The Quest For The Knob

t goes without saying that the most important thing about an audio workstation is that you are able to hear what you are working on. This often leads to the continual quest for the best sounding speakers and headphones. The question that those of us who work in the sound field don’t always think about is “What is the best mixer to use?”

A standard Pro Tools system has 8 outputs. (Yes, the HD hardware can output up to 16 but often on a standard editorial system, people only use 8.) The various flavors of the Mackie 1604 has been the work-horse of mixer setup.

However, ever since Pro Tool 5.1, the software can be configured to handle an internal surround mix and output in 5.1. With this change editors using workstations that are configured to monitor in 5.1 really only need to use 6 outputs. So on the mixer side of things, you need the 6 or 8 inputs from Pro Tools and probably another 2 (stereo pair) for the Mac speaker. Sometimes you might have other gear like a DAT or video deck that you want to monitor independent of Pro Tools, but often you just need the 8 or 10 mixer inputs to handle everyting.

The problem comes with the outputs to the speakers. The easiest way to deal with a 5.1 speaker setup is to assign each bus out to a speaker. So you need 6 buses to handle the outputs. The Mackie 1604 only has 4. You can make use of the Aux Sends for the two additional outputs but it’s not configured as nicely. So now you’re looking at jumping up to an 8 bus mixer and that’s starts getting much more expensive.

And really when it comes down to it, if you’re setting up a 5.1 workstation, you don’t need or want individual EQs on every channel. And individual volume controls become a big hassel. After spending a long time calibrating the Sound Pressure Level of the room, you want to lock those faders down so that the relative volume from one channel to the next is aways the same. What you really need is what I’ve been refering to as “the box with the big knob” for a year now.

Let’s face it, consumer surround receivers have it right. Plug your 6 channels from a DVD player into the receiver. Six cables from the receiver go to the home theater speakers. And there’s a big knob on the front to adjust the level of all speakers up or down. That’s the idea we need to recreate in the professional sound editor market.

I have yet to find a good solution to this but at the NAB show in Las Vegas, I did see a step in the right direction. Mackie has just released a new mixer that they call surprisingly enough “The Big Knob“. (Mackie, feel free to put a check in the mail made out to me–oh yeah, I never filed a copyright on that name. Damn!) I was so excited when I saw that thing in their booth. No individual channel faders, just a big knob in the middle of the board.

Unfortunately, it’s configured for stereo pairs. It does have 6 ins and outs (3 stereo pairs) but you can only tweak levels on two channels at time. This might not be a problem for Left / Right or Left Surround / Right Surround, but the Center / Sub pair could be a little hairy. It’s possible though that with a little level tweaking on the Pro Tools interface, this mixer could me made to work with a 5.1 studio. I told the guy I talked to at the Mackie booth that I thought it was a great piece of gear, they just needed to get cracking on a true 5.1 version.

Amazingly Colossal

Insanity! The NAB trade show is huge. Think of something big. Now think of something that could beat up that big thing. Now triple the size of that. You’re starting to get the picture of just how big this thing is.

We spent nearly 5 hours today tramping around there talking to people, checking out the latest audio and video hardware, and I am beat. We skipped most of the broadcast video stuff. Spent a lot of time in the Audio / Radio section, and barely touched on the “Multimedia” area. We’re going back tomorrow. That multimedia section is where Apple, Avid, Digidesign, ATTO, Discreet, Adobe, and all the other computer-based hardware and software guys are.

I have spent my share of time at the San Diego Comic-Con and I thought that event was big. This doesn’t even compare. More later. We’re about to go to dinner and Cameron has to see the Lakers.

Bright Light City Gonna Set My Soul On Fire

I’m writing this entry from Las Vegas. It’s quite the town. I usually manage to make it out this way once or twice a year. Though I think this is the first time that I’ve ever come here for something other than gambling and booze. (And since I gave up the booze three years ago, there’s only gambling.)

This hotel I’m in is very swank–The Hotel at Mandalay Bay. It’s the new tower behind the original Mandalay. I’ll have to take some pictures of the room before I leave. But let’s put it this way: mini-suite for $170 a night. Nice.

