Setting Up Your First 64-Bit Digital Audio Workstation

Latency Test Results

I used the CEntrance Latency Test Utility for my benchmarks. This is an industry-standard tool that most home-studio engineers use, although there are benchmarking utilities included with some software programs as well, such as ProTools. To run these tests, you connect a cable from the input of the audio interface to the output of the audio interface, which creates an audio loop. CEntrance sends a single pulse and records latency (if you do these tests, make sure you turn down your speakers).

In the Roland SonicCell test on the 64-bit workstation I built, latency measured 13 ms, which is very low. I could “feel” this low latency when I played on the Roland SH-201 synthesizer connected to the SonicCell recording live audio (not USB or MIDI from the synthesizer). When I played notes, they recorded very accurately in Cubase 5, which means the quality of the recording was better and my performance was better because what I played was recorded quickly. It’s like a well-tuned engine, with the 64-bit processing ensuring accurate results.

To compare my latency results, I also used an AMD machine I had already built for another purpose: running Vista 32-bit but with a faster processor (an AMD Phenom II) and a similar RAM and storage setup. You would think the faster CPU would help, but the latency was actually higher. Using a PreSonus FireStudio with 32-bit drivers, the latency measured about 33 ms. I also did a sanity test with a Creative EM-U 0404 interface and the latency was very similar to FireStudio’s results, running at 27 ms.

Final Thoughts                       

There is more to an audio workstation than the PC and audio hardware. You’ll need microphone stands, good lighting, and music stands—the list goes on and on. There’s no need to build every element into the studio right away, but it is a good idea to have a plan. I drew out a workstation area on a piece of paper and added the components that were the most important, but I plan to add more in the next few months. I didn’t touch on mix-downs, mastering, and burning CDs as much. These are all important steps, but you can actually do them easily enough on a laptop with Cubase 5 and a pack of blank discs.

In recording, the rule is the same for data processing: garbage in and garbage out. I’m a big supporter of having the lowest-latency equipment you can afford on the front end and then either mixing by hand or sending the raw tracks to a professional studio for the mix down (which usually requires an ear for EQ adjustments and frequency levels). In the end, it is all a learning experience, but be sure to have fun on the ride.

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  • mi1ez
    Great article, really enjoyed it.
  • Anonymous
    Sonar 8 is another x64 native application. It has been since version 5.
  • morrie
    Reaper is also a 64 bit app, at a fraction of the cost, it gets my vote! Thermaltake parts would NOT get my vote for silent setups. Antec P183 etc have sound dampening to further reduce noise.
  • daglesj
    Didnt good old standard DDR have even lower latency?

    One thing I also do for my audio PCs is to attach clip on ferrite cores to ALL the power input leads to the motherboard, HDDs and optical drives. I even put small ones on the fan power leads.

    I also run the power through two mains filters before it reaches the PC's PSU. I feel you can never have too clean a power supply into a PC.

    I also built an three sided accoustic shield that I made out of plywood and one side (the inside) is covered with accoustic foam. I just place that in front of the PC when recording. It helps.
  • Solitaire
    Why does this strike me as a really half-assed ThermalTake advert?!
  • morrie
    @ So
  • morrie
    SolitaireWhy does this strike me as a really half-assed ThermalTake advert?!

    @ Solitaire, i was thinking the same thing. There are way better silent products than Thermaltake.
  • wild9
    Nice article..very informative and easy to understand. Cool that you went the extra mile and actually did the latency tests for both 64 and 32-bit environments.

    It's nice that the author considered and chose AMD, and didn't automatically go for the fastest one in the range but something that offers an excellent balance between performance and energy efficiency. AMD's Hyper-Transport interconnect would also greatly assist in lowering core-Northbridge and core-memory latency too, when compared to the Intel 2 Core solutions.

    I'm still undecided as to whether or not DDR3 memory would make much difference, seeing as 64-bit software and IMC of the A64 architecture may already be sufficient, I'm not sure.

    If I was building a rig like this I would never cut corners with:

    . Mains filtering, like daglesj mentioned
    . Audio interconnects
    . Monitor size
    . PSU noise - why do so many manufacturers seem to care so little about this?
    . The room lighting. i.e. some decent blinds to minimise glare, and ambient not just spot lighting.

    p.s. I still prefer the warmth and special awareness of analogue recordings (including analogue synthesisers from the 80's). It's interesting that people like Jean Michel Jarre are also sticking to the retro hardware; I recently went to one of his concerts and the gear he was using, was simply out of this world. The bass was like a wild animal..I have never experienced that kind or raw emotion with digital gear.
  • davelynne
    you dont need a big psu or a powerful graphics card, i opt for ASUS PK5C motherboard with E8200 2.66 DUALCORE PENTIUM(around feb/ march 2009), i started with 2x 1g XMS2 CORSAIR DDR2 RAM and up this to 6 a couple of months ago with xp pro 64bit OS. ichange the original spec on my mother board but did not check the graphics slot on my new mortherboard, my old card was vga and the knew was pci express and i done my doe so i bought a basic nvida geforce 7200 GS instead of increasing my old psu 350 watts and crossed my fingers. IT WORKED !
  • davelynne
    I forgot to say i using sonar 8 which can be used as 64 bit or 32 bit daw and i recently added two 500 gig hard drives( i have four hard drives 2x500 1x250 1xportable 250). i've recently put a second OS xp pro 32 bit on one of my hard drive( it was my original OS). The reason for this is some companys wont provide drivers for 64bit OS on old software i also have a prodikeys DM keyboard which is great for working with finale and sibilus. i upgraded my psu to 400 psu next step is to replace the noisey bits with quite bits, any advice would be welcome.
    i dont do a lot of recording with my work station( i cant sing, i tried melodyn. It's good but not that good !.)i mainly work with midi and vst instruments with good quality samples and convert to 32bit and use audio processors, mainly to add warmth and character, computer noise does not seem to be a problem. when i do attempt to record myself(path:shure 55sh
    >behringer tube ultra gain mic200>behringer eurorack u8802>emu 0404 dsp gate>leveling amp> 3 band eq(presence) slight reverb ...its not perfect,if you put each track under a microscope or your a sound engineer, but when mix down and played on a standard to good music system sounds fine. I recently down loaded demo of audition 3 and found this has some nifty plugins for cleaning up audio. But if you not in this to make money (hobbie only for me and an aid to learning piano and keyboard) its a bit pricey .Anys ways if any body can give me some Sound Advice (excuse the pun) on minimising internal computer noise with out spending a fortune it would be much appreciated.