Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Pod Farm 2.0 and Novation Nio 2|4 Sound Card driver problems

Cut a long story short, I had problems with Pod Farm once I'd started using the Novation Nio 2|4 sound card (instead of the Line 6 UX1 I'd had previously).

The reason for the change? The UX1 is unable to provide monitoring for another audio channel because it only has one set of stereo inputs. The Nio has two sets of stereo inputs (1-2 and 3-4), so you can use the 3-4 channels for cueing up audio from a source other than what's currently playing through the main monitors. Recently Line 6 had allowed its users to operate Pod Farm without requiring the UX1 plugged in - before that, the UX1 was used as a dongle, which used to annoy me no end. Anyway, I though that once I'd configured Pod Farm to run without the UX1, my problems would be solved. Wrong. No matter what I did, I could not get Pod Farm (the standalone version, although the VST plugin had the exact same problem...) to accept the Novation ASIO driver.

After lots of hair-pulling and to-and-fro with both Novation and Line 6 support, I finally discovered that providing I configured the Nio drivers to run in 44.1k, 24 bit mode rather than 48k 24 bit, Pod Farm would accept the driver and retain the settings. A further revelation was that Windows 7 has its own setting for the ASIO driver as well, and setting Windows to 44.1k and 24 bit solved the last issue - where only one application would run sound at a time.

Hope that helps someone with a similar problem.

Traktor Kontrol S4

Ok, time to do a quick post about the new Traktor Kontrol S4. But first, a bit of background.

I'm a guitarist, but I like entertaining people and let's face it, not every situation is appropriate to pull out a guitar and start banging away. With that in mind, I decided to re-acquaint myself with Ableton Live.
After mucking around for a few days using the crippled (demo) version, I caved-in and bought the full version. Then someone mentioned a program called Traktor. I downloaded Traktor and gave up after a few unsuccessful attempts to get anything working. That demo was also crippled in that it shuts down after half an hour. My advisor convinced me to hang in there and give it a bit more of a go, so I resisted my urge to uninstall and go running back to Ableton. In the meantime I had bought an APC40 Ableton controller, which was absolutely brilliant, so I was even less enamoured with the thought of switching to Traktor. The thing was that I had a gig coming up in a couple of weeks, and I needed some software that would allow me to DJ at a mate's 50th birthday party. Now you've also got to remember that the music you're gonna be allowed to play at a 50th is going to be a lot different to what you might play at a club at 3am! To be more precise, it was going to be all rock/blues/r&b - nothing electronic at all. I started noticing a few problems when playing this stuff through Ableton. Apart from the fact that it crashed on me a few times, I found that it wanted to warp all the songs otherwise it seemed that some functionality was disabled, like the ability to speed up or slow down the tracks. On top of that, the browser was quite crappy - I had to use Mixed in Key to rename all the files if I wanted to sort by bpm or key. Straight off, I noticed that Traktor's browser was 100 times better for playing the stuff I wanted to play. Instead of being vertically oriented, Traktor was horizontal, leaving space to display lots of columns - like bpm, comments, ratings, artist, album etc. The 'BeatGrid' process didn't seem as invasive as Ableton's, and tracks would play smoothly even if I ignored the grids. I decided that Traktor was the way to go and that I needed some hardware to run it through. The Traktor Kontrol S4 was a no-brainer, given that it was custom-made for the software, came with an upgrade to Traktor Pro 2 and a free upgrade to Traktor Scratch Pro, so I set about doing as many tutorials as i could in the remaining time before my gig. Fortunately, there's a load of stuff on YouTube about how to get the best out of it, and while I was doing those tutorials, I had Traktor scanning my track collection and analysing each file for BPM etc. I copied my folder structure directly from the PC to the laptop in preparation for the performance and made sure that Mixed in Key had been over every file in the collection. I made a playlist of 100 or so songs that I knew would go down well and set this as the preparation list in Traktor. It took me a bit of research to figure out that I needed TRS (not TS) balanced 1/4" jacks out of the Kontrol S4 with XLR jacks on the other end. Of course I probably could have got away with one jack as the band PA wasn't really set up to take advantage of stereo signals. There was a lot of mucking around with the laptop to disable memory sapping applications and settings, as I'd noticed dropouts when practicing at home, but after changing settings, I didn't hear a single glitch the whole night. In fact, the setup was almost perfect. One thing is that you really do need a case for the S4 though. Carting it round with all those knobs sticking up is just asking for trouble, tough though it may be. I did use the power supply rather than relying on USB power, because of the additional brightness available with the power supply. It was pretty dark where I was set up, and I did notice that some of the knobs were hard to find, even though the main ones stood out well enough. The integration of the headphone cue, mix and levels was just brilliant, and the response of the controls was instantaneous. Native Instruments claims that their proprietary protocol is 10 times faster than standard midi. Seems believable. So all in all, it was a complete success and I got nothing but positive feedback from the people at the party. I'd really love to play some dance music and take advantage of the beatmatching capabilities of the controller next time, even though I had managed one or two sneaky cue points during the set once my confidence had gone up. Didn't really use the FX or the sample slots though, which is where the creativity would have come in.
Final opinion: A brilliant piece of integrated software and hardware. Easy to use, cleverly designed and extremely effective while maintaining as much simplicity as you'd like in a DJ setup