Whether you are an at-home audio hobbyist or a seasoned and professional Pro Tools operator, everybody yearns for the optimum working environment to produce music. Over the next few weeks I’ll take you through the various components of the digital audio workstation and offer some suggestions for maximizing its performance.
This is by no means the end-all-be-all of how-tos on the subject and I invite all of you readers out there to contribute to the body of knowledge with your personal expertise. As for me, I can only speak from my own experience as a professional audio engineer. So please offer your opinions or questions in the comments below if you are so inclined.
I should admit right off the bat that I am a supporter of Macintosh computers and Pro Tools in the professional environment. The realities of the professional world decree that this is how you must go if you wish to have a successful career. I do swing every which way: I have done high-profile professional projects on Microsoft computers, Nuendo, Logic, Cubase, and tape. By and large, however, contemporary creative demands as well as the desire for portability and universality demand a Macintosh and Pro Tools combination.
Mac or PC:
Forget the I/Os, forget the gear (for now). Heck, even forget about the talent. In today’s music production world, you cannot record anything of any kind without a good computer. For the audiophiles out there, I too am a tape guy when the opportunity presents itself. However, the availability of the medium coupled with budgets and real-world artist demands often preclude the use of our beloved reel-to-reels.
So before you choose between Pro Tools and Logic and Nuendo, you have to pick the optimum machine to support those programs. When the question is posed to me there are three main distinctions that I like to draw:
1) This one is kind of arbitrary but is necessary exposition because, when talking about technology, you will often get the conscientious objector who takes issue with the nomenclature: a Macintosh computer is a PC.
PC stands for personal computer, so the question really comes down to Macintosh or Microsoft. That kind of has a nice ring to it, so I’m curious why the debate is framed in such a manner. Apologies to those Linux supporters out there, but Linux isn’t even a wildcard in this tournament.
2) A much more substantive and important distinction to draw is that Apple produces an operating system (Macintosh) so that it can sell its computers. On the other hand, Microsoft produces computers so that it can sell its operating system.
This is a subtle difference, but very important. When your Macintosh computer crashes and you need to rebuild from scratch, you can use any OS installer on your computer. Mac doesn’t even ask for a serial number. That is because Apple is in the business of selling computers and the OS itself is simply a construction so that they can sell them machines themselves. That means that every component that is in the machine has an express purpose, specific to the operating system. Likewise, every line of code that exists in the operating system has an express purpose in the functioning of those components.
On the other hand, when your Microsoft (or rather Microsoft-based) computer crashes, you’ll need to have your officially sanctioned serial numbers and identifiers because Microsoft’s sole desire as a company (for our purposes) is to sell an operating system. Not the computer. If you actually go to the Microsoft store, you will not see a single computer “made” by Microsoft. The actual computers that run Microsoft Operating systems are produced by Dell, Asus, Lenovo, and *shriek* even Macintosh. Of course, the high competition for producers running a Microsoft-based platform means that the price can be significantly cheaper, but ultimately that means that the company creating your computer has little at stake in how the operating system functions with the computer itself.
3) The third distinction deals more with what your computers are actually doing: The computer and the operating system itself has no idea what operations you are performing.
Whether it is a Mac or a Microsoft or Linux, no computer has any real idea whether you are watching a movie, editing a family video, touching up a photograph, or recording death metal. It is just doing calculations. The real question when dealing with music production is how quickly can VERY LARGE chunks of information accessed, transferred, and put to use.
Macintosh realizes this. For a very long time, the talking point about Macs was that they handled big calculations and files better than Microsoft. While this may be true from an OS standpoint, a processor or hard drive or stick of RAM doesn’t know whether it’s running on OSX or Vista. The real distinction is that with Macintosh, you can accept as a given the fact that the components within your machine are top of the line and designed to handle tasks that require large computations and throughput. Macintosh knows that their demographic has long been “creative” types rather than business professionals, so the OS and machines are all designed to handle labor intensive processes.
Microsoft on the other hand, after a certain baseline, frankly doesn’t give a damn about the components that are in the computer. There are Microsoft computers out there on the market that are designed only for web-browsing and word-processing. And rightly so, Microsoft has a huge and broad market that caters to businessmen and soccer moms and even creative types, so some machines handle large computations and have max throughput while others do not.
So from these three distinctions, it should be clear that you can buy a Microsoft, and with the right tweaks and customizations, it can perform equally to a Mac or better. There are plenty of options available due to the gaming community (which overwhelmingly uses Windows-based computers) and these add-ons will likely be cheaper due to vast competition in the Microsoft peripherals market. However, this will require more thoughtful consideration on the part of the consumer than buying a Mac with a very small set of top-of-the-line variables.