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Being A Bit Of A Big Kid

I’ve just ordered one of these. It’s a simple little bit of kit, just a USB stereo in/stereo out audio interface. But I feel quite tickled and can’t wait for it to arrive kind of thing.

A couple of days ago I realised I hadn’t played my electric guitar since I moved into this flat (over a year ago). It’s pretty much all that remains of the gear from my younger days when, like so many, I had rather over-enthusiastic visions of being some kind of rock musician. The rest of it- some lovely synthesizers, effects units, stuff like that, all got stolen and it still hurts to think about it. But the Westone Thunder 1A I bought with my first student grant cheque (lawks, those were the days) remains. 25 years old, a little scratched here and there, but still plays great. Even if I don’t. And never have.

So I fired up Native Instruments guitar rig, plugged the Westone into the mixer (I’ve got this nice little Behringer that for a long time now has been used as nothing but a headphone amp from the PC) and then realised how crap the old Soundblaster Live! card in the computer is. Well, it’s fine for everyday stuff, but if you stick a signal from it into guitar rig’s various amplifier simulators which boost the gain, you just hear all the noise it’s picking up from inside the PC. So, I could still play, but accompanied by various very loud noises not dissimilar to a person with a severe bowel condition in an echoey public lav.

I woke up early this morning and had a generally low level gruntled feeling, and Charlotte Gore’s latest blog post didn’t help much. It echoes something I’ve felt a lot, this sense of the hopelessness of us lot banging our heads against the brick wall of statism. I should have spent the morning drawing porn (I am as always severely behind schedule) but couldn’t pull it together through the mental fug. So I started thinking about how it would be nice to buy something, but being generally skint couldn’t afford to buy anything very expensive. I’d thought about the soundcard thing, but to get anything good they’re all rather costly. But I started punting around websites, realising how hopelessly behind I am in what’s on the market, and found this little Behringer box that seemed to be just what I’m looking for- it’s USB, external, shouldn’t pick up the masses of noise the Soundblaster does, and it’s an absolute snip at just 29 quid. Being impecunious, even that seemed a significant cost, but then I thought of the seventy quid the council extorts out of me every month to pay for bin inspectors, and whipped out my debit card and bought the thing.

Now I’m just sitting here trying to figure out what I’ll have to plug into what and route through the mixer, and making my head spin, since it’s years since I really did anything musical. The last significant thing in fact was CD of music for, back in the heyday of Internets 1.0 and JESUS CHRIST THAT WAS TEN YEARS AGO. Yes, I feel old. I had less bald then. It’s not the greatest music ever produced, but I feel it was something of an achievement with such limited gear- a guitar, a mic, a midi controller keyboard and the soundblaster doing all the synths and drums. I recorded it in Cubase, and typing that I’ve just realised that my only copy of Cubase 3.7x must be on a hard drive I took out of the PC and will now have to install again somehow, but I don’t think there’s a spare IDE port because I disabled them when I put the SATA RAID card in… oh bollocks. I’ve still got the original Cubase CD, but the bugfixes and updates were downloads I stored on that disk. Sigh.

Will I get the urge to record again? I’ve got a nasty feeling I’m just going to sit here playing along with a drum loop like a sad middle aged man trying to recapture a youth which has fled.

What the hey, that’s fine too.


I’ve just dug out my CD of Cubase VST 3.65 (vintage 1998) and discovered it won’t run under XP anyway. At all. I suspect everything available these days will rather overhwelm the PC (vintage 2002).

I could do some kind of dual boot thing with Win98 but no, I’m too old for that shit, I can’t be arsed, it’s not worth the effort. Kind of annoying, because when this machine was running Win98, I have distinct memories that VST 3.x (which was at the limit of capabilities of my 300MHz PII in 1999 when I did all that recording) ran like grit through a goose.

My enthusiasm has waned, and my gruntlement returned.


