z Gear Stories episode 27

Gear Stories 27, Creation station and ICON


Greeting, friends!  Here is the latest edition of Gear Stories.  For those who are not familiar with my (generally) monthly column, please check it out before you frantically unsubscribe… you might like it… but if you don’t, just hit reply and politely ask, and I’ll take you off the list!


Usually, I pick two items from the wonderful array of products that we carry at Sweetwater, and let you know some exceptional (and hopefully helpful) things about them, and usually the first one I write about is an affordable piece of gear that most of us could pick up if we so fancied it, and the second is one we can dream about and maybe aspire to own one day when we hit the big time.


First, however, a bit of urgent news for the many, many of you who own pro tools LE systems.  For the last nine months or so, we have been participating in the Digidesign/Avid (Pro Tools) HD upgrade program.  It is a chance for those of you who own Pro Tools LE systems like the mBox series or the Digi 001, 002, or 003 to get up into the high end system,  Pro Tools HD, for a drastically reduced rate and get a trade in value on your old Pro Tools interface that is several times what you could get for it on eBay!  Every quarter, Avid has hinted that the upgrade program would go away, and then they have extended it for another quarter.  This time, it’s different.  This program ends this month, PERIOD!  As of June 30th, It will be completely unavailable.  It will be back to the old upgrade program, and depending on the system you are looking at, several thousand dollars in savings will simply evaporate if you wait another two weeks.


So if you have any of the old LE systems that have been registered in your name from before October last year, and you want to make the move to HD sometime, and you have been hiding under a digital audio rock and not heard about this… call me SOON!  You’ll be glad you did!


Now on to Gear Stories Proper…


Part one, CREATION STATIONS, Windows computers that act like MACS!


OK, there are a few things that I have to get out of the way right off the bat…  Fist of all, as they say in the commercials, “Hi, I’m a Mac.”  I have been a Mac user for well over a decade and I am happy being that, but it used to be because Macs were all that worked.  Now, with the way Creation Stations work, it has simply become a matter of habit for me more than anything else.


Secondly, anybody who knows me, even just over the phone or through e-mail, knows that I am, have always been, and always will be about the music!  For a guy that sells music gear for a living, I am surprisingly NOT about gear… but I am about what you can DO with the gear.  I’m a results kind of guy.


Not being a PC guy myself, I have to admit that some of the techy details that go into PCs, like differences and compatibility between motherboards, chip sets, BIOS, Northbridge, Southbridge (can I take it to the bridge?), etc. are just not my specialty.  Frankly, I never needed to know about that stuff to make great music.  Fortunately, the guys we have here who design and build our Creation Stations live and breathe that stuff, so you don’t have to know all that stuff to make your own great music (if you are one of those tech heads, I can certainly get whatever specs and details you may need if they aren’t already on our website – I just may not know them off the top of my head).


So, let’s talk about making music, and using computers as a tool to help you do that.


Since the beginning of computer based recording, Apple was the top of the heap, and if you were a professional, you used Mac.  They were more stable than PC’s and there was a disconnect… for those of you who remember what it was like when data was talked about in kilobytes and ram was talked about in megabytes (Like me… my first “HUGE” hard drive was 9 gigs, for which I got a SMOKIN’ deal of a thousand dollars for back in the late nineties!)  Back then, ProTools didn’t even work on a PC and the serious software developers didn’t even pay attention to Windows based computers.


The problem was, (and often still is, if you are dealing with the consumer market) consistency.  All MacIntosh  computers are made by one company… “APPLE” (which used to be the Beatles record label, too… no not really, but I always liked to think it was!)  The Mac guys would only license their designs to be made by Apple, and in that way, they removed competition based on price, so quality control could be maintained.  That is why Macs have been so stable and well made.


But International Business Machine decided to go a different route.  They wanted to proliferate their product to the masses, so they licensed the designs to make IBM compatible computers to anybody with some savvy and some microchips, and created a price based, competitive marketplace that really made the explosion of computers in the the general populace possible.


