THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
|New Mac Studio 20 Core with 128GB DRAM and 4TB SSD
UPDATE: It is now eight-months since the Mac Studio 20-core machine arrived here at High on Technology. To stress the internal 4TB SSD I've ordered and installed some additional big applications. Superior Drummer from Toontrack was recently joined by the gigabyte-sized Orchestral collection and the hefty East West Choir library along with the revised Arturia V-Collection X and new virtual-synthesizers by GForce. This computer continues to turn in excellent reliable performance.
As I've noted in other reviews, with this machine adjusted to just 32-samples (1.1ms of latency) I can easily run 20-different synthesizers, all live (no frozen tracks), and move between them while composing without fear of crashes or system problems. No need for tricks or short loading instruments, I simply load and go, the system just works.
The Mac Studio combined with the Presonus Thunderbolt converters continues to deliver incredible realtime audio throughput across the 32 audio outputs. Virtual instruments on this system feel "realtime" meaning you push the key down on the keyboard and instantly hear the sound without latency or delay effects (just like playing my DX7 or Prophet 6 hardware synthesizers).
The 20-core Mac Studio with extra DRAM and SSD were unquestionably the most expensive computer I've ever purchased for myself but this hardware has opened the doors to so many new composition ideas I have to say, it was worth the cost.
Additional update tidbits are scattered throughout this review.
ORIGINAL REVIEW STARTS HERE
For my DAW I've been using an Apple Black Cylinder computer since April of 2016. I ordered it from Apple and it has been a reliable digital servant since its arrival in my studio.
I've just ordered a new Mac Studio, 20 core model with 128GB of DRAM and 4TB internal SSD. It won't be here for 2-3 weeks but it will be the exact configuration I've been dreaming of. In this REVIEW I'll take you along for the whole experience.
- Will Apple deliver on time as promised?
- Will the machine be great?
- How will I connect all the older USB things like dongles, keyboard and mouse?
- What about an external hard drive or SSD for music projects to live on?
- How will it perform on my virtual synthesizers?
- Which Mac OS will be installed? Monterey OS12 or Ventura OS13?
Come along for the upgrade ride and find out the answers to these questions and more.
|Projected delivery date from my order
The migration of Apple products away from Intel processor and graphics hardware to custom silicon developed in-house has paved the way for a lot of heartache if you try to bridge the two systems.
Apple resuscitated the old Rosetta translation-technology, cleaned it up for the new OS and hardware, and they've helped a lot of music people straddle the old and new operating systems. Rosetta provides real-time translation between the old code and the new code. Nothing is free though, Rosetta itself uses CPU horsepower and not everything works or works smoothly. I have no time for hardware problems, I'm writing and creating constantly, my DAW has got to work reliably on everything I'm working on (which is basically everything I've done since 2017).
My modern upgrade strategy is developed from being a hardcore Mac user since 1985 and being wrecked so many times by upgrades with files that won't load and things that don't work after an update; WAIT as long as you can when they change things (like the OS), then keep your old rig operational so you can still get work done while you test your songs and compositions on the new rig. This simple upgrade philosophy has kept my music moving ahead with fewer problems.
|Specifications for my new Mac DAW
CRAVING SERIOUS POWER AND STORAGE - DESIGNING MY NEW DAW
The reason I mix outside the box is because of all the DSP horsepower I have connected to my console effect-sends and various insert points. There's signal processing hardware by Bricasti, Lexicon and Eventide for effects, along with numerous compressor limiters for compression duties. The hardware collection includes a couple of vintage MXR Pitch Transposers which have a unique sound unattainable by modern code or plugins. All the wiring and cable is somewhat painful and expensive to keep operational but the sound I can coax from all this hardware is worth the cost and effort to me.
ALL NEW MAC CPU
The Macintosh has been going through a massive evolutionary change during the last three years. I've been wishing, watching and waiting for a new DAW Mac to come to my studio. One that loads instruments directly coded for the new operating system without the need for intermediate layers of translation inefficiency (aka Rosetta2 Technology).
For my first wish I'd like to have A LOT more CPU horsepower to power synthesizer emulations. While I love analog hardware synthesizers outside the box, for most of my personal scoring needs samples and virtual synthesizers are my first stop. I've built custom hardware paths (compressors and EQ) from the DAW interface outputs to the console inputs, this gives the emulations real hardware to sing through which adds body to the sound.
