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Danger has a name….and it is “Western Digital Drive Manager”

I know this post is a little more computer related rather than audio, but let’s face it….many of us audio professionals use external hard drives to store our data.

Western Digital Drive Manager is a scary tool….especially for the neophyte.  I’m going to come right out and say it.  It’s one of the worst user interfaces I’ve ever experienced.   Not from a  “it looks bad and the icons are gross” perspective, but from a “if you push this button on accident you’ve just screwed yourself and erased all of your data” perspective.

First off, what’s this tool for?  Well from the title, I would assume that it does all kinds of things that a normal drive manager would do.  Repartition, format, defrag, etc.   No, this drive manager only reconfigures the RAID.  Which is fine for now, because that’s what I was trying to do.  (although if it were ME, I would have called it the WD RAID Mangager)

Before I go totally crazy on Western Digital, let me preface this by saying, the MyBook series has by far been the best hard drive I’ve ever owned.  It’s stable, I have probably 20 of them and no problems.  I love their hardware.

I have a WD MyBook Studio Edition II.  Now, why on earth WD decides to configure these out of the box as RAID 0 (striped) and not RAID 1 (mirrored) is beyond me.   Yes, performance, bla bla.  I think many people would appreciate the data security over the teeny bit of performance increase.  If you’re that concerned about performance, get an internal drive or go thunderbolt and call it a day.

So, I needed to reconfigure this drive from stripe to mirror.  WD luckily gives you this handy utility to change that.  But the fun ends there.  So looking at the screenshot above, what would you assume would be your next step to perform this operation after clicking on the drive?   Well, if you’re like me, I want to “configure” this drive……so I clicked on configure.  As SOON as I did that, the drive was WIPED……CLEAN.  All data gone!   And still RAID 0.  So not only did it not do what I wanted, but it wiped my drive.  There was NO dialog box asking me “Are you sure?”  or “This will erase all data on your drive”

Now, if you’ve spent any time with computers, you should know to backup your drive before doing ANY drive maintenance….which I did.  So no data was lost here, but I’m really frightened for people who don’t know any better and see this as a general drive maintenance utility.   In addition, I’ve been fixing and working with computers since 1991. I’m no stranger software like this.  If I can’t quickly figure how to reconfigure the drive, or click one wrong button with catastrophic results, then we have a problem.

So how do you ACTUALLY reconfigure the RAID?  See that tiny double arrow right next to the current RAID setting under the setup column?  You click on that which brings a drop down list of RAID configurations.  Then you hit configure after you’ve selected your RAID setup.   That being said, it still neglects to ask you if you are sure or remind you that it’s going to erase your data.  Poor GUI aside, it wouldn’t take much to put a popup window saying this, and I personally think it’s quite irresponsible and dangerous for Western Digital not to have implemented this function.  Plus, we’ve all had our fingers slip on the mouse, or accidentally pressed something we didn’t intend to.  There should NEVER be a button that so quickly reformats a drive in a single push. Period.

 

 

 

UPDATE: I felt compelled to place an update to this article BEFORE the actual text for any new readers. Francis and I had a conversation on and off my blog about his article and my interpretation.  Francis has clearly stated that his article wasn’t intended to mean that electronic musicians are lazy, and he also iterated that music is an ever evolving concept and traditional views of how to make music aren’t always accurate.  I told Francis that I appreciate him contacting me about my post and sharing his intention. The ironic thing about the whole situation is: just like I may have taken Francis’s words to mean what he did not intent, anyone that hasn’t read my blog for a period of time would not know that I like to bitch about some pretty mundane stuff from time to time that most people wouldn’t give a second thought……it’s in my nature 😉 So, for the record….I, in no way, intend for anyone to stop reading Electronic Musician or Francis Preve’s articles (I still do). The following blog post is simply me doing what I do best…..bitching about stuff.  And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.


 
I’m quite disappointed in the irresponsibility and lack of professionalism in the latest issue of Electronic Musician (May 2014). In the article “How To, Master Class: Ten Essential Dance Sounds” by Francis Preve, the author makes being a musician sound like a negative. The stereotypes of the electronic musician as a mere button pusher are positively reinforced and actually encouraged in this article.

Another timeless 90’s sound comes from Detroit, in the form of the minor-triad techno stab…Nowadays, you can do it by programming a minor  triad into Ableton’s Chord device – or, if you have a 3 oscillator synth, tune the first to the tonic, the second +3 semitones, and the third +7  semitones, e.g. a fifth. Now play a simple one note riff in whatever key you like, preferably with a four-on-the-floor TR-909 kick. (If you’re  lazy, just play the black keys; that technique does the Detroit thing flawlessly.)

