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Accelerate Your Mac!
Bring in the Noise
by Thad Brown
5/14/98

Mac Audio Vendors/Resources

Vendors

Software:

There are a couple of different kinds of audio software, generally speaking there are sequencing/recording applications, editors, and plug-ins. Sequencing/recording apps are all in one environments where you can control MIDI, audio, and sometimes even external hardware from the same environment. The brutal competition between Steinberg, Emagic, Opcode and Mark of the Unicorn means new features and great prices for us consumers. It's enough to make the captialist in you so proud you start to cry. The first serious multi-track app was from Digidesign, Pro Tools is still one of the best, but it's also still pricey and works best with additional hardware, and has no integral MIDI.

Editors are for careful and exact editing of single files at a time, not for multitracking. They are also where most people get samples ready for a sampler or another audio app. BIAS makes the joyful to use Peak, and Digidesign's Sound Designer II has been a preferred editor for years. Sadly neither one supports real time effects. Prosoniq is a German company that makes amazing editors and plug-ins with unique and proprietary effects and processes. They also make a FREE basic version of their editor which I recommned highly. Get it from their site, NOW. I said NOW damnit, hit that link, and thank your preferred deity you live in the late twentieth century when people write cool audio software and then give it away.

The plug-in market is a huge part of the fun of digital audio. Plug-ins can make tracks sound better, apply amazingly useful or wacky DSP to individual sounds, and if they are real time, you can even manipulate some pretty cool interfaces and hear the changes right then and there. Waves, Arboretum, Steinberg, and Prosoniq have been making plug-ins for a while, and some new companies like DUY are shaking things up a bit. Lots of companies known for making audio hardware are also getting into the software market. Lexicon, Yamaha, Drawmer, dbx, and T.C. Electronic are also making plug-ins.

Hardware:

Lucky for mac users, the on board audio on a mac is quite good. PC users have to hassle with IRQ conflicts, MIDI drivers, and often cheap noisy sound cards. If you own a Power Mac, you have 16 bit digital to analog conversion and Sound Manager to get your audio sounding right going in an out. You can, of course get PCI cards that will do things better and sometimes add some salsa to the mix if you have the spare money.

The Audiomedia II card from Digidesign was a Nubus card that was THE standard for years. The Audiomedia III is a PCI version that does many of the same things, but more and a bit better. Lucid Technology and Sonorus make excellent digital only cards if you have external A/D converters.

The real news, though, is pretty recent. Yamaha and Mark of the Unicorn have announced amazing new cards recently. The MOTU card is designed to work with up to 24 tracks of audio simultaneously and not tax the host CPU. The Yamaha card has the power of an 02R digital mixer with lots of DSP power. Both are single PCI cards and cost under $1000. I think that if they can get them out reasonably on time they will be in a whole lot of audio macs.

Web Resources:

daMac Pages, an interesting set of knowledge bases, articles, reviews, and a good bit of MP3 stuff.

Harmony Central is a great clearinghouse for musical industry info in general, not just computer audio. They also have an excellent equipment review database, tutorials, and good classifieds.

Mix Magazine is the online partner to THE pro audio mag of all time. The paper version is for those rare folks who consider $1200 compressors genuinely reasonable, the online version seems pitched a bit lower, but it is still a great resource for project and web audio, and a GREAT source for opinion from people with dozens of years of experience in audio.

The Synth Zone is mostly another bunch of links, but the are comprehensive and very useful.

Theory:

Prosoniq Research

The Haskins Lab is a world class speech and sound research lab. I am lucky enough to live nearly around the corner from it and have been a test subject there. Their web site is fantastic and includes some groovy interative demos.

Compression:

We are still quite a ways from the day when it is easy to spit the data for multi-channel or long word lenght digital audio from a little silver disc. DVD, satellite TV, MiniDisc, Real Audio and Shockwave all use some compression or another. Mpeg3 audio isn't ONLY for college students to pirate CD's either, with an 11 to 1 compression ratio and listenable audio quality, it's the best thing going if you want to try to distribute your own audio on the web.

RAUM is a great source of news for MP3 and some other compression apps.

ATRAC compression is the compression used in recordable MiniDisc machines, and it is the first compression scheme that I have heard that I cannot discern as compressed. ATRAC only compresses at a 5 to 1 ratio, but when you hear it, it's the real deal. Read the scintilation AES paper about ATRAC here and check out the Mini Disc Community Pages for general info about this interesting consumer audio technology.

Send Thad Feedback or new links at: xlr8youraudio@yahoo.com


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