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synkrotron

A new, pragmatic approach...

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This is going to be a potentially long post, but I shall first of all post a TL;DR version here just to give you a flavour.

Recently I have been spending some of my hard earned cash on new music gear and software.

Just as a hobby, mind, I ain't no pro...

Anyway, to cut a long story short, due to ongoing issues with what could be either software or hardware, or both, I am having to take a step back and weigh up my options. Hence, the pragmatic approach.

I had hoped that I could combine my love of software and hardware into one project, using a DAW that could do everything I needed it to. In the end it seems that what I am trying to achieve is simply not possible.

I could throw more money at it. However, I am currently not earning a crust and so I seriously have to address my past spending habits.

I will return to using mainly software for my creations but will incorporate my hardware where and how ever possible.

Perhaps in the future, when I have the funds, I will investigate replacing some of my current hardware. I should add, in defence of that hardware, my laptop has been a great tool and it is only now that it seems to be letting the side down. As an "in the box" sound design tool I am sure that it will give me another five years service.

I will follow up this post with further details of my desires, set-up, and problems encountered. You never know, someone might say, "hey, you can simply do this!" Or, "yeah, there's no way that that idea will ever fly."


cheers, and thank you for getting this far,

andy

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Okay, so first of all I will expand upon my current studio set-up.

My laptop is a CLEVO P150EM consisting of an Intel Core™i7-3820QM Quad Core Mobile Processor 2.70GHz 8MB cache, Intel HM77 Express Chipset, 16GB SAMSUNG 1600MHz SODIMM DDR3 RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675M - 2.0GB DDR5 Video RAM, 500GB Samsung 850 Pro SSD and a 1TB Samsung 850 Pro SSD.

Audio Interface consists of two OCTA-CAPTURE units with one in "expansion" mode which gives me a total of 16 audio inputs and a stereo digital input. Each unit has MIDI in/out. The documentation for the OCTA-CAPTURE recommends that they are connected to the same USB controller, and, if that is not possible, to use a USB hub. I have opted for the hub because I have a limited amount of USB ports on my laptop.

I have a Roland MMP-2, a mic pre, which has SPDIF out and I connect that to the OCTA-CAPTURE stereo digital input to give me a total of analogue 18 audio inputs.

Further MIDI connections are provided by a MOTU micro lite MIDI I/O USB device (connected to PC) which gives me an extra 5 MIDI in/out connections.

I have an Oberheim OB-12 VA synth which has MIDI in/out (problematic in that for some reason I can only switch banks using SYSEX). I take a mono audio out from this.

I have a Novation NOVA VA synth which has MIDI in/out/thru. I take a mono audio out from this.

Alesis DM5 drum synth which has MIDI in/out(thru). I take a stereo out from this.

Arturia MINIBRUTE analogue mono synth. This has both MIDI and CV/Gate connections but I choose to "play" it via MIDI. A mono synth so just one audio out.

Arturia Beatstep Pro hardware sequencer has MIDI in/out as well as CV/Gate and I use this in slave mode, sync'd via MIDI from #1 OCTA-CAPTURE. I use the Beatstep Pro to then clock various things on my modular system.

Modular system - I take up to eight audio outputs from this.

Line 6 HX Effects outboard effects unit (guitar pedal). I connect the USB to the PC and can sync the tempo in the DAW via MIDI. I use this as a send effect and therefore I have to use a suitable VST to direct audio to a pair of outputs on the O-C and then back in to a pair of inputs. I can also use MIDI to select presets.

Lexicon MPX 500 outboard effects unit. I connect the MPX 500 to one of the O-C via MIDI in order to sync tempo. As per the HX Effects unit I use a suitable VST to route audio back and forth. I also use MIDI to select presets.

DAW wise I have licenses for REAPER and Studio One 3. Cakewalk by Bandlab is also installed.


I'm sure there are larger studio setups on the planet. What makes this particular setup a challenge is what I am trying to do with it. More of that next.

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A brief history in time: And into the Future...