My current 4-core Mac with 12GB of DRAM and 256-GB SSD is seriously OLD by contemporary standards. It's Thunderbolt-2 technology while the industry has moved to Thunderbolt-4 which is much faster and has many more options.
For my second wish I want A LOT more DRAM so I can install drum and string scoring libraries. I'm not selling my DW drum set or any of my cymbals but I love being able to embellish songs with big sampled instrument sounds like timpani and gong or pipe organ and symphony orchestra.
For my third wish I want a lot more primary drive disk space to install a second or third DAW package. I have a license for the newest version of Studio One which I'd like to review but the main drive SSD is full on my MacPro cylinder system is full.
I'm also looking forward to installing/upgrading to the latest version of Logic, it's always fun to see what's new without fear of ruining everything I've got in-process.
SHOPPING FOR ACCESSORY ITEMS
After reading reviews I think an Apple Thunderbolt-2 to Thunderbolt-3 converter will be the best way to connect my DAW audio interface (which is Thunderbolt-2) to the new Mac Studio. Larry O from OWC computing says this interface is bi-directional so it's maybe the only way to bridge the older Thunderbolt-2 to Thunderbolt 3+ on the C-type connectors. It's here and waiting for the new system. (update: the T-2 to T3/4 adaptor worked great with the Presonus Thunderbolt interfaces).
External Storage Disk
In the new machine my primary drive (the place where the OS and virtual instruments reside) will be the 4-TB Apple SSD inside the Mac Studio, but for actual compositions I like to store those on external storage disks.
My current Mac Cylinder DAW is using an OWC Thunderbay enclosure loaded with a 2-TB San Disk drive. All my music files (currently in process) utilize about 25% of the current disk capacity. This drive will remain with my cylinder system until all files have migrated successfully to the new Mac Studio (which could take over two years due to the sheer number of songs in-process).
OWC Thunderbolt drive - I added an external 1TB-OWC SSD for storing my compositions, the speed of SSD powered solutions made this one easy. Not all SSD are created equal. I decided on this because it did not require a fan or external chassis. All connections are via USB C style connectors.
New Display Monitor Considerations
I've been doing fine with a couple of 22" HD monitors on my Mac Pro cylinder but I'd like more screen real estate.
For the new Mac Studio I ordered two Sceptre 27" 4K monitors. Reviews of these displays got me to buy one for testing, it was awesome so I ordered a second one. I have installed them on two individual mounting arms so I can dial in their exact placement over the meter bridge on my mixing console.
A 4K monitor is basically 2(x) HD in width (1920 x 2 = 3840) and height (1080 x 2 = 2160). My research indicates that a 4K monitor connected via DisplayPort should provide better refresh rate than HDMI and more screen real estate in the same footprint as my current HD setup. Based off thousands of reviews and my in-house testing, I'm going to use the Sceptre 4K monitor(s) on the new Mac Studio.
Using the Display System Preferences I adjusted the scale of the Sceptre to around 3000W x 1600H pixels. This setting provides more screen real estate than HD without text becoming too small.
SHIPPING NOTICE 4/18/2023 - Ahead of schedule
I received a shipping notice from Apple, my new Mac Studio shipped and is projected to arrive on April 24th, 2023, substantially ahead of the previously predicted May delivery schedule. I'm happy that Apple is ahead of schedule, I am ready to get my hands on all that delicious horsepower. UPS delivered the new machine exactly on the day they said it would arrive, April 24th.
WHICH Mac OS WILL BE INSTALLED?
It's Ventura. It's different but I'm getting accustomed to it.
DIRECT CONNECTED ETHERNET FROM AT&T DSL ROUTER
To assist with the massive amount of downloads ahead I've installed a CAT6 cable to the AT&T router for hardwire direct connection to the new machine. This will eliminate any inefficiency from RF interference in our typical wifi wireless distribution.
UPDATE: High on Technology upgraded to SpaceX Starlink internet service since this review was written. Starlink is delivering much faster downloads and shockingly faster uploads. If you upload high resolution digital audio files to SoundCloud you better fasten your seatbelt :-)
LOGIC PRO - First Big Install on MacStudio
I really enjoy using Logic Pro DAW software, I've been on it since version 6. I've developed a workflow using Logic and after so many years of experience it feels like home. I was a hardcore Protools fan up to version 7. I wanted to switch to Apogee converter hardware for better sound quality and Protools did not play nicely with other hardware back then.
