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Q&A June 2002

Your Technical Questions & Queries Answered
By Various

Q. Is there any benefit in optional digital converters?

If you purchase a hardware recording channel, like the Focusrite ISA 220, I don't see any benefit in having the digital output. You still need to have a digital output from Cubase or Logic, convert the signal to analogue, put it through the unit, and then back to digital. I can either do that through the back of my Echo Mona soundcard, or spend hundreds of dollars for the digital option on the hardware unit. Am I missing something here, or is there no real benefit?

Glenn Bucci

Is it worth paying extra for the digital option on hardware recording channels like the Focusrite ISA200 when you may already have converters on your soundcard?Is it worth paying extra for the digital option on hardware recording channels like the Focusrite ISA200 when you may already have converters on your soundcard?Editor Paul White replies: The benefit of a digital converter is usually to be able to get high-quality audio into (and occasionally out of) a system that has both digital and analogue I/O, but where the on-board converters may not be so great. It also saves the analogue gear, such as voice channels, from having to generate stupidly high signal levels to satisfy the majority of professional A-D converters that need around +18dB input to hit the digital full scale, and most analogue kit is getting pretty stretched by then. Of course, if you already have really good A-D converters, there may be no point in buying the digital option — and that's why it's usually an option.

Q. How can I get my MOTU FastLane to work with OMS and Cubase?

I'm having problems installing a new Mark Of The Unicorn FastLane USB MIDI interface that I want to use with my Mac (G4 450MHz). I know I need to use OMS if I want it to work with Cubase VST, and the manual says I can use FreeMIDI, or OMS, or both. I've followed the instructions for installation, but I cannot get it to work. Neither the OMS Setup program nor Cubase will find the FastLane! What am I doing wrong?

Karen Eliot

SOS contributor Paul Sellars replies: I had exactly the same problem with my FastLane, and have heard from several other people complaining of similar difficulties. It's certainly frustrating, especially when the solution is so simple!

OMS and FreeMIDI will usually co-exist quite happily without any problems, but FastLane owners need to make sure the two packages have been installed in the right order. Basically, you need to have a full install of OMS version 2.38 in place before you run the FreeMIDI/Fastlane installer. Otherwise, the required 'USB OMSMIDIDriver' extension may not be installed, and OMS applications may not be able to 'see' the FastLane interface.

If you're not sure about the order you originally installed the packages, don't worry — provided OMS is there, the problem can usually be solved by simply running the FreeMIDI/FastLane installer again. Once the installation is complete, check that the 'USB OMSMIDIDriver' and 'MOTU USB Driver' extensions are present in your Extensions folder and restart.

To be on the safe side, run the FreeMIDI Setup program (in the FreeMIDI Applications folder) and make sure 'Use OMS when available' is ticked in the FreeMIDI Preferences. OMS Setup and Cubase should find the interface without any problems.

Q. Will I have problems running dual monitors on the latest Macs?

In his April 2002 SOS column, Paul Wiffen wrote about performance-related problems when running dual screens at the OS X roadshow. Is there any update on this problem, including possible solutions?

David Pickering

Apple Notes columnist Paul Wiffen replies: I've investigated this 'CPU drain when driving dual displays' phenomenon further, and it turns out that things are a little more complex than I'd first thought. Firstly, the problem I outlined in my column was when the analogue VGA out was connected to a VGA data projector — I didn't find it so much of an issue when connected to an ordinary VGA monitor, although I didn't get to try this until after the press deadline. I've been using exactly the same computer and dual monitor card driving two screens without any problems ever since.

