In the old days of recording, we did our work in magnificent studios, lavishly equipped with the finest consoles, microphones and signal-processing equipment, and we preserved our work on magnetic tape. But now that the digital revolution has battered the record business to its knees and ground most of the old recording studios into dust and ashes, people record music onto computer hard drives, and most of the work is done in poky little home studios. (Former big-shot engineers like me now work at computer programming or other grinding toil.)
The platform that has emerged as the industry standard for digital recording is a package called Pro Tools, and recently I decided to set it up on my home computer. It was tricky to get it all working (Pro Tools is notoriously finnicky even under the best conditions, and these weren’t they), and so I thought I would put up a fairly technical post about what I had to to to get it running, for the benefit of others who might be scouring the Interweb looking for help and advice.
So, a warning to my customary readers: this is a post that you are probably going to find awfully dull.
My goal was to get Pro Tools up and running on my laptop, which is a Hewlett-Packard dv7t-3100. The machine has a dual-core Intel i5 CPU, running at 2.27 GHz. It has 6GB of RAM, and a capacious 7200rpm internal hard drive. I’m running 64-bit Windows 7 Home 6.01.7600. It’s a pretty beefy laptop, and I figured it would be equal to the task.
I went out and bought a Digidesign Digi 003 Rack+ Music Workstation Production System. This is a rack-mountable digital audio interface that provides various inputs and outputs, does analog-to-digital conversion, and serves as the playback engine for Pro Tools. It comes bundled with Pro Tools LE software, version 8.0.3, and an assortment of extra software goodies: loops and samples, virtual instruments, and so on. (We will hereinafter refer to this piece of hardware as “the Rack”.)
The Rack wants to connect to the host computer by Firewire, a high-speed data-cabling protocol known in more technical circles as IEEE 1934. My first worry was that my machine only has a single 4-pin “iLink” Firewire port, while the Rack uses the 6-pin “Firewire 400″ connector. The Pro Tools manual suggested that if I bought a 6-pin to 4-pin conversion cable, I’d be OK. So I did.
I connected the Rack, but as per the directions in the setup manual I did not power it on yet. I installed the Pro Tools 8.0.3 software, and powered up the Rack when prompted. The installation seemed to go well, but when I launched Pro Tools an error dialog popped up announcing a “DAE error -6006″.
I looked around online and found that there was an 8.0.4 update to Pro Tools 8.0.3 that I ought to have installed first. (It’s here.) The instructions for the update said that to get it all working right I should NOT power up the Rack when prompted during the version 8.0.3 installation, but should, rather, complete the 8.0.3 setup, and only connect the Rack during the 8.0.4 upgrade. So I went back, uninstalled everything, then followed the new instructions.
Still no luck. After more snooping around I realized that I was missing a vital component: a certified external hard drive. (Apparently Pro Tools isn’t happy just working with the system drive.) So the next day I went out and bought a half-terabyte Glyph drive down at Tekserve, on 23rd Street.
The Glyph drive has a variety of ports, including a 6-pin Firewire 400 connector and two 9-pin Firewire 800 sockets. My problem now was that I had two devices to hook up, but only had the single 4-pin port on my machine — but I had read somewhere that I could “daisy-chain” the devices together by connecting the Glyph to my laptop, and then connecting the Rack to the Glyph. So I got a 9-pin to 4-pin cable to connect the Glyph to my machine, and a standard Firewire 400 6-pin to 6-pin cable to connect the Rack to the Glyph.
This time it worked. I was able to launch Pro Tools, the software located the peripheral devices, and I was able to create a session and open up some virtual instruments.
When I listened to the audio, however, it was awful — crackling and distorted. I decided that the problem had to be the crummy little 4-pin Firewire port that all this massive signal-processing was being crammed though, and started looking into how I could work around it.
Fortunately I did find a solution. My machine has an ExpressCard slot, and by looking at some of the online forums I found that users were recommending ExpressCard FireWire adapters made by a company called SIIG. I tried to find one for sale here in town, but couldn’t, so I ordered one online, here. The one I ordered was an 800MHz model that had both a 6-pin connector for the Rack, and a 9-pin connector for the Glyph.
When the card arrived, I installed the accompanying driver software, and plugged it in. Now I was able to give both the Rack and the Glyph separate, high-speed data connections. I fired up Pro Tools again, and this time it worked; the software found the peripherals just fine through the SIIG card, and the audio problems were gone. I hooked up a little MIDI keyboard to the Rack, plugged in some speakers, and I was off to the races.
So there you have it: Pro Tools LE 8.0.4, up and running on an HP laptop. I’ve only done rudimentary stuff on the system so far — small sessions with a few virtual instruments and almost no audio plugins — so I haven’t really seen what it’s going to perform like when I have lots of tracks, virtual instruments, effects, etc. all running at once. But as things stand, Pro Tools seems happy, my CPU isn’t even breaking a sweat, and I am going to savor this little victory.