Your questions answered: Sonarworks Reference calibration tools

If getting your headphones and studio monitors calibrated sounds like a good New Years’ Resolution, we’ve got you covered. Some good questions came up in our last story on Sonarworks Reference, the automated calibration tool, so we’ve gotten answers for you.

First, if you’re just joining us, Sonarworks Reference is a tool for automatically calibrating your studio listening environment and headphones so that the sound you hear is as uncolored as possible – more consistent with the source material. Here’s our previous write-up, produced in cooperation with Sonarworks:

What it’s like calibrating headphones and monitors with Sonarworks tools

CDM is partnering with Sonarworks to help users better understand how to use the tool to their benefit. And so that means in part answering some questions with Sonarworks engineers. If you’re interested in the product, there’s also a special bundle discount on now: you get the True-Fi mobile app for calibration on your mobile device, free with a Sonarworks Studio Edition purchase (usually US$79):

https://try.sonarworks.com/christmasspecial/

Readers have been sending in questions, so I’ll answer as many as I can as accurately as possible.

Does it work?

Oh yeah, this one is easy. I found it instantly easier to mix both on headphones and sitting in the studio, in that you hear far more consistency from one listening environment / device to another, and in that you get a clearer sense of the mix. It feels a little bit like how I feel when I clean my eyeglasses. You’re removing stuff that’s in the way. That’s my own personal experience, anyway; I linked some full reviews and comparisons with other products in the original story. But my sense in general is that automated calibration has become a fact of life for production and live situations. It doesn’t eliminate the role of human experts, not by a long shot – but then color calibration in graphics didn’t get rid of the need for designers and people who know how to operate the printing press, either. It’s just a tool.

Does it work when outside of the sweet spot in the studio?

This is a harder question, actually, but anecdotally, yeah, I still left it on. You’re calibrating for the sweet spot in your studio, so from a calibration perspective, yeah, you do want to sit in that location when monitoring – just as you always would. But a lot of what Sonarworks Reference is doing is about frequency response as much as space, I found it was still useful to leave the calibration on even when wandering around my studio space. It’s not as though the calibration suddenly stops working when you move around. You only notice the calibration stops working if you have the wrong calibration profile selected or you make the mistake of bouncing audio with it left on (oops). But that’s of course exactly what you’d expect to happen.

What about Linux support?

Linux is officially unsupported, but you can easily calibrate on Windows (or Mac) and then use the calibration profile on Linux. It’s a 64-bit Linux-native VST, in beta form.

If you run the plug-in the handy plug-in host Carla, you can calibrate any source you like (via JACK). So this is really great – it means you can have calibrated results while working with SuperCollider or Bitwig Studio on Linux, for example.

This is beta only so I’m really keen to hear results. Do let us know, as I suspect if a bunch of CDM readers start trying the Linux build, there will be added incentive for Sonarworks to expand Linux support. And we have seen some commercial vendors from the Mac/Windows side (Pianoteq, Bitwig, Renoise, etc.) start to toy with support of this OS.

If you want to try this out, go check the Facebook group:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1751390588461118/

(Direct compiled VST download link is available here, though that may change later.)

What’s up with latency?

You get a choice of either more accuracy and higher latency, or lower accuracy and lower latency. So if you need real-time responsiveness, you can prioritize low latency performance – and in that mode, you basically won’t notice the plug-in is on at all in my experience. Or if you aren’t working live / tracking live, and don’t mind adding latency, you can prioritize accuracy.

Sonarworks clarifies for us:

Reference 4 line-up has two different *filter* modes – zero latency and linear phase. Zero latency filter adds, like the name states, zero latency, whereas linear phase mode really depends on sample-rate but typically adds about 20ms of latency. These numbers hold true in plugin form. Systemwide, however, has the variable of driver introduced latency which is set on top of the filter latency (zero for Zero latency and approx 20ms for linear phase mode) so the numbers for actual Systemwide latency can vary depending on CPU load, hardware specs etc. Sometimes on MacOS, latency can get up to very high numbers which we are investigating at the moment.

What about loudness? Will this work in post production, for instance?

Some of you are obviously concerned about loudness as you work on projects where that’s important. Here’s an explanation from Sonarworks:

So what we do in terms of loudness as a dynamic range character is – nothing. What we do apply is overall volume reduction to account for the highest peak in correction to avoid potential clipping of output signal. This being said, you can turn the feature off and have full 0dBFS volume coming out of our software, controlled by either physical or virtual volume control.

Which headphones are supported?

There’s a big range of headphones with calibration profiles included with Sonarworks Reference. Right now, I’ve got that folder open, and here’s what you get at the moment:

AIAIAI TMA-1

AKG K72, K77, K121, K141 MKII, K240, K240 MKII, K271 MKII, K550 MKII, K553 Pro, K612 Pro, K701, K702, K712 Pro, K812, Q701

Apple AirPods

Audeze KCD-2, LCD-X

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x, M30x, M40x, M50x, M70x, MSR7, R70x

Beats EP, Mixr, Pro, Solo2, Solo3 wireless, Studio (2nd generation), X Average

Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro, DT 150, DT 250 80 Ohm, DT 770 Pro (80 Ohm, 32 Ohm PPRO, 80 Ohm Pro, 250 Ohm Pro), DT 990 Pro 250 Ohm, DT 1770 Pro, DT 1990 Pro (analytical + balanced), T 1

Blue Lola, Mo-Fi (o/On+)

Bose QuietComfort 25, 35, 35 II, SoundLink II

Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless

Extreme Isolation EX-25, EX-29

Focal Clear Professional, Clear, Listen Professional, Spirit Professional

Fostex TH900 mk2, TX-X00

Grado SR60e, SR80e

HiFiMan HE400i

HyperX Cloud II

JBL Everest Elite 700

Koss Porta Pro Classic

KRK KNS 6400, 8400

Marshall Major II, Monitor

Master & Dynamic MH40

Meze 99, 99 NEO

Oppo PM-3

Philips Fidelio X2HR, SHP9500

Phonen SMB-02

Pioneer HDJ-500

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

PreSonus HD 7

Samson SR850

Sennheiser HD, HD 25 (&0 Ohm, Light), HD-25-C II, HD 201, HD 202, HD 205, HD 206, HD 215-II, HD 280 Pro (incl. new facelift version), HD 380 Pro, HD 518, HD 598, HD 598 C, HD 600, HD 650, HD 660 , HD 700, HD 800, HD 800 S, Moometum On-Ear Wireless, PX 100-II

