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Optimizing The Performance Of Digital Audio Workstations

These days it’s hard to find a digital audio workstation (DAW) that doesn’t sound good. We are now in the era of finding the right DAW configuration to match the specific project. Part of this process is optimizing the DAW for the computer it is being used with and employing the right accessories.

Professional audio users dedicate their computer to digital editing and run nothing but their audio software on the system. However, for most of us, the DAW runs on a personal computer with a host of other applications that we use for both personal and business purposes.

Sweetwater, the pro audio specialist in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, recently published some tips to help optimize DAWs for best performance on such multi-purpose computer systems. Here are their suggestions.

Sandisk SSD Drive

Sandisk SSD Drive

Use SSD drives

To get the best performance from a DAW, use solid state drives — rather than standard hard drives — for storage media. DAWs are constantly reading and writing to the disk every time it streams, loads and records. To read and write large numbers of tracks without issue, use the fastest drive available. Those are SSDs. They are recommended for all audio projects, audio files and sample libraries.

With SSD drives, users can play a large number of tracks and samples simultaneously. Whether an internal or external SSD, purchasing the largest drive that’s affordable will offer a major performance boost with any DAW.

Use extra RAM

Another hardware boost comes from adding RAM to the computer. Virtual instruments load the sounds that are being used in the open project into RAM first, before relying on disk swapping (which means reading some samples from RAM, and others from the hard drive).

The more RAM in the computing system, the less disk swapping. Complex, real-time processing and editing also tends to take use RAM as well. The greater the amount of RAM added for the DAW, the more seamless its editing and processing will be.

When using a DAW, run it alone

Most audio editors run our DAW on a “personal” computer — meaning one that’s used for a host of other applications like email, web browsing, messaging and whatever else. The same computer may also be constantly using location services to update its geolocation or searching for available Wi-Fi networks.

When editing with a DAW, these background applications can reduce the computer’s efficiency. Before an editing session, it is best to shut down all nonessential applications for best overall performance of the DAW.

Buffer adjustment

Buffer adjustment

Adjust the computer’s buffers

Each DAW has adjustable buffers. These are often for recording, playback, processing and perhaps other functions. The smaller the buffer, the faster the DAW performs. However, the more CPU power it takes to keep filling and emptying buffers can lead to the computer being overworked, which can lead to crackles and stutters in the audio.

Higher buffers avoid performance glitches in recording or playback but can cause noticeable delays when recording and processing. Experiment with the DAW to find the highest buffer settings that meets the processing and real-time requirements of the specific audio job. That setting, by the way, may change during the course of a project.

At first, when recording audio, Sweetwater suggests setting the smallest audio buffer for lowest latency. However, during mixing — when recording is not a major factor — a higher audio buffer can be chosen without negative effects.

Create templates

When optimizing both a DAW’s performance and personal DAW preferences, templates can be a timesaver. Templates not only save the editor from having to do the same repetitive setup tasks each time a job begins, but it also allows the user to turn off options that are never used. It can shave time off any edit session.

Plug-Ins

Plug-Ins

Always update the DAW and plug-ins

Believe it or not, I know people who absolutely hate to take the time to do updates. Eventually, it gets them into trouble with their computers. It’s a fact of life — software is constantly being updated and many of these updates are vital for system compatibility. Others offer new features and nearly every one comes with new optimizations and bug fixes.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but keep the DAW and plug-ins updated to ensure the best possible performance and compatibility. For those with a lot of third-party plug-ins, this can take a bit of time. But it’s better not to discover the update in the middle of an edit session and have to stop to find the update.

Audio editing on a DAW is now better and more efficient than ever before. DAWs offer amazing power at very low costs. But the user has to bring a certain amount of care to the table if everything is to run optimally. It is a small price to pay for a flawless system that allows a historic new level of creativity.

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