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January 14, 2007

Filed under: music»tools»digital

Controlling Costs

One of my coworkers was heading back to the Dominican Republic, and he saw the USB/MIDI keyboard I had on my desk. Apparently, good hardware is hard to come by down there, and he asked to buy it. It was near the holidays, so I sold it to him for the price plus about ten dollars. I'm not a good keyboardist, but I like to monkey around with samplers and synths, and I've gotten used to running Pro Tools with physical controls. So today I finally got around to getting a replacement.

The Axiom 25's a nice keyboard. I liked the little drum pads in the top-right corner, especially. But ah! No sooner do I get everything unpacked, but the drivers refuse to install. It seems that M-Audio has decided not to support anything less than Windows XP, even though the driver model for Windows 2000 should be entirely identical. Back to the store it went.

This isn't the first time that audio hardware's refused to work with the older operating systems that I keep around the house. Presonus's Inspire 1394, my first choice for a Firewire interface, is likewise incompatible--clearly it's not a problem with IEEE 1394 audio, since the M-Audio Firewire Solo works just fine. Why couldn't they write a Win2K driver, since it's practically the same kernel? Who knows?

I'll tell you what I do know: it gets really old listening to Guitar Center employees repeatedly comment "Maybe it's time for an upgrade" when I try to find a working exchange. Yeah, I really want to spend a lot of extra money on a completely new operating system with increased system requirements just to fumble around with MIDI--a technology that has existed since 1983, and has been run over USB practically from the protocol's creation. There's really no excuse for it not to work on almost everything.

There's every reason that musicians should be able to make digital music on the cheap. I used to record on the laptop where I'm typing this now--a 366 Celeron--because just streaming audio with a few plugins doesn't cause a lot of stress. Theoretically, USB takes more overhead than Firewire, but I could never tell a difference. And as I've pointed out, most entry- to mid-level hardware comes bundled with a decent sequencer. It's depressing to hear that relatively simple controllers and interfaces are becoming harder to use without upgrades.

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