PCI Hard Disk Recording is Here!
By Kenny Bergle/Sweetwater Sales Engineer
Do you own or are you considering purchase of a PCI Bus computer? PCI bus architecture is bridging the gap between Macs and PCs, meaning they are getting closer and closer to being the same computer platform. Are you wondering what your options are concerning hard-disk audio recording? If so, you're not alone! But there's already a product that supports both Mac and PC computers with PCI slots. Digidesign's AudioMedia III is a single slot expansion card that records and plays back up to eight virtual tracks through the card's two analog inputs and outputs and two digital (S/PDIF) inputs and outputs, depending on the software used! It's hard to believe, but the same card is sold for either computer! (Am I dreaming?) Unlike the old AudioMedia II, the AudioMedia III card comes with no audio software. It does come with appropriate software drivers. Much of the popular audio recording software already supports the AudioMedia III card on both platforms as we'll learn in a minute.
In the PC world, Cakewalk ProAudio, Cubase by Steinberg, Logic Audio by Emagic, and Session by Digidesign are a few of the software titles that support AudioMedia III. As of this writing, Cakewalk ProAudio supported the card in half-duplex only, meaning it will record or playback but not both at the same time (Cakewalk has announced a future upgrade to remedy this). Cubase and Logic Audio are full-duplex and can record and playback at the same time. Cubase can record up to eight virtual tracks on both the analog and digital inputs, making the AudioMedia III a 4-input card, while playing back up to eight virtual tracks on either the two analog or two digital outputs (but not four independent outs at the same time). Logic Audio can record up to eight virtual tracks using either the two analog or two digital ins (but not at the same time), and playback up to eight virtual tracks on either the analog or digital outputs, just like Cubase. Session by Digidesign also supports eight virtual tracks at full-duplex.
In the Mac world, Cubase by Steinberg, Digital Performer by Mark of the Unicorn, Logic Audio by Emag-ic, ProTools by Digide-sign, and StudioVision by Opcode all support the PCI-bus AudioMediaIII card. They all support the card in pretty much the same configuration: Full-duplex, eight virtual tracks, two in and two outs at a time (either analog or digital). Digital Performer also sends the same mix out both the analog and digital stereo pairs all the time. These software titles all have their own claim to fame. Each does something unique the others do not do (or do as easily!). Space prohibits us from getting into the details here, so call your Sweetwater sales engineer to get the scoop on which is right for your needs.
ProTools PCI ! Are two ins and outs not enough for you? The Mac PCI platform offers several other more flexible options. The two now shipping are Digidesign's ProTools Project and ProTools III. ProTools Project PCI is an 8-in/8-out package complete with hardware and software. ProTools Project ships with the ProTools software and allows for a complete 8-track digital audio workstation, including recording, mixing, EQ, and editing. The user can opt for either an 882io, which has balanced 1/4" connectors for analog ins and outs and a pair of S/PDIF digital ins and outs, or the 888io which has eight balanced XLR connectors for analog ins and outs and four pairs of AES/EBU digital ins and outs. The 888io also has LED metering and calibration pots on the front panel . Ask your Sweetwater Sales Engineer for further differences and details in the two audio interfaces. ProTools III PCI is an expandable system that can support up to 56 ins and outs and 48 tracks! It also supports either the 882io or the 888io, or a combination of both. It also includes ProTools software and the on-board DSP processing power of TDM which allows for all kinds of real-time DSP, such as compression, EQ, limiting, time-compression/expansion, pitch changing, multi-effects, and more. There's way too much information about this particular system to squeeze into just one article (or even a whole series of articles), so call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer to fully understand the power of TDM and ProTools III PCI and what t can do for your studio.
The Bottom Line: There's always a bottom line, isn't there? In this case, it's pretty darn good! If you have been waiting to purchase a computer because the market seemed too confusing and transitional, the wait is over. Sure, there will always be something faster and (arguably) better coming out. But if you continue to wait for the next best thing, then the "grass is always greener" syndrome will prevent you from ever achieving your ultimate goal: getting your music into a form other people can enjoy. If you run a commercial or semi-commercial facility, then waiting and watching your client's dollars go elsewhere is just not an option. An interesting thing has happened with the release of PCI hard-disk recording systems-something that should happen with every new platform, but doesn't. The software and hardware are more stable! Every PCI system we have put together (and that's quite a few already!) has been much easier to debug and much more stable than some of the older hard disk-based systems! As PCI architecture draws Macs and PCs closer together, we can only hope that this trend for ease of use and stability continues. After all, I guess all of us have been working on this for more than ten years now, so it's about time! I haven't even scratched the surface in discussing the advantages and almost limitless options available. I just wanted to let you know that it's real and it works - right now! So call us here at Sweetwater for complete information and, of course, your special low pricing!
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