Now that Mac OS X is quite polished with version 10.1, Apple is betting that the next generation operating system will continue to keep the Mac popular among musicians, audio pros and music educators.
In promotional/review materials for Mac OS X 10.1, Apple boasts that the operating update “introduces an array of audio capabilities that will ensure Apple’s place as the preferred platform for music and audio.” The new audio services are designed to make music systems more powerful and easier to configure than ever before. So what’s included in the feature set that “lays the foundation of the next generation of killer music and audio applications”? Let’s see what Apple is promising.
High resolution audio, for starters. The professional standard for high-resolution audio is 24-bit/96-kHz audio. Mac OS X 10.1 goes beyond this standard by managing all audio as 32-bit, floating-point data. “So your Mac not only efficiently handles today’s high-resolution audio, but it’s prepared for tomorrow’s even higher resolution audio formats,” Apple says.
Multichannel audio. The Mac operating system has historically offered two-channel stereo output only. While that may be okay for some applications, Mac OS X 10.1 is designed to handle higher-end software by delivering native multichannel audio capability scaleable to “n” channels, which enables features like 5.1 channel surround sound from your Mac. It also provides software with multichannel recording capability, which gets rid of the third-party middleware that was once needed to deliver over two channels of audio to hardware devices.
Mac OS X’s HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer) provides high-performance, ultra-low latency communication between apps and I/O (in/out) devices that’s “measurably more efficient than in previous solutions,” according to Apple. The result: there’s no delay for timing sensitive audio data as it makes its way from the input device through the Mac OS X audio infrastructure to output. Apple says that Mac OS X is fast enough that musicians can play MIDI instruments through the computer in real-time. This means they could use the Mac as an effective synthesizer for live performance. Apple says “this kind of audio performance hasn’t been available on any other computer platform without expensive and time-consuming system modifications” and that it “rivals the performance of specialized audio hardware.”
Mac OS X also makes another break from tradition. No longer does the Mac operating system have to use third-party software to manage MIDI. Mac OS X includes MIDI services that Apple describes as “world class,” providing software apps with the ability to manage MIDI and define a system wide MIDI configuration that’s available to all applications. What’s more, Mac OS X provides music services (the fundamental functions of MIDI sequencers, including common MIDI editing routines like cut, copy, paste and repeat) to applications.
Digital audio can also be enhanced with digital signal processing (DSP) plug-ins that process audio, such as applying reverb or distortion, and send the processed audio back through the audio system. Though DSP plug-ins for the Mac have flourished over the years, they come in a variety of formats that aren’t always compatible so developers have often ended up making different versions of their plug-ins for different applications. Mac OS X is designed to make audio plug-ins more universal by offering a system-level plug-in protocol called Audio Units.
Apple says that Audio Units offer the Mac developer community a way to deliver plug-ins that will work with all the audio apps running on the Mac. Mac OS X 10.1 delivers several Audio Units, including a Velocity Engine optimized reverb and a sample rate converter.
The new audio architecture of Mac OS X will combat two problems that relate to timing, one endemic to the process of recording and the other a by-product of its new “industrial strength” OS.
A significant challenge of music recording and production is to ensure that tracks presently being recorded can be synchronized to previously recorded tracks, and also to ensure that they can be written back to disk correctly in time. (The delay between reading the previous tracks from the hard disk and routing them to the musician is called latency.)
Prior to Mac OS X, companies developed their own technologies, which included buffering, to combat latency and to allow audio tracks and MIDI channels to be routed to the artist in unison, enabling the musician to play “in sync.” Digidesign’s TDM (time-division multiplexing) and Steinberg’s VST (Virtual Studio Technology) are two examples of this type of technology for dealing with audio. (The inclusion of folders bearing these acronyms in OS X’s libraries indicates both these technologies will be accommodated in OS X.)
