May 29

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-05-29

  • "@bafadam "I hate jokes". Fixed! #
  • JoCo: "Know only this: to do this you need to work extremely hard, make music that is great, and find people to buy it from you. The end." #
  • Want to switch the tone of your guitar based on simulating different guitar cable impedances? Without changing cables? http://bit.ly/iGqBl4 #
  • "The ONLY thing we need to make this work is x". "X is done". "Actually, I meant that the ONLY things we need to make this work are y,z&p". #
  • Was feeling behind at day job, then went through to-do list and realized I've completed 700+ items in the last three weeks. #stillbehind #
  • Hoping my drum teacher Rod gets here soon so I can get back to the day job catchup. #
  • FYI, my timeline is dead, so I've seen no tweets for the last 11 hrs… (I'm not ignoring people!) #
  • Wow, got a really hurtful email today from someone I care about who has no history with a project I'm struggling with. #
  • Micing my drums and monitoring myself through the mics at a quieter level into my soundproof headphones has greatly improved my playing. #
  • From @CaptSpectacular : "is this surprise going to be cool?" @Kim_Stone : "*I* think so." "Then it's not going to be cool." #
  • TOO beers comin right on up #
  • Family breakfast convo: preventing Cholera by giving everyone their own river, so no one is downstream. And, lifecycle of Malaria parasite. #
  • It would be a fascinating sci-fi tale: rather than sewers, a massive "no one is downstream from anyone else" fan-canal agrarian "city". #
  • Morroccan-dry-rubbed steak is resting before GRILL TIME! #
  • Rudy: "We're going where?! I was hoping to meet a girl on the Australia trip!" Al: "C''Mon! African War Zone! Ship of Death!" #
May 22

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-05-22

  • Today I learned that I need to EQ my Hofner violin-body bass guitar more like an acoustic guitar, and less like an electric bass. #3hrslater #
  • I don't know why it tickles me so much that you can tune the drums in a drumset to specific notes, but it does. My snare is a B-flat. #
  • 12 year old volleyball party in park behind my house: 3 times is the legal limit to put Bieber's "Baby" on repeat. PARTY FOUL! #makeitstop #
  • Such great customer service at Cadcade Microphones! #
  • Are there female-fronted hard rock bands like "In This Moment" that don't have the scream-o? I like love those songs except for that. :/ #
  • Snipers with unmoving targets don't shoot for the chest. #Castle #justsayin #
  • Fonts as dog breeds: http://bit.ly/jDs9es (note that site seems to be bigoted vs Comic Sans) #
  • Want to watch a rock-funky music video shot in Denver that has ZOMBIES?! http://bit.ly/mKEpxd #
  • There are few arguments that "show me the data" doesn't eventually make easier. #
  • I have a great power to help people understand each other. But it exhausts me to use it. I wish I had enough juice for all to benefit. #
  • I just saw a Honey Badger, but Honey Badger don't give a $!@%!!! http://lockerz.com/s/103083652 #
  • Well new org chart is a bit odd, but could have been worse. #
  • What I spent my afternoon fixing. The fabulous life of a grownup. http://lockerz.com/s/103335816 #
  • Some behind-the-scenes pics from last night's museum event! http://lockerz.com/s/103357136 #
  • It's just plywood with sand on it! http://lockerz.com/s/103357275 #
  • And along the back there's a huge gap! http://lockerz.com/s/103357432 #
  • And after a day of work drama llama and a near basement flood, it's time for a little wandering poet! http://lockerz.com/s/103357861 #
  • Baby bunny hiding in the irises! http://lockerz.com/s/103599437 #
  • At the museum on Thursday, the mammal curator challenged us to figure out how to make animal dioramas relevant for twitterkids. Pondering. #
  • Here's @Kim_Stone facing the array of mics for our shootout! http://lockerz.com/s/103694829 #
  • Drum time is over when your stick bag is empty, and the floor looks like a logging camp! http://lockerz.com/s/103919298 #
  • If you are curious, the winner of yesterday's mic shootout with @Kim_Stone was the MXL V63M condenser. Will do a full writeup at some point. #
  • Pondering what kind of tree to plant to soften the view my neighbor's backyard playmobil. Thoughts? http://lockerz.com/s/103948528 #
  • Realized most exciting part of museum dioramas is the adventure tale of the expedition to get the animals. How to play up w/o PETA-flack? #
May 15

