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Music Software Virtual instruments, plug-ins, effects, audio-editing, processing & scoring software

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Old 18th September 2008 , 05:40 PM
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Default Need help choosing a host?

It can be very difficult at times to choose between hosts. There was a time when Hosts were more distinctive (Live with no midi for instance prior to v.4)

These days almost all the hosts out there are offering Audio and Midi features. Live has consistently added such features since v.4. While one can clearly see differences between various hosts there is a great deal of features that are duplicated.

There is more choice on the PC platform but does that mean getting a MAC is not a good idea if that is what works for you?

Hopefully the information below can provide some help for anyone looking to switch hosts, just getting into Music Software or even if you want to take a step back and see if you are getting what you really want and need, out of your existing host. While it is not easy to make the right decision, I think it can be made easier.

The Interface
The first thing that we see in most cases is an ad in a mag or maybe a product demo on the web e.t.c If the interface does not really grab you but the other aspects do, there is a very good chance you will be using a host that has what you want but itís in the wrong package.

For some, a host must have a clean and easy to navigate interface. With the more feature rich hosts Like Sonar, Logic or Cubase for instance...one must really be sure what you see in the mag ad is what you will definitely like when it is bought and installed on your hard drive. Hosts can require a significant cash outlay. That brings me to...

Demo please...
Some hosts like Cubase AFAICT do not offer a demo that you can download. Sonar does. It depends how important this is to you but really if you intend to spend a great deal of time with a host, it is probably a good idea to take the time to demo the product extensively. All sorts of issues can be uncovered over an extended demo period. I would say days not just a few hours. I think it is nearly impossible to cover every area in hosts like Cubase or Sonar in a few hours.

You could certainly cover the aspects important to you to a degree in a short time, but there is so much depth in some hosts that really an off and on demo period over days is IMO much better. Of course if you are comfortable with a shorter demo then that is best for you.

One might not have too much time to spend on a demo but issues like, plug-in compatibility, bugs, responsiveness, reliability e.t.c can really be ironed out early...possibly saving a good deal of frustration later.

Features
Where does one start? One manís essential feature is another manís waste of time. But maybe if a buyer looks at the following points below, it can help clarify what is important for them. This is key because one can easily get excited by flashy new features but...hold on a minute...how will that improve what you have?

Will it make your work easier to start and complete? More enjoyable? Do you really need new features?

Things to look out for...

Audio
1.FX : Itís important to have a good look if any FX are bundled with an app. If you already have a preferred choice of FX, then this will not matter much if at all but if you are open to change or experimentation with something new, or simply looking to stop using 3rd party FX then itís important to take a good look at the included plugs in a host and how the FX stack up against more expensive offerings or your existing offerings.

2.Editing: A very wide subject which I will keep to a minimum here to avoid this article being longer than it already is

I think one should really try and look for all the editing functions they are either used to, or want to have. Also check if they work the way you want them to. Are there enough of those features or are they just promised? Is a dedicated audio editor built in or at least if it does not have that, are the key editing features you want all there?

3.Mastering: I think quite a few people use Mastering houses but I also think a fair few do their own mastering. If this interests you, look for dithering options and mastering plugs (multiband e.t.c) which can aid the process of mastering a track.

4. CD burning: Apps like Samplitude offer Redbook CD burning which is important if you want to create your own masters.

Video
This is important for film work e.t.c but probably less so for most. In any case if you need Video support in your host, make sure it supports the video formats you will be working with.

Notation
Many who work mostly with Notation use Finale or Sibelius but apps like Logic, Cubase and Sonar have built in Notation features. Demo where possible to see if they meet your needs.

Midi


Editing.
Big deal for many. Demo extensively here as Midi features can be very deep with workflow differences, some hosts have Midi FX, if this is important for you check if they are to your liking.

Instruments
One of the key areas for a new buyer. Instruments can vary from Synths, samplers to beat slicers, loopers, step sequencers and drum machines. Again a demo of these (if possible) is important as VSTi features can vary quite considerably.

Delivery
Import & Export formats: If you just work with a narrow band of formats this might not matter a great deal but 24bit file support (import and export) , Wav and maybe REX / ACID support would be desirable as they are standard formats that are used widely.

CD import
This can be useful if you want to quickly import a track form a CD as a reference (genre, or mastering levels).

Hardware support

Should not be a problem for most hosts but a demo of your potential new host is worthwhile to uncover any driver issues that might crop up with an audio interface / soundcard.

Usage
Reliability: I think there has been many lines written on the reliability of various hosts. Lets just say that (back to that demo again) try if possible to complete a project or at least go through your normal recording production process to see if the reliability factor is not that great. At the very least you should be happy with it...no freezes, blue screens, lock ups et.c As few bugs as possible.

Ease of use: Really with so many features offered in hosts these days it must be easy to use IMO or pretty close to it. Any tutorial videos on the install DVD? On the Companyís product website? If you just must have certain features even if they are not that easy to use, then you might need to be quite patient while using the app, you might not enjoy it that much though. Some people pick a less featured host, as less features can mean less to learn and a quicker learning curve.

