Need help (and maybe counseling) with my computer/ interface setup

Need help (and maybe counseling) with my computer/ interface setup
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I’ve mentioned in several posts I’m having a lot of trouble with my setup.

1. the problem(s)
Every update of Windows, but also Reaper and sometimes installing a plugin (in particular Waves) it changes everything. Suddenly Reaper becomes sluggish with pops and crackles and substantial latency. My custom setup reverts to some much older setup. I lose (and find!) plugins. My custom plugin folder (my selection of EQ’s, compressors, virtual instruments etc. from the 1200 or so plugins I have in my plugin folders…) is gone. It takes hours just to reselect those plugins. I know part of the solution to that problem is to throw out 80% of my plugins, but that’s not the point. I hardly do any real recording because I’m constantly trying to fix things.
On the Reaper forum I saw quite a few similar threads, one of them from our own Dan the Man. It seems to me that the real problem is still unclear. Is this a typical Reaper problem, and if so in combination with which hardware? Same applies to Focusrite interfaces (as also in Dan’s case).

To be honest: I’m fed up!

2. my needs
I don’t have all that much time for recording as it is, and it seriously causing me to ask if I shouldn’t just spend my time making music instead of fixing computer related problems I have no hope of understanding. The answer of course is still: NO! I want to record, produce! My question now is: how can I do that without spending 3000 euros (or whatever). The cheapest solution by far would be to finally get what I have to work (a desktop Windows computer with 4t gen i7 processor and 8 gig of memory) without problems, but I’ve been trying that with little real success for years.

My needs are not that huge. I record real audio when I can. I use a few virtual instruments (drums, piano, maybe a synth or an organ, maybe a string or horns section). I tend to craft tracks with EQ and compression, but use mix busses and FX busses when I can. I either record Midi tracks to audio or use the freeze function when the mix grows too big. I don’t mind. I rarely record more than 2 tracks at a time (though I might want to be able to record my band at some time - not high on my whish list). I don’t need the latest and greatest in computer technology. I JUST WANT SOMETHING THAT IS STABLE AND REMAINS STABLE!!! Is that so hard to ask from developers of hard- and software? I don’t know of any other product with so much downtime. Just imagine if you went to get your car repaired, and while driving away the car doesn’t go any faster than 30 km per hour, because the repair has caused another problem. An when you get this fixed, the former problem comes back again - and your window wipers unexplainably start wiping (actually, my car does that…).

So I’m looking for stability and reasonable performance, specially regarding latency. I don’t need to play games or whatever. Just recording music.

3. the interface
The first thing I might want to try is replacing my Focusrite Sapphire pro 24 DSP. What I read is that you get by far the best stability and best latency with an RME setup. These tend to be expensive, but you can buy their stuff second hand: two Ebay examples:

  • RME Hammerfall DSP 9632 for 159 euro’s. This is an older type PCI card, not PCIe would that be a problem for a new computer? Is it still good enough for recording? I could couple all inputs and outputs via ADAT to an interface with ADAT out and mic pre’s. I’m thinking the Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820 would do: it has 8 good mic pre’s and I don’t need to use the USB connection. Question is if the outputs of the Behringer could be used to send the audio out to my speakers and headphones? Total costs about 360 euro’s
  • RME Fireface 800 for 450 euro’s. This has 4 mic pre’s. If I want to record a band I could easily add an ADAT mic pre (again Behringer would do fine). This is however firewire and I don’t know how long that technology will be supported in computers (maybe not a problem). 450 euro’s now, maybe another 160 later.
    A new variation: RME HDSPe RayDAT (B-Stock at Thoman) for 500 euro’s. Again I would need to couple it to an interface like the Behringer via ADAT (with the question I have concerning using the audio outs of the Behringer for my speakers), so in all it would cost about 700 euro’s. My feeling is that this interface is overkill for my needs. But it is newer.
    I can still sell my Focusrite Sapphire pro 24 for about 120 euro’s.

p.s. any other stable, fast and affordable options (second hand included) that I should consider? The thing is: only RME makes really good windows drivers for their hardware. Other interface manufacturers seem to consider developing stable drivers for Windows to be of less importance (internet opinions which I’m repeating obviously, what do I know). Can’t some of you computer geeks do something about it? If anybody could deliver excellent third party drivers for some of the major interface products like those of Focusrite they would be rich in no time, I’m sure.

