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Bring in the Noise
Mac Audio Column
by Thad Brown
More Industry News
I Can Admit When I'm Wrong
Not surprisingly, the column yesterday generated a good bit of mail, mostly about the USB MIDI stuff. Turns out that, in fact, I was wrong. The recently shipping Roland USB box is working on at least B&W G3s, and maybe iMacs. People I know at Opcode also tell me that literally days ago they got finalized drivers for Macs for their 32 channel interface. So, in fact, there are ways to get MIDI in and out of iMacs. I was wrong, I admit it, you can stop sending me email. I also got into a very unpleasant exchange with somebody from Apple involved in audio. Despite the fact that he was mailing from an Apple address, he asked that I not publish the mail, and I won't. However, I can say two things;
1. Apple has some strange ideas about how people use and buy their computers.
2. It wouldn't kill Apple to send some employees to charm school.
That said, I encourage you to read the rest of this column, everything else is still germane, in my opinion. I edited the original article to reflect the new info. I would really like to hear from iMac users in particular with how they like the USB MIDI interfaces they are using.
Let's Spend A Lunch Together
With Macworld NYC coming up on us pretty soon, I have a modest proposal. In between trying to steal T-Shirts from Powerlogix and enjoying that special New York mid summer stink, I was thinking that we could have a little informal audio nerd lunch. The Javits center hosts some of the finest $20 veggie wrap vendors in America, and I was hoping we could all sit around and talk Macs and audio for a bit. Email me if that sounds fun, and I'll try to get something loosely organized. Nothing fancy, just a chance to talk about things with people that share obsessions. Maybe I can even convince an industry type or two to come along for a minute
MP3.com Grows Up
One of the surest signs that a music club has ceased to be "underground" is when they get and ASCAP sticker. This means that somebody from the licensing and royalty end of the music biz has sent them a letter that they have to pony up a big chunk of cash in order to pay the people who wrote the songs being performed in their clubs. These letters include a short list of nearby clubs and bars that have been sued or shutdown for not doing this. How much of the rightful amounts winds up in those writers hands is a matter of some debate, but at least they are trying to get somebody paid which I like. Anyway, like I said, it's a sure sign that your club is doing OK, because somebody noticed you exist. On Saturday, I read an article in the New York Times business section (on page 3 or 4 no less, I was waiting for somebody and they were late) that ASCAP and MP3.com have struck a deal. This heads off all kinds of threatened litigation agains MP3.com and also lends yet more credibility, I guess, to the whole MP3 thing.
I have always said the best tool to stop MP3 is good speakers. I don't know if that's anybody's goal any more, but it certainly would do the trick. One thing is sure, though, you can't be an underdog and an industry giant at the same time. I expect MP3.com will act more and more like a record label as time goes on. Also, remember, Dell didn't make all that money being a better CompUSA, they made it by bypassing CompUSA. I think there's a lesson in that.
Is Apple Interested In Sound?
We've been remarkably pro Apple of late here at Bring in the Noise. I got a few emails about how I sounded like Don Crabb and things seemed better for Mac users and the company, so I decided to try to play a little nicer. A few events have really tested that new friendliness of late, so let the Cupertino bashing begin . . .
What Is Up With USB?
The original of this article was where is USB MIDI? Turns out, literally in the last few days, USB MIDI devices are in fact shipping. What that means to me is that I wrote this article one week late. If it would have been posted a week ago, I was on the money. So the fact is that for over a year, there was no way to get MIDI out of an iMac, and for about six months, the only option on the B&W was a serial PCI card. I also would like to hear about how these USB devices perform, since time code and other low latency info goes over MIDI even in very professional setups. So, we have MIDI, a good bit late, but it's there. Excellent, I'm very pleased, and I mean that sincerely. Better late than never.
That still begs the question of USB audio, which is still not working. Unlike a lot of people, I still think that iMacs should be very useful little audio boxes, and the addition of better quality audio I/O would really help them along. Regarding USB audio, I was told that there is no info other than it's being worked on. I was also told during my unpleasant discussion with the Apple employee that Estebahn himself is interested in audio improving on Macs. But this is another real problem with Mac audio, in my opinion. I write this column, a bunch of people read it. I don't hear boo from Apple for the first year or so, and when I finally do, the basic message is, "You're wrong about USB MIDI [true], Macs are better, we're going to make stuff better for music/audio people, but we won't tell you what and we won't tell you when." Even if this message had come in a friendly and helpful tone, it is still insufficient. The things we don't know--will Sound Manager get a 24 bit update, what sample rates will be allowed for internal audio, will DVD surround sound hardware be useable with internal audio, what role will Firewire play in moving audio and control data, and so on are important to those of us buying hardware and software. Being told, "we're working on it" when it comes to USB audio, in my opinion is not enough. In the same way that Apple has put out a "road map" for hardware, and has made explicit statements about software plans, I don't think it's too much to ask for a similar amount of information about where we should expect the world of Mac audio to be in the fairly near futurur.
Where are our hardware choices? During the last few weeks, it has become apparent that something in my clone doesn't like heavy use of PARIS. Maybe it's the PCI bus, maybe it's the drives, maybe it's the TurboMAX card, but in any case, beyond 16 24 bit tracks I have problems. With the greater and more professional workload I'm getting these days, I have to have something working right. I looked at buying a new Mac, but the cheapest current model is $1500 or so, way more than I want to spend. Thanks to the fact that I have some good IDE drives, and some spare hardware floating around (video card, NIC, ect.) I decided to look into buying a PC. All I really needed was a host system for the PARIS card, nothing fancy, most of the work is being done on the DSP on the card. Well, I got a 400 Mhz Celeron, motherbord that I can upgrade later, 128MB of RAM, and a case for under $400. I fully intend to move that system back to a Mac when I can afford a G4, but with well over $2000 into the PARIS system itself, I have to have it working, and Apple refuses to provide truly low cost hardware options. The UMAX will now do sampling, synthesis, sequencing, two track editing and CD mastering, but PARIS will live elsewhere for a while.
If Apple made truly low cost systems, or if I could build one or something like that, I would have preferred to stick with Macs. But with all the money I have in PARIS, a stable, cheap system to host it is all I need, and that simply doesn't exist on this platform now.
The dark side Believing Mac rumor sites is always a dicey procedure, but if what they say is true, it's even more scary. The only significant difference between a 604e and a G3 at the same clock speed, when considered for audio only processing, is the cache. I worked on a 300 Mhz 8600 recently, and it performed nearly identically to my 325 Mhz upgraded UMAX for the audio work. The G4, however, is a totally different critter. If works as we have been told, it will make the PowerPC platform the best place to do audio anywhere. It will deliver on so much of the promise of native studios and native processing. So it is with great fear that I read about stonewalling with that hardware. We audio people need it as soon as it can be ready, it's that simple. I will assume for now that it's all speculation and disinformation. But I've said it a million times, competition is good. It's that simple.
That's it for this week, back to more interesting stuff about real important issues like software and microphones. I'll answer the mail in the caliban account and try to get the Unity review up by next week. One last thing, I'll also have Be on my PC. Do people here want info on that as well? I know it's a Mac site, but it's also about working with audio, and cross platform stuff is part of that deal. Mail me an let me know.
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