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Archive for June, 2009
Startley Technologies has just released QuicKeys 4 for Mac OS X ($59.95, $29.95 upgrade) and emusicians will find a couple of pleasant surprises.
My favorite new feature is MIDI triggers: you can set up any MIDI control change, program change or note message to trigger any QuicKeys shortcut, and you can even specify a value range, device and MIDI channel. After upgrading, it took only a few seconds to set up my MIDI sustain pedal to advance step entry in Ableton Live 8. Conveniently, the MIDI message is also passed through so the sustain pedal continues to work normally.
Instant Shortcuts is another of my favorites. Recording instant shortcuts works just like normal shortcut recording, but when you finish recording you don’t have to bother with any setup dialog. You can trigger the instant shortcut (there is only one at a time) from the QuicKeys menu-bar menu or using a normal shortcut. For example, you could configure a MIDI CC to trigger the current instant shortcut.
I’m sure you’ve already heard plenty about the new Apple iPhone 3Gs models that are scheduled to be available this Friday. They promise to be faster and even more fully featured than the current 3G models (which will be dropped in price to $99). For a good summary of the features and pricing, check out this story from PC World.
Current iPhone owners who don’t want to shell out the bucks for an iPhone 3Gs can still get some cool improvements with the free 3.0 operating system ($10 for iPod touch users), which will also be available on June 19th. That promises a lot of improvements including cut, copy, and paste; a landscape keyboard in the Mail app (a boon for typing emails, and a big improvement over the portrait-oriented keyboard in the current OS), turn-by-turn directions for the GPS (you’ll have to purchase a third-party app to access this feature), and, built-in voice-memo recording.
What the new iPhone models and operating system will mean for music apps on the platform remains to be seen. But in the meantime, new ones keep popping up. Here are a couple I’ve tried lately. (Read more about iPhone music apps in the EM feature story, “iPhoning it In“.)
Scale Wizard 1.01 ($1.99): Planet WavesGuitarists looking for fingerings for virtually any scale at any fret will love this app. You can see the fingering for, and listen to (either ascending, descending, or by individual note) virtually any scale, mode, or arpeggio in any key. It’s simple to use and a boon for any guitarist.
FiRe 1.0.0 ($5.99, Audiofile Engineering). Designed as a field recorder for your iPhone/iPod Touch, this app is well-designed and very useful. Large Play and Record buttons greet you when you open the app. It defaults to mono, but if you plug in a stereo mic (I tried it with the Blue Mikey, which it only supports on the iPhone 3G not the iPod touch 2G), and restart the app, it supports stereo recording. You can easily drop in markers, add Broadcast WAVE metadata, and record in a variety of quality levels topping out at 16-bit, 44.1 kHz. Like BIAS’s iPro Recorder app (reviewed in “iPhoning it In“) the display will rotate when you turn your iPhone or iPod touch around, which is handy because mics plug into the dock port which is on the bottom of the unit. The rotating display lets you view the app right side up when recording with an external mic. One feature that’s a bit puzzling is Overdub. You’re able to record on top of a previous recording, but you can’t hear your original while doing so. I’m not sure of the utility of this, but perhaps I’m missing something. You also get a bunch of different export options including FTP. I was able to easily download files through the browser based transfer method. I’d love to see an editing feature added, and monitoring while overdubbing, but overall, this is a very slick app.
I saw the writing on the wall when my trusty Power Mac G5 began sounding like a Cuisinart. After lengthy discussions with friends inside and outside of Apple, I decided that my next machine would be the new-generation 2.66GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro. I ordered mine preconfigured with the maximum 8GB of RAM, two 1TB hard drives, a 24-inch Apple LED Cinema Display and AppleCare, which covers the Mac Pro and Cinema Display if you purchase them at the same time. The units arrived in a few days, and the fun began.
I unpacked and set up the display and computer, then crawled under the desk to hook them up. In addition to its Mini DisplayPort and USB leads, the 24-inch Cinema Display has a MagSafe lead to power a MacBook Pro. Not needing the MagSafe connection, I wrapped that lead around the others—a bad idea that my wife lumps in with things we forgot to tell our kids not to do.
I pressed the Mac Pro power button and after some whirring heard the word English coming from my dark new Cinema Display. I repeated this exercise several times before unplugging and reconnecting all leads and, unintentionally, letting the MagSafe lead come unwound. When I again powered up, the display sprang to life.
One of the first things I noticed was that, according to Activity Monitor, I had eight cores. A friend had suggested the shareware system-monitoring application iStat, so I gave that a try. It’s a great tool—for one thing, all the meters reside in the menu bar—but it still showed eight cores. Skeptical that I had just won the CPU lottery, I nosed around discussions.apple.com (an invaluable resource) and found that this is due to Hyper-threading, which treats each processor like two.
