Hard drives are the primary storage spaces on a computer, responsible for holding large amounts of data related to everything from complex programs to text files. External hard disk drives are separate components that perform the same function, and connect to the computer via an interface. They can serve either as additional storage space, or as a backup space for valuable information.
For those who use a computer for audio production, having an external hard disk drive offers several advantages, including enhanced performance, organisation, security, and mobility. The most important consideration when shopping for an external drive for audio production is the data transfer rate. This rate is affected by several factors, including interface type, rotation speed, and cache. Generally speaking, the more data transferred per second, the better the drive is equipped to write and read multiple tracks at once. Choosing an external hard disk drive depends on the scale of audio production, budget, and compatibility with existing hardware and software.
The Advantages of Using a Dedicated Drive for Audio
Internal hard drives have increasingly large capacities, which may make an external hard drive seem redundant in terms of adding storage space. However, there are several advantages to including an external hard drive in an audio production setup, including improved performance, organisation, security, and mobility.
Over time, computer hard drives become more and more fragmented, which affects their performance. Daily activities like downloading files, installing and uninstalling software, capturing images, and moving data from one location to another, all take a toll on the hard drive. Fragmentation occurs when files for one application, which should be together in the hard drive storage, are separated across the drive. The drive heads, in turn, have to work harder to retrieve them, slowing down the process and gumming up performance. Regular defragmentation, while helpful, only serves to reduce deterioration, but it cannot stop it altogether..
Dedicating an external hard drive solely to audio data means they are kept totally separate from files acquired during day-to-day computer use, such as emailing, gaming, or word processing. This means that fragmentation does not affect the external hard drive's performance.
Another way of increasing overall efficiency of an audio-production build is to use the RAID system to distribute the work over multiple drives. RAID, which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, employs striping, the division of a data stream to different disks to improve writing and reading times, and mirroring, which sends duplicates of a data stream to more than one disk, facilitating future reading access. There are several types of RAID, but the three commonly used for audio application are RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 10.
From an organisational standpoint, having a dedicated external hard drive for audio data makes a lot of sense. Internal hard drives have a vast collection of files on them, and it is easier for important audio files to get lost or accidentally erased. When they are all in one place, however, finding them is a simple process.
While internal hard drives tend to be quite reliable in themselves, drive failure is still a possibility. Moreover, operating systems are prone to potentially debilitating viruses. Plus, accidents happen: young children or inexperienced users may inadvertently erase entire groups of files, or necessitate reinstalling an operating system.
For these reasons, it is good practice to back up audio files on an external device, preferably a separate one from where the operating system is backed-up. An operating system can be reinstalled in a very short space of time, while an entire collection of audio files may be time-consuming.
Storing audio data on an external hard drive also lets users take their files with them wherever they go. Having the files in one portable device means it is easy to work in different studio locations.
Types of External Hard Drives
There are two types of hard drives available, for both internal and external devices. Hard disk drives (HHDs) are the more common type, while solid-state drives (SSDs) are less common, more expensive, but come with certain advantages.
Hard Disk Drives (HDDs)
Hard disk drives (HDDs) comprise the majority of external drives on the market. They employ rapidly spinning hard disks, also called platters, to read and write data. The major advantage of hard-disk drives over their solid-state counterparts is that they offer much higher storage capacities at significantly lower costs.
Solid-State Drives (SSDs)
Solid-state drives (SSDs) store data on an integrated circuit and use flash technology to read and write data. As opposed to hard-disk drives, solid-state drives do not feature any moving parts, which puts them at several advantages. They are faster, more durable, less susceptible to physical shock, more energy-efficient, and quieter than HDDs. However, they have smaller storage capacities, and their cost-to-storage ratio is less favourable than that of a hard-disk drive.
External Hard Disk Drive Specifications to Watch For
Assuming a buyer is planning to use their external hard disk drive during the audio production process, rather than simply to archive files, the most vital specifications have to do with speed. These specifications are indicative of the drive's performance capabilities, which should be weighed against the buyer's requirements and budget.
Data Transfer Rate
An oft-cited specification for external hard disk drives is the data transfer rate, expressed in megabytes-per-second (MBps). Manufacturers calculate these according to best-case scenarios, which audio recording situations are highly unlikely to recreate. Therefore, users should anticipate slower actual data transfer rates, but look for the highest numbers possible within their budget. For example, a range of 60-80 MBps should be adequate.
