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


Interview: Dan Phillips From Korg USA!

Lots of stuff to get to this week. In years past, news would sort of stop for a month or so before NAMM, as manufacturers waited to make their big splashes at the show. I don't know if it's the Internet or the fear of not getting there first, but that seems to happen less and less these days. In other words, there are a bunch of software announcements I have to cover. So, off we go . . .

Interview With The Internet

There are only a few web sites that I check absolutely every day. Espn, xlr8yourmac, and Harmony Central are three of them. The fourth is Slashdot is a news and information site for nerds in general and linux nerds in particular. They also happen to cover most of the politics that I care about (cryptography and privacy laws, computer anti-trust, dubious patent and intellectual property claims, etc.), so it's a one stop shop kind of place for me. Recently, slashdot have done a couple of really interesting email interviews with famous people in the computer world, including such notables as John Carmack and Steve Wozniak. Yours truly here is a notorious rip-off artist, so I thought, if it's good for slashdot, why wouldn't it be good for Bring In The Noise? I couldn't think of any reasons, so I got in touch with a few people and already have two lined up. First on deck is . . .

Dan Phillips. Dan is the Product Manager for Korg R"D. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but you can ask him if you like. Korg R"D is a stateside wing of the Japanese synth juggernaut. Dan has worked extensively with the Korg 1212, one of the longest selling and most successful Mac sound cards in history, and more recently with the OASYS PCI. He is very knowledgeable about all things synth related, and that card shows the wide range of what he/they are doing. It's a DSP based synth and sound card that includes multiple kinds of synthsis and a lot of Motorola horsepower. Dan also wrote the manual for the Wavestation A/D and worked on the interface and developer support for that synth and the SR version as well. Dan also posts on a number of the newsgroups, and having met him at AES, I can tell you that he's also a genuinely nice guy. You can ask whatever you want, with the exception of specific questions about certain machines and certain cards (i.e. "why won't the Korg 1212 ASIO driver work right with Deck on my 7200/90"), but do try to think about what you really always wanted to know from someone who does what Dan does.

Here are the rules. You email me questions. I pick the ten that I think are the best, and send them to Dan. I reserve the right to include one or two of my own. He responds, and I print exactly what he has to say.

NAMM Is But Weeks Away

The giant gear lust symposium commonly known as NAMM is on the horizon. Many lucky folks are headed to LA for the first week in February to rub elbows, tweak synths, watch OS crashes, and blow tubes. Sadly, it looks like yours truly will not be one of them. I've been trying to figure out a way to justify/afford the trip, and I haven't found one yet. Lest you forget, I am compensated for this column only with a very full Outlook Express inbox and a lot of toys to play with. Neither is a bad thing, but I just can't afford three or four days in California right now. I'm rather bummed out, I have friends in LA now and had a great time meeting people from the business at AES. [Update - I'm sending Thad a check to cover his plane ticket and a few hundred for expenses so he'll be making the show-Mike]

Emagic Gets Virtual

Emagic, makers of Logic, some cool hardware, and possessor of rabid users, has released what I believe is their first software synth. It's called the ES1 and you can read about it on their web site here. I didn't see anything about it being VST 2.0 instrument, so it looks like it only for you Logic types. However, I downloaded one of the demo .mp3 files, and it sounds pretty cool. I'm never very trusting of .mp3s as far as testing sound quality (that is, unless you like your sound with poor stereo imaging, a low pass filter at around 8k, and 8 bit word length), but what I downloaded was pretty impressive all things considered. It sure looks unique as well.

Speaking of Soft Synths, Koblo . . .

. . . posted updates to version 2.5 of all of their products. Regular readers of this column will know that I have been a BIG fan of the koblo synths since I first reviewed the Vibra. Well, version 2.5 does nothing to change that opinion, and a good bit to bolster it. I'll have a full review up fairly soon of at least some of the pieces, but the improvements over version 2.0 are significant, both in the general area of the Tokyo language that works under all of the synths, and in the various synths themselves. If you need convincing that native processing is for real, you should hear the demo song they include with the Studio9000 install. It's something else.

Koblo is also sponsoring preset contests. They had one for the Vibra9000 synth that ended recently, and the next one is for their Stella9000 sampler. Check their website for details. The really hip thing is that you can download the winners and losers and try them out yourself. Many people complain about not getting enough or good enough presets with music products. Here's a chance to change that.

