Laptops + Soundcards

j_s

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I'm thinking of buying a laptop for live use, just to run Ableton Live & afew audio/midi loops, so I shouldn't be needing anything too high-spec.

However, most of the laptops I've seen in my price range have seemed somewhat limited in terms of soundcard options. None of them had firewire ports, so am I right in guessing that if I want a decent audio interface I'm going to have to use USB?

I've never really read anything positive about USB cards, so I'm kind of reluctant to get one - Is it possible to get a firewire port installed on a laptop?, If not, are there any other solutions?

Finally, if I am forced to go with USB, what problems am I likely to encounter & how can I go about minimising them?

And whilst I'm asking, can anybody give me an idea of how easy (or not) it is to upgrade a laptops memory? If a machine has, say, 128mb or ram, can I get it up to 256 by just adding another 128? Or will I have to replace the original 128mb with a single 256mb stick?

Cheers bluds.
 
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Ott^

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I've got a Clevo D480w and I use it for doing just that - running Ableton Live for my live gigs.


At this years Omni Festival in Spain, I sat working with it in a dusty field in 110 degree temperatures running off a small generator for 4 days, rebuilding my live set, and it performed flawlessly. When I got home I hoovered half a pound of Spanish dust out of the air intakes.

Its not particularly lightweight, and it eats batteries, but that doesn't worry me. It has a huge screen and is built like a brick shithouse. Perfect for gigs.

I may be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure that you'd be hard pressed to find a laptop nowadays that doesn't have a Firewire port built in, considering the amount of devices that use it. It may be referred to as an "IEEE 1394" port, but this is just a 4-pin Firewire port with another name. The only difference between 4-pin IEEE 1394 ports and 6-pin Firewire ports is that you cannot power devices via a IEEE 1394 - the extra 2 pins on a 6-pin socket carry power. IEEE 1394 is designed for camcorders and the like, but my M-Audio Firewire Audiophile works fine with it. M-Audio even include a 4-pin to 6-pin cable. I just have to use an external PSU for the Audiophile thats all.

Failing that, you can get a PCM/CIA Firewire card which slots into your Cardbus slot for about £30.

I would really recommend the M-Audio Firewire Audiophile. Sounds amazing, nicely constructed, some really clever routing options and faultless drivers. Cheap as fucking chips too.

Definitely avoid USB1 devices like the plague. Don't know about USB2.

Don't even think about trying to run an audio machine with less than 512mb of RAM at BAREST minimum. I just upgraded mine to 1gb and it finally works properly.

It takes 2 x 512mb sticks of ram which is really easy to fit.

Hope this helps.
 

j_s

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Cheers for the info.

I'm a little bit worried I've underestmated the amount of power I'm going to need now, though. I'm currently using a 2.2ghz (or therabouts) machine with 512mb ram for music production & it seems to be able to cope with what I want to do. Seeing as I'm not planning to be using any VSTs etc. live, my wallet and I were hoping I would be able to get by with something a little less substantial & up to date for live work.

I was looking at something like this, which doesn't seem to have firewire, but if I can get an adapter thatll plug into the PCM/CIA port, that shouldn't be too much of a problem. I could probably afford to up the memory to 512 too (if the machine will take that much).

The 600 mhz CPU is probably cutting things a little fine though. It reaches the requirements of Live, but I dont know how much else it'll be able to deal with. I'm currently under the impression that VST/DX instruments/effects do most of the processor rinsing - do I need a fat CPU for just straight audio?

Thanks once again...
 

JPsychodelicacy

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j_s said:
I'm currently under the impression that VST/DX instruments/effects do most of the processor rinsing - do I need a fat CPU for just straight audio?

No, but a speedy hard drive wouldn't go amiss. How much audio are we talking, and at what rate/bit-depth?

