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Bring in the Noise
Mac Audio Column
Transition to OS X - An Audio Engineer's Diary
By Mark Fasset
Sept. 29th, 2003

I've been a Mac music maker ever since I switched from my beloved Atari Falcon many many years ago to a dual processor 9500 180MP. For the uninitiated, the Atari Falcon was a computer that featured eight built in audio channels, for eight track recording right out of the box... provided you had the right software. That software was Cubase Audio Falcon (there was a version of Notator for the Falcon, but it was quickly abandoned). It was a bit slow (wave overviews took forever to compute), but it worked, I was productive, and I was the first individual I know who had a working DAW at home.

Once I decided to move to the Mac, I quickly purchased the latest version of Cubase Audio (I think it was 4.0) and my files transferred over from the Atari with little incident, thanks to multiple dos-formatted Jaz drive cartridges. Cross platform file compatibility was one of the reasons I chose Cubase. It was still good.

Several generations of Cubase, Apple OS, and one computer later (current G4 533), OSX has now come of age, and I'm in the process of making the switch from Cubase 5 to Cubase SX on OSX. Many of you have already made the switch. But for my busy audio studio, the bleeding edge is not a place I want to spend a lot of time.


Just a quick note on living on the bleeding edge:

Hardware and software upgrades are a necessary evil in the world of serious audio recording. However, just because the latest and greatest exists, doesn't mean it's time for YOU to upgrade. Here are my top reasons to stay in OS9:

  1. You don't have money for software or hardware upgrades
  2. You are extremely busy and cannot afford ANY down time
  3. You're in the middle of a project
  4. You're going through a particularly inspired time and are very creative
  5. A critical piece of hardware or software you need (Mackie UAD-1, for example) is not yet available in OSX
  6. You like to spend time with your family
  7. Your current system is working fine and meets all your current creative needs
If any of the above items are true for you, I'd recommend you stay put in OS9 until you have a more convenient time to upgrade.

Bring yer Wallet
I had to upgrade my OS, and I had to upgrade Cubase. Of course, none of my plugins are OSX compatible, so I had to upgrade all of them. I had to upgrade my disk utilities. I had to upgrade my MIDI interface. All in all, it's been a major pain in the wallet. Here's my list of costs:

Program/Plugin

Upgrade Cost

Cubase SX 1

$160

Cubase SX 2

$150

Waves Native Gold

$200

Absynth

$100

Halion

$15

Ableton Live

$99

Apple OSX

$129

Disk Warrior

$80

TC Spark

$99

Steinberg Midex 8

$300

I also have a Pro Tools LE/Digi 001 card in my Mac, which I have not yet upgraded for OSX compatibility. That's another $75.

For the record, there are some programs I've decided NOT to upgrade. Unity and Retro from Bitheadz made that list. If there are programs that get in the way of your creativity, consider NOT upgrading them.

As you can see, it has not been an inexpensive switch. It could be even more inexpensive for you, if you're stuck with one of the number of audio interfaces that will never be OSX compatible (Seasound, Korg, etc). Fortunately, my RME card works fine under OSX.

Oh, and don't forget Panther is on the horizon. Add $129.

So How's the Water?
Here are some observations:

  • MIDI
    OS9 MIDI was most reliably accomplished by serial interfaces (though USB is also available). In my case, I used an Opcode Studio 64XTC via a Griffin G4port, which added a serial port to the modem slot of my G4. Opcode, of course, was purchased by Gibson and subsequently shelved for all practical purposes, so for OSX I'd need a new solution. For serial MIDI in OSX, GeeThree has released a beta product, which I've heard works well if you're using their serial port modem adapter. I'm not. I tried it, it doesn't work. (Note: See below for a reader's reply on some tips for the GeeThree.-Mike)

    I purchased a Steinberg MIDEX 8 MIDI interface for use in OSX. But here lies the rub... unless you want to repatch all your MIDI gear each time you boot into another OS, you MUST make a commitment to go with USB MIDI, or purchase the GeeThree product.

