Tips for Building a PC for Audio Work (for 2019)

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Derek Semeraro
Posts: 124
Joined: Sat Sep 23, 2017 6:49 am

Tips for Building a PC for Audio Work (for 2019)

Post by Derek Semeraro » Thu Oct 25, 2018 8:40 am

For use cases including production, voice work, podcasting, recording, mixing/mastering. I've updated my old guide to add more information and make it more relevant.

CPU: DAW's don't seem to particularly favor more cores or higher clock speeds, so either Intel or AMD is fine. Though, as long as most of AMD's CPU's lack integrated graphics, Intel makes more sense. CPU's have evolved over the past several years while DAW requirements haven't changed as much. An i7, while still good for certain use cases, is not mandatory at all. Builds 5-10 years ago were getting benefit from i7's, but now they might be overkill. i5's are more than plenty for most use cases and i3's nowadays are quite powerful. Generally, a mid-range CPU is recommended with at least 4 cores.

Motherboard: If you plan to overclock, check if your motherboard supports it. Otherwise, nowadays, most motherboards support everything you need, especially considering that storage drives are larger and less SATA ports are needed. Number of USB ports may be a relevant factor for your use case, especially if you plan to use MIDI controllers, Drumpads, audio interfaces and other peripherals. ATX, ITX or MATX are all fine. Some builds may PCI/PCI-E slot(s) for Thunderbolt support, which is only be an issue for ITX builds, but if a video card is not used, a slot is free for that.

RAM: 8 GB minimum. 16 GB recommended. Above 16 GB is dependent on your use case, but not needed for most people.

SSD: Strongly recommended. 250-500 GB is recommended at least. 1 TB, depending on your use case, though SSD storage is expected to receive a massive price reduction in 2019 and 2020 if you are able to wait. DAW's and plugins don't take up much space, but if you are planning on using a lot of instrument packs and record a lot of song projects. If cost a concern, a hard drive can be added, but even a budget 120 GB SSD (with good reviews) is far better than having no SSD at all.

Video card: Not needed at all. Integrated graphics are more than enough for any DAW or Plugin, even at 4K. Compared to integrated graphics, a video card produces more heat, takes up more space, potentially adds noise and adds another cost to the build.

Power Supply: A PC for audio work will realistically be using 200 watts at most. Get a quality PSU from a reliable brand, but it's not necessary to go for a high wattage PSU.

Monitor: A 1440p monitor is recommended due to the increased amount of digital workspace and multitasking capability it offers compared to a 1080p monitor, though some users may prefer 2 1080p monitors. Windows currently does not scale 4K monitors well.

Size: An audio PC doesn't put out too much heat, due to having no GPU. ITX won't be much of a limitation, and the additional benefits in airflow and ATX build offers won't be overly significant. It depends on whether you want portability/desk space or a little more airflow. Larger cases do enable you to use more 140mm fans though. Overall, as long as you aren't trying a lot of overclocking in a very tiny case, thermals won't be much of a concern.

In general, especially for first-time builders, it's important to keep in mind that a lot of professional audio work over the past several decades has been done on machines far less advanced than we're capable of using now. Forums like Gearslutz will emphasize the urgency of building a liquid cooled i9-9900K PC with rainbow lights inside of it. Strong desktop PC's are good for additional workflow, up to the point of diminished returns, but even a computer as weak (by today's standards) as Macbook Air from 2009, is still capable of being used for professional audio work because it is the work of the engineer/producer/artist/mixer/etc. that is far more important than the gear.

CPU coolers, case fans and the case aren't really unique to audio work in any way, so pick whichever ones offer the most optimal perfomance to noise.

Alex11223
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Joined: Sat Nov 16, 2013 12:48 pm
Location: Europe

Re: Tips for Building a PC for Audio Work (for 2019)

Post by Alex11223 » Thu Oct 25, 2018 10:27 am

Derek Semeraro wrote:A 1440p monitor is recommended due to the increased amount of digital workspace and multitasking capability it offers compared to a 1080p monitor, though some users may prefer 2 1080p monitors. Windows currently does not scale 4K monitors well.
And some may prefer 2 1440p :)
Or 1 40" 4K.
Or ultrawide (it's less space though than 2 normal 1080/1440p).

Scaling is app-specific, Windows itself handles it well enough (including most standard Windows apps). So you can check how your apps handle it by enabling 150% scaling in Windows Display Settings (and restarting).

resistante
Posts: 31
Joined: Wed Jan 24, 2018 6:28 am

Re: Tips for Building a PC for Audio Work (for 2019)

Post by resistante » Fri Oct 26, 2018 3:10 am

Seriously, fans and ATX PSUs in a proffesional studio in 2018?!

If you want to do audio work and care about the sound quality. Buy a fanless PC, you'll pay about the same as for a normal one, but it will have better sound characteristics. Buy one of those passive heatsink cases, they are very small as a bonus. Buy a proper power brick (not a noname), a CPU, motherboard and a good quality SSD (because you don't want to loose your data to one of those crappy SSDs) and you're set. It will be as fast as a huge machine with fans and all that and will provide exactly the same amount of performance for your audio work while minimizing the added ambient noise and audio interference to the minimum. You can minimize that slightly more by going for machines that draw even less power and are tinier, like fanless NUC-style machines, but those will be way slower.

Don't overclock your studio machine, that may introduce additional interference and instability.

High resolution won't magically give you more space, it will give you more dpi. If you want more space for your DAW, but a bigger monitor. 1080p is enough for 27" and less, if you want bigger, go for higher resolution. Note that monitors are the biggest source of coil whine, those that draw more power and are of lower quality (fe. use loud filters) tend to produce more of it.

Derek Semeraro
Posts: 124
Joined: Sat Sep 23, 2017 6:49 am

Re: Tips for Building a PC for Audio Work (for 2019)

Post by Derek Semeraro » Fri Oct 26, 2018 6:44 am

resistante wrote:Seriously, fans and ATX PSUs in a proffesional studio in 2018?! If you want to do audio work and care about the sound quality. Buy a fanless PC, you'll pay about the same as for a normal one, but it will have better sound characteristics. Buy one of those passive heatsink cases, they are very small as a bonus.
Unless small form factor is a concern, there ATX PSU's are fine and are slightly preferable due to having more heatsinks.

Fanless PC's are a good option for particular use cases, but are not mandatory for professional audio work, and it does entail worse CPU performance. Many recording studios use quiet PC's with fans in them. PWM Noctua fans are practically inaudible (<20 dB). Studios have acoustic treated rooms and keep their microphones at least a few feet away from the computer. Professional studios record inside of a soundproofed booth. A noise of absolute zero is not necessary in order to be silent, nor is it a possible goal because all rooms have an ambient noise, all microphones have a self-noise, the people inside of the room have self-noise and even non-moving computer components have self-noise. If the PC is inaudible and the microphone does not pick it up, low RPM fans are not a problem.

Alex11223
Posts: 45
Joined: Sat Nov 16, 2013 12:48 pm
Location: Europe

Re: Tips for Building a PC for Audio Work (for 2019)

Post by Alex11223 » Fri Oct 26, 2018 6:53 am

resistante wrote:High resolution won't magically give you more space, it will give you more dpi.
Yeah, by resolution I mean the most common monitor size for that resolution without scaling, like 21-24" for 1080p and 27-32" for 1440p.

shahpayal
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Joined: Wed Aug 14, 2019 2:08 am
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Re: Tips for Building a PC for Audio Work (for 2019)

Post by shahpayal » Fri Aug 16, 2019 10:22 pm

Interesting post about building a PC for audio work.

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