Shure SE215, SRH440, SRH840, SRH940, SRH1440, SRH1540, SRH1840

Skullcandy Crusher (with and without battery), Hesh 2.0

Sony MDR-1A, MDR-1000X, MDR-7506, MDR-7520, MDR-CD900ST, MDR-V150, MDR-XB450, MDR-XB450AP, MDR-XB650BT, MDR-XB950AP, BDR-XB950BT, MDR-Z7, MDR-XZ110, MDR-ZX110AP, MDR-ZX310, MR-XZ310AP, MDR-ZX770BN, WH-1000MX2

Status Audio CB-1

Superlux HD 668B, HD-330, HD681

Ultrasone Pro 580i, 780i, Signature Studio

V-Moda Crossfade II, M-100

Yamaha HPH-MT5, HPH-MT7, HPH-MT8, HPH-MT220

So there you have it – lots of favorites, and lots of … well, actually, some truly horrible consumer headphones in the mix, too. But I not lots of serious mixers like testing a mix on consumer cans. The advantage of doing that with calibration is presumably that you get to hear the limitations of different headphones, but at the same time, you still hear the reference version of the mix – not the one exaggerated by those particular headphones. That way, you get greater benefit from those additional tests. And you can make better use of random headphones you have around, clearly, even if they’re … well, fairly awful, they can be now still usable.

Even after that long list, I’m sure there’s some stuff you want that’s missing. Sonarworks doesn’t yet support in-ear headphones for its calibration tools, so you can rule that out. For everything else, you can either request support or if you want to get really serious, opt for individual mail-in calibration in Latvia.

More:

https://www.sonarworks.com/reference

The post Your questions answered: Sonarworks Reference calibration tools appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Apple MacBook Pro revision boosts CPU, display – so should you buy?

If you’ve been waiting for a revision of Apple’s MacBook Pro, it’s here. And Apple gives its users some significantly improved CPU performance, among other features. That’s not making Mac buying decisions much easier, though.

The MacBook Pro retains the same radical redesign, love it or hate it, that we saw in the previous revision. That includes some choices that upset some users. The keys still lack travel, which can be less satisfying for regular typists. There’s still a TouchBar and no dedicated “Escape” key, apart from one entry-level model (and that entry-level doesn’t get any upgrades). You’re still going to need dongles to cope with the USB-C port. And these models are expensive, especially once you figure in their high-end internal storage and RAM configurations. The 13″ model, the one that’s more affordable, is paired with only internal graphics. The 15″ gets dedicated graphics, but from AMD – and Adobe software is largely optimized for NVIDIA.

Okay, so what’s the good news?

New MacBook Pro 13" and 15"

Well, don’t be too glum. Apple have given these machines insanely powerful CPUs. The 15″ MacBook Pro offers 6-core Intel Core i7 or Core i9 processors. Even the base model there gives you a pretty stupid amount of CPU power – and that’s great for audio, or running expensive soft synths. The 13″ MacBook Pro gives you Quad-core Intel Core i5 or i7 processors.

The other features are more consumer-oriented, perhaps – there’s a True Tone display that adjusts its color temperature automatically, as found on the iPad, and a quiet keyboard.

But if you’re looking for a silver lining, it’s those CPUs. Powerful CPUs + macOS as the platform + the ability to service Apple laptops around the world easily + fast connectivity via those USB-C ports for audio and storage = a MacBook Pro that will make a lot of pro musicians happy. The previous MacBook Pro was no slouch, too, so the other good news is, obviously, bargain hunters can (and should) consider shopping around for used or refurbished or open box models at discount prices.

The trick is configuration. You want to save some money by getting the model without TouchBar, but I wouldn’t recommend that – you get only two USB ports and slower processors. It’s better to shop around for refurb or used and just live with the TouchBar, frankly.

I had a MacBook Pro to test last year. The keyboard I found a bit uncomfortable, but I didn’t have the reliability issues some users have reported. And talking to a lot of musicians with these machines, they’ve all been really happy – if they did express some frustration at being poorer, or having to make spec compromises they didn’t want to make, or both. But they did like the machines. As always, Apple’s industrial quality feels great – the machines are slim, the displays are gorgeous, and the keyboard is … okay, well everything but that keyboard. The TouchBar also seems to grow on people over time, and there are some options for creating custom shortcuts – nothing I’d write home about, and not really a reason to buy the machine, but something that could make you happy enough once you already own the laptop.

No, the problem is, Apple are still damned pricey. You probably want 512MB of internal storage so you aren’t constantly swapping around files just to connect a drive.

That means the “sweet spot” is really this 15″ model:

MacBook Pro 15"

15″ MacBook Pro

2.6GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor
Turbo Boost up to 4.3GHz
Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
16GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory
512GB SSD storage
Retina display with True Tone
Touch Bar and Touch ID
Four Thunderbolt 3 ports

High-end specs, to be sure – but at a high-end price of US$2799.

If you don’t need the GPU and the bigger screen, the 512M 13″ is the other good price point:

13″ MacBook Pro

Touch Bar and Touch ID
2.3GHz Processor
512GB Storage

2.3GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor
Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz
Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655
8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
512GB SSD storage
Retina display with True Tone
Touch Bar and Touch ID
Four Thunderbolt 3 ports

But that’s US$1,999.

The price premium for Apple is hefty. And Windows is a perfectly serviceable operating system for audio production, if you’re willing to make some adaptations. Just be careful in the PC market. You can get some high-end GPUs, which appeal not only to gamers but for video production and creative live visuals (and running Adobe software), but it’s also clear why Apple didn’t opt for NVIDIA – those machines, even though they now increasingly conserve battery life, can run hot. And other PCs, while they have cheap sticker price, show that part of how they got there was cutting corners on industrial design. Check out The Verge’s guide to gaming laptops for a sense of what that picture looks like.

