Fiery Furnaces
Infinity AD
Black Cross
Breather Resist
Empire State Troopers

Dust Dive
Second Story Man
Black Cross
John Houlihan
Great Planes
All Access
After The Panic
Jason Loewenstein
National Acrobat


D.I.Y. Audio computer Part 1...

The Dark Side
"Protools". A word with a great deal of negavtive connotations. To some this is the end of "real" music and the beginning of a quantized, sampled, synthetic world of cold sounds and robotic, autotuned vocals. Turning talentless morons into rock stars and garnishing terrible, soulless performances and compositions with enough ear candy to temporarily fool people into believeing that the song is secondary to the production and glimmer applied to it. With the invention of sampling, looping and MIDI it even has the possibilty of removing the "musician" completely from the proposition of music making.Even if there IS a musician involved withthe recording, his or her dynamic, flowing and emotional performance is automatically snapped to a rigid metronomic, robotic
, military march of perfect unwavering quarternotes.
...And it sounds bad. Its cold and brittle and quantized and soulless, taking beautiful elliptical complex waves of euphoric ambient sound and converting them to a jagged pattern of tiny 90 degree angles ultimately represented a simple pattern of ones and zeroes that are ultimately forced through a cold, unfeeling CPU and stored as binary on a hard drive. Not very romantic is it? No it isnt.

The Reality

Thats really not how it has to be. A computer recording a live performance through microphones does exactly the same job as a tape machine. It simply records. It does not automatically quantize your performance to a click track, perform any autotuning, or attempt to correct your performance at all. It records audio, rewinds, and lets you record another track if you want. Thats what a tape machine does, and thats what a computer does.

"Ok but it sounds bad" ....Actually, it sounds pretty much exactly like what you put into it. Tape has a sound to it. It adds distortion and and sometimes compresses he signal put into it. Its a pleasing distortion. Most people describe it as "warmth." As an engineer, I describe tape machines and recording on analog as "forgiving." I could put a microphone into the sound hole of an acoustic guitar, plug it into my fourtrack, crank the level into the red and end up with an interesting sound. It didnt sound like me playing the acoustic guitar really, it sounded something like me playing an acoustic guitar in a small box being played through a distored amplifier in a small closet. Because I could overload the tape, I was able to take advantage of the extreme possibilities of distortion and compression that are inherent in magnetic tape. If pushed by recording levels to tape that were far "into the red" it produced a kind of smearing... that often sounded fantastic. The guitars strings seemed to resonate longer, were "fatter" and generally sounded exaggerated. The same type of thing that happens when playing an electric guitar through an amp that is being driven hard. We are used to these sounds. They sound good.

When you overload a digital device, it reacts very differently. It "clips" and sounds like shit. If the clipping continues for very long, it is very hard to listen to and actually will cause signifigant fatigue in your ears. Its a sonic turn off... I am over simplifying here, but basically digital recording has a finite "resoloution" and you must stay within its limits. It is designed to record the signal as cleanly and purely as possible within these limits, therefore you do not get the benefit of adding "fatness" the same way you would when overloading a tape machine. So, a properly recorded digital signal is "clean". It sounds different than tape.


The first few generations of computer recording interfaces, converted analog to digital with a much reduced resoloution compared with the devices available today. Picture a 12 inch ruler standing vertically to represent the recording level meter in a 16 bit recording... You had to keep your recording input level bouncing between 6 inches and 12 inches to use the converters well and make a good recording. The higher up the ruler you keep the recording level the better, it used "more bits" to record the incoming sound and sounded better. If it fell too far down, it sounded kind of grainy, and if it went over the top of the ruler is caused digital clipping and very bad sounding distortion.

Now picture a yardstick standing up next to the 12 inch ruler, this is like what 24 bit recording is which is the standard these days. With 24 bit you still have to keep your recording input level above 6 inches, but you have 30 more inches above it to play with. The same principal applies, you should keep your recording level reasonably high to take advantage of "more bits" to record the incoming signal, but the margin between too low and overloaded is MUCH greater meaning that the incoming sound can be more dynamic in terms of its volume changes and sound good! This is called "Dynamic range."

