AF’s Weblog

August 21, 2012

Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

To read the full detailed article see:  Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

This is how you can easily build and maintain a professionally equipped music computer to power the digital audio workstation for your home recording studio.

Music Computer, or a computer specifically intended for processing digital audio simply means that there are several components that you need to look at and understand in order to optimize for this environment. These elements are crucial to performance, and can have a massive impact on your workflow and overall efficiency.

You may use your computer for other functions as well as music production, but to get the most from your computer in order to power a digital audio workstation, you need to understand how to optimize it best for home recording. Faster is almost always better, and perhaps the most important ingredient to optimum performance in THIS environment is MEMORY.

Today, you will learn how to assemble a computer for your home studio. We will look at the several options for doing so, as well as my recommendations. You will also learn what specific parts and components you need to understand that play an integral role in designing an effective system.

You will learn some ways to protect your studio computer, because having a solid backup system is worth it’s weight in gold. Lastly, we will cover a few key maintenance actions that you can integrate into habit to keep your system healthy and working like a champ.

This article isn’t meant to be a comprehensive “textbook explanation.” I’m not writing a paper to a professor. I’ll be moving quickly as i condense a lot of years of dealing with and learning about first-hand, down into a few short paragraphs that tell you the key things you need to know.

So let’s get it…

Options For Building/Buying a Music Computer

Although there are variety of options that exist and we will cover them shortly, i want to point out that in my personal experience Apple (Macintosh) computers offer a great “out of the box” solution for most beginners and are a great starting point. Further, with just a few upgrades you can arm yourself with a world class digital production experience.

  1. Build the computer yourself. You can pick out all the components you need, order them and then assemble them just how you want them.  To build your own computer you will need to have reasonable technical expertise so unless you know what you are doing, or have someone who does assemble it for you, i wouldn’t advise going this route.
  2. Buy a new computer from the store.  I can assure you that a new Mac, off the shelf, will be adequatelyoptimized for recording music in most cases and there are quite a few PC models that would also be well optimized. Again, in either case there are a few key components that you need to consider, which we will be covering shortly.
  3. Buy a music computer that is custom built specifically for music recording.  There are a number of computer companies like MusicXPC that create specialty computers which are built and optimized for audio and recording. However, expect to pay a bit more for a custom computer like this. It’s worth checking out, do your homework and ask a lot of questions as you compare.
  4. Buy a computer off the shelf and then replace some parts.  This means that you are purchasing a computer for their bare-bones platform and then buying parts separately to upgrade the overall performance. So for example, buying a computer basically for its operating system, processing power and ease of use; then buying memory and hard drive upgrades, etc. from a third party source.  You can either install them yourself or have someone install them for you. In most cases this is a fairly simple procedure.

Option #4 is the route i always take now. It is in my experience the BEST way to cost effectively build a super powerful DAW computer. As you know i am a big proponent of Apple, and have been for the last eight years.

See the little secret about Apple is, their parts are RIDICULOUSLY expensive. Not as if they were cheap to begin with…!

But if you buy a Mac Pro or Macbook Pro for their processors, motherboard, delicious and simple interface, operating system, support, and other lovely little inclusives…

THEN you purchase some high quality third party Memory (RAM) and Hard-Disk upgrades, you got the best of both worlds for a killer price!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Home Studio Computer Maintenance

Lastly, let’s top things off with something i hope you’ll do regularly and make habit of. Don’t neglect the maintenance of this machine. It is the brains of your home studio. Here are a few basic maintenance tasks that’ll get you on your way.

  • Keep your computer clean by dusting it off once a week, also dust off all electronics in your home studio weekly.
  • Always keep at least 20% of your hard drive space free. Ensuring this amount of free space will keep your computer from lagging or losing response time, and won’t put any unneeded strain on it.
  • Backup your work regularly, setup time machine or other service to back it up on a physical hard drive; and then also setup the second backup of your most critical files through a virtual storage service.
  • Run a disk utility weekly and verify all volumes. This is just to check and fix any errors, and to verify the disk is working properly.

I’ve done this stuff every week, and have had computers running like a champ for over five years.

So there you have it. Tried to keep it straight to the point, although it went a little longer than most, but I hope you’ve found this article helpful and i’ve answered your questions about what it takes to setup a DAW computer for home recording.

To read the full detailed article see:  Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

Advertisements

May 21, 2012

Kemper Profiling Amplifier Review

Filed under: Amps, Guitar reviews, Hardware — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:13 am

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Kemper Profiling Amplifier Review

The world of amp modeling is merciless. It’s been a long way since the first 6U rack processors came out with their utterly obscene prices and a sound that would make every POD Mini owner laugh out loud today.