The preemptive multitasking and virtual memory capabilities of OS X’s BSD core, where the CPU will be called upon to regulate computing time between a variety of applications and processes, would have proven too great a challenge for a third party developer to combat. (Under previous versions of Mac OS, most sequencer developers have required that virtual memory be turned off.) Moving these services inside the OS frees developers to concentrate on enhancing their interfaces and adding post-production capabilities.
And MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) timing and device control in OS X will finally move beyond the venerable OMS (Open Music System) and Mark of the Unicorn’s FreeMIDI applications. The presence of Doug Wyatt (the developer of OMS) on Apple’s music team shows that the company will build upon — and presumably surpass — the world standard in this area. The document distributed at WWDC claims that OS X will handle MIDI with a latency factor of one millisecond, almost real-time performance.
Of course, the power of this audio infrastructure won’t be realized until music apps go Mac OS X native. But it’s happening. BIAS is bringing Peak and Deck to the next generation operating system; Logic is on the way from E-Magic. And others are in the works.
Peak and Deck are the two flagship products from BIAS. Peak is the company’s two-channel digital audio editing program for the Mac. The Carbonized version is scheduled to be released in November, making BIAS one of the first developers to release a professional audio tool to support the new Mac operating system, according to Christine Berkley, BIAS vice president of marketing.
A Carbonized version of BIAS Deck — the multitrack audio editing, mixing, and signal processing program, with support for up to 999 virtual tracks, real-time automated mixing and multiple plug-ins — is due soon after the Peak release, she added. Along with supporting all the enhancements provided by MX OS X, the forthcoming versions of Peak and Deck will also run under OS 9. In developing these new versions of Peak and Deck, BIAS is working to ensure that both programs are fully compliant with Core Audio, a key component of Mac OS X, Berkley said.
“Our customers will certainly benefit from OS X’s more publicized features, such as protected memory space for enhanced system stability and of course, the very cool Aqua interface,” she added. “But thanks to Core Audio, Peak and Deck will also support new generations of multichannel, multiclient hardware, with performance that can exceed 24-bit / 96kHz. Just imagine, for instance, running Deck on channels 1 through 6 of an audio interface, while simultaneously running Peak on channels 7 and 8 — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Details such as pricing and new feature enhancements for the forthcoming Mac OS X-compatible versions of Peak and Deck haven’t been announced yet.
A Carbonized version of Deck VST 3.0, their multitrack digital audio workstation, is also in the works. Deck offers support for VST, Steinberg’s widely adopted real-time plug-in format. The latest version, Deck VST 3.0, ships with more that 25 free VST plug-ins, including Waves AudioTrack, featuring Paragraphic EQ, Compressor, Limiter, Expander and Gate.
Emagic, a manufacturers of software and hardware for music and audio production, is beta testing Mac OS X versions of Logic Audio 5.0, and drivers for the Unitor8 MkII, AMT8 and MT4 MIDI interfaces and the EMI 2I6 audio interface are due any day now.
The company’s Mac OS X support reinforces the Mac’s position as the platform of choice within the professional music, film and multimedia industries, according to Dr. Gerhard Lengeling, founder and chief developer of Emagic.
Logic Audio is a music and audio production software package that combines digital audio recording and editing, digital signal processing, MIDI sequencing and music notation. It’s targeted for those into music and audio production and post-production.
“From the very beginning, it was important for us to support Apple’s new driver concept for MIDI and audio hardware because it’s the best way to use recording programs with Mac OS X,” he said in a statement. “Our new music production suite will support many of Mac OS X’s new features, such as memory protection for increased system reliability, the new graphics engine with transparency and flicker-free performance, real-time window sliding and improved memory management.”
Drivers for the Emagic MIDI and audio interface series fulfill the requirements of the new MIDI and audio driver standards of Mac OS X, Lengeling said. By chaining up to eight Unitor8 MkII and AMT8, up to 64 separate MIDI inputs and outputs, or 1024 MIDI channels, are supported. In addition, the EMI 2I6, the 24 Bit-capable USB audio interface, has two analog inputs and six analog outputs, as well as one S/PDIF digital input and one S/PDIF output.