My studio – Equipment recommendations for orchestral music production (I)

I would like to show you my actual personal studio (March-2018) and also provide you some recommendations about equipment for orchestral music production

My personal studio (March 2018)

For composing and production of orchestral cinematic music it is required at least the following equipment:

  • A PC
  • A MIDI Controller
  • Audio interface
  • Headphones or Studio Monitor
  • Sequencer (software)
  • Orchestral VST libraries

In this post I will focus in the PC exclusively and I will post a new post to discuss the rest of elements.

The orchestral music production is a case very exigent (in terms of computelly stress) for a PC due to the high number of tracks that are managed by the sequencer at the same time, so, I is mandatory to take this in account to choose properly the components of the PC. In the case of the microproccesor, in contrast to other uses as gaming, it’s recommended a higher number of processor cores that a higher velocity due to the way of modern sequencers are optimized to paralell proccesing. So, the sequencers manage properly the different cores to work in a efficient way with a high number of tracks that can include different audio proccesing plugins (equalization, compressors, reverbs, etc.) . It is also interesting to have a good velocity per core but, generally,  it is better to choose a procesor with more cores that a processor that works with a higher frequency or a proccesor prepared to work with overockling because for this case it is not neccesary.

An important topic is the RAM memory and the storage memory but, before of give recommendations I would like to explain briefly how manage the samplers with the modern libraries of orchestral sounds. For this reason I will mention the most extended sampler, Kontakt of Native Instruments. The orchestral libraries have a several amount of gigabytes of data even compressed. For this reason, Kontakt doesn’t load the entire amount of samples from an instrument in RAM but it only load the beginning of them.  So, when Kontakt receives as input a MIDI event, it will play the beginning of the sample from RAM and at the same time it load the rest of the sample from the store memory to play it. With this method, it avoid to waste RAM memory and it allows to load templates with dozens or hundreds of virtual instruments.

I can understand that this brief explanation can be difficult, maybe I could write a more detailed post to explain this at the future. At the moment, we need to understand the fact that the memory access speed is an important factor because the most amount of audio data will be read from the storage memory.

It’s important to choose carefully the components. It is necessary to dispose a enough amount of RAM memory due to some instruments loads a high amount of data in RAM (although it is only the beginning of the samples as I mentioned previously). For example, the instruments with true legato have real recording samples of the transition between intervals of notes and for this reason need to load a lot of data in RAM. Also other instruments, for example, pianos need to load high amount of data in RAM due to round robins samples (different samples for the same to avoid the repetition of the same sound clip), true una corda samples, sympathy  resonance, different microphones position. Also the instruments with a lot of samples from different microphones can load several data amount in RAM.

In conclusion, my recommendation is that, with a limited budget, we should spend in both aspects simultaneously. In the case of storage memory, the intelligent choice is the use of Solid State Disks (SSD) especially for libraries with a lot of Gb although, for minor libraries, it is possible to use Hard Drive Disks (HDD) of 7200 rpm. Always is better to distribute the libraries in different disks to avoid bottlenecks in the limitation of data rate that the disk can provide (in reading process). The best choice is the use of SSD with M.2 interface due this interface have a higher limit of data rate that SATA III interface.  In the case of RAM it is not necessary to look for cards with a better work frequency. The use of RAM DDR4 of 2133 MHz or 2400 MHz is enough for the most of uses.

In my particular case, due this different particularities that I have just mentioned I chose to assembly a PC with separate components. After a study of the market I chose the following configuration:

  • i7-7820X 3.6Ghz processor. It is a beast, it was launched in mid-2017. It have 8 cores and 16 virtual cores. During this time it works perfectly with exigent projects that manages a lot of plugins instances. One more thing, it is necessary to use a liquid cooler system with this processor to avoid overheat problems.
  • Motherboard MSI X299 SLI PLUS. It’s good, modern and it have everything I need: a lot of SATA III ports, 8 slots for RAM, enough PCI ports. It is really interesting that it includes two ports M.2 that are perfect to use SSD M.2 memory (I mentioned before the benefits of this solution).
  • At the moment I have the following storage units and it is enough for me. Anyway, I have free ports to add a new HDD, a new SSD SATA and a new SSD M.2:
    • SSD M.2 500 Gb for complex libraries
    • SSD SATA III 256 Gb for OS, programs and plugins
    • HDD 7200 rpm 2Tb for minor libraries, documents and more.
  • 4 RAM DDR4 3000 MHz units of 16 Gb each one (64 Gb in total) that are working in multichannel. I can expand this solution to 128 Gb because these are 4 free slots.
My PC for composition and production

I hope this post could be useful or interesting for you. I will write a second part with more recommendations of the rest of elements.

See you!

Author: Pablo del Campo