And I'd recommend at least double the minimum CPU power recommended by the program, just to be on the safe side, OK, it was an old machine, but my 700MHz Athlon *did* choke under heavy audio loads. The RAM on that Compaq's going to be quite slow as well (PC133), another bottleneck for audio.

J.
 

j_s

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JPsychodelicacy said:
j_s said:
I'm currently under the impression that VST/DX instruments/effects do most of the processor rinsing - do I need a fat CPU for just straight audio?

No, but a speedy hard drive wouldn't go amiss. How much audio are we talking, and at what rate/bit-depth?

And I'd recommend at least double the minimum CPU power recommended by the program, just to be on the safe side, OK, it was an old machine, but my 700MHz Athlon *did* choke under heavy audio loads. The RAM on that Compaq's going to be quite slow as well (PC133), another bottleneck for audio.

J.

Not a huge amount of audio - I intend to be using samples/loops no more than 5-10s in length, running up to around 10 layers/lines of audio at once. Probably won't bother with anything higher than 16bit/44.1 KHz either...
 

andrew

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hiya- I had an m-audio firewire but sold it coz my silly laptop's firewire port is at the front of the fucking thing. I've told the story on a different thread b4 , but needless to say, having a cable sticking outta the front o your laptop in a cramped dj shed stuck on the side of a dancefloor leads to the cable being bumped and the show being interrupted :no:

nik error corrective has the same problem. So I've got the usb audiophille (usb 2 of course) which works pretty well the same - I'm quite happy with it (beside the fact that it has no level indicators in the config screen) - there's loads of webpages devoted to comparing usb 2.0 and firewire... google it if you need to...

I was a bit of a newbie to the whole laptop audio thing when i bought the one I've got, and would recommend asking your supplier about this before you buy.

Cheers

Andrew
 
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Ott^

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andrew said:
my silly laptop's firewire port is at the front of the fucking thing.


Arrrrghghghgh!

So is mine.

Makes me want to stab them in the eyes with a knitting needle it really does. Of all the places they could have put it...

Oh well - it works, and my past experiences with USB audio devices weren't that auspicious so Firewire it is.


Anyway, it could be worse. They could have stuck it underneath.


Or in the middle of the screen.
 

JPsychodelicacy

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Ott^ said:
Oh well - it works, and my past experiences with USB audio devices weren't that auspicious so Firewire it is.

That your PCR-A30?

I have to say that while it's limited in the number of ins and outs (one of each...would 2 outs really have hurt so bad? :mad:Smile3:, my PCR1 sounds like a dream...about 3/4 master volume was matching the CDJs for gain, so I could even drop in and out of CDs if I wanted! :Grin:

J.
 

FlameBoy

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andrew said:
nik error corrective has the same problem. So I've got the usb audiophille (usb 2 of course) which works pretty well the same - I'm quite happy with it (beside the fact that it has no level indicators in the config screen) - there's loads of webpages devoted to comparing usb 2.0 and firewire... google it if you need to...

USB2.0 is comparable to firewire, the problem is USB1.1 which can only cope with 12Mb/s (as compared with 480Mb/s for USB 2.0 and 400Mb/s for Firewire 400), this limited bandwidth is a problem for multi-channel audio operation. Most USB audio interfaces are only USB1.1...

hth

FB
 
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Ott^

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JPsychodelicacy said:
Ott^ said:
Oh well - it works, and my past experiences with USB audio devices weren't that auspicious so Firewire it is.

That your PCR-A30?

I have to say that while it's limited in the number of ins and outs (one of each...would 2 outs really have hurt so bad? :mad:Smile3:, my PCR1 sounds like a dream...about 3/4 master volume was matching the CDJs for gain, so I could even drop in and out of CDs if I wanted! :Grin:

J.

Actually yeah - I tell a lie.

The Edirol PCR-A30 is excellent - never had a moments trouble with it. It sounds a bit scubby compared to the Audiophile though - the analogue electronics side of it is a bit cheap.

