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DAW Tips & Tricks: Optimizing Your CustoMac Audio Workstation

BoomR

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Once you get your new DAW CustoMac built, there are quite a few things you can do to optimize your system & settings. Taking these extra few steps can really help both the performance and the stability of your system, plus help prevent surprise mishaps that may cause you lots of hair pulling, swearing, and even having to “shake the Etch-a-Sketch” and have to reinstall your OS, apps, and plug-ins.

Hardware Compatibility
Audio Interfaces (Firewire, USB, Thunderbolt, and PCI-based)
Always make sure to check with your audio interface’s manufacturer for the latest device drivers, and check to see what the most recent version of OS X it’s certified to work with. For example, if your audio interface only has “beta” drivers for Mavericks, you may need to weigh the potential of instability against a more stable Mountain Lion-based system. Case in point: I know that there may be some issues with older M-Audio interfaces, now that AVID has sold the M-Audio division & product line to the InMusic group (AKAI Professional, Alesis, Alto, ION, etc.). During this "transition" time, support and ML-approved/certified drivers for their devices may be a bit of a challenge.

MIDI interfaces/USB MIDI
If you’re using lots of MIDI keyboards or MIDI sound modules as your audio sources, you’ll need a compatible MIDI interface. Again, same rule applies here – make sure you have the latest MIDI interface drivers from the manufacturer installed. On the other hand, if your keyboard or module is equipped with a USB port and has the ability to send/receive MIDI data over USB, make sure to have the latest USB-MIDI drivers for your device.

Hard Drives (Workload considerations)
Most all DAW manufacturers will agree: while it is possible to record audio/playback from your boot drive (where OSX and your apps are installed), this is not recommended. Recording and playback on a system drive may result in lower track counts and fewer plug-ins.

Those of you who have read some of my posts know that I try to distribute my disk I/O workload and activity across several drives: #1) my boot drive for OSX and my DAW apps (Logic, Digital Performer, and Pro Tools|HD, #2) my “work” drive where my Logic/PT/DP session files are written to/stored (including all the audio files), and #3) my “Library” drive for sample libraries, VST libraries/resource files, and Logic’s Apple Loops. Many of today’s top VSTs and samplers actually stream their audio in real-time (vs. loading all samples into RAM). Since this behavior is also very disk-intensive, keeping those libraries on a separate drive helps distribute the disk I/O workload.

Hard Drives (Platter/mechanical)
Most audio pros and factory reps will recommend that you avoid “green” drives. In order to be more energy efficient, they don’t spin at 7200RPM (which is the standard for best system performance & higher track counts). While it’s true that lots of people are using laptops with 2.5” drives that run at 5400RPM, track counts and system responsiveness is not nearly as snappy as it is with 7200RPM drives.

In the early days of Pro Tools - and even today - AVID provides a list of “approved” or “compatible” drives for use with Pro Tools. These drives have been tested by AVID for performance, durability, and responsiveness. Many of these drives are actually RE (RAID Edition) drives or A/V-rated drives, designed for longer lifespan and the heavy-duty demands of network storage devices in corporate environments or in media servers. If you plan on using your DAW in a commercial environment where clients are paying you $$ to record their performances, a little more $$ invested in your drives may just save you grief and protect your reputation. The last thing you want is a hard drive failure in the middle of a session where paid musicians are sitting in your studio and the clock is ticking!

SSD (Solid State Drives)
Pro Tools in particular certifies the use of SSDs for audio recording, starting with PT10. But depending on your track count, sample rate, number of takes you choose to save, you could fill up a 120-240GB SSD with just a few projects. While I’ve not tried using an SSD for my projects drive, I can only imagine that the responsiveness of your DAW would be AMAZING.

Configuring OS X – Best Practices & Mfgr. Recommendations
Before running your DAW app, make sure to check the following OSX settings. Since AVID (formerly Digidesign’s) Pro Tools has long been the vanguard of DAWs, most other DAW manufacturers make the same recommendations for system optimization.

Turn Off Automatic Software Update
Do not use the Mac OS X automatic Software Update feature, as it may upgrade your system to a version of Mac OS X that has not yet been qualified or certified for use with your DAW application. Open System Preferences and then click Software Update. Remove the checkmark from the Automatically Check for Updates. Remember – you can always manually check for software updates by selection Software Update from the Apple menu. When OSX notifies you that software updates are available, ALWAYS click the show details option to see what updates are available. Never update to a newer version of OSX until you check your DAW application’s Web site for compatibility with your DAW.