There are several factors affecting data transfer rate, including interface type, rotation speed, and cache or buffer memory.
Perhaps the most vital specification particular to external hard disk drives is their interface, which determines the rate of data transfer between the external hard drive and the computer. Audio production requires a speedy data-transfer protocol. Examples of sufficient data-transfer protocols for real-time external hard drive use are Firewire,, USB 2.0,, USB 3.0,, or eSATA.. SCSI is also a very powerful protocol, but it tends to be much costlier than other interfaces. The interface must also be supported by the computer itself, so buyers should check this ahead of time.
Rotational or Spindle Speed
The speed at which a hard-disk drive spins is measured in rotations-per-minute (RPM). This affects how many audio tracks a computer can record and play simultaneously. Faster rotational speeds means that data can be read and written more quickly. The following chart outlines rotational speeds and their general capabilities. .
Rotational or Spindle Speed
Appropriate for small- or medium-sized MIDI projects; probably insufficient for recording or playing several tracks; for large projects, better to invest in faster drive
Allows multiple tracks to be recorded and played; adequate for most home projects
For large projects with high number of tracks; very likely to be sufficient for projects of any size
Over 7200 RPM
Probably more than adequate for any project size; may not be worth the extra cost
Buyers should assess the size of the projects they plan to work on, now and in the future. If planning larger projects in the future, it may be a worthwhile investment in a faster HDD that can support a range of project sizes.
Cache or Buffer Size
A cache stores frequently-used data in a certain buffer section of memory, from which it is much faster to access information. Having a larger cache, or buffer, storage helps speed up data transfer speeds. For audio production, a cache of 16 MG or larger is recommended.
There are some additional considerations buyers may need to think about when shopping for an external hard disk drive.
External hard drives are vulnerable to damage from physical impact. To protect the device, and, more importantly, the information it stores, is important that its casing is tough enough to prevent damage. Carrying cases for transport are also recommended.
Weight and Dimensions
Consumers planning to travel with their external hard drive may want to consider its dimensions and weight. Choosing a compact drive can make a big difference in portability.
External hard disk drives are optimised to work with a specific platform, whether Mac, Windows, or Linux. Buyers should verify that the drive is compatible with the computer they work with.
Noise and Heat
External hard disk drives produce noise as a result of spinning motors, heads, and cooling fans. Buyers should research product reviews to find a drive that runs quietly and coolly. External hard drives and computers should be kept out of the recording space, as microphones can pick up their noise in recording. While it may be tempting to unhook fans, heat dissipation is crucial to prevent hardware damage; keep computers and drives exposed to air circulation, and, when possible, place them in a sound-isolated area.
How to Buy an External Hard Disk Drive on eBay
eBay has an extensive array of new, used, and refurbished external hard disk drives. Shopping on eBay is easy. Beginning on the home page,, locate the search bar and enter keywords for the item you are looking for, such as "USB3.0 external hard drive&". Once you have the search results, you can refine them according to factors like price, seller location, manufacturer, and other specifications.
When you find an item you are interested in, take a few moments to read the item description to make sure it is what you're looking for. Note the specifications, item condition (new, used, or refurbished), and any included accessories or hardware. Also note whether there are additional postage fees, and what the payment requirements are.
Check the seller's feedback score and browse comments from previous buyers who purchased devices similar to yours. This helps you assess how reliable the seller is, so you can buy with confidence. Once you have received your disk drive, you can leave your own constructive feedback for the seller.
There are several advantages to using an external hard disk drive for audio production. A dedicated hard disk drive for audio data eliminates problems resulting from internal hard drive fragmentation, ensuring optimal rates for data writing and reading. With all audio files stored in a single location, it is easier to stay organised, as well. Data is protected from internal hard drive failure and the ravages of computer viruses. Plus, storing audio files on an external drive makes it easy to move from one studio to the next.
There are several specifications to pay attention to when shopping for an external hard disk drive for audio production. The most important have to do with data transfer speed, which is affected by interface type, rotation speed, and cache. Additional things to consider are the overall sturdiness of the hard drive's chassis, its weight and dimensions, platform compatibility, and how quiet it is. These guidelines can help audio producers to find the right external hard disk drive for them.