3. the computer
With a stable and fast interface, completely re-installing Windows (maybe revert back to a stable version of windows 7 and leave Windows updates off line ?) and Reaper as well as a SMALL SELECTION of my plugins I hope all my problems are solved. If not my conclusion can only be: the computer’s no good ( I bought it second hand privately for 450 euro’s , it was only 6 months old at the time with great specs, so it seemed a fantastic buy…). In that case I’ll sell it to somebody not trying to run an audio studio on it. And buy something else. Now that would be the hard part. I don’t have all that much to spend (maybe 1000 euro tops). I need stability more than super speed. I hesitate to go the refurbished route unless it’s maybe second hand pro audio computer. They’re hard to come by though. Apple is supposedly more stable but has other drawbacks (including quite a few of my plugins not working) and is much more expensive. So not a great option. Or is it?
Do I need a dedicated audio PC from a specialist? Does that really help stability? Or is there a brand of (Windows) computers that are also reliable with a standard setup (except maybe extra drives and memory)?

4. the DAW
Dare I question Reaper? I spent a lot of time understanding this DAW, and after the steep learning curve have started to appreciate the adaptability. But to be honest with my present DAW skills another program might do fine as well. If this helps my stability issues I might consider reverting to - say - Studio one. Draw back is that its an expensive option.
A lot of questions. I’m on holiday now, but have been spending days roaming the internet for answers. Maybe some of you can help me with your experiences? It would be much appreciated!

And if Dan is reading this: are all your problems over (just the Computer/ Reaper/ Focusrite/ Waves ones will do)?

Thanks for reading this, I hope you can help!

Not the answer you are looking for, but I have always shut off Windows updates on all of my recording computers and I use another PC for my web surfing.

Audible pops and crackles are usually digital syncronization issues… word clock, midi time code, things like that. Like JayGee said… Don’t let Windows do ANYTHING unless you know you have the updated drivers for your hardware.

Some guys won’t use the latest windows software, and I don’t blame them. Personally I prefer a mac.

And Reaper is fine.

If you’re using Windows 8 or 10, use the group policy to turn off Windows Updates.

Thanks for your advice so far, but this is not what I’m looking for. I’ve tried all this, It doesn’t work. My questions are about stable systems where you don’t need all these workarounds and fixes. Windows 10 is a pain in the ass, but I had problems when I was running on windows 7 as well, almost exclusively off line too.
I’m hoping someone out there does nothing but make music in his or her studio without latency problems and all the rest. That is the system I want to copy.
Anyone?

So this may or may not help but here’s my current setup. I’m running Pro Tools (current) and Cubase 10 Pro in Win10 Pro. Pro Tools has it’s own issues, but Cubase runs flawlessly. My latency when set for recording is incredibly low. This machine stays online, I play the odd game on it, and I do all my day-job work on it (Graphics/Video)… and it handles it all without hiccups that aren’t caused by the software itself (I’m looking at you, Avid and Adobe).

  • Motherboard: Gigabyte Z390 Designaire (because it’s got onboard Thunderbolt)
  • Processor: i9-9900K
  • Ram: 32gb DDR4 (can’t remember the brand offhand)
  • Graphics: GeForce GTX1070 w/ I think 6gb of memory feeding 2 27" monitors
  • Storage: System drive is 500gb SSD, I have a 500gb NVME for works-in-progress and 4 regular ol’ hard drives between 1tb and 3tb to store work files (each drive is for one type of work: Audio, Video, Photo, Design)

My primary interface is a Presonus Quantum running into the Thunderbolt port on the mobo. I have a second Quantum daisy-chained to the main one, and a few 8-channel preamp boxes that come into the Quantums via ADAT.

This all runs rock solid. The Presonus windows drivers are fantastic, and with buffer set correctly I get incredibly low latency. I have the windows updates turned off, but do periodically install them. I keep antivirus/malwarebytes on at all times, but I will disable other background processes that I don’t feel are necessary when I’m doing audio work.

The drawback of course being it was a hefty investment. But it’s been 100% worth it, and I’ve got a very powerful rig that will probably run well for years to come before I’ll need to upgrade.

