Computers In the Studio (Part 2 – Going Online)

Computers in the Studio

Going Online

It has long been held that connecting your DAW to a network, or worse, to the internet is something you should never, ever do. But is it really all that dangerous to your security or detrimental to performance? What kinds of precautions should be taken? Let’s find out.

First of all, why would anyone want to connect their DAW to the internet?

The Advantages:

1) Maintain system updates with less hassle

2) Maintain driver updates with less hassle

3) Perform software authorization with less hassle

4) Transfer samples, mixes, projects, etc via FTP and file sharing sites for collaboration or delivery

5) Search the internet for music theory questions like how to play a diminished chord or engineering questions like how to use a multiband compressor

In other words, it’s much easier to keep your system updated , authorize software and to search and share when your your DAW has internet access. The need to download everything on another machine and then manully transfer it to your DAW goes away.

But if it’s so convenient, why do people so often recommend against it? These are the most common reasons I hear:

The Concerns:

1) You might get a virus

2) You have to run software that will bog down your system

3) Your system might become unstable

4) You might get hacked

5) Wireless drivers can have a negative effect on DPC Latency negatively (see Computers In The Studio – Part 1)

The good news is that with the proper precautions you can connect a DAW to the internet with a relatively high degree of safety while maintaining performance and reliability.

Now you’re probably wondering what these “proper precautions” are. Let’s go through them one by one.

1) Keep a secure network: This goes for anyone with a home network. If you have a wireless network, never leave it unsecured. Configure your network to use proper encryption like WPA2, and set a strong password – preferably with a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. Also, make sure your router’s built-in firewall is enabled. This “hardware firewall” is your first line of defense against intrusion. This stuff is actually pretty easy to do and it’s worth learning about even if you don’t plan to connect your DAW to the internet. Your network should be secure regardless of whether you are connecting a DAW or not.

2) Keep a secure computer: Your DAW, and the rest of the computers on your network, should generally have the latest Windows upddates as many of these address security risks. I also recommend enabling the built-in Windows Firewall for the extra level of defense it offers in addition to your router’s firewall. On modern computer hardware, you shouldn’t notice a performance hit, and because it’s built-in, there’s no software to purchase or install.

3) Run virus protection (but don’t overdo it): If you aren’t using your DAW for general computing like email and web browsing (HINT: Don’t!), you probably don’t need heavy virus protection as it can be quite intrusive and some packages may indeed hinder performance due to their background processes and scanning activities. But some protection is probably not a bad idea. USB drives and locally transferred files can potentially contain viruses and I’ve found sometimes people have a false sense of security simply because their DAW isn’t connected to the internet. So find a happy medium between having no protection at all and locking your system down like Fort Knox. Personally I’ve found Microsoft Security Essentials to be just that. It’s free, unobtrusive and works quite well. Every once in awhile I perform a manual scan using a program called Malwarebytes. Malwarebytes is also free and very effective at not only detecting malware, but removing it. A few years back I had a machine infected with a particularly nasty trojan virus introduced from an infected USB key drive, and Malwarebytes was the only thing that would remove it. It’s free, scans quickly, is updated frequently, and only runs when you tell it to.

4) Wired or wireless?: Depending on the location of your studio, using a wireless connection to your network might be the most convenient solution, or it might be the only solution – but it has some potential pitfalls. The biggest potential problem is the wireless hardware adapter and its drivers. Many wireless adapters cause DPC spikes and this can interfere with your DAW’s low-latency operation (see Computers In The Studio – Part 1). It might manifest itself as clicks, pops, dropouts or other anomalies. These will be especially apparent at low latencies. And some wireless adapters don’t perform very well when it comes to transfer speeds. So the best solution is to use an Ethernet cable directly into your router. But what if your router is far away from your studio? Thankfully there’s a good solution available  – and it’s called a wireless bridge. Basically it’s a little box that handles the wireless connection to your router while offering wired, Ethernet ports for all your studio computers. As far as your DAW is concerned, it thinks it’s just connected to a good old fashioned wired Ethernet port – and it is. No extra software to install and no wireless hardware polling the network and potentially hurting performance. The bridge handles all the wireless connectivity and security itself. I use a D-Link DAP-1522 in exactly this way and it works great. Connecting the DAP-1522 to my router via wireless N, I get wired performance with wireless convenience, and all without adding any hardware or drivers to my DAW. If you have a dual-band router, you can reserve the 5GHz band for your studio and keep the 2.4 GHz band for all your other devices (laptops, tablets, phones, etc). This way you keep a dedicated high performance network just for your studio without any interference from other devices in your home. I’ve been using this kind of setup for a few years now and it works like a charm!

5) Use it judiciously: Don’t go trawling the backwaters of the internet or go opening random email attachments. A DAW connected to the internet is best used for visiting reputable sites, downloading driver and software updates, performing authorizations, FTP transfers, and the occasional Google search or email check. It’s highly recommended to have another computer for general web browsing, email, office work, etc.

In my opinion and in my experience, putting a DAW online isn’t the “no-no” it once was. I’ve been running a DAW connected to the internet for years now without incident and I’d find it very hard to give up the convenience and go back to no internet connectivity. One might also argue that keeping your DAW up-to-date via the web is a great contributor to having a stable DAW. If the hassle of manually downloading updates and moving them from one machine to another is keeping your from updating regularly, then having the DAW offline might be causing more harm than good. I’m not necessarily saying  to run out right now and put your DAW on the internet as some folks get along just fine staying disconnected. But it’s something to consider, and personally I feel it comes with its own distinct advantages. Frankly I don’t believe it poses the inherent danger it used to – as long as you carefully consider the precautions I’ve outlined above.

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Published by

Brandon Ryan [Cakewalk]

Prefers his beer dark and his wine red. Specializes in reckless aural insurgency. Never has enough time.