Update November 2005
OK, no updates for quite a while, eh?
So, for the last couple of months I've been a/assembling the computer itself, along with a soundcard and MIDI interface, b/debugging same, so it all actually works, and c/transferring the music recorded so far from the old setup into the new one.
The computer is a Windows PC – an Asus motherboard with a sting of letters and numbers that I can't remember as its model number, an Athlon 2600+ processor and 1 and a half gigabytes of memory. It has a 40 gigabyte hard drive for running the OS and applications from, and an 80gb drive for recording the audio onto.
Obviously there is some debate among musicians about the relative merits and defects of the Windows PC platform vs the Apple Macintosh platform. I can't afford to care about this, I'm afraid. At my budget, PC was the only option.
The soundcard is an RME HDSP9652, which to be honest is a bit overspecced for what we want to do, with a Behringer ADA8000 analogue/digital/analogue convertor hooked onto it via an ADAT cable, so we have 8 ins and outs. If we wanted to, we could add another 18 analogue ins and outs, although why we'd ever do that, I don't know. The Behringer unit uses Alesis 24 bit converter chips, and sounds noticeably more "open" than the hard disc recorder used to, and the hard disc recorder was a pretty good one when it was new.
The MIDI interface is an Edirol UM880, a rack-mounting unit, which attaches to the computer with a USB cable. It has 8 ins and outs, which when combined with the 2 ins and outs on the RME soundcard means that almost everything gets its own MIDI cable. In theory, this should mean tighter timing, but the timing on the Atari/Steinberg "MIDEX" was pretty tight anyway.
I bought a copy of "Cubase SL3" for all the sequencing and audio recording. Obviously it would have been a bit more manly to stump up for the full version – "Cubase SX3", but screw that. SL does everything we want to, and more besides. It cost something like 200 quid less than "SX3" If we ever decide to mix in surround, or print out scores of our music, then no doubt we can upgrade.
I bought a couple of "soft synths" as well. Steinberg "D'Cota", which was getting blown out for fifty quid, and Gmedia "Mtron" – a virtual version of the Mellotron keyboard. "D'cota" is, er, OK for fifty quid I suppose. "Mtron" I've yet to get working, I'll let you know what it's like when I do get it going.
I downloaded a selection of free plug-in effects as well, the best of which have been the "super impulse modeler" reverb, the kjaerhus "classic collection" and the "digital fish phones" set. They're all pretty good, well actually they're fantastic.
As one might expect, getting it all working properly was a bit of a faff, but it works very well now – very stable, and I must admit very easy to use. When we got the hardware hard disc recorder I wasn't very impressed with whatever iteration of "Cubase" was out then, but that was a long time ago, and this setup is the shit. We're really pleased with it. It's much quicker to write and record on.