Archive for the ‘music’ Category

A Monster Cable That’s Worth the Price

March 5, 2011

I just paid $25 for a 7 foot USB cable and don’t regret it. Huh?

Generally I consider Monster brand cables to be overpriced and overhyped, no better than many other brands that are a fraction of the cost (from places like I now believe there’s at least one exception.

I have a Digidesign/Avid original MBox USB audio interface (the light blue and grey one). Whenever Pro Tools was running, the MBox induced a loud high pitched whine (maybe in the 6 KHz range) in the stereo system it was hooked up to. It made the unit unusable for recording and mixing. (If I only connected headphones, the problem wasn’t there.)

I couldn’t make any changes to electrical plugs and grounding, or use balanced outputs from the MBox. Some research about the cause indicates that the MBox isn’t well shielded, and that computers can emit a lot of RF noise which travels down the USB cable, and the MBox passes it along to its audio connections. The solution that Avid suggests has worked for some users is to use a Monster USB Cable, which has extra shielding.

I found a 7′ Monster Digital USB Audio Cable on Amazon for $25, and since the alternative of replacing the MBox would be hundreds of dollars, I gave it a shot. Amazingly, it took care of the problem. I don’t know if there are any other premium USB cables that would work also, but this particular Monster cable is worth it for audio interfaces.

Audio Encoding in iTunes

January 19, 2010

If you use iTunes to make MP3s, you’re not making the best sounding MP3s you could. It appears to me that the iTunes MP3 encoder is optimized for encoding speed, not sound quality. For better sound quality, use the newer AAC (M4A) format instead of MP3; but if you need to make MP3s for compatibility with older players (hardware or software), the iTunes MP3 encoder is not the best one to use. For low bit rates (below 128 kbps), the Fraunhofer MP3 encoder produces the best results; it’s used in some commercial software such as the Pro Tools MP3 Option.

For medium to high bit rates (roughly 128 kbps and above), the best sounding MP3 encoder in my comparisons (and other peoples’) is a popular free one called LAME. On Macs, there is a way to make MP3s in iTunes using LAME instead of the iTunes built-in MP3 encoder. It’s a free application called iTunes-LAME. Here are its download page and installation instructions.

The LAME encoder program in the iTunes-LAME package is fine, but it is not the newest version (as of this writing, iTunes-LAME comes with LAME 3.97, and the newest is 3.98.2). If you want to take advantage of more recent quality and speed improvements to LAME, you can get a newer version of LAME for MacOS X. Look for a listing like “LAME 3.98 for MacOS X: A universal binary which will run on both PowerPC and Intel powered Macs”. To install it, double-click its DMG file, and a window should open up showing two files, “lame” and “COPYING”. Next, right-click (or control-click) on the iTunes-LAME application and select “Show Package Contents”. Open up the Contents folder in the resulting window, and the Resources folder under that. Rename the existing “lame” file there to something like “lame original” in case you ever want to revert to it, then drag the new “lame” file into that Resources folder.

Or, if you really want to keep up with the latest version and are comfortable compiling programs, you can get the LAME source code. You’ll need to use a Terminal window to compile it (and you need the Apple XCode Tools installed), then install the new “lame” file as described earlier.

Once you have iTunes-LAME installed, when you run iTunes a scroll icon (signifying scripts) shows up in your iTunes menu bar, toward the right. Click on the scroll and select “Import with LAMEā€¦” from the drop-down menu. This brings up the iTunes-LAME window.

The iTunes-LAME encoding options are specified using a text box. For personal use to get the best sound quality, I type --preset extreme (those are two dashes in a row before “preset”). If I want to use a particular bit rate, say 256 kbps, I type --preset cbr 256. Some other good settings for various purposes are documented on audio forums.

LAME has way more options than most people would care about, but fortunately you can ignore most of them. When you see references to --alt-preset, that’s just an older name for the --preset option.

The iTunes-LAME Prefs button brings up a preferences window which includes the option of whether it should encode all the tracks in the current playlist that are checkmarked, or those that are highlighted (selected). Set it whichever way you find more convenient.

After you have entered in the LAME encoding settings, to make MP3s just select (or checkmark, depending on that setting) one or more tracks in iTunes and click the big round Import button on the iTunes-LAME window.

Variety in the Studio

October 4, 2008

A couple of weekends ago I started the day recording and mixing some rap vocals, then had a classical styled session, recording a vocal and string quartet. Following that was a childrens choir. It was a 12 hour work day. Each project was fun in its own way.

Curt Allen recording a rap

This weekend I’m working on mixes for two albums simultaneously, both with a deadline on the same day. I’m also mixing a podcast, formatting videos for the web, and preparing an accompaniment tracks CD. It’s a busy season!