Regarding Mac

Airport Express for MacBook Audio

Recorded on January 11th, 2017

We moved our TV away from center-stage in the living room again. Too much time staring blankly at it, too many hours stolen from sleep, too many glorious episodes of Homeland. I’ll take it down to the basement tomorrow and put a plastic bag over it for a month or two. We even suspended our Netflix account. Not messing around.

What makes this tolerable is the knowledge than we can use a MacBook on a coffee table as an ad-hog TV for those occasional times we decide to rent a movie or watch a selected something on Amazon Prime. I wouldn’t do this if the coffee table solution meant bad sound. The old Airport Express works brilliantly for this, and through the magic of Apple’s engineers, it somehow syncs up perfectly with video played on the Mac. This should not be, but they’ve figured it out. All you have to do is option-click on the volume slider in the menu bar and pick Airport Express as the audio output. The AirPlay codec is said to be lossless, so at least you know you’re not further compressing any compressed soundtracks as they travel through wifi to your stereo.

John Baccigaluppi of Tape Op on Leaving the Mac Environment

Recorded on September 28th, 2016

John Baccigaluppi of Tape Op magazine has had it with the new Apple strategy of constant updates and the effect it has on his studio sessions. His contention is that the Mac is fast becoming a non-pro platform that doesn’t serve a professional recording scenario. The operating systems and the machines they run on are all so entwined with each other, but also ephemeral, that it seems like you’re only renting anything you buy anymore. Combine that with Apple’s tendency to incrementally remove input/output ports with each successive generation of the Mac, and you have a studio-hostile environment. I’m sad because I’m still firmly in the Apple fan-boy camp.

Earlier this year, OS X was rebranded macOS (to better align with Apple’s iWorld-centric vision). I’m currently running four macOS versions — 10.5, 10.8, 10.9, as well as the newest “El Capitan” 10.11 — spread across six different Macs. I need the older versions to open archived sessions, as well as to ensure that I have a stable recording platform for my clients. During the recent upgrade process mentioned earlier, our main DAW was repeatedly getting error messages in the middle of recording, and we lost performances as a result.

I don’t have much experience here, but it’s illuminating to hear him (and Andy Hong, also of Tape Op) now endorse PC-based DAWs like RADAR, which has always seemed like a cool rig. I sure wouldn’t want to be in the business of recording bands and also trying to keep a stable software/hardware setup going these days.

GarageBand Can Generate Musical Notation

Recorded on August 11th, 2016

Who knew that GarageBand on OS X had a whole window tab dedicated to turning recorded software instrument parts into musical notation? You can even quantize and tweak notes, so your sloppy playing can look orderly. This is part of what I just printed to a PDF right from GB. Very handy!

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Setting Dates in OS X Reminders

Recorded on August 1st, 2016

Maybe everyone else knew this already, but I just discovered that in the OS X Reminders app, you can drag a reminder to a date in the calendar to quickly set a due date for it. Way easier than clicking on the little “i” to get to the details for an item, and then selecting a date with the multi-picker. Here are some rather hard to follow screenshots:

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And yes, those are my real actual embarrassing Reminders. Most are dictated to Siri while I’m driving.

Tried Spotlight, Went Back to Quicksilver

Recorded on July 20th, 2016

The other day, after hearing Dan and Merlin talk about this on Back to Work, I experimented with turning off Quicksilver and using the built-in OS X Spotlight. Sure, it felt fast and slick and integrated. But no matter how much I wanted it to learn that “gm” should launch Gmail.com, and “cal” should open Google Calendar, I could never get it to unlearn the “Top Hits” that it wanted to open instead. I turned Quicksilver back on tonight and everything is OK again. I just can’t be forced to worry about what the computer is going to get wrong when I type the app abbreviations I’ve been using for years.

Granted, I’m still on Yosemite, so maybe the newer Spotlight in El Capitan is better, but I gotta work with what I got. Too busy to upgrade right now.