Considering the huge offer available right now it’s quite difficult to choose a product: between plug-ins (Eleven, Guitar Rig, Amplitube…), custom-shaped devices like the giant bean (Line 6 POD), multi-effect pedals (VOX Tonelab…), amplifier heads, guitar combos, rack processors, and strange things in between (VOX AmpPlug, Amplitube iRig for iPhone…), most musicians looking for different legendary amp imitations at an affordable price almost always feel helpless.

All the more since the simulation quality has dramatically increased, even if it’s surprising to see that some pioneer products are still very successful, especially the first SansAmp. Now, as if by magic, a hungry newcomer just appeared in this wild jungle. It is committed to lay down the law and beat all competitors. Let me introduce you to the magic preamp, the gear that simulates your own amps and even more, the Kemper Profiling Amplifier! With such a name you feel like in a third-rate science fiction movie, and it’s nearly true… I know, it’s hard to get excited when you hear for the umpteenth time that you can “just throw your all-tube amps away because here comes the solution to your problems: all your amps in a single, universal magic box that can do everything…”. But forget about the past: a little bird told me that this product is really valuable, that it could revolutionize modeling concepts and that it will be a crazy source of inspiration for the most creative people among us…

Winter 2012, Antarctica — A team of German scientists discovers…

Kemper Profiling Amplifier

… a small but extremely appealing unit. And this is the first highlight for people who use public transportation like me: the cardboard box containing the product is very light. It may seem like a small detail, but it does count, especially if you take into account that Kemper’s goal is to put all your old and modern amps (and more) into a single box that you can take anywhere with you to use with every single setup! In this regard, Kemper didn’t forget a thing: they also added an optional transport bag that recalls the bag of an Orange Tiny Terror, and an optional amplifier module to change the Profiling Amplifier into a real all-round amplifier head.

It’s time to open Pandora’s box and… surprise! The beast looks pretty nice (a mix of an old tube radio receiver and the control panel of a jet) even if it doesn’t feel very rock’n’roll, if you know what I mean. A good thing is the leather handle: it’s a simple feature but it gives the electronic box a classy style. The manufacturing quality is very good. Germans are famous for that and people at Kemper are no exception. Turning the controls and checking out the connections you get the impression that the unit is quite sturdy in spite of its very light weight.

So, now it’s time to power on the device and start checking out the control interface. Honestly, if you have used this kind of product before, you shouldn’t have a problem browsing the presets (yes, Kemper packed presets into the product) and edit them. The interface is not the most friendly, fun or colorful (simple display, no pictograms), but you’ll quickly find what you’re looking for: each button is assigned to the function described by its name; everything is quite practical if you think logically. Just read the short (but nice!) user’s manual and you’ll master every feature. First of all, let’s check out the presets of a product that seems to be just a competitor of the Eleven Rack (for example): to that effect I connected the master out to a Neve channel strip and sent the preamp signal directly into Pro Tools.

Now, let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

People who know me also know that I’m a living paradox when it comes to amp simulations. My heart tells me that the endless charm and poetry of a real good amp, vintage or not, with its imperfections and intrinsic tone richness are worth the few technical disadvantages of analog gear. On the other hand, the strong scientific background I got from my family taught me to value technical progress, because only innovation can bring the human brain to new creative dimensions. And here is my personal opinion: Kemper has done an amazing job! The profiling process works really good and you can create very special sounds depending on your application and your imagination (you can can model an old radio receiver, an ambiance mic, etc.). However, I won’t sell my amps overnight — a copy will always remain a copy! That being said, huge congratulations to the team that designed this product: it blew me away! And the price is quite reasonable considering all the innovations it entails. Hats off!

Advantages: 
  • Good sound
  • Clever design
  • A real amp cloner!
  • Nice look
  • Reasonable price
Drawbacks:
  • XLR input without phantom power
  • Storing process too long
  • Really old-school way to exchange data with a computer

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Kemper Profiling Amplifier Review

May 3, 2012

How to Choose A Hardware Keyboard

Filed under: Electronic Instrument, Hardware, keyboards, Synthesizers — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:40 am

To read the full detailed article see:  How to Choose a Hardware Keyboard

By now, everyone was going to be loading soft synths into their laptops, and taking them to the gig instead of keyboards. Oh, and we were also supposed to travel around with personal jet packs and of course, flying cars.

Well, the future doesn’t always turn out as expected, does it? Hardware keyboards are actually having somewhat of a renaissance. Keyboards are a mature field, and there are a huge number of options that offer significant value, whether you’re looking for an inexpensive arranger keyboard like the Casio WK-7500, a full-blown workstation like Yamaha’s Motif XF series, something special-purpose like M-Audio’s Venom, or even a top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art keyboard like the Korg Kronos or Roland Jupiter-80. Or, maybe you want a separate tone module and keyboard controller . . .

