Setting Up Your First 64-Bit Digital Audio Workstation

Low-Latency Recording Options

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.

Audio Hardware

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.

  • one-shot
    There are large HSFs designed for to be passively cooled. Have you thought of that as an option? You are running a CPU which doesn't draw much current and it could help to even lower the noise even more as that is your main concern, it seems. No fan should make less noise than A fan, even if that one fan is very quiet.
  • REAPER has a 64bit version that's quite lauded (as is the 32bit, for that matter).
  • mitch074
    what I find strange though, is the use of a non-real time OS for audio recording; Windows' sound system always introduces latency (when there's no latency, then it introduces clicks); on the other hand, there are optimized Linux distros dedicated to sound recording and processing, that cost nothing, that are 64-bit compatible, and thanks to a well tested kernel patch (I think it entered mainline a while ago) has zero latency: kernel allows real time access to sound hardware.

    You can also forget about disk problems with Linux, as it is and remains light years ahead of Windows in disk access - especially when using low latency file systems.

    So, while your hardware choices are excellent, you cripple your system by using an inappropriate system. It's like putting a truck driver in command of a Formula 1 car: he may be used to drive powerful and costly machines with precision, but not THIS kind of machine.
  • Totally agree with mitch074! I've used Ubuntu Studio ( for 32bit audio processing. The (stable) latency I get with that system is unsurpassed (took me a few days to finetune the kernel for this result though...)
  • mitch074
    just to add something to my previous comment: while you mentioned Ubuntu 64-bit, do realize that the -rt kernel isn't installed by default; its use of PulseAudio (that plays the same role than Vista's current audio stack does) is a pain to configure... Not that it's impossible, but then you'd better look at 64 Studio (Debian-based 64-bit RT distribution) or at the very least Ubuntu Studio (which is already configured for audio use, with several drivers pre-built).

    More data at (obviously)
  • Hamsterabed
    Please examine your power supply bracket a little closer, if you look carefully you will notice 4 tabs sticking up upon both sides of the bracket. You may mount a SSD to these 2.5 inch slots instead of buying a separate one that will be in your air corridor.
  • > has zero latency

    That's bull - no system has zero latency - not even DSP-based ProTools.

    All soundcard-hardware has at least 32 samples of latency.

    Apart from that, you will achieve VERY low latency figures by carefully selecting the right PC, with the right add-on-hardware with Windows as well. And if you have the right card with the right drivers, you can even use that 32 sample latency (less than 1msec) for tracking.

    Also IMHO 99% of all virtual instruments/effects existing are Win/OS X only, so you will not have the same range of tools to use when limiting yourself to Linux.

    Dogmatic thinking is never smart. Use the right tool for the right job. Linux is (currently) IMHO not the right tool for DAW work (at least not if you want to work in a somewhat professional level)
  • vivi22
    to-pseAlso IMHO 99% of all virtual instruments/effects existing are Win/OS X only, so you will not have the same range of tools to use when limiting yourself to Linux.
    Have to agree with this. Linux isn't supported by the majority of major plug in makers, so if you use it you'd be pretty limited in what you had available in that area. I'd also rather not spend any more time dealing with getting drivers that run properly than I already do using Windows.

    Anyway, the article seems like a good intro for those who may be new to building a DAW and it's nice to see Tom's put up an article not geared towards gamers or IT. I didn't think I'd ever see an article relating to music production on here so I appreciate the effort, but there are some things that I would have liked to see mentioned. For starters, Cubase isn't the only 64-bit recording program. Reaper was already mentioned in the comments, and Sonar was 64-bit before Cubase ever made the move. Might be some others that are or are moving to 64-bit, but those were the major ones when I was looking into a recording program last year.

    Also, although I could understand going with a processor that doesn't require some pretty massive cooling when you're going to be recording real instruments or vocals in the same room as the PC, I wouldn't recommend deliberately limiting processing power if someone is working largely, or even completely with midi. Once you start throwing in some VST synths and effects, the processor can be taxed pretty easily. You can get around it by bouncing tracks to wav as you work on other parts, but it can be a pain when you want to edit multiple parts in real time.
  • You have a nice rig there, would look at cleaning up the wiring though, its a bit messy in the pic!
  • Ryun
    This was actually a very interesting article. It's a shame though, I wish you had taken more pictures of the audio hardware and audio connectors instead of the "stock" hardware. I don't really know much about audio hardware or even the theory to work with, so pictures of those would have helped immensely for a noob like myself.