Baerwald, the Conrad Hoffman Arc Template Generator, Wine, WineBottler, and Perfect Alignment

Recorded on March 24th, 2016

screenshot of Conrad Hoffman arc template generator software

Things have reached a new level of crazy in this house.

I had been using 1/4” of underhang on the DIY tonearm, with the AT120Eb mounted parallel to the arm, but with yesterday’s listening tests, I could hear that the cart was way out of alignment on the first couple of tracks on most albums. I could see it, too, but initially chose to ignore it, thinking that the trade-off in reduced side-force on the stylus would be worth it. It wasn’t.

Thus began what we call “hotbrain”, where I would do rapid-fire research on the iPhone and append every promising page URL to one entry in Drafts. That draft got quite long by the end of the hotbrain.

First was research into whether a 12” tonearm really needed an offset cartridge, or if straight would be good enough. I found a very religious, heated thread about “Tonearm without off-set” on Audiogon, where I learned that:

The sonic benefits of highly accurate alignment are huge. Search this forum for “Mint” or “MintLP” protractor for a wealth of information and testimonials across a wide range of tonearms and cartridges. You’d be shortchanging yourself not to have the best possible alignment, which won’t be feasible without a properly angled headshell.

This led to a hunt for the Mint LP protractor, a rather expensive custom-generator protractor they mail you after getting your turntable and tonearm model numbers.

Ah, but then this post about the Mint on the Steve Hoffman boards:

I own a Mint but prefer to use an arc protractor generated by Conrad Hoffman’s software, which is what I was using before I purchased the Mint.

Now I was fully converted to abandoning underhang in favor of using overhang + Baerwald alignment. The only problem was the highly-regarded – and free – Conrad Hoffman custom arc generator only ran on Windows. All I have are Macs.

This is where the crazy starts. I didn’t want to deal with downloading a copy of Windows and then a trial of VMWare to install the Conrad Hoffman software, so I was actually this close to signing up for a free trial of a Microsoft Azure hosted virtual machine. But then I read about the hurdles you have to go through to install third-party apps on such a service, and kept looking.

I thought later, “What’s the simplest thing that could work?”, and re-discovered Wine/WineBottler, a way to run some Windows programs on a Mac without installing Windows. I tried it, ran the Conrad Hoffman generator, and was surprised when it ran!

Only thing to figure out was what I wanted my spindle-to-pivot distance to be, since that’s the only parameter you enter about your own system. If I wasn’t doing underhang anymore, I had to come up with a suitable overhang for a roughly 12” straight arm. I found a post mentioning one of the Nanook 219 iterations, and someone said they designed theirs to have 14mm of overhang, and their arm was a similar length to mine. That seemed good enough, so I moved the arm pivot, measured the spindle-to-pivot distance as 308mm, and plugged it into the generator. Conrad’s readme file said that if you didn’t want to make a research project out of it, to just go with the DIN setting and Löfgren A (Baerwald). Those inner- and outer-groove measurements looked close enough when I measured a real LP.

I held my breath and clicked “Print Arc Template” and was relieved to see our wireless printer listed in the Windows print dialog. I clicked “Print” and heard printing noises starting up in the next room. I had to print one more copy after correcting for the Y-axis scale. I put it on the turntable, temporarily taped down the platter (per the instructions), lined everything up, and pretty easily got the cart aligned with the arc and the guides. I moved the stylus over a real LP and could see that the stylus was actually very closely aligned with the grooves all way way through the arc. Never got that close before.

I tightened it back in the headshell, put on Minute By Minute by the Doobie Brothers, and was carried away by the sound of perfect alignment all the way through the album side. It was involving and suspenseful, like a live performance that I didn’t know the outcome of. Every voice and instrument perfectly defined and weightless. I heard ambience cues that I never noticed before, and at the end of each song, lots of details that were masked previously. I’m a believer.

If you suspect you need alignment help, go for the Conrad Hoffman custom arc generator. And don’t be scared off if you have a Mac!