I'm going to be doing a number of posts about producing digital music, and this post just serves to list what hardware and software I'm using for my digital audio workstation, so I can refer to it whenever I need to provide context. As of the time of this writing (April 2012) my home-built desktop DAW PC is a little over two years old. I selected just about every physical component explicitly for its impact on music production. If you manage to accumulate the same parts or better, you're going to be in good shape.
- Processor: Intel Core i7-950 @3.06 GHz (Bloomfield family, 4 cores, 8 threads). I'm using the factory heat sink.
- Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5. Plenty of room and plenty of slots. Also has Texas Instruments FireWire, which is considered to be the best chipset for digital audio. Socket 1366 supports Intel Gulftown and Bloomfield processors.
- Case: Antec P183. Quiet and sturdy with isolated areas for power supply and hard drives, to reduce noise. I'm using the fans that came with the case.
- Hard drives: Three Western Digital Caviar Black drives, at 7200RPM @ 500 GB. Quiet, fast drives. One for operating system and applications, one for samples and VST libraries, and one for projects and recorded data.
- Power Supply: Corsair HX650. Relatively quiet, with all the power this computer will ever need. Wonderful modular cabling; you only use exactly the number of wires you need.
- RAM: Two Kingston DDR3 1333 sticks @ 6 GB each, for 12 GB total.
- Wireless: Linksys WMP600N Wireless-N PCI Adapter with Dual-Band. Reliable connection, with good range.
- Optical: Plextor PX-B320SA Blu-ray Disc Combo. BD reader, and super multi writer.
- Video: EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570. This is a more recent card, and while it's super powerful for gaming, you can probably find quieter cards for digital audio. You can likely get by on a very low-end, fanless card.
- MIDI Controller: Akai Professional MPK49. This controller has nice semi-weighted keys, runs off USB bus power, and includes programmable knobs, sliders, transport controls, and drum pads. It also includes templates for using it with Ableton Live and Cubase.
- Audio Interface: Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) UltraLite-mk3. Mine is the pre-Hybrid version that only has FireWire 400. (Even though USB 2's top throughput is higher than FireWire, all the device contention you typically have on a PC with USB keyboard, mouse, and MIDI devices, makes FireWire the better option.) The device draws power from the FireWire interface, but includes an optional power adapter.
- Operating System: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, with Service Pack 1. The 64-bit version of Windows 7 delivers the best balance between power and performance, and gives you access to as much RAM as you're able to cram into your computer. Note that not all DAWs or VSTs are fully 64-bit compatible yet, but you can usually run the 32-bit versions on 64-bit Windows with no problem.
- DAW: Steinberg Cubase 5.5.3. The curent version is 6.5. I've been a cubase user since the very first release on Mac in 1994, although the Cubase of today is wildly different from the MIDI-only Cubase of the early 90s. I purchased version 5.0 and had to run various patches (5.1.1, then 5.5.0, then 5.5.3) to bring it up to date. I am using the 64-bit version, and most of my VSTs have 64-bit versions.
- DAW: Ableton Live 8. I got a free version of this with the MPK49, which included a very nice discount for upgrading to the full version. I am a total Ableton n00b at this point, but it's a very popular DAW, and most online digital music production tutorials these days seem to use it. I don't understand why they don't have a 64-bit version yet, though.
- VST Instruments: Native Instruments Komplete 6. The current version is Komplete 8. This is a suite of the most popular Native Instruments packages, including samplers, synths, and drum machines. It is a pretty mind-boggling and overwhelming set of software, and I have barely begun to comprehend it all. Most of the VSTs offer both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.