In recording to 16 bit converters, it was a good idea to use a "compressor" which is a device that is used to squash the dynamic range of an incoming signal. This kept the recording level from ever going over the top of the "ruler" and distorting. Using a compressor at times is counter musical because it restricts the extreme volume changes in the normal playing of an instrument. Some compositions go from being very quiet to very loud as an artistic device, and the compressor has the possibility of limiting these changes to a narrower scope than the performer actually played them.

Hopefully I am illustrating the idea that 24 bit recording is able to capture sounds with a very large dynamic range, and contains MUCH more information about the incoming audio in general. Therefore it is much more faithful to the original source of the sound than 16 bit was, and sounds ALOT better.

So, in my opinion digital recording and playback at 24 bits does not suck in and of itself. It is very capable of faithfully recording and playing back material with a wide dynamic range at high resoloution. But it is still "clean". Analog to digital converters are cold, hard, fact gathering devices, designed to capture the incoming audio signal EXACTLY as it entered the device, not adding any character, warmth, distortion or anything else. It is a scientific instrument for measuring incoming audio signals and converting them to numbers.

Classically, most microphones, and preamps were built with the same principals. Purely scientific and precise intruments for transducing audio waves into electrical impulses with as little noise as possible and highest dynamic range.

16 bit = ......65536 amplitude levels
24 bit = 16777216 amplitude levels
64bit = 1844674407370955161 amplitude levels


16 bit = 96db dynamic range
24bit = 144db dynamic range

24 bit has 256 times the amplitude steps as 16 bit, but some of this is wasted on the noise floor.




Conversely, you can record your song to a click, punching in every 4 bars, stopping to cut up, quantize, and digitally retune evey note along the way. Hell, you can fire up a sampler, and use your mouse to enter notes in a MIDI editor, or import and cut up prerecorded loops to construct a song without ever picking up an instrument!





Cheap 2nd generation computers, if set up correctly are capable of doing serious audio work.

Computer recording setups have several advantages over the old school tape decks... the benefit of the ability to be very small, light, portable, self contained, and not needing a big bulky mixer or outboard gear to be useful. Computers DO need maintainance, but it involves the care and feeding of the OS, hardware, software, and drivers in your system.

Some folks are just against computer recording based on a wide range of principals... They dont like the idea that the flowing elliptical wave forms that are the sound of music becoming reduced to one and zeros, and then handed over to a calculator (computer). Or they have the idea that computer recordings are intrinsically cold, overprocessed, perfectly quantized, completely dehumanized and robotic. These very real possibilities that have come to the forefront with the invention of digital recording, but are the fault of the practitioner, not the tools.

A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) can be whatever you want it to be. In its most basic usage, a audio computer is a simple tape machine. Period.

Recording on a computer is as simple and "organic", or as quantized, dehumanized, pitch corrected and dynamically squashed as you want it to be. The tools are there for both.

Recording music can be looked at a number of ways... It can be the simple representation of the performance of a piece of music by a "musician", in this way the recording device is a bit like a camera, a simple, pure, documentary representation of the performer and the sound "as it was played". On the other hand, the process of making music can actually start with the use of recording equipment, and then becomes where the actual creative process and evoloution of the composition takes place, and now the recording equipment has become a musical instrument. If you choose to indulge the idea that you, the song, your voice, the instruments and the recording device are inseperable means to the same creative end, then things get easier, and the horizon broadens a bit.

Theres these extremes, and a million shades in between... So, pick your paradeigm... or dont!

Most popular music is far from being documentary. It is a technocolor cartoon version of the sounds that are put put into it, and thats what SOUNDS GOOD!

Thats what we like to hear, music like this is ear candy! Its exciting, exaggerated, theatrical, deep and a combination of balance / imbalance. The end product is can be heavily manipulated and wind up sounding very little like the original perfomances as they were before overdubbing, arranging, and mixing.

As I mentioned earlier, with the use of MIDI, samples, and loops a whole composition can be assembled without ANY human / instrument performance whatsoever.!

Then it gets more fun... Automatic punch-in's, non-destructive editing,





For me, the benefits of computer based recording are obvious.