The issue with Apple, though, is that if you do go for a mid-range GPU – the same class that Apple includes in their machines – you can get PC laptops with similar industrial design and much better specs at a lower price. And that’s not the best news for Apple.

Oh, with just one caveat – you know how Apple is showing DaVinci Resolve and not Adobe software in their screenshots? I totally agree. Screw Premiere. Screw Final Cut, for that matter. Resolve is freakin’ awesome – and I have no idea why Adobe are as wedded as they are to NVIDIA GPUs. (Yes, a lot of machine learning stuff is also optimized for NVIDIA, but there are plenty of libraries running now on other architectures.)

It’s kind of a weird time to buy a new laptop – well, as usual. (Compromise! Always…) I’d love to see Apple improve their industrial design here, by coming up with a better keyboard and answering concerns about the GPU, or simply making a more competitive entry level option. But while the PC is stronger than ever, it does feel like we’re just one generation early when it comes to NVIDIA finally getting GPUs with desktop performance but low power generation and heat generation (and they are close).

But that’s just if you care about GPU. For audio production, it’s the CPU that really matters – and hot damn, no complaints there. Both Apple and the PC offer blazing-fast CPUs that still have absurdly long battery life. They now also both have high-speed buses – which on the PC had for a while been a stumbling block.

If you really want a Mac, I’d bargain shop to get a previous generation model with fairly high specs. If you want a PC, don’t fear Windows (and for that matter, Linux) too much.

At least now the landscape is fairly clear as we come into the end of the year. If you’ve been putting off a purchase and suffering with an old machine, the rich array of software that will run on these faster CPUs I think will mean a purchase now will make you pretty happy musically. There’s great hardware out there, but it’s also an exceptionally wonderful time for making music in the box, too. And it’s hard to complain about that.

https://www.apple.com/macbook-pro/

Photos courtesy Apple.

Previously:

Turn that MacBook Pro Touch Bar into a MIDI controller, free

The new MacBook Pro will work with your gear – if you add adapters

The post Apple MacBook Pro revision boosts CPU, display – so should you buy? appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The Clue to Apple’s MacBook Revisions is the Word “Pro”

noports

Yes, Apple is today talking about wristwatches. But judging by those glowing logos I see absolutely everywhere all the time, it’s probably MacBooks that matter to you music creating folk.

Apple today has three items of computer news:
1. They’re introducing a new, 12″ display model called the “all-new MacBook” (note that exact wording).
2. They’re updating the 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display.
3. They’re updating the MacBook Air.
(There are no changes to the 15″ model, but these revisions have historically been staggered.)

With Apple, nomenclature is everything. It’s been a while since Apple called anything “MacBook” without appending either the word “Air” or the word “Pro” to the end.

So, here’s what you need to know about the “all-new MacBook”: you don’t want it. Seriously, if you’re reading this right now, you’re not going to like it.

Just don’t panic yet. What you need to know about the Air and in particular the Pro is that nothing substantial changes, and that’s a good thing. So you won’t want the “all-new MacBook” – but Apple probably knows you won’t want it, and continues to take your money for the ones you do want.

macbookallnew

The all-new MacBook will probably be a good machine for a lot of Apple’s customers. It’s thinner and lighter and more compact for people who just want an ultra-mobile machine. But there are tradeoffs for us that won’t make sense: the display is going to be all-but-impossible to see for music production work, the processor is underpowered (it’s a mobile variant of the Core chips in the bigger machines), and now it really has no ports. There’s a single USB-C connector, and nothing else. USB-C is the so-new-nothing-supports-it future of USB, the physical gateway to a faster variant of the USB bus itself.

Someday, both USB-C and the bus underneath may be relevant to music making. And I expect we will eventually see it on the MacBook Pro. But the fact that Apple didn’t put it there today suggests even they know that you don’t want it. No hardware supports it, many adapters that make it backwards-compatible aren’t even out yet, and you want more than one port for everything if you’re doing serious production work.

In fact, in a comparison many, many people will make in coming days, the port situation on the ultra-compact 12″ model is very similar to the iPad.

Update: You will be able to use multiple ports at once. A pricey multi-adapter will support power, HDMI, and USB, for instance. And you can break out USB to a hub. But notice what’s missing: Thunderbolt. I fully expect “Pro” models from Apple will continue to feature multiple ports, and this minimalism – and the pain that comes with it – will be limited to the ultra-compact consumer-targeted models. USB-C and adapters are inevitable someday on the Pro models, but they will almost certainly not be limited to just one port.

The reason you shouldn’t immediately panic about the future of the Mac is that Apple was already differentiating the Air from the Pro, making tradeoffs for a mass market that wanted portability while retaining Pro models for people who need more connectivity and power.

And that brings us to the Air vs. Pro divide again. Here’s the funny thing: the Air has gradually gotten closer to the Pro. Over time, the engineering requirements of mobility have made tradeoffs for thinness and lightness get easier, not harder.

Sure enough, the MacBook Air is improved today over the previous model.

  • Faster CPU: fifth generation Intel Core.
  • Refreshed graphics: integrated Intel HD Graphics 6000.
  • Thunderbolt 2, delivering up to 20Gbps.
  • Faster flash storage.

So, you want this MacBook Air more than you wanted the previous MacBook Air. And you do get Thunderbolt, which is cool for some audio hardware and storage expansion (and very cool for video, if you work with that).

