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


News from the Audio Engineering Society Show

Don't Call It A Comeback

Been out of it for a while again folks, but good things come to those who wait. I've been mixing and polishing the first record that I have engineered that will be released on a label that anybody anywhere has ever heard of. It's not Warner Brothers, but it's a big step up from things that people sell at their own shows. It has taken some time, and my column has suffered. But we have good stuff coming up, including some interviews with some really fantastic people. Trust me, there's still a reason to read.

I also had a hard drive go south on this here Stinkpad, so I lost a good bit of mail. If I didn't answer someting, let me know again and I'll do what I can.

The AES Extravaganza

What's more fun than a weekend on Negril with a case of Cuervo Gold and Daisy Fuentes? The Audio Engineering Society show, that's what. AES did me a real favor and located said show in sunny, charming, clean, and safe New York City. Those of you who saw Mac World at the Javitz center know what I'm talking about. Amazingly, a $2.40 bottle of water quenches a thirst no better than a water of the same size for a third of that. Ah, the mysteries of this world.

Probably the biggest news of the show was a new breed of multi-track recorder that is something between an ADAT, a DAW, and a hard disk recorder. Tascam and Mackie were both showing such boxes. The Mackie presentation was disturbing. I've been a big fan of Mackie, but this presentation had lots of fairly old news presented as something else ("IDE drives don't suck") and a bit of simply false information. At one point, when the Mackie people were making the case why one of their boxes is superior to a computer hosted system, they said that MacOS and Windows could only get 2-3 MB of data throughput from a high performance IDE drive for audio due to OS overhead. This is quite simply wrong. Get your facts straight guys. Still, the box they were showing looks very nice, it's a 24 track recorder with one internal and one removeable drive. It's nicest feature may be the VGA port and mouse port on the back that allows some basic editing function right inside of the box. Nice stuff guys, just do a little more fact checking next time.

Tascam also had a 24 track digital machine. In fact, it sorta looks like the brother to the Mackie machine. Also 24 tracks, 24 bit, with options for expansion cards. With a $4000 price tag, it's a pretty impressive piece of work when one considers the kind of analog or digital machine that it could replace.

Korg had a demo of their OASYS PCI system. I REALLY wish I could afford one of those. It's a PCI card with the same synth engine that is in their Trinity workstations, but all that DSP horsepower can also be used for effects and mixing. To me it looked like what the Pulsar was supposed to be. One to watch, but the projected price is $220--way out of my range. If any of you buy one, let me know what you think. The physical modeling stuff looked positively delicious.

Speaking of Pulsar, there was a press release from Creamware that Pulsar Mac is ready, like really, we promise. Once again, I wish your brave early adopters the best. It's nearly a year late, so one has to wonder how it will work out of the chute.

Digidesign had more space than anybody by a long shot. They were profiling two main new products, Pro Tools 5 and The Digi001. Pro Tools five will include basic MIDI, and have that MIDI in the same windows as the audio. Digi is pitching this as a quick and easy way to get a sequencer to act like the audio program you may already know and love. The Digi001, however, is a pretty serious attempt to get into the home market in a way that Digi has not before. It includes two mic preamps, MIDI I/O, 6 line analog inputs, and eight channels of Lighpipe, with any combination available at all times. They include a light version of Pro Tools 5, and a number of plug-ins. Also sort of new for Digi is that all of the plug-ins run on the host processor. You can't use VST, but they do use the new real-time verison of Audio Suite. At $995 list it looks quite nice.

As most of you know, I'm a PARIS user, and Emu/Intelligent Devices had a crazy PARIS display as well. Nashville engineer Brian Tankersley had a PARIS system running 80 simultaneous tracks off of a single Maxtor IDE drive on an Athlon PC. He also had four LCD panel displays running at the same time. In terms of bang for the buck, I don't think that can be beat.

Software was all over the place as well. Steinberg was showing Nuendo, their new WinNT Cubase on steroids. They also had some of their software partners, including Prosoniq and Native Instruments. Prosoniq was showing Time Factory, their time compression and expansion tool. It was hard to listen critically on the show floor, but I heard some mighty nice sounding reverb tails on a full pop song mix that had been stretched 1.3:1. I'm hoping to get a more controlled listen soon.

My absolute favorite booth of the show was the Koblo booth. Koblo was showing off their stuff with Direct Connect, the VST 2 like feature that lets a plug-in recieve MIDI and output an audio stream in Pro Tools. Essentially, this opens the door for software synths and samplers running on DSP cards, like VST 2 instruments will run as plug-ins on a host processor. Digi rented a bunch of nice snazzy high brow looking booths for their plug-in partners, mostly compartively button down outfits like Drawmer, Focusrite, and Aphex. Kolbo had Max Groenlund, one of the main koblo code crunchers, demoing their stuff. Watching what Max could do with the software that he wrote was sort of like watching an audio version of Brett Favre. Max was operating at different level than the rest of us. He also was the only person I saw working with Digi who had bright blue hair.

Are The Rumors About Opcode Just Rumors?

Looks like the answer is not at all. The rumors have been that Opcodes new owner was either not interested in the future of the company at all, or only interested in them as a hardware vendor. Here are the facts that I can gather. A very large percentage of the programming, and other skilled staff have been laid off or found other jobs. By very large percentage, I mean well over half. There are now too few programmers there to effectively develop new products, and maybe too few to really maintain what they already have out. This includes device drivers for things like the SonicPORT and DatPORT, which may or may not come to the Mac. Tech support people have said on the phone to callers that development has been suspended on Vision DSP and Studio Vision Pro.

Those are facts. Now, on to those things that aren't facts, but I feel pretty sure are true. The man behind Vision, Dave Oppenheim, remains at Opcode. There will be 4.5.1 versions of V-DSP and SVP, these are mostly bug fixes. Some of the employees who left or were laid off are very very bitter about they way they were treated. No formal announcement of any plans for or with Opcode has been forthcoming from Gibson. Since the people who wrote the code for Vision are pretty nasty code crunching types, they have had no problem finding new employment, and the other management people are the same. This makes it very difficult to try to re-constitute the team even if somebody decided they wished to do so.

In light of all of this I can no longer personally recommend that anybody start learning Vision DSP or Studio Vision Pro until it is more obvious what the plans are for the company. Gibson, by the way, has a history of buying high tech music companies and then dismantling them or killing all but a small piece of them. Oberheim and Steinberger are the best known. This may also impact all Mac users of audio software, since OMS has not been updated in a few years, and will need a serious re-write to work under OS X. Personally, I tried to use Cubase again, and for MIDI, I'm just spoiled now. Maybe it's time to try Logic. If what appears to be true is in fact true, I feel seriously duped and used by Gibson, and I apologize to readers of this column who have shelled out their money for what may turn out to be a lame duck app. I hope it's not what is happening, but if it is, sorry I led you astray.

To be honest, my guess is that 4.5.1 will be the last or nearly the last version of Vision to come out of Opcode. In a perfect world, Gibson would sell their last copies and then release the source code under the GPL, and we'd have the greatest sequencer in the world for free on three platforms (Mac, Be, Linux) within a year, and maybe four it would even wind up on the Wintel world as well. I'm not holding my breath.

As I said, I try to distinguish the facts from my speculation or interpretation. In the end, nobody who knows for sure is talking. I'll keep everyone posted as I find out more.

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