Fun factor: IMO the most important thing. Surely using a host should not mean you abandon any hope of enjoying using it. If it really does not please you when you think of clicking that icon to start it up, that is a green light to start looking elsewhere IMO.

Workflow: We all work differently...the host should offer a workflow you want or need, not you having to change the way you work to fit a host. While a change of workflow patterns can work...it can waste a lot of time if you are not 99% sure it will work out.

Configuration options (colours menu layouts): Some hosts offer a way to configure many aspects of the host. This can be a great way to make a host your ownso to speak. You will spend a good deal of time in front of it so do check how extensive these type of features are.

Price
A massive factor. A host can fry eggs for you and make you toast just the way you like it, but if you cannot afford it...it aint gonna find itís way to your MAC or PC. Many times we make sacrifices on features so that we can afford something, hopefully you will make those sacrifices in the right places based on the advice in this post.

Add ons
Some hosts offer add on packs and are certainly worth looking at. That can be a cheap way to get good quality sounds for your host.

Upgrade pricing.
Be careful here. You might buy an expensive host second hand e.t.c for very little but not be aware of a very pricey upgrade path facing you in future, please check a hosts website for upgrade prices and paths.

Cross grades
This can be a nice cheap way to get a much more expensive product but...see above.

Support
Triple check this...I think it is fair to say that support levels can differ quite a bit from product to product but try at least to ensure one of these is available...

1.Forum
2.Email
3.Telephone support.
4.Manual: Written(PDF, HTML)

Preferably all.

These are just my thoughts on choosing a host of course. There are of many ways to approach the subject. If this post helps just one person then it would have been well worth writing this up.

HTH
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Old 18th September 2008 , 05:56 PM
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very nice post Monarch, you seem to have set quite an example since you've been here dude. nice 1
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Old 18th September 2008 , 05:58 PM
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Cheers sureno.

Kind words. Much appreciated.
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Old 18th September 2008 , 06:06 PM
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i have to ask, how did you choose your DAW? One other factor that made me choose my D.A.W was my peers and what they where using (cubase) as i was starting out i wanted to be shown how to do things! now if i was to tell you how i chose Logic you would laugh, i was watching the freemasons produce uninvited and just watching them make it look so effortless p!ssed me off so much i went and bought a Mac Pro and Logic, i was having so many issues with Cubase 4 on my PC
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Old 18th September 2008 , 10:12 PM
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Bravo Monarch.. Excellent post!
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Old 19th September 2008 , 12:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by modz1 View Post
Bravo Monarch.. Excellent post!
Thanks modz1 !

Quote:
Originally Posted by sureno
i have to ask, how did you choose your DAW? One other factor that made me choose my D.A.W was my peers and what they where using (cubase) as i was starting out i wanted to be shown how to do things! now if i was to tell you how i chose Logic you would laugh, i was watching the freemasons produce uninvited and just watching them make it look so effortless p!ssed me off so much i went and bought a Mac Pro and Logic, i was having so many issues with Cubase 4 on my PC
The reasons that led to your changing of hosts shows just how different our reasons can be for making a switch and the power of a good demonstration

Funnily enough I wanted to get Logic back in 2002/3 when I really started getting into Music Software but could not afford it. So price was the driving factor in me getting Sonar 2.2 at the time instead. I had a good look at it but did not even demo it (had no idea one was or not available then). The learning curve was very steep though. It was really tough.

I would most certainly follow my own advice (above) now LOL! I am quite happy with it (Sonar) now but was not happy back then. A hard lesson learned for me I guess. Hopefully many others can avoid such a learning curve hurdle by taking the steps outlined in my first post.
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Old 11th February 2009 , 01:55 PM
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That's a comprehensive guide!

There's definitely a helluva lot to consider :|

As I was a firm Windows user, the interface, plus the fact I had been learning from Cakewalk Pro Audio 8, meant that I stuck with Sonar all the way...

My experience with the various sequencers (excluding Pro Tools setups) have been as such. My experience is probably a bit outdated by now... so a lot could have changed, but...

Cubase - cross platform (Mac & PC) most people seem happy with this, has some nice plug-ins. But not geared for a specific OS one way or another.

Sonar - Windows only. Great MIDI tools. Earlier versions not so hot. Plug-ins have improved and supports more instrument plug-in formats than before. Susceptible to any instability of its inherent OS (Windows), but is at designed from the ground up for it.

Logic - Used to be cross platform, but now Mac only (unless this has changed back?), Powerful audio features. Great quality plug-ins and effects. Like Sonar, coded specifically for Mac OS.

Digital Performer - I know little about this to be honest. I think this is Mac-only...I personally hated the interface, but a lot of people were saying it's great for soundtrack work...

Interface is the big one for me as to be honest, I think they can all do pretty much the same thing - you'll just be going about it in different ways...
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Last edited by dariunas; 11th February 2009 at 01:56 PM. . Reason: typos <
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