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Variations on a New MacPro Theme

Buying or building computers for Hauptwerk, recommendations, troubleshooting computer hardware issues.
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Lauwerk

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Variations on a New MacPro Theme

PostFri Mar 13, 2020 11:38 am

I last purchased an automobile in 2007. It was brand new at the time, and it still satisfies the agendum, “I will be buried in it.” I now have the Hauptwerk electronics to accompany us.

In March of 2019, as I (with many others) anticipated the release of Hauptwerk 5, I saw an announcement regarding a new MacPro tower to be released later in the year. For reasons of scale and economy, I had begun my Hauptwerk journey in 2010 on the Windows side, which (as I always expected) led to many battles, investigations, and sometimes-hard-fought resolutions, beginning in the first year with serious issues that literally confounded a Microsoft engineer, continuing on through later years past my personally replacing/upgrading the MOBO and processor, right up through the fact that two of the last three monthly Windows 7 (Pro) patches that I dared apply – in 2016 or 2017 – OBLITERATED my Hauptwerk installation. Only the first of these two disasters was readily reversible; the second required some real sweat and ingenuity.

So I was well-primed to take the 2019 MacPro announcement seriously. The trash can MacPro, while selectively elegant, had been too incomplete and inflexible to consider, and although I looked, I could never quite get myself to earnestly shop for an older, pre-owned MacPro tower.

Curiously, for a few days in December 2019, both Hautpwerk 5 and the new MacPro tower were scheduled to be released on the same Tuesday. That did not remain true, and a number of other private delays (including 1.5 months of home renovation) worked to drag the completion of my HW computer conversion into March, but ultimately with successful evolution. A report:

macOS Catalina:
No problem. Of course, I cheated: the new MacPro tower came with Catalina 10.15.3 installed, so I never needed to upgrade or convert anything. I have had no difficulty with the OS beyond occasionally having to “force” the installation of software that is not pre-recognized as “safe.” I understand that the windows-mishandling glitch introduced by software vendor Qt into Hauptwerk 5 will eventually be rectified.

16 cores:
I was practically giddy to see that activating all 31,500 “pipes” of the Hauptwerk static Polyphony Test did nothing more than illuminate 7 of the 10 GREEN indicators of the HW polyphony meter. I now use a calculated polyphony limit of 16,064. Why 16 cores? At the time of system selection, I wanted to leave plenty of room for Dirac Live processing (but see below): I knew from operating my former Hauptwerk PC that Dirac Live did reduce the polyphony available to Hauptwerk. Besides, the price per core was the same for 16, 20, or 28 cores, but was higher for 12 and highest for 8.

RAM:
192GB – and only half of the slots are filled. This means, for example, that I can load PAB Gravissimo with ALL possible bells and whistles and still have more RAM left over than I had in total (64GB) in the PC.

elo Touch Screens:
I have been aware of difficulties or concerns expressed in the HW Forum regarding the use of touch screens with macOS. I have also seen the company name Touch-Base given as the solution. Perhaps I should not have been surprised when, in preparation for the arrival of the MacPro, I visited the elo website and found that their macOS driver link for the SUPERB elo touch screens that I have been using for years with my HW PC led directly to a (gratis) download at the Touch-Base website. The result was that I have had absolutely no difficulty setting up and using these touch screens with macOS Catalina. The only little thing to which I had to accustom myself is that, unlike with Windows 7, every time I rouse the MacPro from a cold start, I need to touch the screens to “wake them up” for their touch function. The app for recognizing an initial touch boots with the macOS and auto-closes after the first touch. Of course, the displays themselves are VGA, so I had to pre-obtain VGA/Thunderbolt adapters. Each adapter (I/O Gear) conveniently includes, along with the VGA socket, a USB port which I use for the corresponding touch screen connection. Again, there is only one minor startup issue for the displays themselves: the video screen circuitry must be fully initialized (following a cold start) before starting the computer so that the macOS reads the correct screen resolution to send to the display. I might also mention that I had to learn to inactivate a macOS “feature” of reserving “own space” for each open window in order to spread a sample set window across both screens when necessary, as I had been doing with the Windows PC.