Casio WK-7500 (left) and Korg Kronos (right).

But all these options can be overwhelming—how do you choose the model  that’s right for your needs?  That’s what this article is all about, so  let’s get started.

let’s get to the heart of matter…

And Now, Our Main Feature(s)

A keyboard’s spec sheet contains a huge number of terms. Here are explanations of some of the most important ones.

On-board sequencer
A sequencer records your keypresses and controller motions, thus allowing you to record and play back compositions. For songwriting, this is great, and often gets ideas down faster than a conventional recording setup. The two most important characteristics are number of tracks (typically 8 to 32), and the number of events the sequencer can store. Note that an “event” can be a single note, so a figure like 10,000 events might seem like a lot. But moving a modulation wheel or lever from minimum to maximum might generate a hundred or more events. The more events a sequencer can store, the better.

Polyphony
This defines the number of voices that can sound simultaneously (the reason we don’t say “notes” is because technically, a voice may play back more than one note at a time, e.g., a parallel fifth). 64, 128, 256, and even more voices are common. This might seem strange—after all, you have only ten fingers. But with a piano sound, notes sustain in the background, which uses up voices. Also, if driven by a multitrack sequencer, more polyphony allows fuller arrangements by allowing more notes for each track.

Multi-timbral operation
This expresses the number of different sounds that a keyboard can generate simultaneously, and is an important spec for keyboards with on-board sequencers, or that you plan to drive with an external MIDI sequencer (e.g., a computer-based program). Most multi-timbral keyboards can do 16 different sounds simultaneously—one for each of the standard 16 MIDI channels.

Polyphony and multi-timbral operation are complementary: to play back lots of simultaneous sounds, you need lots of voices available for them.

Sample ROM
Sample-based synths store their samples in non-volatile ROM chips. Generally, more ROM capacity means either more sounds to choose from, or better quality versions of a lesser number of sounds. Back in the day, four-megabyte sound ROMs used to be considered big—compare that to the Motif XF, which has over 700MB of sounds.

Sample import
Several sample formats have evolved: the WAV file format for Windows, AIFF for the Mac, and sample formats specific to particular manufacturers (Akai’s format, while ancient, remains viable). The more formats a sampler (or synth with sample expansion) can recognize, the better but these days, most manufacturers are standardizing on WAV format files.

Real-time controls
Almost all synths have a pitch bend wheel and modulation wheel or lever (the latter might add vibrato, change tone, or other functions, depending on how the sound is programmed). To this basic roster others might add ribbon controllers (slide your finger along a ribbon strip to change a parameter value), data sliders, footpedal options, a joystick, etc. But many synthesizers take this concept one step further by including assignable faders, switches, and knobs that can (with suitable templates) control parameters in popular DAWs. Probably the best example is the integration between Yamaha synthesizers and Steinberg’s Cubase, as Steinberg is a division of Yamaha and there seems to be a lot of communication going on between the two divisions.

Storage
Options for storing sounds and sequences vary. Many synths now include USB ports so storage can be done to thumb drives, or even hard drives that connect to USB. Yamaha’s Motif XF series has the option to add up to 2GB of onboard, flash memory for storing your own sample sets in non-volatile memory.

Hard disk or RAM recording
If the keyboard has a hard drive, and can sample, sometimes you can record tracks of vocals, guitars, etc., just like a computer-based hard disk recording system. This is also possible with some synths that are RAM-based. Now we’re talking serious production – a keyboard like this blurs the line between musical instrument and recording studio.

Onboard effects
Most keyboards include at least rudimentary effects like delay and reverb, but some go much further, including multiple effects that can be used as insert, send, and master effects—just like a mixer.

How effects interact with the program or sequencer varies. Usually, you can store a particular effect or set of effects with a particular program. But suppose you have a sequence with multiple instruments, or a multi-timbral setup. Insert effects process individual tracks. Some keyboards also have master effects, which alter any audio, from any source, that appears at the output. Tone controls are good candidates for a master effect so you can, for example, brighten up the high end a bit or make the bass rumble. Send effects (also called Aux effects) can add a particular effect to multiple channels of your choice, so they’re somewhere between insert and master effects in terms of how they process the sound.

Interactive algorithms
The most sophisticated implementation of this concept is called KARMA, and is available for Korg and now, Yamaha keyboards. It’s hard to explain, but basically, the keyboard analyzes your playing and adds enhancements where appropriate. For example, a bass line might acquire pitch bend and portamento in selected places, or acoustic guitar parts may have “strums” added in for a more realistic sound. Other keyboards, like the Jupiter-80, perform their own type of enhancements (Roland calls the technology “SuperNatural”) that are also intended to enhance expressiveness. This type of “artificial intelligence” makes a difference in how inspiring an instrument can be, as it becomes more of a partner in the music-making process.