It’s also the first Air that starts to hold its own with the MacBook Pro in terms of ports. You get two USB3 ports and a Thunderbolt port. In fact, anyone worrying about the subtraction of ports on the MacBook should be relieved to see Apple adding ports on the MacBook Air. As the “all-new MacBook” stakes out consumer territory, the Air is drifting into producer territory. So let’s not start freaking out about how everything is turning into an iPad – it isn’t. (Apple thinks what Pros really want is Darth Vader’s powder room wastebasket, yes, but that’s another story. Hey, I want one, even if I can’t afford one.)

mbp15side

Still, even if the Air is improved, you probably still want the MacBook Pro. For a little less money and a half a pound less in weight, you have to settle for a non-Retina display, a slower processor, and an inability to max out internal storage or RAM as you can on the Pro. Oh, and the Pro also gives you a second Thunderbolt port and a better graphics card (Iris Graphics 6100 over Iris HD 6000) – those aren’t deal makers, but they’re a nice bonus.

Basically, everything is slightly better on the MacBook Pro 13″ with Retina Display:

The CPU is slightly faster – fifth generation Intel Core, 3.1 GHz tops.
The GPU is slightly faster – Intel 6100.
Flash storage can be up to two times faster (and it was already blazingly-fast on the previous model).
Battery life is slightly better.

And all of this is absolutely fantastic news –

– for anyone ready to buy the previous MacBook Pro. Why? Because the 13″ model is now something you can pick up in closeout sales. It was already a great mobile workhorse for audio production and even blazes nicely through light video work. I’m writing this on one now, and I abuse it sometimes 18 hours a day. (The 15″ remains appealing for its larger display and proper GPU, plus higher-grade specs, but the 13″ is a good choice on a budget.)

And there’s no reason to complain about the Pro. This machine is I think a great investment for a lot of people. The Retina Display is stunning, especially over long periods of use – and music apps are finally coming around to exploiting it. The internal RAM and storage is non-upgradeable, true – so max it out when you buy the machine. The price premium Apple charges is hefty, but you get high-spec, fast RAM and storage in return. (The internal flash drives are blazingly quick, and you really notice the difference in production tools. Plus, for big projects, you can always add fast USB and Thunderbolt media externally.) These are machines that can pay off their money you spend on them. You can make records; you can make iPhone apps. Nothing against PCs from other vendors – they still hold their own if you rely on the GPU, and desktop configuration works well, and a lot of people are happy with Windows. But Apple makes very competitive laptops.

I expect a lot of people will freak out about USB-C in the “all-new MacBook” and assume Apple is now coming for all your ports. I don’t think that’s the case for the forseeable future. Apple is showing a commitment to Thunderbolt as a “pro” bus – note Thunderbolt 2 on every single other model they sell.

The key is the word “Pro.” The advice I would give to anyone doing creative work is to buy the machine with “Pro” in the title, by astounding coincidence. So it seems Apple does have some strategy, and that involves what you want.

As for a watch, I recommend for now picking up a nice used Casio for a couple bucks if you tend to drop your iPhone on the pavement every time you look at the time. Speaking of which – ah, look at the time. I’ll let you all argue about this in comments. Have a nice night!

http://www.apple.com/mac/compare/

Photos courtesy Apple.

The post The Clue to Apple’s MacBook Revisions is the Word “Pro” appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Apple MacBook Refresh Makes 13″ Retina a Great Sweet Spot for Music

macbooks

The laptop is such an obvious part of music making today, it’s almost easy to understate its importance. But here’s the bottom line: for many musicians, it’s the most important gadget they’ll haul around with them. The glowing Apple logo may be the butt of some jokes, but it’s there for a reason. It’s tough to beat the versatility of a laptop for music making – and it’s tough to beat Apple on value.

No, I really said that. On paper, Apple’s machines are pricey. But while OS X, like any OS, is a complex beast and far from perfect, it’s still in my experience the easiest to maintain for music making. (And I’ve spent a lot of time with Linux and Windows, too, and I know many developers working cross-platform who tend to agree.) And so you buy this hardware to run that OS. Now, that said, Apple’s value equation isn’t so hot when it comes to desktops. The Mac Pro bests machines configured similarly, but Apple doesn’t have desktop offerings across the whole range of what you can build in a full-sized enclosure on the PC. (Let’s leave iMacs out of it for the moment.) I think there’s a reason some have turned to “Hackintosh” solutions when it comes to desktop builds.

But when it comes to the slim, battery-conscious confines of the laptop, it’s another story. What Apple gives you for that premium price is excellent support for high-speed devices (FireWire and Thunderbolt), a ridiculously fast SSD, great-feeling, thin hardware, long battery life, and a ridiculously nice display.

I’ll admit, when it came time to replace a MacBook Pro, I gulped a bit at pricing – especially here in Europe, where we pay both an import premium and added tax. MacBooks’ internal storage is especially pricey; sure, you can use external drives, but you don’t want to run out of internal space.

After a few weeks with a 13″ Retina MacBook Pro, I’ve changed my mind. The SSDs from Apple are so expensive partly because they’re high-end spec drives. Macworld’s benchmarks have consistently shown that (and likewise showed when Apple skimped on the MacBook Air); you can even read those benchmarks alongside PC World benchmarks and determine that, Mac or PC, you want a fast drive. Fortunately, this isn’t just a benchmark thing – the difference in real-world usage is astounding. Apps are responsive. Sample-heavy music apps (including clips, as in Ableton Live) purr. Multitrack audio is never an issue. The machine boots faster, loads software faster.

Recent CPU changes make a huge difference, too. Forget what people have told you about the end of the CPU: just a difference of a couple of years in Apple models has an enormous impact on CPU load using modern synths and other processor-intensive music tools.

Performance makes a difference in creativity. It means not having to worry about running out of horsepower, not losing the flow as you wait for your machine to start up or your music tool to load or a plug-in to start responding.

And then there’s the display. It’s been over a decade since I used a 13″ display in day-to-day work, and the Retina Display on the 13″ MacBook Pro makes it all possible. Unfortunately, most music apps haven’t caught up yet: Ableton Live and most of my plug-ins actually look blurry, and it took some time before I could actually feel comfortable using them. But they’ll get there soon, partly because all these new Retina machines (and similar PCs) are making their way onto the desks of developers, who are just as appalled at what they see as you are.