At Glade festival last year I played the first two tunes of my set on the laptop/PCR-A30 combination and then switched to my DR-16 and Behringer mixer, and Plank! [who was looking after the sound] noticed the difference straight away without seeing me change over. Apparently, the Edirol sounded a bit mushy over a big system. Not up to pro requirements but very useful as a portable audio/midi/controller setup.

Probably the most handy thing is that it is USB powered so with it and the laptop you really can make noise anywhere you like without needing AC power.

For about 40 minutes anyway.

The Audiophile sounds very impressive. Especially for £160. Probably my favourite feature is the internal routing which allows you to route different internal audio channels to either the 2 pairs of analogue outs or, independently, the headphone socket. This means you can use NI Traktor to its fullest potential without a DJ mixer, and the inclusion of a switch on the front of the Audiophile which allows you to assign either channel A or channel B to the headphones is just genius.

With Ableton Live, Traktor, a laptop and the Audiophile I can fit my entire live rig AND my customised DJ set AND all of my tunes in a bag small enough to be taken as hand luggage on a cheap airline.

Compare this to the 60 kilos of flightcases I used to use and you can see why I'm so chuffed with it.

Not to mention, of course, that in the long boring hours hanging around in hotels between gigs I can watch that copy of "Teenage Russian Sluts DiVX" I got off Bit Torrent all that time ago.
 

JPsychodelicacy

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Interesting - certainly whenever I've used it next to CDJs and an M-Audio FW Audiophile the PCR-1 has sounded absolutely fine.... guess I'll just have to try it through Steve's system! (which means finishing my poxy live set, but I digress :Wink3: )

Be that as it may, I'm in the process of saving up for an Edirol FA101 - 10 in and 10 out Firewire jobbie (I refuse to buy M-Audio because they were very rude down the phone to me when sorting out a friend's system - but that's another story).

I need the 10 ins 'cos I'm planning to record some of the live stuff I do with my friends with the laptop (which is why I'm gradually building an esoteric microphone collection too). Goes without saying that I'll try before I buy though :Smile3:

J.
 

Full Lotus

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JPsychodelicacy said:
Be that as it may, I'm in the process of saving up for an Edirol FA101 - 10 in and 10 out Firewire jobbie (I refuse to buy M-Audio because they were very rude down the phone to me when sorting out a friend's system - but that's another story).


J.

Thinking about investing in one of these my self :Wink3:
 

Abstraction

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please consider the m-audio option, their soundcards are too good to write off on principle alone. i have a delta 44 connected to me desktop and its quite possibly the best bit of kit i own.
 

Full Lotus

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At the moment I am considering the M-audio firewire 1814 and the Edirol FA101. After looking around the web for reviews etc, looks like the FA101 has the slight edge in my book, it's cheaper and you don't need a breakout box thingy for the SPDIF, which is quite important for me. Plus the reviews for ease of use for the 1814 aren't too hot. Also if JPsych get's an FA101, then it'll make my life easier :Smile3: :speaker: :smokingr: :clubjump:
 

JPsychodelicacy

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Double_Helix said:
please consider the m-audio option, their soundcards are too good to write off on principle alone. i have a delta 44 connected to me desktop and its quite possibly the best bit of kit i own.

I tend to do all the hardcore work on my Echo Gina, and that AB's nicely against pretty much any sub-£800 soundcard you can shake a stick at.

As for the Firewire interfaces, I'm planning on using my laptop to record live stuff as well as do dance music, the FA101 comes out with just what I need in that department.

J.
 

Reconstructed

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JPsychodelicacy said:
I tend to do all the hardcore work on my Echo Gina, and that AB's nicely against pretty much any sub-£800 soundcard you can shake a stick at.

I'll second that. I upgraded from an M-audio Delta44 to an Echo Gina24 and I love it. Great sound, great setup, easy support and drivers, nice interface and I love how you can daisy chain several together if you need more outputs/inputs.
 
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