Roland’s SuperNatural technology incorporated in their Jupiter-80 adds exceptional expressiveness.

Sample slicing
This feature is found mostly in groove boxes, but is also incorporated in some keyboards, such as the Motif. The goal is to allow digital audio to follow tempo if the sequencer tempo changes. This works by slicing samples into smaller pieces, typically at prominent attacks or percussive transients. The sequencer triggers these pieces individually, so if the tempo slows down, the triggers occur further apart and the slices play back further apart to follow the beat. Conversely, with faster tempos, the slices trigger closer together.

Arpeggiator
An arpeggiator triggers notes sequentially in a pattern (sometimes arpeggiators are polyphonic, and can trigger several parallel patterns). For example, suppose you’re holding down a C major chord with the notes C4-E4-G4-C5. In “up” mode, these might play as C4-E4-G4-C5-C4-E4-G4-C5 etc. In down mode, it would do the reverse, playing C5-G4-E4-C4-C5-G4-E4-C4 etc. Other modes might be up/down, random, or extended, where the notes you hold down repeat over several octaves.

Arpeggiators are used a lot in dance and “new age” music, and to add flourishes in just about any type of music.

Expandability
Given the dizzying rate of technological progress, expandability is key to preserving your investment. Here are some of the possibilities.

Expansion card slots. Sample-based synths have a fixed complement of sounds. Adding cards expands this palette. Cards are typically genre- or instrument-specific (e.g., dance music, ethnic instruments, hip-hop, pianos, etc.).

USB or FireWire port. With all recent Mac and Windows machines sporting USB ports, they’re used for everything from file transfers between keyboard and computer to providing all the functions of a stand-alone MIDI interface so a program running on the computer, such as a sequencer, can communicate directly with the keyboard. Sometimes these even provide audio interface functions, especially if the keyboard has an external input.

Expandable sample memory. More sample memory lets you store larger numbers of longer samples before you run out of room. Expansion usually consists of inserting common, relatively inexpensive memory chips used in desktop computers.

Audio input. This can be used for recording your own samples, or tracks into a sequencer, and can also provide signals that the synthesizer can process.

The Editor for Korg’s M3 makes it easy to create sounds, or use it as a plug-in within your DAW. Click to enlarge.

Companion software. To simplify creating your own sounds, some keyboards come with Editor software. This puts parameters on-screen and lets you edit them, which is often a faster and more direct approach than going through menu screens on the keyboard itself. What’s more, some software lets you treat the keyboard as a VST or AU plug-in within your DAW.

To read the full detailed article see:  How to Choose a Hardware Keyboard

August 4, 2011

Tech Gear Roulette

Filed under: Hardware, Software — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:50 am

Live by these 7 rules if you want your budget to survive technological changes.

I met Billy Bumluck at a video store in the early 80s. We were both proud owners of new VCRs; he was browsing in the Beta section, I was looking at VHS. “You use VHS?” he asked. When I nodded, he said “Too bad, man. Beta is the only way to go — better picture, more reliable, and it has Sony behind it. Your VHS machine will be a doorstop next year, so enjoy it while you can!”

We talked a bit more, and I found out he was a guitarist and technology fan, so we kept in touch. A couple years later, I got a call. “Hey, you gotta check out this new Amiga computer! It has separate chips for graphics and audio, does sampling better than a Fairlight, and has some great games.” So I went over to his house, and sure enough, it ran circles around the Macs, Ataris, and PCs of its day. “No more Beta mistakes for me,” said Billy. “This baby’s made by Commodore, and considering they’ve sold 6 million Commodore-64s, I don’t think they’ll be going out of business any time soon.”

Well, after the Amiga died, Billy had enough. “Okay,” he said, “I’m getting a Mac. There’s a fantastic program called Vision, it’ll wipe the floor with your Master Tracks Pro. It will be the perfect complement to my Sequential Circuits and Oberheim synthesizers.” And for a while, it looked like Billy made the right choice, especially when Opcode added hard disk recording to MIDI sequencing. “Craig, nothing’s going to stop those Opcode guys. No one else is doing hard disk recording and MIDI, I’d buy stock in them if I could.”

 

Then Opcode was sucked into the BHDC (Black Hole of Dead Companies). Billy was pretty shaken this time, and had heard stories of Apple going through problems. So about a year ago, he decided to switch to a PC. “There’s a billion of ?em out there. This is one standard that won’t die on me.” I told him Apple wasn’t going anywhere, but he was adamant. “Nope, no more obsolete stuff for me, and no more little companies. I’m going out right now and getting Logic Windows!”

