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


Happy End Of The World

Well, in between setting up my bomb shelter, buying a tanker full of diesel for the generator, stocking up on grosses of cans of tuna fish, and being sure that I'm not stuck with any money in the bank that could be jacked by Tamil Tiger operatives (see the monitor section below for one of the ways I'm insuring that I enter the last year of the millennium broke but with nice gear), I've had little time to work on my music, my computers, or write columns. The closest I've come is the time spent on the airplane editing ACID properties for some of my loop CDs. But hey, I got almost a month straight with new columns there. So, this is a little mop up column, we'll start anew after the new year.

Creative Gets Macintoshed

As Mike reported on the front page, Creative Labs, the 900 pound gorilla of PC audio cards, has announced Mac software support for their SoundblasterLive cards. Mike and I have both talked about this card on occasion. For some time now, PC users have had a set of cards that have done MIDI, audio, and usually some level of synthesis and sampling. Many of these sound horrible, have synths that make a Casio from Best Buy sound good, and use drivers seemingly custom designed to make a MIDI file created by Steve Gadd sound like it was played by a drunk 14 year old taking his second lesson. However, Creative put together probably the first "consumer" sound card that had a place in a project studio, the Soundblaster AWE 64 Gold. They followed it up with a PCI version, and eventually, it grew into the first SoundblasterLive. It's a PCI card with a synthesis/effects chip by Emu (a Creative subsidiary), 16 channels of MIDI in and out, some 3D surrond sound stuff, and up to 64 voices of sampling using Soundfont banks, and S/PDIF I/O. The SoundblasterLive Value takes away the external S/PDIF connectors, but there are still internal connectors for digital outs on CD-ROMs and maybe other sound cards. It's a nice product with a number of markets, gamers who want above average sound, amateur musicians with basic project studios, and PARIS owners who need something to monitor ACID on their PCs, since the PARIS cards won't play back anything but PARIS. In case you didn't figure it out, I'm in the latter category, I have a SoundblasterLive Value in my PC. It spits timecode over to the Mac from PARIS with its MIDI outs, it lets me monitor ACID, and for months I've been planning on trying to get the sampling running but haven't gotten around to it. The sound quality, considering the $99 price tag, is quite good. It's not PARIS, but I was pleasantly surprised by the clarity and low noise of the sound, certainly preferable to what you get out of the 16 bit outs built into a Mac.

What does this mean for Macs? If Creative puts the time into driver development that they should, and the support all of the functions of the card (including the sampling), and they do ASIO drivers, it's a great thing. It would be a nice card for a lot of people who have written me. Also, a big company could help out with setting standards on the Mac for add-on audio cards. Not a bad thing, that.

Shopping For Monitors

I spent the past few weeks looking for new monitors. During a session trying to track down a nasty little hum in one speaker, I managed to rather dramatically blow out my Tonnoys, so I went looking for new stuff. I was surprised (as I always am) by the startling variety of sound in studio monitors. It's incredible how flat out different all of them sound. I listened to a bunch of stuff at a couple of different stores, and always took the same set of CDs and tried to play them in the same order to get an idea of what I liked. I have my choices narrowed down to two models from the same manufacturer, it's just a matter of how much I can afford, or more accurately, how much more than I can afford I will spend.

Interestingly, some of the speakers sounded just plain weird. Not individual, or having a sound, but bizarre. Talking to a few speaker experts, it sounds to me like it's the result of design flaws (improperly aligned drivers, bad crossovers, etc.) or unacceptable tolerances between speakers. This happened with some of the more expensive speakers, and not with some of the cheaper ones. As always, trust what you hear, not what you read. The wide variety of sound reinforced advice given by two different experts, one a top Nashville engineer, and one who works at a super high end speaker company. The important thing with monitors (other than avoiding the speakers with obvious design flaws) is to learn whatever you get very well. How well you know them is at least as important as how they sound. The speaker company person went one step further, and suggested the following. Get a good set of very flat headphones, listen to mixes on them, and then listen with whatever monitors you use. This gives both a very flat reference monitoring system and also exposes problems that need to be worked around. Very good advice, in my opinion.

See You Next Year . . .

I wish you all a very happy end of the world. Let's hope the kooks and nutjobs find somewhere else to bother people. Bring In The Noise had its ups and downs this year, but things are getting back in order. As I said, there are interviews, hardware and software reviews, and I'm hoping to even do some artist features here over the next year. Stay tuned.

One final useful bit of info for the new year. Many of you will be celebrating rather hard, and many of you who are musicians will be getting one of your best paying, and longest, gigs of the year. It's easy to go overboard on any new year's eve, but it will be really easy to do so this year. The first rule is to keep things reasonable, and not to drive. No reason to die or loose any points on the license just because it's a good night to enjoy a party. The second rule is to be reasonable in your consumption in the first place. The last rule is to be prepared if you don't follow rule #2, which to me means having bloody mary mix ready for the next day. So, here are the Bring In The Noise Millenium Mixer Tips.

The biggest thing people do wrong making a really good bloody is using low quality and uninteresting mixes. So, skip the nasty stuff in bottles and make your own. Here's the first secret, you only need two kinds of juice, tomato juice and carrot juice. If you want to REALLY impress your friends, put canned whole tomatoes through a food mill, and use the slightly pulpy juice that results. Lots of work, but probably the ultimate base to start with. Pour your tomato juice into a mixing bowl. Start by adding about a tablespoon of carrot juice per quart of tomato juice. Taste until you get just enough of the carrot flavor that it doesn't taste like just tomato juice. I usually add lemon juice here, the juice of about a quarter of a lemon or so. A little lemon zest grated in doesn't hurt either. Add clam juice if you wish (I can't stand the stuff, but hey, I can't stand the Backstreet Boys either, and look how well they are doing). Now add lots of ground salt and pepper. Once again, taste as you go, until you have something that tastes like V8 juice but fresher and spicier. I put in horrifying amounts of salt, but I figure a bloody isn't a health drink. Don't go to crazy with the pepper, because we're going to do Tobasco next. I believe strongly in actual Tobasco branded pepper sauce, I think the vinegar flavor in Tobasco goes nicely with rest of the flavors. If I'm working on a quart of tomato juice, I'll put in 8-10 healthy squirts of Tobasco. That's enough for a lot of normal people (a.k.a. weasels), I add more for me later. Now, believe it or not, that's it. Tomato juice, carrot juice, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and Tobasco. Add horseradish and additional Tobasco at the mixing stage if the audience likes it (kinda like reverb when you think about it), and you're done. Here's the last secret, make this mix the day before, and then funnel it into jars the day BEFORE your celebration. The flavors in the mix will merge a bit as it sits in the fridge, and then the day after your celebration, all you need to do to get a bloody pour a small shot of vodka over ice, pour in your mix, and head back to the couch to watch the second half of the Rose Bowl.

Enjoy. See you next year.

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