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DAW building companies, is it worth it?

JeffvR

Active Member
So there are several DAW builders around. We have a couple of them in the Netherlands. My system at the moment is a 5 year old PC with 64GB and a i7 4930k CPU. I had it build by a computer shop. It served me well, but since updating to Windows 10, my PC sometimes get's stuck, like TOTALLY stuck. The mouse doesn't move and CTRL+ALT+DELETE doesn't work. The only way to reboot is hold the power button for a while. Not so good for a PC I guess. I want to get the most out of my PC so I'll bring it to a PC guy who really knows what he's doing. I tried a couple of things but my computer still get's stuck at random occasions. A DAW builder suggested to update the bios and do a clean install of Windows 10. I'm also thinking about the next step, which is probably buying a new PC. I use it as a profession and during deadlines I want my PC to work and don't lose time. What are your guys experiences with a DAW builder vs. doing it yourself? A friend of mine bought one from a DAW builder for €7k and he thinks it's totally worth it because:

- The DAW builders know what components work best to work with a DAW and work with each other
- They can tweak things within Windows so it's more suited for DAW use
- They know their build inside out, so when there's something you can always call them and ask for help
- You'll get emails with updates you can use. So no updates anymore where stuff isn't working anymore after an update
- I'm a musician so I don't want to be "busy" with the computer side of things. Although I like the tech behind it, first and foremost it has to work. It has to work reliable and fast.

He says his system works like a charm, no random CPU spikes and very smooth sailing so far. "Professional" composers who use PC's almost always choose the DAW builder route. So besides the benefits there's one huge downside and it's price. For 3/4 or even 1/2 of the price you'll be able to build a similar computer yourself.

Some other random thing I see. DAW builders always use a Nvidia video card, while over here everyone agrees AMD Radeon is way more stable and gives less latency. Why? (I have an AMD at the moment)
 

osum

New Member
- The DAW builders know what components work best to work with a DAW and work with each other
- They can tweak things within Windows so it's more suited for DAW use
- They know their build inside out, so when there's something you can always call them and ask for help
- You'll get emails with updates you can use. So no updates anymore where stuff isn't working anymore after an update
- I'm a musician so I don't want to be "busy" with the computer side of things. Although I like the tech behind it, first and foremost it has to work. It has to work reliable and fast.
Pretty much this, yes. Of course that might depend on the competence of the builder but those are the main benefits.

I bought my new workstation at the beginning of this year from such a builder and I'm really happy with it. He only uses components that work together well and have been tested, he also did some adjustments in the BIOS such as disabling the C-States which is also recommended here on the board. (as well as some other stuff) So I pretty much got a ready-to-use workhorse.

Another reason for me was -- and this might seem a bit weird -- is that I work full-time in IT. I'm absolutely sick of spending any time in my free time (and composing etc is my ambitioned hobby in that case) with hardware or any IT related stuff.
I had always built my workstation myself but there are always problems with compatibility of components, even if they are perfectly compatible on paper. I just don't have the time and patience to waste my little free time for stuff like that.

Some other random thing I see. DAW builders always use a Nvidia video card, while over here everyone agrees AMD Radeon is way more stable and gives less latency. Why? (I have an AMD at the moment)
Well I mean graphics cards are pretty irrelevant. Maybe it's one of those remains of better using Nvidia cards with Intel CPUs. But that part really shouldn't matter.
 

rgames

Collapsing the Wavefunction
DAW builders don't pick better components or know better how to set them up. If you think that's the value then just copy what they do - they don't file any patents because there's nothing to protect.

The value they provide is in service when things go wrong. So figure out who has the best value for the services you need because that's the only reason to spend the extra money.

Regarding NVidia vs AMD - I've used both and have never seen an indication that one is better than the other. I think I'm 100% NVidia right now on desktops and laptop.

rgames
 

BGvanRens

Member
Being dutch myself I am curious which DAW builders you have found. Those that I managed to find had very limited offerings in systems at the time I last checked (several years ago). I run an 4820k, but planning to get a new system myself as well.
 

pderbidge

Senior Member
DAW builders don't pick better components or know better how to set them up
I agree, there is no mystery here for anyone experienced in building a PC. The one positive thing I could say for a DAW builder is if they are building a lot of systems they might be more aware of quality control issues with certain motherboards and other components. I know that if I were to do it for a living I would pick a few components I felt were solid, then I would test them and if all went well I would stick with those configurations for my builds as standard, which is probably what the OP is pointing out. What I probably wouldn't do if I were selling systems is go with the cutting edge platforms just to allow the the bios to mature before adopting a new platform that I'm willing to sell and support.