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-05-15

  • If you haven't seen Michael Bolton laying down this big sexy hook, you are missing out: http://bit.ly/meaj2l #
  • Curious as to why enterprise applications tend to weave into a giant mass just like a box of cords in the corner? http://t.co/NwCd0uB #
  • Does anyone have horror stories of personal injuries from their hobbies? Like my friend who got a papercut on his eyeball playing D&D? #
  • Working through the afternoon listening to Prong is not enhancing my calm. Time to change it up. #
  • I declare victory over the invader! http://campl.us/6v5 #
  • Really like the ending that the pirates got in this week's Doctor Who. #
  • I had to do a 'solo' for my drum teacher, but it sounded lonely, so I added bass and guitar. :): Warming Up Song http://snd.sc/lB9nVi #
  • My new sounds: GooLoo on #SoundCloud http://snd.sc/inEP4c #
  • Took a first pass at a ground-up ergonomic reimagining of my drum kit setup. Baby tom above med tom, cymbals closer. http://campl.us/7OS #
  • Not to be too fanboyish, but I <3 @github. #
  • After an odd and unsettling last call of the day, I feel extra lucky to be heading to @Sushi_Sasa #
  • Trying to relieve the week with some "Fresh and Light". http://campl.us/8iF #
  • After finally having a real chance to try it out, the new drum layout is a winner. Need to tweak the ride position a bit, though. #
  • Sitting down to record some @wtfawd with the @brantsteen #
  • Every time I see @ThisIsTheRealJT from Duran Duran really play bass, my jaw drops. So funky-fast-cool. DD 'd be an emo band but for him. ūüôā #
May 08

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-05-08

  • Hopefully this makes is clear that large-scale national security operations can and will be carried out across adminstrations. #
  • Today's guitar nerd observation: I live the harmonic minor scale. Thanks @FretlightGuitar ! #
  • I have stumped the IRS. #
  • High octane meeting morning! Building consensus through perseverance and Zen. #
  • Why do employers want you to have a @github account as part of your resume? Listen to the latest @wtfawd to find out: http://t.co/uBXbC98 #
  • A quote that is running through my head today: "Find your thing, and stay up late for your thing." #
  • Matt Ritter's "Unburying the Beater" video really made a difference in my bass drum playing, especially once my teacher watched it too. ūüôā #
  • There's just no substitute for having a music teacher watching what you are actually playing compared to what you *think* you're doing… ūüôā #
  • Trying to find another way to say "anything could happen hypothetically, can we start with the likely and work from there?" #
  • "If you have ever been in a band where you had to recreate Beatle songs, you would have realized that Ringo Starr was no slouch." #
  • If you are a software dev, what things do you wish you or your junior people came out of college knowing that you learned the hard way? #
  • I wonder, when James Lipton from Inside the Actor's Studio was composing the theme for 'Thundercats', if he notated the random guitar licks. #
  • "The automated process will need access to this disk." "What process?" "The one we talked about in the meeting 30 minutes ago". "What?" #
  • Have you played with #SoundCloud I'm listening to #nsfw electronica from Denver: "YMF" by @Rauschmusic : http://t.co/YDaDq3n #
  • Helooooo @CaptSpectacular ? Where are yoooouuuuuu? #
  • Hmm. Need to figure out how to convince more bands to play @thesoileddove – they all keep playing Denver venues with standing GA only. ūüôĀ #
  • Finally found @CaptSpectacular ! http://campl.us/4Se #
  • Here's @CaptSpectacular upon hearing about our 30 minute restaurant wait… http://campl.us/4Sj #
  • From @CaptSpectacular : "Justice is people getting what they deserve, Law is people getting what other people think they deserve" #
  • From @CaptSpectacular : "Justice is people getting what they deserve, Law is people getting what other people think they deserve." #
  • Racking my Morimoto Soba Ale clone into the secondary fermenter. Hoping to ward off @Kim_Stone 's bad infection juju! http://campl.us/4Uz #
  • Weeds pulled with @CaptSpectacular 's surprisingly dedicated help! Enjoying my Copper Kaffir #homebrew which is surpisingly mellow and mmmm! #
  • Sitting on the front porch with my surprisingly potent #homebrew and thinking of friends and loves… #
May 03

MOTU 896mk3 Audio Interface / Digital Mixer Review and Tips

I’ve been¬†working¬†with computer audio since the 80’s, and I’ve used a number of different little boxes to get audio from a microphone and instruments and into the computer – mostly on the Macintosh.

Mark of the Unicorn (aka MOTU) is a company that’s been around since those early days of Macintosh audio. ¬†Their “Digital Performer” Mac-only DAW is still one of the most respected platforms in an increasingly crowded field.

