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

12/7/99

Holiday Gift Guide and More...

Successive Weeks No Less

We're back, two weeks in a row no less.. Things are looking up, I guess, or things are somehow less busy at the least. Judging by the volume of email, I lost some of you during my couple of months of constantly late columns. One kind reader told me that I should use the term of "high latency" instead of late, so I will. We're going to get that latency down in a big way over the coming months. Trust me, great stuff to come.

Apple And OMS

The rumors sites have been awash with the rumor that Apple is going to buy OMS. I personally would prefer it get open sourced, but Apple buying it is certainly better than Gibson letting it rot and go nowhere. For those unaware, OMS is the MIDI glue that holds together a huge percentage of the Mac studios on the world. It allows multiple apps to talk to each other, and manages MIDI timing from a single central clock. It's perhaps the single most important advantage that Macs have over PCs, MIDI timing under 95 and 98 gets real sketchy as soon as the machine has to multi-task.

OMS was written by Doug Wyatt when he worked for Opcode. He started a petition to pressure Gibson to release the source code and offered to spend at least some time maintaining and improving the code. I urge everyone to sign it here, and I'm happy that it has public support from many competing developers, and a large cross section of software engineers, professional users, and John Does with Macs like myself. Many people don't know that almost all of the low level code for both MIDI and audio engines will not work under OS X. Most such things were written years ago in strange languages like 68k Assembly, and they will need total re-writes to work under OS X. I'm working on an article mostly about that migration, but getting OMS into the hands of somebody who wants it updated, or into the public domain, is a serious win for the Mac, or rather NOT doing so is flirting with disaster as far as music production is concerned.

I have been silent on this page about the Gibson/Opcode bloodletting. That's mostly because I don't really know what's going on, and I don't want to pass on information that I'm not sure of. However, I will be shocked to see any significant evolution, much less revolution, coming from Opcode in the future. Word to current owner of music technology companies, if Gibson calls, hang up.

The xlr8yourmac.com/audio holiday gift list

I know all to well it is to get something for the audio geek on your holiday gift giving list. I could talk about a few ugly experience where I got something from Neuberg instead of Neumann, but hey it's too difficult to keep going over. We'll stick with the Apple approved of Good Better and Best suggestions, depending on just how naughty or nice your audio dweeb has been this past year.

Studio Hardware

Good- Pretty much everyone needs another or a better channel to the computer. Most of us spend most of our time overdubbing, and all of those overdubs will be improved with an upgraded single channel. Certainly worth a look is the Tube Pac from ART. Great sounding for the bucks. Another option would be an RNC from fmr-audio, assuming your audio geek already has a good mic pre

Better- Focusrite is known for making very very expensive outboard audio gear. Their entrance into the "project" market is the platinum line. The Voicemaster is a serious upgrade for a home recordist, with a very transparent Class A preamp, an opto compressor, a cryptically labeled but useful EQ, and a de-esser.

Best- On the opposite end of the spectrum from our "Good" config, but in the same ballpark, how about an Avalon? $1500 for a mic preamp isn't exactly pocket change, but it will give you bandwidth that the best digital converters still can't capture. It will also impress the neighbors, assuming they are audio engineers. It's a good thing. If your audio geek already has a nice system with good preamps, and a card with S/PDIF I/O, a new set of converters will do nicely, the Rosetta from Apogee would be a fine choice.

Microphones

Good- I have come to rely on my Audix OM-6. It's a great sounding dynamic that would work great for live work if I played out much, and it does a fine job as a quick and dirty studio mic. For a little less money, an OM-2 or two can do the workhorse duty of an SM58 but I think do it a little better.

Better- The world of mid priced mics is a little tricky. There's a lot of smoke and mirrors in that price range, but here's my idea. Take a look at an Audio Technica 4033, and maybe even a KM series Neumann.

Best- I've only used one a little bit, but people who I trust and reviewers world wide swear that the Neumann TLM 103 is a steal for under a grand. It's useful on instruments, vocals, drum overheads, and pretty much anything you want. Another mic with a great rep that I wish I could get my paws on is Royer Labs ribbon mic. It's a little more of a character mic, but ribbons have been used for their combination of great transient response while simultaneously sounding very warm. Sounds like what a lot of digital recordings need.

Sound Cards

Good- For a starter musician, the Emagic Audiowerk2 bundle gives your budding technocrat a lot to start with. A stereo digital I/O card, it's bundled with the intro version of Logic, and a CD burning app. A good way to start, and maybe if you begin by using Logic, it's not so freakin hard trying to learn it.

Better- In the $500 to $750 range there aren't all that many cards these days. An SW1000XG is certainly worth a look at around $500 if your gift getting person is in need of some more synths. Another option is one of the Lexicon systems that are getting blown out these days. Musicians friend has some for around $600, and that includes a Lexicon reverb and 24 bit converters.

