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.

  • 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.