Monday, July 2, 2012

My new Schimmel K280T full size concert grand piano

I just bought a new full concert-size grand piano. It is a Schimmel K280T. This is the first recording I made with it, on the first day of getting the piano. Not my best performance, but not the worst either, and I was happy to get the piano.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Test recording

A recording I made about 6 weeks ago. Mainly intended as a test for my Canon T3i video DSLR.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Gigabyte GA-890GPA-UDH3 built-in ATI HD4290 video vs Asus nVidia GTX 560 Ti

About a year ago, I acquired a Gigabyte GA-890GPA-UD3H motherboard. It has a built-in video card with one DVI-D digital port, and one VGA analog port. I never used the video card and always had it disabled. I was using a separate discrete video card from nVidia, previously a 9800 GT, and now an nVidia GTX 60 Ti from Asus .

I am now running a triple-monitor setup, with a pair of HP LP3065 30" 2560x1600, and a Gateway FHD2401 24" 1920x1200, fitted with a custom mount to run in pivot (vertical) mode. Since the GTX 560 only has 2 DVI-D ports, I decided to enable the internal ATI motherboard video card to get a 3rd port. Unfortunately, I ran into several issues.

  1. I connected both the large HP LP3065 monitors to the much faster nVidia GTX 560 Ti video card. These monitors are setup horizontally on my left. I wanted the boot display to be the leftmost HP monitor. In the Gigabyte BIOS, under "Advanced BIOS features" / "Init display first", I selected "PEG" in order to select the nVidia card as my boot video card. It booted fine to the correct display, but unfortunately, when the OS loaded, it turned out that the internal ATI video card had been disabled !

    This happened despite the fact that I had "Advanced BIOS features"/ "IGX Configuration" / "Internal Graphics Mode" set to "UMA" . I tried the other values, "SidePort" and "UMA + SidePort". No go. The only way to have the internal video card enabled was to select that card as the boot display. This didn't sit well with me, since I had a pivot monitor attached to it, and thus all the BIOS bootup messages would appear vertically ! This is clearly a Gigabyte BIOS bug. The only way I was able to solve it was to physically switch the monitor connections between the two video cards. I connected the leftmost HP LP3065 to the internal ATI card on the motherboard, and then the second HP LP3065 and Gateway FHD2401 to the nVidia GTX 560 . Then I was able to have the boot display on the leftmost HP LP3065, and run all 3 monitors with both GPUs.
  2. After solving the first problem, when Windows 7 loaded, it recognized both GPUs and 3 monitors perfectly. But I started getting strange messages that "Windows has detected your computer's performance is slow". This was not actually the case. But the messages were incessant, every 30 seconds or so. Windows was inviting me to disable Aero and switch to Basic. Even when I switched the Windows setting to "optimize for quality", the messages continued. I did about an hour's worth of google searches, and nothing I found helped. I concluded that this was a software conflict between Windows 7 x64, the nVidia 296.10 drivers, and the ATI Catalyst 12.3 drivers.

    The only way I was able to solve this was to disable the motherboard's ATI GPU. I had an old 8600GT video card lying around, and put in the second PCI-E x16 slot . I used it only to drive the smaller Gateway FHD2401 display. Now that both video cards are nVidia, everything works fine, without any pesky bogus performance messages.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

USB composite device vs Gigabyte motherboards keyboard power-up

The two desktop in my home office feature recent Gigabyte motherboards, specifically models GA-990FXA-UD3 rev 1.1 and GA-890GPA-UD3H rev 2.1 .

One notable "feature" of these boards is that they only have a single PS/2 port for keyboard or mouse, but not both. This is a stupid design. If you use PS/2, you normally want to use it for both keyboard and mouse.

The omission of the second PS/2 port has forced me to purchase adapters to convert the PS/2 mouse signal to USB, more specifically the PS/2 mouse signal from my Iogear GCS84B KVM switch.

Simple passive adapters did not work. There was no mouse signal on the computer. I had to purchase smart active adapters. I literally tried 10 different models at Fry's Electronics and Micro Center before I found that was compatible with the mouse signal from the KVM switch, a noname one when I got the GA-890GPA-UD3H motherboard a year ago, and a Belkin model when I got the GA-990FXA-UD3 motherboard more recently.

These smart adapters actually take a pair of PS/2 signals for both keyboard and mouse, and turn it into a single USB signal. The computer sees it as a USB composite device.

I figured I would try to use it as designed, and connect both the keyboard and mouse to the adapter.

I immediately noticed a problem : I could no longer power the machine through the keyboard.