The Nvdia GeForce 4MX, now available in the latest Apple PowerMac G4s, takes the strain off the main processor to enable musicians to squeeze the last drops of DSP power from their system.The Nvdia GeForce 4MX, now available in the latest Apple PowerMac G4s, takes the strain off the main processor to enable musicians to squeeze the last drops of DSP power from their system.In fact, the very same songs that wouldn't run properly on the main stage during the first day of the OS X tour worked fine in the other room using a different VGA projector from another manufacturer. So I assumed that the problem was related to the size of display that the projector was able to project, but as we went on to use this projector very successfully at the Arbiter demo theatre at the Sounds Expo show, I thought that I should just avoid really large back projections. However, at Sounds Expo, the display I ended up using for my talk on 'OS X and the Musician' in the main lecture area on the last day displayed the same 'lower' resolution, yet gave even more problems with playback of a song that had been succesfully presented the night before. Even after closing all the video and mixer windows, there were large holes in the audio playback — I can only hope that most SOS readers who attended also saw my presentations on the Arbiter booth as they didn't suffer from the same technical problems.

After this experience, I became somewhat paranoid about using VGA data projectors, unless I had used them before. However, recently I went to rehearse for an event at the BBC Radio Theatre where, again, I had to use a VGA projector. Needless to say, everything worked fine on the first try, despite the fact that the display was at least as big as the one I had problems with on the OS X roadshows. Initally, I wondered whether modern projectors required less power from the computer driving them, but a really old data projector I used at another event worked fine as well. So now I just think as George Orwell might have, that all VGA projectors are equal, but some are more equal than others.

I must make it clear that the problem only seems to occur with projectors needing a bigger frame buffer than standard VGA monitors. If you're using two monitors with Cubase, Nuendo, or any other music software, you shouldn't run in to the problem — although a second monitor does require some extra processing to run, it's clearly not of the same order of magnitude as some VGA projectors.

However, there are a few developments in this area that give some hope, even if you're stuck with a CPU-draining VGA projector, or need to squeeze every ounce of processing out of the dual-1GHz G4s for your effects and virtual instruments. The unit I have for my presentations was one of the first in the country and has the Nvdia GeForce4 MX graphics card, which is supplied as standard on the machines now. However, Nvdia now have an even faster card that wasn't available quite in time to ship with the first dual-1GHz G4s, the GeForce Titanium, which not only has their fourth-generation GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) technology (presumably the MX is only third-generation), and the nFiniteFX II engine offering "unprecendented programmability for developers of games and pro applications," but the processing is done completely in the GPU instead of in the CPU. Now, I'm sure that Apple-based musicians wouldn't be doing anything as trivial as playing games, but the fact that the card's GPU handles all the video output leaves the CPU to handle other tasks.

The GeForce Titanium can be supplied from the Apple Store as a build-to-order option for an extra £190 (less than the price reduction from the old dual-800MHz G4 machine). So if you're worried that you'll be wasting good CPU power on driving two monitors that you could use for extra plug-ins, this seems like a good way to go. You can read more on this on the Apple web site (www.apple.com).

Q. Why do my final mixes always end up in mono?

Everything I do seems to end up in mono. I'm creating stereo mixes of a live performance on an analogue mixer and then recording these directly into an eight-track hard disk workstation before adding overdubs. What am I doing wrong?

Bruno Siegnel

Editor Paul White replies: This isn't as simple a question as it may at first appear, because you only need to make a mistake at one point in the signal chain and all the stereo work you've done up to that point can end up mixed down to mono. Assuming that you indeed have a stereo mix set up on your analogue mixer, which you can verify by listening to the headphone output, this can be recorded to a workstation in one of two ways. If the workstation offers stereo track capability, you can connect the left and right outs from the analogue mixer to the appropriate odd/even numbered inputs of the workstation, and record the results directly to the stereo track. This will preserve the stereo settings you created on your analogue mixer.