Back in the late nineties and into the early naughties I developed a studio setup based on hardware synths and effects which were all connected to a 12 channel mixer. I used Cakewalk back then, with no audio capabilities to drive my MIDI gear and used Sound Forge to record a final stereo WAV file.

Still in the early naughties I joined a real band. That took up most of my time, musically, and my gear gathered dust.

In the mid naughties I attempted to get back into doing my own stuff again. By this time SONAR 5 was on the scene and I decided to upgrade to that. So much of a jump for me, in fact, that I paid full price for the Studio edition. I was still using my hardware stuff at this time but recording now into SONAR as individual tracks. I had, by this time, treated myself to a 16 channel MIDI mixer that had ADAT capabilities and an RME soundcard which also had ADAT.

Another hiatus followed and it wasn't until the summer of 2012 that I took the opportunity to upgrade to SONAR X1 Producer. And at the same time I purchased my current laptop.

By this time I had dismantled my hardware studio and I decided to go down the route of using software synths and effects. And a productive and interesting journey that has been.

Every now and then, though, I think, "I really should dust off the old JP-8000 and see if I can do something with it." And I did, for a time. My studio location changed, at the behest of SWMBO and stuff got put away again.

Then a couple of years ago my son and I watched the "I Dream of Wires" documentary and it wasn't long before we had built up a nice little modular system.

Shortly after that I was given permission to take over one of the spare bedrooms, now that our offspring had fled the coup. The hardware was dusted off and slowly but surely I started to make use of it. Not as much as what I would have liked and I still gravitated to ITB stuff. The modular system would sometimes take centre stage and the older MIDI stuff would be sat there doing nothing. And then I'd be back doing software stuff.

My latest acquisition was a second Roland OCTA-CAPTURE with a view to increasing the number of audio inputs and thereby allowing me to start looking at bringing all the pieces of my studio into play. I'm not a great instrumentalist and therefore I intend to utilise MIDI for the hardware that is capable and the Beatstep Pro will act as a link to the MIDI stuff as well as being a hardware sequencer. Early experiments synchronising the MIDI equipment with the modular system went quite well.

So, my dream of being able to compose "music" using a combination of VST instruments and effects, MIDI hardware synths, hardware effects and the modular setup was starting to take shape.

It seems, however, that I have bitten off more than I can chew... That the dream is, unfortunately, struggling to become a reality.

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For reasons not worth mentioning here I had ditched Studio One (which I switched to after the demise of Cakewalk) and started using REAPER. I have become reasonably happy with its setup and got past that point of trying to get it to look and feel right to work with. I worked up a project that would become a template. Things were going okay, but then I realised that I was having a problem with synchronising stuff. Although it is possible to apply delay to MIDI hardware outputs I have been unable to get stuff into line. REAPER doesn't seem to be well supported in this way. I have found some articles about the issue and there may even be some workable solutions but I decided to try Cakewalk by Bandlab because I recall being able to set timing offsets on a per track basis.

Again, things were going okay. I created a couple of MIDI sequences that drive my MIDI hardware synths. I created a VST drum track which was there mainly for checking timing. It is possible to set offset times to the hardware MIDI tracks so that they synchronise with the VST MIDI tracks. I realised that I should have started with synchronising the Beatstep Pro first, though, and had to adjust everything else to suit that. There doesn't seem to be a way to create an offset to the MIDI clock out of a particular device output. So I had to adjust timing offsets again, but it was reasonably quick to do.

I have two outboard effects units. A Line 6 HX Effects, essentially a guitar effects unit, but it is also a great multi-effects box. And a Lexicon MPX 500.

I figured out that I need to create a couple of new stereo busses and in their FX bins insert the External Insert VST that comes with Cakewalk.

And now to the seemingly unsolvable problem...

As soon as I added a send to the HX Effects bus and started playing the project nothing at all was in sync anymore. Further to that, I could adjust the timing offsets to suit the new audio delay, but the delay is inconsistent and all over the place. If I disable the outboard effect or remove the send then the timing settles down again.

