This is a concept that has been a little fuzzy for a lot of home studio owners. Whenever you’re getting into multi-track recording, it’s important to have a dedicated hard drive for streaming all your audio.
What do you mean dedicated?
Recording music to a computer can be a pretty intense process, especially when you start recording and playing back ten or twenty individual tracks of music or more. Each of those audio files has to be streamed in real time from your hard drive.
The system hard drive on your computer (the one that came with your computer) will technically work as your audio drive, but it’s not the best idea. For one thing, your operating system and all the software you own is installed on the system drive. Before you even fire up Pro Tools or Garage Band, the system drive is already working pretty hard. It has a full-time job of simply running the operating system.
Now to ask that drive to handle all of your audio streaming is just too much. What that means in the real world is you will start to get freezes and error messages in your recording software.
For this reason I (along with every DAW software manufacturer out there) recommend using a dedicated hard drive for recording. This means you want to use a second hard drive that does nothing but stream your audio to and from the computer.
Internal or External?
There are basically two ways to add a second drive to your system.
- If you’re using a desktop computer, install a second hard drive inside the computer.
- If you’re using a laptop, or if you simply don’t want to bother installing a hard drive on your desktop, you need an external drive.
Internal drives technically give you more speed, since they communicate directly with your motherboard. However, I’ve exclusively used external drives, and they’ve worked wonderfully. The reason I have used external is that I’ve always run a laptop setup, which doesn’t allow for you to install a second internal drive. Also, external drives are convenient for when I want to take my sessions to another studio and work on them there. I just unplug the drive and head out the door.
As of today, there are basically two types of external drives – USB and firewire. USB 2.0 drives are just fine and are plenty fast, but I prefer firewire because it can be daisy-chained. If you’re new to computers, that basically means that you can plug several firewire devices into each other (since they all usually have two firewire ports on them) and then run one firewire cable from the last device into the firewire port on your computer.
Firewire drives are also hot-swappable, meaning you can plug and unplug them from your computer without having to restart the computer every time. (However, you need to make sure you “eject” the drive from your system before yanking the cord out.)
What I Use
My studio is based around an Apple Macbook (the white one), which only has one firewire port on it. From that one port I connect to my Digidesign 003 and three firewire hard drives.
My main recording drive is a Glyph drive, which I highly recommend. I’ve been through my share of cheap drives, and while most of them worked just fine (in fact, I still use them for backup and archiving), they can be ridiculously loud! In a home studio environment, you’re already battling noise from the air conditioning, your neighbors, your computer, your cat. The last thing you need is a noisy hard drive to add a lovely hmmmm to all your recordings. It’s pretty obnoxious.
What’s special about Glyph drives is that they were made specifically for audio recording. A few features:
- They’re ridiculously quiet. They use actual acoustic treatment on the inside of the drive itself to insulate the drive noise from the rest of your studio.
- They can be rack-mountable. This is just cool. And Sweetwater throws in rack ears for free.
- They have the appropriate chipset for all the major recording platforms. Basically, not all hard drive enclosure chipsets are the same. Many do not work or do not work well with Pro Tools or any other platform.
- They have a great warranty, which is awesome since hard drives do crash from time to time.
A Little Geek Speak
Glyph drives are a bit more expensive, so if they don’t fit your budget, make sure you get a hard drive that is 7200 rpm and has an appropriate chipset (like the Oxford 911 chipset) for the recording program you’re planning to use. All the manufacturers spec this out on their websites, so check those out.
One final thing. The picture above shows my desktop with two of my hard drives mounted. You may be wondering how exactly you use the external drive with Pro Tools, for example. That might be something I do a video on later. Basically, all you do is save your session to the external drive. When you first create a session for a song, it will give you an option to choose a hard drive where you want that session and all its corresponding audio to reside. You don’t need to install Pro Tools or your Windows or Mac operating system on your external drives. They simply hold your audio.
Hopefully this shed some light on the whole “recording hard drive” mystery. If you have questions, ask!
* This article is part 8 of a 13-article series - 12 Home Studio Necessities.