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Why doesn't computer audio 'just work' when everything else on the computer 'just works'?

A post by David Mellor
Monday October 25, 2010
The Internet 'just works', word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software 'just work'. Photoshop 'just works', video editing 'just works'. So why do so many people have so many problems with audio on their computer?
Why doesn't computer audio 'just work' when everything else on the computer 'just works'?

We recently received a tale of woe at Audio Masterclass Towers from a frustrated home recordist. Well, we receive similar tales of woe all the time, and this is just one of them...

I was have trouble getting all my software instruments to work without my DAW grinding to a halt. I recently read however that the problem with large instrument libraries is that 32-bit software can't address sufficient memory and they need to run in 64 bits to work properly.

Well, that's a bit of a problem since my DAW is only 32-bit, but never mind - to get the job done I decided to transfer to a 64-bit DAW. It's not my favorite DAW because I don't like its user interface. However, technically it works great and my software instruments all ran very smoothly without a hitch.

So I make the mental leap and decide to abandon my once-favorite DAW and change to this other one. Despite some lack of fluency in operation on my part, my track was coming along nicely with loads of software instruments running smoothly. It got to the point where I wanted to start working towards the mix so I loaded up my favorite reverb plug-in...

Or rather I didn't load up my favorite reverb plug-in because I couldn't find it. That caused a bit of head scratching because it was definitely installed on the computer. It turned out that... wait for it...

The plug-in was only 32-bit, and there isn't a 64-bit version. So I can't use it!

So I now have to choose between my 32-bit DAW and favorite reverb plug-in, or a 64-bit DAW that runs software instruments better, but no favorite reverb. Sorry, I'm not asking for a solution because I know there isn't one. Just having a rant. A major rant!

Whether or not there is a solution to this problem, other than to wait for all audio software to be 64-bit capable, we don't know and we don't intend to waste valuable hours, possibly days, of our lives finding out.

At RP, we like to follow the principle of...

  1. Get the system working
  2. Use it
  3. Don't bugger about with it!

This is always our recommendation for any musician or producer because that way you spend most of your time making music and as little time as possible tweaking the equipment and software.

But it did make us think...

Most things in computer-land 'just work', to borrow a phrase that is often used in relation to Apple products.

The Internet 'just works', office software 'just works', image editing software 'just works'. Even video editing software 'just works'.

So why doesn't audio software just work?

You can easily see that it doesn't 'just work' from the huge numbers of, vast populations on, and sheer weight of submissions to Internet forums devoted to audio.

Yes, other types of software have their forums too. But they are mostly about people helping each other learn the tools and get the results they want.

Audio forums are jam-packed full of people's problems. Problem after problem after problem amply demonstrating that audio software doesn't 'just work'.

This could raise the question of why it doesn't 'just work'.

Or it could raise the perhaps more significant question of whether we like it not 'just working'?

Now that's scary.

So what do you think? Should audio software 'just work', or do we prefer buggering about with it because it gives us an excuse not to make music?

(OK, so the photo is somewhat gratuitous. You try finding a picture that illustrates 'just' and 'work'. We reckon she has just worked out. Gettit? Click the photo to visit the creator's photo stream.)

A post by David Mellor
Monday October 25, 2010 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)