I have had my CS250 for just about a month now, and decided to share my experiences and thoughts.
After ordering a new Motu 828 from Delvin at Sweetwater, and connecting it to my last PC, I suddenly became aware of everything that was wrong with my old computer. So, I got online and started sourcing parts to build a new one. I am a Sales Engineer myself by trade, in the web hosting industry, and am no stranger to building machines - and I have a cadre of colleagues who were all ready to assist.
But I stopped, because despite my acumen, I am not that well-versed in optimizing the systems for music alone. After considering how much time I spent 5 years ago, tweaking and honing my platform, I suddenly realized that “time is money”, and that no matter how good a home-built machine might look spec-wise, it would take me a looong time to get a new machine optimized for my studio. And I had a contract job due in a month.
Thus, I decided to take a very long shot at a Sweetwater CS250, and worked with Delvin to get it packed with RAM. My experiences have been nothing short of fantastic.
The machine arrived, and (in a first -ever experience for me!) lit up the first time I powered it on, ready to roll. You need to look at the light to know if it’s on or not – Sweetwater talks about their sound-deadening technologies, and they work like a charm. This machine is so silent it sits right in the racks with everything else, and even with my most sensitive condenser mics, it’s almost inaudible.
After setting it up, I loaded Ableton Live, and the system ran without a hitch for a week or so, until I realized that the CS250 was outperforming Ableton to the point that Live’s introduced latencies in soft synths were affecting my playing. In other words, the CS250 is so stout, it might make some other gear / software look bad by comparison.
Ugh. With the contract for a ~45 minute film score due in under a month, I did some investigation and trial & error testing, I ordered Sonar X1 Producer– under the premise that nothing will make you learn a new DAW than the pressure of a major deliverable in 3 weeks!
And learn I have. I have learned that this CS250 outperforms anything I could have built myself, and in addition to the performance, it arrived at my doorstep ready to rumble, with no prevarication or effort. I keep piling soft synths and other plugins on it, running the Motu full bore with 8 analog ins and stem outs, “massive” track counts (60+ in some pieces) and this machine just ticks along quietly, begging for more. It is SUCH a change from my old homebrew quad-core that it’s ridiculous. I finished my project tonight, 3 days ahead of schedule, **and** in the midst of learning a complex new DAW. The CS250 was the real star, never making its presence known except in a good way - it just "shuts up and does its job".
During this time, I came to realize that Sweetwater has, indeed, tweaked the system for audio. With one minor exception, all of the settings they made to the Bios, etc. were the same ones I would have made – except I didn’t need to waste 60 hours of my life doing it.
Why the 250 and not the 450, you ask? I have a lot of outboard gear, and didn’t foresee the need to add any full-height PCI cards. If I make enough from my scoring projects, maybe I’ll upgrade.
Yeah, I could go to MicroCenter and buy my own parts, and perhaps build a near-equivalent machine for $200 less… but it wouldn’t be as quiet, and it wouldn’t have a 2-year warranty, and it damn sure wouldn't have the reputation of Sweetwater behind it. Besides – life is short: I want to spend it making music, not tweaking Bios settings and drivers and dll's and - oh, my.
My Dad once told me “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.” That has been my experience to date – it’s worth the money.
I love this machine. Two thumbs up, and my dog (who is perhaps my harshest critic) raises two paws in accord.