 

Billy never was the same after Emagic dropped Windows support. Last I heard, after his savings evaporated with the collap

se of Enron and Worldcom, he went to a back-to-nature commune in Montana, with no electricity or television. Oh yes, and with an acoustic guitar to replace his Yamaha G10 MIDI guitar.

There’s a little of the Billy Bumluck magic in all of us. My Commodore CDTV sits alongside some other ill-chosen relics of technology past, each one representing a costly mistake. But they seemed like such good ideas at the time…

 

With technology changing on a seemingly daily basis, you don’t just buy gear any more — you have to be a soothsayer. How can you protect yourself? How can you stay ahead of technology and bankruptcy court? Here’s the scoop.

 

Rule #1: You will Make Mistakes

Resign yourself to it. If huge companies can make mistakes after spending zillions of dollars on focus groups and product research, so can you. Maybe you got sucked in by the ads, maybe you just got taken by something that didn’t pan out. The object is to minimize these mistakes so they don’t devastate your checking account.

 

Some people end up with Purchasing Paralysis, where they won’t buy anything out of fear that something better is coming around the corner. Well, something is, so get used to it. The secret to avoid getting burned is not to lose money on an investment.

 

For example, suppose you bought an original, 16-bit Alesis ADAT for $4,000. As you sit mousing around with your shiny new DAW, that might have seemed like a mistake. But if you did projects on it that earned you $10,000, it was a wise investment indeed — you more than doubled your money (better than what you’d get from a bank, for sure).

 

Always consider return on investment (ROI). I was debating whether or not to buy a Minidisc when it first came out, because they were pretty expensive back then, and the survival of the format was in question. But I did, and wrote enough articles about MD and how to use it that I made money on the deal. MD could disappear tomorrow, and my buying it would not have been a mistake.

So the question is not “Am I buying something that will become obsolete?” because you know that you are. The correct question is “Can I amortize the value of this investment before it becomes obsolete?” If buying something will make you more money than not buying it, get out the checkbook. Simple as that.

Let’s take a look at the other rules to follow…

Rule #7: The best way to cope with technology is to put it in its place

I have a hammer that’s 20 years old. I’m sure that since then, the metals used in them have been improved, the handles have become easier to grip, and the weight is now distributed more ergonomically. But you know what? It drives nails just fine.

 

My main hardware synthesizer is 16 years old. My DAT deck is a TASCAM DA-30 (the original one). Then again, I have some fantastic soft synths, and two flat screen monitors. The point is, I don’t let technology rule me (“You have to buy a better DAT, you must go surround”). I rule technology: I pick and choose those things that are going to help my music.

 

I also either jump in as an early adopter, pay the premium price, and milk something for all it’s worth, or get in on the tail end of a technology when it’s proven, reliable, and inexpensive. I bought one of the first Panasonic DA7 digital mixers, and now you can buy them on blowout at a fraction of what I paid. Do I mind? Not at all: I’ve gotten so much use out of it, and made so much off of projects done with it, that not buying it would have been a major mistake.

 

I’ll leave you with this: when it comes to technology, you’re the boss. Fulfilling your needs is all that should matter. Good luck making the right choices!

To read the full article see: Tech Gear Roulette

January 26, 2011

Cables: The Most Important Piece of Gear

Filed under: Hardware, Speakers — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 11:23 am

No matter how much caffeine you’ve consumed today, you’re not as wired as your studio – or your stage rig. But how much do you really think about those little spaghetti-like critters that form the central nervous system of your musical world?

Wire is an actual electronic component, and it can affect your sound – so let’s investigate ways to make your wires work harder for you.

Speaker Cables

With non-powered speakers that are fed from a power amp, the use of proper cables (never use instrument cords!) can make an audible sonic improvement. This is because amplifiers and speakers are very low-impedance devices, so even the slightest resistance between the two makes it more difficult to transfer power efficiently. Because reproducing bass frequencies at high volume require lots of power, cable problems generally manifest themselves as reduced or “thin” bass.

Planet Waves SpeakOn

Fig. 1: SpeakOn connectors lock into place for a firm connection, and minimize arcing if removed under load.

There are plenty of companies that make speaker cables, but in addition to the wire itself, the connectors are important. A corroded connection, or one that doesn’t make good contact, can affect the sound. Locking SpeakOn connectors (Fig. 1) are an industry standard, but banana connectors are inexpensive and reliable; screw terminals are also good if your cables have bare wire ends.

1/4″ phone plugs are also common for speaker wires, but with standard plugs, there are fewer points of contact with the jack compared to SpeakOn or banana connectors. However, there are phone plugs that have additional compression springs to provide better contact (Fig. 2).

As to the wire itself, the smaller the gauge number, the thicker the wire-and the thicker the wire, the lower the resistance. 16 gauge wire is used for a lot of systems, but for long cable runs or high power, 12 gauge is a better (albeit more expensive) option.

