then the fun of installation of music software begins. Sonar 7 Producer Edition is first up. This seemed to install OK although there was an interestingly fascist end-use licence agreement saying that it was forbidden to sell the software. If I'm right that means that there will be no second hand market in Sonar! Is this legal? If I own the product shouldn't I have the right to sell it on the open market? Imagine not being able to sell your house or your car, for example. If you're from Cakewalk and you're reading this please enlighten me as it seems preposterously draconian. What next - tattoo me with the registration code??

I haven't had a chance to use any of the new goodies in Sonar 7 yet - to be honest I didn't use much of the goodies in Sonar 5 either. The Sonitus plugins - compression, reverb, delay, modulator were the one thing I used all the time and they're pretty basic stuff really but very usable and sounded fine. Just a selection of the new stuff available for those interested:

  • LP-64 linear phase mastering EQ and compressor/limiter: to be honest, I haven't been doing much mastering during the Burning Lodge sessions. I've been mainly sorting EQ, compression etc out on a track-by-track basis and then mixing down and normalising to 0dB. This has resulted in slight variations between loudness levels on different tracks but really, who cares? These are demos, not albums. Once or twice I've used NI Reaktor's Finaliser mastering tool as a last-ditch effort to rescue a dodgy mix, but that's about it. I can't stand brick-wall compressed fatiguing listens, and a quick visit to The Loudness Wars wikipedia entry will explain why!
  • Z3TA+ waveshaping synthesiser - dunno anything about this one.
  • VC-64 Vintage Channel Compressor - yet another compressor, that's what the world needs. Well I'll certainly try it anyway...
  • Dimension LE software sampler with Garritan Pocket Orchestra - I'll certainly compare notes on that with Brother Oak of Burning Lodge, as he's got GPO for his complete Tracktion 3 Bundle.
  • FLAC file export - not that exciting to most people but I thought I'd mention it anyway...
Anyway I'll let ya know how much of an improvement Sonar 7 is over 5 (if any) once I've had a chance to try it out a bit.

Next step was installation of Native Instruments' Komplete 5 and Kore 2 package, which DV247 were selling for £649 all in - the nice people. That is a lot of software, and indeed hardware for your money. My previous experience of Native Instruments started with Generator 1.5 back in 1998 and my most recent rig consisted of Reaktor 5, Absynth 4, Battery 2 and FM7. I will review many of the basic elements of the Komplete package later in the year when I've had a chance to get my head round them. First impressions for now of the stuff I haven't used before:

  • FM8: in terms of usability, seems to be a huge improvement on FM7 (which itself wasn't bad).
  • Pro-53: fairly good Prophet 5 simulation but seems rather limited compared with much of the rest of what's on offer here.
  • Massive: extremely impressive 'analog-style' synthesiser. This is a very crowded field but this might just be pretty much the 'best' sounding softsynth I've heard. Of course "best" ain't always what you want, but nonetheless...
  • Akoustik Piano: 4 very nice sampled pianos.
  • B4: excellent Hammond organ simulator. Only problem now is I don't have a double-manual keyboard to take full advantage (although I will be getting bass pedals soon...)
  • Elektrik Piano: very nice electric piano/clavinet sounds although it doesn't sound that much different to Mr Ray 73 and Ticky Clav, both of which are free plugins, so hardly essential.
  • Kontakt 3: finally I own a proper software sampler. The last DVD of the library failed to load properly on my external DVD-ROM but would read OK on an internal DVD rom which I installed temporarily. Weird?
  • Guitar Rig 3: absolutely superb. The surprise package really as I'd completely forgotten about it when I ordered the upgrade. Seriously, if you're at all interested in recording electric guitar in a studio context, you have to get this. I'll post a much fuller review once I've had a bit more time to fiddle around with it. I'll probably be using it a lot in the next Burning Lodge session.
That just leaves Kore 2, which certainly looks cool and I think is really gonna do the business live, but I need to spend a bit more time figuring it out first.

I then reinstalled the Arturia softsynths I own, and a few other free plugins, and bingo! A working system. This rig will get its baptism of fire in the May Burning Lodge sessions where for the first time I've agreed to do 20 songs in 12 hours straight - see dialogue on the Burning Lodge site for more. This is pretty mental, given that I haven't studied any of the enhancements in Sonar 7 yet - I feel a bit like William Shatner with the new version of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Let's hope I don't fall into a wormhole like they did. Session is probably going to be on Sunday May 11th... we'll see.