  • Converting Projects to SX
    There are lots of parameters that do not transfer when opening VST 5 projects in SX. All in all, though, I've been surprised how well things actually DO transfer. Sure, if you're in the final stages of a song, you don't want to convert it over, because you'll need to rewrite your automation moves, reselect plugins, MIDI outputs, etc. If you're in the middle of the project, it's actually fairly painless.

    One thing I haven't tried yet is converting over a song with a complex drum map. That will be a big test.

  • Performance
    This is one of those things that you must really analyze for yourself. If you work with a ton of tracks, a bunch of plugins, VST instruments, etc, then you will probably notice a slowdown when moving to OSX. I certainly have noticed I can't be quite as liberal with plugins and instruments under OSX.

    That said, it isn't as bad as I thought it would be for my little G4 533.

    You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too much CPU power
    I've tried it... and I like it. The UI of OSX, combined with the fact that new software going forward will be OSX only, means it's time for me to upgrade. It's also very cool to be able to use my RME card for iTunes or other sound manager audio tasks through my digital mixer.

    However, there is a catch... upgrading to OSX means I really should upgrade to a faster CPU to be able to get similar performance. Luckily, there are options. I'm currently considering a Gigadesigns CPU upgrade, available from XLR8yourmac site sponsor Other World Computing. Cost is $440 at press time for a 1.25 ghz model. (I'm testing their latest 1.2GHz (7455B) model now, and it seems to have quite a bit of headroom.-Mike) Oh, and I'll probably want to upgrade my RAM with another 512 meg stick.

    The Bottom Line
    If you can afford to upgrade all your programs, plugins, etc and STILL afford a new dual 2ghz G5, I'd do it. My plan is to wait maybe another year when we've had a G5 speed bump or two. In the meantime, I'll have a solid system capable of some pretty solid work... and a dent in my wallet to show for it.
    -Mark

    Reader Reply/Tips on the GeeThree: (from a reader email today)

    "The geethree interface will work under osx. To recap, Mark writes:

      "OS9 MIDI was most reliably accomplished by serial interfaces (though USB is also available). In my case, I used an Opcode Studio 64XTC via a Griffin G4port, which added a serial port to the modem slot of my G4. Opcode, of course, was purchased by Gibson and subsequently shelved for all practical purposes, so for OSX I'd need a new solution. For serial MIDI in OSX, GeeThree has released a beta product, which I've heard works well if you're using their serial port modem adapter. I'm not. I tried it, it doesn't work..."

    Here's probably what he did wrong. He needs to set up a oms compatibility setup document in os9 first. Here's the steps as I discovered them and posted them to unicornation.com:

    After much sturm und drang, I finally figured out how to get the studio 5 working under OS X with DP 4.1 and a Griffin gPort. While it works, I don't know yet how much data it can take at once. If there are any quirks, I'll let you know.

    DP 4.1 on dual gig g4, OS X 10.2.6 gPort with both the latest gPort driver for X and the gPort Midi driver for X available at http://www.griffintechnology.com/software/software_serial.html.

    1. In OSX install both gport driver and gport midi driver for osx
    2. Boot into os 9
    3. Open oms setup in os 9.
    4. Create a studio document. Configure the document for your studio setup. Save and make it current.
    5. While the current studio document is open, choose Compatibility Setup from the Studio 5 menu. Put a check in the "Emulate Midi Time Piece" box.
    6. Set the speed to 1 MHZ (NOT to fast).
    7. From the pull down menu choose Midi Time Piece In.
      Set up Midi Time Piece In exactly like your studio studio document.
    8. From the pull down menu choose Midi Time Piece Out.
      Set up Midi Time Piece Out exactly like your studio document.
    9. Choose re-establish communication from the Studio 5 menu. (Don't know if this is necessary, but it can't hurt).
    10. Now quit out of 0S 9, boot into 0S10
    11. Configure the gport with 15 ports and 1mhz. Close gport
    12. Open audio midi setup. You should see "standard interface" with 15 ports.
    13. Configure your midi setup.

    You're done. It works with Midi Monitor and Digital Performer 4.1.
    Richard E."

    Mark (author of this article) later wrote:

    "Thanks .... that's great info. Unfortunately for me, I have a Studio 64XTC and not a Studio 5. Mine doesn't have the "compatibility setup" in the pulldown.
    Mark"




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