…”if you’re lazy”

So, according to Preve, it’s actually LAZY to play an instrument. It’s LAZY to use your keyboard to play more than one note at a time. Sounds a bit ironic, huh? It would seem to me that the opposite is true. I also like how PLAYING is almost an afterthought….put in brackets and placed AFTER everything else is mentioned.

Let’s face it, the majority of people reading these magazines, and especially “How To” articles, are most likely new to making music, and probably very impressionable. To discourage PLAYING at this early of a stage in their musical development is damaging and completely irresponsible for a magazine that has MUSICIAN in the title.

It’s bad enough when Keyboard Magazine decides to top publishing notated riffs, but this is a whole other level.

Shame on Francis Preve and Electronic Musician.

I know it’s been a long time, but I FINALLY got around to completing this whole mix test.  Luckily, things have been really busy at work.  I’ve been working pretty much non-stop since early December.

To use a phrase from the broadcast field – ‘if you’re just now joining us’ I’m testing the workflow and sonic tradeoffs of mixing ITB vs. OTB vs. summing and using different types of plugins.   If you would like the history of this test, please visit my previous post here.

So, without further ado, here are the results.  (all files are 16bit 44.1kHz stereo WAV)

All the tracks have the EXACT same start and end point.   The levels are somewhat matched, but not EXACTLY.  When you pull these up in your DAW, you may have to move faders just a tiny bit to match.  (I know, I’m a slacker)

Take a listen and see which one YOU think sounds the best.  I’d love to hear from you.  Of course this isn’t ALL about sound, it’s about the tradeoff between sound and workflow.   I’ll explain my opinions further down.

1. McDSP ITB mix
2. McDSP analog summed
3. McDSP analog summed through Vintech
4. Waves SSL ITB mix
5. Waves SSL analog summed
6. Waves SSL analog summed through Vintech
7. SSL Duality LFAC mix

So, this whole exercise was definitely an experience that both reinforced some existing perceptions and helped me to realize a few others. In past “shootouts” I usually leave my opinions out of it and let the reader/listener make up their own mind.  This time around I think my opinion is critical to this post.

Now, one of the biggest surprises that I has was the fact that  I was able to get the mixes so close to each other  for starting from scratch each time.  All in all, there isn’t a lot of difference between these.  I think this speaks to the fact that the tools used to mix are pretty inconsequential compared to the engineer him/herself and the tracking process.  Most bands these days want to rush through tracking and “fix it in the mix”.  That is the biggest mistake you can make as a band.  The SOUND of the record comes from getting the right sounds in the room at the microphone.

The band and I both liked the Waves SSL ITB mix summed through the Vintech (1073  clone) the best as far as pure sonics were concerned.  This mix was by far the most impactful, spacious, and slick in my opinion.  The standard summed mixes ran through the internal stereo mix bus of the Speck X-Sum.  The Vintech mix replaces the 2 bus mix stage of the Speck summing mixer with the line input of the Vintech preamp.  I found that the summing mixer had a much more desirable character when going through the Vintech.

The console mix turned out pretty good I thought.   I was a bit concerned going in that this one would be a disaster.  I haven’t mixed on a console in a long time and I was not completely familiar with the room/speakers.  Surprisingly I was making pretty much the same sonic moves as the other mixes.  I did have to do some submixing due to only have 24 Pro Tools outputs.  I was surprised by how compressed it was compared to the others, but I guess that makes sense (many more amps, electronics, and the 2 bus mix compressor in the actual console is much more forgiving and therefore you can push it more).  The stereo image was definitely the widest on this mix.  As far as workflow is concerned, this reinforced  that I love the sound of analog consoles, but I don’t really think it’s worth the hassle.  It took a long time to get everything running, there’s always the whole session recall issue, and there were maintenance issues while mixing.  Two channels were not working which meant I went from 22 channels down to 20.  The dynamic IN buttons on nearly every channel had to be exercised profusely before the signal stopped cutting out.  HOWEVER, once I was setup on the board, I didn’t get a good mix going in a much shorter time than the other ITB mixes.  I did do the SSL Duality mix last though, so that could have something to do with it.  By that time I kind of knew what needed to be done.

I kind of have the same thoughts about the summing mixer.  Unless you have something like a Dangerous 2 Bus with no pan/volume pot and one that is normalled to the patchbay, it’s kind of pain to deal with the setup and patching of an analog summing mixer.  I think it made a significant improvement in the sound, but is it enough to justify the cost of a nice summing mixer and all the setup time and lack of recall?  I’m not sure.  Depends on the project and my workload that week I guess.