I developed my recording chops over the last 60 years and a lot of that time was spent struggling with tape as the recording medium. Tape places severe technical limitations on how your tracks are accumulated and organized. It forces you to be organized and tidy or else you run out of tracks to record on. Synchronizing two sixteen track tape machines with SMPTE was never cheap, easy or fun. The modern Logic Pro DAW is like being released from the penitentiary of recording. After you learn the interface creativity is unbounded, you're free to mix audio with midi virtual instruments. Finally, with the Mac Studio, I've got the massive SSD storage so I can download ALL of the processing, instruments and loops that Apple includes with Logic Pro.
IT'S HERE - AHEAD OF SCHEDULE, JUST LIKE APPLE SAID
The new computer is in the house. I just upgraded the A.C. power feed to my studio from one 15-Amp service to three 20-Amp services. This power upgrade to the studio will supply clean and abundant power to hungry tube amps, carnivorous consoles, powerful processors and thirsty computers.
There are many upgrades happening in the studio currently and some of them need to happen before the Mac Studio can take its place among the the other gear.
I took out the previous pair of HD monitors and replaced them with a pair of 27" 4K monitors. Currently I'm running my previous DAW on the left display and the right display is reserved for the Mac Studio. In the near term the Mac Studio is going to be running a Focusrite audio interface using Audio Units.
There are several plugins that won't get installed on the new machine. The fees to upgrade all of them are too much for how little I use them. My old Lexicon DSP hardware cost a lot to acquire and wire-up but I never need to update them and they always sound fantastic.
MAC STUDIO RUNNING VENTURA
I was wondering what O.S. would come on the new machine, it's Ventura.
I've installed all the libraries to my plug-ins and ALL the Arturia synthesizers and effects. Having 4TB of SSD is freedom. Having the hardwire ethernet connection meant continuous download without wifi disturbances.
NEW MAC STUDIO PERIPHERALS
Apple Thunderbolt 2 to 3 adaptor, lets Thunderbolt 2 devices connect to USB C Thunderbolt host. This should allow my new Mac Studio to connect to the Thunderbolt 2 ports with the 48-channel audio interface used on my old DAW. For now I'm keeping the old DAW functional as-is until all my current in-process-work makes the transition to the new computer and updated software. Once all my data makes the move and is functional I'll switch both displays to the Mac Studio, cannibalize the audio and midi interfaces from the old system to the new rig and retire the old system to my personal Mac Museum.
USB C iLok for the Mac Studio.
OWC Thunderbolt Hub to add extra Thunderbolt ports. The Mac Studio only comes with two USB Type A ports, the OWC dock should add extra port holes which can be adapted to be virtually any kind of port needed thanks to the latest in Thunderbolt technology.
1TB OWC Envoy Pro SSD which uses USB C connectors, it also comes with a USB C to USB A adaptor so you can transfer files to any system that supports old USB. This SSD has phenomenal data transfer speed when going from SSD to SSD. This is the external drive where music files will get stored on my new DAW.
Killer SSD Features Include
- No fan
- No external power supply
- No noise
- Nothing to assemble
- Comes with a USB C Thunderbolt cable
How fast is this SSD? I have not done formal benchmark testing but as a quick experiment I transferred a 7GB video file from the internal SSD to this OWC SSD, it was literally maybe 3 seconds, I could not believe it had actually moved the data so I tested the file and it played fine. For comparison I transferred the same file to a 5TB spinning hard disk and got the time dialogue that it would take about 2-minutes.
Sabrent USB 3 hub with 10 type A USB style connectors. I have one of these hubs on another computer and it has worked well for expanding USB access.
APC Backup 1500 UPS. I have three of these on other systems and they've protected me through the numerous power blinks that happen here in Florida. The new Mac Studio and its monitor are running on one of these uninterruptible power supplies. When the UPS is not loaded to max wattage the runtime increases. An onboard display lets you look at input voltage, output voltage, HZ, power usage and projected runtime at current load.
TEMPORARY AUDIO INTERFACE: My favorite audio interface, purely for simplicity, is a small stereo Focusrite 2i2. This interface uses Apples Audio Unit technology so there are no drivers or software bits required to make it function. The Focusrite did not disappoint, we were hearing beautiful Arturia synthesizers in the studio tonight and it sounded great.
ONE MORE THING
This review is not done. As the new Mac Studio gets used I'll be updating this review so it will be a reference for others considering this expensive computer option.
Will all the high end specifications mean trouble-free composing? Only time will tell.
Come by in the future and see what my results are.
Until then, Good Music To You!
©2023 Mark King, It's not ok to copy or quote without written permission.