Sorry if this is a bit lengthy but want to make sure you understand my situation and goals.
I'm hoping there are those who are using are have used a similar configuration.
First let me say I've got a pretty good background as I owned and operated a 16 trk studio and was the first to use midi synced to tape in Dallas. I was a full time player for 17yrs writer/producer/player... even spent a year as mgr of the computer/midi dept at Guitar Center. That being said, even though I have a good understanding of the recording process (mics/routing/etc) I was doing all this just as digital was coming into being. I remember when a 2 GB rack hard drive cost $2,000.00. The times they have changed.
As you've probably figured I'm an older guy but I've been there and done that and now want to enjoy myself creating some masterpieces.
Here's what I want to do and my limitations.
My main instrument is guitar although I play a bit of keyboard but depend on sequencing to get the parts done they way the should be. I love composing on keyboard with a sequencer and am familiar with most all the software from Dr. T's (dating myself) to Cubase, Sonar, Studio One and Pro Tools.
I like to put the piece together with keyboard and modules (midi sequencing) and then play guitar with it. During that time I might make changes to the arrangement.
I'm looking for an audio interface with midi I/O or possibly a digital recorder/interface with midi i/o but don't think those will record while the midi is in use (usb plugged in) at least I haven't seen one.
I really don't need to record and prefer not to, any midi parts until I'm ready to master. I will be recording 1 to 3 guitar tracks and possibly 1 to 2 vocal tracks.
My budget is max $400.00 for the audio interface.
I need an interface that has a midi i/o that will allow me to play along as I monitor the midi sequences and then record with them playing.
Because the computer I'll be using is not the most powerful I'm a bit concerned but I think I can get by using Cubase LE, Cubase AI, or Studio One v1.x.
I really want this to be a smooth work environment as I can't devote myself full time so don't want to spend 30 minutes setting things up. Want to walk in turn on the equipment and start working.
My computer (the problem):
HP Pavilion ZV5000
AMD Athlon 64 3400+ 1.78 GHz 1 GB Ram - 5400 RPM 80 GB Drive
Firewire and USB 2.0
This meets all requirements for the interface but not so much the DAW software.
I need this computer to work at least for awhile. I have a more powerful system but it's needed for my work. I'll strip everything but xp off the box and kill all unnecessary services.
I've looked at the digital recorders/interfaces but don't think their midi i/o will work like I want and I'm trying to avoid an additional interface to the computer.
Like I said I won't be recording that many tracks and will only record the other parts (midi) when I master.
I just want things to work smoothly.
Here's what I've looked at and any input about USB vs. Firewire would also be appreciated. I've heard firewire can be a bitch on PCs but I believe that's the newer ones.
I would love to have effects in the interface but only a few offer that. I know adding computer based effects is really cpu intensive so it would be nice if I had at least the basics on the interface. Not essential but nice.
I've looked at Focusrite, PreSonus, MOTU, Tascam and others but am leaning toward the TC Electronic Impact - I've used TC Electronic effects and their reverb is very nice so this looks interesting. I'm hoping the compressor and reverb are native (hardware) which would make effects with this computer more feasible... I think.
Generally I think I'll probably be mixing down (mastering) around six recorded tracks with the midi parts.
Any suggestions or comments will be greatly appreciated, I really need to get back to my art or I'll go insane. If it's feasible to get started with this computer then I'll be very happy but let me know honestly what I can expect. It's not out of the question that I'll update the computer as soon as possible or maybe this will work. I might add 1 or 2 GB of ram if needed.
1) Firewire - the performance of Firewire interfaces has been, in my experience, solely related to the quality of the controller chip used by your PC's manufacturer. Texas Instruments is the recommended chip for Firewire interfaces. You may be able to get by with others (especially if you're using an interface whose drivers are very mature) but TI is the de facto industry standard.
2) USB - the above doesn't really matter much these days because there are soooo many good options out there that have USB. It sounds like with your work that you wouldn't be overly taxing the I/O bandwidth of whatever interface you use so you would probably be fine with a USB interface.
3) TC Electronic - I have no experience with their current Impact but I do have a wealth of experience with its predecessor -the Konnekt 24D. It's sitting in my home rack right now. It sounds great, the reverbs are great, compressor is amazing, the preamps are wonderful BUT the build quality is not up to the expectations I had for TC. I had to send my first one back because a preamp "died" within a few months. The current one I have has a failed output pot and another dead preamp channel. It's basically just serving as a four-channel line-in/out A/D/A right now feeding my monitor controller which is really sad. I loved this box when I first got it and, like I said, it was an amazing sounding piece of gear but it just couldn't hold up to a modest amount of use. My main production rig is now based upon a MOTU 896mk3 which is very solidly built.
4) Other brand recommendations - Roland/Cakewalk has a long history of making interfaces that, though not the most user intuitive, are solidly built and are committed to MIDI production I/O. Something I can't say for every manufacturer (my 896mk3 doesn't have MIDI I/O for some bizarre reason nor do any other the interfaces from Yamaha/Steinberg). I highly recommend RME for their solid design and stellar support but their cheapest interface is out of your price bracket.
5) Are you settled on DAW software? Different titles have different CPU impact loads. It's worth looking into unless you've already got a preferred software.
The computer was the real concern. The more I thought about it the more I began to think it just can't happen. All current DAW titles that I'm familiar with have more stringent base requirements than the HP I was thinking of using. I would definitely be forced to use older versions DAW software.
I started looking at some multitrack recorders and the features I really like are on older models and not so much on newer models. Some pretty great deals on used multitracks. The biggest drawback on several is the 44.1 limitation but I might could live with that.
Just talked with a friend and there's a good possibility I'll have at least a dual or quad-core with plenty of ram in a few weeks. Friend works for networking company and has some boxes they no longer use. They're in the middle of a move and I won't know for sure for a couple of weeks but he's saying it's so, so I'm perusing options.
TC Electronic Impact's build quality seems a bit better than the Konnekt, hard to tell from pics but it'll never be moved anyway. I too, like the reverb. They're known for it just like Lexicon. But if the computer is strong enough with plenty of ram, I should have at least 4 GB with XP and possibly more if I decide to go with Win 7. I imagine this would allow sw plugin effects to become viable. Anyway now I'm on hold until I find out about the computer.
I'm hip to RME but is a bit pricey. I've thought about Focusrite because of the wonderful pre's but I've been hearing and seeing some good things about the TC Electronic Impact. I've got a bit more time to research although it's difficult to tame the OCD now that I feel I'm going back home.
I just don't think the HP Pavilion ZV5000 1.78 GHz 1 GB Ram would be able to handle things without frustrating me and if it comes to that I'll opt for a multitrack recorder.
Thanks again... Comments from anyone using an under-speced computer would be interesting.