Battery life and mobility matters, too. Carrying a MacBook Pro around is now as easy as bringing an iPad – you get the same forget-about-it battery life and thinness and lightness that’s reminiscent of a tablet. (The MacBook Air would be even better, but it’s not as good a buy, because of an inferior display, one fewer USB port, and a slower CPU, at roughly the same price. Just get the Pro; you won’t regret it.)

I’m not going to say here get a Mac and not a PC, only that if you have been on OS X, there’s reason to feel comfortable about the price. A MacBook Pro is still a great machine to run Windows (though spend extra to make space on your internal drive to dual boot). The PC laptops wading into the same territory tend to cost the same or, most often, slightly more, if you want extended battery performance and a great display. One exception is if you want a powerful GPU; there, Apple’s premium is fairly painful, and there are fewer options. But that’s a niche application even for people doing live visuals; you have to have really intensive 3D needs (or an addiction to gaming, which doesn’t matter much at CDM) to want that GPU.

Why does this week’s “speed bump” refresh matter? Well, I was already set to recommend the 13″ Retina Pro machine as the best bang for your buck. But I was going to have to point out that you absolutely wanted 8GB RAM and not 4GB, and the bigger SSD. Now, Apple’s made that job a little easier. New this week:

1. If you’re on a budget, and mostly use your laptop with an external display attached, the non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro is just US$1099. It still has 4GB of RAM (ugh), but you could spend all the money on the upgrade.

2. The Retina 13″ machines all have marginally faster processors and come standard with 8GB of RAM. You should still have a look at refurbished computers or open box units of the most recent generation – that’s how I managed to afford my machine. But otherwise, US$1499 gets you the 256GB internal drive I’d consider a minimum, and represents the best price.

3. If you do have a little extra to spend, you can now get a quad-core i7 and up to 16GB of RAM in the 15″ models.

In my studio, I’ve opted for the 13″. Even without 16GB of RAM or an i7, it’s plenty fast – I’ve been editing HD videos in Final Cut on it with no issue, and it’s tough to max out the processor with music apps. But at least the 15″ does also give you some power for your added cash investment. And with both, refurbished models can get you a bargain.

Also, Thunderbolt is a revelation. Well, it’s first a painful revelation when you realize how much cables will cost you. (Fortunately, your existing video adapters from the previous generations of Mac will plug right into the same port; the connector is the same.)

But then, you use something like Universal Audio’s Apollo Twin, and you have a compact, rock-solid audio box that can add DSP with zero latency and stream audio from the computer with low latency. Or you try out one of the excellent new video capture tools for this bus.

Yes, you’ll need to buy a USB hub. But all in all, these are great machines.

On the PC side, honestly, I’m less sure of what to recommend than I was fairly recently – I haven’t been as impressed with Lenovo as I once was, for instance. I’d be curious to know what you’re using. But even for Windows, if we’re talking a laptop (key word, not desktop), I think the Mac is an easy box to recommend, and you have the option of running another OS if you need.

Now, there’s just one problem: we need a better way of masking out that Apple logo so it doesn’t distract when we play. Until then, I’m sticking with the 13″ MBP and a roll of gaffer tape. Done.

I realize I’ve opened a potential platform war on a weekend, but I am curious what people think. I’ll stay out of it; I’m reasonably confident in my experience with different platforms. Do have at it.

The post Apple MacBook Refresh Makes 13″ Retina a Great Sweet Spot for Music appeared first on Create Digital Music.

About iOS 7 and Audio: Patience…

You have to hand it to Apple – people do care about what they’re doing. Interest in how iOS 7 impacts audio performance is proving more dynamic than I imagined.

As an addendum to the story earlier today, it’s worth adding just two points.

1. This stuff is likely to be fixed. Of course, that’s the best argument for chilling out and waiting. Let the developers (and eager testers) try stuff out, report what isn’t working, and allow third-party developers (and Apple, where relevant) make it work again. If you’re the sort of person who likes tinkering with a phone or iPad, then you should press on. If not, then you should heed our advice.

2. There is mainly one show-stopper bug. Upgrading will mean different experiences for different users – some of you have apps that work just fine, some of you might rely on just one app you really love that hasn’t yet been updated and has some problem.

Most of the issues are isolated, but one is more widespread, and it may be enough to make you want to postpone your upgrade. Through the course of the day, we’ve heard more about the “interrupting alert” problem. From comments, one developer tells CDM readers what’s going on in clear terms – and give you a workaround, if you are upgrading today:

After the phone call or alert is dismissed, audio apps cannot recover their audio session and will either hang indefinitely, crash, or present an error message depending on the app.

The bug typically only occurs when using headphones plugged into the iOS device, and does not seem to happen when using USB audio interfaces or the built in device speaker.

Normally, once the phone call or alert is finished and dismissed, audio apps will resume playback.

It appears this particular problem – and its eventual solution – are both on the OS side. With an iOS 7.0.1 update already released in the last few hours (the same day as release), a quick fix from Apple seems possible. (7.0.1 doesn’t impact anything we’re talking about here; it’s for iPhone 5S and 5C owners only.)

This is a bit ironic to me, in that one of the things I admire about iOS on the development side is its ability to handle the lifecycle of sound in an app without developer intervention. But… well, hopefully they fix it and I can go back to admiring that.

Any major updates, we’ll carry here; otherwise, keep an eye on Twitter accounts and support forums for the latest from your favorite developers.

The post About iOS 7 and Audio: Patience… appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Windows 8 for Desktop Music Making: Faster, No Reason *Not* to Upgrade

You know, Windows 8 … on a desktop. Photo (CC-BY-ND) Filip Skakun.

“Windows 8,” in Microsoft brand vaguery, can refer to all sorts of technologies, from infamous new sets of colored tiles that mostly confuse users to touch-enabled ultrabooks to tablets to Surface to Surface Pro, from computers that run Intel chips that run traditional Windows software to ones with AMD chips that don’t.

In the near future, some of this could be cool. Imagine a conventional laptop, for instance, you can convert into a tablet for touch-enabled live performance — no iPad required.

