Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

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Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by FullPoker »

Hello,

Apologies as probably this question is already addressed somewhere in this forum, but I have no time to check it thoroughly as I would need a quick reply if possible.

1) I am a beginner who wants to start producing music for fun, no business
2) However, high fidelity/quality of the final output is fundamental otherwise it would not be fun for me. I am insanely demanding here. Ideally, I would really like to get to the audio quality (I think “mastering” quality is the right word here) of the professionals… Sorry if this looks unrealistic, but let me “dream” about this at least for a while… LoL
3) I am not able at all to read music (probably I never will), and I can only play a little bit the piano/keyboard. This means that basically I am not able to play any instrument
4) A few months ago I bought FL Studio and Akai MK3. At first attempt, I managed to make a cover of Better Off Alone by Alice DJ. I inserted 80% of the piano roll manually with the keyboard of the PC, with the little help Akai mini mk3 to insert some Arpeggiator. I sent the mp3 to a professionist through some friends who knew him. He is not a famous one, but somebody who does music production for living. I managed to get a couple of brief replies from him as unfortunately he is not very much accessible. He wrote that it is unbelievable what I managed to do at first attempt, and still asked whether I had mixed existing tracks rather than creating everything bit by bit by myself. When I confirmed that the latter was true, he wrote something like “I still do not really believe you; anyway this is something that comes from inside you… do not let it go, keep doing and improving it…you have surely a lot of talent”.

Now the question.

Can I achieve professional audio quality with:

- FL Studio (provided that I have the right plug-ins)
- A low entry gaming laptop like MSI i7-11800 with 16 GB RAM, low-entry Nvidia GPU for dual monitors ( I have two large 34 inched extra wide monitors)
- Akai Mk3
- MOTU M2 audio interface. The reason I have bought this is not to connect instruments to it. The reason is primarily to use native ASIO and have high quality audio output for my Headphones today and tomorrow for the monitor speakers if I will buy them. I am not interested to connect any guitar etc…to the audio interface. You should know by now why: a) I am not able to play it!; b) despite how fun it can be, I will never be able to reach professional studio quality. Therefore, all the sounds have to be created by the CPU of the computer with the possible exception of the microphone for the voice. Do you understand my philosophy behind all this? Does it make sense to you?
- Beyer DT 990 PRO

That’s all I have so far.

Many thanks in advance.

FullPoker
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Re: Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by jaminem »

Hi, err ok.
So on the one hand you're asking if the kit you have allows you to obtain professional results and and on the other you're saying you made a track with that kit that a 'professional' said was good?

I think you have your answer!

Basically a talented engineer/mixer can make excellent sounding results with the most basic of kit - nothing wrong with FL studio or your audio interface quality wise. The thing that makes the difference is talent, experience and a decent listening environment (including monitors/room treatment etc)

If you're happy with the results, others like it and you like that they like it and its just for fun, then you're all good right?

I know Better off alone very well and its a fantastic example of a great hook, simple arrangement well chosen sounds and attention to detail.

If you've recreated it and it sounds great then well done! I guess for development purposes you'll probably find it more difficult to find sounds, arrange and mix your own tracks to the same standard - but that's the fun of it, learning what effects what, how to construct a decent song etc.

You may also want to try recording real instruments or creating your own sounds in your own arrangements - these are different skills but equally valid
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Re: Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by RichardT »

The main determinant is skill! The best way to get skilled is to produce lots of music, ask for help on forums like this one, and read good material such as Mike Senior's 'Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio'.

What counts as top quality really depends on the genre. For example, classical and acoustic jazz recordings concentrate on creating realistic sounds with little processing. Pop genres on the other hand are highly processed. So it depends on what you're trying to do.

That said there are two areas that I find really important to producing good results with sampled instruments - having good quality software instruments and having high quality monitoring.

For piano sounds there are lots of good software instruments around. I like Native Instruments' Noire, but there are other really good ones too.

In terms of monitoring, many people believe that any competent audio interface and decent pair of headphones is good enough these days to produce professional results. I believe this too, but I would add that if you can afford really good headphones and DAC / headphone amp it makes things so much easier - the greater levels of clarity and neutrality making mixing more straightforward and rewarding, plus it's possible to really hear what's going on with other people's recordings.

