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ATPM 6.08
August 2000


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Beyond the Barline

by David Ozab,

Thoughts About Macworld New York

Well, as much as I would have liked to have been there, the Expo was 3,000 miles away, so like most of you I had to gather what information I could second-hand. I watched Jobs’s keynote several hours after the fact (sorry Steve, nothing you say will get me up before 6 AM PDT) and was mostly pleased. Hardware was the focus of his presentation, and the software parts were largely reruns of Macworld San Francisco; here are my thoughts on Apple’s new offerings:

What I Expected: New iMacs

The iMac is still Apple’s big seller, and, after nine months, a new model was slightly overdue. The biggest improvement is in disk space, which makes sense given Apple’s commitment to consumer digital video. The colors are a nice improvement, darker than the “fruity” shades of the previous iMacs and translucent like the original iMac DV SE. (I particularly like Indigo, which is my favorite shade of my favorite color.) Lowering the price of an entry-level iMac to $799 was another great move. Now a newbie on a budget can swing the essentials—iMac, Zip drive, and an inexpensive printer—for about $1000. PC companies may have to start paying people to take home ugly beige boxes.

As for musicians, the iMac is still best for hobbyists who plan to work mostly with MIDI. However, the absence of PCI slots and the inability to add a faster internal drive make these computers inadequate for professional multitrack digital audio. That may change, though. More shortly.

What I Hoped For: Dual Processors

I may not buy a multiprocessor Mac for years, but I am so happy that they exist. The new G4s are potentially the best digital recording hubs ever made. Once software companies start taking full advantage of both the Velocity Engine and the multitasking capabilities of OS X, we will witness a new revolution in professional digital audio. I picture software based mixers with potentially unlimited plug-ins, independent effects and compressors on every “channel,” complex real-time manipulation of live audio, and other things I can’t even imagine now. In five years, though, we may not be able to live without them.

What Surprised Me: The Cube

This one came practically out of nowhere. Yes, several rumor sites had been leaking information about a “cube-shaped Mac,” but they missed every other detail. The computer they described was ridiculous (14" either totally featureless and unopenable or just an ugly square iMac), while the computer Apple unveiled is exquisite.

I still can’t quite believe that they made the computer that small and yet were able to leave out a fan. If anyone can appreciate a quiet computer, it’s a musician. As I write this column, I’m constantly aware of my G3 humming softly under my desk. I take great comfort, though, in the fact that it is much quieter than some PCs I’ve seen that have fans in the case, on the motherboard, and on the video card. I’ve been on airplanes that were quieter—during takeoff! It’s hard to judge sound quality over all that.

So the Cube is potentially a great computer for a musician. But it suffers from the same lack of expansion slots as the iMac. The more I think about it, though, the more I think that Apple’s onto something. When the first iMacs came out two years ago, the biggest complaint was the lack of a floppy drive, an ADB port, a serial port, and a SCSI port. All it had was this weird new USB, and nobody made USB peripherals. But by designing the iMac the way they did, Apple forced the USB market into existence, and now USB is the standard serial protocol on all personal computers. Starting with the Blue and White G3s (mine’s still purring away), Apple introduced another new protocol: FireWire. Though FireWire has been a hit in digital video, and some other peripherals have been introduced (hard drives, CD burners), the full potential of this very fast interface has yet to be realized.

The G4 Cube could have the same effect on the growth of FireWire as the iMac had on USB. Yamaha is currently developing the mLan (or “music LAN”), a system that transmits both digital audio and MIDI over FireWire. In another year, we may see a fully functional digital studio rig built around a small and silent G4 Cube. I can’t wait.

Music at Macworld

The Music and Sound Pavilion was back for a second time, but most of the presentations were repeats of January. The biggest news was Apple’s increased publicity of this part of the Expo. The section was showcased throughout the Expo at Apple’s Web site, showing me that they haven’t forgotten a small but still important part of the loyal Mac following.

The other big news out of the Pavilion was the Velocity Engine-compatible Steinberg Cuebass VST 5.0. I expect Mark of the Unicorn and Emagic to follow Cuebass’s lead shortly as each manufacturer jostles for position in luring former Opcode users. Hopefully, this competition will also encourage quick carbonization of each of these companies’ flagship products.

And Finally: What About Those Speakers?

Harmon Kardon introduced two new speaker systems at Macworld. The G4 Cube speakers, which are actually two small spheres, and the “sticks” designed to upgrade the sound systems on all the new Macs. Both cover a wide frequency range (up to 20KHz, and down to 80Hz and 40Hz respectively), which can be enhanced with the iSub subwoofer. These speakers look good and hopefully sound good, too. My only objection is with Apple’s wording on their Web site, which states “the audio signal is completely digital from the computer to the amplifier to the speaker cones.” As far as I know, sending a digital signal (which is nothing but ones and zeroes) to a speaker cone would just produce an ultrasonic pulse wave. Maybe someone from Apple could contact me and convince me otherwise.

Next Month: My delayed review of Kyma 5.0, and a report from the Metasynth Camp in Ashland, Oregon.

appleCopyright © 2000 David Ozab, David Ozab is a Ph.D student at the University of Oregon, where he teaches electronic music courses and assists in the day-to-day operation of The Future Music Oregon Studios.

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