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Islington MacExpo; OS X

ST Shell running Native Instruments' B4 organ and Steinberg's VB1 bass synth.ST Shell running Native Instruments' B4 organ and Steinberg's VB1 bass synth.

The audio side of OSX receives a big boost with the release of the first major update, as does Islington's MacExpo, as Apple themselves decide to attend their first UK show for several years.

The OS10.1 update announced at MacWorld in July is now shipping. As well as nice visible extras, such as data CD burning from the desktop and iDVD2 as standard, it finally offers the most important facility for musicians: the necessary audio hooks for professional audio applications to run under the new OS, as evidenced by the OSX betas of Emagic Logic and BIAS Peak seen running at MacWorld New York recently. I hope we'll see shipping versions of these programs shortly, with others that have not been officially announced (such as Steinberg's Nuendo) not far behind. In the meantime, the 10.1 update should mean that OS9 versions of such programs will at least run as 'Classic' Applications within OSX, rather than requiring the user to restart and switch back to OS9.

MIDI will now be supported directly in the OS (kiss OMS goodbye forever!), so the whole issue of drivers for USB and FireWire should become much simpler, more uniform between applications and, most importantly, more bullet‑proof in use. MIDI Services (which sounds like a company, rather than a part of the OS) will handle this side of things. Core Audio is the name for the part of the OS which deals with sound.

When OS10.1 actually shipped, in October, there was one new feature I hadn't been expecting, as it was not mentioned at MacWorld New York. We had already been told that the audio within OSX was finally going to become multi‑channel, but the big surprise when I found my way to was discovering that Core Audio supports 24‑bit/96kHz. As Apple put it, "Core Audio manages all audio as 32‑bit floating‑point data. This allows your Mac to efficiently handle 24/96 and then some. Core Audio also delivers highly optimised sample‑rate converters to support programs that do not yet use this high‑resolution format. Such apps can easily provide data to Mac OSX without truncation." This means that you will be able not only to play back files at this resolution/rate at system level, provided you have suitable hardware installed (and not just from within specialist audio applications), but that if you don't have such hardware present you will still be able to work on such files, just monitoring them at lower sample rates and resolutions via the Mac's internal sound hardware.

I suspect that, like multi‑channel capability, support for 24/96 is principally there to facilitate the expansion of DVD playback into surround sound. It may well be that on future Apple hardware there will be the necessary converters and outputs to handle 24/96 surround, but in the meantime the ability to handle multi‑channel 24/96 provides a more professional backdrop for audio on the Mac platform, even if you currently still need to add a card to be able to record and play back in this format.

The fact that Core Audio handles all audio at 32‑bit floating‑point resolution is very important, as it means that DSP processing will always be at a higher resolution than the audio data was recorded at. This is necessary to retain quality once you start making the calculations needed to produce reverb and other effects. To prove the point, Apple have included examples — an Altivec‑optimised reverb and a sample‑rate converter — in OS10.1, using their Audio Units plug‑in format. Of course, end‑users like you or I will have to wait until someone implements the Audio Unit plug‑in format in their software before we can check out the quality of these processors, but it's nice to know that such facilities will soon be available outside top‑end professional applications.

The new Virtual Instruments feature also includes an Altivec‑optimised example which can play back the new industry‑standard DownLoadable Sounds (DLS) format. Obviously, most SOS readers will be familiar with the concept of virtual instruments by now (many, I assume, will be using them), but the idea of them being included as standard at OS level proves just how important this concept is becoming. Having virtual instruments available at OS level means that developers of games and other multimedia software can customise the sounds they use. I hope that Apple's OS10.1 demonstrations will soon start to include these audio features, as so far there has been little mention of audio, and no examples, in keynote speeches and press launches I have attended. The following may give them their first opportunity...

Apple At UK Mac Show!

A virtual reality studio tour created without the use of QuickTime VR.A virtual reality studio tour created without the use of QuickTime VR.

This year's MacExpo at the Islington Business Centre has a dedicated Audio & MIDI Zone (though at press time it was unclear who was going to exhibit in it). This is good news in itself, but even better news is that Apple have reserved a large stand, the first they've taken at a UK Mac show in several years. This may be as a result of budget being freed up by the cancellation of September's AppleExpo in Paris, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, but whatever the reason, the move must increase UK confidence in Apple computing.

You'll need to get your skates on to catch this show, as it runs from November 22nd‑24th at the Islington Business Centre, and thus is starting not long after this issue of SOS arrives in newsagents across the country. At the time of writing, free tickets were available via online registration at (although I found it more reliable to go to and then follow the link from there).

Whether the seminars at the show will cover any music and audio topics has yet to be decided (it would be nice to hear some of the audio features described above, for example), but I always find you pick up some useful nuggets of info about general Mac computing at such a show, even if you know more than any of the exhibitors about music‑ and audio‑specific topics. Apart from anything else, we should all attend and support a UK show which features Apple themselves, or we can't complain if they don't repeat the all‑too‑rare phenomenon.