If you’re arguing with your budget and big-bucks speaker cables are out of the question, there’s a somewhat messy but low-cost workaround: Run several wires designed for high current (e.g., AC “zip” cords) in parallel, with an equal number of cables for the hot and ground connections, to lower the overall resistance. For example, if you run two zip cords in parallel, you’ve cut the resistance in half and four zip cords in parallel cut the resistance by 75%. With the decreased resistance, you may hear a difference (the infamous “tighter bass”) if the cable runs are fairly long, or if you play at loud volume with a lot of bass. Zip cords are available at local hardware stores.

Another option for those on a budget is to buy a coil of cable and the needed connectors, then assemble your own cables. You won’t save huge amounts of money, but it will be enough to make your wallet happy.

Planet Waves Jack


Fig. 2: This Planet Waves 1/4″ phone plug has eight compression springs on the shank, providing increased contact with the jack and also holding it more firmly in place to prevent accidental removal.

Gold-Plated Connectors: Hype or Not?

Monster Cable jacks plaqués or

Fig 3: Cables and connectors are surrounded by hype and questionable  claims, but gold-plating the ends of connectors does make a difference.

You’ve probably seen cables advertised with gold connectors (Fig. 3) and wondered if it was just hype, or really made a difference. Well, gold is indeed one of the best metals for electrical interconnection, because it is relatively malleable. As a result it will “squish” into place and fill in gaps better than other metals. This provides better contact, which improves the sound quality. (Extreme cases of bad contact produce scratchy noises, but even slight corrosion can do anything from add distortion to reduce levels.)

Unfortunately gold isn’t cheap, so you pay a premium for gold-plated connectors. But there is a pretty decent workaround: Contact enhancement chemicals, such as Caig DeoxIT, can restore and improve contact connections with non-gold-plated connectors. I’ve known studio owners who swear their sound improves if they spray their patch bay connectors every 6-12 months with DeoxIT.

Now let’s take a close look…

Multi-Conductor Cables: Caution!

Multiconductor cables can be quite delicate, as I first learned when working with SCSI cables. When you’re trying to fit so many conductors inside a single jacket, each conductor has to be pretty thin, and therefore is fairly weak.

Frequent plugging and unplugging of multiconductor cables shortens their lives much faster than an equivalent amount of stress with audio cables. Bending, twisting, or setting weighty objects on a multiconductor cable can also ruin it in short order, as can letting its weight pull on the part of the cable attached to the connector. For best results, once you wire up a multiconductor cable, make sure it’s well-supported, then leave it there.

Last Word

Well, that’s enough wire talk for now. The whole saying about a chain being only as good as its weakest link also refers to the wires that link your gear together; hopefully the above tips will strengthen some of the weaker links in your setup.

To read the full detailed article see:  All About Wires

January 15, 2011

Winter NAMM 2011 Day 2 Highlights

And here are some video demo highlights from Day 2:

To see all news and videos visit: Winter NAMM 2011

January 14, 2011

Winter NAMM 2011 Day 1 Highlights

So without further ado I present to you some video demos that were shot by our team down there in Anaheim:

To see more visit: Winter NAMM 2011 Videos and News

November 17, 2010

Choosing a Laptop for Music Making: Part 1

Finding the right laptop for music production can be rather troublesome. In this, the first of two articles, we’re going to look at the reasons why laptops have problems and what can be done about it.

With a desktop computer you can select a few good components, screw the thing together, tweak Windows and you’re off making music. With a laptop there’s no real knowing what’s inside the box and you certainly couldn’t build one yourself. So, you have to make a choice, take a stab, and hope for the best.

The thing is that it really should just work. You should be able to buy a laptop, plug in a compatible interface, install some software and make some music – why would that be difficult? In many cases it’s not and often people do exactly that, but sometimes you can run into trouble with audio dropouts, glitching, clicks and pops or simply a refusal to work.

In this, the first of two articles, I’m going to be looking at the reasons why laptops have problems and what can be done about it. In the second article I’m going to be looking at whether there are some smart choices out there for music production and live performance and I’m going to be revealing the testing I did in trying to find the next model to use as the Rain UK Livebook.

The Apple MacBook Pro

Before we do, let’s get past the ubiquitous Apple MacBook Pro.

It’s everywhere, the glow of that white piece of fruit, throbbing annoyingly. Every electronic musician or DJ seems to have one. Every piece of marketing from a music manufacturer with a laptop product seems to feature one. It would be silly to do an article on audio laptops without mentioning it. The MacBook Pro is beautifully designed, elegant and ergonomic. The aluminium shell has a great quality to it, the backlit keyboard fantastic for live performance, it’s built with quality components and runs OSX which works wonderfully with Apple compatible products.