1. I live in a small apartment with limited space. and I like to record rock music with loud amps and drumming. When I want to record drums, I cannot do it in the apartment, so I have to go on location and bring my gear with me. Everything else weighs the same... (mics, stands, cables, monitors, etc are all the same) but the computer is alot easier to carry than a tape machine and a pile of reels.



While it is possible to simply download a demo version of some recording software and load it on an old laptop or your mom's computer and start messing around for awhile, its shouldbe realized that without question if you want to get good and reliable performance from your audio computer setup you really need to set up a seperate system that is optimized for audio. "Seperate system" means a customized computer setup that is dedicated only to audio related tasks. In the case that you do not have a 2nd computer to dedicate to the job, you should create a Dual Boot system (one computer with two different operating systems installed). With a dual boot, you can have your "regular" computer, for going online, office applications and games, and also a completely seperate installation of windows that is hotrodded for audio.

So, theres alot of reasons to want to turn your Windows based computer into a recording studio... lets look at why you would NOT want to do this yourself.

Because you will be knee deep in technical bullshit for awhile, you need to become a system administrator, familiar with your computer's inner workings. To set up a computer for audio, you will format hard drives, install operating systems, hardware, drivers, and software. Then you need to roll up your sleeves and severely customize your OS, disabling unessential hardware, software and settings. Like a gearhead , constantly tuning his car, you will optimize and tweak your system to perfection. This is all before you set up one microphone or play a single note... If this sounds like a really unpleasant way to spend you time, I suggest that you go another route than the D.I.Y. Audio computer

Also, you will definately have a MUCH better experience if you get a soundcard with ASIO drivers. Any sound card you get nowadays has them, and ASIO always seems to work... low latencies. Also, getting a card with direct hardware monitoring should be a must...

This article is neglecting all other considerations for builting a home studio, like choosing a soundcard, monitors, soundproofing, cabling, etc... We are just talking about the core recording device, which will be your computer.


Audio recording is a "real time"operation, and computers are fast but they are not real time. This is because of the difficult fact that everything in the computer involves some number crunching by the CPU. It is called: "LATENCY".

When you plug in a mic and connect it to the computer it goes through the soundcard, turns into a number, pipes into the software, is mixed together and then back out to the outputon your soundcard that your headphones or speakers are plugged into. The CPU of your computer is dealing all of that jazz at the same time! The time that your system takes to make sound go through this little chain of calculations is Latency, and in practice introduces an audible delay between the time you play a note and the time it arrives at the outputs of your soundcard...
As you can see, this is a big problem, because most music has a time base, and any disruption in the perception of time is hard to ignore. The effect of hearing the source, and the output of the software introduces a delay that is quite unmusical. The recording will not have the effect, but while monitoring hearing both sources will potentially have these artifacts.

Using some form of direct hardware monitoring is the solution to this problem.

Latency and Direct hardware monitoring

Direct hardware monitoring circumvents the problem of latency by NOT monitoring the recorded track through the software at all.
To use direct hardware monitoring, you must have a soundcard that allows you to monitor its inputs directly, usually controlled by a balance knob on the interface.

When recording, the balance knob is turned more toward "Input" and the Input Monitor in the DAW is turned off for the track that you are recording.
This way, you are listening directly to the raw input of your soundcard. If you have effects inserted on that channel in your DAW, you will not hear them as you are recording, but will hear the inserted effects only during playback.

This workaround functions for any possible live overdub you could encounter, but for the performer the dry sound of the mic at the inputs is whats going into the DAW, and what you are hearing in the cans... It can be a little weird, and you cant do reverb from the DAW while tracking when using this method....unless: You use an outboard mixer, where you could make a buss channel only for the headphne mix with an outboard reverb unit, and send the direct out AND the reverb buss to input channels on your soundcard.

If you dont have a soundcard with Direct Hardware monitoring, you can use a mixer, or get creative and use something like a headphone amp to do the trick.


If you dont do direct monitoring, you will always be dealing with recording latency issues.