PCIe SSDs:
One of my biggest pleasures regarding the conversion from the old PC to the new MacPro is that, as I suspected from the very beginning, I was able to successfully transplant two 2.5-inch SSD storage devices from the PC to the new MacPro. Other World Computing (OWC) continues to make what could be considered a “legacy” adapter card to insert a 2.5-inch drive into the PCIe bus of the OLD MacPro towers. Guess what: these adapters work perfectly well in the NEW MacPro tower. I only experienced one glitch: when I first inserted BOTH cards (one adapter for each SSD) into the MacPro PCIe bus, the Mac Disk Utility recognized that two of them were present, but it would only reformat one of them – it labeled and handled the other device as “read-only.” To my relief, when I removed one of the SSDs (happily the one that had already been reformatted to APFS), the Disk Utility was able to reformat the second. I reinserted the first, and then, as Martin Dyde has pointed out, I was able to use the Mac Disk Utility to create a single RAID-0 storage space using BOTH SSDs for HW cache and user files (total of 7.68TB available). I did not need to transplant into the MacPro the HighPoint PCIe RAID card that I had been using with these SSDs in the PC.

Optical Drive:
I am not aware of any hardware provision for placing an optical drive inside the new MacPro (though there is at least one vendor that makes internal HDD adapters). Several weeks before the MacPro arrived, I strategically purchased an OWC external optical drive. Although it apparently works more efficiently with macOS than with Windows, it made the removal and storage of items from the PC, as well as the acquisition and storage of new HW 5 sample set copies, much more manageable than would have otherwise been possible: the OWC optical drive unit (actual drive from LG) writes to blu-ray as well as to DVD and CD, and one blu-ray disc holds 5 DVDs-worth of information.

Rear channels and analog stereo broadcast:
I never configured my Hauptwerk Windows PC to include rear channels, but as I formulated the plan for the new MacPro, I decided that I could and should add them, incorporating some un(der)used audio equipment already available. But how should I conduct either analog or digital signals 40 feet to the back wall, particularly with no possibility of baseboard cable placement? I was not eager to run a 40-foot cable along the finished ceiling below. I fortuitously found a system with the trade name KLARK TEKNIK. The system broadcasts a stereo (optionally monaural) analog signal multiplexed in the GHz range. It is accurately described as having “high headroom.” Frequency response and clarity are excellent. The manufacturer’s intention to achieve high quality sound is suggested by the fact that both the transmitter and the receiver modules offer the option of using either unbalanced OR BALANCED analog connections. I have since run across descriptions of other similar devices, but none that appear to be of higher (or even equal) quality.

RME Audio/Midi Interface:
As with the SSD drives discussed above, I could have moved my PCIe-mounted RME audio/midi interface from the PC to the MacPro, especially if I were not going to add rear speakers. Instead, I planned to take advantage of the Thunderbolt input of the RME UFX+, and fate seemed to confirm that decision when I fell into a rare opportunity to purchase a brand new UFX+ from an authorized dealer at a legitimate 20% discount. The DACs in the UFX+ are better, and there is more heft (no chance of washout) in the output. I am using four buffers of 512 samples, which HW estimates to mean 43.2ms latency at a 48K sample rate. However, despite my having been sensitive in the past to the different feel between “6ms” and “11ms” keyboard latency, I must observe that I detect NO keyboard latency with my new MacPro/RME_UFX+ setup – except where it is intentional, such as via IA’s “K-Mass” or the pneumatic action delay differentials among the keyboards of the OAM Sauer Dortmund sample set. Somewhat relevant: my keyboard stack is a custom UHT set incorporating UHT’s customary Hall-effect sensors.

