After you have assembled all of the hardware, position the PC in a place where it is easy to access and plug extra cables into, such as those for the audio interface that connects using USB.
I used Steinberg Cubase 5 because it is the only audio recording software I found that supports 64-bit operating environments. This is a critical component, because a 64-bit audio workstation handles memory processing faster than a 32-bit machine, which in turn helps reduce latency. It also means you can access nearly unlimited amounts of RAM, even beyond the 4 GB configuration for this build. The 64-bit processing in Cubase 5 is very accurate and fast–on a 32-bit workstation, there is a bit less power for memory processing. I found this out when I tried running benchmarks on another PC with Vista 32-bit, PreSonus FireStudio (which currently only supports 32-bit drivers), and Sonar LE, a 32-bit audio-recording program. As you'll see on the next page, the 64-bit audio workstation runs at a very low latency of about 13 ms compared to a latency of about 26-33 ms for a 32-bit machine running FireStudio.
PreSonus plans to really take the audio-recording market by storm this summer when it ships StudioOne, a powerful workstation application that will purportedly work well with its own audio interfaces, compressors, and pre-amps. It will be a very interesting addition to the audio software market. But unfortunately, a beta was not available for testing in time for this article.
I did not have time to test ProTools HD for this article, either. This software is much more high-end (and more expensive). However, what makes it so attractive is that, from the reports I’ve read, the latency is somewhere around 2 ms for recording. It explains why the ProTools M-Powered and HD products are so popular for serious recording engineers with home studios.
The GreatRiver MP-500NV pre-amp is actually your main audio component, coupled with the Roland SonicCell, which is a superior audio interface that also doubles as a sound-sample library. The reason the pre-amp is so important is because it is the first audio hardware device that your instrument will “touch” as it is recorded and stored on your hard disk. It works like this: the pre-amp makes sure the microphone, guitar, or any attached instrument or recording device sounds pure and unaltered. You plug instruments into the pre-amp, then run the XLR cable out to the Roland SonicCell. In that state, the Roland is receiving a pure, powered, near-perfect signal. In my tests, the GreatRiver pre was the best piece of hardware in the studio and made my audio workstation a pro-level setup.
You then connect the Roland SonicCell to your PC using a USB cable. Once again, we’re all about 64-bit computing here. You can use other audio interfaces, such as those from M-Audio and Creative Professional (the more pro-recording arm of Creative Labs), but the drivers will likely be 32-bit. The SonicCell 64-bit drivers are available here, so grab them, install, and connect.
After connecting the interface, you can attach all of the other audio hardware you have. For the Edirol MA15D speakers, use the included mini-audio-to-RCA cable from the SonicCell (the mini-audio connection connects in the front of the unit). Press the Input button on the SonicCell until you can configure the output to say “Com” (which stands for computer). You can also connect powered speakers out the back of the SonicCell if you want to hear the signal before it hits your PC.
Connect the Roland SH-201 keyboard to your PC using another USB cable. You might think it connects to the SonicCell, but it does not. That connection is for adding USB storage. Connect the AKG microphone (or whatever instruments you use) to the GreatRiver pre-amp and adjust sound levels. You should hear audio through the Roland speakers without having to run any software. You can adjust volume levels on the SonicCell, on the pre-amp, and in Windows to get a clean, distortion-free signal. At this point, you are ready to start making audio recordings, but let’s cover the latency test results first.