Audio Networking in Your Home Studio

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When I set out to redesign my home studio from scratch, I knew I wanted to build something completely different than my old-school Black Lion Audio Mod Digidesign 002 based setup. My music production workflow had changed quite a bit from when I bought the 002, having evolved from a more hardware-based process to one that’s largely software based, with a bit of live instrumentation and outboard gear in the mix. Taking that into consideration, I also wanted this new setup to allow for ways of collaborating with other musicians and producers that weren’t so easy to do in the past, like synchronizing multiple computer-based production setups, each with its own instruments and sequencing capabilities, and recording large numbers of tracks from each system, simultaneously. Luckily, this was all very feasible, thanks to networked audio, which is much less daunting to put together than you might think.

Three Production Stations

I’ll cut right to the chase. It involves three computers, each running Ableton Live, synched via Ableton Link— which is Live’s more-or-less plug ’n’ play synchronization feature that relies on Wi-Fi to keep each system locked and in time with each other. I knew that Ableton would be the basis of the system, largely for the convenience of this feature. Also, the other producers that I work with are familiar with Ableton; plus, it allows for other DAWs and production tools to run within it, such as Reason or FL Studio, if anyone feels so inclined.

Ableton Live 10 Suite
Ableton Live 10 Suite

For the computers, all I knew is that I wanted as much power as possible, for as little money as possible. As it turns out, gaming desktops like this CyberPowerPC make great music production computers, for several key reasons. First, they give you a lot of bang for your buck, which is evident in this model as soon as you see that it’s powered by a beastlike 3.6 GHz Intel® Core™ i9-10850K 10-core processor. The other thing I really like is that they often come with two internal drives, which is ideal for music production workflows, wherein you want to run your projects from a secondary drive, leaving the system disk for the DAW and plug-ins. This computer has an ideal cost/value ratio in the drive department, because it includes an ample 500GB NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD for the system disk, paired with a large 2TB 7200 rpm SATA magnetic drive for all your sample content and projects. This configuration offers a ton of capacity for the buck, without sacrificing blazing read/write speeds.

CyberPowerPC Gamer Supreme Liquid Cool Desktop Computer
CyberPowerPC Gamer Supreme Liquid Cool Desktop Computer

Next, I needed to decide on audio interfaces for each production station, and due to the high track counts, crazy routing possibilities, and availability of affordable solutions on the market now, I knew I wanted to explore models that feature networked audio functionality. The two main options on the table, for me, centered on Focusrite’s Dante-based RedNet line and MOTU’s AVB-based interfaces.

After careful consideration, with respect to my needs and budget, I ended up deciding to go with three MOTU 624 interfaces (one for each production computer), as well as one MOTU 1248 that would be used in conjunction with my old Mac Pro tower to record networked audio from the three production stations.

MOTU 624 - Thunderbolt and USB Audio Interface
MOTU 624 - Thunderbolt and USB Audio Interface

The 624s have two mic preamps, two guitar inputs, four ¼" TRSs for hooking up synths and the like, plus ADAT connectivity, which could be used for adding an 8-channel digital mic preamp down the line, for instance. Each of these unassuming boxes can output 64 channels apiece via AVB, which can be used to stream live guitars, analog synths, microphones, and virtual instruments from each production station, over the network, and into the MOTU 1248-based recording station mentioned above, which can handle up to 128 channels of input at a time. The four interfaces all connect to each other via the MOTU AVB Switch 5-port ethernet switch using Cat 5e ethernet cables.

MOTU AVB Switch
MOTU AVB Switch

That’s a whopping 128 channels of I/O using just a few tiny boxes connected to each other by four ethernet cables. Pretty incredible, if you ask me.

Conclusion

Networked audio is often thought of as difficult to understand, and something better left to the commercial pro audio world. But the truth is, building an insanely powerful, flexible, and fun networked music production studio at home can be done affordably, and is surprisingly easy to set up. Are you building your home studio? We hope these tips help. Please feel free to ask us any questions you may have about incorporating networked audio in the Comments section, below.

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