Today’s Mac laptops are designed to process massive amounts of information at remarkable speeds. This type of computing power is ideal for working with high-quality audio material.

However, the standard audio interface built into these mobile Macs does not provide the highest quality audio throughput. For those yearning for a way to record and play back pristine audio, an external audio interface is the solution.

The Truth Behind Digital Audio Converters

Almost every Mac laptop has a built-in audio interface consisting of a microphone input and a headphone/speaker output. Without getting too technical, this is where incoming audio signals are digitized and outbound audio signals are converted back into analog sound waves via audio converters.

The quality of these built-in audio converters is decent enough for listening to compressed audio on ear buds but insufficient when working with full-bandwidth audio in a professional setting. By investing a little money into a third party external audio interface, one can enjoy high-quality audio throughput on a Mac laptop.

There is no shortage of external audio interfaces on the market. They range in price from $69 to over $5000. To help limit your options, first settle on a budget and then consider the options within your price range.

Ideal Audio Input and Output Configuration for Mac Audio Interface

The spectrum of audio interface configurations is vast – from simple, single input devices all the way up to fully configurable multiple input and output interfaces designed for professional sound applications.

For most users, upgrading to an external 2 input/2 output interface is the the best way to improve the sonic capabilities of a Mac laptop. These external devices improve the overall quality of the audio in several ways:

  • Audio conversion occurs in the external interface, not in the harsh environment of the computer.
  • The physical connections of an external interface are generally more robust and reliable.
  • And most importantly, the analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters in an external interface are almost always of a higher quality than those found inside a laptop.

Apogee’s Duet, Digidesign’s Mbox and Metric Halo’s ULN-2 are some excellent examples of quality 2-in/2-out interfaces. All of these devices allow for recording and monitoring stereo or mono sources while providing a stereo output, a headphone jack and phantom power. These interfaces also incorporate other useful connections such as S/PDIF, MIDI or Word Clock.  For those who need to monitor in surround sound or record three or more sound sources at a given time, a multichannel interface is required but avoid falling for the lure of more inputs and outputs unless you really need them. Quite often, a higher quality 2-channel interface can be purchased for the same price as a cheaper multichannel interface.

Audio Interfaces for Mac: Compatibility and Connectivity

Once you have some potential interfaces singled out, the next step is to check each manufacturer’s website to confirm that the audio interfaces are compatible with your laptop and OS combination.

While visiting each company’s site, be sure to spend some time browsing their user community (or forum) to see what other users with similar computers have to say about the interface. If a company does not have a community for its users, then it may be best to avoid buying their interface.

The last consideration is connectivity. All external audio interfaces connect to laptops via Firewire, USB or, more rarely, CardBus. Firewire is often considered the top choice with USB being the next best option (CardBus is better suited for other purposes). Connectivity via Firewire or USB is not an issue for most Mac laptops but it is worth mentioning that there are some Mac laptop models – old and new – that do not support Firewire.

Cubase 5 is the latest update to Steinberg’s flagship music production platform. Cubase was first introduced in 1989 as a MIDI sequencer for the classic Atari ST computer. Over the last twenty years, Cubase has grown from its humble MIDI-only beginnings into one of the top DAWs for modern day music producers. With all the new additions and improvements found in this latest version, Cubase 5 will not only be instantly enjoyed by long-time Cubase users but also by those looking for a new DAW to expand their creative options.

Cubase 4 Vs. Cubase 5

Introduced in 2006 to replace the SX/SL/SE designation, Cubase 4 was (and still is) viewed as a ‘lemon’ by many in the audio production world. In 2007, Steinberg tried to rectify the situation by releasing the Cubase 4.1 update. Although some of the bugs were fixed by this update, there was still an alarming lack of stability for both Mac and PC Cubase users.

For a music producer, there are few things more frustrating than a DAW that crashes repeatedly for reasons that are not fixable by the end user. With Cubase 5, Steinberg has put this instability issue to rest while at the same time preserving many of the desirable features of Cubase 4 – such as the ability to change the order of channel insert effects via drag and drop and the introduction of instrument tracks.

What’s New in Cubase 5

Besides fixing much of what was wrong with version 4, Steinberg has also enriched Cubase 5 with a bundle of useful features that cannot be found in any other single digital audio workstation. There are a several striking new features in Cubase 5 that will immediately appeal to users working primarily with either beats or vocals.

Beat Generation and Loop Manipulation

Remixers and electronic music producers will find three new and inspiring beat-creation tools in Cubase 5:

  • ‘Groove Agent ONE ‘– a traditional MPC-style virtual instrument with rich editing/programming features.
  • ‘Beat Designer’ – a slick step-sequencer designed to work in conjunction with ‘Groove Agent ONE’.
  • ‘Loopmash’ – an unique loop manipulation instrument that works by synthesizing slices from a series of audio loops into fresh, locked-to-tempo audio material.

Pitch Correction and Vocal Editing Tools

Those users working with vocals or any other material that requires pitch correction or adjustment will find two welcome additions in Cubase 5.

The first is a stunning new feature called ‘VariAudio’. It a Melodyne-type pitch editor that is built right into the Cubase sample editor. For those unfamiliar with Melodyne, imagine the potential of editing software that allows you to edit the pitch of monophonic audio as quickly and seamlessly as if editing MIDI pitch data. Cubase is the first DAW on the market to include this powerful feature.

Cubase 5 also includes ‘Pitch Correct’ – a high quality, monophonic VST3 plug-in designed to correct intonation and pitch in real-time.

A Few Sleeper Features

Some of the less flashy yet truly priceless additions to Cubase 5 are the addition of a virtual MIDI controller keyboard and a feature called ‘Channel Batch Export’.

Virtual MIDI keyboards have been included in other DAWs (such as Apple Logic) for years. For some odd reason Steinberg has withheld this simple feature from the Cubase DAW until now. In Cubase 5, users have the option of activating a virtual MIDI keyboard via the transport bar. Once activated, the user can trigger MIDI notes by hitting the corresponding keys on the computer keyboard. This is an essential tool for mobile music production as it eschews the need for an external MIDI controller.

‘Channel Batch Export’ allows the Cubase user to export all the audio tracks in a multitrack session to individual audio files in just one pass. This feature is a huge time-saver for users with archiving requirements or for those needing to transfer projects between different DAWs.

With all these useful features Cubase 5 is a no-brainer upgrade for any registered Cubase user but also an enticing package for music producers currently working on any of the other top DAWs.

I am currently on a plane to Orange County, California. And after my second over-priced Heineken, I feel very confident that this is a good time to start a new blog. So as a first entry, let me explain a bit about what I hope to achieve with this piece of cyberspace real estate.

The blog is called ‘Tales from the Sonic Sietch’ and will focus on my relationship with music and music-making technology. This will include any news related to my current and former projects and any projects to which I lend my remixing or other music production energies toward. I will also include articles about the latest in music gear.

Now that I’ve outlined things a bit, please enjoy this picture of a cat chewing on a piano.

Eat, Pray, Glass bottom boat,

Clayton

do ra me fa so la te nom!