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Bring in the Noise
Mac Audio Column
by Thad Brown
|Better Hardware & New Software, or More Of The Same . . .
Before we get started this week, a few housekeeping chores. First, we're trying to get back to the new column on Monday Groove. I feel really bad that I've had a tough time getting stuff done on time of late. I value what I get from writing this, and I want to do my part.
Mark Of The Unicorn Ups The Ante
Mark of the Unicorn has been in the Mac music racket as long as anybody, and a good but longer than most. They have been adding audio to their world class MIDI sequencer for a while and are not up to version 2.6 of Digital Performer. This soon to be released update includes two very interesting and exciting improvements. First, there is a new loop based recording thing called Polar that I have only seen screen shots of, but looks pretty wicked cool. From the press release, it's a way to select a part or section or segment of chunk or whatever they call some amount of audio, overdub as many loops as you want into RAM, then edit things together and have it show up in your normal window. Looks pretty cool. They are also apparently going to support OMS natively with Performer, though I'll believe it when I see it. One of the reasons I don't use much MOTU stuff is that I like to use as many industry standard tools as I can, and MOTU seems to prefer their own stuff (FreeMIDI, MAS) over the stuff everybody else uses (OMS, VST). I incorrectly stated that DP doesn't support ASIO, it does, and thanks to a reader to pointing that out. It's good to see them moving more towards the mainstream, since they make very very nice stuff.
MOTU is one of the many companies who won't answer my email, so if anybody out there would like to give the xlr8 faithful a mini review of Polar and 2.6, contact me at the address on the bottom of this page.
The MOTU folks also make hardware, and they have had a massive hit with their 2408 audio interface. The biggest knocks on it were that it had only 8 analog inputs and that they were on unbalanced RCAs. If you keep your cable runs short and away from monitors and power supplies, and watch your levels that shouldn't matter, but some people say unbalanced=amatuer and balanced=pro, so it's a perception thing. MOTU wisely built some expandability into the 2408 and recently announced a 24 bit box that can be an expansion for you 2408 or a stand alone interface. It's smart and it's good for their customers. Many people working in computer only studios would rather have 8 channels of 24 bit conversion on balanced inputs than 8 20 bit channels and 16 channels of ADAT and DA-99 I/O. So, if you are looking for 24 bit converters, of if you already own a 2408 and want more I/O it's a very attractive option. Think of it this way, you could get 16 channels 24 bit analog I/O and 4 channels AES digital for not much over $2000. Go look at some of the priced for other 24 bit converters and see what a great deal that is. Finally, MOTU is refreshingly open about driver development with their audio hardware. The 2408 works hand in glove with Digital Performer, but they include ASIO drivers so it will work with nearly anything else.
Native Instruments Gets Macintoshed
Do a web search for "Native Insturments" and you'll get a bunch of info about world music and pan flutes. Reader Rob S. also pointed me to the company of the same name that has nothing to do with pan flutes, but is a top quality electronic synthesis and sampling software manufacturer from Germany. They recently released Reaktor for the Macintosh. Their rep on the PC side is top notch, and I've played with Generator a little bit on a PC. I'm trying to get more info from them. For now, surf over to here and check out what they have.
Reader Rob M. hipped me to the Reaktor stuff, and also gave me a number of new things to look for. He's clearly much more hip than I, and readers like him are part of what makes this column what it is. Keep it coming folks.
Archiving Vinyl And Tape To CD
I've been getting lots of email about this particular topic of late. Seems lots of folks are trying to burn CDs of their favorite vinyl and cassette/reel to reel tape. This is actually a pretty demanding thing for an out of the box Mac. The only way to get audio in is through the mini jack, and that can be tricky for a novice when setting levels. The most important thing to remember is that you want it as loud as possible without clipping. Unlike transferring to tape where you can safely go into the red a bit, digital clipping is just bad, and needs to be avoided. It's made trickier because music mixed for vinyl often has much wider dynamic range than music mixed for CD. Go get a James Brown record and watch the meters, then toss on an Oasis CD. The one mixed for CD basically has no movement on the meters, while the James Brown record bounced along like Clyde is playing the snare with the VU meters not his sticks. What you need to do is get your levels as high as possible without clipping. Not like your old cassette player, where you could record real hot and it didn't matter. Avoid the red, but keep it hot. Not easy, I promise.
There are plenty of free or cheap tools for recording sound. My personal favorite remains SonicWORX Basic which will let your record and edit 16 bit audio via sound manager. Ray Gun from Arboretum which is a good noise reduction app ships with a basic editor as well. For CD burning, Toast or whatever app shipped with your burner will burn functional audio CDs. Jam or Masterlist or CD Architect will allow you much more control and let you burn CDs suitable for a duplication house, but Toast will work fine for personal use.
If you want to clean up some hiss and pops and clicks, you will need some more software. As I mentioned, Ray Gun does a good job for under $100, there are some real expensive plug-ins for some VST and TDM host apps, and there is also an app from Steinberg called Clean which is designed specifically for vinyl and tape to CD dupes. If anybody out there is using it, let me know what you think, Steinberg also won't answer my email.
Finally, in honor of Spree and Patrick and Marcus and Allen, we'll end this week with the New York Knickerbocker Miami-Heat-trouncing-over-Dikembe-dunking-not-two-for-seventeen-going-no-more-coach-choking-bring-on-the-Pacers-though-the-knees-may-be-hurting cheer . . .
Go New York Go New York Go
(your turn, say with "raising the roof hand signal") Go New York Go New York Go
Go New York Go New York Go
Go New York Go New York Go
I'm just a TINY bit excited about this.
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