The pitch. The crack. The spray of dust. The rush of feet mix with applause as the little white dot of legend flies over the ball park fence. Another winner is born!
At Sweetwater, we are that winner for you - day after day stepping up to the plate with the highest levels of expertise in our field and continuing to be, throughout the many changes and innovations that stir our industry daily, the source for professional audio consulting and sales.
Clearly though, winners are made, not born. It takes consistent training and dedication to your craft to make it to the top. One way we maintain our high "batting average" at Sweetwater is by meeting regularly for what we call "Sweetwater University." Each week, after hours, those voices you've come to know and respect on your phone line can be heard raising questions, sharing experiences and holding further discussions on every audio subject. From drives to DAWs, capsules to cables, the floor is open to whatever synergistic exploration we choose, and man does it get heady sometimes! Anyway, we thought we'd give you a little taste of what one of these sessions is like by showing you an example of one of the topics.
We recently discussed at length the many advantageous, yet sometimes convoluted, setups for synchronization that are available today. "But do I really need to know this stuff?" you ask. "I just write music, tour with a band, or better yet, get all my 'Money For Nothing' by rocking on other people's equipment!" OK, you might not need to have a full command of these variables like we do, but hey, everyone benefits from having at least a modicum of technical chops.
So let's start with this scenario: you are the owner of a Mac computer with Performer or Vision sequencer software. You've decided that an Alesis ADAT, in tandem with the Akai DR8 you already own, is just the ticket to raise the nation's level of consciousness about your happenin' MIDI-Didjeridu music. The question? "How do I synchronize 'em?"
Well, the Didjeridu part we'll have to handle off-line ("This might take a while..."), but the rest we'll do now: the first question you must ask is, "What kind of MIDI interface do I have?" Since you're obviously into MIDI and computers, you know there are plenty of interface options available, with the majority carrying differing specs. For our use, let's say you've been using the small three-out, one-in Fastlane interface by Mark of the Unicorn.
Now we must ask ourselves which unit is to be the "master" deck in our sync scenario. In almost every case, you'll want to give the throne to whatever tape-based recording unit you will have in the loop, since they tend to have the most fluctuations in transport speed. In this case, though it is a very stable machine, the ADAT wears the crown.
The next question is for all you Linguistic majors: What languages need to be understood in my Sync chain? Lest you get out your old high school French book, let me explain: the ADAT sends out for its sync language - its own proprietary sync code - through its nine-pin back panel connector. It also operates under word clock, which allows two digital machines to transfer and sync their information with sample accuracy. Most computer-based sequencers look not for the ADAT's sync language, but rather for what we call MIDI Time Code, or MTC. The DR8 can understand word clock, and through its optional MIDI interface, it can also send MTC. Or, using the optional SMPTE interface, the DR8 can send and receive SMPTE, another professional sync language.
So, with all these different languages in use, what we need is a unit that will translate them in the right directions with speed and accuracy.
If you want to run everything from your computer, Linguistics will not be enough; we also have to major in Management. The language used in pro audio to allow computer sequencers to communicate and command the transport functions of external tape machines is called MIDI Machine Control, or MMC. This is also what universal auto locators use. In this scenario, both the sequencer software and the ADAT receive MMC (the ADAT via an interface), and sequencers also send it.
So what interfaces will speak all these languages and get this ball rolling? Well, that is the question, and at Sweetwater your personal sales reps are well-trained on the many options open to you, for this case and any others you might come across. One way to synchronize all these codes with precision is to set up as follows:
First, give your Fastlane to your nephew. Maybe it'll get him off "Myst" and into creating something for a change. Then get the beefier and altogether cooler MOTU interface, MIDI Timepiece II or Opcode's Studio 4 or 5. Either of these units will serve as your main depot where everything will enter and be redirected. They accept MMC, SMPTE and MTC, so you're safe on all fronts.
But what of the ADATs proprietary sync code? Well, we'll need a unit connected between it and the MIDI interface that will translate it to MTC. The box we'll use, the Alesis AI2 synchronizer for the ADAT, has great versatility and is compatible with many formats. There are less expensive options, such as JLCooper's Datamaster, but they're not quite as versatile for our particular application as the AI2.
Now, for the DR8, we will first have to install the optional SMPTE interface board which plugs directly into the unit's back panel. We will then run an audio cable to this board's SMPTE in from the AI2s audio out.
So, there's the setup. Now, what's really happening in all this cable madness? First, we say "play" from our sequencer. That message goes through the MIDI interface to the AI2 in the form of MMC. It issues the "locate and play" command to the ADAT in the language it understands and voilą, the ADAT starts playing. The AI2 keeps the ADAT in sync while also transmitting MTC back through the MTP II or Studio 4/5 into the computer. This triggers the sequencer to chase (this essentially just means "stay in time with") the MTC, and thus the ADAT. Simultaneously, the AI2 sends the DR8 a stream of SMPTE sync code, which the DR8 chases in perfect time via its SMPTE board.
All the bytes are now biting, the wheels are turning, and we're in sync!
Now the extra credit: What if we want to blow digital tracks between the ADAT and the DR8 or vice-versa? To do this, we'll also need a digital interface such as the Alesis AI1. In this scenario, it is not a synchronizer per se, but it will allow us to transfer our tracks digitally, something the AI2 is not set up to do. That is why we need the word clock connection to the DR8; it allows the DR8's sample clock to lock to the ADAT's clock, providing "sample accurate" sync which is required for digital transfers.
Got it? If it's too much, don't worry; that's what your Sweetwater reps are here for. Sound like kid stuff? Great! We'll be sure to have a stimulating conversation next time you call.
Whatever your sync prowess, all of us at Sweetwater look forward to consistently giving you the right answers to audio dilemmas like this one, and beyond. So give us a call. After all, who else could get that Didjeridu working with your system but your friends here at Sweetwater?!