Also to respond to some of the stuff in your OP… you can’t really go wrong with most RME stuff. In fact, I was going to go RME with my interfaces, but I found I could get better bang-for-buck with the Presonus boxes. The RME windows drivers are definitely a selling point, as they’re supposed to be excellent.

Reaper is probably fine… I didn’t get along with it, but that doesn’t mean anything. From what I’ve read often it’s the windows updates that mess things up with DAW’s, but I’ve also read things online about certain things not working all that well in Reaper… but that of course could be caused by other things.

Thanks! That sounds like a heavy weight computer. Good to hear that Presonus Quantum performs according to expectations latency wise. That may be another option for me. Never any problems with Windows 10 updates?

Evert, I am convinced your issue is inadequate hardware. I agree that a dedicated audio box is the way to go. Anything you buy commercially will be larded with a bunch of useless bloatware that will run all kinds of processes in the background. What you describe sounds to me like a classic example of this very thing.

I wish we were in the same time zone, because I would come show you how to build your own computer! It really is not hard anymore. I’ve been building my own desktops for years now and all of the problems of the type you’re describing are a thing of the past. You simply can’t trust any commercial computer maker IMO. And building oneself saves at least 60% on the cost. I’ve built all my own boxes for years now, and I never spend more than about US$800 for an absolute beast of a rig (which I use for net and gaming). My music machine cost me about $600 (aside from the interface, nearfields, and all that).

There’s nothing on a custom built box that you did not install yourself, and that difference alone is a game-changer. I would encourage you to try to find someone who will build you a box for cost plus a modest commission-- high school students could do this for you it you don’t want to try it yourself.

Message me if you want more details. I know it’s scary the first time you do a build, but once you do, it’s very liberating, and you will have no mysteries about what might be acting up at any given time.

Good luck buddy!!

Edit: I have my homebrew music rig on the net all the time, let it do all the updates, and I can easily work at latency of 4ms while recording in Mixcraft Pro Studio. I drop my latency to that value while tracking, and then let it slip to 30 or 40ms while editing/mixing, since it doesn’t matter when you’re not actually trying to record. Have you tried that? Just don’t try to have low latency if you’re not actually tracking something. I feel your pain!

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I second the build-your-own… I’ve been putting together my own computers for a long time and I’ve yet to have a bad experience with one of my builds (knock on wood).

No problems with Win10 updates… I only update every few months and from my recollection nothing’s been broken after an update.

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Thanks Dave and Blair, I appreciate your support! I haven’t really contemplated a build to be honest, fearing my lack of experience might mess things up. But price tag is a convincing argument… I’m not totally inexperienced: after all I swap out hard drives and insert cards without any problems. As long as I don’t need to solder anything: I don’t trust myself with a soldering iron. I used to solder all my guitar and PA leads back in the day. But I made a mess of it often, and that’s just a simple lead… If I am not mistaken you don’t need to these days? Is that true for getting a processor on a motherboard? Or can you get good sets of motherboard / processors already installed? What worries me most is getting an absolutely proven/ trustworthy set of components specifically geared for audio that integrate seamlessly. If you guys could point the way (I suppose that there are sites for this, but I can’t tell if you can trust them) I will contemplate a build. I have friends who are more computer savvy who can help out. As long as I’m in control of the choice of components - these guys haven’t a clue when it comes to computers and audio but have strong opinions :sunglasses:
Question remains if choosing a slightly outdated (but still supported) but affordable RME firewire system is a risk. @ Dave what interface are you using? 4ms (that’s roundtrip I assume?) sounds appealing!

By the way, I’ve started the tedious but necessary task of weeding out the plugins I don’t use. About 1200 I counted. In fact it’s quite a few less because I used to download all the versions: VST 2 32 and 64 bit and VST 3 versions and even some AAS. For about 60% of plugins I have to look up what the hell it is. Some are nice surprizes: quirky Vi’s that I could use some day - but am I really going to use those?
So far I’m not even half way after about three hours non stop. But it’ll be worth it.

