Building my own DAW, buy from my local store/online, or why DAW PLUS at all...?
We, as a DAW building company (together with XI-MACHINES), have nothing against building
your own DAW, let that be clear. Basically, that is how many current DAW builders
started. There are many reasons to build your own system, one of the most important
ones is having a limited budget. Others do it, because they are experienced with
building their own systems, others are just curious and like to try it out. After
all, there is a lot of information in the internet on how to do it, and many people
(usually in internet forums like Gearslutz) offer their suggestions to help making
it a good build. However, there is more to building a good DAW than just picking
the good components, as I will explain below.
Another option is the off-the-shelf computer, from a local store or online store.
To be honest, as a rule of thumb, based on a lot of customer feedback of the last
10 years, this is more like playing roulette. While some systems are ok, or basically
work fine, they are usually built for office or gaming use. Note that even hardcore
gaming systems require very different components and settings than an audio system.
Office systems usually have features which sound great (decent graphics, lots of
HD space, tons of RAM), but lack power where it is required, and even worse, are
usually preinstalled with so-called bloatware. This is usually up to 50 applications
pre-installed which you simply don’t need, and which interfere directly with the
realtime power your DAW requires. Uninstalling these applciations can lead to a mess,
even causing the system to stop booting (really...). The only way to solve this is
checking whether the system comes with a Windows installation code, if there is no
real Windows DVD delivered with the system, try to borrow one from a friend and use
the installation code to perform a clean install. In worst case, you will need to
buy a new Windows license.
Still, usually the components are mediocre, require add-ons, and even if the fans
are quiet when the system is new, they will most likely get louder over time very
soon. In our honest opinion, this is worse than building your own system.
Then why buying a turnkey solution from companies like DAW PLUS?
The only real negative aspect we can mention ourselves, is that it costs more than
any of the options above. You need to have a budget. But even before we started this
company, working for one of the software host companies and working in distribution
for pro audio brands, we always recommended professional/serious customers to buy
a turnkey solution.
The reason is simple: it takes a lot of experience and knowledge and time to find
the components, do the correct building, make the correct settings and do proper
installation to come as close to a stable, clean, silent, cool and secure system
as you can get, to earn your daily living or perform your serious hobby with the
little time you have. We can tell you how many tracks it can record and play back,
how many plugins it can handle, at certain latencies etc. And you don’t have to do
the nervous online searching for information, components and tweaks, without having
the guarantee it actually works.
You want to have a system that just works, out of the box.
Yes, you could build a PC in a few hours, and yes it is silent. No, we don’t think
it comes close to what we offer, and no, that build is not what we call silent.
We have built hundreds of systems for professional studios, movie and TV composers,
broadcasters, car manufacturers, telecom companies, and all kinds of events, which
require no-compromise solutions. We offer the same knowledge, and for a big part
the same components we use for those customers. And with very few support requests.
Our systems come with all your soft- and hardware pre-installed (note that not all
products can be supported), all settings made, you basically cable up your system,
paste your preference and key command files and off you go. And this with top components,
as silent as it gets, optimal tweaks and settings, no real-time performance issues.
Is this marketing nonsense? No it is not. No compromises comes with a price tag.
But we are flexible as well, our smallest systems are fast, secure and silent, and
get the same warranty and support, which has very few limitations.
What is so special about DAW’s that I can’t use just any computer?
What many people don’t seem to realize is that digital audio, as opposed to gaming,
most 3D applications and graphics editing, is a realtime process which breaks down
when interrupted. This would mean dropouts during playback, or even worse, during
recording. So DAW’s need to be optimized for realtime processing. And most off-the-shelf
systems won’t do this very well.
Here is a short list of possible issues:
- Hardware components with bad drivers, interrupting realtime processes. Typically
wireless adapters and bluetooth, but also extended drivers for Gigabit adapters.
Some graphics card drivers interrupt in certain setups as well.
-Bad drives. Slow drives, or drives with energy saving built in are sometimes too
slow to handle even a few audio tracks, especially when only one drive is in the
system. Even SSD’s can break down in certain cofigurations when the CPU usage is
-Bad default settings. Some systems come with BIOS settings which cause components
to interrupt. This is also an issue with self-built systems, since depending on the
mainboard, one setting can mean that the system is not reliable for realtime operation
or even holds back a lot of its potential performance.
-Limited configurations. We have seen a lot of systems where performance was hindered
by wrong configurations, settings and connections, even when they were built by well
known vendors. Slow RAM, old SATA connectors used for SSD’s, RAID-0 where it makes
-Wrong cooling. Despite fast fans (loud), the cooling can be poor and would cause
early wearing of components, resulting in systems breaking down or getting slow much
too early. Heat is the enemy of a good system. Note that good fans alone do not make
a silent system. The airflow and speed settings need to be optimal.
Some help for self building:
For those who decide to build themselves, we have some tips here which contribute
to better systems. Note however, that every different mainboard and BIOS version,
can result in better or worse performance. This is one of the reason we never mention
what brands we use - we often get special BIOS versions or refrain from using certain
updates. Also the revision is important.
- Airflow: pay attention that the airflow is correct, and that all components which
get hot need airflow. Do not save on good fans. This is what is part of the price
difference of DAW builders and self-built systems.
