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 MonoPrice.com). 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.

Dysfunctional Basement Bands

August 5, 2008
From: jeffnmoe@MCS.COM (jeffnmoe)
Newsgroups: rec.music.makers.guitar
Subject: dysfunctional basement bands
Date: 11 Dec 1995 07:47:04 -0600
Organization: MCSNet Services
Lines: 83
NNTP-Posting-Host: mars.mcs.com

 How do you know you are in a dysfunctional basement band?
 Well, here are a few signs fresh in my mind from yesterdays
 'jam'...

 1) you have to POINT to the notes on the neck for the bass
    player, even on songs you've been playing for several
    years ("..then we go to an A...no, A...bottom string,
    fifth fret...no, THICKEST string, not 'bottom'...(at 
    this point I'm pointing at the neck of his bass).

 2) Ronco Two-Speed Drummer(tm) - All New From Ronco! Like
    the old GM Powerglide transmission, has only two speeds:
    Keith Moon-style abandonment, with fills and rolls at
    every turn, dynamics be dammed; or, when hangover or lack
    of sleep has dulled his senses/energy level, a 
    continuously variable feature which allows him to slew
    seamlessly from 85 to 92 to 87 BPM.

 3) "Uh, hey guys, you know, the bass and drums should lock
    in together, sort of...". They stare at me intently like
    smart dogs, cocking their heads slightly as if they
    almost understand.

 4) Hey, I Don't Just Play Bass - I'm A Keyboard Player Too!
    He's a great accumulator of equipment. Now, if he'd just 
    learn how to play any of it (I thought that convincing
    him to buy the 'Learning to Play Bass' video at Guitar
    Center last spring, after we'd been playing for a year,
    would have been sort of a clue. I think he watched it
    once. No notes were taken). He also has four or five 
    keyboards, arranged quite nicely near his bass setup. 
    Can't play them either, but it doesn't stop him. Wouldn't
    bother me either, if he'd learn another chord shape (he 
    stumbled across some faintly consonant fingering one day
    and never let go).

 5) Can I Solo Now? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
    Due to previously mentioned points #1 and #3, any deviation
    from the chord progression by the guitar player (whether its
    a solo, or even a different voicing of the A-D-E change I've
    been banging on for 15 minutes) results in a quite amusing 
    (to the observer) scrum where the bass stumbles off
    chromatically in an attempt to locate the now missing chord,
    and the drummer, who receives his time signature inputs by
    watching my fingers, abandons any attempt to Hold Down the
    Previously Implied Beat and attempts to follow me, teeth
    gritted and a doomed but heroic glint in his eye, to wherever
    I'm going.

 6) We've Got An Effects Pedalboard and We're Gonna Use It!
    (the typist is uncharacteristically non-verbose on this issue)

 7) Are There Gonna Be Girls There? Lookit Me, I'm In The Band!
    Playing in front of people, whether its visitors or the
    occasional party, eventually clears the room. When actual
    live women are present, all of the above features are magnified
    by testosterone crossed with a certain musical lockjaw whose 
    usual attempted circumvention is volume, volume, volume. All
    original stuff is forgotten, and the last person who goes upstairs
    to get a beer (must be a long line, no one's returned yet) does
    so usually to a bad 12-bar blues or some hoary old chestnut 
    refried punk-style (why don't they get the irony in 'Wildfire'
    through my 4x12?).

 8) Hey, We'd Really Rock If We Had A Singer.
    (Many are called, few are chosen)

 9) One Pearl In a 4000 Pound Pile of Garbage.
    Occasionally, you'll stumble across a groove. Never from the first
    note, mind you, but after 15-30 minutes and the right combination
    of alcohol mixed with several hours of playing will eventually
    round off the sharp edges and produce something sort of
    compelling. Even if it's only five minutes out of six hours, it's
    enough to keep you coming back (and leads to lots of false hubris
    about your 'band' and how good they are, as your mind naturally
    keeps and remembers the good stuff and jettisons the rest). Which
    leads us to #10...

 10) Why Keep Coming Back For More?
     Because they're your friends...plus, the bass player owns the
     house with the basement.

                              jeff (jeffnmoe@mcs.com)