I am at a loss as to what to do next to be honest.

One thing I know I have to try, once I get my motivation back, is go back to just one OCTA-CAPTURE. Could be that connecting the two units together via a USB hub isn't such a great idea, regardless of what it says in the OCTA-CAPTURE manual.

I could also try plugging all the various USB hardware into different ports, see if that helps.

Another thing that springs to mind, and would be something I could check pretty quickly, is remove the outgoing clock signal to the ports that synchronise the tempo of the two effects unit. It felt like a good idea at the time to have the DAW setting effects tempo instead of editing the effect preset to suit each project tempo.

I have been running some tests with LatencyMon and the Centrance ASIO Latency Test Utility. Early days on that, though, and I need to carry out more tests and then try to interpret the results. First impression is that all is well in terms of the capabilities of my laptop but there are issues and I am not sure if they are real issues or things that do not matter with respect to duplex audio.

Other things to try would require quite a bit of cash to do. Such as replacing my old laptop for starters, and perhaps even going back to a desktop which would have a greater amount of USB connections. Or even consider a PCIe audio interface.

So much to think about, and none of it conducive to actually creating sonic soundscapes!


Thank you very much for getting this far. I appreciate your time.

cheers

andy

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I guess it all depends on your main objectives Andy.  I know you are very much an ITB kind of guy. I would do as you propose and look at hardware control of more parameters if I were working ITB.  There is some very cool gear out there older and used  with amazing midi control built in. More recent developments are  some of the Softube stuff. I'll never forget my old CME 88 key controller. What was unique about it was it had a midi tempo dial. I could speed up/slow down midi mixes at will. CME went through some driver compatibility issues and fell out of favor with lots of musicians for that reason.  

 

Are you using hardware synths as well? 

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1 hour ago, synkrotron said:

I have two outboard effects units. A Line 6 HX Effects, essentially a guitar effects unit, but it is also a great multi-effects box. And a Lexicon MPX 500.

I figured out that I need to create a couple of new stereo busses and in their FX bins insert the External Insert VST that comes with Cakewalk.

Chances are the effects unit's latency varies depending on its settings. This could prove challenging when using it as an external insert.

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Hiya Tim ( @Starise) :)

19 minutes ago, Starise said:

I guess it all depends on your main objectives Andy.

Well, the intention was to use everything I have at my disposal, both hardware and software. List is above in one of them posts.

I could still carry on what I was doing which was some ITB stuff and every now and then some modular stuff. Or I could record a modular session and then add to it using software synths and hardware synths. I guess if I was more proficient at actually playing keyboards I would simply record a live take and do away with MIDI altogether.

22 minutes ago, Starise said:

Are you using hardware synths as well? 

Yes, I have two VA synths from the early 2000's and a drum synth.

To be honest, any of my software synths knock them into a cocked hat in terms of sound and capabilities but it is a real shame to have them sat there gathering dust.

 

cheers mate, and thanks for dropping by :)

cheers

andy

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23 minutes ago, scook said:

Chances are the effects unit's latency varies depending on its settings. This could prove challenging when using it as an external insert.

Yeah, I think you're right @scook :)

They are turning out to be simply not worth the hassle, not how I want to use them anyway. I could still use them along with the modular, I think, and go into them and then onto my audio interface.

Again, software appears to be winning here... If I had a proper mixing desk, with real inserts and what have you then I'd be good to go, but trying to go through the OCTA-CAPTURE units, and the laptop/Cakewalk, is turning out to be too problematic...

 

cheers

and thanks,

andy :)

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2 hours ago, synkrotron said:

One thing I know I have to try, once I get my motivation back, is go back to just one OCTA-CAPTURE. Could be that connecting the two units together via a USB hub isn't such a great idea, regardless of what it says in the OCTA-CAPTURE manual.

I have just tried this and although the delay appears to be a little bit more consistent, at 200ms delay it is driving me around the bend and I just can't work with it.

I might as well reinstate my second OCTA-CAPTURE now using the USB hub.

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