So, to record analog sources onto the computer as an overdub you use direct hardware monitoring. Because you cannot use synthetic ambience on it, it becomes an opportunity to do things the old fashioned way by extracting good ambience for the performers benefit from mic placement, outboard preamps, compression and effects. Not relying on a single close miced performance to be the building block of a synthesized ambient algorhythm of an ice cathedral.
So, we can take this limitation and turn it into possibility by taking care to make sure that the sound that you are getting in the cans is an good, ambient one. You can have the best of all worlds by recording single sources using multiple mics to multiple tracks. Then the ambience is fully controllable.

Latency is a different issue with softsynths, softsamplers, amp simulators and other virtual instruments that you want to record a performance of. These sounds all are all generated in the computer and therefore cannot be direct monitored, they are subject to the latency of the system.
There will be a delay between the time that you press at key on the keyboard and for the system to generate the sound of the instrument or effect...
Some systems latency can be set low enough so that the delay is imperceptable to the performer. Untweaked systems can give unusable performance in this area. Effects like amp simulators are unusable in real time with all but the fastest latencies... just sounds bad due to combfiltering. The only way to rock out some guitar on your computer is with a line6 box. Using their box and ampsim software, you can really jam out with no latency at all... Dont know any other way !

In an optimized computer with a soundcard that uses a fast interface (PCI or firewire) that uses ASIO drivers, this takes a matter of a few milleseconds, which for the purpose of playing a virtual instrument like a software synthesizer or a sampler, is a hardly noticeable delay. Even playing a guitar thru an amp sim can sometimes be OK at these low latencies.

It is very important to understand this latency stuff and what you can do to best manage your CPU bandwidth during tracking an mixing in your software, because you can really wrestle alot of performance out of your system if you know where you can wring it out.


You need the best system you can get your hands on... the capabilities and performance of a recording computer are only limited by the machine itself. The faster the CPU, more RAM, fastest audio interfaces and hard drives...The better the system, the more tracks you can play back, plugins you can run in real time, and much lower latencies all are possible with the sound card...You can do alot with an older system by using fast soundcards and a super slimmed down version of Windows XP.

So, what have you got?

Best case scenario, you have a fast computer with lots of RAM that you will dedicate to recording ONLY
This way you set up a completely streamlined system with nothing installed on it other than your OS, recording software, soundcard drivers, and plugins.
NO connection to the internet, antivirus, firewall, windows security center, themes, animations, printer spool, all unnecessary ports disabled, etc...

Big Dual Boot Hack scenario.... You have just one computer to use for all of your exploits (internet, office apps, games, etc...)
The best solution for this situation is more complex to setup, but ultimately your machine will boot into a customised and very efficient installation of Windows XP, optimized for audio recording.

This is what I do, which is to set up a "dual boot" system. This basically means that you are setting up your computer to have two completely different systems set up on it, two installations of Windows... One that is completely streamlined, slim and trim for audio, and the other that is set up as usual, with all the everyday bells and whistles necessary for your other computing exploits. This way you have the best of both worlds, an optimized recording rig, and a "regular" computer, all in the same box.

If you have one hard drive, you have to repartition it so that windows sees it at two seperate drives, then install Windows on both partitions. If you are using a desktop computer and have a hard drive that you can dedicate solely to the audio version of your system, then you can simply install and format the drive, then install the 2nd copy of Windows onto it.

Windows Xp Pro, as it is good at configuring itself as a dual boot when you install it twice on seperate partitions of the same hard drive, or twice on the same computer.

In either case, when you boot up your system, you will be asked to "Choose an operating system" and then the machine will boot into "bloated sack mode", or "slim & efficient audio mode". So, you can use your hardware whatever way you like. It is pretty amazing to see the difference in boot time for windows using the slimmed down one... Windows wastes alot of our time by not being more readily customizable.

Windows XP atttempts to be an "everything to everyone" kind of place, automatically configuring devices that are plugged into it, managing network connections, printers and other peripherals, constantly monitoring USB, serial, paralell, firewire ports, and running MANY other "services" in the background to transparently manage many functons taken for granted by you and I, the "end users". Windows also wants to looks good... It animates the opening of folders and applications, has pretty screensavers and colorful themes, "live desktops", and umpteen other features that can bog down the most robust systems.