 

The biggest down side is the price. A 15” MacBook Pro starts at $1700, but that’s only the beginning. The standard 5400rpm drive really needs to be upgraded to a 7200rpm one for audio work which adds a further $200. Standard tech support is only for 90 days unless you purchase the AppleCare Protection Plan for an additional $349, so without even thinking about it you’re over two grand and that’s for the entry level machine. Apple do somehow manage to generate a kind of mystical energy field around their products which makes them appear head and shoulders above anything else. In reality they are simply good quality laptops which share many of the same pros and cons of other good quality laptops. They have a tendency to run hot and the fans can be noisy; the battery life can be poor (although the latest generation are much improved, many Mac users complain of poor battery life after a years use so we don’t yet know how the new ones will pan out); they only have a couple of USB slots and with the standard version described above there’s no ExpressCard slot.

On the up side they do have powered firewire which is a fabulous thing that’s sorely missing on PC laptops. As with all Apple products you have the security of knowing that whatever works with it will work very well – however, that also means that your options are limited when compared to the PC. You can also run Windows on a MacBook Pro, but then it becomes a very very expensive PC as many of the advantages are to be found in the smooth flowing proprietary nature of OSX.

I don’t think you’d ever be disappointed with a MacBook Pro, and at that price you’d hope that you never would be. Are there alternatives? I believe so yes. I believe the laptop you get free when signing up to Tesco (popular supermarket chain in the UK) broadband is capable of making music, however, if you want to do things a bit more properly and can aim for a quality laptop then they can be completely capable of doing the job just as well.

Now let’s take a look at some of the problems with laptops…

Firewire Bandwidth

This is increasingly an area of concern. With most professional audio interfaces favouring the firewire connection then you need to have a good, working firewire connection on your laptop. But these things are never straightforward. It seems that not all firewire connections are the same. The specification appears to allow for enormous variation in the quality of the chipset and the drivers. In most cases, for most devices, such as cameras and external hard drives, then it all works fine.

For real-time, multichannel, high definition audio it can be a different story. It’s become accepted now that the Texas Instrument (TI) firewire chipset is the best choice for audio interfaces. Very few, if any, laptops come with a TI chipset firewire socket, the chipset is usually by another manufacturer and would appear as a generic “OHCI IEEE1394 Firewire port” in Windows. The only way around this is to get an ExpressCard firewire card (like this one from Startech) which fits into the side of the laptop (assuming it has a slot for it). Unfortunately our troubles are not quite over. The Firewire card connects to the system via the PCIe bus. The PCIe bus has a finite amount of resources and has to share them with other devices attached to the system. Modern laptops tend to pack in components so you get modems, Bluetooth, fingerprint security, the inbuilt firewire port and the graphics engine all vying for the same resources and the same bandwidth. Firewire is designed to negotiate for what it needs, however, multichannel audio needs more bandwidth than any other firewire device and it may be that there simply isn’t the room with all the other junk connected.

The best solution is, of course, to use a USB audio interface! There’s a sense of frustration in the industry with firewire at the moment. The amount of problems people have and the subsequent technical support load it causes for the manufacturers are having an impact. USB 3 has just arrived giving much greater bandwidth and speed than firewire and I imagine that it won’t be long before we see professional interfaces with USB3 sockets on them.

With all that in mind the chances are that your choice of laptop will work fine! DPC latency can usually be tackled by disabling stuff, and the firewire bandwidth problem is not that common. But they are both worth checking out as soon as you get your laptop so you can return it within the 7 day cooling off period.

In part 2 I’ll be looking at getting a laptop from Audio PC companies and also how Rain UK came up with their new Livebook.

To read the full detailed article see:  Choosing a Laptop for Music Making Part 1

 

May 21, 2010

Mac vs. PC

How to Choose a Computer for Music Making (Part 2)

More controversial than the Stones vs Beatles, more uncompromising than a Bush vs Obama debate, and hotter than the cold war, the Mac vs PC question ignites passions, endless debates and might even be responsible for violent outbreaks in some circles. But then again, that’s not a reason not to ask, is it? So we’ll try to answer the question as peacefully as possible.

“I am neither Athenian nor Greek, I am a citizen of the world.”
Aristotle
(while starting OS X)

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”
Martin Luther King
(while buying his PC)

This question is all the more relevant given that nothing looks more like a Mac than a PC and viceversa. In fact, both are computers using the same components (CPU, RAM, hard drives, etc.) to deal with the same tasks in almost the same exact way: mouse and keyboard allow you to control software tools that offer almost the same functions: can you copy/paste with a PC? Then you can do it also with a Mac…

Anyway, comparing a Mac and a PC isn’t really fair because these words don’t really describe the same thing: a Mac is a computer assembled exclusively by Apple while a PC is a technical standard applying to hundreds of manufacturers (Dell, IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, etc.) and including thousands of computer models.