Where stereo track capability isn't provided, you'll need to record the left and right mixer outputs onto two separate mono tracks of the workstation, taking care to pan the one carrying the left mixer channel fully left, and the one carrying the right mixer channel fully right. Again, this will preserve the original stereo information from the analogue mix, and any overdubs made on the workstation using different mono tracks may then be panned conventionally to any position in the mix. The final mix can then be recorded to a standard stereo recorder by connecting the main left and right outs of the workstation to the left/right inputs of the recorder. If you're doing a digital transfer via S/PDIF to something like a Minidisc recorder, only one cable is needed as the S/PDIF link carries stereo as standard. If you check every step of the way using headphones (first the analogue mixer, followed by the workstation headphone out, and the stereo recorder headphone out), you'll soon discover where the mistake is being made. Also check for any mono buttons (which usually only apply to monitoring), and for any hidden menu functions in your workstation that may be designed to provide you with a mono mix.

Q. Is there a way to bounce mixes in Ableton Live?

I've been trying out the demo version of Ableton Live and I'm really impressed by it. I've been thinking I could use it not only for live gigs, but also as an audio sequencer for remixes and so on. So far it all seems to work really well, but there's one thing Idon't understand. There doesn't seem to be any way to bounce a finished mix down to a single stereo file, like you can in Logic.

Michael McKell

Ableton's Live will provide a 'render to disk' function from version 1.5.Ableton's Live will provide a 'render to disk' function from version 1.5.SOS Contributor Paul Sellars replies: Well, I've got good news and bad. The bad news is there isn't a 'bounce' function in the current release version of Live (1.1 at the time of writing). However, there are a couple of bits of good news.

Firstly, Ableton have announced that Live 1.5 will feature a 'render to disk' function, letting you create a new audio file containing any part of a session or arrangement, including all effects and automation. The update should be freely available to registered users by the time you read this at: www.ableton.com.

However, there's a fairly simple workaround you can use to achieve more or less the same results in version 1.1. Once your set is finished and ready to bounce, select a new track and, from the Input Device drop-down menu, choose Master Out as the audio input. The red icon at the bottom of the track column will light up, indicating that the track is armed for recording. You'll also notice that each empty clip slot on the track now displays a small red record button. Click on one of these, your set will begin to play, and the sound will be recorded into a new clip on your chosen track. When finished, you can find the 'bounced' file in the same folder with the rest of the files that make up your set.

Q. Can you recommend a cheap and simple PC software sampler?

I'm a dance producer on a very tight budget, and I'm looking for a software sampler. I need to use it mostly for drum programming, but probably for one or two other sounds as well. Can you recommend a cost-effective software sampler for the PC? I've heard good things about HALion and GigaStudio, but they're both pretty expensive and I don't think I really need anything that complicated.

John Preston

LoopAZoid is a no-nonsense VST instrument sample player, freely available to both Windows and Mac users.LoopAZoid is a no-nonsense VST instrument sample player, freely available to both Windows and Mac users.SOS contributor Paul Sellars replies: You have several alternatives to choose from, and so long as your sequencer supports VST instruments, the simplest solution is probably LoopAZoid from Nexoft. It's available as a free download, and allows you to create a bank of 48 samples with a separate MIDI note assigned to each one. You can control the stereo panning of each sample, and assign different samples to different outputs. For no-nonsense 'one-shot' sample playback, LoopAZoid can be extremely useful.

If you want more flexibility, LinPlug (www.linplug.com) offer the RM III drum sampler for a modest $59, which includes an onboard compressor, distortion effects, filters, independent tuning and keyspan settings for each sample, and tweakable pitch and amp envelopes. RM III is also supplied with a good selection of usable drum kits to help get you started.

For a sampler that's suited to playing pitched instruments in addition to drums, Speedsoft's Virtual Sampler represents good value for money at just $75. It can run either as a standalone application or as a VST or DXi plugin, and, in spite of its low price, Virtual Sampler boasts some features to rival the more expensive software samplers available, including very flexible filter and amp envelopes, two LFOs, and velocity-controlled filters. It also supports a variety of sample formats, including WAV, AIFF, and even Akai CD-ROMs. A free demo version is available if you want to try it out.

Published June 2002