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Accelerate Your Mac!
Bring in the Noise
Mac Audio Column
by Thad Brown

3/3/99
The Readers Speak

This one is long overdue. I regularly get useful and insightful comments and suggestions from readers. Unfortunately I don't usually have the time to do much with them, but since I got a bunch in a row these past few days, I can edit them together quickly for all of you.

The Korg 1212 and Adaptec SCSI Cards

I have been lucky enough to get mail from some people at Korg, including the project manager for the 1212. He points out that I did in fact incorrectly call the 2940 and 1212 compatibility problems "show stoppers."

C'mon, show-stopping means, well, no show. I use a 2940 at home and at work; it works great, loads of tracks (at least 32 from a single drive). Yes, it has to be set to 10 MB/sec. That doesn't seem to slow anything down in a practical sense.

And - just disable the video acceleration on the G3, and again, it works fine. Conflicts with video acceleration are quite common.

Right he is, and the Korg 1212 is not at all unique in this. Many audio and video cards don't get along with some specific SCSI cards on the PCI bus. Always look into this when buying any combination of processor, SCSI and audio cards. As he says, my Korg contact uses 2940 cards both at work and at home, and he reports much improved SCSI performance over the internal bus for audio specific applications, even with acceleration turned off.

CD-R Burning and Audio Extraction Workarounds

Kevin C had problems similar to mine with duping audio CDs and audio extraction. I haven't tested the fixes completely yet, but I do get very similar errors, and they are similarly repeatable. Interestingly, Toast will not do a SCSI copy of an audio CD, it recognizes the CD as an audio disc and switches formats. Big pain. Kevin eventually fixed his problems with the hack found at www.resexcellence.com which I will try soon. That said, be very very very careful with ResEdit if you are new to it. That's a no joke app, friends. Here's what Kevin had to say.

Like you, I have had a fair amount of trouble getting my CD-ROM/CD-R to work reliably.

Last June, I picked up a Yamaha CDR400T (firmware 1.0m) and a Plextor 32x (firmware v1.0.1) and shoved them into my PowerCenter 150's 5.25" bays. I also picked up an upgrade to CD-ROM Toolkit v3.0.2 to support the Plextor, since the older version of CD-ROM Toolkit I had and Apple's drivers would not (at least not without hacking, see below).

I my original tests of audio extraction with the Plextor were using the included Toast Audio Extractor (v1.0 and v1.1). Often, I got the error "Couldn't complete the last command because of a Mac OS error. Result Code = -50" when ripping certain tracks. Reproducible every time. The same tracks were affected when trying to use the Yamaha for extraction. The same thing would happen to the same tracks if I tried to burn directly from the audio CD. A friend leant me his copies of a couple of the affected titles. The exact same tracks failed, so I know that the problem is centered somehow on the CD.

Interestingly, audio extraction apps that use QuickTime (Toast does not) have absolutely no problem ripping any track.

I also tried the Anubis/CharisMac driver (v1.2.2) and the Toast CD Reader (v3.5.4). Both worked with the Yamaha. Using Toast Audio Extractor with either of these drivers, the problem tracks now extracted fine. Unfortunately, neither supports the Plextor. Apple CD-ROM supports neither drive (again, see below).

I sent detailed reports of of my testing methodology and results to both Adaptec and FWB in July. Neither has done anything but point fingers at the other since. Whenever the topic comes up on Adaptec's CD-R mailing list, I complain bitterly.

Since, I had been extracting tracks to a 750MB partition on my secondary drive (the other 1.3GB being mkLinux) using other tools and then burning from there. Works well, but is a pain.

I came across a site listed on one of the Mac news sites a couple months ago (may have been xlr8yourmac, but I'm not sure). It gives directions on how to hack the Apple CD-ROM/DVD driver to support any drive. I removed CD-ROM Toolkit, hacked the Apple driver as directed, installed, and restarted. Success! Since then, I have been able to rip any track from an audio CD and directly copy any audio CD without first extracting the tracks to the hard disk. My only (small) complaint is that audio extraction is a few hundred KB/s slower, but I'll take the compatibility instead. Also, Toast throws up a warning at launch about a driver controlling the CD-R, but this has never presented any problem. Otherwise, everything works perfectly now.

The site with the hack is ResExcellence. The page is here

Controlling Computer Noise In Your Studio

Rudy Kizer is a reader with a very impressive digital studio that he uses to make actual MONEY! In fact, I think that he even makes more than he spends on new gear, more than I can usually say. I asked him to give me a look at what he does to deal with component noise in his studio. I'm lucky to have a closet within an extension cable or two of my workstation, so I didn't have to go through what he did.