There has been no need for soldering when building a computer for many years now. Everything is modular and plugs right in to where it belongs. If you are comfortable swapping a hard drive and removing and inserting PCI cards, you can absolutely build your own rig. Everything is configured so that it can plug in to exactly one spot, with plugs and ports that can fit in only one way, so there is no guesswork. The first time I built, I took a whole day, being ever so careful, consulting the voluminous library of youtube vids out there on doing this process. Nowadays I can knock out a new box in about two hours.

The basic components for a music computer are (assuming you already have a display, mouse, keyboard etc):

  • Motherboard
  • CPU
  • RAM
  • Solid-state system drive
  • 7200 rpm (NOT 5400) large-capacity hard drive
  • Case
  • Power supply
  • Optional: optical drive/CD burner (I always put one in, they’re pretty cheap anymore)

For a dedicated music computer, there is no need for a video card, the video provided onboard the mobo will be perfectly adequate. IMO the use of a solid-state drive (SSD) for the main system drive is absolutely essential, as is at least 16GB of RAM. That allows the recording process to happen far faster and more smoothly. You will not believe the difference at first!

Here in the US I do my component shopping at newegg.com, and I don’t know if they ship overseas. Presumably there is a European equivalent. At the very least, you can use newegg to identify the components that will work together, and then buy them wherever is available for you. They sell huge numbers of things, in particular “bundles” of mobo, cpu, and RAM (and even full build sets) that will play nicely together. But they won’t be shipped pre-assembled; far too much risk of damage from static discharge during shipping that will toast everything.

The basic process is thus (you do all this on a static-abating mat, or at minimum a surface that won’t generate static, and you MUST use a static-dissipating wrist thingy that clips on to the metal of the case while you’re working):

Choose a simple, basic case-- no need for the flashing lights and whizbangery that the kids want for their gaming rigs. The case comes with all the wiring pre-installed for the power switch, drive lights, front/top USB ports, etc. You’ll be plugging all that in toward the end of the build.

Most mobos nowadays are of the ATX form factor, and virtually any case can fit those, but you do need to make sure of that. Step one is to install the power supply into the case while it has nothing else in it, to make it easy. How big a power supply do you need, you ask? Use this great site to calculate precisely once you’ve identified all your other components: https://outervision.com/power-supply-calculator

Step two is to install the CPU into the mobo socket, and then the CPU cooler on top of it. Every CPU ships with a basic cooling fan, and for our purposes those are just fine. Plug the cooler’s power socket into the jack that will be right there for the purpose (everything is labeled, you can’t miss it).

Next you can put the RAM chips into their slots, or you can wait until after you have the mobo mounted in the case. I usually do it first.

The case will come with little screw-like things called “standoffs” that you screw into the threaded holes in the case. Then you sit the mobo on those, and use the mounting screws to secure it. Be sure you don’t skip any!

Next, install your drives into the bays and connect their cables to the appropriate slots along the edge of the mobo. On your first build, you might want to put in just the SSD first, and get the system running, before coming back in and putting in the HDD. That way there will be no chance of the mobo not knowing which drive is the main system one when you first power up. Assuming you have a HDD from your previous box, you can just use that.

Now attach the cables from your power supply to the relevant ports on the mobo and drives. Lots of power supplies these days are modular, meaning they have all the sockets on the p/s and provide all the cables you would need, rather than having all of them hard-wired into the p/s. This way you put in only what you need and you don’t have a bunch of extra cable in there that just has to get shoved out of the way somehow.

Next, plug in the little bundle of wires that comes from the power button area. There is a set of pin ports (always along the edge of the mobo) where these go, and this is the one area where it does get a little fiddly.

At this point, you have the brain, the memory, the power, and the storage ready to go. I always stop here and plug in the keyboard, mouse, and display, power up, get Windows installed, and let it go through updates etc. Then I put in whatever is left to do: music interface of whatever sort (I have been using the same PCIe interface for years, migrating it from box to box as I’ve upgraded), optical drive if you choose to have one, the storage HDD, etc.

Now you can go about installing all your stuff and puff your chest out because ain’t no stinkin computer gonna tell YOU what to do! :muscle::fist_right::fist_left:

Another thing to keep in mind is that for music computers, you don’t need bleeding-edge, latest & greatest stuff. I always buy a few steps behind the edge, which is a sweet spot for bang for the buck. A core i7 CPU is way more than enough and will keep you running fine for years.