Turn Off Energy Saver
Disks spinning down during sessions, or wake from sleep often results in system freezes, USB or FW device “disconnects” or other instability issues shortly after devices or the system wakes. From System Preferences, click Energy Saver. Set the Computer Sleep setting to Never. Set the Display Sleep setting to Never. Deselect the “Put the hard disk(s) to sleep when possible” option.

Disable Spotlight Indexing
Spotlight automatically indexes files/folders on local hard drives in the background. If Spotlight starts indexing drives while recording a session with high track counts for an extended period of time, it can adversely affect your system performance. You may want to disable Spotlight indexing for all local drives before any big recording projects. From System Preferences, click Spotlight. Click the Privacy tab. Now, drag the desktop icon for each of your drives into the list.

Disable FileVault Protection
This optimization allows your hard drive to work more efficiently with certain DAW apps, and can prevent certain DAW system errors from occurring. From System Preferences, click Security & Privacy. Click the FileVault tab. If FileVault is on, click the Turn Off FileVault button.

Repair Disk Permissions
Believe it or not, simply repairing disk permissions can resolve some whack-a-doodle system behaviors. You should get in the habit of periodically running Repair Disk Permissions, especially after you install a new app.

Activate Journaling for Your Audio Drives
Activating Journaling on the drive(s) which audio files are written to & played back results in higher performance from those drives. To activate this feature, launch Disk Utility (Applications > Utilities). Select your audio drive (work drive, sample libraries drive, etc.) then click the Enable Journaling button in the toolbar. If you used Disk Utility to partition and format your hard drive, and you selected the Mac OS X (Journaled) option, Journaling is already activated.

Other Best Practices
  • Disable WiFi if your DAW build is so equipped during recording sessions. In addition to freeing up system resources, disabling these can help resolve certain system errors with some DAW apps.
  • Your DAW should be the only app running during a recording session. Exit email, chat, web browsers, etc., as these apps take away horsepower that your DAW & plugins could use.
  • Keep high-traffic USB or FW devices on separate busses. For example, if you have a USB audio interface, and you record your audio files/project files to a USB hard drive, make sure they are not on the same bus. Having them on the same bus could lead to data “traffic jams” resulting in pops, clicks, or audio drop-outs.
  • Make sure your DAW application certifies the use of USB or Thunderbolt drives. With the launch of Pro Tools 10, AVID now approves both USB and TB drives, as long as they are 7200RPM (or higher) drives. You can check these sorts of requirements by going to your DAW manufacturer’s Web site, then checking the Technical Specifications section or System Requirement section of your DAW application’s Web page.

I welcome comments & feedback, as well as other tips, tricks, and best practices from other long-time DAW guys & gals in the forum!
--B
 
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Hi,
my friend has problem with logic pro 9.1.8 freezing on his original imac 27" middle 2010 ML 10.8.2 so i can build hackintosh for him, but he grab his piano through FireWire 800 interface, have you any experience with FW800 functionality with midi interface on your hackintosh board? Second question are you recording to secondary internal HDD? Did you mean are this logic pro settings parameters right?:
process buffer range - set it to 512 or 1024 when playing back or use default 256?
buffer size = 256
internal sound
core settings = automatic (i read that multicore on sometimes freeze logic pro and then must do some steps to switch logic to one core running)
32 or 64 bit - i setup logic pro to run in 64 bit (friend has 12 GB ram and in 32 bit mode only 4 GB was used) its stable run logic in 64 bit mode?

thanks for your experience


what are you say about this params, which is ideal?


sorry for my english


Roman from Slovakia
 

BoomR

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Old Dog/New Tricks: Using HD4000 for Your Pro Audio/DAW Builds

I don't know of any MIDI interfaces that use FW800 - most every dedicated MIDI interface these days (to my knowledge) is always USB. BUT, many audio interfaces also have built-in MIDI capabilities. For example, MOTU's 828 mk3 hybrid FW/USB interface also includes MIDI In & Out:
828mk3-large-rear.jpg

Then again, I can only think of 1 audio interface currently on the market that has a FW800 port on it (the new UAD Apollo), but it doesn't have built-in MIDI in/out ports on the back. Of course almost all of the latest gen MOTU interfaces are now "hybrid" and offer both USB and Firewire ports. Note that even though MOTU uses what apperas to be a 1394B FW port ("type B") connection, it operates at 1394A speeds.

