Optimize Mac OS X for Audio Recording

Recording audio on your Mac is a resource intensive process. Anytime you plan on recording anything, whether it's a narrative description for a home movie or, in this case, the monolog for your next podcast, it's important to make sure your Mac is optimized for recording before proceeding. Some of the tasks described here cover things that are good system maintenance practices and some are things specific to making sure you get the best recording possible out of your Mac. All of the recommendations are designed to help eliminate your Mac as a possible trouble spot in the recording process.

Log off Additional Users

Fast user switching is a convenience you can't afford while recording audio. When switching between users, so of the system resources are tied up maintaining the other user settings. Before starting a recording session, make sure your user account is the only one logged in.

Defrag Your Hard Drive

Apple claims Mac OS X is self-optimizing, with no need to defragment your hard drive in a support article titled, About disk optimization with Mac OS X.

The caveat to this is if you frequently modify or create large files, with video editing being an example, then you might benefit from defragmenting. Audio files aren't as large as video, in general, but they are still big files. A fragmented hard drive can cause a variety of performance problems when working with large audio and video files. If you plan on doing regular audio recording or importing movies into iMovie, defragmenting is highly recommended. Apple's alternative suggestion is to reboot or backup important files and re-install Mac OS X. The reboot will likely do nothing and unless you have plenty of spare time available, regularly re-installing Mac OS X isn't a productive use of time. Better to invest in one of the defrag utilities listed on VersionTracker and get in the habit of defragmenting your hard drive once every few weeks.

Turn off the Screensaver

While the resources consumed by your screensaver are small, every little boost in system performance helps. There was a time when screensavers helped prevent monitor burn in and served a useful purpose. In most cases now, they are nothing more than a novelty. Open System Preferences, choose Desktop & Screen Saver, then click the Screen Saver tab to make changes to the default setting. Slide the timer for Start screen saver to Never.

Make the Desktop Static

Support for changing desktop background is entertaining, but it consumes system resources and likely won't be seen while running an audio editing app in full screen mode. You want memory and processing power available for your audio project, not idly cycling through pictures on your desktop. If your background picture is already one consistent image, this step is complete. If you tweaked the appearance to automatically swap images, switch it to a static one. With System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver open to the Dektop options, choose one image for your background. Then disable the Change picture option to make sure the system doesn't switch images in the middle of your recording project, which causes a brief blip in resource usage with every new image update.

Lock The Dock

The effects performed by the Dock are another waste of system resources. Sure the Genie effect looks cool, but it does nothing to enhance your audio recording. Those bouncing icons in the Dock are another resource waster. Sending the Dock into hiding is another useless feature that simply adds to resource usage. From System Preferences > Dock, set Minimizing use to Scale effect. Uncheck Animate opening applications and Automatically hide and show the Dock. You can further tweak the Dock settings by installing Dock Detox from Unsanity.

Dismantle Dashboard

Tiger's addition of Dashboard may look cool, but every widget uses more resources. There's currently no easy way to shutdown the entire Dashboad as the app is hardwired to the constantly running Finder. Your audio editing requires all the memory you can spare. The best way to free up Dashboard memory consumption is to shut down the individual Widgets. Close them individually and undock any mounted to your desktop. This eliminates some of the attractive appeal of Dashboard, but your digital audio recording app will thank you for the extra memory. If you happen to be a fan of Dashboard alternative, Konfabulator, the same rules apply; each Konfabulator widget uses a bunch of memory better freed for use in your audio recording.

No Rest for the Hard Drive

While it's unlikely your Mac will put the hard drive to sleep in the middle of recording, it's better not to take chances. By default, every Mac OS X installation is set up to put the hard drive to sleep when possible. This is a battery saving feature for Power Book and iBook users, but is also enabled on Mini and desktop units too. Open System Preferences > Energy Saver and uncheck the box next to Put the hard disk(s) to sleep when possible.

Store Project Files on a Second Drive

The primary system drive is busy handling all the tasks that make Mac OS X function properly. It's also the place you probably installed your audio and video editing apps. Use a second drive (either internal or external) to store the media for your projects, allowing the second drive to handle all the write- intensive operations of importing video from a digital video camera or recording an audio signal from a microphone or instruments.

Turn Off Sharing

Sharing files, folders and printing with other computers on the network is something you don't need during the recording process. Sharing keeps additional system resources busy, potentially pinging other machines on the network just to let them know your machine is there. Ideally during recording you won't be using your network connection anyway (unless you happen to be recording a VoIP call), as you need to keep all resources directed to your recording application. While it's smart to keep the Firewall turned on at all times when connected to a network, both Personal File Sharing and Internet Sharing should be turned off for system optimization.

Shut Down Excess Applications

iChat is a useful communication tool better left shut down when doing system intensive multimedia maneuvers. Turn off other applications like news readers, Safari, Mail, Calendar, iPhoto, iMovie and any other app not directly used in your audio recording project. If you know AppleScript, there's probably a quick function for shutting down all open applications. I use a free app called iTattle for system information that also includes a Quit All Open Applications feature on the Tasks menu. Running this task prior to launching my audio recording app makes sure I don't forget to shut down anything prior to recording.

You still have plenty to keep in mind to achieve a quality audio recording or video project, but following these 10 simple steps will help prepare your system for the opportunity to succeed in making great multimedia.