But as you’re just starting out, I would say that your hardware is perfectly fine. It’s only worth spending more if it turns into something you want to devote a lot of time and effort to.
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Re: Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by ef37a »

You would have to spend an awful lot more money to get a better interface than the MOTU M2 and I doubt even THE most expensive model would give you
any noticeable improvement. The more so because you are not dealing with real, acoustic sounds.

The headphones are considered very good I think? There are much more expensive ones but headphone 'quality' seems even more subjective than that of speakers! My personal view is that I would get some monitor speakers sooner rather than later but that is a considerable outlay, $2000 per pair is probably the starting point for something accurate and then you will need to treat your room.

Dave.
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Re: Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by FullPoker »

jaminem wrote: Wed Mar 22, 2023 11:51 am Hi, err ok.
So on the one hand you're asking if the kit you have allows you to obtain professional results and and on the other you're saying you made a track with that kit that a 'professional' said was good?

I think you have your answer!

Basically a talented engineer/mixer can make excellent sounding results with the most basic of kit - nothing wrong with FL studio or your audio interface quality wise. The thing that makes the difference is talent, experience and a decent listening environment (including monitors/room treatment etc)

If you're happy with the results, others like it and you like that they like it and its just for fun, then you're all good right?

I know Better off alone very well and its a fantastic example of a great hook, simple arrangement well chosen sounds and attention to detail.

If you've recreated it and it sounds great then well done! I guess for development purposes you'll probably find it more difficult to find sounds, arrange and mix your own tracks to the same standard - but that's the fun of it, learning what effects what, how to construct a decent song etc.

You may also want to try recording real instruments or creating your own sounds in your own arrangements - these are different skills but equally valid

Thank you very much for your prompt feedback. Very much appreciated.

What I managed to achieve with Better Off Alone was a 6 (out of my personal scale between 0 and 10), but I want to get to 10 otherwise I will not enjoy it enough to sustain the effort required to get there :crazy:

And yes, that Better Off Alone song is crazy. At first glance it looks so simple, but the more you try to make a cover and the more you realize how many details are there. And some are really sneaky/hidden, at least to my beginners ears... Usually, details make a small difference but in that song it is completely different...I think it is a little piece of art, especially considered that was done almost 25 years ago...

By the way, I bought the Motu2, the DT990 and the low entry gaming laptop only a few days ago. I did the cover with crappy headphones and the crappy default sound card of a my PC (Ryzen 5 - 6 cores 1600; 8 GB RAM).I think that the PC was still fine as the FL Studio CPU never went above 20%... I bought the laptop to get portable...with a significant upgrade of CPU and RAM not be forced to change it soon...

Cheers,
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Re: Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by FullPoker »

RichardT wrote: Wed Mar 22, 2023 12:19 pm The main determinant is skill! The best way to get skilled is to produce lots of music, ask for help on forums like this one, and read good material such as Mike Senior's 'Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio'.

What counts as top quality really depends on the genre. For example, classical and acoustic jazz recordings concentrate on creating realistic sounds with little processing. Pop genres on the other hand are highly processed. So it depends on what you're trying to do.

That said there are two areas that I find really important to producing good results with sampled instruments - having good quality software instruments and having high quality monitoring.

For piano sounds there are lots of good software instruments around. I like Native Instruments' Noire, but there are other really good ones too.

In terms of monitoring, many people believe that any competent audio interface and decent pair of headphones is good enough these days to produce professional results. I believe this too, but I would add that if you can afford really good headphones and DAC / headphone amp it makes things so much easier - the greater levels of clarity and neutrality making mixing more straightforward and rewarding, plus it's possible to really hear what's going on with other people's recordings.

But as you’re just starting out, I would say that your hardware is perfectly fine. It’s only worth spending more if it turns into something you want to devote a lot of time and effort to.

