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Accelerate Your Mac!
Bring in the Noise
Mac Audio Column
by Thad Brown
News from NAMM (New Cards, Apps and Drivers)

Normally this article is written week after week either on the work iMac or my UMAX at home. Well, no such luck tonight. This evenings report is brought to you by the wonderful folks in Redmond and their Windows NT operating system. See, I'm at work REALLY REALLY LATE, and right now I'm just watching a telnet session where I run a little SQL or AIX job, and then sit back and wait and wait and wait for the little sucker to return some useful information so I can run another little job. So, while here at the NT box at work, I will try to update the xlr8yourmac faithful with news of the audio weird, I mean world. One thing to remind you though, is that in keeping with the belief in as much independence as possible from domineering and dangerous software vendors, this particular article is being written in the wonderful open source vim text editor. There is a Mac port on the way, but I thought that at least I could avoid notepad.

What NAMM Means To You

Cool new toys, lots and lots of cool new toys. New cards, new drivers, new apps, just new all over. And perhaps most importantly, MIDI for the new G3s.

That's right, kids, if you want MIDI for your new G3, it's ready to go as long as you don't mind using one of your PCI slots, Magawolf gets around the lack of timing resolution in the USB drivers by using a PCI card. Mark of the Unicorn was showing this card working with the new G3s and a number of their MIDI interfaces. So it's better than nothing I guess. Everybody and their brother is announcing USB MIDI interfaces (coolest paint jobs go to Opcode) and none of them or their brothers are shipping them. Looks like March/April or there 'bouts.

Special thanks to Alex Klepoff for this information.

The most innocuous announcement that is really a big deal award goes to the ladies and gents at Steinberg for the updates to the VST and ASIO spec. ASIO will be updated to include three things that audio types have been desperate for for some time, sample accurate sync to timecode, the ability for an ASIO device to share I/O with other apps, and reportedly a way to monitor the input without zero latency, or something very close to it. All three of these things are massive improvements to what is at this point the de facto audio I/O technology for the Mac.

The VST update has one real winner, MIDI input for plug-ins. This opens the possibilities for something that many computer users have been asking for for some time, the ability to control plug in parameters from a MIDI hardware interface. I can vouch for the fact that it's not critical, but it is cool. For instance, the Koblo soft synths can have any and all knobs respond to MIDI control, and by building a "MIDI transformer" in my sequencer, I can use the real time knobs on my K5000 synth to control anything I want on the synth. This same thing will now be possible with audio plug-ins and I hope with the VST mixer itself. MIDI input also means that a plug-in can send a stream of audio out under MIDI control, opening up a huge realm of soft synths and samplers that will run right in the VST environment. Finally, some of the new hardware interfaces (like the Mackie HUI) use MIDI for Pro Tools control, and pretty much any digital mixer will send and receive MIDI, so plug-ins should become much easier to use in a much wider range of situations. Basically, another big mark in the favor of native audio processing.

Steinberg also deserves credit for helping maintain these standards, just as Opcode deserves credit for the OMS spec. These kind of industry standards when they come from within the industry, and server the needs of the public are wonderful things. May Rewire, VST, and ASIO continue to let more of this stuff talk to each other.

Sonorus continues to make smart moves and stick with what they already have. Mark Lindahl of Sonorus also happens to be a really nice guy, having conversed with him a bit via email regarding some Macintosh issues. He also really knows his stuff. Sonorus is shipping a new eight channel 24 bit converter box that for some mysterious reason won't dither down to 16 bit, but if you can record all 24 it has a very nice price. They are also expanding driver support to include Linux, and keeping with some serious momentum in the audio world, BeOS.

Other card news was varied. The XG division of Yamaha announced Mac drivers for the SW1000XG card, and promised their release very soon. This card is worth a serious look for many of you because it has a stereo analog I/O, S/PDIF out, 16 channel MIDI out (which will also work with the new G3s), and all of the power of the very successful MU100 module. For me personally, this dovetails with a piece of bad news, and that is that Mac Pulsar support has slipped to Q3 99, and people tell me that date may be optimistic. I have said that getting there first is a big deal, and I may just settle for "good enough" and grab a Yamaha card. They sure don't suck, even if the idea of a platform with third party options is, in my opinion, superior. But like I say, daddy's gotta make some music, and it is not smart to wait for somebody to finish hardware and delay that process.

An interesting twist in the hardware world was an announcements that Ensoniq and Bitheadz plan to team up to bring the Ensoniq99, and people tell me that date may be optimistic. I have said that getting there first is a big deal, and I may just settle for "good enough" and grab a Yamaha card. They sure don't suck, even if the idea of a platform with third party options is, in my opinion, superior. But like I say, daddy's gotta make some music, and it is not smart to wait for somebody to finish hardware and delay that process.

Arboretum continues to come up with interesting new products and updates for some of the old ones. They have a new de-noising and restoration app, and a fascinating looking harmony processor. They also announced plans for BeOS support.

Digidesign announced that their Pro Tools Mix system is shipping for Macs and NT boxes, and also showed an upgraded Samplecell card. In addition, they announced a "certified" hardware configuration with pricing that far surpassed their previous level of shamelessness in pricing. For $1838 retail, you can buy a 9 gig 10,000 RPM Ultra Wide SCSI drive that comes in a special case that makes it quieter. Roughly one third of that will net you a Cheetah and you can build (or buy) your own box. You make the call.

Mark of the Unicorn announced Digital Performer 2.5 which now allows sample accurate editing and sync with some cards, including their own. I recently worked with DP for the first time in a while, and the improvements, even since 2.0 are pretty astonishing. The rig I was on had a 2408 (also from MOTU) and it was truly an elegant system, and MOTU products always look fantastic, so it's easy on the eyes as well.

Last but certainly not least is news from Emagic that they are releasing something the Mac really really needs, a simple much cheaper audio card. Called the Audiowerk2, it will include CD burning software and do the basic digital and analog I/O for any Mac with a PCI card. Along with the DSP Factory support, this jumps the Logic folks ahead of the crown in a number of important areas.

That's the big stories folks, along with what I covered previously. There were also a number of other things not quite so computer related, tons of new 24 bit converters, often in eight packs, some interesting new hardware with more and more "voice box" type things including a digital out to keep it clean on the way to the Mac, and tons of announcements of BeOS support for both hardware and software. Good thing that won't run on my Mac, eh?

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