I recently had the opportunity to upgrade from my M-Audio Profire 610 Firewire Audio Interface to a MOTU 896mk3 Audio Interface & Digital Mixer.

MOTU 896Mk3

The MOTU 896Mk3 - image ©MOTU

My frustration with the ProFire had a lot to do with interference – as I’ve posted before, it was very prone to picking up DVI interference from flat-panel monitors.

While I had been able to get by with the ProFire by using better cables and routing things carefully, I recently upgraded to a new flat-panel monitor which ran at a higher refresh rate.  Once again, the ProFire started picking up the whine, and nothing I could do would get rid of it.  The 896 has been absolutely silent on FireWire. No whine from the monitor, and no noise from guitar pickups or the USB connection for my Fretlight.

In addition, I was looking at being able to record acoustic drums, and the two microphone preamps on the ProFire just weren’t enough to be able to do that. ¬†I did a great deal of research, and in the end chose the MOTU.

Here’s why:

  • 8 microphone preamps with built-in soft and hard limiting
  • 8 analog outputs, each with their own mix of all other inputs
  • 4 ADAT Digital I/O ports, for a total of 16 inputs and 16 outputs (more useful than you’d think…)
  • Extensive front-panel meters and controls
  • Full-19″ rack width, but only ~10″ deep, and only weighing ~ 4 lbs.
  • ADAT Ports can be used to connect another 8 mic preamps and MIDI I/O via a MOTO “8-Pre” box
  • Extremely well-reviewed and tested software and drivers, including many audio analysis tools
  • Firewire 800 I/O to the computer, so works on Mac and PC
  • Recommendation from my friend Brant (based on his pro-recording friend’s recommendation)

What’s missing compared to the ProFire (and other competitors):

  • MIDI I/O (I already have a separate M-Audio USB MIDI box, so this was easy)
  • “Octane” Mic-Preamps (896 mic pre’s are very flat, not as “nice out of the box” as the ProFire)
  • Lots of Software Returns

Dealing with “Flat” Microphone Preamps

The Octane Preamps on the ProFire sound very good for vocals out of the box. Their “natural” EQ is just very flattering. ¬†The 896’s PreAmps are “flat”: they have no particular EQ response. ¬†This is good, in that they are more flexible, but bad in that I’m still working on finding EQ settings in my DAW that recapture the “natural” magic of the Octane pre’s. ¬†I’m still working on this…hopefully a full report later. ¬†I will say that a bit of a boost in the midrange seems to help. ¬†The preamps in the 896 don’t sound bad, they are just very¬†transparent. ¬†The Octane pre’s were part of my sound, the 896 pre’s don’t contribute one way or the other, they stay out of the way.

The gain knob for each preamp on the ProFire is notoriously frustrating though, since it’s a “tapered” potentiometer – the useful range is all within a couple degrees of the knob’s travel. ¬†The 896’s knob seems to have a greater useful range, although it too tends to be smaller than I’d like.

Software Returns

Software returns are the ability to route audio from software on the computer into *inputs* on the device, so they can be mixed into the *outputs* of the device, just like the physical inputs to the device. ¬†You can think of them as “virtual” inputs. ¬†The are critical if you are crafting multiple monitor mixes that include software playback ¬†or software instruments.

The 896 has one stereo return.  You can assign the audio from any output to the return.  However, in order to craft custom monitor mixes for multi-musician jamming and overdubbing, you typically need at least 8 returns.

Here’s my trick to add a bunch of software returns: I used a TOSLink Optical cable to connect the ADAT A Output jack into the ADAT A Input jack. ¬†This automatically connects all 8 ADAT Digital Outputs on the to all 8 ADAT Digital Inputs – all with one cable. ¬†Full digital, no generation loss.

I use the 896’s ADAT Outputs (which are easy to select in any DAW, in my case REAPER) as the outputs for my playback and digital instruments. The audio goes out through the ADAT A output jack, in through the ADAT A input jack, and appears on the ADAT A Inputs in the 896’s CueMix FX mixer software. ¬†I can now mix these into the analog outputs of the 896 to create monitor mixes for each performer.

