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The Best CPU for Reaper – DAWBench Audio Stream Test (Summer 2021)

Who we are: Orbital Computers LLC, founded in 2013, is a high performance professional workstation manufacturer that specializes in high-end desktop and laptop PCs tailor-made for each and every one of our customers. All of our systems are built and supported entirely in-house from our Mukilteo WA USA facility. We run extensive tests on our hardware with every single application that we support in order to ensure that our customers receive excellent custom-built PCs, expert advice, and lifetime support specific to any of their needs, present or future.

Disclosure: Orbital Computers LLC does not have any partnership or agreement with any component manufacturer, including AMD or Intel. All opinions are our own and are rooted in providing our customers with the most reliable, highest performance workstations at the lowest prices.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Reaper is a popular, full-fledged yet low-cost DAW that puts an emphasis on the ability to customize just about everything, including its workflow, menus, macros, look, and feel.

Like any DAW, the central part of Reaper’s ability to handle intense tracks is driven primarily by the CPU (with an emphasis on multithread performance). If a PC is expected to run a demanding load of Digital Signal Processing (DSP) plugins, such as compressors, reverb, EQ, filters, etc. all in real-time, it will require a strong CPU with not only a healthy number of cores (6 at minimum) but also good core performance (high clock speed and efficient CPU architecture).

If a PC audio system is asked to perform outside of its limits, it will cause all sorts of pops, clicks, and hiccups during playback that create a major barrier to the music production process. Of course, there are other factors involved in computer audio performance beyond the CPU. However, the CPU is the main area of focus for optimization because better performance usually scales with the price of the CPU, so it’s important to know what hardware you need to buy to best suit your workflow.

Hardware Contenders

CPUPhysical CoresThreadsMax Clock Speed (GHz)
Intel Core i5-115006124.6
Intel Core i7-117008164.9
Intel Core i7-11700K8165.0
Intel Core i9-11900KF8165.3
AMD Ryzen 5 5600X6124.6
AMD Ryzen 7 5800X8164.6
AMD Ryzen 9 5900X12244.8
AMD Ryzen 9 5950X16324.9

The Test Environment

Just like our recent test in Cubase, we used the DAWBench DSP 2017 Benchmark, which has a version already created to work with Reaper. DAWBench contains 4x instrument tracks, 40x tracks of sine waves, and 1x track to monitor the sine wave tracks. Each of the 40x sine wave tracks has 8 Insert Plugins, for a total of 320 plugins available. Each plugin is an instance of the SGA1566 plugin from Shattered Glass Audio, which is an intensive DSP plugin. All plugin instances are disabled by default and the benchmarking process essentially involves enabling each plugin one-by-one until the system becomes overloaded.

It’s also worth mentioning that for our benchmark, we take a slight variation on the process described by DAWBench, which suggests to enable plugins until audio breakup is heard. Instead of listening for audio breakup on every benchmark trial (of which the tolerated plugin count can vary from test to test based on a variety of factors), we focus on enabling plugins to get the DAW’s CPU usage percentage to a consistent, quantifiable set point; in our case, the point where the DAW is oscillating between 95-96% CPU usage.

This approach reduces the subjectivity involved in the test and we found that 95-96% CPU usage is typically right below the point where audio breakup can start to be heard in most cases (typically where 1-2 of the CPUs cores will start to hit 100%). This way, the user also still has a small buffer of CPU usage for system processes and provides much more consistent results between trials on the number of tolerated plugin instances.

The audio interface used for all tests was a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen. This test was performed at a 44.1KHz sample rate with a range of buffer sizes; a 32 sample buffer, a 128 sample buffer, and a 1024 sample buffer.

Intel Test Platform

Components


Brand / Model
CoolerCorsair H115i Pro XT
GPUNvidia Quadro P620
RAMG.Skill RipJaws 2x 16 GB
SSDSamsung 980 Pro
MotherboardGigabyte Z590 UD AC
AMD Test Platform

Components


Brand / Model
CoolerCorsair H115i Pro XT
GPUNvidia Quadro P620
RAMG.Skill RipJaws 2x 16 GB
SSDSamsung 980 Pro
MotherboardGigabyte X570 UD

Results

Takeaways

The purpose of this test is not to provide an exact number of how many plugin instances you’ll be able to run on various systems but rather to provide a general baseline with an example of how different processors scale with various settings. The total number of tolerated plugins will vary depending on your particular system. This number is dictated mostly by:

  • The plugins and their settings
  • Your CPU
  • Your audio interface
  • The sample rate setting
  • The buffer size setting
  • The performance of the ASIO drivers you are using (usually the fastest drivers for your audio interface are the ones that come included)

Looking at the data, you may have noticed that the Ryzen 9 5950X and 5900X processors are both reaching 320 plugin instances each on most buffer sizes. This is because the DAWBench DSP test only includes 320 plugin instances and no more can be enabled past that without expanding the test. Therefore, there is missing data about the true limit of each of these processors but for now it should be sufficient to know, in this case, their performance is quite literally “off the charts”. In the future, we would like to expand on the DAWBench DSP test and get a better picture of how the two processors compare, so stay tuned.

Additionally, one result that sticks out is the performance of the Intel Core i9-11900K. Our data shows that the Intel Core i9 put up very lackluster results on Reaper and should be avoided if possible. It was slightly behind the Intel Core i7-11700K, which makes it a highly suboptimal choice for it’s price and should only be considered if there is some other reasoning for it outside of Reaper.

You may have also noticed that the AMD CPUs outperformed their Intel counterparts by a fairly wide margin. It should be mentioned that this test heavily favors CPUs that are capable of high multi-thread performance, which the AMD CPUs typically perform better in due to their higher core counts. Music production does tend to favor multi-thread performance, however, AMD CPUs are still not a complete slam dunk.

There are some reports that AMD CPUs can introduce latency when using effects automations, altering the timing of automations, but take those with a grain of salt. More concretely, AMD CPUs also do not come with integrated graphics, meaning you will be forced to spend extra money on a graphics card, even when it may not be required by your music production workflow. Additionally, many GPUs contain fans that are not tuned to reduce noise and they can add a lot of extra sound to the operation of the overall system.

With these considerations in mind, we would definitely recommend going with AMD for the most intensive workflows (especially considering the lackluster results of the Intel Core i9 renders it impractical outside of a specific need for Intel). That said, if you are not a super-user, the Intel CPUs, such as an i5 or i7, are still probably your best bet due to the price/performance of not needing an additional GPU. If you already need an additional GPU for software outside of Reaper, such as video editing software, it may be a productive choice to go with an AMD workstation.

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