Tech Tip:Digital Audio: Is My Computer Ready?



Computer Requirements for Digital Audio / How Much Memory You Need / Is Your Processor Fast Enough? / Hard Drive Storage Space


Is My Computer Ready For Digital Audio?

So you're ready to take the plunge and get into the world of MIDI and digital audio? Whether you already own a computer or are planning to buy one, you want to make sure that it's up to the task of handling the demanding world of digital audio.


Almost any computer built in the last ten years will be able to handle MIDI, since it doesn't require much processing power, but your computer will need to meet specific requirements to run most of the current sequencing software. You're going to need even more power under the hood if you expect to record and play back digital audio. The info here will help you create a short shopping list of what you'll need to outfit a computer for recording digital audio.


Amount of RAM
RAM (Random Access Memory) is the memory in which a computer loads its operating system and any software that the user runs. The digital audio files you record or play need to have a certain amount of RAM available to them. Generally, the more RAM you have available, the more programs you can run and the more tracks of digital audio you can create with a program. The amount of RAM is generally denoted by a number of Mb's or megabytes, and a good place to start for most current programs is 128 Mb. Some programs will want to have more memory allocated to them once you start playing back more than 20 tracks of 24-bit audio. The more RAM you can put into your computer, the better.


Processor Speed
One of the most important factors for computer-based digital audio is the speed of the computer's CPU (Central Processing Unit, or processor). Almost every function performed by the computer is handled by its CPU, and the faster the CPU, the more tasks the computer can handle at once. For instance, when mixing and processing digital audio tracks, the number of real-time plug-in effects that can be used at any one time is determined by the speed of the processor. Most of the new CPU's are fast enough to handle between 24 and 48 tracks of digital audio as well as any number of plug-in effects. The processor speed is defined in MHz or megahertz, with the larger number representing a faster processor. A G4 400 MHz processor is a good place to start for a Mac; you'll want a fast Pentium III, like 500-600 MHz, for a PC.



Hard Drive Space
Keeping in mind that every take that you record to a track becomes an audio file on your hard drive, you'll want to make sure you have enough hard drive space to store all of the audio files. Whether you'll need a large internal hard drive or a separate external SCSI hard drive will depend on how many tracks you'll want to play back at once, as well as the format for the files you'll be recording. 24-bit audio files will take up one and a half times that of 16-bit files, so you'll have to figure on somewhere between 600 Mb and 1 gigabyte per song - and that is if you clean up any unused files as you go along. An external 9-Gig drive will generally hold from 9 to 12 completed songs as long as they're between 3 and 5 minutes long. When purchasing a computer, you should still consider getting a large internal drive, as it is a great place to back-up songs and keep them for long-term storage.