Going Shopping

Going Shopping

Now that you understand the mind-boggling quantity of products available for digital audio, it's time to shop for them. Here are some tips to make your shopping trip successful.

Resources: Where to Buy

Retail sales outlets include:

Guitar Center (www.guitarcenter.com)

Sam Ash (www.samashmusic.com for retail store, www.samash.com for online sales)

Fully-staffed online resellers who provide sales advice include:

Sweetwater (www.sweetwater.com)

Full Compass (www.fullcompass.com)

Kelly Music & Computers (http://kellysmusicandcomputers.com)


  • Plan your budget in advance: Plenty of inexpensive options are available to you, so don't be afraid to budget before you shop.

  • Try before you buy: Download software demos, get hands-on experience at your local music store, and check out training sessions and get practical experience with hardware and software at music technology conferences and music store events.

  • Demand personal attention: Many retail (or even online) stores have knowledgeable, working musicians on staff. They should also know which products to avoid because they'll see returns from unsatisfied customers. Make sure you can ask questions and get intelligent answers. If you can't, go elsewhere.

  • Check return policies on hardware: It's happened to the best of us: a product we thought was going to sound fabulous turned out to be extremely poor quality. Unfortunately, software usually can't be returned because of piracy concerns.

  • Check maintenance policies: Before you agree to a retailer's "extended service plan," find out what the manufacturer's warranty is. Retailers are required by U.S. law to tell you. Then, make sure you read the fine print of any extended options.

  • Save the receipts, and add insurance: You'll need receipts for rebates and returns, tax purposes, and insurance. Audio equipment can be a significant tax deduction if it's related to your profession. Even if it's a hobby, you can record hobby expenses on your income tax in the United States. Additionally, since warranties and extended service plans don't cover theft or damage, you can often cover your gear under your existing home insurance (if the gear is at home) and/or personal property insurance (when you're on the road). Bring receipts to your insurance company and find out what it will cover.

  • Get ready to download: Aside from online shareware and freeware, commercial software is sometimes cheaper without the box. And even if you buy boxed software or hardware, check online for updatesthe CD is rarely the latest release.

In the next chapter, we'll unpack all your new gear, boot the software, and learn how to connect and successfully configure your setup.

Choosing the Right Software

With so many choices, which music software should you buy? This is not a question with an easy answer. Plus, as manufacturers add new features, the picture changes slightly every month, so any of the specific points below may be out of date by the time you read this. For up-to-date features lists, you'll need to check manufacturers' websites . Here are some things to keep in mind as you shop, and a few caveats that are valid in mid-2005:

  1. It's all good. Even the most limited of today's music production tools are stunningly powerful compared to anything that existed ten years ago, and the sound quality of all of them is extremely high. You just about can't go wrong.

  2. If you plan both to record external audio tracks (vocals, for example) and use software synthesizers, a general-purpose DAW from the Big Four list (Cubase, Digital Performer, Logic, SONAR) should probably be your first stop. While many of the newer loop-oriented "synth studio" programs will record and play audio tracks, the most popular of them (Reason) won't do so.

  3. The traditional DAWs all have entry-level versions that cost less. In the synth studio realm, only FL Studio has low-cost versions and upgrades.

  4. If you want to use sampled beats onstage, Live is probably the way to go. While ACID Pro is still popular among Windows users, it's strictly a studio tool. Project5 has added some Live-like performance features in version 2.0.

  5. Even the traditional DAWs now ship with a selection of included synths and effects, but the included instruments are not likely to be as good as third-party plug-ins. If possible, budget for one or two high-quality plug-in instruments, and make sure your main workstation program will host plug-ins. (Again, Reason won't.)

  6. Pro Tools is well named. Most versions require expensive Digidesign hardware, and compatible plug-ins also tend to be high-priced.

  7. Ask about the included sound library. Some programs (Live, ACID, Reason, FL Studio) come with fairly extensive libraries of samples and other content to get you started. While most DAWs will time-stretch loops much the way ACID and Live do, they may not ship with as much, or any, content.

  8. If you're planning to collaborate with other musicians, you'll open the door to endless headaches unless you're all using the same software. Find out what your bandmates or potential collaborators are using before you whip out the credit card.

  9. Need to print out parts for live musicians? Get a traditional DAW. Softsynth studios and loop programs don't have notation editing or score printout.

  10. If you want to use external MIDI synths, most programs (other than Reason) will accommodate you, but the MIDI editing capabilities of ACID are inferior. For advanced MIDI use, a traditional DAW is a better choice, because these programs all started out as MIDI sequencers, and have editing tools the newer programs lack.

  11. While a scoring program such as Finale or Sibelius will do basic MIDI sequencing, they're not recommended for advanced sequencing tasks . If you want to use synthesizers to create recordings, get a real sequencer.

  12. If you're using a Mac, you have fewer choices: Live but not ACID or Project5, Reason but not Project5 or FL Studio.

  13. Try not to be stampeded by one or two sexy "pro" features. High-end programs have 5.1 surround mixing, for instance but will you really need it? Ditto for ultra -high sampling rates: Even 96kHz is not really needed for most projects.

  14. Don't neglect the "other guys." Programs like Mackie Tracktion (a DAW), Arturia Storm (a synth studio), Bitshift Phatmatik Pro, Cakewalk Kinetic, and Native Instruments Traktor DJ Studio (all sampled beat players) are worth checking out.

  15. Many programs have downloadable demo versions. Others have downloadable manuals, which will give you a much better idea what the program is all about than just reading the marketing copy on the website.


Shopping Trip Checklist

Don't check out without double-checking the following:

  • Return policy

  • Manufacturer warranties

  • Extended service policies

  • Your receipt (or print complete records for online orders, which sometimes ship with only a packing slip)




Real World Digital Audio
Real World Digital Audio
ISBN: 0321304608
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 96
Authors: Peter Kirn

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