So I guess what I'm getting at is: I'd need to know more about your friend's hardware components and his configuration. Is he is using a FW audio interface with on-board MIDI in/out ports that he's using to trigger some sort of piano sound module or synth? My educated guess would be that he would not have any issues with MIDI performance, based on the little experience I had with a FW interface that I used to have which also had on-board MIDI in & out.

As to the settings in Logic, the buffer settings are more important when you're recording a live audio source. They don't really affect MIDI timing. Typical rule of thumb is: lower buffer settings (128, 64) if you want near-zero latency while monitoring the audio through Logic. Then higher buffer settings for better performance during playback as your project grows in track size. This is why the workflow for many audio professionals is to try & do all your tracking early on in the project (and with a lower buffer setting), then set your buffer higher once you start into the "mix" phase of the project.

As for the core settings, in an earlier version of Logic (9.1.0 or one of the lower point-releases), there was a "bug" with the multi-threading support when you used the "Automatic" option. The work-around was to set it for the max number of threads your processor supports vs. the Automatic setting. I believe that bug has long been fixed. It certainly won't hurt anything if you set it to max # of threads vs. Automatic. If you're doing any sort of audio work in Logic, it really should be the only thing running for max performance. So "turning off threads" in Logic so they can be used for other background tasks is typically not recommended.

And last, yes - if you study the build components list & my descriptions, you'll note that my studio computer actually has 4 drives: 1) SSD for OS X and applications only, 2) RAID-class drive or AV-rated drive (designed for heavier read/write workloads) for my "Work" files - Logic project files including all the recorded audio files, 3) RAID-class drive to store all my VST/sample libraries + all the Apple Loops from Logic, and 4) standard SATA drive that I use for backups/Time Machine.

It's pretty common practice (as well as recommended by DAW manufacturers) to not record audio to your boot/start-up drive - for many reasons which I won't go into here.

Hope this helps!
--B
:headbang:
 
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Old Dog/New Tricks: Using HD4000 for Your Pro Audio/DAW Builds

Hi, as I say first of all sorry for my English. So I ask friend about his audio card and its M-AUDIO - ProFire 2626 - High-Definition 26-in/26-out FireWire Audio Interface with Octane Preamp Technology


But I found that company sale this product to other company and don't support developing drivers to this model so latest driver for 10.8.2 is unstable beta only and this may be problem Profire 2626 and OS X 10.8.2 Beta drivers

Multicore problem as you say just setup from automatis to real number of existing cores solve the problem in later version of logic pro. Thanks about the HDD info too. So i tell to friend dont buy audio HW from company which are not serious with develop support of their product and he must buy some new hardware supporting os x 10.8.2

Thanks for your help.

Roman from Slovakia

 

BoomR

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Hi, as I say first of all sorry for my English. So I ask friend about his audio card and its M-AUDIO - ProFire 2626 - High-Definition 26-in/26-out FireWire Audio Interface with Octane Preamp Technology


But I found that company sale this product to other company and don't support developing drivers to this model so latest driver for 10.8.2 is unstable beta only and this may be problem Profire 2626 and OS X 10.8.2 Beta drivers

Multicore problem as you say just setup from automatis to real number of existing cores solve the problem in later version of logic pro. Thanks about the HDD info too. So i tell to friend dont buy audio HW from company which are not serious with develop support of their product and he must buy some new hardware supporting os x 10.8.2
M-Audio has recently been sold to another company, so right now is a "transition" time for getting current drivers for 10.8.2 on older M-Audio products.

So I still am not understanding the problem & how you think MIDI comes into play? You said he "grabs his piano through FW800 interface" - so is he recording an acoustic piano using microphones? Or does he have a MIDI synth/tone module and he is recording the audio output of that module into the FW interface?

My partner has the same exact mid-2010 27" iMac and is running Logic Pro (latest version) with absolutely zero problems with freezing or performance issues (using lots of Native Instruments Kontakt instruments, and MOTU UltraLite audio interface using FW800 > FW400 cable). Important note: he is still on Lion 10.7.5, and is in no hurry to update to ML "just to be on the latest/greatest OS."

While it might be fun for you to build him a CustoMac, there is absolutely nothing wrong with his iMac/Logic combination that would cause problems. If he only has beta drivers for his ProFire audio interface, he may want to consider going back to Lion 10.7.5 where there **are** certified drivers for his audio interface.