  1. RAB says:

    I think we may need one of those too Ian.

    A bit of advice please, seeing as everyone is in work avoidance mode today,

    The wife is a grade 8 pianist and good singer. Our piano is crap, so we have been looking for an electronic keyboard to replace it.
    Now obviously the wife knows how to play, but she doesnt get all the bells and whistles that come with keyboards.

    She would also like to record both music and voice, and add other instruments like my guitar for instance.

    So what would you recommend, keyboard first, then the mixers and interfacers.

    We have looked at Korgs and Yamahas so far.

  2. Ian B says:

    RAB, I honestly have no idea. I’m way behind the technology as you may guess from the age of all my gear.

    The thing is, you can do everything on the PC now, with just a midi controller keyboard. When I bought mine, I went into the shop and said “I want something to get the notes into a computer, nothing fancy, but full size keys” and the assistant who was very nice went “you want one of these then” and I bought it. But I’m not a Grade Anything piano player, I can just plonk a few notes in, that’s it.

    I think the problem with doing everything on the PC is it’s less than ergonomic compared to bits of kit where you can grab a knob and twiddle it directly. But you can have any software keyboard you like. I’ve got a hammond organ VST instrument that’s stunning, at least it was when I had some software that could run it.

    I really haven’t done anything musical for years. So I can’t help very much with what’s on the market today. I used to hang around music/audio newsgroups and things and keep up with what was happening, but don’t any more :(

    You will need a mixer anyway, even if everything else is on the PC. For getting your real world acoustic audio in, from mics and what have you. I have Behringer 6:4:2, they don’t make this model any more- it’s a “Eurorack 1604A” and something like that would probably suit you- it’s 12 channels (4 mono, 4 stereo) into 2 groups, with a couple of aux sends so it’s got enough routing to do the job properly.

    With recording, it really is either software on a PC, or there are lots of standalone recorders from companies like Fostex which may be more ergonomic than fiddling around with a mouse on a monitor. Or not.

    Oh, the other thing worth strongly considering if you’re recording something with a lot of unexpected dynamics (voice, bass guitar, trumpet, what have you) is a compressor/limiter, since digital inputs really hate being overloaded and spikes sound horrendous. I couldn’t have done my famous CD without the one I borrowed from a friend. A reverb unit isn’t a bad idea also, to give singers that “bathroom singer’s confidence”. You don’t record it, just use it for foldback.

    And as for the interface- well this little box I’ve just ordered seems to be the very thing. I’ll post a review when it arrives :)

    Wish I could be more help, but I’m just out of date, sadly. :(

  3. RAB says:

    Thanks all the same Ian, the weary slog to find a suitable keyboard for the misses carries on though, it seems.

    The rest of it was well informative though.

    Now then, any of the rest of you know what keyboard my ‘ol lady should buy??

  4. NickM says:

    I think I do RAB and I don’t have a musical bone in my body.

    She tries ‘em out and buys the one that feels right.

    I often advise folks on computer stuff and you can talk all sorts of drivel about specs and stuff but if it don’t feel right than it isn’t right for them. You just have to get your hands on it. I have for a while wanted a GFX tablet and can look up the dpi and all the features but that doesn’t matter. It’s all in the feel. Because you don’t really see such stuff in shops you can’t touch it and try it out. I feel much the same about mice and computer keyboards and stuff. Ian is absolutely right about the “feel”.

    I only ever use trackpoint laptops (the ones with the “tit” between G,H & B because regardless of spec I don’t like touchpads. Apart from Apple ones. They really have got the idea to work.

  5. Sam Duncan says:

    Cor, synchronicity, eh? I’ve recently been hearing Very Good Things about those Behringer USB doohickeys from a completely unrelated source. And they work under Linux too, which is nice. I’m tempted to buy one myself, even though I have almost no need for it whatsoever.

  6. Nick M says:

    Brilliant Sam, you’re part of the economic stimulus!

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