Keeping up with the Mac product portfolio last year was a full time occupation. This year will be tougher still since, apart from the usual October CPU deluge, five new machines are promised in February (as we'll see later). The first quarter should also see the UK launch of the Macintosh Performas (a range of 'consumer' Macs currently unavailable outside the US), and no doubt in between Apple will slip in one or two new machines and the odd price restructuring exercise just for good measure.
The constant stream of new Macintoshes and attendant price adjustments makes it difficult to answer the question Mac aficionados are asked most frequently: "What is the cheapest way into sequencing and/or tapeless recording on the Mac?"
At the time of writing (end of November) the cheapest Mac-based MIDI sequencing package consists of Passport's Turbo Trax (£76.55, from MCMXCIX, (Contact Details)), a 16-track MIDI sequencer, and the MIDIman MIDIMac (£45.96, distributed by Zone, (Contact Details)), a 1-in, 1-out MIDI interface. The cheapest Mac is the Classic 2/40, though 4MB of RAM is the absolute minimum when running System 7 — 2 x 1MB SIMMs = around £50 inc VAT).
With a new colour Mac Classic slated for February release, some dealers I spoke to have decided to cease sales of standard Classics (at current prices), to avoid (they say) the now biannual deluge of angry customers asking why they were sold out of date hardware. However, there is another, more significant reason.
For the Classic 2/40, (SRP £525) I was quoted £495 (ex VAT) by major music (and non-music) dealers. However, leafing through the London Evening Standard last Friday, I noticed an advert from Wilding Office Equipment offering the same machine bundled with the excellent ClarisWorks (integrated business software) for only £399 — a difference of £96 for the hardware alone, and £255 when you take into account the value of ClarisWorks (typical mail order price £159). Inclusive of VAT, the price differential is £112.80/£299.63.
The contrast between 'consumer' and 'professional' Mac prices may well force non-multiple dealers to drop consumer Macs altogether, advising customers to purchase hardware from the high street, and MIDI software from the dealers. However, as with the Atari ST, it won't be long before the multiples grow hip to fact that they can link their Macs up to their racks of portable keyboards, and begin selling MIDI software too. When that happens, all music dealers will have to move up-market, or move out of computers all together.
Anyway, back to our example: the Wilding-priced Classic 2/40 (£449 — £399 for the basic machine, plus £50 for the extra 2MB) brings our cheapest Mac sequencing set-up to a total of £571.51 (£671.52 including VAT). At these prices, the Mac can — at long last — just about compete with the Atari ST. An equivalent Atari based package would retail at around £500 (inc): £399 for the 1040STE and £99 for Cubase Light, a no-frills 16-track sequencer (but there's nothing to compete with ClarisWorks in this package).
Our minimal cost Mac sequencing package can be improved substantially by replacing Turbo Trax and the MIDIMac with Opcode's EZ Vision Starter Kit (£194.89, MCMXCIX). This includes EZ Vision (a 16-track sequencer with graphic editing), The Book Of MIDI (an interactive HyperCard stack), Band In A Box v5.0, an auto-accompaniment application, and the MIDI Translator, a 1-in 3-out MIDI Interface — a total package value of £643.89 (£756.57 inc. VAT).
Keeping tabs on new machine prices is hard enough; following the second-hand market is nigh impossible. Many people offering secondhand Macs have no idea how quickly and frequently their machines are depreciating. A quick scan through the small adds reveals Mac Pluses being sold for as little as £150 and as much as £950!
However, to turn a £150 1 MB Mac Plus into a Classic 2/40 equivalent would take its price above the cost of a new machine (and no free ClarisWorks). Clearly Plus prices will have to drop: £100 or £50 is more realistic. The new Colour Classic and Performa 200 (a re-badged Classic II 2/40, most likely bundled with ClarisWorks) will make the Plus drop even further, and should force second hand SE, SE/30 and Classic II prices below the £500 mark. Next month will also see second-hand LC and LC II prices take a serious nose-dive with the arrival of the LC III, a 25MHz 68030 machine, offering a 1.5-times increase in speed over the LC/LC II.
The cheapest way into 16-bit Mac tapeless recording (cheap 8-bit recording is available via Passport's Audio Trax) is the winning combination of Digidesign's £850.21 AudioMedia II (MCMXCIX) — which offers A-to-D and D-to-A conversion, S/PDIF digital I/O, and Sound Designer II editing/playlist software — and the new £1,595 Mac IIvi 4/40 (the cheapest Mac with a NuBus slot). As far as recording media go, it's worth buying a hard drive that's known to work with AudioMedia II, as some drives cannot provide the necessary sustained data transfer rate required for stereo direct to disk recording. Expect to pay around £550 for 240MB drive (20 stereo minutes). Such a system would retail at £2,995 (£3,519.13 inc VAT). If you don't already own one, you'll also need a DAT machine for backup purposes.
After Apple's two new mid-range Macs hit the streets next month, falling second-hand prices of NuBus equipped Macs such as the IIex, IIci and IIsi (fitted with a NuBus adaptor card) should lower the cost of the budget tapeless system even further. The Centris 610 will be a 20MHz 68040 machine in an LC ('pizza-box') case, offering a single NuBus/PDA slot, while the Centris 650 is a 25MHz '040 device in a IIvi/vx case offering three NuBus slots and built-in Ethernet. Both will directly support 16-bit colour for monitors up to 16", as will the new Quadra 800, a smaller version of the top of the range Quadra 950.
Apropos of new products, Californian MIDI software houses Opcode and Mark Of The Unicorn will both be ringing in the new year with brand new products. Opcode's Overture ($495 US retail) is a notation package to rival Coda's Finale 2.0 (£699), Passport's Encore (£429.95), MOTU's Mosaic (£535) and Steinberg's (yet to ship) Cubase Score (£TBA). Whether Overture will offer direct MIDI input facilities to rival the mighty Finale is as yet unclear, but as you might expect, Overture can import Vision files directly, while other sequencer files have to pass through a MIDI file translation stage.
MOTU's new offering is UniSyn, a universal Patch Editor/Librarian that reads directly files created by rivals (Opcode) Galaxy and (Dr.T) X-Or. In fact, so similar is UniSyn to its rivals that it's difficult to say anything new except that, when running in tandem with Performer (now at v4.0), all changes made in UniSyn will automatically be reflected in Performer. MOTU promise editor/librarian modules for over 100 devices including synths, ROM players, MIDI patchers and effects units.
This first quarter of the new year will also see the arrival of the Yamaha CBX D5, a tapeless recording SCSI add-on for the Mac (first mentioned in the very first of these columns back in May '92), and the first tapeless recording applications for the Atari Falcon030. Will Falcon sales affect the Mac? Will October's new Macs include 16-bit audio and built-in MIDI? Is it possible for Sound On Sound to get even better? In any event, may I wish you a happy and prosperous new year.
Feature by Kendall Wrightson
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