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  • DAW Plus / XI Machines - Review

    Hey everyone, just wanted to put up a review of an amazing computer I bought a few months back. I've waited until I had used it quite a bit before reviewing, but I knew when I got it out of the box that it was something special! It will go without saying to anyone who knows me here that I have no financial interest in this company, nor did I get any incentive whatsoever to write this, simply I want to promote things that I believe in. I want to share my experience with something I find to be truly *exceptional*. When you buy a boutique / custom DAW you really hope for your money you will get something special that delivers, and we always have that worry that maybe whoever we are buying from despite earnest sounding promises will somehow let us down and deliver us something less than excellent. Well in this case I was not disappointed in the slightest. This thing is not a Bentley (yuk), or a Rolls (boring), it's a twin V8 quad turbo Bugatti Veyron with custom interior... and it smokes the latest Ferrari with aplomb...

    First of all the case I got was an upright version, with a 2897W Intel 8-Core processor, 64Gb's RAM, and Angelbird SSD's throughout (no hard drives). I got the extra acoustic insulation. The system is running Windows 7, and they got me a video card so I could hook up my 30 inch Apple cinema display - the 8 core 2007 Mac is now relegated to all other duties other than music ;) and I have the PC running purely Cubase / VSL etc. It's not even plugged into the internet, except for the odd quick serial number / registration process. I do my USB sticks etc, internet, email and all the rest on the Mac.

    Where to start? Well this thing is gorgeous. From the outside, simple, clean and really cool. No flashy zig zaggy lights and bizarro world jazz. It's just cool, and elegant. I am a huge mac fan, but I did the math, and hardware and software wise PC's have a massive edge dollar for dollar on performance right now - you cannot beat it. It's not a matter of opinion folks so please no mac versus pc arguments I dislike MS as much as the next person, but the fact is technically they're doing the right thing for music to happen and the Macs aren't matching that right now. You can't run the same project on a PC as on a Mac with the same hardware, and, on a mac, that same hardware is either not yet available, or it's twice the price. If it was the other way around I would be as strongly advocating the Mac. I don't care either way, I'm objective about track count! So anyway I treat it like what it is, a machine to make music.

    Now when I say this thing is gorgeous, I mean I think even Steve Jobs himself would have said that, and been so impressed with the internals of this thing he would have gotten a meeting with his MacPro engineers that day to discuss. I won't post photos, because there is some proprietary stuff going on in there, and I don't want to help Leon's competitors! He deserves the business! But let me say, when I got my 8core MacPro in 2007, I was well impressed with the internals, very well designed, put together, and just overall super impressive especially in it's time. I thought then, "No PC could ever match this kind of engineering and design". I was wrong! The XI Machines design, the parts and workmanship that Leon and his team have put together here is just simply awesome and a huge one or even TWO up on the current MacPro. I can honestly say I have far more confidence in this machine than I did when I first unboxed my new very expensive Mac Pro in 2007. They are really using top quality parts and cables etc in this thing. the PSU, the fans, etc. I repeat, top notch. Of course, it came with the obligatory set of Angelbird Master SSD's which are simply part and parcel of the rest of the standard of this thing - absolutely exceptional - so they are right at home in this machine. I wish I could post photos! For now you'll have to trust me about the looks and build!

    It's silent - it's blazingly fast, I mean I can do *at least* 10 times (LITERALLY) more live low latency work with MIR and everything running than I ever could on my mac - without freezing tracks. Even with the latest MacPro I estimate I would get not better than (at best) half that for double the money. (Read that again I'm not exaggerating). Only on the largest projects lately have I had to freeze one or two instances of Kontact since it seems to be much less efficient than VI Pro. If you run your VI's mostly in VEPro, then performance is very high indeed even with Kontact and other VI's. It's extremely professional, I mean, it just works beautifully. I've had no problems (other than my own user errors), for example I had one mistake I made where I was shutting down the PC before VEPro had finished quitting, and eventually I lost some preferences, which were easy enough to fix up, before I learned you should let apps quit before shutting down on Windows. That's a Windows thing I guess. Apart from that very minor issue of my own doing, All VSL software (VI Pro, VE Pro, Suite, MIR) Cubase, and Windows itself have been extremely stable throughout the last four months I've been using this. Cubase runs almost flawlessly. I'm on V6 right now waiting for V7 to arrive. Of course, I keep this machine very clean. No supurflous software - none at all in fact, just the bare essentials. No internet, no other "jobs" just purely music. I can highly recommend this way of working folks. Worry free!

    I keep backups of all my stuff on external drives, and the USB3 port on this is a real time saver, VERY fast. I am hoping to get one of Angelbirds external SSD's that look amazing when I have some budget. This machine has LOADS of ports. There's plenty of USB ports to plug everything into. I was able to get away without using any USB hubs, and still have about 3 ports free for hard drives, usb sticks etc including USB3. I have quite a few dongles as well, I have the SSL dongle, Waves, Cubase and VSL which I put on the one dongle quite a while ago, and an iLok. It has no firewire, which I don't need and am glad is not there. Simplicity is king! I have a 2882 interface, which is Mac only firewire, but it has AES/EBU ports, so I bought an RME AES card for the PC, and that sends digitally to the 2882 which feeds my monitors. Since I'm only in 2.1 right now, it works fine. If I want to go to 5.1 (or up to 7.1) I can buy a new interface, or buy ADAT > AES convertor box and use the ADAT lightpipe (8 channels) on the 2882 with the AES cables on the RME. There are I think 16 stereo channels of AES on the RME card which is awesome, I can hook up any AES external digital gear I need with room to spare, even if I went to 5.1 or more.

    I tend to work at low latencies whenver possible, since I perform all my parts it always helps especially with string parts and other instruments with an already delayed attack to have very low latency so you can really hear what you're doing, and this thing does it with NO problem, and it was always an issue on the mac, the best I could get was 256 buffer in Cubase with a 1X buffer in VE Pro, which is too slow to perform it at your best IMO. I'm sure there are much more accomplished keyboard players out there who have "read ahead listening" haha, but after a certain point, certain material is impossible to play properly at larger latencies espescially fast material, especially if you want to record the best possible performance you can do. If you are using VEPro to host your instruments our of Cubase or whatever you're using (which I highly recommend) then you'll be able to get a HUGE live voice count on this thing especially with SSD's.

    Anyway the beauty of this is there's not much more to say except that I think this has to be the absolute pinnacle of music production available today when it comes to DAW's. XI machines + VSL / VE Pro / Suite / MIR is the king of audio production and I don't only write orchestral material. I can't think of anything better and I looked at many options, including much more expensive options (no names!) they frankly and honestly didn't even come CLOSE to being deserving of standing in the same *sentence* as this machine. I would have the same confidence buying any other configuration from these guys.

    Dealing with the company itself was painless, honest, and efficient. I can't recommend them highly enough. I don't live in Europe so it had to be shipped, and they handled that very well also. If I lived somewhere far away like Antartica, and there was a custom PC shop around the corner from my Igloo... I would still order from DAW Plus / XI Machines. If you're really serious about your music, this is where you want to go for your next DAW. The only way I could be happier is if this thing had a flux capaciter and could travel through time...!

    Edit: I just realised that although the machine is called "XI Machines" And they are a hardware company the custom build was done and purchased through a company called DAW Plus.