I do, however, feel the need to let you know that I’m a big dork. So let me try to explain…

We had a nice dinner at Chartsteak at the MGM Grand, and then the friends that we’ve been hanging out with wanted to go to a club. They’re members of the Foundation Room which is the exclusive “club with in a club” at the House of Blues. So we went there. Unfortunately the bouncer (for lack of a better term) at the door wouldn’t let me in. I was wearing tennis shoes.

This kind of thing keeps happening to me. Look, I’m not a very classy guy. T-shirt, jeans, sneakers. That’s the way it goes. I have a couple of pairs of nice shoes for the right occasion. I have some button-down long sleeve shirts. I even have a sports coat but those are a “need to wear” basis.

I packed very light to come out here. My standard wear. I knew I was going to be spending a lot of my time at the convention center walking around. Those clothes are perfect for that kind of thing. I threw in some shorts in case we were going to hang out by the pool and I brought a couple of long sleeve shirts for a nice dinner like we had last night. And I brought my leather jacket. See I’m from LA. All you need is a leather jacket. You can throw that on over anything and you’re ready for any kind of event. I figured I had the bases covered.

In fact I had another run in with a bouncer at the Foundation Room in LA. A couple of years ago, it was summer and hot and I was doing whatever I was doing in the office. And I was wearing shorts. For the most part I don’t wear them to work but if it’s really hot, I might. Anyway, Cameron gets a call from a friend about going to see Cheap Trick at the House of Blues, and he asks me if I want to come. Sure. So we leave right then and I’m still in shorts. Cheap Trick is awesome, and afterwards when this friend of Cameron’s tries to take us to the Foundation Room to hang with the band, they hassel me over the shorts.

So back to last night. The bouncer won’t let me in. Everyone turns to me. I say, “It’s fine. Have fun. I’ll see you later.” They ask me if I can go back to my room and change my shoes, and I have to tell them that these are the only pair I brought.

“Well, what size are you?” Kurt, one of the guys we are with, is about my height.

“I’m like a twelve in most shoes.”

“Ok, come with me,” Kurt says. And this is where it gets all embarassing for me and where I feel like a dork. We go back to his room. And he gives me a pair of his shoes to wear. They’re not a perfect fit but they’re pretty close. We get to go to the club. I get to be the butt of lots of jokes like, “You should walk a mile in another man’s shoes. Oh wait-”

Maybe other people wouldn’t feel embarassed about someone helping them out like that, but I do. He loaned me his shoes. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I could have easily had an appropriate pair with me if I’d thought about it. Maybe a part of it is because I’m not the classy guy. Whatever it is, I still feel like a dork.

Mom always told me to make sure I was wearing clean underwear in case I got hit by a car. I should probably ammend that to bring along a pair of dress shoes, just in case.

I Heart Microsoft

Yesterday was nominated “Fun With Windows XP Day!”

I spent nearly 10 hours in Long Beach working on my Aunt and Uncle’s computer. I mentioned before that I took a look at it on Easter and found it to be chock full of virii and adware.

After backing up the essentials like bookmarks and Word documents, I restored the computer to its original factory state using the CDs that Gateway provided with the computer. That was all very painless and easy.

Problems started to arise when I tried to get them back on the internet. They have a Charter Pipeline cable modem, just like I do, so I didn’t think it would be any big deal. Wrong. The cable guy who’d installed the modem hooked them up through USB which meant that I needed the driver installed to talk to the modem again. No Charter Pipeline installer CD anywhere to be found. I’m hooked up to my cable modem through the ethernet port and I find that to be much easier. But we didn’t have a crossover cable. So it was off to CompUSA to pick one up.

When we got back I could not get the ethernet to work. I plugged the cable into the computer and the modem. Restarted both many times. The Network Connection window in XP kept saying that the network was not plugged in. I tried different combinations authentication methods listed on the setup screen to see if something was conflicting but nothing worked. Finally in frustration, I pulled my Macintosh PowerBook out of my bag, plugged it into the ethernet cable, and what do you know… I was online. I went back to fiddling with the XP machine but I could never get that Network Connection to say it was plugged in.

