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June 2017 Giveaway

Sweetwater Custom Computing Creation Station 3.2GHz Rack Computer Review

What would your studio be like if it weren’t computer-based? I’m betting that with a few possible exceptions, most of us would have a very different studio without our computers – if we even had a studio.

Given our reliance on computers to make music, it’s no surprise that we spend a lot of time finding the right machine, the right operating system, the right peripherals to make our PCs as effective as they can be. With Macs things are relatively cut and dried – but in the world of Windows, it’s a different story; there are myriad CPUs, chipsets, motherboards, and more, all of which must be carefully selected and integrated in order to guarantee the best performance when running audio software.

With the Creation Station series of computers, Sweetwater has taken the guesswork out of choosing the best Windows computer and optimizing it for audio/studio use. There are four Pentium 4-based models in the family: the 2.4GHz Tower, 3.0GHz Cube, 3.2GHz Tower Pro, and the 3.2GHz Rack, ranging in price from $999.97 to $2149.95 (street prices). I reviewed a Creation Station Rack, which was “stock,” except for the RAM being expanded to 2GB (which I highly recommend).

Setting up the computer is a breeze. Even if you’re new to PCs, you’ll be up and running fast. The Creation Station comes with an optical mouse and 110-key keyboard, which features volume control and other extras. Seven USB ports mean you can hook up lots of peripherals and dongles.

Once you power up, you’ll notice – or maybe not notice – noise. In fact, you may need to look at the monitor to see if the Creation Station is actually running, because you’ll be hard-pressed to hear any noise from it. Sweetwater has worked with Auralex to knock the noise down to 32dB – in real-world terms, whisper levels. I recorded tracks – vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar – with the computer in the rack near me, and I had no trouble with noise.

The Creation Station Rack has five unoccupied PCI slots, but I didn’t need to access them (which just requires removing a couple of screws – the top pops off and the slots, complete with card clips, are right there). The computer has FireWire ports, so I simply plugged in a TASCAM FW-1082 interface/control surface. Worked like a charm.

I used the Creation Station with a wide variety of apps, including TASCAM GigaStudio 3, Cakewalk SONAR 4 and Project 5 v2, Propellerhead Reason 3, Arturia Moog Modular V 2.0, Steinberg Cubase SX 3, Sony Acid 5, and more. Every piece of software installed and performed flawlessly. Even with tons of tracks, plug-ins, and virtual instruments, the Creation Station barely broke a sweat. Aside from when I was pushing GigaStudio over the top to suss out its polyphony – an amazing 854 notes, by the way – the CPU performance meters hardly registered. Even heavier loads were no problem; there was plenty of power when I rewired Reason into Acid for a large session, for example.

I had a great time with the Creation Station – it was so nice to just pull the computer out of its box, plug it in, and have it work with all my software and hardware. For studio applications, you’d be hard-pressed to find a machine that performs as well – and does it so quietly! I didn’t need it, but should trouble arise, Sweetwater’s tech support team is available to help – you might just talk to the person who hand-built your computer. If things get really sticky, the tech can even remotely log into your computer to troubleshoot.

I give the Creation Station a solid thumbs up for quality, power, support, price – and yes, I even liked how it looked in my rack. But I loved even more how it sounded – or didn’t sound – in my room. No fan noise is a beautiful thing.

If you’ve been wanting a new Windows PC for your studio, or if you’ve been thinking of picking up a PC to run GigaStudio, Acid, Project 5, SONAR or other Windows-only software alongside your Mac (which is what I do in my studio), then the Creation Stations deserve a serious look. Sweetwater did it right with the Creation Station series.

Mitch Gallagher

About Mitch Gallagher

Sweetwater Editorial Director, Mitch Gallagher, is one of the leading music/pro audio/audio recording authorities in the world. The former senior technical editor of Keyboard magazine and former editor-in-chief of EQ magazine, Gallagher has published thousands of articles, is the author of seven books and one instructional DVD, and appears in well over 500 videos on YouTube. He teaches audio recording and music business at Purdue University/Indiana University, and has appeared at festivals, conventions, and conferences around the world.
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