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Bring in the Noise
by Thad Brown
Issue 19: New Toys, AES '98
Well, I missed an issue in there again, just too much to do and not enough time to do it. I was in Houston one weekend and Memphis the next and for some reason my boss still expected me to show up for work if I wanted to get paid. I kept on saying that I was really sleepy and they should just let me go home, but there was something about a "contract" and "responsibility" and other big and scary words.
The AES Show Recap
This weekend was the Audio Engineers Society convention in San Francisco. The AES show is the twice yearly gearfest for pro audio, kinda like that Macworld thing is for Macs. Longtime readers will remember that I tried to cover the last AES show which happened in Amsterdam, but couldn't get a reporter on the ground to keep me updated. I had one person emailing me this time, and the AES had a pretty decent web site up so I got some good stuff this time. Notice that the AES knows there membership, Amsterdam and San Francisco in the same year, what's next AES Bangkok, AES Gomorrah? What follows is a few updates and my own opinions, go read the releases yourself if you want real information.
Bias announced that they are purchasing Deck from Macromedia. I have a soft spot in my heart for Deck because it really was the first app for the Mac to try to make an out-of-the-box Power Mac into a recording studio. No additional hardware needed, no fancy setup necessary. I liked the attitude, and I also liked the software. My Korg card came with the most recent version bundled (they are up to 2.6) and it's really a nice app, very straightforward but still full featured, a nice set of DSP built in and support for Premiere plug-ins if you really hate being able to see what is going on in real time. Macromedia for whatever reason put minimal resources behind Deck and it hasn't really kept up with rest of the audio soft world. Bias makes the fantastic Peak and PeakLE as well as the too cool for words SFX machine, so it would seem to be a nice fit, "buy our editor, and buy our multitrack application too." Their web site proclaims a major retooling of Deck is in the works and that it will include ASIO and VST support, both desperately needed. I wish them the best of luck, and hope that the audio guerilla attitude of Deck ("Audio cards? We don't need no stinking $1000 audio cards") will stay alive.
If there were any question that home recording is a good place to make money, notoriously shrewd operator Alesis is starting to makes mics.
Yamaha announced two things of note. First, they are shipping yet another really cool audio/synth card for the PC and not the Mac. Second, they announced, with not a great deal of fanfare, one of the most titillating products of the whole show. Said to be ready for shipment in Q1 1999, the D24 will be a disk based competitor for Modular Digital Multitracks (read ADATS and DA-88s). Here's the super duper cool part, it will be based on 3.5 inch MO drive technology, record 24 bit/96k audio, and twirl baton. OK, that last part was a lie. I have always disliked most MDMs for two reasons, first, I don't think that they sound that great, and second, the tape mechanism in both major flavors is just a hotrodded version of a consumer videotape transport--not what I want to be putting my precious art onto. I have been wondering when someone would make a disc based replacement for this machines. Fostex made some fixed disk versions, but that limits recording time to the internal disk, which is a drag. Yamaha gave no price, but if it's in the ballpark of an ADAT, it would be a killer in my opinion. This announcement, like I said, seemed pretty low key, but it's a really exciting possibility, stable and robust drive technology combined with the excellent quality hardware and converters that Yamaha is known for.
Mackie is shipping their digital mixer. Godot may be coming around next.
ART, a company known for years as the producer of hair spray metal guitar toys (I'm sure they hate that now) has been making some very nice recording tools for a while now. Though not computer or Mac related, they are just what many amateur recordists need, reasonably priced, decent sounding mic preamps and compressors. Following current trends, there are tubes in most of them, and they announced a multi channel EQ based on the pretty damn good sounding single channel tube EQ they already make. If you need some decent compression, EQ or pres for rock bottom prices, check them out.
Event Electronics announced that their Layla interface ("Wow, it really is Godot!") now has Mac ASIO drivers. These have been delivered before the PC ASIO drivers, resulting in numerous bloodthirsty emails on the Steinberg mailing list, a few of which included the word "actionable." Seems a few folks are not pleased that Event took their money, delivered a product a year later, and now released a Mac driver before a PC driver. Can't say that I blame them. There still is no Sound Manager driver, so Layla can only be used by apps that support ASIO (Cubase, Logic, Vision DSP, maybe Deck in the future), but it does have a nice set of features like balanced inputs, S/PDIF I/O, wordclock on BNCs and stuff like that. Well, I'll be greedy--Hey, we want Darla drivers too!
Prosoniq released (on time, I should add) the demo of their new Orange Vocoder. It's downloadable, has built in oscillators for carrier signal, a software synth, and it's really, really cool. I know it must seem like I work for them, but I don't, unless of course they are hiring in which case I'll consider it. Even if you don't get into audio that much, download this demo and try it out, it's really something else. It has a ton of presets and works as a stand alone app so you can see how it will work without having to own VST. It sounds just like they say it does, fat, analog, and it's a freakin blast to use.
Another extremely interesting blurb on the "new products" page was for the "Virtual Mixing Co." said to be working on 3D environments to replace the current "picture of a mixer on a monitor" concept we see in audio applications now. Dedicated readers will remember me talking about this before. In fact, they also picked up on something I had thought of trying to rig up myself; using 3D goggles for mixing. Goggles can give something like a 52" monitor for only a few hundred bucks, so why not use them in conjunction with a hardware control surface as a mixing tool? OK, BESIDES the fact that I would look like a total dork and it would be hard to keep from bumping into things and to get the drink to my mouth without spilling any of it. I searched the web for more info on this and came up empty, if anyone out there knows anything about this, PLEASE email me with some tidbits.
Finally, ultimate mixer manufacturer SSL announced that not only will I never be able to afford one of their mixers, they doubt I will even be able to afford to record in a studio that has one. Thanks guys.
An Article to Seek Out
This months issue of Mix magazine has an opinion article by Stephen St. Croix about the move to 24 bit/96k recording that is required reading for anyone who ever wants to release a professional recording. He hits every nail right on the head in my opinion, and I think that I may even have said some similar things in the past on this column. Get it and read it. Now.
You Cannot Be Serious
I was told by someone on the airplane coming back from Memphis that he could hear the difference between 88.2k and 96k sample rate recorded music. I laughed for about five minutes until I noticed that he wasn't joining me on the fun, maybe because of that $5,000 home theater amp he had just been telling me about. People, people, people, what will they come up with next.
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