Take a look here for examples of component bundles that will work together. This is a great way to make sure you are getting stuff that is compatible, even if you make your purchase elsewhere.

OK, I’ve rambled enough! Hope this helps. And just search on youtube for “build your own computer” and you’ll find gazillions of how-to tutorials so you can see visually how all this goes. You got this Ev!!

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Wow! Thanks a lot Dave! It indeed doesn’t sound that difficult. Good to hear about the static mat: I did not know. And yes we do have Newegg here too. The name rings a bell, but that’s about it.
I’m going to check out the site, see what I can come up with. I’ll get back to the forum to check. I do remember reading somewhere that some I7 generation processors were better than others specifically for audio. I’ll Google the info. And good to know that PCIe is a good choice. And the fact you have been using it many years may also be a good reason to go the second hand route if I can get a decent price.
Thanks again!

Ps what do you think about AMD Ryzen as an alternative to i7?

I have always been an Intel kinda guy. If you go AMD the entire architecture of the mobo and cpu are different, and over the years I have always stuck with the Intel chips. Ironically, I am a firm devotee of AMD graphics cards, but that’s an entirely separate discussion…

And there is no particular flavor of cpu that is better or worse for audio. The bottleneck on a recording computer is almost always the RAM and drive access speed. So having your system drive be an SSD (and do run all your programs on it-- you can get 512GB and up SSDs these days for decent prices, plenty big enough) and a sizable amount of RAM will do the trick. For what it’s worth, my music rig uses only an i5, and it runs FAST. You’d do very well with one of those and save another hundred euros or so I reckon.

And yes, preventing static discharge is essential when putting your paws into a computer. With the high sophistication of the technology and the incredible density on printed circuit boards and CPU chips, one tiny static spark can completely hose the system.

Good luck!

Edit: On the power supply, always round up to the next 50-watt increment from whatever that site suggests for your build. If it says you can get by with 350W, get at least 400, etc. The price difference between, say, a 500 and 600W is very small, and having plenty of power is always a good idea. That’s another thing that can cause weird issues that are really hard to track down, an p/s that’s not quite up to the job. So don’t scrimp.

I’ve reading that AMD is not up to audio tasks for many years. But since I am again interested in CPU’s to my surprize even professional DAW-PC builders use AMD Ryzen CPU’s. I’ve just done a comparison on the New Egg site and even the lowly Ryzen 5 (with hyperthreading) has 6 cores, 12 threads, twice as much L2 and L3 cache as a gen 7 i7. Only the clock speed is significantly lower : 3.4 to 3.9 MHz vs. 4.2 to 4.5 MHz.
Price: Ryzen 5 costs 130 euro’s , the i7 (still) costs 331 euro’s.
The Ryzen 7 (16 threads, speed 3,4- 4.1 MHz and even more cache) is still only 186 euro’s.
I’m skipping i5 because they don’t do hyperthreading. That used to be the big thing. But if your i5 performs well, maybe I should not worry about hyperthreading.

I’m already using SSD drives (I got 2 installed: one for Windows and other programs and plugins, the other for samples, and a fast hard disk for storage: on paper it’s not out dated yet: 4th gen i7!). I have been wondering of all those drives have caused problems with plugins and maybe go for one large SSD (512).

The 16 Gig RAM should make a difference compared to my current 8.

Interestingly I now read that some heavy synth users are turning their hyperthreading off!
Well that’s new for me. So I would get the best performance with as many cores (not threads) I can pay for? That increases my scope for CPU’s, but again Ryzen looks appealing.

I’ve seen on FB and in forums a lot of people talking about Ryzen… on paper it looks like like it would be a great CPU. I’m with Dave in that I’ve always been an Intel guy.

Here’s an Intel vs. AMD test that might interest you…

The main test is between the 2 company’s flagship consumer CPU’s, but the tests do show results for a pile of different chips.

Yes on paper…
But I also came across a thread on the Sound on Sound forum (I think) where someone with a Ryzen 7 computer was saying that the latency was not fantastic, no matter which interface he tried. Apparently that’s a drawback of Ryzen so and that is a big issue!

It’s back to the drawing board. I think a recent i5 with 6 cores will do: about the same price as a Ryzen 7.