Windows wants to provide a jolly, candylike interface to you, your grandmother, your insurance agent, and everyone else, so it has a bloated sack of contingencies built into help everybody with everything they might try to do on their computer. With audio recording, we need to have an operating system that is not being bothered to do anything but to run the DAW software. Nothing else. We want Windows to only think about running your software and moving audio to and from your soundcard. Anything else that takes place in the system is a mere distraction. Anything that takes up CPU cycles is the enemy.

So, with ANY windows based computer that you want to do and serious audio recording on, you have to hunt down and disable EVERY possible thing on your computer that is not dealing with the audio. This includes hardware (serial / paralell ports, network adapters, ANYTHING / every non essential thing) also, windows "services", antivirus, firewalls, windows security center, indexing applications... Anything that could be running in the background that will interrupt the CPU for ANY reason. In Windows pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL will bring up the "task manager" Which is a decent place to start in trying to seek and destroy all the unnecessary things that might be going on in your computer...


Disclaimer: Take any and all information you find here at your own risk! I am not certified or licenced by any authority to dispel information about computers and audio to anybody. I just know what I know, and now you can know it too. If you screw up your computer, its not my fault ok?


1. HARDWARE: a computer, a copy of windows XP and a sound card.
2. DECIDE: whether we will use a dedicated computer, or make a dual boot system




  1. Backup everything on your current system
  2. Reformat the system hard drive (DUAL BOOT> create two partitions on the drive)
  3. Install windows XP / servicepacks / updates (on C:Partition for Audio faster disk access)
  4. Install device drivers / software
  5. Tweak system.


  1. Install Windows XP / servicepacks / updates on 2nd partition (on D:for regular PC)
  2. Install device drivers / software on 2nd partition
  3. Reinstall antivirus / firewall / software


Ok, quickly reviewing the goals of our mission. We are trying to give your computer hardware and Windows XP's full attention to being a recording device by eliminating anything that we can that would possibly disrupt the system...

So, you have a computer with windows XP with Servicepack 2 & firewire updates, or servicepack 3 installed, or a dual boot system with a fresh install of Windows XP on a separate partition, and you are now ready to tweak it for use as a Digital Audio Workstation.



STAGE 1: Disable Hardware. Stopping windows from "seeing" hardware that is not required for audio.

Go to the Device Manager:

START>Settings>Control Panel>System. Click on the "Hardware" tab, then the "Device Manager" button.
Behold... the Device manager window.

It IS what it says... Its a graphical representation of the devices in your system, including motherboard components and any other hard drives or USB / Firewire stuff you have connected. If windows is having a problem with a device, or it has been disabled, it will have a "!" symbol next to it.

To disable a device, right click on the device in the list and choose "Properties", then click on the "Device usage" dropdown list and choose "Do Not use this device (disable)" Do this for any devices like the ones in the list below.

If you are setting up a dual boot, disabling the hardware in this version of windows will not affect the other install of windows. It will still "see" and use the devices you are disabling here.

Hardware to eliminate
  1. Network card (ethernet)
  2. Modem
  3. PCMCIA slot
  4. Paralell port
  5. Serial port
  6. Infared port
  7. USB
  8. Firewire
  9. On board audio
  10. Card readers / etc...



STAGE 2: Disable All kinds of other power wasting crud...

Change Processor Scheduling to 'Background Services'
From SOS Article "PC Musician: XP Tweaks For Music":

Navigate to the Advanced page of the System applet. Click on the Performance Settings button, select its Advanced tab and click on 'Background Services' for Processor Scheduling (see top pair of screens).
pcmusician 2
This is one of the few essential Windows XP tweaks, since it benefits the performance of ASIO drivers, which run as background tasks.

For anyone using ASIO drivers (and nowadays that includes just about every PC musician), this is the most essential tweak of all, because ASIO drivers run as background services in Windows. Music software and hardware developers Steinberg rely on this setting to ensure low latency without dropouts, and you may be able to run your audio interface at a significantly lower latency after this tweak.


