Author Archive

The Linnstrument: Not a Great Instrument?

The electronic music interwebs are starting to rev their engines for Roger Linn’s new Linnstrument. And as much as I love the sound of a LinnDrum snare (and believe me, I love the sound of a LinnDrum snare), I just can’t get myself excited about this particular instrument. With its overlays and one-size-fits-all approach, Roger’s new instrument tries to be a grid, a piano, a drum pad, a guitar, and hexagonal controller all in one. And because of that, it fails on all counts. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I don’t think anyone has yet invented a truly playable and expressive controller instrument (though the Haken Continuum comes close). I think I’ve figured out why, and it has nothing to do with the limitations of synthesizers or computers: Physical specialization. Or, more specifically, the total lack thereof.

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Back Up Here, Back Up There, Back Up Your Data Everywhere

Unlike most of the computing public—whose crucial data consists of email, Word documents, and maybe an iPhoto or iTunes library—musicians and other digital artists can quickly accumulate multiple terabytes of MOVs and RAWs and WAVs. And with all that data comes great responsibility. Namely: What are you gonna do when your hard drives die? (And yes, they will die.) Luckily, surprisingly affordable solutions exist today that can turn “I’m hosed” into “no big deal”: All you have to do is pop in a new drive, restore over a lunch break, and resume where you left off.

A wise man once said, “Data doesn’t exist unless it’s on three drives, in two different locations.” Meaning, a single hard drive or a lone iCloud backup isn’t going to cut it for anything that’s valuable (or should I say invaluable?). I’ve tried many solutions over the years, always valuing simple, comprehensive, and frictionless solutions that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Here’s what’s worked for me.

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The New Mac Pro Looks Impressive, but Who’s Going to Buy It? or: Is This Thing Any Good for Musicians?

Peter Kirn susses out the new Mac Pro:

The US$2999 “entry-level” model is already a hefty machine, with 3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor and 12GB of 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory. (Now, admittedly, you’re likely to be happier with the pricing if you’re buying the US-assembled machine in North America; Europe, for instance, does appear to pay an additional premium beyond just VAT at 2.999€.)

If you have a bunch of PCI cards you’re happy with that you want to migrate, then the Mac Pro is a non-starter, it’s true. But if you were building a new studio machine and outboard rig, it’s clear that this is the machine to drool over.

I agree. If your entire workflow is based around a PCI based system, don’t buy one. But I personally don’t see the lack of slots as a deal breaker. Given the crazy amount of real-time processing this thing can perform on 4K video, I think the concept of offloading audio processing to dedicated processing chips (on PCI cards or otherwise), or needing to use PCI for multi-channel audio I/O, will seem awfully anachronistic a few years down the road. Things have been heading in the direction of native systems for years.

A big question remains: Will it be possible for audio applications to take advantage of the extra processing chips this new Mac Pro offers, namely the two very powerful GPUs included in every machine? And if it is possible, will the software makers decide to support it?

Avid’s S6 Looks Impressive, but Who’s Going to Buy It?

That giant hole I mentioned a while back in the control surface market? Still there.

Avid’s S6 is state of the art. Modular. Beautiful. And brutally expensive. A big row of quality faders is 95% of what I want in a control surface, and the least expensive S6 costs $2,750 per fader. That’s crazy. Any way you dress it up, the S6 still just a big mouse. A sleek, black, shiny mouse plastered with OLED displays—but a mouse nonetheless.

Yes, Hollywood movies will be mixed on these. And big fancy studios will buy one to impress their clients. For my own needs, however, I will restate my former wish list: Don’t give me mic preamps, extraneous I/O, or digital mixers. Same goes for touchscreens, a rainbow of scrolling waveforms, or a separate button for every last Pro Tools keyboard shortcut. (Just because we can have these things, doesn’t mean we should.) Give me 24+ faders, a handful of knobs for panning and sending, and a simple master section, and I’m happy. Sell it for an affordable price, and I’m sold.

MacWorld Benchmarks a Hackintosh

MacWorld confirms what a lot of Mac folks have known for a long time now:

Our custom-built OS X computer was faster than the $2499 Mac Pro in all 15 of the individual tests that make up Speedmark 8: Overall, it was 23 percent faster than the Mac Pro. A few of the tests were close; exporting an iMovie project was only 4 percent faster on the Bride of Frankenmac than on the Mac Pro. Unzipping a large file archive was 9 percent faster, and running our Photoshop action script was 10 percent faster.

They do offer some caveats regarding compatibility of parts and the lack of an “umbrella warranty”. Regarding the video card: A quick Google search before the build would have negated that issue. Regarding the warranty: The fact that I can easily, quickly, and inexpensively replace just about any part in my computer (which I’ve not yet had to do, knock on wood) is a powerful counterargument to a machine made exclusively with proprietary, pricey, and hard-to-get parts.

Avid Teases a New Control Surface

There’s been a giant hole in the control surface market for the last 10 years, exemplified by Avid’s own product line: It offers 8-channel control surfaces that, while handy at times, aren’t a comprehensive solution by any means; 24-channel surfaces with a bunch of preamps that no one wants to pay for; and overpriced, $100,000 monsters with two billion knobs and cutting edge features such as six-character scribble strips.

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Relative Fidelity

Justin Colletti at the always excellent Trust Me I’m a Scientist on appreciating the sonic golden age we’re living in:

While it’s true that low res MP3s, YouTube clips, and earbuds can sound worse than some of the best gear of years past, there are actually many cases in which they sound better.

Whaaaaa? Yes. You read that right. If you’re confused, you are not alone. Read on.

More Reason to Go Hackintosh?

Marco Arment takes a close look at Intel chip prices and concludes:

I’d be very surprised to see the new Mac Pro’s entry price below $3,500, and for a CPU that makes the Mac Pro barrier worth crossing, I think we’re talking $5,000 and up.

Unless the major DAWs commit to harnessing the processing power of the new Mac Pro’s dual GPUs (which is likely highly dependent on how easy Apple makes it for developers to do so), it’s going to be very hard to convince many musicians and studio owners to shell out $5K for modest performance gains. Curious to see how this all shakes out.

Pro Audio on a Hackintosh

It was 2009 and I desperately needed a new Mac. My G5 tower was showing its age and woefully underpowered, not to mention being officially phased out by Apple. After crunching the numbers, I concluded that if I were to buy a Mac Pro (sadly, audio and video pros are the last two holdouts who still need the extra horsepower and drive bays of a desktop tower), I was essentially buying a $1,250 computer in a $1,250 case. When my G5’s power supply failed, and I found out that replacing it would have cost almost exactly what the entire computer was worth, my mind was made up: Hac Pro or bust.

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Thank You, Kush Audio, For The Best EULA Ever