Native hard disk recording systems-sequencing software coupled with hardware used to import audio into a personal computer-began to create a splash about two and a half years ago. Steinberg, opcode, MoTu and others were touting the ability of the new breed of lightning-fast computers, with CPus running at a whopping 200 MHz or so, to handle 16 or even 24 tracks of audio with plenty of bandwidth left for plug-ins.
But New York is a town that relies on performance, not hype, and the reality was computers of that speed, accessing hard drives at 2 megabytes per second, make for some nice experiments, but they cannot be counted on to deliver more than eight or 12 tracks without the constant threat of crashes and drive access errors. In major rooms, and in project studios throughout this area, Pro Tools continued its steady growth. MDMs, ADATs and DA-88s were seen as steady performers. Few major artists in this town were willing to rest their reputation on host-based recording environments.
With the introduction of the faster Macintosh G3, and now the G4 line, more and more top pros in New York are reconsidering the notion of recording native. Pat Metheny, for one, is tracking exclusively to a G3 with a MoTu 2408 system in his midtown studio. He's also using MoTu's Digital Performer as his sequencer. Pat had a lot of interesting things to say when Mix spoke to him, just as he was about to head into Sterling Sound to master his latest recording, a trio album with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart.
"I'm one of the original Synclavier guys, and I hung in there with the system for a long time," he says. "Why? There are things about it I've never seen duplicated anywhere else-its sound quality in particular. The warmth of NED's sampled voices has never been touched. Remember, NED was trying to compete with Studer, not some yet-to-be-invented sampler. The level of connectors and internal wiring they used was superb, and no money went unspent, even on the details of electricity.
"A lot of the new boxes give you 128 voices in a single-rackspace unit, but something is sacrificed in terms of the richness of sound," he continues. "I predict that over the next ten years or so you'll see some companies returning to the standard of producing super Class A-quality parts for synthesizers."
So Metheny held on to his Synclavier and lived with its limitations-primarily the primitive sequencer that came with it. "I'd look with incredible envy at friends who had Logic and other sequencers," Metheny recalls. "The control on the input side of data kept pulling me to change my way of working, but until the MoTu 2408 and a computer that could handle recording lots of tracks and multiple plug-ins came together as a viable package, I stayed with the Synclavier."
So it came to be that in the waning days of the 20th century, a Macintosh with a 330MHz CPu was begat. Metheny purchased one of these towers, and his work method was altered forever. "once I decided to make the move to native recording using the MoTu 2408, I had to decide on a sequencer," he says. "The choice came down to Logic or Digital Performer, and after looking at both, I realized that DP was more in tune with the way I work. Logic was attractive because of its more detailed timing resolution, but the latest DP release obliterates that distinction."
Metheny says his model remained the all-in-one approach of the Synclavier: "When I got the G3, I was amazed at its speed. Like everyone else, I spent about three weeks troubleshooting the system, worrying that there weren't enough slots on the machine, trying to figure out how to interface video, and so on. You see, I immediately had a project to work on, the soundtrack album to Sigourney Weaver's new film, A Map of the World. I had to be able to score to picture right away."
Although Metheny tracks guitar and MIDI synth parts at his project studio-they do end up on his scores and albums alongside live overdubs-he does not plan on mixing at his place. "I've worked with Rob Eaton over at Right Track for years. I don't pretend to be a mixer," he says. "The way I worked on this recent film score required that I bring my computer over to Right Track with super-clean audio on it. If the tracks sounded inferior-when we dropped to the studio's Sony 3348 through their Neve Capricorn-compared to the overdubs we went on to record, the process would have been a failure."
Worth noting is the fact that Metheny has no console in his studio. "I go right from Avalon preamps into a MoTu 1224, their new front end to the 2408," he says. "It has better converters than the 2408 itself."
So, how did the audio recorded to his G3 using the MoTu equipment stack up against the material tracked at Right Track? "Very, very well," Metheny says. "The real test came on the new trio record...These sessions were recorded directly onto a Sony 48-track HD recorder using Right Track's Capricorn. We then laid off individual guitar and bass tracks, plus a stereo drum pair, to my computer using MoTu's 308 box-it offers AES connectivity, which the 2408 itself lacks. I edited these tracks at my place, and we dumped them back to the 3348 for mixing. No one, including Rob, could hear any difference between the original audio and the tracks that had been offlined and edited on my G3. I realize that we were simply making digital transfers back and forth, but having that capability without degrading the signal at all is a tremendous benefit. The money I saved editing in my studio pays for the complete MoTu package, which is kind of amazing to think about."