Why? When computer technology exploded back in the 80’s, rivals IBM and Apple chose different strategies: while Apple decided to stay the only manufacturer of Mac computers, IBM laid the bet to open its technology in order to create a standard, the PC (Personal Computer). Afterwards, hundreds of manufacturers started to buy PC-compatible hardware and this competition greatly increased the PC market to the detriment of the Mac.

While Apple’s market share was around 15% in the 80’s, it fell to less than 3% in the 90’s before increasing again these last couple of years thanks to products like the iMac, iPod or iPhone. Nowadays they have a 10% of the market (according to the newest figures provided by Net Applications). But we have to consider the figures in context: in the small audio world, the picture does look better for Apple considering that, even if no serious study has ever been made regarding this, Audiofanzine’s traffic statistics show that Mac has a 19.6% market share.

Considering this background, you can clearly now understand that it is difficult to compare a computer model with a technical standard: the only point of comparison is the only common component in all PC’s that distinguishes them from a Mac: the operating system.

Windows? Mac OS X?

And Linux?

Like OS X, Linux is a variation on the UNIX system. Linux is an alternative and open source solution which is available in different “distributions.” The advantages? This system is stable, powerful and gives access to numerous free software tools while promoting an enthusiastic sharing philosophy. The disadvantages? Although it is becoming more accessible to the masses every day, Linux is still an environment for computer freaks — even if only because it is supported by very few hardware and software manufacturers. Making music with Linux is possible but not always easy for beginners. And since this system is not very widely used, you’ll have difficulties finding users who can help you out in case you run into problems, despite the few excellent specialized websites available.

You probably know these names very well considering that every time a computer comes out of the factory these two operating systems (Windows on one side, Mac OS on the other side) are mentioned to distinguish both platforms.

OK, so what is an operating system? The operating system is sort of a big program that manages all essential functions of the computer and allows you to install and run dedicated software (for text and photo editing, web browsing, music production, etc.).

The first thing you have to know about operating systems is that they are not compatible with each other: a software conceived for Mac OS X won’t work under Windows, unless it has been ported (which means the software developer made a dedicated version for Windows). However true that there are certain software tools available for both platforms, most of them are only available for one of them: Cubase, Nuendo and Pro Tools are available for both, but Sonar, Acid and Samplitude are PC-only applications, while Logic, Garage Band and Digital Performer work only on a Mac. Thus, if choosing between Mac and PC means choosing an operating system, it also means choosing a software library.

In fact, when it comes to music production, the “Mac vs. PC” question can be answered very easily if you already have an idea of the software you intend to use: Do you want to use Sonar? You need a PC. Are you a Digital Performer fan? You need a Mac.

Now let’s delve in deeper…

Conclusion

Whether you buy a Mac or a PC is up to you, but we hope that the information above will help you make your decision. Should I be more precise? OK, here’s my opinion — which I share knowing that it will receive a lot of talkbacks:

  • If your budget is limited and below $1000, buy a PC and forget the MacMini.
  • If you don’t have enough money to buy software, get a Mac with GarageBand (or a less expensive PC) plus the light version of any sequencer and the freeware available will do the rest.
  • If money is not a problem and you want a computer to make music, for office automation and multimedia, buy a Mac. It’s like a very good PC.
  • If you are a video game freak or you use professional and specific business programs, buy a PC.
  • If you have no computer skills at all and you aren’t sure that it will ever interest you too much, buy a Mac.
  • If you wish to customize your work environment, and say things like “the register has to be compressed” in public, buy a PC.
  • If your best friend agrees to teach you about computers, choose the same as him to make life easier for both of you.
  • If you’ve already made up your mind about the software you want to use because you already know it a bit or any other reason, buy the computer that supports it.
  • If you already have some Mac knowledge, stay on this platform. The same applies to PC.
  • Finally, if you don’t feel sure: don’t forget that it is less critical than taking a road in a Robert Frost poem. Anyways, you’ll probably end up buying a new computer within the next four years because by then yours will be totally obsolete.

Nonetheless, in future articles you’ll be able to read everything you need to know to buy a Mac (quite simple) or a PC (a bit more complex). Used or not? Major brand or not? What’s the budget? Which components? Etc.

OK, I’ll stop here. Now it’s time for you to follow the link below and have some fun commenting.

PS: Mom, I love you.

To read the full detailed article see:  Mac vs. PC

April 26, 2010

[Musik Messe 2010] Two Notes Torpedo VM 202

To see more gear video demos see:  Audiofanzine Video Vault

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.