I recently advised a friend, who had never built a PC before, on what to buy and how to do the build. He did it all in a weekend without a single hitch. Of course, me being the "expert" had tons of little issues to resolve with my new build, LOL. Sometimes that's just how it goes.
 
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wst3

my office these days
Moderator
Well I think they do bring some value, I've worked with Jim at StudioCat and he has become an indispensable resource.

I still build my own, but I confer with Jim before I do anything else.

I enjoy building things, even computers.
I am cheap, and like to reuse as many components as I can.
I also value my time, and the time required to do the research every 4 or 5 years is no longer something I am willing to invest.
I also dislike surprises. If Jim gives me a parts list I am confident it will work well, and thus far it has.

If money were no object I'd just buy a new machine from him, and that becomes more attractive each time, but thus far I've just paid for his knowledge. It has worked out well.
 

kitekrazy

Senior Member
Well I think they do bring some value, I've worked with Jim at StudioCat and he has become an indispensable resource.

I still build my own, but I confer with Jim before I do anything else.

I enjoy building things, even computers.
I am cheap, and like to reuse as many components as I can.
I also value my time, and the time required to do the research every 4 or 5 years is no longer something I am willing to invest.
I also dislike surprises. If Jim gives me a parts list I am confident it will work well, and thus far it has.

If money were no object I'd just buy a new machine from him, and that becomes more attractive each time, but thus far I've just paid for his knowledge. It has worked out well.
He also gets to test new hardware. I keep most of my builds simple and only get certain brands of boards. I like them with less junk. Only sloppy development and resource hungery soft synths has made the need for upgrading.
 
OP
J

JeffvR

Active Member
DAW builders don't pick better components or know better how to set them up. If you think that's the value then just copy what they do - they don't file any patents because there's nothing to protect.

The value they provide is in service when things go wrong. So figure out who has the best value for the services you need because that's the only reason to spend the extra money.

Regarding NVidia vs AMD - I've used both and have never seen an indication that one is better than the other. I think I'm 100% NVidia right now on desktops and laptop.

rgames
I think you're right about components, although the one thing they never mention is the motherboard and sometimes the RAM brand is left out.
 

vitocorleone123

Active Member
Answer to OP: no they aren’t worth it, unless they are. That is, if you’re comfortable and knowledgeable about the hardware and Windows, it’s better to roll your own. And cheaper, as a bonus. If you aren’t, then absolutely pay a pro - especially if your business and/or livelihood depends on it.
 

chimuelo

Star Of Stage & Screen
Also DAW builders using consumer gaming boards while being familiar with GFX Cards, and on die CPU/GFX combos, might not have tried or used Server boards which are industrial strength motherboards, that are fantastic options that are designed to operate for longer hours under higher temps.
These are not designed for over clocking so they last for years like Supermicro Servers have.

The Graphics are built into these boards, and called BMCs because they offr remote management which means you can reboot without being at the PC.
But best if all its Graphics are better suited for audio because they arent concerned with FPS, but rather stability, heat and fast DRAM.

The company with the best chips is Aspeed, and their 2400/2500 and newer AT2600 w/ 2GBs of DRAM can run triple monitors without breaking a sweat.

Ive used Supermicro, and mire recently ASRock Rack optimized Workstation/Server boards. I perform live with these and have had a 100% crash free run for over a decade.
Ive used Consumer/Gaming boards too and they work great but the thicker PCB and short trace lines on Server boards (no blinking christmas tree lights, or ring tones) last for years.

I still have a Gigastudio DAW thats 15 years old with a Supermicro P4SCT+II motherboard. Back when Broadcom made chipsets for CPUs.

If you do build your own check out ASRock, Asus, Gigabyte and Supermicro for another option to consumer/gaming boards. Theyre not expensive and have zero gunk.