The easiest way to keep computer noise out of your listening environment is to keep your CPU in another room and run extension cables for your keyboard, mouse and monitor. However, this sucks for obvious reasons (like going into another room to change CDs when you're ripping audio from them). When I build my dream studio, I will set my mastering room up in this fashion. Until then, I've kluged something together and I'll tell you how I did it.

For regular humans, the best way to set up is to keep your CPU where you can get to it. However, with drives spinning and fans whirring, you can get a little distracted from the task at hand, which is making a great mix. I will use my private circle in Dante's MIDI/Digital Recording Hell to illustrate my point.

I've got a MOTU 2408 system installed in a UMAX S900. This beast records to a 9GB UW hard drive on an Adaptec 2940UW card. This is connected via lightpipe to an O2R mixer and various mics, synths, and effects. In my system, there always seems to be a high amount of "chatter" to my 2408 from my UMAX due to the hard drives fans and motion of drive heads against the discs during recording. I know I'm picking nits here, but I spent all this money to have a _Q U I E T_ recording system, and if I can squash this, I want to.

First, I've moved my 9 GB drive to an external housing. This is advantageous for two reasons, (1) reduced drive chatter across the internal housing and (2) I can RAID stripe a second drive and house it in the same case. This cost me ~$75 with shipping.

Second, I pulled the internal 2 GB IBM drive and placed it in an external housing. Probably unnecessary, but what the hell, I had an extra one lying around. I'd jerk my CD drive too, but I don't have enough enclosures and have had problems booting Norton Utiliies from CD-ROM on the external SCSI bus. Oh well...

I also had the luxury of having a 14 space floor-standing rack unit that is not currently in use. So, Mad Scientist Boy goes to work...

I got two rack-mount shelves and screwed these into the rack enclosure. The first went in 6 spaces up from the bottom, the other 3 spaces from the top (enough room to put the single-height external enclosure on the shelf). I then went and bought 1/4" rubber insulating mats to place the drives on. This will help absorb vibration from the drive while it's powered. I told you I'm going nuts with this thing.

I then used 4" and 2" acoustic foam to insulate the sides of the drive from the edges of the rack enclosure. I am keeping the front of the rack open (ie you can see the drive enclosures) so that adequate ventilation is available to the drives.

Lastly, since I cannot place this horrid beast in another room, I used my remaining 2" acoustic foam to insulate the wall _behind_ the rack enclosure so that any fan whirring will be absorbed and minimized. The UMAX tower stands majestically on top of my rack unit (on a rubber insulating mat, of course). I plan on adding an rack drawer to hold PC tools, cables, SCSI terminators, etc. so that I won't have to go rooting through my toolbox to find them. I'm also investigating putting a ventilated door on the front of the rack to help reflect any errant noise from the drives that may escape out the front.

This, however, does not address the noise of the UMAX internal fan. Although not overly annoying, I'm getting neurotic about killing fan noise. Eventually, I would like to get a surplus server tower with a nice glass door on the front so I can perform this little magic feat on my tower too.

The Other Side Of The Coin

In addition to the insightful and helpful ideas in information, I also get my fair share of hate mail. In fact, last week we hit a new record, seven pieces in one day. Here are two tidbits that I particularly enjoyed.

I don't mean to be offensive but each time I bother to read your column I don't get any relevant info all I get is somebody bitchin' because he cannot afford to put his aging tools in a decent box.

ITEMS SOON TO DISSAPEAR FROM YOUR MENU

-SCSI & IDE

-SERIAL & PARALLEL PORTS

-ISA SLOTS

-FLOPPY DRIVES

Plan ahead and hope you can still write or produce a good piece of music.

THANKS FOR YOUR ATTENTION

and the best single phrase of the week.

. . .not that i expect much in the way of real critical thinking from a guitar player . . .

Remember folks, the "Back" button is there for a reason, use it.

Why Do They Call It A Mess?

No wait, that says "Messe" not "Mess." Guess I didn't sleep through ALL of those German classes. This week, the Frankfurt Musik Messe (alias Euro-NAMM) will captivate the audio world from it's new location, London. Just kidding, I think it's still in Frankfurt. Many Euro soft and hardware companies consider this show to be their own personal playground/sandbox, so look for big splashes from the usual heavyweights from across the pond. Steinberg, Emagic, Creamware, and other should produce some news. I also hear that Yamaha may have some interesting stuff to show. I'll cover any bombshells, but interesting info should be available from your favorites audio companies website.


Have an Audio question? Check the Audio FAQ first.

Send Thad Feedback or new links at: tcb@caliban.grendelnet.com


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