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Mac Audio Column

Macworld January 2002 Audio Report
By: Mark Fassett
Published: 1/10/2002

It has been a while since I've written an audio article for xlr8yourmac, but I figure Macworld is the perfect opportunity to get back to work. I just sat down with my TiBook after getting back from the Moscone Center in San Francisco, while it's all fresh in my head.

    Topics:
    OSX
    Ableton Live
    Onadime Composer
    Digidesign Mbox
    Tascam US-428
    iMac for audio?

Audio Software

OSX?
A lot of two-track audio apps have shipped for OSX, including Bias Peak , TC Spark, etc, but still no word on any of the real multitrack workhorses like Emagic Logic, Steinberg Cubase, MOTU Digital Performer, Digidesign Pro Tools, etc. Emagic has announced support, but have delayed the release twice. I have a hunch Steinberg's Nuendo will be the first DAW package to ship for OSX, but that's just a hunch. The Steinberg folks at the Guitar Center booth weren't really saying much, and neither were the other folks I spoke with.

I did overhear someome from Emagic say they expected Logic 5 to ship by the end of this month (I don't know if that's OSX or just OS9, I assume OS9). They were showing the Logic Control control surface as well, and it looked pretty impressive.

Once the apps are ready for OSX, though, then problem #2 arrives... plugins! The major players need to work on their products, especially Waves, TC Electronics, etc. If I had to make a guess, I don't think I'll be doing all my audio work on OSX until after the summer!

Ableton Live
Ableton Live is something I came across a month or so ago, downloaded the demo, and really liked it. Well, I bought a copy today at Macworld (Guitar Center was selling it at their booth for $220) after watching a demo at the Midiman booth (Midiman is distributing Live). The easiest way to understand what Live is all about is to think of Acid for the Mac... and then add a bunch of features for live performance.

Using Live in a live environment, you can easily and quickly trigger loops and groups of loops, edit loops, change tempo, change loop start and end points, etc, all on the fly. VERY cool. I bought it mainly because I wanted to take my Particle Salad project out on the road in the not too distant future, but didn't want to hire a whole bunch of musicians in order to realize the material.

Live will sync to MTC and (unlike Acid) Midi Clock, which makes it a great compositional tool. I intend to sync it with Cubase VST on my G4 533 and pipe it in to Cubase via Rewire. I'll let you all know how it works after I've had some time with it.

It will work with pretty much any audio source files, though it doesn't recognize the audio metadata in Acid .wav files, so you'll need to figure out tempo and pitch manually. It runs under OS9, and there's currently an OSX preview release on Ableton's site. Download it yourself, and let me know what you think. It lists for $299.

Onadime
I know I wrote about this in last year's Macworld column, but I forgot just how cool this product was. I actually hesitate to write about Onadime Composer again, because it's so cool I don't want anyone else to know about it. I pulled out my credit card to purchase it, only to find they weren't set up to accept them at the booth. If you visit them, bring your checkbook!

This program is difficult to describe... but I'll try. Onadime Composer allows you to create visuals that respond to a variety of types of input, including audio, video, MIDI, mouse, graphics tablets, etc. You can edit the way the program responds to any of these types of input.

For example, if you're planning a performance for your band, you can send the audio stream into your Mac, and allow different aspects of your audio to modify a video or still frame picture element. You can assign the low frequency information to a particular image, mids to a different image, highs to yet another image... and each image will jump on screen as frequencies in those ranges appear in your music. Or you can modify a single image with any of these aspects. You can map a MIDI fader box to change an image, bring in a different image, etc. Truthfully, this doesn't EVEN BEGIN to describe the things you can do with this program.

The best way to discover this is to download the free demo version play around with it yourself. It sells right now for $199, though they're selling it for $150 at the Expo.

One other thing... you can tell this is really a labor of love. Onadime is a small company of 5 that is putting out a great product to help you add visuals to your live shows. Check them out.

Audio Hardware

Digidesign Mbox
Digidesign was at the Guitar Center booth showing their new Mbox, another collaboration between Focusrite and Avid/Digidesign. Mbox is a 24 bit USB audio interface featuring two analog inputs and outputs with phantom powered Focusrite mic pres, and SPDIF digital i/o. They were demonstrating it with Pro Tools LE. It looks like a good solution if you need to use Digidesign software with your laptop and don't require comprehensive i/o... a great small recording rig. I tried to speak with someone from Digi to get more info, but I couldn't get close. It had a $499 price on it, but I don't know whether that's list or street. Further research on the 'net hasn't helped, so it appears to be brand new.

Tascam US-428
I know this isn't new by any stretch, but it appears the Tascam US-428 has matured into a pretty good product. If you're not aware of what it is, visit Tascam's US-428 page.

If you're looking for an entry level recording solution with a control surface, it looks like a great choice. You can also get around any latency when you're doing audio recording by routing the inputs directly to the outputs. This has a street price of around $500.

Be sure and check out the Tascam Online Forum on their site for opinions.

iMac for audio?
A bunch of factors have now added up to make the iMac a real choice for audio production:

  • The speed and wide availability of firewire drives
  • The availability of good USB and firewire audio interfaces
  • The G4 processor and high clock speeds
  • The (relative) maturity of USB Midi
  • The relatively quiet design of the new iMac
  • The small form factor

Of course, there still are reasons why an iMac might not be the ideal choice for the higher end audio pro, including lack of PCI slots (for adding SCSI cards and/or 2nd video display, PCI DSP cards like the TC Powercore, etc). But for the average user, I think the new iMac is a decent choice.

Thanks for reading. You can contact me at mark@particlesalad.com.




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