Example DAW Output Settings:

  • DAW Drum Mix Buss Track: ADAT Output 1
  • DAW Bass Mix Track: ADAT Output 2
  • DAW Rhythm Guitar Track: ADAT Output 3
  • DAW Lead Guitar Mix Track: ADAT Output 4
  • DAW Vocal Mix Track: ADAT Output 5
  • DAW Synth Track (Live and Playback): ADAT Output 6

Example Monitor Mixes In CueMix:

  • Vocalist Overdub/Jam Headphone Monitor Mix:
    • 60% Analog Input 1 (their mic input)
    • 10% ADAT Input 1 (Drum Mix Track Playback)
    • 10% ADAT Input 2 (Bass Track Playback)
    • 10% ADAT Input 3 (Rhythm Guitar Track Playback)
    • 10% ADAT Input 4 (Lead Guitar Track Playback)
  • Bassist Overdub/Jam Headphone Monitor Mix:
    • 60% Analog Input 2 (Bass Amp mic/DI)
    • 10% ADAT Input 1 (Drum Mix Track Playback)
    • 10% ADAT Input 5 (Vocal Track Playback)
    • 10% ADAT Input 3 (Rhythm¬†Guitar Track Playback)
    • 10% ADAT Input 4 (Lead Guitar Track Playback)

If you are tracking new parts from scratch, you might not need playback, but you might have a click coming from the DAW for the drummer, or scratch drum tracks, or live synth from a virtual instrument.

Either way, this trick lets you route lots of channels of audio from software into the 896 and treat it just like any other input.

I also run a TOSLink cable (with a mini-TOSLink adapter) from the headphone jack of my Macbook Pro (which is secretly an optical port as well as an analog headphone port) into the ADAT B Input of the 896, so I can mix 2-channel audio from programs like Skype and iTunes that won’t let me select specific device output pairs. ¬†Note that to use one of the ADAT inputs as a TOSLink input, you need to set it to “TOSLINK” mode (as opposed to “lightpipe” mode) using the “MOTU Audio Setup” application.

Going from XLR Outputs to Headphone Monitors

The 896’s analog audio outs, which we want to use as headphone monitor mixes, are XLR connectors. ¬†These balanced connectors won’t go directly into headphones and you usually want to combine two of them to make a stereo headphone mix. ¬†To do this, you need another box, and I chose the Behringer AMP800 mini headphone amp. ¬†With some XLR to TRS cables, you can go from the analog outs on the 896 into the mix inputs on the AMP800, and create volume-controllable headphone jacks for your jammers and trackers to listen to. ¬†Add a few long headphone extension cables like the ones from the JamHub, your favorite headphones, and you are in business!

The 896 does have two headphone outputs that you can mix to separately, so if you only ever have two people tracking or jamming, you don’t need this setup.

Other Changes

The ProFire had all TRS Analog I/O Jacks, while the 896 has all XLR Outputs (and dual TRS/XLR Analog Inputs), so I had to buy a couple of new cables, especially to connect to my Yamaha HS-50M / HS-10W studio monitor speakers.

I was also able to finally get rid of my ancient Behringer mixer, which had seen better days. There is a nice knob on the front of the 896 I can use to control the overall level of things, as well as input levels. I have everything running into the 896, so I can truly use it both as an audio interface as well as a digital mixer.

I have my POD X3 Live connected to Analog Inputs 7/8 from the ‘live’ outputs, and I have a S/PIDF cable running from the S/PDIF output of the X3 into the S/PDIF input of the 896. I did have to adjust the sample rate of the output of the X3 to match the 896 to avoid hearing anything but digital noise there.

To be honest, I don’t really like the sound of the S/PDIF output, and I typically run the “live” analog sound, and I use the CueMix software that comes with the 896 to mute/unmute the X3. ¬†I could use the knobs on the front to turn it down when I’m not using it (it tends to have “guitar cable noise” if I don’t), but I like where I have them set for recording levels. ¬†But it’s there, so if I ever need to use Analog 7/8 for something else (e.g. drum mics), I can still get the X3 audio into the mix.

Summary

I really like the 896mk3. It’s super-light, so even though it’s bigger than the ProFire, it uses a standard power cord (rather than ProFire’s giant wall-wart), so it’s similarly portable.

Its noise-free, and software-crash free (even under 64-bit Mac OS X).  More than any others, those are the two I have to have.

I was also able to get rid of the mixer from my setup. ¬†I had to add the MIDI interface back in, but I only use it very rarely, so I’m not terribly concerned.

I was pretty frustrated with the lack of software returns until I figured out that ADAT loopback trick, but since I got that working it’s been just a dream. ¬†The super-smarties at headphone.com helped get me on the right path of choosing a headphone amp, which was invaluable.