On the advice of a friend, I decided to use Apple’s Migration Assistant for only network and computer settings and to do everything else manually. That takes quite a bit longer—I’m still not finished transferring all applications—but because I was moving from a PPC to an Intel machine and also upgrading from Tiger to Leopard, it seemed like prudent advice.
So I started banging away on my new Bluetooth wireless keyboard typing in data and serial numbers. Every twenty minutes or so a semi-transparent image of the keyboard would appear on the screen displaying the words Connection Lost. I could re-establish the connection from the Bluetooth drop-down, but it was an annoying show-stopper.
I called AppleCare and was told to run Software Update to ensure my system was up to date. That I did and then went back to work until the connection was lost again. On my next call I was told to zap the PRAM: restart holding Option-Command-P-R and let the startup chime ring three or so times before letting go. That I did and then went back to work until the connection was lost again. On the third call I was told to reset the system by unplugging everything, including the power, waiting a few minutes and then reconnecting everything. That I did and then went back to work until the connection was lost again. On the fourth call, the AppleCare tech decided to take the issue upstairs, where he learned that this is a Leopard/Bluetooth problem that is awaiting a fix. My takeaway is that you can save yourself and the folks at AppleCare a lot of time by updating, zapping and resetting before your first call.
Next up was a test of two new Leopard features: Spaces and Time Machine. I had been warned that some applications don’t work well with Spaces, and as much as I liked the convenience, I finally gave up—primarily because Microsoft Word and Excel from Office: Mac 2008 were so unstable.
Time Machine is a great step forward in backup, and even though it doesn’t create a bootable backup drive, I wouldn’t be without it. I did find that backing up to an external FireWire drive frequently created problems with my FireWire audio interface. I’ve been told that playing around with daisy-chaining configurations (I used separate FireWire ports) can often solve the problem, but I decided to install a third internal drive devoted to Time Machine backups.
At that point, about a week into the transition, I thought things were going pretty smoothly. Then I started hearing strange noises coming from the Mac Pro, nothing like the G5 Cuisinart but unsettling and distracting. I lived with it for a day or so hoping it would go away, then ran a couple of searches on discussions.apple.com. I found several relevant posts, one suggesting that the problem could be a loose bolt holding a hard drive to its sled or holding a PCIe card in place. I yanked all the drives, and sure enough, one of the bolts had come loose.
So now, about a month later, the machine sits quietly under my desk, the display is bright, the wireless keyboard is on the shelf and I’m backed up at all times. That leaves a little time for writing and music, and oh yes, the track count is huge.
I just got a new computer, and it was such an astounding bargain, I just have to pass it on to our readers. Up until Apple introduced the latest crop of Mac Pros in January, the 8-core 3.2GHz model was the top of the line. The retail price was $4,649, and Apple currently sells it refurbished for $3,799. Right now, ExperCom has them new for $2,849, and that includes three years of AppleCare, which Apple sells for $249. That means you can save $2,049 over retail, or $1,199 over Apple’s current price for a refurb. That’s right, ExperCom has them brand new for $1,199 less than Apple has them refurbished — no catch.
I found out about this deal on Friday, and I was naturally a little skeptical at first. I checked out ExperCom’s reputation on sites that rate online businesses, and they were well recommended. I recognized the distinct sound of opportunity knocking, so I sprang to action and ordered one that same day. MyMac Pro delivered this afternoon, and I gotta tell you, I’m a happy man. (I should also mention that I was expecting a single Superdrive, but it came with two, so add another $100 to the savings over Apple’s price.) So if you’re in the market for 2008’s fastest Mac at a scarcely believable price, I suggest you give ExperCom a call and order one before they’re all gone. Tell ‘em EM sent you.
Many tech prognosticators predict that “cloud computing”—where applications reside on a central server that you access through the Web—is the wave of the future. Instead of having your own software locally on your computer, you’ll get all your apps online. There are some examples of that already, such as the many online apps that Google offers. However, Indaba Music, an online collaboration Web site, is taking cloud computing to the recording space with the announcement today of a browser-based DAW, tentatively called Session Console 2.0, which is built on the Sun Microsystems Java/FX platform.
According to Indaba, this application, which is scheduled to be released in July, will allow you to record high quality audio, and will give you editing, looping, and mixing capabilities. An Indaba spokesperson told me that any audio hardware that works with your computer’s audio system will work with the software. This version will not have MIDI-sequencing capabilities, however.
In addition to working with the DAW through your browser, you’ll be able to drag a copy of the DAW to your desktop for working offline. The software will work with both Macs and PCs.
Indaba has been beta testing the software with a number of musical artists, including Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. The company previewed a video for the press with Cuomo talking about how much he likes working with the software. The gist of his presentation was that he doesn’t like complicated DAW software, and that the Indaba Console was really simple to use.
I’ll keep you apprised as more details about this application become available.
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