It’s beginning to look a lot like – Best Buy? Wal-Mart?

By • September 3, 2008

According to a story by the Associated Press, Best Buy (BBY) has announced the opening of 85 store-within-a-store music centers to open before year’s end. These stores are slated to carry up to a 1000 products from Fender, Gibson, Drum Workshop, Roland, and others, along with their expanding Mac Centers. The music centers will be roughly 2500 square feet in size, the equal of three one-bedroom apartments where the average square footage is 800 square feet.

At present, Best Buy is rolling out Mac centers in all locations so that beyond iPod and iPhone, Film Music Readers will also be able to purchase Mac Pro’s and Mac Mini’s from them.

FMM readers can already purchase the full Mac line (excluding Logic Pro) from CDW. You can also read our earlier column, Best Buy Rising.

Even if your local Best Buy sells the Macs, should a composer buy one from Best Buy vs. Apple or a smaller authorized Apple dealer?

The first aspect of that question is monetary. Apple’s dealer discounts are so low, including on the software, they can’t be discounted. Where the dealer makes his money is when you buy a Mac Pro and start adding RAM and hard drives. In this column, I spec’ed out a Mac Pro with 32GB of RAM that cost over $13000 when purchased from Apple directly. Buy the same system from an authorized dealer, and it’s a savings of thousands of dollars based on a fully decked out Mac Pro system with 16GB of RAM one of my clients got from a local authorized Mac dealer.

As I worked with this company on my client’s system, one thing became painfully obvious – the chore of system integration. And that’s the second aspect, because system integration can be a dog, yes, even on a Mac depending on the programs you’re using.

My client got two systems. One was a PC dedicated to the Vienna Instruments and the other a Mac dedicated to QLSO PLAY with one orchestral section per hard drive. The PC runs VI plus the new streaming Vienna Ensemble 3. No audio card was needed on the PC, just a CAT 5 LAN cable from Office Max.

The Mac had the Vienna Ensemble 3 to receive the audio/MIDI data flow from the PC. The Mac was outfitted with an RME Fireface 800 audio card. He has two programs to sequence with – DP5 and Logic 8.

The system integration of Vienna and Logic went very smoothly. DP was a different story. There, the dealer had real hassles getting DP5 and audio to work smoothly.

Then with QLSO PLAY, the question was: to SoundFlower or not to SoundFlower?

We already knew from Vienna NOT to SoundFlower.

But throughout August, while we were all on “vacation” I was working with others on getting QLSO PLAY to happen in Logic (can’t tell you about DP yet, but if you’re DP user and you have any PLAY library, add a comment and tell us how you’re setting up).

Here’s the short of the story. We ended up NOT installing SoundFlower as we, and others, determined that with QLSO, it’s best to run PLAY as you would with the EXS24, as a single instance as opposed to setting up in multitimbral mode. I tested this on a G5. Others tested this on a Mac Pro. We got the same results. Plus, by running as a single instance you don’t have to go into the Logic Environment to set up for multitimbral players and then reroute the audio to different busses!

What was going on here? What was the effort being expended? Answer: system integration. It affects everything from installation to training.

Because of these critical system integration issues, and the transition still ongoing with 64-bit, FMM readers need to ask and get answered tough questions to which there are not always easy answers. 

Should you buy a Mac Pro from Apple who can’t system integrate? Best Buy who can’t system integrate?CDW who can’t system integrate? Or a local authorized Mac dealer who may, or may not, be able to system integrate your new Mac system due to their lack of experience with digital audio software and the 32-bit/64-bit issues being encountered right now?

See the problem? No matter which way an FMM reader turns, he or she may not be assured that the company creating their Mac will get system integration right on the Mac, much less being able to help you do system integration if you also have PC systems in your studio (as many do). 

This now leads us to the third aspect – who’s responsible for training especially when system integration issues are equally part of the training?

Here’s the sad answer from many developers – you are.

The attitude seems to be that they developed it, you go figure it out. Here’s how the training from the developer needs to work. On the Mac and PC, there must be clear documentation for:

  • installation
  • setup
  • multitimbral usage and audio routing

for the program itself and in use with each sequencing and notation program.

None of the sequencing companies, at this writing that I’m aware of, have separate instruction sets on how to setup and use “external” programs with the Kontakt player, PLAY, or the Vienna Instruments. Nor am I really seeing sample library developers creating this training either.  

Given that your music career is so dependent on technology, does this not strike you as financially reckless for our industry when such needed documentation isn’t readily available and so many pass the buck and finger point as to whose responsibility it really is to fulfill this legitmate customer need?

FMM readers looking for PC farm machines have more buying options but not more system integration options.

Going through all the Best Buy desktop systems one night in August, I only found one PC from Hewlett-Packard capable of handling 8GB of RAM and it has to be special ordered.

Now there’s Wal-Mart. Yes, Wal-Mart. See Wal-Mart and their systems. At the link is a Core 2 QUAD shipping with 3GB of RAM and one 320GB hard drive. For under $1000, you get the computer, monitor and keyboard. The case is a mini-tower so you’ll have to check how many hard drives it can handle.

Wal-Mart has at least three other desktop systems from HP and Gateway that can be expanded to 8GB. The current issue of Sound on Sound has an article on how to buy a store bought system (you might want to read that).

Just remember that at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, you’re on your own for expanding your system and teching it.

On the PC, if you want more than 8GB, you need a genuine system integrator because above 8GB of RAM on the PC, you’re in to server systems, and those aren’t handled at Best Buy or Wal-Mart (today). So that leaves CDW (who doesn’t system integrate our software) or finding a system integrator specialist who can build the system. But can they really install and integrate the system properly into your whole studio?

So back to the question, where and from whom should you buy your next system? And who will system integrate it for you?

 

Comments

By Bob Safir on September 12th, 2008 at 10:16 am

Peter,

You pose very good questions, and in your last sentence, it is concisely summarized: Where and from whom should you buy your next system? And who will system integrate it for you?

Answers: We don’t know. And, we don’t know.

The upgrade process, whether hardware or software or both, has become a monumental undertaking in which each step must be carefully analyzed, each virtual instrument and plug-in studied for compatibility, and in which each decison brings a host of new questions with it. Book one to two weeks of no projects or commitments so that you can upgrade “safely.” And buy plenty of ink cartridges and paper because no one prints documentation anymore, a trend that certainly doesn’t help when making these decisions.

At the beginning of this year, my move from an “old” dual G4 to a new Mac Pro – and all the implications posed by instruments and plug-ins – was a combination of ballet dance and juggling act. I was successful only by doubting every bit of advice I received and researching everything myself.

I’m not a pessimist, but I predict that as the technology train moves forward, it’s only going to get more complicated. Anyone with some time and some capital would do well to consider a true system integration business for audio and music professionals…one in which responses such as “I don’t know” or “It’s so-and-so’s fault – are considered unacceptable.

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