All of these are totally usable mixes.  There aren’t significant enough differences in any one of them for me to say, oh I don’t like that.  I was assuming the Waves SSL mix would take more time because I’ve been mixing so long with EQ that has a graphic display.  I was wrong.  I love the SSL “sound” for rock and using those plugins helped me achieve the desired effect more quickly. I do also like the idea of using the same plugin on each channel just like a console to get a more glued sound.  In the McDSP mix I was also using a few random plugins like the Waves RenEQ.

I would like to thank all the guys in Highway Headline for lending their awesome musical talents for this project.  If you like the song, please check on their webpage.  It should be available for download shortly.  http://highwayheadline.com  I’d also like to thank Colson Wilhoit for assisting on the console mix at Webster University.  This test was very insightful for me and I hope you benefit from it as well!  Talk to  you soon!

Speck Analog Summing Mixer

Speck Analog Summing Mixer

SSL Duality Analog Console

SSL Duality Analog Console at Webster University

Man, I am REALLY bad at staying current with this lately!  I had something planned when Avid release the new s6 console, but I kind of lost interest.

I usually get around to writing a blog post when I’m tackling some sort of issue myself.  There are hundreds of audio blogs out there that do the normal reviews and tutorials.  I think my blog has stayed away from that for the most part.   So keeping with the theme, I have another dilemma.

In working at a studio that is completely “in the box”, I don’t know if I can say that I’ve ever been completely satisfied with my mixes.  I’d like to blame it on a lot of things.  I know I SHOULD only be looking inward and saying the cause rests solely on my mixing skills.  I’m sure that’s a large part of it, but there are definitely some revelations I’ve had along my career that have let me know that there is definitely a gear element there too.

Hardware compression over software compression, analog summing (which I’ve covered in a previous post), proper 2 bus compression, etc…have all added small pieces to the puzzle.

I DO, however think a large part of what I”m missing is mixing on an analog desk though.

SO…..that brings me to my  test.

I’m setting up a little challenge for myself.  I want to mix a song  in a few different ways and see how each comes out.  I will play them back in a double blind test and determine which sounds best.   Here are the different mixing methods.

1. Completely ITB using my usual go to plugins.  (mostly Waves and McDSP Channel G)
2. Completely ITB except using the Waves SSL bundle (unfortunately I don’t have it, so i’ll have to get a demo from Waves)
3. Take the mix elsewhere and mix on an SSL Duality.  I think the REAL SSL will make a huge difference, but it’s been a while since I’ve mixed totally analog, and I will be in an unfamiliar monitoring environment so it might all even out.
4. ITB McDSP mix going through a summing mixer
5. ITB Waves SSL mix going through a summing mixer.

Part of the reason I want to try the Waves SSL bundle is because I also have access to an SSL console for a similar comparison, and I’m really blown away by how DIFFERENT I’ve mixed on these plugins in the past and how aggressive it sounds.    The 2bus comp blows me away every time.  I just can’t get that kind of punch and forwardness out of any other plugins.

To be honest, I’m hoping that I get an amazing mix out of the Waves SSL bundle so I can stop lamenting over not having an analog console.  I hope those plugs get me to where I want to go.  Then I can just buy them and get it over with.   (and then be pissed at myself for not doing it YEARS ago!)

To keep all other elements of the mix equal.  I will apply the following rules.

1. Time limit for every mix will be capped at 3 hours.
2. I will only mix a verse and chorus to keep me on track and not wasting time.
3. The song I use needs to have a fairly minimal track count.
4.  All automation/editing needs to be done ahead of time.
5. All time based effects (reverbs/delays) will be pre-set ahead of time and limited to stock Avid plugins for compatibility

Basically the only thing I want to have different, is the channel EQ/Compression, and 2bus compression on each, as well as the summing matrix.  I’m debating on whether or not to allow myself to use saturation/tape/console emulation in the completely ITB mixes.

I will post the results when I’m finished.  It might be a few weeks so I can make the arrangements for the SSL room and summing mixer.

Now…to find a song to use.

 

 

 

 

 

Apple Doesn't Care About Media Professional People

I was pretty stunned by the news of Apple’s new cylindrical Mac Pro.   Because of it’s amazing speed?   Because of it’s ground breaking design?

No…..because of it’s ability to immediately piss off thousands of Pro Tools users around the word with its exclusion of internal expansion….namely PCIe slots.
Audio professionals have been waiting for an updated Mac Pro for YEARS now.   Apple neglected to updated the highly sought after computer for a long time.  When they released specs on a new machine last year, it came with lackluster reviews, mainly because the specs where barely any different than a 5 year old model.