But yes, “Windows 8″ is also the version of Windows that follows “Windows 7.” While we await more solid information on the tablet and convertible laptop picture, let’s focus on that – “Windows” as you’ve known in the past, on conventional laptops and desktop machines. That’s the OS that matters to people using Cubase, and SONAR, and Ableton Live, and FL Studio, and the like. For those conventional Windows users making music, there are two basic questions:

1. Should you upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8?
2. If you’re in the market for a new Windows computer, is Windows 8 a good choice?

The answer to each turns out to be, basically, “yes.” Windows 8 is either just as fast as Windows 7 or faster when it comes to running live music performance and music production apps, and upgrades are inexpensive and painless. Being able to squeeze more performance out of your machine is probably worth jumping for the upgrade, given there’s no real downside (since the compatibility picture remains basically the same as with Windows 7). Upgrading for the sake of it isn’t always worth it, but in this case the improvements in performance, while marginal, appear to offset the cost in time.

As for adding any new annoyances, if you find you miss the Start menu, you can bring it back – in fact, you can switch on a better alternative (see Lifehacker). Or you can simply ignore the new-fangled tiles and (more or less) use Windows as you knew it before.

You don’t have to go by impulse alone, however. We have two reliable sources of test information, to whom we’ve turned in the past here at CDM: PC maker Rain Computing, a rare PC OEM that optimizes their machines specifically for music makers, and Windows-only DAW developer and music tech vendor Cakewalk and their ever-knowledgeable CTO Noel Borthwick.

I hope we’ll talk to Noel more in detail as Cakewalk does more with their SONAR software on the new hardware and OS, but he tells CDM that depening on your specific configuration, you should at worst get performance on par with Windows 7 – and, very possibly, performance gains. He also says Cakewalk’s testing has been unable to uncover any significant compatibility issues.

Good reading on the topic, with some hard performance numbers:

WINDOWS 8 – A BENCHMARK FOR MUSIC PRODUCTION APPLICATIONS [Cakewalk Blog]

Conclusions from Noel:

The tests ran very smoothly with no problems noted under Win8 using SONAR X1. In fact you could push the system harder under Win8 without getting glitches in audio as compared to Win7. The tests show that despite the controversial changes to Windows, there are some significant benefits even for standard Windows desktop apps running Windows 8. This is great news for existing Windows 7 users who are considering an upgrade to Windows 8.

Synthtopia asked their readers the questions above, with the following results:
Should Musicians Upgrade to Windows 8?

Some Mac vs. Windows and Linux vs. Windows advice creeps in there, which is a whole other ballgame. But what you will see is that users are generally finding things work just as well as they did under Windows 7, often with a small but noticeable performance boost.

Rain Computers also have put the new OS through the paces, running a number of benchmarks, and been impressed with the results (see video, below).

Windows 8 – Audio Performance Testing

So, let’s talk to Rain about the specifics. Jami McGraw and Robin Vincent join us from the UK offices of Rain to share their results.

Rain Goes Windows 8: Interview, Video

CDM: In your testing, you say you singled out Steinberg’s UR28M audio interface for testing. Why did you opt for that interface in particular?

Robin: I happen to have one knocking around and it’s recently had a driver update that takes if from a well-featured donkey to a well featured thoroughbred. It doesn’t have magnificent drivers like an RME box – it has decent mid-level ones like most interfaces (Focusrite, Presonus., etc.), so it has a better chance of being representative.

Ed.: I’ll leave those vendors to argue among themselves about who has the best drivers, but vendors, Robin’s comments are in line with the reputation I typically hear for each of you, just so you know! -PK

Right now, it seems there’s little reason not to upgrade from W7 to W8 – especially as there are copious guides for disabling features people may find annoying. Did you find any reasons people might want to consider legacy compatibility?

Robin: I can’t think of reasons why people would stick with W7 over W8 other than the interface. XP still has its devotees because of particular pieces of software but i dont think that applies to an upgrade from 7-8. It doesn’t appear to have left anything behind. I would say that if you put the old Start Menu back then you are preventing yourself from learning a new and i believe more powerful interface – and you’re going to look like an idiot when using anyone else’s computer.

Jami: There is a general performance increase and stability increase in Windows 8 alone that makes it worth its weight. Also, the Start menu is still there; it’s just a Start ‘screen’ now. You have an identical desktop landscape; however, instead of having this little corner-based start menu, you have an easy-to-navigate full-screen start environment. Regarding compatibility, every major hardware manufacturer had Windows 8 drivers out for the consumer preview on. There are little to no drawbacks. And considering most interfaces are USB based-now, you have USB 3 now native in the OS, which ensures better backwards compatibility. A win-win, IMOJ.

Apart from performance gains, is there anything in Windows 8 that might be a draw for users evaluating the OS for musical applications?

Robin: I think touch is going to become increasingly interesting – but the hardware manufacturers haven’t worked out that a subsidiary touch screen could be a desirable tool for professionals. I don’t want a 24” touch screen vertically before me – my usual screen is fine – but I do want a side screen, maybe 17”, that’s touch-enabled that sits flat between keyboard and screen on which i can touch stuff. Smithson Martin’s Emulator software springs to mind – an awesome Lemur-like controller. I have a Dell touchscreen (22”) on order and plan to review Emulator once it’s here and I’ll also be looking into other areas with it. Currently software has to be touch-enabled to use more than a single touch or gesture – so you can’t just start moving eight faders simultaneously in Cubase with a touch screen – Cubase has to be enabled for that. Touch is very focused on the tablets at the moment which is a shame, as it could be far more interesting on big desktop machines.

Ed.: Suffice to say that we’re following the development of touch-enabled apps closely. Some apps do support is already – though not Cubase – and that’s best left for another article. It’s a landscape that’s changing.)

Robin: There’s one element that I’m unsure about and that’s the connection between “apps” and the desktop. As I understand it, at the moment, all apps freeze when the desktop opens – so if we were to consider all the cool iPad music apps like the Moog, Korg, Fairlight, etc., if they became W8 compatible would we be able to use them with our DAW? One advantage the PC has over tablets is immense CPU power, so surely it would make sense to enable the desktop to connect to multiple apps all running at the same time, all wired in via some virtual MIDI cable – but this, at the moment, looks unlikely.