On The Web This Month: Freeware VST Shell & More On QuickTime Vr

My favourite freeware download this month is the new VST Shell from The Lone Roger, which you can find at ShellFolder.sit. For those of you not familiar with the term 'shell', it means a way to run one technology inside another — so a VST shell offers a way to run VST Instruments without Cubase VST or another VST‑compatible sequencer present. While VST Shell is not the only program of its type available (at least three or four others have been announced), it is the only one I am aware of which can interface the audio output via Direct I/O. This means that, theoretically, you could at last use VST plug‑ins triggered from Pro Tools via MIDI, and then feed the resulting audio into TDM to mix with all the rest of your TDM‑compatible stuff. I didn't have a Pro Tools system available to try before copy deadline, but I tried several of the other audio I/O standards VST Shell supports (see screen) and they seemed to work just fine. As far as VST Instruments were concerned, I was able to run Steinberg's HALion sampler, Native's B4 organ, Waldorf's Wave 2.v synth, MDA Piano and all the freebies you get with VST, but I had far less luck with effects plug‑ins. None of those which come with Cubase V5 would open, and while I could get plug‑ins such as Dsound's Stomp'n'FX to run, I couldn't get their windows to open for editing. However, it is far more important to be able to run VST Instruments without a sequencer open than to be able to use effects on their own.

Like all the other Lone Roger downloads, VST Shell is based on Cycling '74's Max (formerly from Opcode) and automatically uses OMS for MIDI input. Although this may not be the most reliable of methods, especially if you have a USB MIDI interface somewhere in the picture, it is at least supported by most sequencers!

I continue to get mail on the subject of QuickTime VR. The latest instalment in this saga is that apparently you don't need to use QT VR to create panoramic views. Philip Meehan emailed to point out that the views of the THX studios in the facilities section on the Videosonics website ( were created without the use of QT VR. Apparently they were shot with a normal 35mm camera and played back using a freeware Java applet which includes panning, zooming and even 'hotspot' linking, just like QT VR. Looking at them, I wouldn't have known the difference if Philip hadn't told me. On his web site, Mike Simmons has a movie which he created himself using a program called Spin (the demo version off a magazine cover, he thinks) and an ordinary camera and tripod. It shows the 360‑degree view from the mountain that inspired his View from Anelog album (, and while it's not of the same quality as the Videosonics THX studios panoramas, it at least allowed him to show people the desired view.

OMS & FreeMIDI Running In Classic Mode?

I've started to notice postings on the DAW‑Mac group (, which I have recommended before as a good list to keep an eye on) about the possibility that OMS may be working in OSX's Classic mode after all, although until now most people have been saying that it is not. I haven't been able to try it personally, as none of the programs that I am running work with OSX, as yet. However, apparently Coda's Finale 2001 notation software runs in Classic mode, and as a result several subscribers to the DAW‑Mac list have been able to check out OMS as a MIDI I/O resource in this environment. They report that it works.

I followed up with a visit to the Coda website,, where typing 'OSX' into their Knowledge Base search engine produced a very good article on whether to upgrade to OSX . The article includes the following section: "OMS and FreeMIDI also need to be configured while operating in OS 9.1. You can then boot back into OSX and run Finale in Classic Mode."

Searching MOTU's site only yielded a single OSX reference (how Digital Performer 3 uses an Aqua‑style interface) and no relevant references to the Classic environment. One wouldn't expect any reference to OSX on Opcode's web site, as the latest news there is dated April 26, 2000 (around the time when Gibson finally mothballed the company).

The fact that Finale 2001 users are able to run with OMS certainly implies that the problem is not, as many of us have been led to believe, with OMS itself (or FreeMIDI, for that matter) refusing to run in Classic Mode, but rather with the applications out there which we would normally run with OMS or FreeMIDI. Certainly, having read these postings, I have been able to use OMS's Test Studio feature successfully in the Classic environment, but all too often I have had this feature working on pre‑OSX systems and still had trouble communicating with my MIDI programs. Of course, the amount of MIDI data you would be sending to a program like Finale (normally just a single keyboard part, to save entering a score part manually) is hardly going to give OMS or FreeMIDI a thorough workout. So I am loath to state categorically that OMS and FreeMIDI do work under OSX, especially as I don't have access to any audio sequencing programs which do run, to give it a thorough testing. However, if any of you have something which does run in Classic mode and you are able to get it working with OMS and/or FreeMIDI, let me know. It would certainly make the transition to OSX easier, until all the sequencer manufacturers have supported the direct MIDI drivers in OS10.1.

Stop Press: Apple Portables Speed‑Bumped

Apple portables have been increased in speed. The fastest G4 PowerBook is now 667Mhz (with an improved buss speed of 133MHz, to let you take advantage of it in audio applications) and has AirPort as standard. It's available from the AppleStore with the new front–loading CD‑RW drive and a 48Gb hard drive for £2489 plus VAT, only £70 more than the old 500MHz top‑of‑the‑range model. With DVD‑ROM drive and 30Gb hard drive it costs £2199 plus VAT. The entry‑level Titanium is also faster than the previous high‑end model, at 550MHz, but has the same buss speed as its predecessor — and it's cheaper, at £1599 plus VAT.

Apple are also doubling the amount of RAM these machines come with, for purchases before December 31st. The 550MHz model will apparently have 128Mb as standard next year, but this year comes with 256Mb. The 667MHz machine will eventually ship with 256Mb, but currently has a massive 512Mb.

iBooks have had a similar upgrade. Although they still use G3 processors, the entry‑level speed is now 500MHz, with the top model at 600MHz. You can choose between CD‑ROM, CD‑RW or DVD/CD‑RW drives, and all models have 256Mb RAM. HD sizes from 15 to 20Gb are available. All Apple computers now come pre‑installed with OS10.1 and OS9.2.1, so you can quickly move between them.