Dirac Live 2:
In December 2019 I wrote in the HW Forum that it only took the quiet sound of one note of one flute stop of one old (HW 2) sample set to instantly bowl me over with the improved QUALITY of sound delivered by Hauptwerk 5. I even proposed that the nature of this improvement in sound was along the lines of the phase/timing correction provided by Dirac Live during amplification. However, I did not believe that this Hauptwerk 5 improvement in sound generation should be left to substitute for Dirac Live correction in the amplification stage of my new MacPro setup. As mentioned above, the anticipated CPU demand of Dirac Live processing had been my main reason for enhancing the MacPro CPU as much as I did. Unfortunately, MY timing for this plan was off: the original Dirac Live is no longer available in any form, but Dirac Live 2 is not yet (and may never be?) available for multichannel personal computer use, such as I had used in the retired PC. In December 2019, a fellow at Dirac offered to make a “beta” version of multichannel Dirac Live 2 available to me when I was ready for it, in order to “take care of” me as a cross-platform prior customer. However, that beta availability did not materialize in January. So rather than wait to be buried with a 2007 Pacifica but no Dirac Live, I bought four miniDSP SHD processors (direct purchase from Hong Kong), each of which applies the Dirac Live 2 processing scheme to a single stereo output. Two of these processors are also serving as excellent programmable subwoofer crossovers. The clarity and presence of space-filling and space-meaningful organ sound thus obtained is indispensible.

Computer silence:
One of the numerous improvements I installed into my now-retired HW PC was the replacement of the original ventilation fans with fans (including CPU-mounted) from Noctua. I was always quite pleased with them for their quiet efficiency. Years ago I read that silent ventilation was one of the successful aspects of the trash can MacPro design. I can report that the ventilation flow-through of the new MacPro tower is indeed pleasingly silent – even quieter than my Noctua setup in the old PC.

Coda:
My learning curves regarding Hauptwerk 5 audio routing and the application of Rear Samples and IRs are largely under control. The work of remounting a congeries of sample sets continues, but the audile results have been deeply moving. SPECTACULAR.
Don Vlazny
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mdyde

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Re: Variations on a New MacPro Theme

PostFri Mar 13, 2020 2:33 pm

Thanks, Don.

Glad to hear it's all worked out so well for you.

One quick point:

Lauwerk wrote: I am using four buffers of 512 samples, which HW estimates to mean 43.2ms latency at a 48K sample rate.


If you're not now using AU/VST for audio output, then I'd change that to a single buffer, for lowest latency. Good-quality audio interfaces and drivers (as RME's certainly are) rarely need more than one buffer.

If you *are* still using AU/VST for audio output, then if your AU/VST host uses a constant size buffer (which Cubase, Logic and Reaper seem to, and probably most other hosts do too) then you should safely be able to use just a single buffer in Hauptwerk provided that you select the same (individual) size buffer that the AU/ VST host is using. Multiple buffers are normally necessary only if the host's buffer size varies in real-time and/or if the host's buffer size isn't a power-of-two.

When you stop audio/MIDI in Hauptwerk the log will show the minimum and maximum buffer sizes that the host used, so that you can verify whether they're equal (and thus whether the host's buffer sizes were constant).
Best regards, Martin.
Hauptwerk software designer/developer, Milan Digital Audio.
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Re: Variations on a New MacPro Theme

PostSat Mar 14, 2020 10:11 am

Thank you, Martin.

I did initially set up HW 5 to play through an 8-channel track in Reaper, but when the Dirac Live 2 software failed to be forthcoming, I disconnected it. The output is now sent directly from HW to the UFX+.

I admit to having initially chosen 3 buffers of 512 samples as a "reasonable compromise" rather than on the basis of any good knowledge or understanding. However, in each of two HW instances, I experienced infrequent of episodes of audio "crackles" even at moments that did not seem particularly demanding for complexity. Once I increased the number of buffers from 3 to 4 (in all four HW instances), these "crackles" completely stopped.

I will use your advice (including the HW log information) to study this out as soon as I can. Another necessary delaying factor for me is that I take care of two invalids at home, a sweet but sometimes taxing situation.

Best regards and gratitude,
Don
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Re: Variations on a New MacPro Theme

PostSat Mar 14, 2020 10:27 am

Thanks, Don.