Best- Of course, for me, it would be a PARIS Bundle 3, though arguments could be made for other stuff. In favor of PARIS, I offer the sweetest digital EQ that's not in a specialized plug-in, and it's a joy to use. However, you can't buy one now anyway, since Emy is still short on a critical component. Maybe they'll have 'em around before Santa makes his rounds. If your person is a Digi type, look into a Pro Tools Mix system, but once again, if you are buying for me, get me the PARIS and a couple of those Avalon things for the same amount of dough. Finally, those of you who are foward looking, check out the Korg OASYS PCI, looks amazing to me.

Computer Hardware

Good- Well, it wouldn't be called xlr8yourmac if we didn't believe in acceleration. For paltry sums of money, you can get a seriously fast G3 processor, and a ZIF socket upgrade card for an upgradeable Mac. Always be sure the system will work with the upgrade, but it seems a few of the newer designs are rock solid. Absent Altivec (which is unimplemented as of now in audio software), a G3 basically runs as well as a G4.

Better- How about a Win98 PC? Toss in a cheap Soundblaster card and a MIDI cable, and you can sync audio and MIDI apps between two computers. This will also allow a stocking stuffer of a copy of PC only application ACID from Sonic Foundry. It's reason enough to own a PC.

Best- Well, that's simple. A big fast graphite colored G4. While you're at it, grab me a second video card and a 18" flat panel monitor.

Software

Good- How about a soft synth under the tree. Koblo makes the best sounding soft synths anywhere, you can get either the Stella or Vibra for very reasonable amounts of money, and an upcoming update will include more sequencer support. The Gamma drum machine is also nice, but needs a little work. Reviews of all are on the way. If a synth isn't the right thing, check out Pluggo, 74 plug-ins for 74 bucks.

Better- The koblo synths sound great, but so does Reaktor. What makes Reaktor different (once again, review on the way) is a level tweakability that is astonishing. If your holiday list has a real techno synth tweaker, Reaktor is just what they cover says, the integration of synthesis, sampling, and effects. Another option is the Koblo Studio9000 which is all of their applications in a bundle.

Best- If your holiday list includes someone who has been really really nice, get them all three.

Does God Live In Hackensack New Jersey . . .

. . . Or does Rudy Van Gelder just get to borrow His mics? Well, I guess we won't know, but judging by the awe-inspiring fidelity of the RVG reissue of "Somethin' Else" by Cannonball Adderly, it's one or the other. I finally plunked down the dollars for one of the RVG releases, and this is a rare case where you can ignore Flavor Flav and go ahead and believe the hype. For those who don't know, Rudy is/was a former optometrist who recorded a huge percentage of the legendary golden era Blue Note records along with a good number of the rest of jazz recorded around NYC, and did this mostly of them in his house. I guess he had the greatest project studio in history.

Those records made in his living room still stand tall in the history of recording in general in my opinion, and they often make other very respectable records on other labels. I figured him long gone by the time I saw his name on every Blue Note record I loved, but I was wrong, and he came back and is remastering some of the best of the work he recorded decades and decades ago. The new releases were transferred to 24 bit digital and edited and tweaked under RVGs eyes and ears. It's not like much was lacking in many of the original CD releases, but as an audio geek, I wondered what the difference would be. I haven't had much of a chance to do A/B comparisons yet, but so far, there is a no joke, no hype difference in sound. What 24 bit seems to do is give greater detail and imaging, it's not that the sax sounds better, it's that you can hear the keys or the reed better. Or, you can hear how when the horn player moves even a couple of inches relative to the mic, and cymbals and brushes sound like you are sitting right next to the kit. Pretty heavy stuff, my friends, and while I'm not quite ready to replace all of my non RVG releases with the RVG versions, I'm certainly paying the few extra bucks if I have the choice, and some things I will replace. Think how this stuff will sound if it's properly prepared for DVD-Audio. The mind reels . . .

Speaking Of DVD Audio

Seems the copy protection killing exploits of a hacker from Norway have delayed the introduction of DVD audio by at least a number of months. The record biz has learned their lesson with the .mp3 explosion and are doing their best to keep copy protection in place for new formats, particularly as network bandwidth is finally getting to something like reasonable for doing downloads of audio. As I have said here, I think the uproar over .mp3 audio has more to do with the public taking over the robbing of musicians, an activity that the record business jealously guards as its own, than with any of the purported concerns. But, the record companies have every right to try to protect their copyrights. However, I advise them to go and check how many copy schemes haven't been cracked within a few months (and often hours) of their release.

Personally, I think that this kid from Norway was working on a little Scandinavian Art Sabotage. After years of seeing Norway trounced like somebody's little brother in the Great Battle Of European Pop Fluff, he'd had enough and decided that Roxette, Ace of Base, and ABBA were going to be downloadable to your local drive. While xlr8yourmac cannot ever support copyright hacking of any kind, you can't blame a guy for wanting to do something about "The Look" and "Dancing Queen" now can you? Maybe Americans should be asking ourselves about similar payback for the Canadian cultural invasion of Shania and Alanis. I realize that there may be an argument that by letting Neil Young move to California, we are owed some pretty serious payback, but I was under the impression that Bryan Adams had put that account back about even. Aren't you glad I worry about this stuff so you don't have to?

See ya, next week . . .


Have an Audio question? Check the Audio FAQ first, then the General FAQ Audio topic area.

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


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