The BIOS on the motherboard normally allows you to power the system through the keyboard or mouse. You can select any key, or a password, or mouse motion or click. I choose a simple 1-character password option.

The feature just does not work when using the PS/2 to USB adapter . I tried all the possible options with mouse and keyboard. I set all the wake-up options to "Enabled" in the power management menu. But nothing worked, except pressing the power button on the front. This is OK for one of my systems that is close to my chair, but not OK for the other one.

This is a bit puzzling, because the BIOS otherwise supports the keyboard on this adapter just fine for purposes of entering into the BIOS setup menu.

I switched the keyboard connections back to the PS/2 port on both motherboards, leaving only the PS/2 mouse on the adapter, and powering up the machine through the keyboard worked fine again.

The lesson here is that 15-year old USB technology still has not caught up to good old PS/2. It could be argued that this is a problem with the motherboard implementation of USB power-on. But there are likely many other motherboards with the same problem.

Yamaha KX61 MIDI keyboard vs Windows 7 sleep mode

The Yamaha KX61 is a very nice USB-powered MIDI controller. I have owned a pair of them for about 3 years.

While trying to reorganize the dozens of USB cables in my home office, I found out the following problem : if the KX61 is hooked up directly to my PC's GA-990FXA-UD3 motherboard via USB, the PC is unable to stay asleep. More precisely, the PC will go to sleep, then wake right back up 2 seconds later. I found out that the KX61 was the problem through trial and errors by unplugging USB cables one at a time.

The Windows powercfg -lastwake did not show any reason for waking up.

The fix was to connect KX61 through a USB hub instead of directly to the motherboard. In this case, the computer was able to remain asleep. I'm not sure if this is a software or hardware problem. Probably a combination of both.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Roland VS-2400CD vs Lantronix Spider Duo IP KVM

The Roland VS-2400CD has been in this blog a lot.

While it is an excellent digital audio recorder, its keyboard, mouse and video interfaces are only PS/2 and VGA . Those interfaces are now considered "legacy". Most current computers use USB interfaces for keyboard and mouse, and some sort of digital interface for video, either DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort. This makes it a lot harder for the VS-2400CD to coexist with other equipment, especially on a KVM switch, if one wants to share the keyboard, mouse and monitor.

For many years, I have been using the following combination of devices to solve this problem :
  1. To switch the keyboard and mouse between my various computers and the VS-2400CD, I use an Iogear GCS84B KVM switch. This is a PS/2 and VGA KVM switch. I don't use the VGA connection on the switch. I change device through hotkeys or the pushbuttons.
  2. To convert the VGA video output from the VS-2400CD to DVI, a  video signal converter
  3. To switch the video between my various computers and the VS-2400CD, a Gefen EXT-DVI-441N DVI switch
There are several problems with the above solution :
  1. It requires two different operations to switch the keyboard/mouse and the display. One hotkey on the keyboard, plus one press on the DVI switch. The ergonomics are lacking. A proper KVM switch should switch them all at the same time.
  2. The 3 computers I connected to the Iogear KVM switch no longer feature dual PS/2 connectors for mouse and keyboard. 2 of them only have one PS/2 connector. The third is a laptop and has no PS/2 connector. This means I had to buy 3 PS/2 to USB converters. I tried 10 different models before I found some that worked for all cases ! 2 of them are noname, one of them is Belkin. This gets pricey and was very time consuming.
  3. The Iogear KVM emulates a regular mouse. This means I cannot access all the features of my Kensington Expert Mouse trackball on my computers, in particular all 4 buttons.
    Edit : I found this very nice free software, called X-Mouse Button control which does the job nicely, much better than the original Kensington software.
  4. The signal converter only converts the VGA analog signal to 640x480 DVI single-link. Two of my monitors, a pair of 30" HP LP3065, do not accept this resolution. This model will only work at 1280x800 over single-link DVI, or 2560x1600 dual-link DVI. It also has no VGA analog input . This means I cannot display the signal from the VS-2400CD on these 2 monitors at all.
  5. My third monitor, a Gateway FHD2401 does accept 640x480 over DVI single-link. However, due to space issues on my desk, I am now running it in portrait mode, vertically. The VS-2400CD firmware does not have a portrait mode of operation. And the Gateway monitor does not have a way of displaying the video signal at a 90 degrees angle. Thus, when I use my VS-2400CD, I now have to pivot the monitor back to landscape mode. However, there is not enough space, and if I do this, it protrudes in front of one of the other monitors
The first 3 problems are inconveniences that I have been willing to live with, but with the addition of a second HP LP3065 monitor recently, the last 2 are now a major issue.