One very important rule in the world of DAW: **never** **ever** try to be on the "bleeding edge" & run the latest operating systems when they first come out, unless you have confirmation from EVERY ONE of your software and hardware manufacturers that their product is certified working with the latest version of OS X.
 
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M-Audio has recently been sold to another company, so right now is a "transition" time for getting current drivers for 10.8.2 on older M-Audio products.

So I still am not understanding the problem & how you think MIDI comes into play? You said he "grabs his piano through FW800 interface" - so is he recording an acoustic piano using microphones? Or does he have a MIDI synth/tone module and he is recording the audio output of that module into the FW interface?

My partner has the same exact mid-2010 27" iMac and is running Logic Pro (latest version) with absolutely zero problems with freezing or performance issues (using lots of Native Instruments Kontakt instruments, and MOTU UltraLite audio interface using FW800 > FW400 cable). Important note: he is still on Lion 10.7.5, and is in no hurry to update to ML "just to be on the latest/greatest OS."

While it might be fun for you to build him a CustoMac, there is absolutely nothing wrong with his iMac/Logic combination that would cause problems. If he only has beta drivers for his ProFire audio interface, he may want to consider going back to Lion 10.7.5 where there **are** certified drivers for his audio interface.

One very important rule in the world of DAW: **never** **ever** try to be on the "bleeding edge" & run the latest operating systems when they first come out, unless you have confirmation from EVERY ONE of your software and hardware manufacturers that their product is certified working with the latest version of OS X.
Sorry for my english again, yes, i agree, tomorow we'll going back to 10.7.5 downgrade for which driver existing in stable version. About MIDI , i call to my friend and he say that M-AUDIO - ProFire 2626 has digital(midi)/analog input so he record his piano through midi or analog as he need, im not musican HW expert but he say, yes he grab his piano midi signal through M-AUDIO - ProFire 2626 to FW800 input on mac. And biggest true as you say and my new experience is not to be in a harry with upgrading to the newest one OS as you say. Thank you very much for all your advice.

roman from slovakia
 

BoomR

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Sorry for my english again, yes, i agree, tomorow we'll going back to 10.7.5 downgrade for which driver existing in stable version. About MIDI , i call to my friend and he say that M-AUDIO - ProFire 2626 has digital(midi)/analog input so he record his piano through midi or analog as he need, im not musican HW expert but he say, yes he grab his piano midi signal through M-AUDIO - ProFire 2626 to FW800 input on mac. And biggest true as you say and my new experience is not to be in a harry with upgrading to the newest one OS as you say. Thank you very much for all your advice.

roman from slovakia
No worries on your English, mate! And my sincere apologies - the first time I looked at the picture of the back of ProFire 2626, I missed the RS-232 port for MIDI break-out cable. So now it makes more sense! :headbang:

Yes - I think for now, it is best to revert to 10.7.5 where there are certified OS X drivers. That version of OS X will run latest Logic just fine, and he should not have any problems any more.
 

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...One very important rule in the world of DAW: **never** **ever** try to be on the "bleeding edge" & run the latest operating systems when they first come out, unless you have confirmation from EVERY ONE of your software and hardware manufacturers that their product is certified working with the latest version of OS X.
+1 Gazillion agreements with you, BoomR. This should be everybody's first rule for any operating system upgrade.

I can remember having to rewrite my programs back in the days of mainframes because our computer "priests" upgraded the operating systems of the super computers w/o giving us a warning and/or a test period. But, I digress...

BTW, I have yet to upgrade my "production" computers to Mountain Lion. I'm awaiting 10.8.3 to work out the kinks the 10.8.0 shouldn't have. Ah, yes...the lessons learned from 40 years of using computers. :lol: (I do have test boot disks to "play" with the OS, though.)
 

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Thank you for all of this information. Good stuff!
 
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Keep high-traffic USB or FW devices on separate busses. For example, if you have a USB audio interface, and you record your audio files/project files to a USB hard drive, make sure they are not on the same bus. Having them on the same bus could lead to data “traffic jams” resulting in pops, clicks, or audio drop-outs.
Thanks for the great advice but could you elucidate a bit more on this? What exactly do you mean by busses? If I plug multiple USB devices into USB connections on a motherboard, does that mean that they on the same bus?
 
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