I tried downloading the Charter Pipeline software from the internet (on my Mac) but they don’t seem to have it on their website. I tried looking for it in their customer support pages but I was kindly informed that they don’t support my computer. (Gotta love the WIndows bias and the fact that they shut you out of their webpages because you’re not currently sitting at a Windows machine.)

I was beginning to think that we were going to have to run over to the cable company to pick up a Charter Pipeline CD and my aunt was about ready to pass out from lack of food (I get on my problem solving kick, and I tend to forget about things like that), when it occurred to me to check for a driver from the manufacturer of the modem.

After about 30 seconds on the Motorola webpage I had the drivers downloaded, copied to my USB Flash Drive and over on the XP machine. I got them installed and we were back in business. FINALLY!

Even after all that we still had to go through another hour or so of critical updates to patch problems with the software. At some point in the WIndows Update process something got installed that caused the monitor to go black whenever Windows loaded. Thankfully they have that system restore feature so I was able to back up a few steps and continue on.

I put their Norton Internet Security program back on and within a few minutes it was already popping up messages that the system was infected with the Walchia virus! One of the ones we where trying to get rid of with this whole reinstall process! Luckily Norton was able to delete the six copies that had already propagated throughout the system.

Things were finally beginning to settle down with the computer. I installed Mozilla Firefox as their web browser and Mozilla Firebird as their email program. I showed them how the Microsoft stuff was still there but that with Firefox’s pop-up blocker they shouldn’t have the as many of the virus and adware problems as they had before. We spent a little looking at some of the easy was to find things on the internet–like the Google search bar at the top of the Firefox window. And I called it a day around 9pm.

Boy am I glad, I have a Macintosh!

I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane

In just under 3 hours I will be getting on a plane for Las Vegas. The NAB geekfest awaits me.

Apple is making some big announcement today, if I remember the MacCentral news correctly. So tomorrow I should be able to see what ever cool new products they have at their booth.

I’m also planning on checking out Digidesign, mSoft / Soundminer, Zaxcom Deva, and HHB. Fostex supposedly has some relatively new 2 channel hard disk field recorder that will do 24bit, 96KHz for like $1200. I’ll have to take a look at that.

I’m sure I’ll be bumping into half the engineers and tech guys I work. It’ll be fun to catch up when it’s not some kind of mission critical emegency like normal.

Plus we have reservations tonight at Del Monico’s.

My God, It’s Full Of Stars.

This is cool. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony time stretched to 24 hours with some really sophisticated software. (A standard performance of the 9th Symphony is usually just under 74 minutes. The original CD standard was set so that an entire performance could fit on one disc.)

I’ve been listening to the 5th movement. I feel like I’ve just touched the monolith, and now I need to beat on things with a bone club.

Do Or Do Not. There Is No ‘Try’.

You are now looking at the Movable Type version of my website. After a lot of work I was able to get back to the same functionality that I had under iBlog plus a few extra little features. I’m hoping to add some things in the future. Some of them you won’t even notice–like an interface on my end so that I can quickly add new links. And some more style sheets including one optimized for printing. But all that is down the road. I think the only thing that hasn’t carried over from my iBlog version are the comments that people left for me at Haloscan. There weren’t many. I will add them in over here. Unfortunately the original dates of the comments won’t carry over. Oh well.

Please let me know if you notice any problems with the new site.

The Pattern Weaves

I just finished reading “The Dragon Reborn”, the third book of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I have to say that these books are amazing! I’ve read the first three one right after another and I think I’m going to go out tomorrow and buy a few more. (The first two books are “The Eye of the World” and “The Great Hunt”.)

The story is truly epic. Of course it is the classic tale of good versus evil. The young farmer who has no idea of his true past is suddenly thrown into an adventure far beyond anything he could imagine. It’s like the tale of Luke Skywalker from the original “Star Wars”, or Bilbo Baggins from “The Hobbit” or any number of other legends and myths far older than today’s pop culture. The scope of this tale is larger than anything else I’ve read or watched before. The first three books weigh in at a hefty 2200 pages together. There are at least seven more books in the series and I can’t see anything that makes me believe that they aren’t a continuation of this same story.

