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

8/2/99

MacWorld and NAMM Wrapup

It's been a hell of a few weeks, folks. Lots of things have happened both to me and to audio and to Macs, I'll try to catch up on what I can. I recorded a fascinating record for a brilliant bass player, went to MacWorld, did some traveling, and still managed to fix NT boxes all day long. The slow erosion of my "weekly" columns along with all the other stuff that I have been doing really makes me wonder if I have time for all of it, but I'll keep trying for a while. I would hate to quit writing the column, and meeting the popele that I meet via the web, but if I don't have time to do it right, then I just don't want to do it at all. If somebody would just stick 30 hours into a single day.

Start Spreading The News

I got to be a part of it, New York New York. The big watusi of the Mac shindig last week was, of course, the iBook. I watched the keynote via webcast (ironically, the Quicktime streaming was jammed, I had to watch it on MSoft streaming via ZDNET I think), and saw the little critters at the show. These are obviously not aimed in any way to audio people, since they lack even the perfunctory marginal quality 16 bit audio inputs that the pro line currently has. So, right now it looks like the iBook is just what Apple says, a snazzy iMac like thing for consumers. I was told recently by somebody at Apple that iMacs were not intended for use as high end audio workstations, so I assume that the same holds for the iBook.

The other technologies that Apple had in the spotlight were also mostly for non-audio uses. Quicktime streaming may someday be useful for us, but I don't know a lot of people right now with copies of OS X Server and half a gig of RAM who are using that as a way to sell or promote their own records. Maybe some day. I suppose Sherlock II may also help me in some way or another. But the stars of the show were the iBook and some of the QT TV type stuff. Good for Apple for making some cash. Since it's celebration week, I won't complain about anything.

The companies on the floor were also a reminder of what the Mac is still really about. It's graphic design stupid. I saw a fascinating workshop from Macromedia about Dreamweaver, and Adobe was showing off some cool stuff, and tools for layout, network printing, font management, and all sorts of graphics related stuff were everywhere. There were a few companies doing audio stuff. Bitheadz was flying the flag, as were a few notation software companies. I saw a person using PARIS in the small business pavilion. Guitar Center had their booth and were selling various things, including the interesting new 24 bit version of the Darla card from Event Electronics. Emagic was also out showing their very very very badass looking 4.0 version of Logic. If I were starting out all over, I might seriously consider spending the time learning that app, but at this point, I feel like I gotta write a song or two somewhere.

I also hosted the first (I hope) xlr8yourmac audio lunch. Adam Lang, admin on the finest PowerPC Linux mail server in the history of mankind, stopped by, as did a few others. It was quite nice actually, everybody was involved in genuinely interesting projects, and they were proof that computers should help us be more creative. I didn't realize at the time that one of the attendees was a member of a band I used to really like, Boys Against Girls. Eli Janney is now doing remixes and gave me a CD of what he has been working on, and it's pretty hip. Check out his project, Americruiser, here. One person was also doing what sounded like multimedia stuff with environmental sounds and visuals, something I wish I had more time to do. One thing that audio geeks can forget is that there is more to sound than twisting knobs and finding out how fast the release on the compressor should be. Taking a mic out into the world and pointing it at nearly anything can yield really fascinating results, particularly if you live in New York. Actually, NYC "found sound" could wind you up in a situation a lot like John Revolting in "Blow Out" but hey, that's the price you pay for art.

So, it was a good show. I hope to meet more of you later.

The Other Show Last Week

One reason that I think that Mac World is so poorly attended by audio companies is that they summer NAMM show is happening almost at the exact same time every year. This year was no exception, and there is some exciting news from that show. I was hoping to get an "on the floor" perspective from somebody, but that didn't work out.

There were a couple of updated software announcements. Steinberg released Cubase 4.1 for the Mac, including new effects (like the desperately needed dynamics) and support for the newest versions of ASIO and VST. Opcode announced version 4.5 of Vision DSP, which will include ReWire support (great for users of Unity and Retro), f/x and EQ automation and a couple of other handy features. Neither are earth shaking updates, but they are nice incremental bumps in what the apps can do.

TC Electronics announced that their much anticipated editing and f/x package Spark is shipping now. I don't plan to buy it myself, and questions to the public TC address have netted me not response, so if anybody out there gets brave and wants to do a guest review, send it on in. The main features in Spark are a fairly involved new interface, VST plug-in suppport, and some level of CD burning, though I haven't been able to figure out exactly how it works. In any case, it looks quite sharp.

On the sound card front, there were two major announcements. First Sonorus announced a very interesting looking card that will include a healthy dose of analog I/O and f/x capability. It sorta looks like what a "multimedia" card could be in a better world. It has MIDI I/O, dedicated vocal and guitar inputs with tailored f/x for each, and lots of digital and analog I/O. The initial release will be with Windows drivers only, but Marc Lindahl and Sonorus have a stellar rep for driver support, and their list of future platforms to support includes Mac, Be, and of all things Linux. Many of the people doing really pro work with Cubase and/or Logic would rather be locked in a room with starving Pit Bulls than part with their Studi/o cards, so Sonorus is not a company to be taken lightly. This card looks pretty freakin cool.

Korg also announced the OASYS PCI, a card much more like the SW1000XG or the Pulsar than anything else out there. It's sorta like a hot rod 1212 and a Trinity synth on the same card. The I/O for recording is sorta like the 1212, stereo analog, stereo S/PDIF, and 8 channels of Lightpipe. The difference is that all the inputs are 24 bit as opposed to the 16 and 20 bit inputs on the 1212. On top of that, however, is a ton of DSP for synthesis and effects. The synths can use the variety of synth architectures that the OASYS system allows, and the effects can be used on either the synth voices or on audio coming in through the card or out from a multi-track or digital audio sequencer. I had some of the Korg lit sent to me, and it looks damn cool. I have always thought that the Trinity B-3 is killer for a synth, and I bet if you ran that sound through a real Leslie, you could fool a lot of folks. The Korg lit says that the B3 on the OASYS PCI is fully 61 note polyphonic but only takes up half of the processing horsepower of the card. The Korg lit also makes a very good point that this may be the first computer synth card from Korg, but it's not in any way their first synth. They've been at that almost as long as anyone, and their initial implementation of "synth on a card" may well leap frog over what everybody else has been doing so far. Like I said at the beginning, they make the badass Trinity synths, and they make the top selling Korg 1212, so they are in a pretty great position to put digital audio recording and synthesis on the same card.

One final thing is pretty cool about this card. All of the synths and DSP algorithms are loaded from disk and "plug-ins" of a sort. Korg also plans to make their internal synth design software available for people to design their own synths, and I suppose third parties could add their own thing as well. Korg seemed to be stressing the fact that new synths and updates to the card would be easier over the possibility of third party or roll your own synth content, but in any case it's a big plus in my book. I like to break stuff myself.

One Word Reason To Own A Wintel Box

Acid

One Record That Rocks My World

"Summerteeth" by Wilco

Tune In Next Time

I'm going to try to finish up the Unity review this week. I don't have any real serious work for anybody else coming up, so I may have some time. Bitheadz released a few new updates since I started so I have to give those a quick look, but it should be done soon. I also got my copy or Reaktor from Native Instruments, and that is a seriously deep app. I also plan to do a whole week on the really fascinating record I just made with a virtuoso bass player here in New Haven. Interesting stuff, and I hope to have it up more regularly again. Keep them emails coming as well, and one of these days I'll update the FAQ as well.


Have an Audio question? Check the Audio FAQ first.

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


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