In that case (since you're no longer using AU/VST, i.e. are instead using your UFX+'s driver directly), I'd recommend setting the number of buffers to 1. If you get audio glitches with a (single) buffer size of 512 samples, try setting the (single) buffer size to 1024.
Best regards, Martin.
Hauptwerk software designer/developer, Milan Digital Audio.
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pat17

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Re: Variations on a New MacPro Theme

PostSun Mar 15, 2020 10:12 am

Lauwerk wrote:Dirac Live 2:
In December 2019 I wrote in the HW Forum that it only took the quiet sound of one note of one flute stop of one old (HW 2) sample set to instantly bowl me over with the improved QUALITY of sound delivered by Hauptwerk 5. I even proposed that the nature of this improvement in sound was along the lines of the phase/timing correction provided by Dirac Live during amplification. However, I did not believe that this Hauptwerk 5 improvement in sound generation should be left to substitute for Dirac Live correction in the amplification stage of my new MacPro setup.

(...)

Coda:
My learning curves regarding Hauptwerk 5 audio routing and the application of Rear Samples and IRs are largely under control. The work of remounting a congeries of sample sets continues, but the audile results have been deeply moving. SPECTACULAR.


Hi Don, I experienced a very similar experience although my setup is a bit different from yours.

When upgrading to HW V I once forgot to switch on the Arc2 acoustic correction plug in. After I realized it, and put it on, I was astonished by the much smaller benefit I could get from the software. I recently moved to SonarWorks - the only soft-based solution fully compatible with Catalina to regain a certain improvement. Yet clearly, the gap between HW V not corrected / Sonarworks 4 vs. Hauptwerk 4 / Arc 2 is much less spectacular than before.

The audio engine in HW V is really brilliant. 8)
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Re: Variations on a New MacPro Theme

PostMon Mar 16, 2020 1:35 am

Dear Martin -

Thank you for your encouragement for me to revise my buffer settings. I failed to adequately revisit the matter after I disconnected the DAW in January. It was indeed time for me to do so, with the following good result.

I am now using one buffer of 256 samples. For several minutes while playing a full tutti registration, one buffer of 128 samples worked flawlessly, but after continuing for only a couple of minutes by playing one single keyboard stop, I experienced a millisecond-scale set of crackles. I am satisfied with the single buffer of 256 samples. I will keep monitoring.

--------

And to pat17 -

Thank you for your observation. I understand what you mean, and our experiences do agree. However, I should add that the expensive way in which I am now applying Dirac Live 2 (using four external miniDSP digital processors instead of an unavailable multichannel software version installed inside my Hauptwerk computer) has resulted in a higher degree of "perfection" in ROOM correction, particularly below 8' pitch. In the past, even with using Dirac Live it was not rare for one or some adjacent pipe samples below 8' pitch (having prominent fundamental but little harmonic content) to need to be manually "tweaked" for amplitude. I am finding that this is no longer the case: the false resonances are essentially gone, especially in high quality sample sets. Everything is amazingly close to smooth and "real" with no further effort. It is possible that the adjustable digital subwoofer crossovers in the miniDSP units are part of the reason for this improvement.

--------

Best regards,
Don Vlazny
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Re: Variations on a New MacPro Theme

PostMon Mar 16, 2020 6:18 am

Thanks, Don.

Excellent.
Best regards, Martin.
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Re: Variations on a New MacPro Theme

PostWed Mar 25, 2020 5:56 am

Lauwerk wrote: I should add that the expensive way in which I am now applying Dirac Live 2 (using four external miniDSP digital processors instead of an unavailable multichannel software version installed inside my Hauptwerk computer) has resulted in a higher degree of "perfection" in ROOM correction, particularly below 8' pitch. In the past, even with using Dirac Live it was not rare for one or some adjacent pipe samples below 8' pitch (having prominent fundamental but little harmonic content) to need to be manually "tweaked" for amplitude. I am finding that this is no longer the case: the false resonances are essentially gone, especially in high quality sample sets. Everything is amazingly close to smooth and "real" with no further effort. It is possible that the adjustable digital subwoofer crossovers in the miniDSP units are part of the reason for this improvement


Hi Don,

I have exactly the same kind of improvement - bass are much better reproduced thanks to the correction.

I shall wait for the Dirac Live upgrade for Catalina to try for it - no longer interested to pile up multiples devices after decades of accumulation! :lol:

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