This is definitely not a series for the faint of heart. This isn’t slick little quest that will be wrapped up nicely in 400 pages. The scope of the mythology that Robert Jordan has created is quite vast. The detail that he writes into his stories and the characters makes you feel like you are actually living the adventure with them. This a refreshing change from the paper-thin characters that I often have to see every day in the Hollywood films I tend to work on.

Robert Jordan has done a superb job of starting with the basic blueprints of a fantasy story and creating a world entirely his own. This is a world of men of many nations with a continuous political struggle between them. The wizards of the standard fantasy fair, are replaced by the Aes Sedai (Eyes Seh-DIE). Woman who channel the One Power bending the forces of Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Spirit to their will. Men cannot wield this power without eventually going mad. And when the Aes Sedai find out about a man who can, he is “gentled”–cut off from the One Power permanently.

Men live in this world with a mysterious giant people called the Ogier. They are the lovers of nature. The caretakers of the forests and in ancient times, the builders of fantastic cities of stone. Ogier live hundreds of years longer than men, and are a gentle folk. Rarely some among them are “treesingers”. By singing to trees they can shape wood into anything they can imagine.

I said it was a story of good versus evil. The men of the world fight against the forces of the Dark One. Trollocs are large half-man, half-beast monstrosities who feast on the flesh of their victims. Myrddraal are eyeless fiends who command the Trollocs. Grey Men are people who have given their soul over to the Dark One and act as his assassins.

This is a “must read” for fans of epic fantasy–readers longing for thick and juicy character development that they can really sink their teeth into. I can’t wait to pick up the next book.

Someone’s Knocking At The Door

It looks like we worked out part of the problem we were having with the Digidesign Core Audio Drivers that came with Pro Tools 6.2.3. If you remember from my earlier post, we are trying to use this on an officially unsupported system: PowerMac G4, OS X 10.3.3, Pro Tools 6.2.3 software, and Pro Tools | 24 Mix Plus hardware. I haven’t really used the OS X core audio drivers before. I didn’t realize that there was a Core Audio Setup program in the Digidesign folder. Once we ran that, and selected the proper interface, everything seemed to work fine. There is still one little bug though: both Pro Tools and the Core Audio Driver think that the 888 | 24 that is hooked up to the Mix Plus cards has 16 channels in and out. (Not the 8 that it actually does.) If haven’t tempted fate to see what would happen if I selected Outputs 9 through 16.

I did notice that Digidesign has slightly updated its compatibility page. It still lists the Mix hardware as being in testing, and they still note that there has not been any problems with a PowerMac G4 in early testing. They have changed to information on the G5 though to say that it does NOT work with Mix hardware and that support is TBA.

We’ve started using Soundminer as our sound effects database program and it’s excellent! We spent many hours yesterday letting the program scan our hard drives full of sound effects, and compile a database. Today Cameron pulled some sound effects for a friend and it took only a few minutes to make some selections and then transfer them to a folder. (This was a huge change from some of our recent experiences with Mtools where we’d spend an hour or two just trying to get the software to behave long enough to get the files on to a hard drive.)

One effect that was needed was the sound of someone getting hit in the face with a bell telephone. That’s not exactly the kind of effect that you tend have sitting around. And even though I’m willing to give up quite a bit of my life to my career, getting smacked with a telephone while a microphone is pointed at me is not one of those sacrifices. So the sound had to be built from individual components. A couple of hard telephone hand set slams, a body hit, a punch, and a slight bell ring off made the perfect “phone introduced to head at high velocity” sound. Cameron didn’t find quite the right bell sound, but he had a lot of great old phone rings. With the Soundminer software, you don’t have to transfer the entire sound effect. You can set in and out points for the piece that you want. He selected the tail-end decay of a phone ring, had just that section transfered, and there was the needed ring-off.

On the on the “when are we going to get a paying gig” news front: we have been given scripts to three different movies that studios are interested in having us do the sound on. All of them start later in the year, and it would really be nice to find something that starts up in May, but I’m not complaining. It’s nice to be wanted. As long as we can convince the “powers that be” that we’re the right ones for the job, we should be busy the second half of this year. Keep your fingers crossed.