Switch Off Power Schemes
From SOS Article "PC Musician: XP Tweaks For Music":

In the Power Options applet, choose the 'Always On' power scheme. Change the settings for monitor and hard disk turn off and System standby to 'Never', so that your PC doesn't unexpectedly conk out during song playback (see screens below).

The wrong setting here can cripple the processing performance of many modern PCs, because of over-clever power schemes that throttle your processor to a slower clock speed to keep it cool and, in the case of laptops, prolong battery life. In theory, such throttling schemes should let your CPU clock speed ramp up smoothly on demand, but in practice there's a short time lag before this happens, sufficient to result in audio interruptions and, therefore, clicks and pops. The only safe way to prevent this happening is to make sure your processor always runs at its top speed.


Disable System Sounds
From SOS Article "PC Musician: XP Tweaks For Music":

Select the 'No Sounds' scheme on the Sounds tab of the Sounds and Audio Devices applet.

Eye Candy






Disable Services: Windows updates

Press the Windows + R keys > type services.msc.. then this window appears...

find "Automatic Updates" and right click on it, choose "properties"

Brings up this window, click the "startup type" dropdown menu and choose "disabled"

Click "OK"


My Settings:

Disable Windows System Restore

Windows security center

Automatic updates


( from SOS "Optimising Windows XP For Music" Article:)

Automatic Updates can be switched from Automatic to Manual if you prefer to install system updates manually from the Microsoft web site.
Computer Browser maintains an updated list of computers on a network. If yours isn't on one, you can change the setting from Automatic to Manual.
DHCP Client also refers to network configurations (and certain permanent Internet connections), and can be changed from Automatic to Manual if you don't use one.
Distributed Link Tracking Client is only relevant to those who have formatted their hard drives as NTFS volumes, and can be changed from Automatic to Disabled if you use the more audio-friendly FAT32 format.
Indexing Service provides similar functions to FindFast in Microsoft Office, and can be safely disabled to speed up normal disk accesses slightly, at the expense of slightly slower file searches.
Internet Connection/Firewall Sharing is only useful if you're sharing an Internet connection on a network, so musicians should be able to switch it to Manual.
Logical Disk Manager detects and monitors new hard disk drives, and should be left well alone, since you can prevent XP from booting if you alter it.
Portable Media Serial Number is by default set to Automatic, but if you don't ever plug a portable music player into your PC it can be disabled.
Print Spooler loads files to RAM for printing out later, and if your music PC doesn't have a printer installed, you can safely switch this to Manual.
Task Scheduler will be familiar to Windows 98 users, and schedules various utility programs to run at predetermined times. Since you can run these on demand anyway, you can disable it.
Telnet allows a remote user to log on to the system and run console programs using a command line, and you should be able to disable this, providing better system security as well.



Servicepack 2
Firewire Updates
Servicepack 3
Dux's OS


Process Explorer
DPC Latency checker
Sysinternals Process Utilities (microsoft)

Guide to Windows Services:
dux's thread
Black Viper

Tweaking Guides

Lets see whats going on under the hood....

pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL will bring up the "windows task manager"

Clicking on the little tabs at the top will tell you something different about your system...

The "applications" tab shows you what "proper" programs are running   The "processes" tab will all the .exe's that are running including all of the applications that show up in the applications tab... As you can see, there are likely to be alot of other things running in the background that you might not be aware of...

Another place you will have to look is at what system services are running, to do this you click START>RUN, then type in "msconfig" and click OK

This brings up the System config utility, and you click on the "services" tab.
As you can see, there are a whole lot of things running on your system. Most of which can cause interruptions in your system and glitches in your audio recording and playback.


Theres a much more robust place in windows to investigate and disable services

When you really want to get down with it and start tweaking, use this app in windows aptly named " Services"

How to Access Your Microsoft Services:

1. Click Start
2. Click Settings
3. Select Control Panel
4. Double click Administrative Tools
5. Double click Services
6. Scroll down and highlight the service you want to adjust
7. Right-click on it and choose Properties
8. Click the stop button.
9. Select Disable or Manual in the Startup Type scroll bar