TNSS: Many Happy Returns

(This Episode’s Banner Image “Lemons” by Tim-Hoggarth can be found here and is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Holy Cats, it’s April already.

I’m sure everyone feels like it’s been a decade or so since we’ve been enduring the COVIDocracy, but at least there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel that doesn’t look like an approaching train coming at us. In the meantime, continue to stay safe out there – mask up, keep your distance, and stay home if you can.

So over the last few weeks I’ve officially made the move to using Edsel as my permanent computing machine. Pretty much everything is up and running for my needs with the exception of just a few bits and pieces – more on this shortly and the workarounds I’ve had to put in place. 

I’ve grown to really like Big Sur (MacOS 11). The last few iterations are beautifully stable, and has tied in a lot of the janky things that iOS seemed to do better like Messages, Notes, Calendars and Reminders – those little things that are really useful when everything seems to cooperate together in the Apple Ecosystem. I’m hoping The Mothership® doesn’t break it all when they show off the OS updates likely due around June.

My love affair for the M1 Macs has also grown as I’ve been using them more and more. In fact, I have a confession to make – I bought another one to replace the MacBook Pro.

There were two main things that pushed me to send Clara Jane packing off to retirement: first, the fact that everything is speedier, snappier, and just more transparent (work-wise) on the M1 Macs. These machines are noting short of stellar and I’ll give you the main example of this later (at least with what I do at EduCorp®), but the real kicker was the damned fans on the 16” MacBook Pro . 

I’ve been using Macs since around 1985 or so, and computers in general since the very early 80’s. I’m betting that in that time I’ve owned at least fifty of them – and likely I’m undercounting by a dozen or so. I’ve bought them new, refurbished, and used, and in one way, shape, or form I’ve gotten years of use out of all of them. Sometimes they had to be replaced because of hardware or software deficiencies. Others could be upgraded with more memory or hard drive upgrades to keep them going, but I really can’t think of one that I would call a lemon – they just worked. Even with the ones that sounded like decrepit vacuum cleaners when they were put under a heavy workload earned their keep. But I’ve honestly never had any one of them annoy me as much as Clara Jane’s incessant noise. 

Of course, this could just be because I’m old and I’ve learned my lesson from years of hearing abuse. Or that I’ve been working in much more quiet environments since moving to the education realm. Or it could just be that every single simple task turns an 8-core Intel-blessed i9 wunderkind into a screaming jet engine in a matter of nanoseconds. Editing an Excel sheet? Whooooosh….. Have too many Safari tabs open? Whirrrrrrrr…. Wanna play a video? Break out the headphones…

Sure, I could have a dud – they do happen. But a bit of web research tells me I’m not alone in my feelings here. There are plenty of complaints about the heat and the fans on the 16” Macs. There are also many about the (near daily) dropouts of Bluetooth or WiFi like I get on Clara Jane. And again there are just as many gripes about the extremely slow Touch ID sensor. Yeah, It might be a clinker, but like the Butterfly keyboards a generation or so back there are lots of people affected by them even if collectively they are just a few drops in the ocean of products shipped and in use – and when you have one of them it just makes every single chore with it unbearable. By the way, if you take this paragraph in for a second you too will experience the incredible karmic irony at play here. It was in January that I decided I needed to move forward to find a replacement.

So of course I retaliated by buying another MacBook – an Air this time. Say hello to Josephine:

Josephine

(That’s Cherry Audio’s Polymode running on the Reaper ARM Beta)

Again, I’m not going to go into my naming strategy as of late – remember that you and I have access to the same Interwebz® and I discussed this back in Episode 1. The DNA between Edsel and Josephine is near-identical though. Same Processor and Cores, same RAM, same storage. One of them is just more portable.

You may be asking yourself why I chose a smaller ‘entry level’ 13” machine with two less USB-C/Thunderbolt ports after having a Pro model with more connectivity and more screen real estate?

Personal Preference.

