Supercharge Your Daw!

You’ve created default templates, devised a perfect set of keyboard shortcuts, and—gasp!—even read the manual in order to take advantage of all those cool DAW features you wouldn’t know about otherwise. And your reward is smooth workflow with cool music. So what else can you do to improve your DAW experience?
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You’ve created default templates, devised a perfect set of keyboard shortcuts, and—gasp!—even read the manual in order to take advantage of all those cool DAW features you wouldn’t know about otherwise. And your reward is smooth workflow with cool music. So what else can you do to improve your DAW experience?

Plenty, actually. In this roundup, we’ll look at four products that enhance your DAW of choice. For Pro Tools fans there’s Eleven Rack, Digidesign’s new interface that makes recording guitar with Pro Tools 8 LE a whole new experience. Are you addicted to Ableton Live? Then you know how much it benefits from a hands-on controller, and Novation’s Launchpad might be the perfect solution (and it’s also a fine addition to Sonar 8.5’s Matrix View). And with Cubase making a major comeback, let’s hook up the CC121 channel strip controller and see if it really does deliver the kind of hands-on control you need.

The remaining roundup product is “not like the others” because it’s an independent recording program—Propellerheads’ aptly-named Record. But it strips down the recording process to the essentials, then builds it back up again with classy, useful features that simplify the recording process without being simplistic. With the ability to ReWire into host programs, it’s a great way to get music down fast but if you need to take advantage of some specialized feature in your favorite DAW, you can use the two together.

And in typical EQ roundup fashion, we’ll also include a few tips to help enhance your DAW experience.

TIP: WHY YOU NEED AN EXTRA MONITOR

If you’re working with one monitor, as soon as you get a second one you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Many pros set up a DAW’s “mixer” window in one monitor, and a track view in the other. Dual monitors also let you stretch a project so you can see many more measures at a time, or you can do tricks like put all your virtual instruments or processors in the second monitor.

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To use two monitors, you’ll need a dual head video card. I’ve been using a Matrox Parhelia triple head card for several years, and have been very satisfied. Just remember that with DAWs, you don’t necessarily want a video card for gaming that takes over your computer, draws 350 watts, and includes a GB of RAM so it can give great frame rates when playing Grand Theft Auto IV; for audio, simpler is better.

There are a few very minor complications. Generally, you’ll need to keep all your monitors at the same resolution, and you’ll have to do a little setup at the computer itself. But once you have these taken care of, it’s smooth sailing.

Speaking of graphics cards, here’s another tip. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, your graphics card’s performance can have a major effect on audio. Check periodically for new drivers, especially if you get strange audio glitches when you move your mouse around the screen.

TIP: FIGHT THE POWER (PROBLEMS)

Despite my hammering on this from time to time in previous issues, I’ve heard rumors that some of you still don’t have an uninterruptible power supply. ’Fess up—you think they’re too expensive. Or you don’t live in a place with nasty storms.

But a UPS is like auto insurance. You don’t expect to get in an accident, and hopefully, you never will. However, if you ever do get rear-ended by some moron drunk, you’ll be sooo happy you have insurance.

It only cost me $130 to buy a UPS that could handle both my Mac and Windows machines, and it’s paid for itself many times over by saving data that would have been lost during even brief power outages. It also kept my DSL modem from blowing up during a recent lightning storm (remember, you have to protect any phone lines going into your computer). No, I don’t own stock in UPS companies, but believe me when I say a UPS can not only save data, but might save thousands of dollars worth of gear.

TIP: NUKE THE NOISE

I hate fans. No, not the people who write in and say how much they like EQ, but the things with blades that turn around really fast so your computer doesn’t melt down. Combine those with the whine of multiple hard drives, and the end result is annoyance.

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Which is why “machine room” enclosures are a good idea. Basically, they put your computer in a “cone of silence,” and reduce noise to the point where you can even cut vocals in your control room. Low-noise fans in the box itself take care of ventilation.

However, these types of boxes aren’t cheap, so you have to weigh costs carefully. You may have a closet that will also do the job of isolating computer noise, if you buy a USB extender to bring peripherals back into the control room. Something like the USB Extender from Cables Unlimited costs under $50, but it can run USB over standard Cat5 cable for up to 150 feet—almost ten times the recommended maximum for USB.

In either case, you’ll definitely groove on the “sounds of silence.”

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