These 2 boards are what Ive used for the last 6 years. Inactually get nervous and make them spares after a few years becasue I cant take a chance of a crash. But thy still are used for experimental projects that really oush the limits and also act as my online PC. My main PC forngihs stays offline as much as possible.

Heres an H97, slimmed down version of the Z97.
These are gaming/consumer chipsets on a server quality board.
Best of both worlds.
You get to use non Xeon CPUs that are generally faster and use cheaper DRAM.

ABE62F7B-C9D0-4573-9415-1E978DFE3551.pngA6B15AC3-F71C-497C-926C-B8FCDE4786F0.png
 

ChrisLudwig

Chris Ludwig - Fundamental AV
Hi,
I hope you don't mind if I comment on this being a DAW builder. I'll try to be too self-promoting. :)

If you have built a computer before and you know how the hardware and software works, then yes, it is true that you can build a decent machine on your own.
In general, systems are way easier to DIY build a system thanks to the gaming world than in the past. Nowadays, you have to go out of your way to make your system go up in a puff of smoke because of some jumper or BIOs setting being wrong.
You are mainly paying for the experience, knowledge, and tech support of the people building the system.

Does the DAW builder have real-world knowledge of a wide range of computer components and how they interact with each other?

Does the DAW builder have experience and knowledge of how your DAW hardware and software should be installed and configured and should work on the system?

Is the DAW builder experienced in troubleshooting stability, performance, and compatibility issues with your DAW software/hardware?

Is the DAW builder experienced installing, configuring, and using in a production environment popular DAW software and hardware?

Is the DAW builder also knowledgeable of video production software and hardware? It is getting pretty common for studios, producers and composers to have to deal with more than just video playback in a DAW.

There is a ton of great information available nowadays on the interwebz, so if someone has the time, patience, and drive to DIY a system, then excellent and more power to them. That is how I first learned what to do and NOT to do some 20 years ago.
Some DAW builders like myself and Jim Roseberry offer paid consultation. Mostly for computer support but also ay least speaking for myself, I also provide support basic installation, configuration, and troubleshooting of common DAW and video software and hardware.
Thanks, Chris Ludwig
 

jpb007.uk

Member
These days building a PC yourself is much much easier than it was say 5 years ago.
Its a simple matter of deciding what specification you want that can fit your budget.
There are basically 2 extremes:
1) CHEAPEST: What is the cheapest but fastest setup and how much will that cost, and,
2) FASTEST: For unlimited budget, then what is the fastest and best performing setup.
There is a 3rd option, and that is to find something in between options 1 and 2.

Option 2 is fairly easy and straightforward because the primary constraint is the maximum number of processor threads supported by Windows, which is currently 64 for Windows 10, or in theory unlimited for Windows Server 201 and 2019 (though there are alot of overheads in having a Windows Server setup - particularly if you want to run it as a PC-Workstation.
If option 2 is your preferred route, then the spec would be something like a dual-CPU setup ideally with a motherboard that support Thunderbolt (as many of the high-end samplers and speaker drivers use this - such as UAD Apollo). Memory is largely dependant upon whether you want your PC to be standalone and have your samples loaded in to your PC memory, or, if you want to use your PC solely as a DAW machine with your samples and libraries loaded in to a separate server machine running VEPro. If the latter then probably 32GB or above running Windows 10 would suffice. If you want to load your samples and libraries in to your PC's memory then the more memory you have the better (at least 64GB ideally). You'll probably also want to consider a PCIe installed graphics card to connect your screen(s). AMD Radeon or FirePro cards are best. NVIDIA causes a lot of latency issues (we know we have tested them).

For a more basic setup, as per option1, then probably a 4-core / 8-thread processor setup and motherboard would do, but if you are planning on creating mega-templates in your DAW or running more than a couple of sample libraries on your PC, then you are likely to run out of processing power very quickly and it will all start grinding to a snails pace.