Thansk very much for your reply, very much appreacited.
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Re: Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by Sam Spoons »

Unlike #ef37a (sorry Dave) I think decent monitors plus room treatment (essential once you buy monitors) could come in under £2000 in the UK, say Neumann KH80 and some absorbers/traps from someone like Gik Acoustics. Without a good acoustic environment you are better off sticking with headphones and playing back you finished mix on as many different systems as you can to make sure it translates.
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Re: Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by ef37a »

Sam Spoons wrote: Wed Mar 22, 2023 2:36 pm Unlike #ef37a (sorry Dave) I think decent monitors plus room treatment (essential once you buy monitors) could come in under £2000 in the UK, say Neumann KH80 and some absorbers/traps from someone like Gik Acoustics. Without a good acoustic environment you are better off sticking with headphones and playing back you finished mix on as many different systems as you can to make sure it translates.

Sam, I did price the monitors in $ as I usually do unless it is obvious the poster is in UK. As it happens I have just read a review of Phil's of some APS 2020s that come in at under £1000 the pair and get a near perfect score!
I said "monitors sooner rather than later" because I am personally a bit averse to the restrictions of headphones and unless the chap mixes in the bathroom he will probably need minimal room treatment.

Also I am sure far 'puter smarter people than I will agree that he does not need to worry about either of his computers? Just perhaps check the 'gamer' hasn't got a lot of CPU sucking crap on it?

Re piano sounds, do not forget the excellent Pianoteq.

Dave.
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Re: Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by Sam Spoons »

Yes you did :thumbup: I've just had a quick look at the US price for KH80s and Sweetwater have them at $549 each (presumably plus local sales tax). But that's still a bit less than you suggested. That said the KH80's are probably the minimum and may not be suitable for all genres so he could well end up spending $2k.
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Re: Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by Bob Bickerton »

ef37a wrote: Wed Mar 22, 2023 4:30 pm
………I said "monitors sooner rather than later" because I am personally a bit averse to the restrictions of headphones and unless the chap mixes in the bathroom he will probably need minimal room treatment………

Dave.

Sorry Dave, but room treatment is really important and shouldn’t be downplayed - it’s critical if you really want to hear what’s going on.

Bob
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Re: Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by Wonks »

But FullPoker has a way to go yet as he's just started out with music software. They're not going to go from someone's 6 to a 10 in a few weeks. Even if naturally talented in composition there's a lot of technique and understanding to pick up, which doesn't come quickly.

When you are new, it's very easy to think you've come up with a great sounding, well produced track, but compared to a full pro track, there will almost certainly be a lot missing, especially variations in sound, rhythm and 'fairy dust'.

You may get from 6 to an 8 fairly quickly with guidance and feedback, but the learning and progress becomes slower from then on.

So I'd suggest carrying on with what you've currently got until you maybe think you're at say an 8, and then review where you are and if you want to carry on. If you do, then think about room acoustic treatment and some good monitors. Because good monitors are only good in an acoustically treated room.
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Re: Minimum HW and SW for top/professional audio quality output

Post by ef37a »

Bob Bickerton wrote: Wed Mar 22, 2023 7:22 pm
ef37a wrote: Wed Mar 22, 2023 4:30 pm
………I said "monitors sooner rather than later" because I am personally a bit averse to the restrictions of headphones and unless the chap mixes in the bathroom he will probably need minimal room treatment………

Dave.

Sorry Dave, but room treatment is really important and shouldn’t be downplayed - it’s critical if you really want to hear what’s going on.

Bob

Yes, this is something that causes endless discussions on forums. The first argument is that nearfield monitoring reduces the effects of a room considerably. Then a great deal of treatment advice is centred on getting a good, stable stereo image (I have read SO many Studio SOS articles!). The OP is not monitoring live ensembles so 'stereo' is anything he wants it to be.
Then, much depends I think on the actual room. My Tannoys for example are in my living room and that has a heavy carpet/underlay over wood, Heavy curtains and a socking great sofa in it. Works for me.

Please understand, I am not saying rooms do not benefit from treatment but unless one is doing critical commercial work I doubt the 'hobbyist' needs to go nuts? This is the general advice in the S SOS articles as well.

Dave.

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