Are you doing anything different in terms of optimizing Rain systems for the OS? Or, if not, can you summarize what you’ve been doing on W7 and W8?

Jami: We are doing some things quite differently, and others much of the same. Regarding taming the systems services, and boiling the OS down to a lean, mean performance rig, we still do much of that. However, aesthetically, we no longer need to cripple down to a no-bells-or-whistles appearance, because Microsoft has written this version much thinner and more efficiently than any of its predecessors. It’s the “have your cake and eat it too” type thing, which really makes for a smooth experience on a Rain.

Is touch something Rain is evaluating?

Jami: Yes, touch has definitely been tested. Many applications have add on drivers to use your tablet (not naming names) as a controller, which we have tested. However, touch monitors were the new sexy for us for a bit. Windows 7 had touch capability as well, but we found leaning up to touch your screen was not a great work flow process. And in the event your monitor isn’t a foot away from you, you would end up having to lean forward for every gesture. On the drawback, if your monitor WAS a foot away, we found our test subjects to go cross eyed after a 45 minute editing session. The coolest thing we are testing as of now is the touch pad mouse. It seems to have the best of both worlds. And when used tandem with a standard optical mouse, it made my workflow much more efficient.

One other thing – i should make clear that the [Rain] video [see above] in no way proves that upgrading your computer will result in better performance. There may be all sort of things contained in the upgrade process, or things that are carried over from your Windows 7 installation that would hamper the performance of Windows 8. The video makes no comment on that either way – I purely used brand-new technology and fresh installations. That said, I’ve heard of plenty of people who have experienced a small bump in performance after upgrading. It should also be stressed that the improvement is small.

What About New Windows 8 Applications and Tablets?

It’s early to judge how new Windows 8-style applications will fare on desktop and tablets (and new hybrid devices in between). There’s hardware out there, but quality can be spotty, particularly on the all-important touch sensor. I think it’s safe to expect a more mature crop of devices early next year. And the ARM-based tablets are particularly new. (In turn, Microsoft’s own Intel-based tablet, the Surface Pro, won’t be out until 2013.)

One particularly good piece of news, though. In June, we expressed concern that new Windows 8 apps for the environment then called “Metro” – now the next-generation app platform from Microsoft – wouldn’t allow low-latency audio.

Music Developer on Windows 8: A Leap Forward for Desktops; A Leap Backward for Metro, WinRT?

We’ve since heard via Noel Borthwick confirmation that WASAPI Exclusive Mode, a critical mechanism for providing low-latency audio, will be supported on the new platform. That doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate real-world low-latency performance – I think there’s a lot of hardware and software testing you’d want to do before making any final judgment – but it means some real promise for the platform, in a way that is absent on Google’s Android.

Via Synthtopia, Sonic State’s Sonic Talk program talks with Wizdom Music’s Jordan Rudess and Kevin Chartier – noted iOS (and Android, Blackberry) developers – about why they’re excited about touch development on the new gear.

What About System Builders, Mac Users Dual-Booting?

One final note: you’ll notice it’s even harder than before to look beyond “Upgrade” editions of Windows. If you’re building your own machine, or you’re a Mac or Linux user wanting to boot to Windows or install it in a virtual environment, there is still a version of Windows for you. It just has a new name: the System Builder’s Edition. Tracking it down can also be a bit of a challenge. Remember, unless you already have a copy of Windows installed, you can’t use the upgrade versions. I’ll be trying this myself on my MacBook Pro, so stay tuned.

Nearly half of CDM readers do still use Windows, so don’t worry – we haven’t forgotten about you. Expect more information soon.

Other questions, advice? Let us know.

Ableton Live 64-Bit Beta: How it Works, And Some Caveats

This number “64″ is important to some people making music. Here, we get to explain why, if you should even be concerned, and what it’ll mean to run Live in 64-bit. Photo (CC-BY-SA) shizhao.

Sung to the tune of the Beatles’ iconic “When I’m 64 [bit]…”

Do you need memory? /
Lotsa more memory? /
You want sixty-four.

Ableton Live 8.4 is available in beta, making 64-bit available to Live users, and thus making Live exactly two times more in the sound as the previous version.

Wait, no… that’s not right. Let’s try again: With 64-bit, you get twice as much of things as Live in 32-bit, because 64 is twice 32.

No… also not right. Let’s back up.

64-bit has been a surprisingly-anticipated feature in Live. But, while it’s a logical evolution for the software, its principle utility is for people who need to consume lots of memory in their sets and sample libraries. 64-bit operation is something we’ve been talking about for a long time in audio; in CDM’s first year, we were talking about the advent of a 64-bit version of SONAR for Windows. (That’s the year 2005.) But actually seeing it has taken more time, as operating systems, drivers, software, and plug-ins have caught up. The important question is why you need it in the first place. 64-bit computation really boils down to one major issue: you can get a marginal improvement in performance (something Cakewalk’s engineers measured early on), but the real reason to do it is greater memory access.

If you are memory hungry, this is a bigger deal. Ableton Live, as a 32-bit application, maxes out at 4 GB — a bit less if you’re running on a 32-bit version of Windows. So, assuming you have a 64-bit OS and CPU and additional physical RAM, having a 64-bit app means you eliminate that RAM ceiling, with the ability to use up to 16 exabytes. (That’s not a typo. It translates to “more RAM than you can possibly have right now. It’s like seeing a speed limit on a highway that reads 50000 mph, when you’re driving an ordinary VW Jetta.)

The 64-bit Live 8.4 is still a beta, though, and there are some caveats. What works:

  • 64-bit plug-ins.
  • ReWire. (ReWire is now 64-bit, as are apps like Propellerhead Reason.)
  • Existing Live sets with internal instruments.

What doesn’t work:

  • Max for Live.
  • Video.
  • 32-bit plug-ins — without an adapter.

Max for Live and video support are coming soon.

