music, guitars & other obsessions

Computer

New DAW Setup

After going over tons of threads on the web, searching for suitable solutions, and second hand items for sale, I think I have finally reached a decision, in the process, I also discovered, all my existing PC’s, soundcards were out of date and basically unusable for what I want to do.

The basic requirement is to do OTB mixing, so taking the multitrack WAV files and sending them to an analog mixer and record the final mix back to the HD. I also look at using digital mixers such as the Sony DMX R100, the Yamaha DM1000, but the Sony is very old and gets no support from Sony at all, while the Yamaha 0nly has 16 channels. Anyway, even second hand, these digital consoles can still cost more than $1500 – a bit more than I want to spend.

So now the setup is Macbook Pro, i7 Quad Core, at least 2GHz with 16GB RAM and SSD for the music files and another HD for the OS. RME Digiface USB, which connects the Mac to the AD/DA via ADAT ports. And finally, an old Alesis HD24 ADAT recorder, which will be used just for the AD/DA duties, with the option to record to disk if needed.

For the analog console, I will try and restore the Soundcraft 400B which I picked up for just $60, but will most likely upgrade to something better later. There are certainly many interesting vintage console for sale! Hope all this turns out to be worth the effort.

The plan is changing again… Since I was still intrigued by the idea of better integration between the mixing console and the DAW, I kept looking at the alternatives, which led me to the Yamaha N12, but not able to find one at a reasonable price here, the search took me to the Mackie Onyx 1640i, while it is not as well integrated as the Yamaha N12, it does offer 4 more channels, plus it is also a much newer model (still in current production).

The decision is reached, when I managed to track one down not far from me, anyway, if I do decide to go for it, then I can skip the RME Digiface, the Alesis HD24, and the Soundcraft 400B, not to mention all the cabling that are required to get the whole shebang hooked up. Instead, all I need is a Firewire cable between the Macbook Pro and the 1640i – it couldn’t be simpler! As far as the cost is concerned, it should work out a bit cheaper, but more importantly, I think it will be much easier to setup and use in practice, so we will see…

[Update] 5/24/2017

I went to Salamanca to pick up a Mackie Onyx 1640i mixer yesterday. Using Mario’s old Macbook Pro i5 for the test, I had to pick up a Firewire 800 to Firewire 400 cable, luckily, one of the shops around Arguelles had one in stock. Anyway, I plugged in the cable, and the Mac immediately regconized the 1640i, so my worry about the driver was over-blown. It also helped that the Macbook Pro is running Mavericks (OS 10.9), anything newer probably wouldn’t have worked.

Going to try a multitracks mix today, keeping my fingers crossed, as there are numerous issues to overcome – CPU, memory, disk speed and not the least, the DAW, which is Reaper, not sure how well it integrates with the Mackie… Well, it all worked without a hitch, now the fun begins.

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Vinyl(ly)

I had to re-route the turntable signal to the PC because for some reason, the Nuforce AVP did not work properly with analog inputs! Really?! I thought it would be simple matter  to use any audio program to playback the input of the soundcard – not so! After trying a bunch of programs – foobar, Audacity, CoolEdit, etc.  I discovered that I need to bypass the kmixer in Windows and use ASIO (for better fidelity and monitoring). Unfortunately, none of the program on hand did that by default, but after some Googling, the solution was simple, I just needed to get a version of Audacity complied to run with ASIO which standard version does not support due to licensing issue.

Here is a shot of the Audacity re-complied to use the ASIO I/O:

audacity-asio


Scope Probe Adapter/Buffer for Soundcard

Since most soundcards have low input impedance, they load down the circuit being measured. The solution is a buffer/amplifier for the soundcard inputs. It’s a very simple circuit using a dual opamp. I built one this morning…


More On Vacuum Tube Models & SPICE

I spent a good part of the weekend trying to sort out the various worksheets, software, Spice models used for vacuum tubes. It was pretty messy… As there are numerous ways to do the same thing and I have already collect a lot of material over the past year or so. The goal was to distill the process down to a few simple steps and to nail down the simulation platform.

Let’s get the simple thing out of the way – picking the simulation platform. While most of the online Spice models and discussions on simulations tend to gravitate to the older PSpice or the newer LTSpice, neither were to my liking after spending time with SIMetrix, so there is just no going back to those platforms. Now the task before me, was to gather tube models specifically for SIMetrix, which wasn’t really that difficult, since it can already import various models written in several popular Spice languages. Not only that, I also discovered a complete SIMetrix-ready tube library at the great Ayumi’s Lab, thanks Nakabayashi-Son!