The spec we use in our studio for our main PC-Workstation, Option 2, is as follows and is a result of some trial and error initially with a single CPU and ASUS motherboard, then moving to the dual CPU setup below but with various NVIDIA graphics cards (such as GTX-1060 and GTX-1070, which cause all sort so issues for DAWs and audio, and slow/sticking windows). We finally ended up with this, which works really well with Cubase / Nuendo, ProTools, and Adobe's various products:
- Dual CPU, Intel E5-2696v3
- Motherboard: SuperMicro X10DAI which comes Thunderbolt ready - just need to buy and install the add-on Thunderbolt card with slots in to one of the PCIe slots.
- Memory: 256GB DDR4 2133MHz
- Graphics Card: AMD Radeon Pro WX7100 8GB (support x4 4k DisplayPort screens easily)
- Sound + Sampling: UAD Apollo
- Various Samsung SSDs: EVO 970 1TB for main drive, and EVO 860 2TB for data drive
- Windows10 Pro

This gives us the most scalability and flexibility for writing fairly large scores with templates exceeding 12000 tracks (300 instrument / VST and approx 11000 MIDI, with anything between 30 to 100 audio tracks (thats both bounced audio and cues)). Tend to have around 6 sample libraries loaded in to PC memory, with the rest sat on our servers.

For Option1, then you'll find many examples on VI-Control, but for professional scalable setups, I'd recommend Option2, if only starting with one CPU and 32GB memory, and adding more with time and budget.


Hope that helps :)
 

gsilbers

Part of Pulsesetter-Sounds.com
I used pc building sites like magic micro and pcbuilder to get the list of components I might need. Then cross referenced it here and other places to get more of an idea of what to use for sample streaming and music pc and also made sure that it has the peripherals ports I need. Then went to an online store and bought the components and built it myself. I’m a mac guy who doesn’t know about pc and also don’t want to be tweaking all day and I was able to build my pc system easily and has been great for a few years. There is a lot of info.
and newer releases get the setups more solid than before.
 

Tim_Wells

Tim Wells
I've had great luck just using custom PC builders (not specifically DAW builders).

For my next upgrade, I'm seriously considering taking my existing box and simply upgrading the components. I may get one of the local PC repair shops to do the work. I know there can be Windows 10 issues to work through when you upgrade the CPU and other things.
 
OP
J

JeffvR

Active Member
Thanks for all the valuable information guys! I noticed there's a huge price gap between doing it yourself and the DAW builder. Probably too big to make it worth it, just for "service". I'm able to build a Ryzen 3900x machine for just under €3k with 64GB of RAM and a couple of 2TB M2 drives. The same configuration with the DAW builder is close to €4k!

I've also read this on the Steinberg website about optimizing your Windows 10 system for DAW use: Modern systems with a fully updated Windows 10 should not need any of the default settings to be modified. Source: https://helpcenter.steinberg.de/hc/en-us/articles/360008589880-Windows-10-How-to-set-up-and-optimize-a-Digital-Audio-Workstation?fbclid=IwAR24PvJNapc9PhC38x05248nbq_KPbDTiDjZHFcd2sCmYymUTvcs05lQiRQ
 

ChrisLudwig

Chris Ludwig - Fundamental AV
Hi,
Yes, there is very little to tweak performance-wise at the OS level in Windows 10 compared to Windows 7.
Mostly user preferences really.
Mostly Bios settings that help improve stability/performance. But, yes if someone has the time to do the research and testing on their own then it can be pretty fulfilling to build their own system.
The price difference seems totally reasonable assuming the DAW builder is willing to offer tech support for the lifetime of the system rather than just the parts warranty period like Dell, HP, etc.
Some offer support for things beyond the basic Operating system level like offering help for installing, troubleshooting and configuring audio/video software and hardware.
Naturally, there is a labor cost and since none of the DAW builders are as big as Dell. :) that make money from volume sales.
Chris
Thanks for all the valuable information guys! I noticed there's a huge price gap between doing it yourself and the DAW builder. Probably too big to make it worth it, just for "service". I'm able to build a Ryzen 3900x machine for just under €3k with 64GB of RAM and a couple of 2TB M2 drives. The same configuration with the DAW builder is close to €4k!

I've also read this on the Steinberg website about optimizing your Windows 10 system for DAW use: Modern systems with a fully updated Windows 10 should not need any of the default settings to be modified. Source: https://helpcenter.steinberg.de/hc/en-us/articles/360008589880-Windows-10-How-to-set-up-and-optimize-a-Digital-Audio-Workstation?fbclid=IwAR24PvJNapc9PhC38x05248nbq_KPbDTiDjZHFcd2sCmYymUTvcs05lQiRQ
 
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