Canadian Musician May/June 2017 - Page 22

ROAD TEST Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar By Dajaun Martineau T he 2016 MacBook Pro boasts a sleek, light design, plenty of pro- cessing power, and some cool new features – so how does it stack up in the studio? Getting Started The first thing that I noticed when I began using this computer is its power. I’ve been mixing records on Mac Pro towers with Avid HD3 Accel systems for over a decade and they don’t even come close to the plug-in count and responsiveness of this computer. The MBP changes the game when it comes to digital mixing. DSP enhancers may soon be a thing of the past. The newly redesigned audio system is louder, clearer, and better than anything I would expect out of such a small system; un- fortunately, being an audio professional, the amount of times I used the built-in speakers can be counted on one hand. The laptop still sports one piece of 19 th century technology: a 3.5 mm phone jack, to the joy of many users. While 44.1, 48, and 96 kHz sample rates are still supported, it appears that the built-in au- dio device no longer supports 88.2 kHz. I can’t fathom why, though if you’re using any external audio hardware, this won’t affect you, unless you’re trying to do some quick edits without your hardware on a portable computer. 22 • C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N In Use I’m sure by now you’re all begging the question: What about the Touch Bar?! My first instinct was to think of the Touch Bar as more of a gimmick than a feature, but as I worked with it more and more, I’ve found it incredibly useful. The Touch Bar is entirely context sensitive and almost predictive in nature. Not only does it change the available functions as you switch from application to application, but also based on what you are doing. If I open a PDF, it gives me some basic rotation options, but as soon as I make a selection, a highlighter display appears with different colours or strikethrough options. Apple’s DAW, Logic Pro X, had a bit of a head start developing for the MacBook’s new Touch Bar and has really done a fantastic job of inte- grating it. The new functionality is perfectly in line with Apple’s notoriously intuitive design. Once I got into using it with Logic Pro, I rec- ognized the potential for this as a musical tool. When you click on any instrument track, the Touch Bar automatically offers you Smart Con- trols for everything from level, reverb sends, and tremolo controls to compression or EQ options. It even lets you cycle through presets. The sliders, while basic in nature, are incred- ibly responsive and feel very natural. Actually, using the Touch Bar is very reminiscent of using a real fader on a console. Some software allows you to customize which options are displayed by default on the Touch Bar, but that’s not an option in Logic yet. There are three other modes you can flip the Touch Bar into while using logic. The first is a Timeline Overview that provides an over- view of your entire session and lets you zoom around quickly. The Touch Bar is too small to provide any real usefulness here but it is still a good effort in trying new navigation options. The next is Key Command mode, which of- fers customizable banks of keyboard shortcut buttons. The last is Instrument and Track Controls, offering a virtual keyboard, drum kits, or audio track settings. Despite being tiny, the keyboard and drum pad are incredibly powerful. The key- board allows you to set it to key specific pat- terns so that there is no such thing as a wrong note as long as you have a basic grasp of music theory. The drum pad offers a velocity slider and a note repeater, making it feel a lot like using an MPC. Unfortunately, Avid’s Pro Tools and Ableton Live haven’t rolled out any functionality for the Touch Bar yet but I am really looking forward to what they put together because I can see this becoming a formative creative tool. My dream request is for someone to create an app that would allow me to easily program my own functions into the Touch Bar. Some engineers have been vocal about the lack of port diversity on this model, so let’s have a look. This Mac is loaded with four Thunder- bolt 3 (aka USB-C) ports. Thunderbolt 3 is truly one port to rule them all. USB-C boasts back- wards compatibility to USB 1 and 2, FireWire, Thunderbolt 1 and 2, display port, HDMI, and also supports power charging. One USB-C can handle two displays at 4k resolutions. Many have complained that you have to buy adapters in order to connect some current devices, which is true, but if you can look to the near future where all devices are USB-C, then you’ll anticipate the beauty of only need- ing one type of cable. It won’t matter if you’re connecting a hard drive, consumer audio in- terface, or PCIe chassis that contains an entire Avid HD3 system to run a whole studio; you’ll only need one cable. I think I spent maybe $50 for adapters to get everything connected. In Summary I’m fairly impressed by this computer and I think that despite the large price tag, it’s worth every penny. The most expensive thing in the computer is the PCIe-based flash memory and when you consider what you’re getting as far as dollars per gigabyte and operation speed, I think it is entirely worth it. After using this computer for a while, I have to say this may be the most “pro” Mac- Book Pro yet. Dajaun Martineau is a producer/engineer/writer based out of Toronto, ON, who spent the better part of a decade as a Senior Staff Engineer at Phase One Studios before going freelance. For his full discography and more information, visit