The 4th problem might be solved with a video scaling device. I don't know if one exists that outputs at 1280x800 or 2560x1600 . If it does, it's probably very expensive.
Edit: I found an inexpensive scaler that worked, the AT-HDView from Atlona. It was only $99 at Fry's.

The 5th problem is much more difficult to solve. I don't know of any device that will turn the video around at a 90 degrees angle. I am not sure if any monitor exists that has this function built-in.

Because of all the problems, I attempted a different approach. I purchased a Lantronix Spider Duo KVM switch. This is a KVM that has 2 PS/2 ports for keyboards and mouse, and one VGA port for video. It connects to the local network via Ethernet. The device connected to the Spider Duo can be accessed via a Java application over the network from any computer.

This was a very appealing solution to me, because I would no longer have to try to convert these legacy PS/2 and VGA ports on the VS-2400CD to modern 21st century technology.

After speaking to Lantronix support and being told there was a 95% chance that it would be compatible, I ordered the $200 Spider Duo from Provantage. I received it on April 25. I hooked it up. The keyboard worked fine. The video worked. Unfortunately, the mouse signal did not work at all, either remotely or with the included local KVM cable. I spoke at length with Lantronix support and, it was determined that the Spider Duo is incompatible with the Roland VS-2400CD. My Spider Duo is now on its way back to Provantage for a refund.

At this point, I am really wondering if there is any device on the planet that can solve my problem. I may try other IP KVMs, but the prices can get very high as these are typically enterprise devices. The Spider Duo was the least expensive IP KVM I could find.

I welcome any ideas on how to solve the issues and simplify my switching situation. Please feel free to comment on the blog. Suggestions from KVM manufacturers are welcome, too !

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Using the modified Roland VS-2400CD recorder : part 2

Last year, I wrote a blog post detailing how to do a hardware modification to the Roland VS-2400CD to add an eSATA port and and breathe new life into it.

I promised a follow-up post about how to take advantage of the modification to transfer projects to your PC. This post is long overdue.

Background information

The VS-2400CD uses a FAT32 file system on the hard disk. There are several major limitations to keep in mind :
  1. The VS-2400CD maximum hard drive size is 120GB . Larger drives can be used, but the VS-2400CD cannot see anything above 120GB.
  2. The VS-2400CD maximum partition size is 10GB. On the standard 40GB hard drive, this means there will be 4 partitions. On a drive of 120GB or more, there will be 12 partitions
  3. The original PC had a limit of a 4 primary partitions per hard disk. This still persists today. For this reason, only the first 4 partitions on your VS-2400CD can be directly seen by your operating system when you attach the VS-2400CD hard drive to the PC.
Since you have taken advantage of the eSATA hardware modification, you likely now have a larger drive than the original 40GB that came with your VS-2400CD, and thus you will have to use special software see the partitions beyond the 4th on your computer.

The only program I know that does this is called VS Wave Export, and runs on Windows.

Initial computer setup under Windows 7

  1. download VS Wave Export
  2. since there is no installer, you will need to unzip it to a folder of your choice
  3. create a shortcut on your desktop to the executable 
  4. edit the shortcut properties, and enable the option to "Run this program as an administrator" . If you forget this step, VS Wave export will not see your VS-2400CD hard drive 
  5. in the Control panel, search for "partition" and click "create and format hard disk partitions"
  6. make sure your VS-2400CD and the disk enclosures are both turned off.
  7. connect the disk enclosure that contains your VS-2400CD hard drive to the PC via USB .
  8. turn on the disk enclosure
  9. you may get prompted 4 times to "autoplay" the content of VS partitions . Don't do it - just stop the autoplay.
  10. the disk will show up in the "Disk Management" screen . It will look something like this :
  11. Click button 2 (Right-click) on the first VS-2400CD partition, and select "Change drive letter and paths"
  12. Click "Remove" and confirm
  13. Repeat steps 10 and 11 for the other three VS-2400CD partitions. This ensures that the operating system is not accessing the drive, and thus will make it available to VS Wave Export.
  14. You can now close the disk manager

Using VS Wave Export to export your projects to WAV files

  1. If your VS-2400CD is on, turn it off
  2. connect the disk enclosure that contains your VS-2400CD hard drive to the PC via USB .
  3. turn on the disk enclosure.
  4. Run VS Wave Export from your desktop shortcut. You should get prompted to run it as administrator. You must accept.
  5. You will now see something like this :
  6. The above shows all 11 partitions on my VS-2400CD hard drive
  7. Click the + on one or more partitions. It will show the projects on those partitions :
  8.  click the project to export
  9. select the tracks you want to export in the matrix on the right. There are up to 384 V-tracks. In most cases, just select "All". The selected tracks will be highlighted in red
  10. if you want only part of the timeline, select specific start/end times.
  11. click the folder to select the destination for your WAV files
  12. click "export" and wait
  13. That's it ! You should now have a bunch of WAV files for all your tracks.
  14. Each of the WAV file is mono and uncompressed. The files are named
    $project name" "$sampling_rate"_"$track"-"$vtrack"_"$trackname
    In my case, the track names are each of the 9 microphones I use.

