Essential Gear For The Home Composer
I wanted to share with you what I’ve put together as my composing workstation. It may not be the best combination for you but if you’re just starting out, it will give you a good idea of what gear and software
- DAW — Reaper
There are a lot of opinions on what is the best DAW (digital audio workstation) and it really does come down to personal preference. Some of the more popular ones are Pro Tools, Logic, Sonar, Cubase and Reaper. I was a long time user of Sonar but switched over to Reaper because it’s very well priced, easy to use and incredibly quick to load tracks.
- Sample Libraries
There are so many different music libraries out there, it really depends on your budget and what type of music you’re making. I mostly use EastWest for my orchestral sounds. They now have a thing called Composer Cloud which is a great way to try out all the sounds they have available and decide if they’re right for you. On top of that, I use Reason and a few Kontakt libraries too. Of course, nothing beats real instruments played live by talented musicians.
- Sound Card — Roland UA-25EX
This sound card is now discontinued but there are plenty out there with similar specs. It’s a low latency 24bit/96kHz USB audio interface equipped with stereo inputs, pro-grade microphone preamps, an analogue compressor/limiter, and phantom power for your active microphones.
- Speakers — M-Audio BX5a 70 Watt Monitor Speakers
Speakers are something worth spending a lot of time on as you’ll be mixing on these for years to come. The BX5a’s have served me well. They’re not too large but still have enough power to go far louder than I’ll ever need them to. You want the speakers you get to be nice and clear and to give you an accurate representation of your music. Read reviews, look at specs and if you can, go to a shop and try lots of different speakers out. You should be able to tell what ones you prefer pretty quickly.
- Keyboard — Novation Launchkey 49
If you’ve got the room, get a keyboard with 49 keys or more. You want to be able to play with 2 hands, especially if you’re a piano player. I went for the Launchkey 49 because it had some knobs and faders on that I could hook up to my DAW. It’s much easier hitting play and stop on the keyboard rather than using the mouse every time. The other thing you’ll want to consider when choosing a keyboard is weighted vs. non-weighted keys. If you’re used to playing the piano then weighted keys might be your best choice. For me, I like non-weighted, especially if I’m sitting there composing for 4 hours at a time.
- Processor — Intel Core i5 4690K 3.5GHz
It’s a 3.5GHz quad-core processor with the ability to overclock if needed. That should be plenty of power to run your DAW and any other software you have running in the background.
- RAM — Corsair Vengeance 16GB DDR3
Memory is going to be really important when you’re creating music on your PC. The more RAM you have, the more audio tracks and virtual instruments you’ll be able to load into your project. You don’t want to try and add that sweet horn line only to be told you’ve run out of memory. 16GB is a good place between price and performance. If you have the money, go for 32GB.
- Hard Drive — Samsung SSD 850 Evo 250GB
An SSD is the best upgrade you can make to a PC that has a normal mechanical hard drive. It will allow you to boot your machine in seconds. If you’re only going to use one drive, 250GB might not be enough for you so I’d recommend going for 500GB or more if you can, especially if you’re planning on installing your sample libraries to it. I’d suggest installing your OS on the main SSD and your sample libraries (and every other important file) on another drive (preferably SSD too). That way if you need to reinstall the operating system at any time, all your files are safely stored away on another drive.
- Power Supply — Corsair CX750M
With the processor and amount of RAM you have installed, it’s a good shout to get a 750 watt PSU.
- Optical Drive
I have one. I don’t use it. Does anybody use them anymore?