The $10,000 question...
my first question would be : what do you do? is this for music, or audio post for video, etc. Are your projects sent out for further work by others, hence needing something like OMF compatability.
There are many other questions that would lead you the correct answers, but don't forget - the correct system for you is one that you are comfortable with using, and which allows you to do your work with the minimum of interruption and the maximum creativity.
I personally would go with a Mac, and whilst I use ProTools all day, I would be just as happy using Digital Performer, at a tiny fraction of the cost. You have a PC system, so moving to mac would entail changing ALL your software, and you may find stuff that you can't live without is not available on the mac.
The other thing that you should consider first - your room acoustics! If the room sounds poor, so will everything you do in it. Get the room analysed and treated, then spend a lot of money on your monitoring. Even an SSL desk will sound crap through a pair of cheapo speakers. I recommend trying the PMC range of monitors....they're not cheap, but heck are they damned good!! We tried some out here, and liked them so much we bought 2 pairs.
So - decide what you want to use the kit for, then research it thoroughly, then research it a bit more, check out the user forums for your chosen few items - they'll give a good idea of the problems users have, then have fun spending the cash.
"silly keeps you sane"
Yes, maybe I should be thinking more "outside the square" about sound-proofing and monitoring, etc. Very good point. Thanks.
Audio Engineer BREC
One perspective on this:
Figure out what your goals are, and where you are lacking.
Microphones- technical quality, aesthetic quality (do they impart a nice coloration that's along your artistic/aesthetic goals; or use really accurate mics, and mess with their sound with filters)
Filter quality - it's likely better to do this with computer filters as opposed to having effects unit. It comes down to which filters you buy (Waves anyone?).
Technical quality - S/N ratio, freq. response. Some of this depends on your A->D converters.
Productivity- how productive you are with the software (i.e. real Pro Tools, Pro Tools LE, Sonar, MOTU, Cubase, etc. etc.). How much button pushing you have to do, learning curve, stability of the system.
Monitoring- depends on room acoustics, speaker, and a little bit on studio setup (i.e. SPL calibration, speaker placement).
Learn about acoustics:
You can go to the library and read F. Alton Everest's books, in particular "Sound Studio Construction On A Budget". If you want to get in-depth, try the latest edition of "Master Handbook of Acoustics". I would try to read the latest edition, because there's many advances in acoustics and there's still a lot that isn't known about acoustics.
You may find that a lot of info on acoustics contradicts another source.
Various resources on other audio stuff:
newsgroups, i.e. rec.audio.pro
prorec.com - great site; they have a forum
For particular audio programs, there are some great forums for that particular program.
2- Pro Tools or Cubase or other (there are many great audio programs out there):
It seems to me that Pro Tools is overpriced and that the interface of other programs may be better than Pro Tools depending on what you do.
For high-end film work, Pro Tools TDM may be worth the money. Don't confuse that with the watered-down Pro Tools LE.
3- As far as the computer goes, AMD64-based systems are the fastest because AMD64 procesors have better floating-point performance than Intel CPUs and G5s. If audio latency is a problem, look at getting a dual core dual Opteron system.
As far as getting a working computer without configuration issues, I would try user forums. Try to copy someone's working configuration exactly. Or you can look at a VAR or turnkey vendor for your computer.
A custom-PC can also be a lot quieter than normal PCs or G5s. Read silentpcreview.com if you want to roll your own (or get a vendor like monarchcomputer.com or a local computer store to assemble it for your), or go with a VAR or turnkey vendor.