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Mac Notes

...while Kendall Wrightson tackles the Mac...

Back in 1986 after years of scrimping and saving (read "securing a bank loan"), a musician friend of mine purchased his first computer — a Mac Plus. To celebrate this wise decision, Apple promptly reduced their prices by 10%. Earlier this year, the same fellow 'invested' in a Mac Classic II. A month later, Apple decided to supply said computer with a free StyleWriter, equivalent to a 30% price reduction.


While CPU prices have fallen in fits and starts, peripherals have seen regular and far larger price reductions (see the article on mass storage elsewhere in this issue). In our own area of interest, 1992 is seeing a radical reduction in the cost of tapeless recorders, with four new low cost Mac based systems announced at this year's Frankfurt Music Messe: Yamaha's CBX-D5 ("less than £2,500"), Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Waveboard (approx. £1,200, runs with Digital Performer), Digidesign's Sound Tools II (ftba), and Akai's HD-R100 (under £1,400, but at present it's still just a spec sheet). Of the four, the D5 received most attention, thanks to its low cost, radical design, and its manufacturer: the D5 is the first of many products from Yamaha's newly formed CBX (Computer Based products?) division.

Connecting to the Mac's serial and SCSI ports, the D5 gives any Mac (apart from the Plus and Classic) the ability to simultaneously record two, and play back up to four digital audio tracks from hard/optical media. Apart from Akai's HD-R100 — which we'll probably see in about a year or so — all the D5's competitors are NuBus designs, and therefore only work with Mac II CPUs.

The D5 differs from its NuBus brethren in many other respects. Firstly, like Pro Tools (£5,200), the D5 includes both A-to-D and D-to-A conversion and digital I/O (in AES/EBU, S/PDIF and Y2 formats); the Waveboard offers digital I/O only, Sound Tools requires an external digital interface/ADC (£4,702.50 for the lot), and Digidesign's AudioMedia board (£1,127.50) offers built in A-to-D and D-to-A but no digital I/O. Secondly — and uniquely in its price range — the D5 offers built in SCSI. This frees the Mac from the considerable task of pulling digital audio on and off hard/optical disks; however, in an unusual and unique approach, the Mac's own SCSI port is also connected to the target hard/optical disk for the communication of editing commands.

To ensure maximum market appeal, the D5's serial connection can be switched between the Mac and two as yet unknown (IBM-compatible) PC protocols. Atari owners can are also catered for — the D5 includes a MIDI Port that doubles as a control interface for an Atari ST.

Software-wise, Yamaha announced two D5 compatible applications: Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Performer for the Mac, and a version of Steinberg's Cubase Audio for the Atari. There's nothing yet for the PC. Both are integrated MIDI sequencer/digital audio recorders, Digital Performer currently offering compatibility with Pro/Sound Tools and MOTU's own Digital Waveboard. Yamaha claim to have limited MOTU and Steinberg's monopoly on D5 applications to one year, though whether this applies to other applications remains unclear. In any event, mastering software is sure to follow, especially as the D5 includes DSP routines for digital domain reverb, modulation, and digital EQ. Perhaps Digital Performer and Cubase Audio will allow control of these effects — we'll have to wait and see. Time will also reveal details of Yamaha's plans to expand the number of D5 tracks "via SCSI or a NuBus SCSI card" — the former would please my Classic II owning friend.


While hardware costs tumble, Mac software prices — traditionally higher than Atari or PC equivalents — are on the increase. Update charges are rising too, a trend endorsed by Apple; System 7.0 is the first Mac OS upgrade to carry a premium. For Apple and music software houses alike, higher prices reflect the increasing cost of applications development; a complex and time consuming process, particularly for highly sophisticated MIDI and digital audio applications. The task is complicated further by the need to retain compatibility over a wide range of platforms (four different CPUs), two operating systems (6.0.x and 7.0.x), and the ever increasing collection of third party SCSI, NuBus and serial port peripherals.

Increasing public understanding of the intrinsic value of software has taken many years. Back in the early '80s manufacturers produced ridiculously oversized packaging in an attempt to overcome consumer resistance to paying for what was perceived as a 3.5" disk with a pretty label. As piracy began to bite, developers resorted to more draconian methods such as copy protection and, more recently, legal action. However, stunning software and frequent updates have done more to change consumer attitudes than any amount of fancy packaging or legal threats.

C-Lab's Atari-based Notator is a case in point. Having been through seven major upgrades, Notator evolved into a truly outstanding program, so much so that many Mac owners purchased Ataris simply to run it. It's no surprise then that C-Lab's new Mac sequencer, Notator Logic (approx. £550) was the star of the Frankfurt show.

Rather than port Notator over from the Atari, C-Lab took the opportunity to write a new sequencer from scratch. Starting with a blank screen, designers Gerhard Lengeling and Chris Adam took ideas from their Atari portfolio and the range of Mac sequencers, and set the whole within a radically new graphic interface. For example, routing between tracks and MIDI devices is handled by connecting on-screen virtual patch leads, an idea first seen on Opcode's OMS (see Galaxy review, SOS October '91). However, rather like Opcode/IRCAM's object oriented MIDI programming language Max (see SOS July '91), Notator Logic's 'Environment' also provides sophisticated real time MIDI 'objects'. These offer MIDI processing functions such as splits, layers, message convertors and merging, features normally associated with dedicated MIDI routers/patch bays and mother keyboards.

Another Notator Logic first is its Hierarchical Arrange Mode. HAM does away with rigidly defined concepts such as tracks, patterns, songs etc., grouping any combination of recorded data — from a track to an entire song — into Folders that can be dealt with collectively.

Lengeling and Adam put great emphasis on Notator Logic's real time abilities — most everything can be edited in record/playback, including the current recording track (and therefore instrument). In addition, MIDI data is transmitted through the Mac's serial ports faster than any other application — even via MIDI Manager. C-Lab have also endowed Notator Logic with the highest resolution and tempo range yet seen on the Mac: 960ppqn and 0.05 to 9999.99bpm respectively. On the notation side, Notator Logic offers all of Notator's facilities, including the ability to print from within the program — a unique facility in the Mac MIDI universe.


Like all the Mac hardware and software launched at Frankfurt this year, Notator Logic helps to promote the Mac as the music computer, an view impossible to defend while the Atari had the best MIDI sequencer/notation application, and the lowest price. The Mac's reputation will be strengthened further by Yamaha's decision to produce Mac-based products. However, the idea that low-cost Macs would result in cheaper software turns out to be unfounded. In the Atari world, application prices have long since eclipsed the cost of the computer itself. If Apple continue their current hardware strategy, the same is bound to happen on the Mac. With software like Notator Logic, however, we shouldn't complain.

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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - May 1992



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