The marriage of the computer with audio recording was definitely not made in heaven. We use computers for recording because a) they are cheap, and b) …oh, there is no 'b'.
Granted, you can buy a digital audio workstation (DAW) such as the Yamaha AW1600 for less than the price of a computer plus software. But workstations have traditionally been restricted in the flexibility and detail with which sound can be edited. Also, although a few workstations have had third-party plug-ins available, this is not at all common.
But computers are complex. Windows XP is complex (Vista more complex still), OS X is complex. Recording on the other hand is a simple task for a computer. It's like having the entire United Nations running a town council. What could possibly go wrong?
Because computers are so complex, problems are common, random, and often have solutions that are only stumbled upon by chance – if solutions are found at all.
But here is a list of things that computer recording systems often do that they certainly should not ever do…
- Add clicks or noise to the recording
- Fail to save audio or session data correctly
- Stop recording of their own accord
- Fail to play certain tracks or segments without warning
- Take an inordinately long time to respond to commands
If you haven't had all of these things happen to you at some time, either you haven't been recording very long, or you are lucky enough to have bought a system that just works. Yes there are some – my antique Pro Tools MixPlus system works perfectly, with Pro Tools version 5.1 software running on a 400 MHz Macintosh laptop with OS 9!
But I dread the time when I have to replace this system. I guess it might be somewhere in the time window when Apple is changing over to Intel processors and merry hell will be breaking loose.
I would not however blame software developers. They have a very difficult task to get their products to run reliably on the flaky foundations provided by computers and operating systems. However they clearly need to redouble their efforts and address the problems outlined above.
That is probably why the top end systems are so expensive. A Pro Tools HD system or a Pyramix does not come cheap, but pro users get pro value. Digidesign ensure pro standards of operation by listing 'qualified' computers. Most of the Macintosh range will be qualified – Digidesign know their core market – and Windows XP computers such as those from Terra Digital Audio Systems also get the Digi seal of approval. Merging Technologies – manufacturers of Pyramix, recommend certain motherboard/processor configurations.
One thing is for sure – if you can't afford a pro system, then you will have to work with what lies within your budget. But don't settle for poor performance, and don't let anyone hoodwink you that it's your fault for not understanding the intricacies of computers sufficiently. If we all pester software developers enough, they will have to burn midnight oil building extra robustness into their systems.
Imagine though – a computer-based DAW that works. Heaven!