Build Your Very Own Music Studio Computer For Less Than $1,000!
Though it might sound beyond the realm of possibility, it really is possible to build a highly functional computer based music studio for less than the cost of a second hand car. With the recent advances in home studio technology, everyone likes to think they could be the next DJ Shadow or Deadmau5 and the truth is the equipment these platinum-selling artists use is easily within your financial reach.
The heart of your setup, the ‘rig’ itself is what we’ll be discussing today though and whilst Apple (and their acolytes) would have you believe otherwise, a PC based solution is not only cheaper and more customizable but is capable of comparable results. Building your own PC is nowhere near as difficult or ‘niche’ as it used to be either, in fact with thousands of online tutorials at your disposal you don’t require any prior knowledge at-all in order to successfully build your studio PC. Below I have highlighted the 5 key components that make up any modern home computer and how they will work in an average audio PC setup.
The motherboard is essentially the bones of the machine, it is the printed circuit board that all other components are connected to and it is through the motherboard that all the components receive power and communicate with each other. Most motherboards built today support multiple cores and if you are even considering running some of the more demanding audio applications on the market, you’ll require a motherboard that supports at least a quad core.
The Processor (CPU)
A processor is essentially your computer’s brain. Processing power is measured in Ghz, this represents how many calculations/instructions a computer can carry out per clock cycle and therefore how many applications it can run at once and how fast each of those applications can operate. Although there are many different brands of processor there are 2 that dominate the market; Intel and AMD. AMD processors are generally cheaper but don’t tend to perform as well as their Intel counterparts but we are not particularly concerned with power here though as most modern CPU’s are designed for advanced graphics.
As we’re interested more in sound, processing power is not particularly important. As long as your CPU is powerful enough to run a decent DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) such as Cubase or Pro Tools, you’ll be laughing!
RAM is essentially there to save the PC from having to constantly read the hard drive and the more RAM a computer has the better it will fare in a studio environment. The computer will be able to handle more calculations faster and at the same time. Even low budget motherboards now will contain enough slots to handle at least 16GB or even 32GB of RAM but in truth this would be rather excessive unless you were planning on operating massive, intensive libraries of samples such as the East West symphonic series. 8 GB of RAM should be more than enough for any hobbyist or aspiring professional.
If you’re really serious about your music, it might be a wise idea to buy 2 hard drives so that the larger one can handle specifically audio files, while the smaller one handles just the programs and applications (Windows, Pro Tools, Ableton, Sound Forge etc.). When you’re working with audio the general rule with hard drives is ‘the bigger the better’, especially if you plan to record at a high sample rate. Standard SATA hard drives are reliable and sturdy and you could easily pick up a decent 1TB drive for less than £100. Flash drives on the other hand are lightning quick but too rich for our blood if we’re looking to keep costs to under a grand.
Although you most likely plan to use an external audio interface to handle most of the audio in your professional studio work, installing a cheap PCI sound card could handle the other sounds of the computer such as windows noises, MP3 playback and any other sounds that non-audio applications may need to calculate and produce with the onboard RAM. This will take any additional strain away from the processor.
There’s an old adage in the music world; “all the gear, no idea” which rings as truly now as it did decades ago. Just because you have a computer that’s able to produce professional quality music doesn’t mean you still won’t require some level of talent and hundreds of potential hours of practice. But any good sculptor needs a good set of tools and by using this guide we hope you’ve been able to assemble a musical ‘chisel’ worthy of the greats!
Ian Appleton is a copywriter based in the UK who built his own PC based music studio 5 years ago. It was working flawlessly until recently, when he took his motherboard in for printed circuit board repairs. It’s now humming away nicely again and is being used to record his second album.