As I begin these series of reviews for each of the new PLAY products from EastWest, I’m addressing some issues that I see appearing in the various forums that deal with specs.

SPECS – IN GENERAL
All of the new PLAY products, without exception, are designed for 64-bit systems. PLAY is ahead of many manufacturers of hardware and software in that PLAY is, indeed, 64-bit ready.

This means that when you read the Minimum and Recommended specs on the Soundsonline.com website you should interpret Recommended as meaning: designed for. Read Minimum as meaning: will run, but not up to full potential.

With PLAY, minimum is tending to mean that you can run the Instruments, but not the MIDI Performances. That’s because PLAY runs best at 4GB of RAM or better. In fact, 8GB or more of RAM is preferred since the number of samples being loaded into memory (RAM) is huge!

Understand that MIDI Performances in PLAY are not Loops. I asked Stefan Leiste, VP of EastWest Marketing to define it for us. He wrote:

Loops are sample pieces that are chopped and repeat themselves in a loop,
while MIDI performances are nothing else than a MIDI sequence you can load
into your sequencer and play back loaded samples based on MIDI notes.

This is an important definition because until now, the word performance has most often been associated with Roland keyboards. Here, a Performance is a collection of sounds set up as one big sound on a single MIDI channel, or a multitimbral ensemble with one sound assigned per channel.

It’s also an important distinction since some of the PLAY MIDI performances have over 3,000 samples in them.

With so many samples, a large amount of RAM is needed.

RAM and Operating Systems
Within the RAM, you must account for how much is needed by the operating system. According to Apple, the minimum needed for Leopard is 512MB of RAM. So if your system is only 2GB, roughly 25% is going to the OS.

With XP64 Professional, according to Microsoft , only 256MB is needed.

If anyone is running PLAY on Vista, then 1-2GB of RAM are going directly to that OS.

All of this factors into PLAY’s performance reviews.

Motherboards
The Mac Pro motherboard comes with sufficient slots to let you have 32GB of RAM using eight 4GB RAM sticks.

A standard desktop PC 64-bit motherboard comes with enough slots for 8GB of RAM. At this date, above 8GB of RAM is considered a Server motherboard.

For a motherboard that can handle 16GB of RAM or better, you’re looking at $500 US and up. A PC motherboard that can handle 32GB of RAM is running $660 and up.

Checking around the various DAW builder websites, the motherboards most often listed are ASUS, Intel, SuperMicro and Tyan.

Cases
Whether a midtower or a rack, you need a case that can handle five drive bays, with one dedicated for a DVD/RW. I often use Antec cases for the midtower since they often come with very powerful power supplies. You should look at power supplies in the 550-watt range; more, not less.

Hard Drives
You need a C-drive running at 7,200 RPM. With today’s programs, I’d get a 500GB instead of an 80GB.

For sample drives, EastWest is recommending the fastest drive possible for enhanced performance. I checked, and those are the Seagate Cheetah’s running at 15,000 RPM (Mac Pros have available 300GB 15,000 RPM drives). They’re now in two sizes: 300GB and 400GB. Street price varies, but for 300GB (what’s available from Apple) you’re looking at $725 and for 400GB, $775. However, you have to remember that for optimum performance you need to keep 20% of the drive open. So your effective space on a 300GB 15,000 RPM drive is 240GB and 320GB with a 400GB 15,000 RPM drive.

By comparison, a 1 Terabyte (TB) drive is running around $325 depending on the manufacturer.

Performance Considerations
One thing that would be very useful for customers is to see statistically how the performance specs change with PLAY when using 7,200 RPM drives for samples vs. 15,000 RPM Seagate Cheetah drives for samples. Again, EastWest recommends the faster drives. But I would like to know before creating such a system what exactly a 15,000 RPM drive is really providing. Since these 300GB Seagate drives’ street price is at around $725 apiece, what percentage gain is realistically being achieved?

It would also be good to see a chart or brief paragraph showing with MIDI Performances, the improvement of using 8GB of RAM to 16GB to 32GB, as opposed to anecdotal comments.

Mac to PC Price Comparisons
To compare, I configured a Mac Pro with 3.2GHz QuadCore, 8GB of RAM, 1 DVD drive, a 500GB C-drive at 7,200 RPMs, 300GB SAS D-drive at 15,000 RPMs, the standard ATI Radeon card, mouse/keyboard, and Apple Care. Price: $7,048 less shipping.

Configuring one for the PC with directly comparable specs for 8GB of RAM comes in around $3,600. For that you can get either a top notch Intel or ASUS motherboard.

In a previous article, I priced a 32GB server system at $7,500.

If you’re sequencing on a Mac, the price advantage for additional “farm” systems is clearly with the PC.

Audio Considerations
This is where implementing PLAY on a Mac vs. a PC changes the game.

We’ll start with the Mac.

I’ve seen few comments about Digital Performer, but I’ve seen lots of comments about Logic. Logic operates with only 2GB of RAM. That’s it. To get PLAY or any other External MIDI instrument to operate with Logic on the Mac, it has to run using a freeware program called Soundflower .

Soundflower comes with a one-page instruction sheet and no screen shots. The only screen shot is on the Soundflower website.

The two most expert people on Soundflower I know are Jay Asher , who’s a certified Logic trainer, and Nick Batzdorf, publisher of Virtual Instruments magazine. Both men are in Los Angeles. Both men are not in New York, Dallas, Houston, London, Toronto, Prague, Richmond, Charlotte, Oklahoma City, Nashville, Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Omaha nor Portland (neither Maine nor Oregon)!

Installing Soundflower is a snap. Implementing Soundflower, especially if you’re new to the Mac, is not a snap. People not comfortable in working with Utilities –> Audio MIDI are going to have problems with it.

Point – PDF training information with screenshots is needed for Soundflower implementation.

And frankly, it first should come from Apple. Failing that, it should come from the sample developers suggesting its use with Logic.

In saying this, I’m not pointing a finger of criticism at either EastWest or Vienna. Both companies have to deal with a Logic design issue.

If Apple is unwilling to put out the instruction set, then to protect themselves, the OEMs should commission either Nick or Jay to put out a simple PDF. And here’s another reason. The internal virtual mixers for a MOTU product vs. an RME product are as different as night and day. With RME you can route audio almost however you want. If you’re not experienced with audio routing, that means you can screw up really quickly and suffer hypertension in the process. Hellooo Bayer Aspirin.

I don’t mean to soapbox on this.

But as I’ve shared before, I started out life not heading for music as a career but to the Air Force Academy and ultimately Marine Aviation. There’s something about flying at Mach 2, knowing your aircraft was built by the lowest bidder that’s always a bit concerning. You get the same feeling when new systems are installed and you discover the Crew Chief doesn’t understand the manual, or, that one didn’t come with it. (Note: I have it on the best authority that this actually happened to one Navy captain, on his ship, with a new missile guidance system. They had to pull a group together to figure the thing out and write an internal manual.)

It’s not that I’m opposed to learning it. I just believe that when you’re thinking about dropping $7K on an Apple system that you shouldn’t need freeware to get their flagship program to work to industry standards.

Oh well, that’s why I’ve never been too popular with Admirals.

On the PC, it’s different. In fact, is almost downright simplistic especially if the PC is a farm system. Just make sure you have the correct ASIO drivers. For MIDI connections, I would use MIDIoverLAN for either PC or Mac until EastWest has their new virtual instrument mixer ready that will work similar to FX Teleport.

Conclusion
What I’ve outlined here are based on the suggested system requirements as posted by EastWest. PLAY represents the next wave. And I think it’s a wave worth catching.

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