High-End Mu­sic Stu­dio

Bleeps and bloops.

PCPOWERPLAY - - Contents -


process of record­ing sound pre-dates the mod­ern com­puter by al­most a century. And for most, if not all that time, record­ing sound and mu­sic in­volved the use of ana­log tech­nol­ogy. Be­gin­ning with wax cylin­ders that were used to record au­dio trans­lated into elec­tri­cal cur­rents via an old timey mi­cro­phone, through to those com­pli­cated and huge mix­ing desks you see in movies. You know the ones, from that one scene set in a mu­sic stu­dio. Di­als and knobs and vol­ume slid­ers ev­ery­where.

Mean­while, as com­put­ers shrunk in size from some­thing that could fit in­side a large room, to a small room, to even­tu­ally a desk - pro­cess­ing power, stor­age, and even dis­play ca­pa­bil­i­ties were nowhere near at a level that could repli­cate the grow­ing amounts of gear that made up a tra­di­tional mu­sic stu­dio.

But, in the last decade a seis­mic shift has oc­curred in the realm of record­ing and cre­at­ing mu­sic. And for that mat­ter, the con­cept of a mu­sic stu­dio. Af­ford­able and ex­po­nen­tially more pow­er­ful PC hard­ware had fi­nally reached a point where just about any bit of ana­log gear, be it a mix­ing desk or a com­plex syn­the­siser could now be repli­cated via the com­bi­na­tion of PC hard­ware and soft­ware. Equip­ment that would cost a few thou­sand dol­lars just to rent for an af­ter­noon, now housed within a desk­top PC.


One of the first com­pa­nies to cre­ate a pure dig­i­tal mix­ing board was Ja­panese com­pany Yamaha. Although it was still a large, bulky, and ded­i­cated piece of hard­ware, the DMP7 marked the rise of the dig­i­tal record­ing age. The year was 1987. Two years ear­lier, per­cus­sion com­pany Roland re­leased the DDR-30 Dig­i­tal Drums, a rack mounted rec­tan­gu­lar box of tech­nol­ogy that stored high-qual­ity sam­pled drum sounds that could be trig­gered and ma­nip­u­lated via a sep­a­rate syn­the­siser or MIDI in­ter­face. It rev­o­lu­tionised pop mu­sic.

In 1983 Yamaha re­lease the DX7, a dig­i­tal syn­the­siser that ma­nip­u­lated fre­quen­cies (called FM) to pro­duce dig­i­tal ver­sions of var­i­ous pi­ano and other more purely dig­i­tal sounds. A ground­break­ing and iconic syn­the­siser that was re­leased at a time when desk­top com­put­ers had no chance of com­pet­ing at that level with­out ex­pen­sive and pro­pri­etary sound chips and imag­i­nary non-ex­is­tent trans­fer speeds and stor­age. In 1988 an­other Ja­panese com­pany by the name of Korg re­leased the M1. A com­plete dig­i­tal work­sta­tion and syn­the­siser. Although ex­pen­sive and aimed at mu­si­cians, one could cre­ate and ar­range an en­tire track using the M1.


In realm of the per­sonal com­puter, high-qual­ity sound re­pro­duc­tion has al­ways re­mained a costly en­deav­our. Which is why com­put­ing through­out the 1980s and 1990s was usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by very limited sound hard­ware and in­fe­rior speak­ers. Ma­nip­u­lat­ing sound, in a live fashion, whilst re­tain­ing qual­ity was limited to the de­vices from com­pa­nies like Yamaha, Roland, Korg, and others. Dig­i­tal hard­ware so dif­fer­ent to the stuff found in­side PCs that early mu­sic pro­duc­tion-grade sound cards re­quired the use of firewire. A tech­nol­ogy most of us barely re­mem­ber.

When we think about a mod­ern high-end PC, es­pe­cially one built for gam­ing, you could boil down all hard­ware con­sid­er­a­tion into one com­po­nent – the graph­ics card. Sure, other as­pects are im­por­tant, but the GPU is one area that drives the setup. In terms of a Mu­sic Stu­dio, the op­po­site is true. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of ev­ery­thing else. Where the mere con­cept of a bot­tle­neck re­sults in com­plete fail­ure.

Even though no­table ad­vances in multi-core CPUs, faster and more ex­pan­sive mem­ory (RAM), and stor­age so­lu­tions that could eas­ily han­dle many gi­ga­bytes of files played an im­por­tant role in this evo­lu­tion, there’s one as­pect that of­ten gets over­looked. And that is, USB. Not only used to man­age the trans­fer and streaming of high­qual­ity loss­less au­dio, but also to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that re­sults in tac­tile hands-on con­trol over what’s hap­pen­ing on screen.

USB helps to foster the plug-and-play ap­proach we as­so­ciate with the mod­ern PCs, where any high-end rig can trans­form into a full mu­sic and broad­cast stu­dio in a mat­ter of se­conds. With the right gear of course.

Early com­put­erised mu­sic stu­dios were rather... busy. No, we’re not sure what the ba­nana phones are for ei­ther

The Yamaha DX7 and Korg M1

The Yamaha DMP7 (re­leased in 1987) was one of the first dig­i­tal mix­ing boards

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