So we really have IBM to thank for the fact that most homes in America (and so many all over the world) have computers.  But the problem with that kind of market for high tech products is that when anybody could go out and build and sell PC’s, pretty soon, anybody that wanted to did.  Economics drove the market in a frantic race to zero, where everyone had to do it cheaper… and not necessarily better.


Any source of microchips and processors and whatnot that was a penny less than the other guy got the sale and companies who were making computers that were affordable enough for people, were also making computers that often had bits here and there that didn’t entirely work!  Hence, people got used to computers being frustrating, cheap pieces of garbage that would barely allow them to play video games and write letters.


So, in the long run, the problem was not that the various versions of windows didn’t work right.  Over the years, those poor IBM guys have had to make patches and fixes for people who were selling computers made with parts that were the cheapest on the market, from literally thousands of manufacturers.  Who can blame them that they often didn’t work right.


But despite the problems, most of the world has opted for low cost, and hence most of the computers out there were indeed IBM compatible machines running some version of Windows, and the world of music making could no longer ignore this, so they jumped in the game… and now tech support lines are clogged with people wondering why they bought an interface that doesn’t work with their computer!?  Could the makers and sellers of musical instruments be held responsible for knowing which chipset was used in every generation of every line of P.C. Computers that is on the market?


I think you all get the picture.  It’s a big and complex problem… but there is a simple solution.


Why not make a windows based computer based on the highest quality, rather than the lowest cost?  Why not make PC’s like Apple makes Macs?


That was the idea behind the Creation Station.


Whenever you buy a creation station, you can be sure that it is up to spec, and every part used in making it is the best quality part for the job.  There are several models of creation station based on the needs of the user.  For the home studio guy using a USB interface, recording original tunes, one track at a time, there is the creation station Tower LE.


For the big time pro, using multiple firewire or PCI interfaces and needing the most powerful thing out there, there is the Creation Station Rack XT…  And there are models in between, for varying degrees of need for speed!  There is even one designed specially for users of Pro Tools HD,, (which takes a larger chassis, since HD cards are so big!  If you need that one, ask me about it… it’s not on the web.)


They are also designed and constructed to be quieter than most computers, and therefore a little more studio friendly!


These have all been bench tested with rock solid stability and the highest power ratings of anything else on the market in their respective classes.  And, they  are surprisingly affordable, considering what goes into them.  The Tower LE goes for $999!


Then of course, you say, but I can get a similar windows machine at the Buy More for $650!  Why should I pay more?


Simple answer… because you want it to actually WORK and to do a good job, and of course, you want to have the best support network in the industry for care after you bought it.  Creation Stations can only be gotten from one place – Sweetwater – and we provide lifetime free tech support and a two year warranty at no extra cost… and when you are getting into something with as high a learning curve as computer based recording, that is an incredibly valuable thing.


Check them out here… http://www.sweetwater.com/creation_station/


So if you want to take that step into Mac-like stability and power, with the familiarity of Windows, call me!  We’ll get you into just the right one.


(And one handy hint for when you call…  don’t ask me “How many tracks can you record on it?”  That’s kind of like asking “How heavy is a rock?”  There are just too many variables to answer that question… I guess the simplest answer would be “Way more than you could do on any other brand’s comparable computer.”)





Part two, ICON… the world’s most impressive mouse!


I’ll repeat myself… for me, It has always been about the music.  How it sounds in the end is all I’ve ever cared about when it comes to music…  but there comes a time when other DO things matter.


I have been a pro engineer for twenty some years, and for seventeen years of that, I ran my own studio (now, I mostly freelance).  I started small like we all do.  You can’t just decide one day you’re going to be a recording engineer and go ahead and build Abby Road!  I started in an apartment I rented, and for the first year I was in business, I worked out of a few small rooms with a lady living in the upstairs apartment who did not like drums!  Next I got a house with a finished two car garage that I remodeled and turned into my studio.  It looked more professional, but it was still homey.  That was where I first began getting jobs for national release from small record labels.  Then a few years later, I bought a commercial building and had several rooms to work with.  It was originally a hair salon, so I had to take out some sinks and such, but it worked.  It was not glamourous, though.  Finally, with the urging of a few colleagues, I did a major remodel…  I had huge holes sawn through concrete walls and actually hired good carpenters to install nice trim and big thick angled, double paned windows.  I painted the walls and made the acoustic treatment look pretty, rather than just functional.  Of course, my wife would have liked it if I got a haircut and shaved more often too, but there are some lengths that even I won’t go to!