Before I got Clara Jane I had a 2015 13” MacBook Pro, and I truly loved the size and portability. Unfortunately, the dual-core i7 was getting really slow for some of the tasks I need on a daily basis. So when I decided to upgrade I figured I would once again take a plunge for that ‘Monster’ computer that would do everything I needed now and for the foreseeable future, and would stay that way for years to come. Although I liked the screen size on the 16″, it was heavier and bulkier to move around after using a smaller model for several years prior. My experiences with the M1 Mac Mini and reading multiple reviews that the latest Air was only slightly slower than its MacBook Pro counterpart I knew I wanted to get back to having something that I could easily move about the house (or out and about when we finally can) for when I don’t feel like standing at my desk where Edsel is anchored.

I’m also aware that new M-Series Macs are due soon and a 14” Pro model might be in the cards. But I don’t want several months for that to become available. Also remember that we’re in a Supply Chain crunch as far as computer chips and other electronics go. Josephine was an affordable, powerful computer that was in stock and ready to ship. What comes in the future might be more difficult to get, more expensive to purchase, and may not even happen at all. The Air just fit the bill for what I needed now – and I’m silly happy (and happily productive) with my decision.

The Reaper ARM port is working well enough in its Beta form that I can use it for my grading purposes. Again, a sizable chunk of my Plugins are working on the M1 as Native or under Rosetta and perform as I expect them to. But there are rubies hidden in the dust too! Render speed (Bouncing audio files out) within Reaper is 30% faster on Edsel and Josephine that is was on Clara Jane. Workflow is smoother and doesn’t get in my way. Again, everything just works… These M1’s just absolutely crush while staying quiet, cool, and focused. I have also had none of the other nonsense with wireless disconnects or TouchID lag. Clara Jane can happily rock away on the porch (well, actually shutdown in a backpack) until it might come of need or get moved along to the next owner.

The two minor problems I had to deal with are Soundtoys (still no love for M1 Macs, but they are Big Sur on Intel approved) and Slo Tools, and I expect these to be fixed very soon – Pro Tools just announced Big Sur capability, but again only for Intel processors as of now.

The real issue is (still) Universal Audio. Although they have a ‘workaround’ for getting their software and hardware drivers to work on M1 Macs, it requires putting the Mac into a Reduced Security mode, which I’m not going to tinker with and would rather wait for an ‘official’ release before I can put it back to use. I swear by my Apollo Twin audio interface for its impeccable sound quality and rich feature set, but I still have stuff to do while they make sure everything works as they want it to. So I need a Plan B.

My venerable Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (I think it’s a second generation) just works with all the Macs around the homestead and it even happily connects to the iPads if required – with no drivers needed. I’ve been enamored with Focusrite’s sound and quality for years, but I’m spoiled by that big beautiful volume control knob that also shows the current level right on top of the Apollo Twin and the dinky knob on the Focusrite just was driving me batty. So I took chance on one of these:

Evo4

(Oooohhh – lens flare…)

I’ve used Audient’s interfaces before and have been impressed, but when you have an Universal Audio one they just seemed a bit similar and yet no comparison when you factor in UA’s impressive software. But Audient’s EVO series seemed to press all the right buttons for what I needed: USB C connectivity, Bus Power, available with 2 or 4 inputs, Hi-Z (guitar) input, intuitive design, and all for just over a hundred bucks for the 2-input model. And it has a big beautiful volume control knob that also shows the current level. 🙂 Every function is easily set from the top panel, the sound quality is superb, and there’s more than enough gain on the headphone volume to drive every set I have in the studio (about at dozen at this point…) The build is solid, but it is plastic (corners have to be cut for this kind of pricetag), so although it’s portable I’d be take some precautions when transporting it – don’t just toss it into a bag or backpack willy-nilly.

That big green button on the bottom left is an auto-gain feature for the inputs. I’ll set my own thanks, but it works fine for those who just want to get a good level and start recording. It also has an loopback feature that actually works pretty well. Many interface manufacturers have added this feature for the Audio- and Videocast Set, but the EVO’s have a well-designed software panel that makes this quite usable. Certainly worth a look if you’re in the market.

That’s the state of The New Shiny-Shiny for now. Plenty more to come so pop by every so often to see what the latest hubbub is.

Oh, one more thing (had enough with the Apple cliches yet?) – I put Josephine on to charge last night and have spent today (since around 5 30 am) finishing up a bunch of installs and setting audio program prefs as well as messaging and web browsing and editing pics and writing this in between. At this time (4:30 pm) I have 52% battery left. Welcome to the future – don’t be jealous. 🙂

Be seeing you – until next time…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s