Yamaha mLan Gets ASIO

Readers reported that Yamaha was showing ASIO equipped drivers for their Firewire based mLan system. Yamaha is pitching mLan as a way to get many many channels of audio and MIDI data over a cable, and do it with all of the hot swappable goodies that Firewire gives us. Mucho audio without installing a PCI card, and the ability to chain together multiple devices as a little audio network. By supporting ASIO, they also fold into the current desktop music world pretty much immediately. It's exciting stuff, if anybody out there had a first hand look, let me know or write it up.

Bitheadz Software Updates

The makers of the Unity DS-1 software sampler (reviewed here a few weeks ago) and the Retro AS-1 software synth announced upgrades to both apps slated to ship Q1 2000. They were also kind enough to specify the year in their press release, the Q-something numbers can get kind of strange. Bitheadz, though, is actually very good about not announcing vaporware. For more information, I would check out their website, but a few things stuck out. First, there is updated and improved name management support, which was the single biggest problem with the release that I reviewed. Version 2.0 of both packages will include G4 optimized code. There will also be support for DirectConnect and Digital Performer, but interestingly, no mention was made of VST 2. Logic and Cubase are supported via ReWire, but I'm becoming a bigger fan of VST 2 every day, and I'm surprised at the omission.

Bitheadz also announced a few new products. First, there will be a sample player based on the DS-1 engine. Basically, it lets you play back sample banks that are already made, without the heavy editing and tweaking tools that the full Unity includes. One of the weaknesses of the Unity sampler is a relatively small number of sample CDs designed specifically for it. Bitheadz announced a world percussion sample CD in Unity format, and hinted that the format well be more completely supported in the future. Finally (heavens these people must work long hours) Bitheadz also announced a set of premium Retro presets designed by Sound Burst. Read all about it here.

Newsgroup And Mailing List Misbehavior

One of the extraordinary things the internet has done for desktop musicians like many of us is put us in contact with the people who do the development work. Michael Kurz of Native Instruments posts regularly on their mailing list, Stephen St. Croix and Edmund Pirali were active contributors on the PARIS newsgroup, and so on. At its best, this level of interaction let the developers know what the users wanted, and let the users understand where the products were going, and it did this in a way that was totally unprecedented for the average user. While there are exceptions, often the experience going into a music store results in net negative of knowledge-you leave with confusing or blatantly incorrect information. Not so when the guy crunching the code is dropping the science.

Sadly, what often happens is that the developers get beaten up mercilessly by people with an axe to grind and too much free time. The PARIS newsgroup, for example, got really ugly for a while, and it was dream web hangout for a while. I wouldn't be surprised if this is the reason there has been less developer involvement of late on that newsgroup. A few lists got so bad I had to get off of them (the Cubase users list for instance), and there's a good bit of noise on a number of other ones. However, the issue was brought home again with the Pulsar list. I subscribed to the Pulsar list to gather information about their new Mac release, and have been astonished at the amount of abuse that is hurled in the direction of the Creamware people on the list. It's some seriously nasty, sarcastic, unpleasant stuff. The Creamware reps take it pretty well, in my opinion, but there is a real downside to this. I know that we get less information than the developers would like to give us, simply because they don't want to be attacked.

In corresponding with people at audio software and hardware companies, I have come to realize that there are often far fewer people involved than the public thinks. I first talked to the guys at koblo when the staff numbered two. I have read that four or five people were responsible for a great percentage of the code that was Vision DSP and Studio Vision Pro. One person wrote OMS. So, when someone has at the end of their email address, you are most likely dealing with someone who knows nearly everyone involved in the production of that software or hardware, and in some cases, it's the actual person writing the code or working on the hardware.. We should all feel very privileged to have this kind of access, and I think it should be protected at all costs. Of course, criticism and bug reports are part of that process, and the developers WANT to hear about what is wrong with their software. They have a right, though, to be told these things with the civility that each human being owes each other human being. Sadly, a few losers can ruin the whole thing for everyone. There is no "solution" to the problem, since losers have just as much right to email accounts as other, more highly evolved, life forms. But I beg the public to value what we have on these mailing lists and newsgroups, and I beg the developers to ignore the riff raff. The last thing I want is to see posts only from marketing people.

That's it folks. I think I'll have a review up next week. Send me those emails for Dan Phillips.

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