I do wish MOTU would add more software returns to this device, or even just let me virtually patch outs to ins in the mixer, rather than having to use a patch cable. ¬†MIDI I/O would also be a great help for this device, as well as allowing the front-panel “main-out” headphone output to be routed separately from the monitor speakers.

I suspect I’ll eventually end up buying a MOTU¬†8-Pre to get the 8 extra microphone preamps (acoustic drums use a ton of mics), but that uses the same port that I’m using for my ADAT loopback. ¬†However, I can chain it on the Firewire bus instead of running into the 896. ¬†Since the Mac makes it easy to create virtual devices as aggregates of physical devices (using the Audio/MIDI Setup Control Panel), this is probably a viable option.

The front-panel knobs are very small, and can be a bit frustrating to grab in a hurry, although almost all of them can be tweaked virtually via Cuemix FX, so it’s not too big of a deal. ¬†All the I/O except for the headphones is on the back, which it a bit annoying when regularly connecting and disconnecting mics for podcasting. ¬†I typically just leave the mic cables connected to Analog 1 & 2, and have the cables neatly hanging from my desk nearby.

There are a number of features I’ll likely never use, such as AES/EBU I/O, and Word Clock I/O. ¬†For the average home studio, it seems like MIDI I/O would be a better choice.

I’d also like to be able to use the modeled EQ, compression, reverb, and other onboard F/X from my DAW as plugins, rather than having to track with them in the signal path.

I’d buy it again based on the noiselessness and stability alone, and I hope that the tricks I’ve outlined here help you enjoy yours as much as I enjoy mine!

May 01

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-05-01

  • Doctor Who watched and enjoyed. @CaptSpectacular is officially banned from watching. At least if any of us ever want to sleep again… #
  • I cannot recommend Bumble Bee's Baja Grill in Santa Fe highly enough. Witness the open face chicken enchilada: http://plixi.com/p/95758788 #
  • Creepy cacti from Santa Fe Greenhouses: http://plixi.com/p/95759194 #
  • More creepy cacti: http://plixi.com/p/95759301 #
  • Even more creepy cacti: http://plixi.com/p/95759404 #
  • Birds in the fountain at Ten Thousand Waves: http://plixi.com/p/95760060 #
  • Entrance to the Crescent Moon Casita at Ten Thousand Waves: http://plixi.com/p/95760352 #
  • I'm pondering a Graduate Degree, but: Higher education: The latest bubble? | The Economist – http://econ.st/f0B42b via @TheEconomist #
  • There are days when I wonder if my policy of working on my Mac while my work PC boots (usually 60+ minutes a day) means I am smart or dumb. #
  • Curious what fermenting #homebrew beer looks like? http://bit.ly/iaqWOJ (Morimoto Soba Ale Clone) #
  • Facebook announced a while back that they built a PHP->C++ compiler for speed. Question: Could FB have succeeded if built in C++ from day 1? #
  • New robot-graphic drumhead on my drum kit! – http://twitpic.com/4q91i0 #
  • I need to remind myself that most meeting time is spent getting everyone on the same starting page, rather than moving forward. #
  • Yes! My name is finally on the Fob Freebies list at @tokyojoes ! Must remember to go in on May 30th! #
  • The ABBA movie reminds me that great songs are great songs regardless of genre, and two drummers on stage is awesome. #
  • Today was a "Holmes" troubleshooting day with dev team. "You know my methods, team, now apply them!" #
  • From @CaptSpectacular : "I found out that I didn't know that I could draw cute pandas, but it turns out that it was a latent talent." #
  • Just played the "Now What?" board game with @CaptSpectacular based on a recommendation from @pulpgamer ! Extremely fun and quick-playing! #
  • Recorded with @brantsteen , made lunch for @Kim_Stone and @CaptSpectacular , played Rock Band, had wrestle time, cleanup done. #naptime #
  • I was initially alarmed when standing up from drumming to find myself covered in sawdust, but then I realized it was from the drumsticks! #
  • Needless to say, when playing the electronic drumkit for the last 10 years, sawdust was not an issue. The metal cymbals chew the sticks… #
  • Watching Legend with @CaptSpectacular: "Meh. Did this director make anything else?" "Alien & Blade Runner." CS: "Off his game for this one!" #
  • Another comment from @CaptSpectacular re: Legend: "Tom Cruise seems kinda like a child molester in this movie…I wouldn't follow him!" #
  • "And the princess's hair net thing makes her look like a lunch lady!" (More @CaptSpectacular re: Legend) #