-Set BIOS settings first, then install Windows.
-Windows 7, contrary to what some people say, does offer pretty good multithreading,
good MIDI timing and very low latency settings. These things however are dependend
on the host software used, as well as on the hardware and drivers. Some components
simply do not allow low latencies, for example. If your ProTools native setup gives
error messages, or MIDI timing is bad, do not blame the supplier but check your configuration.
Note that many MIDI interfaces DO have bad timing under Windows 7, though.
-Use simple graphics cards and enable Aero. Unless you plan to do 3D, lots of graphics,
or gaming as well on your DAW, there is no need for fast graphics cards. Use simple
passively cooled (= silent) graphics cards, or the integrated GPU in current Intel
-Think about drives and their setup. Consider at least 2 internal and one external
drive. OS/Apps/Plugins on one drive, audio projects/recording/samples on another.
Samples maybe on a 3rd drive. External drive for daily backups of new recordings/edits/project
files. Note that a modern 7200rpm HDD can record 150 tracks without dropouts, so
leave RAID 0 to the video people... Single SSD drives can record 1000+ tracks (we
stopped testing at 1200 tracks), so consider them if you are doing large projects.
RAID 1 is good if your budget allows the extra hardware failure security. RAID 1
is not a replacement for a backup, though!
-Make an image of a cleanly tweaked and installed system with the core products you
use, like interface drivers, host sequencer and plug-ins. Create the image if this
is tested and works, and before any other applications are installed. This allows
a 10 minute return to a clean installation in case the system has boot issues, or
the OS drive has a hardware failure. Of course it makes sense to have a spare disc
-When installing, use the latest drivers for all your components, and test the setup
before loading actual projects. When using your projects for testing, make sure you
have the files as a copied backup.
-When installing plugins, make sure to always use the same path, for easier management.
Various suppliers tend to use different installation paths (except for RTAS/AAX formats).
Pick one for 32 bit, another for 64 bit installations. Only install formats and options
you intend to use. When using JBridge with 32 bit plugins, use a 3rd location to
install these plugins, which should not be scanned by the host. Jbridge the 64 bit
versions to the 64 bit plugin path which is scanned.
-Windows 7 does not need tweaks to be able to operate in low latency mode. However,
a few setting changes make sense to optimize the system. Please check out the NI
and Steinberg sites for this, they have mentioned it all. More then that, like disabling
services etc. is not worth the trouble, and might actually cause some functions to
stop working if the DAW is in an environment which requires some of these services
-Don’t worry about going online with your DAW. While there is a risk tied to any
network connection or direct internet access, there is no harm in connecting to dedicated
audio sites to register your software or downloading drivers or sample content from
the manufacturer site.
The issues lies in network connections to office PC’s which might very well capture
every virus on the planet, or when visiting sites which are not that serious - usually
the ones full of banner ads and pop-ups. Stay away from Google search, instead rather
use direct site links. Do not install an anti-virus, they tend to interfere with
your realtime processing and usually slow down the system to some degree.
However, it is best to have a separate internet computer with an antivirus active
all the time, download drivers there, do a virus scan, and use a USB stick to transfer
files. You won’t need internet on your DAW that often anyway.
-Check energy/power options. By default, Windows sets the system to save energy in
various ways. Check these options and switch off all kinds of energy saving. Some
host applications have a checkbox in their options tab to use their dedicated settings,
which is a good thing.
-Some audio interfaces have bad drivers, or even worse, use hardware which does not
really allow low latency operation. So it is not always the system, or its configuration.
Check the fantastic work of Vin from AAVIM technologies in Australia here and here,
it gives a very good view on which interfaces have good drivers.
-New SandyBridge and IvyBridge (Intel chipset names) based motherboards do not have
„native PCI“, which means that PCI cards are not directly integrated in the chipset
on the motherboard, but use a bridge instead. It is important to know that it depends
on the motherboard brand whether a PCI audio interface works well or not. Note that
our systems with these chipsets do support PCI cards with low latencies, even though
PCIe cards typically perform better and are worth considering when recording with
low latencies or mixing large projects with lots of plug-Ins.
-See your workstation as a tool. It’s fine to constantly update things if you enjoy
the IT aspect of your DAW, but in the end you do it for producing music. If it works
fine, leave it alone and make music.
-The internet is full of false recommendations based on very personal requirements
and perceptions. What works for them might not work for you. This list should apply
to everybody without exception.
Some DAW workflow tips: based on issues & questions from customers.
-Save your songs/projects under a different name regularly, preferably with an increment.
This way, a corrupted song file does not infect the work previously done, which is
the case when using the „save“ function. In Cubase/Nuendo, you can use CTRL-ALT-S
for example, which does exactly this.
-Make daily backups of your work in progress. We all had our crahses or mistaken
cleanups, causing the loss of hard work. And usually always for material we didn’t
have a backup of. So make it a daily habit.
-Use project folder structures for your material. Record into them, if the host doesn’t
do this by default. Leave your samples on the sample drive, but when archiving or
transferring to another studio, copy the used samples to the archive/transfer folder
using the software archiving functions.
We are happy to expand this section with your suggestions. Contact us here!