Now, with the release of the new Mac “Trash Can”, Pro Tools HD users are left completely in the dust.  Without PCIe, Pro Tools users will have to purchase costly Thunderbolt expansion chassis, adding thousands of dollars to the purchase price of the computer. …IF Pro Tools HDX even supports or works well with this technology)

Video and 3D modeling users are in a worse predicament since a replacement video card is completely out of the question.

Unfortunately, we are in the age of laptops and disposable computers.  Expansion and upgradeability have been tossed out the window.   Consumers are expected to buy a new computer almost every year.   My Mac Pro in the studio that runs Pro Tools HD  is going on 7 years old.  It’s still working like a champ, but it’s about time to switch.  That kind of longevity is being phased out buy money hungry corporations like Apple who only care about what’s being sold CURRENTLY…..not what they have sold already.

Another little piece of information that came to me today was the exclusion of OMF export in Final Cut Pro X.

I have a client that needs me to do an audio mix on a film trailer.  I asked my client to send me a DV video file (unfortunately the best format for Pro Tools) and export me an OMF so I have the individual tracks and audio elements.  “What’s OMF?”, he asks?    I have yet to use FCPX so I went out to the internet to find the menu options for exporting OMFs in FCP.   To my surprise, I find that Apple thought it would be a GREAT idea to remove the OMF/AAF export feature from FCPX altogether!

I’m speechless!

You can NOT do a decent audio mix in video editing software.

How does Apple expect people to give audio to a professional to mix?  How does Apple expect FCP to be taken seriously and used in the pro world?

They don’t……they can’t…..They don’t care.

Apple has officially showed their true colors.   Their main customers are teenagers, hipsters, and fanboys buying iPhones and tablets.   All of those media professionals that kept their company afloat during the tough times are being put out to pasture.   Without us, Apple would have died a quick death in the mid late 90’s.

So, maybe it’s time to take the hint a leave you behind Apple.  We’ve had a good run.  The studio will be upgrading soon when Pro Tools 11 comes out.  And since Avid has made some big changes as well, we will have to fork out 10’s of thousands of dollars in upgrades.  A PC may be at the studio when we upgrade.  I guess my Hackintosh I built for home few years ago was foreshadowing the future and making for the perfect transition from my G5 to a shiny new Windows box running Pro Tools 11.

EDIT 06-14-13

Here’s a really great article on what the Mac Pro means for engineers and “Pros”

http://createdigitalmusic.com/2013/06/life-after-slots-what-the-mac-pro-external-hardware-mean-for-production/#more-29512

 

EDIT 7-22-13

Found this great image while browsing Reddit that perfectly exemplifies my issue with the new mac pro.

New Mac Pro 2013

New Mac Pro 2013

I haven’t posted in a little while.  I’ve been SUPER busy with sessions, and my son has been in the hospital. I just got a new RNC compressor that i may review soon. But for now, I’ll keep it short and make a small announcement.  I am now the new Vice Chair or the St. Louis Regional Audio Engineering Society.  I will also be hosting a panel at the Webster University AES Student Summit on Summing, Saturation, and Hybrid Mixing.  The Student Summit isn’t just for students.  It’s like a mini AES convention with major vendors and lot so panels.  SO, if you are in the area March 22nd – 24th, you should definitely try your best to attend!

See you soon!

I’m recording another EP for St. Louis metal band, Black Fast.  So I decided to do some testing on my Peavey 5150 to determine which speakers sound the best, what mics to use, and what microphone preamp to use.

You already know I love a good shootout!  😉

Since the test was already done, I decided that I might as well put the results on the ol’ blog.

THE SETUP

I’ve got an original Peavey 5150 (the signature version) and a Peavey 5150 straight cabinet with Sheffields on the bottom and Celestion Vintage 30 on the top.   I mic’d the the upper left hand speaker with a 57, just a little bit off center close to where the dustcap ends.  The guitar was a Hamer Studio USA model with Seymore Duncans.  My playing is…..bad.  The recording was done at SmithLee Productions.

Peavey 5150 metal

Mic’d up Peavey 5150 to reamp for preamp test

I recorded myself playing a riff direct input to Pro Tools HD and reamped the EXACT same performance out the head so the ONLY difference you are hearing here is the preamps.  Everything else remained the same.

The preamps used were:

1. Amek 9098 (2 channel 1U version)
2. API 3124+
3. Classic Audio Products of IL VP26
4. Sytek MPX-4A
5. Vintech 473 (switched to 300 ohms)

I’ve included the files (somewhat volume matched, you may have to adjust a little) with the same guitar performance being fed to 5 different preamps.   Click the link below, take a listen and tell me which one YOU prefer!

DOWNLOAD