The reason I am talking about this, is that for me, the only thing that mattered was what the music sounded like, but yet, after I made these changes, I got to work with platinum artists and big time producers and such.  If I had still been working out of that apartment, I never would have gotten those opportunities.


That is kind of the principal behind the control surface in general.  Sure, everything you can do in recording software can be done with a keyboard and a mouse, but a great control surface sure makes it a nicer journey!  It looks better, it increases the ease of the workflow, and in some cases, it gives you the credibility that you need to get the BIG jobs!


The control surface I am speaking about today is the absolute Rolls-Royce-Ferrari-Lamborghini-and-Bentley-all-rolled-up-into-one of the control surface world!  I am talking about the Premiere Pro Tools controller in the world… the Avid ICON family!


When you see photos of the biggest, most modern, baddest studios of them all, that amazingly complex looking thing that looks like a mixing board with loads of lights on it… THAT is an ICON Controller.  In all the big hollywood movie post production studios you see that have what looks like a mixing board about as long as a football field, THAT is an ICON Controller… (Actually, that’s a few of them stuck together, since they often have a different pro tools system for sound effect, sound track, dialogue, and foley)


They come in a few different flavors, and with more options that you can shake a stick at!  Actually, the big big ones even come with a guy!  (A technician will come out an “commission” the system for you… install, set it up and integrate it with the rest of your studio… and that’s part of the price!)


The top dog is called the D-Control.  If you are thinking about giving me a call and picking one up, that would be great!  But make sure you have a spare $137,995.00… because that is the set price for the complete system including the ProTools HD3, interfaces, etc (computer not included)!  Check out the top dog…




The faders sync up to the virtual faders on your mixer inside pro tools, and can be arranged in any pattern that makes sense to you!  The knobs that light up like Christmas trees are touch sensitive, and connect to the various functions on all the different plug ins and mixer functions in your sessions.  It is ultimately customizable, and unlike a mouse, multiple engineers can be working on multiple aspects of the session simultaneously without conflict.


Try using two wireless mice on one computer at the same time!  Good luck with that!


One thing that is incredibly entertaining, and never seems to get old, yet has absolutely no function at all, is that when you turn it on, it can do this dance that makes all the faders, knobs and lights go through a sequence that makes a Las Vegas Kick Lines look like the third grade play!  (When it comes down to it, there are two things then that you CAN’T do with your mouse… that fancy dancing light and fader show, and the simultaneous editing of parameters)


So basically, any function in your production software that can be automated can be mapped to a  controller in the ICON, and you can create the ultimately automated mix, and then you can sit back, hit rewind and play and watch the console do all the work.  (Judging by what I’ve seen lately, it might actually be more entertaining than the film, if you’re doing post!)


These amazing control surfaces come in a wide range of prices that goes all the way down to a mere seventeen thousand dollars or so… the little brother to the DControl is the DCommand.  It has fewer knobs, but the look and function is basically the same.




Obviously, this is not the kind of product that is flying off the shelf, however Sweetwater does sell a surprising number of them, and we are of course, the top Pro Tools dealer in the world, mainly because no one else knows the systems and  supports them like we do.


If you are truly considering that step into the big time, and want to differentiate your studio from the competition, an ICON is surely to do that!


Hey, we can all dream!


Until next time, CALL ME whenever you have any questions about gear at all!


I look forward to being of service.


Jon Gillespie, Sweetwater Sales Engineer


800 222 4700 x 1352

260 432 8176 x 1352 (outside the U.S.)

260 432 1758 FAX

[email protected]


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P.S.  Check it out… Apple Vs Apple!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Corps_v_Apple_Computer