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Accelerate Your Mac!
Bring in the Noise
by Thad Brown

Forgive Me Readers

Forgive me readers, for I have been neglecting my duties. It has been two weeks since my last audio column, I have coveted my neighbors LVD SCSI card, used another Macintosh for recording, and blown a speaker in the process. Perhaps my punishment will be actually having to make records with a Win95 box for all eternity.

I won't bore you with personal details and complaints, but suffice it to say that current episodes of "It's a Wonderful UMAX" are starting to look alot like "The UMAX of the Bates Motel" or "The Texas Chainsaw UMAX." Between work, various moves, musical commitments,the release of Cubase 4.0, and the fact that New Haven has suddenly decided to become a kiln in which hapless computer tech guitar players are turned into teensy weensy glazed ceramic figurines, not a lot of time has been left over for writing. With any luck, this will all settle down soon, I'll get a record deal, and I'll write my articles on crisp, cool, relaxing October Sundays with the NFL on the seond monitor via an XclaimTV tuner. I'm looking forward to it.

USB and Mac audio, or why we love the iMac

More and more companies are announcing USB audio devices. No single topic has generated more mail from this section of Mike's wild and crazy world than the terrible lack of viable audio upgrades for the Mac. Windows users have a ton of options, many of which sound a good bit worse than the ON BOARD audio of a mac, mind you, but that "pro-sumer" world where so many live just does not exist for the mac. The cheapest mac card is around $400 street price, and it's digital only.

Along comes the Terror in Teal iMac and suddenly USB audio devices look like they may let a lot of mac audio people save some money by not getting things they don't need. Don't get me wrong, an iMac is about as useful for serious audio as it is for time travel, but with mac support nearly built in for a USB device, it becomes so much easier for a synth or audio card company to make a few extra bucks by selling to us AND them for a change. The Opcode device I mentioned last week is a great example. Get a sub $100 USB card for your PCI mac, and a sub $200 dollar analog to digital converter box. Then you can upgrade your audio ins, get a digital out to your DAT or Mini Disc recorder, and have access to a ton of new peripherals all for a very reasonable cash outlay.

As I said before, this does nothing for high end music production, if you play to stream a ton of audio tracks with real time effects in sync with MIDI and all that, you will probably still need PCI cards to do it, but for audio for video or knocking off some demos these USB things may really save some cash. The area where high end audio may bet some use of the USB bus is in things like removeable storage (I sure would like a SparQ drive for mastering), and perhaps MIDI devices, where the bandwidth is lower.

Stupid Toast Tricks

Like most anyone who owns a CD burner, I use Adaptec Toast for general data backup and quick audio CD burns. Adeptec Jam or Masterlist CD from Digidesign are necessary for anyone planning on doing audio discs that will be commercially released, but I have been very happy with the reliability and performance of Toast since I first got my burner. Reader Scott Harris generously shared some tips for audio archiving. Many musicians and sound designers purchase or make extensive sample libraries in file formats proprietary to the sampler they use. These discs are unmountable for both Winoze and Mac operating systems, and leave many sampler users with precious artistic resources on nothing be a couple of floppies. Some samplers also use internal hard disks or internal Zip drives, and they are also work with these proprietary formats. Scott tells us the following

I thought that your readers might appreciate this tip. I have a Yamaha A3000 with a small CD ROM library. I wanted to duplicate the hard drive on to a recordable CD hooked up to the MAC. It is tricky but doable. The Yamaha uses a proprietary format and cannot be mounted on PCs or MACS.

  1. Connect the Yamaha A3000 to the the scsi port giving the Yamaha a unique scsi address not used by the MAC scsi bus. Make sure that the hard drive connected to the A3000 is also on a unique scsi ID.

  2. Launch Toast and do a SCSI to SCSI transfer. ( Naviage toast to the scsi hard drive which contains the sample files) and burn your CD. The CD can then be loaded into the Yamaha A3000 using a connected CD player.

This can only be done on a MAC.

To duplicate a Yamaha CD sample ROM proved to be a challenge but the solution was deceptively simple.

Whenever you put a A3000 Sample CD in the Mac, it ejects the CD because it is in a foreign format. I tried every extension known to personkind to get the mac to recognize the CD. It wouldn't.

The solution :

Disable your CD ROM drivers altogether and restart. Insert your CD. Launch toast, and do a scsi blind transer. Toast sees the CD as a hard drive and will allow you to burn a copy of the CD ROM. The CD will work perfectly.

This tip can be applied to any foreign format CD for duplication purposes. To my knowledge this can only be done on a MAC.

As always, I want to note that sample CD developers may have it harder than musicians when it comes to making a buck, so this should only be used for backing up your own material or CDs you own. Don't rip off musicians, we have it rough enough avoiding carpel tunnel syndrome and drug addiction.

Cubase goes nuts

The fine folks at Steinberg North America sent me Cubase VST/24 last week. I'll do a full write up as time permits, but initial impressions are overwhelmingly positive. Rarely does an app get substantial "under the hood" improvements (channel inserts, internal busing, enhanced and improved MIDI data handling) and interface improvements (massive key command support, window sets, mixer enhancements) in the same upgrade. I am not even close to an impartial observer, I use Cubase for probably 80% of my audio work, but from my view, they have raised the bar, and I would not be surprised to see the herd thin a bit in the audio market in the not too distant future.

The amazing thing to me is that the vanilla 16 bit version really doesn't have that much less than the 24 bit sibling I have. If you don't have pricey external hardware, and you don't need professional scoring printouts, the base version will do nearly everything that mine will. Both also include pretty impressive Quicktime movie support, so you can rip the audio off of your captured video, run the video in a window in sync with the audio and MIDI, and graft the audio back onto the movie when you are finished.

Interestingly, this version of Cubase is 4.0, making it two versions ahead of the new and totally hot Garbage record, which is version 2.0.

That's it for now, folks. I really will have that SonicWORX review up soon, and I'll do a bigger write up on Cubase 4.0. Keep the mail coming in, and thanks to Adam Lang for liberating all of us "Folks in Mac" from yahoo mail and filters in Eudora by getting us real email addresses. You the man, Adam

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