Of course, there are always going to be tubes that are not included in these all-in-one libraries, especially when I tend to use a lot of Chinese and Russian tubes, so the need to generate individual tube models based on datasheets is a dreaded but necessary task.

As discussed in an earlier blog post, I have developed the process for this task, but it is worth repeating here, as there have been some updates:

1) data capture – I use Andrei Frolov’s CurveCaptor to quickly capture the basic curve data from scanned datasheets, there are many other programs that can do the same thing, but this one is preferred because it can also generate triode models directly as we will see shortly;

2) modeling the triode – CurveCaptor is specifically designed for this task, so this is what I use to get the basic Koren or Rydel parameters, but these models do not include grid current parameters, so they will need to be added in the step below;

3) triode grid current parameters – since guitar amps often push the input signal of the tubes beyond typical “hi-fi” operating limits, the grid current needs to be modeled, as it affects the clipping and compression characteristics of the tube thus the amplifier. There are a couple of ways to do this, such as a simple diode model or using the more complex models proposed by Hutt and Sjursens, a good discussion is available at AX84.

4) modeling the pentode – this is a tough one, but I managed to get a copy of Robert McLean’s worksheet which makes the task easier, I think Robert’s model is a definite improvement over Koren’s version. An alternative is to use Eureqa Formulize to automatically generate the parameters based on the pentode characteristic curves.

During my research, I also discovered quite a few good sources of information that I have not seen before, these fine gentlemen have clearly gone through the modeling process in great detail as reflected in their write-ups, programs and worksheets. I also had some short email exchanges with them, they are both great and I want to give my thanks to them again here.

David Heiser’s site contains a treasure trove of information, he does a thorough review of the methodologies used by the past practitioners, and provides great insights to the short-comings as well as suggestions for improvement on those methodologies. This is a must read for anyone that’s interested in the subject.

Bill Elliott’s site contains a very detail discussion on the Koren’s models with a heavy mathematics bend. Bill also provides a novel methodology to extract key tube parameters from the datasheet with as little as 5 data points. For those that have the Derive 6 software, they can also use Bill’s program to solve the Koren parameters automatically.

As usual, AX84 proved to be a great source of information, as many experienced amp designers/DIYers frequently use Spice in their work, and searching the site always turns up some useful information on the subject.


Pentode Models Comparison

I have been trying out different ways to generate pentode models, out of curiosity mostly… Given the wide tolerance of vacuum tube specs, I don’t think the differences between these models would mean much, but nevertheless, I am hoping that through actual bread-boarding, testing, I will eventually find a model that best matches real life performance data.

Here is a summary on how these models were derived:

1) The McLean Model – this model comes courtesy of Robert McLean’s BeamPentodeModel Excel worksheet, Robert was kind enough to share his proprietary worksheet with me. Since Robert is well known as the tube SPICE guru, I have good faith in this model, although Robert did mention that the model is still well short of his own expectation.

2) The Eureqa Model – this model comes from Eureqa Formulize, a curve fitting program designed by the smart folks at Cornell, which uses sophisticated algorithms to derive equations given a set of data. I scanned the IV curves from the datasheet with CurveCaptor (which is great for generating triode models BTW), and imported the data into Formulize. The optimization process took about 10 minutes, the longer the program runs – the better is the fit. But for my purpose, I don’t think the extra precision is really needed. Close enough for rock & roll, as they say.

3) The Koren Model – this is the standard Koren pentode model using the same data set from the above curve capture process. Robert McLean’s KorenModel worksheet was used to generate the model parameters – this one comes in handy for another reason – the tube parameters could also be used in Chuck Doose’s power amplifier worksheet, none of the other two models can do that since they do not use the same set of parameters as the Koren model.

As mentioned, actual testing of the tubes in real circuit designs will be needed to verify the usefulness of these models, but at least it is a starting point…


unRAID Down Again!

Don’t know if it was coincidental, but one of the disks of unRAID array failed after a water-leak in the electrical panel that forced a complete shut down of the main AC into the house! (that’s another sad story altogether)

I ordered another drive, the price of which seem to have shot up by more than 50% in the past year, WTF!? Hope that will solve the problem, hate to think there is something wrong with the RAID chassis… It turned out that one of the cooling fans in the disk array died, and I guess the system purposely disable one of the drives, so someone (me) would get it replaced, I did, and the array came right up, now I have a spare 1TB disk for future replacement…