Using 5 yr old laptop running Vista with Intel Pentium 1.73 Ghz, 2 Gig Ram, older version (6?) of Cakewalk Home Studio.
After years of not having time to pursue my songwriting hobby, I recently bought a midi keyboard controller (not a synth) and connected directly to the computer's built in USB port with nothing in between. With Cakewalk program open, a huge lag exists from the time I press down a keyboard key and when I hear it come out of the sound card, even before hitting Cakewalk's record button. Obviously, this was shockingly unexpected and unacceptable. I can't get anything done this way.
It's ridiculous that I can't even do what I was able to do 15 years ago, the last time I tried doing anything with Midi, (beginner then, still a beginner now), and then I was using a PC 486 desktop with internal Midi card, traditional pinned Midi cables and ports (no USB yet), an Ensoniq synth and Cubase Light. I thought technology was suppose to be working it's way UP the ladder of innovation and user-friendly ease, not down.
I went back to Guitar Center where I bought the keyboard, and they wanted to sell me a Midi audio interface, (to sit between the keyboard and the USB port), claiming that it would solve my problems cause it had a built in sound card and is designed to avoid this problem, but they couldn't really explain why, other than to say my internal sound card couldn't handle the signals coming through USB. (Even though internal sound cards could handle it 15 years ago without USB?).
I called a different Guitar Center and talked to the dept manager who said that such a purchase wouldn't solve my problem at all. He told me I had a buffer issue and to fix it I needed to do a Google search to find out how to adjust buffer settings in Vista. I was ready to slash my wrists. More ridiculousness. I refuse to believe that in 2012 (or even 2004-5ish when Vista came out) all the many thousands or millions of home studio DAW users around the world are having to be techies, dealing with buffer management of all things, just to plug in a keyboard, install their software, and start using it. This wasn't even the case with me 15 years ago. I don't know exactly when and how the industry became such a racket. Was it when they decided to go USB? Did USB make the music production world come to a grinding halt? Should I forget USB and go back to the old Midi cables and ports? Is it cause I have a laptop? Surely Vista isn't less capable than Windows 95, which is what I used 15 years ago and didn't have this problem.
If it helps, here are my objectives, which aren't particularly ambitious at all. I'm an aspiring songwriter who just wants to make demos, and get feedback from people. If they say, 'yeah, sounds good,' I submit them to producers/artists for their consideration on upcoming projects. Only after something gets published and recorded would I ever have ANY desire to enter the profession and produce others, which of course would require much more intricate knowledge of the DAW/recording/engineering process. If people say my demos suck, I won't pursue anything beyond what I'm listing here...
1. I need to get my tracks into the computer after I've decided on melody, harmony, voicings, song structure....the basics of songwriting that any songwriter has to do, whether they use the DAW themselves or they get someone to do it for them. I'm not paying someone to do it for me, so it's up to me to learn the basics. Using something like a 'staff view' or virtual piano keyboard to individually place notes on a staff 100% of the time rather than using the keyboard is unrealistic...too slow. As Quincy Jones once said, "programming synths is like painting a 747 with a Q-tip." I'm not a keyboard player, so it's tough enough just having the finger chops to play the keyboard keys cleanly, so latency at that point is unacceptable.
2. I'll need some sort of audio input capability, but likely ONLY for vocals. I have no plans to record other instruments. I'll use the keyboard to get the Midi signals for notes on the track, then apply the patch I want to apply an instrument to that data. For this reason, if the Midi interface is indeed the problem, I'm thinking I could get away with a cheaper Midi DATA interface ($70 on sale), not even a Midi AUDIO interface ($100 on sale), and just record vocals through the mic port of the computer, directly onto a track. Supposedly, even Garage Band can do this if you believe Apple's website.
3. Only after #1 and #2 are done will I worry about acquiring other patches or soft-synths to import into the Midi software, (more sound choices beyond whatever patches come with the DAW I'm using), or tweeking those sounds to my liking, or mixing the whole project down to a file I can demo to people.
If anyone knows if and how this problem can be fixed, holding me over for now, by adjusting buffers in Vista to eliminate the latency between the keyboard and my sound card, (assuming that' even the problem), please let me know. Like most people, I use my computer all day and night for a lot of other things involving sound on the Internet, and don't want any adjustments to compromise basic surfing, streaming, mp3 playing, etc.
I was thinking about a new computer and Midi software program anyway but don't want to spend another DIME on ANYTHING that isn't going to work for me. I'm open to desktops or laptops, Apple or PC. Based on what I've described, any 'LIGHT' version of software should suffice for my needs, and I can't believe my current hardware setup won't do this in the year 2012 without me having to be a Windows O/S techie. The store salesmen tell me that all the studio pros use ProTools, but I'm not one, don't necessarily believe it, and think most of the sales people put their commissions and profit margin ahead of customer needs. I'm sure they'd love to sell a full $700 retail version of ProTools to every fool who walks thru the door with daddy's credit card.
Considering Apple Mac and Garage Band...reading APPLE's website, they list everything I want to do, for now. And they say Garage Band files are usable for Logic if I wanted to upgrade later. I am not in anyway emboldened to Cakewalk, (I'm in the middle of their Tutorial, and it seems to have a large learning curve), but was hoping to stay PC cause I run other programs that use Java that Mac won't even run. But I plan to keep my laptop regardless, and can keep running those programs there if I switch to Apple. Why would I switch to Apple? To avoid the very hassles that are occurring now with Vista, when Microsoft doesn't seem to be geared toward music production. Yet I hear of tons of people doing fine with PC based DAWS. So I'm not sure WHAT to think at this point. It's hard for me to believe that all PC users have to adjust buffer settings. Are you kidding me? And if it's not this, what next? Apple seems to be saying, "Look, buy our computer, and we've already included software, and have other software, (Logic) that we've already tested and incorporated into our hardware for years, and WILL work for you." Is this not what everyone needs? I want to do songwriting, not computer tweeking. Given my goals and objectives, what is guaranteed to work RIGHT NOW for the least amount of money? I'll worry about upgrades once someone says my songs are worth a flip.
Thanks in advance.