The above method is what I use primarily now as I just use the VS-2400CD to record. I do all my mixing and editing on the PC, which is much faster with Reaper. I never feed any data back from the PC to the VS-2400CD. If your workflow is like mine, you may never need to do anything else.

However, there may be some times during which you will want to backup the actual VS-2400CD projects to your computer, and later restore them. One such occasion would be for example if you want to change change your VS-2400CD hard drive. I did this today - I upgraded from a loud WD 160GB hard drive to a whisper quiet 64GB Patriot SSD.

Backing up all the projects on a VS-2400CD partition to your PC
  1. in the Control panel, search for "partition" and click "create and format hard disk partitions"
  2. make sure your VS-2400CD and the disk enclosures are both turned off.
  3. connect the disk enclosure that contains your VS-2400CD hard drive to the PC via USB .
  4. turn on the disk enclosure
  5. the disk will show up in the "Disk Management" screen. You will see the first four VS-2400CD partitions
  6. select the partition you want to backup, click button 2 (Right-click) , and select "Change drive letter and paths"
  7. select "Add"
  8. select "Assign the following drive letter"
  9. choose a drive letter
  10. click OK
  11. Autoplay might come up. Select "Open folder to view files". If it doesn't come up, go to "Computer" and just double-click the drive letter you assigned
  12. Backup all the files on this drive letter using a method of your choice, for example, to another hard drive, online storage area, DVD, tape, etc.
  13. in the Control panel, search for "partition" and click "create and format hard disk partitions"
  14. select the partition you want to backup, click button 2 (Right-click) , and select "Change drive letter and paths".
  15. click "Remove" and confirm
This method only works for backing up the first 4 partitions of the VS-2400CD . Unfortunately, you cannot mount partitions 5 to 11 on the PC this way. If you need to backup the projects on these partitions, you may have to move projects to partitions 1-4 using the VS-2400CD first . It will be slow, but not nearly as painful as using CD-R/CD-RW to backup the data.

Restoring all the projects from your PC to a VS-2400CD partition
  1. using the VS-2400CD, empty one of the first four partitions on the disk. You must delete all the projects on a selected partition to make space for the restore.
  2. when this is done, shut down your VS-2400CD and disk enclosure.
  3. in the Control panel, search for "partition" and click "create and format hard disk partitions"
  4. connect the disk enclosure that contains your VS-2400CD hard drive to the PC via USB .
  5. turn on the disk enclosure
  6. the disk will show up in the "Disk Management" screen. You will see the first four VS-2400CD partitions
  7. select the VS-2400CD partition you want to restore to, click button 2 (Right-click) , and select "Change drive letter and paths"
  8. select "Add"
  9. select "Assign the following drive letter"
  10. choose a drive letter
  11. click OK
  12. Autoplay might come up. Select "Open folder to view files". If it doesn't come up, go to "Computer" and just double-click the drive letter you assigned
  13. Examine the files on the VS-2400CD partition. Make sure sure this is really the freshly emptied VS partition you want to restore to There will typically be one project directory only, with very few files inside.
  14. When you are sure, delete all the files and directories on that partition. This is required to clean up the project index.
  15. Restore all the files from your previous backp
  16. in the Control panel, search for "partition" and click "create and format hard disk partitions"
  17. select the partition you want to backup, click button 2 (Right-click) , and select "Change drive letter and paths".
  18. click "Remove" and confirm
Again, this method only works for restoring to one of the first 4 partitions of the VS-2400CD .
If you have more partitions to restore, you can use the VS-2400CD first to move projects between partitions 1-4 and 5-11 . It will be slow, but not nearly as painful as using CD-R/CD-RW to backup the data.

Backing up and restoring individual projects

This procedure is more complex and I'm not going to attempt to write it down in details as I don't use it. Basically, you will need to copy/restore the content of individual song directories.

The complexity comes from the index file in the root directory of each VS-2400CD partition. You would need to manually update that index file to keep things in sync. This poses a problem if you want to restore a project to an empty parttion. You would have to first create an empty project on the VS-2400CD partition, then swap the files on the PC.

I hope this will be helpful to all those who have modified their VS-2400CD.