Pro Audio and the New MacPro
The new Mac Pro does not just represent a radical departure from the aesthetics of its rectangular predecessors, but has drastically increased processing power, RAM capacity, and SSD speeds. Combined with Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3 connectivity, these machines will appeal to many members of the Pro Audio community and will be most welcome.
For music production, recording, and mixing, technology is best when it is transparent and functions as seamlessly as possible. Nothing can kill the creative vibe faster than waiting on an over-taxed system to bounce tracks, process audio, or load a sample library. The processor in your computer is the gatekeeper to how effortlessly you can make or record music.
Configurable with Intel® Xeon™ E5 processors up to 12 cores, with a 30MB cache, the 2013 Mac Pro is designed to cater to mixing sessions with high plug-in counts, processor-hogging virtual instruments, and loop- and sample-heavy sessions.
This kind of processing power quickly reduces the need to bounce virtual instrument tracks to audio files as a processor-saving measure, giving you more time to spend composing, mixing, and recording.
The benefits of the processing strength of the Mac Pro apply just as much to plug-ins in the mixing stage, too. Modern pop tracks commonly feature 30-plus Auto Tuned vocal tracks, while mixes themselves boast a wide array of processor-intensive plug-ins. Mixes with more than 100 audio and auxiliary tracks, all with intensive automation and multiple plug-ins, are fast becoming the new norm. The 2013 Mac Pro can be configured with up to 24 virtual cores, double that of the previous-generation model.
As the Intel Xeon E5 provides increases processing firepower, the DDR2EEC RAM can be configurable up to an impressive 64GB (starting at 12GB), giving you access to higher plug-in instances when tracking and mixing. A larger RAM configuration will allow you to do more simultaneously. When you are ready to mix that 100-track session, ample RAM is paramount.
Since the current releases of most popular DAWs, including Pro Tools 11, Logic Pro X, Cubase 7.5, and Ableton Live 9 all host 64-bit performance, you can now take full advantage of a high RAM configuration. It should be noted that earlier 32-bit versions of these DAWs can only take advantage of 4GB of RAM as a limit of their 32-bit architecture.
Solid-State Operating Drives
For many audio professionals working with previous generation Mac Pros, there is a handful of hard-and-fast rules that apply to your operating drive, and two of the most important the new Mac Pro build takes to heart: 1) Never write to your operating drive, and 2) Use a drive with the fastest rpm that is still stable.
If you have not had the chance to experience the speed of booting an OS or launching applications from a solid-state drive (SSD), you are in for a treat. The standard configuration includes a 256GB PCIe-based flash storage drive that can be configured to up to 1TB.
Thunderbolt 2 Connectivity
As more and more converters begin to offer Thunderbolt-connectivity options, it is apparent the format is here to stay. Eschewing both FireWire and PCIe slots, the Mac Pro’s connectivity comes in the form of 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports and 4 USB 3.0 ports (not counting its HDMI output).
While this design decision might be alarming to those with FireWire interfaces or PCIe-based recording systems such as Pro Tools HD rigs, your systems will work just fine with the latest gen, albeit with some peripheral assistance.
A FireWire to Thunderbolt adapter will allow you to connect any FireWire interfaces or external hard drives. If you’re running a Pro Tools HD system, you will have to pick up a PCIe to Thunderbolt chassis to get your system up and running.
Tracking Live Audio
Whether you’re tracking vocals or a full band, the new Mac Pro can provide the processor power to handle high track counts for tracking and playback.
As virtual instruments and effects continue to evolve and become capable of more complex, multi-timbral performances, adequate processing power and RAM to handle them are crucial. With many sampler libraries stacking up in the terabytes rather than gigabytes, the speed of Thunderbolt 2 will provide ample bandwidth for playback.
Mixes of modern productions see track counts that commonly reach 3 digits. Since many of the “industry standard” plug-in effects are rightfully considered processor hogs, the power to mix a session in-the-box without any hiccups is invaluable.
Can I still use my USB and FireWire interfaces with the new Mac Pro?
Yes. The Mac Pro comes equipped with 4 USB 3.0 ports that are backwards compatible, and will work with most USB interfaces. While Apple has retired FireWire, your FireWire interface will still function with the addition of a Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter.
Does a 256GB flash drive provide enough storage?
The Mac Pro comes standard with a 256GB PCIe-based flash storage drive that is configurable up to 1TB. While many audio professionals are used to having multiple traditional drives physically installed within their Mac Pro, the new design (with 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports and 4 USB 3 ports) provides PCIe-speed connections for external drives, allowing you to house your write disks, samples, loops, and libraries externally.
Should I max out the GPU?
One of the new Mac Pro’s biggest features is its configurable graphics processor units, or GPUs. While these powerful chipsets will be a boon to those dealing with video, they don’t aid in any system processing or basic CPU function. Unless you will also use the machine for video editing, you will be fine with the stock GPU configuration.
Will my Pro Tools HD rig still work?
Yes. You can integrate your Pro Tools HD PCIe cards into the Mac Pro, but doing so requires a Thunderbolt to PCIe expansion chassis that can fit all the cards in your specific Pro Tools HD configuration.
Can my DAW support all that RAM?
Most major DAWs now have 64-bit versions (Pro Tools 11, Logic Pro X, Cubase 7.5) that support much more powerful RAM configurations than their 32-bit predecessors.
Can I connect my existing display?
The Mac Pro offers display connectivity through either its Thunderbolt 2 or HDMI connections. If you are tagging along an older display, you might need to find an adapter, depending on the model.
Do I need to configure wireless and Bluetooth options?
The new Mac Pro comes standard with 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking and Bluetooth 4.0 support.