Plug-ins are, for most people, the potential deal-breaker. There, we’ve got bad news, and some (better) good news. The bad news is, Ableton doesn’t include a built-in adapter for using 32-bit plug-ins in your 64-bit set. That’s something I very much hope Ableton solves by the time they ship their next major upgrade; most other hosts already provide something like that. (Even little-known hosts like Renoise and Reaper do that.)

But you can use your 32-bit plug-ins with the 64-bit beta. Adapters like jBridge on Windows make 32-bit plug-ins operate relatively seamlessly. An early version of Ableton’s FAQ suggested that you could only open 32-bit Live sets in the 64-bit version if you had 64-bit versions of any plug-ins you were using. I followed up with Ableton on that, though, and learned that – so long as you have jBridge running as the adapter – you can open that set, and 32-bit plug-ins will run in the adapter. So, opening 32-bit sets shouldn’t be a problem in the long run.

For now, I wouldn’t recommend running Live 8.4 as your primary version, but it is labeled a beta. You can install the 64-bit version, however, alongside your current, stable 32-bit setup. That seems the best option, as with any beta. And if Ableton can include a standard, supported wrapper format, then Live in 64-bit could well be ready for prime time, especially once video and Max for Live support is done.

On the other hand, if your memory needs are modest – or you don’t have tons of available memory to begin with — for now, sticking with the current version of Live is your best bet.

If you do push the envelope with memory usage, and you’re interested in beta testing, we’d love to hear how it goes for you. (Just makes sure to file bug reports / feedback if you find anything Ableton should know.)

When it’s finished, this will be a free update for registered users of Live 8 – all of its versions.

Details from Ableton:
Download
32-bit versus 64-bit FAQ

Also, I understand that the number that follows the number “eight” is the number “nine,” and I suspect if anything happens regarding numbers higher than eight, we’ll cover them here.

Mac OS Lion 10.7 is Here; The Obligatory Take-Your-Time Post, with NI and Apogee Info

King of the jungle, as seen at the British Museum. Photo (CC-BY-ND) wootang01/mckln (Uninteresting side note – I happened to be at this location yesterday.)

It’s become something of a tradition here on CDM. Apple releases new OS. Music developers – one or more – release notes that suggest you might want to wait to upgrade. It happens every time, and so you should be cautious every time. This time, it may be even more serious: developers are describing symptoms that they say they haven’t seen in previous updates.

Native Instruments, often some of the first out of the gate with reported issues, has already flagged one significant set of problems that will likely dissuade their users from upgrading right away. (Think immediate crashes with 64-bit plug-ins.) But just because they’re the first to report something doesn’t mean that there won’t be other issues. Apple operating systems tend to change right up to release, and music developers have limited test resources, and music software is sensitive stuff. Do the math.

I’ve been told specifically that there are significant issues involving plug-in validation, which can go as far as causing DAWs to crash. (I have not confirmed that this is necessarily related to the symptom NI is describing; it’s better to look at it this way — stuff you rely on has changed and you may want to be patient.) Some of these issues may occur during Mac OS X testing, but because of the complexity of supporting things like Audio Units, I think it’s fair to give credit to music developers who say they may not be able to keep up with OS release timeframes. If there is a more significant long-term issue with compatibility, we’ll report it here.

Also, we have now multiple confirmed reports of significant crashes that should strongly dissuade all musicians from upgrading at this time, until there’s a timeframe for fixes. (I’m bolding that just in case anyone should miss this message.) Updated: these symptoms are reported in a variety of hosts.

Oddly, some of these regular posts by me have caused people to accuse me of being anti-Apple, which is like saying someone is anti-bicycle for suggesting you wear a helmet (or shoes).

Let me put it more clearly: if you like to test things yourself, and don’t mind an occasional problem, you should upgrade, at your own risk. (Just don’t complain if it doesn’t work.) If you prefer to let the companies you pay for your software do the testing, and you’ve got a system that’s running well, don’t. If you’re in the middle of a project or trying to finish an album or playing later tonight, you should take a deep breath and think about what you think is prudent.

If you’re the kind of person who never makes backups, there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do for you. May the computer gods have mercy upon your soul.

Here’s what NI has to say, though they tell CDM that they’re continuing to do tests and expect to have more information soon. I expect to hear from other developers, too – and, of course, what we’ll hear from some of them is that everything’s fine.

Native Instruments has conducted initial compatibility tests with pre-release versions of Mac OS X 10.7, and has found an issue that causes the 64-bit versions of NI applications to crash both when used stand-alone and as a plug-in.*

The cause of this issue has been successfully determined, and updates for the affected products are currently in development, with their respective release planned for September or earlier. In the meantime, users should utilize the 32-bit versions of the respective NI applications**, or consider to refrain from updating to Mac OS X 10.7 for the time being.

The following products have so far been updated with a 64-bit fix for Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion”:
BATTERY 3.2.2

Native Instruments has observed no additional compatibility issues under Mac OS X 10.7 yet, but will conduct further systematic tests once it has access to the final release version of the operating system. New information will be provided on this page as it becomes available.

Full NI post:
Mac OS X Compatibility [updated regularly, so if you use a lot of NI stuff, bookmark!]

Apogee is also out of the gate with the first solid hardware compatibility. So far, they have confirmed compatibility with Duet 2, GiO, JAM
ONE, and Symphony I/O; ONE low-latency mixing compatibility is coming next month. Duet and Ensemble will be compatible soon; Symphony 64 for X-Series and Rosetta Series converters is listed as TBA.

More telling than that, though, is the advice Apogee gives about upgrading (remember what I said about backups?) –

Apogee Product Compatibility Overview: Mac OS X Lion

– and this advice: “If uninterrupted operation of your studio is critical, please wait for an official Lion OS compatibility message from Apogee.”

I’d just skip that last clause and apply it to everyone.

By the way, does anyone remember the days when SoundHack and SoundStudio were the only two apps you could run natively on Mac OS X? Ah, those were the days. I had that, Mail.app, a browser, and TextEdit.app, but someone had to be an early adopter…