Archive for the ‘recording gear’ Category

a late addition to an old report

Remember a long time ago – like, a little over three years ago – I built a ribbon microphone? I had all kinds of problems chasing radio interference ghosts and stuff, it was strange and messy but came out with a neat sound in the end.

Except… even after fixing the RF problems, it was kind of noisy. Not unusably so, not for direct-miking, which is how I’ve used it, but still… kinda noisy. Noisier than it should’ve been.

I rediscovered this when trying to use it in a “mid-side” type mic setup with the new RK-47, which I was doing just to see how that would work. (Tony of Vixy & Tony has been after me to try that for a while.) And because it involves playing towards a figure-eight microphone from the side – the point of least sensitivity – it required enough extra gain that the noisiness became a problem.

Since the special preamp (also a kit) was the entry point for the RF noise, and since said amp works with dynamic microphones, I tested that for noise, using an SM-58 as input. Dead silent, cranked all the way up. Result: it wasn’t the microphone preamp’s fault.

Then I remembered how the RK-47/990B build manual talked so much about making damn sure you had no solder rosin or finger oils at the high-impedence connection points in the circuit, and to just scrub those connections with isopropyl alcohol. So I took apart the ribbon microphone, redid those solder connections while I was in there, and then scrubbed the hell out of them. A downright confusing amount of old solder rosin came up when I did so.

Result? Problem sorted. Huge drop in noise. There’s still a little at the high end at probably more gain than I even need here – this may be an “only elves can hear this” moment, at least in part – but a little -3db cut starting at 14-15kHz sorts it. It might not even be true noise, it could be something like air movement – ribbons will pick that up in ways nothing else will, and I didn’t turn off the HVAC, etc.

So, yeah! Turns out that finicky bit about solder rosin and flux is real important, kind of generically, at high impedance. Good to know. (And is why I’m posting this, and why I’ll link to it from the old microphone buildout writeups.)

I still have not the vaguest idea why so much rosin ended up on those connection points. Seriously, it’s weird. That was my old stock of Radio Shack silver solder, which I’d had since I Don’t Even Know When, and not the BenzOMatic solder that gave me so many problems. I never noticed it doing that before – but then again, I wasn’t really looking. ¯\(ツ)/¯

Anyway, have a test recording I made at 1:30 yesterday morning trying out that configuration, with the Micparts RK-47/990B kit mic being used as the “mid” and the above-mentioned Austin OTA-1 ribbon microphone as the “side.” It’s intermixed with a recording made simultaneously using a pair of M-Audio Novas in a spread X-Y configuration. Both versions are mixed directly to mono, rather than spread-stereo, which is not what you usually do, but does allow maximum left-right placement in a mix.

(This may be called “T” rather than “mid-side” since mid-side includes a kind of subtractive mixing not used here? I dunno. But this is, again, just a straight mix to mono.)

The recording starts with the RK47/990B plus OTA 1 pair, then switches back and forth between that and the Novas. Remember: all of this is mono.

Kinda neat, eh?

let’s listen to an rk-47 microphone!

Build reports are nice enough. (I wrote up a little errata post yesterday, by the by.) But the real question, of course, is how does the RK-47/990B kit mic sound?

Early impressions are surprisingly good. Even with only the single microphone, there’s a sense of presence and space – even with a purely mono signal path – that I normally have to dual-mic to attain. Also, it has tremendous precision – this is a mic capable of great subtlety. And the amount of gain built into the microphone itself is crazy – this is one spicy meatball of a microphone. That’s something you won’t hear in recordings, but it results in a lower noise floor, which is always good.

Let’s start with some unsubtle differences, ones that’ll show up on laptop speakers. Because while I’ve never liked the MXL-990, they sell a zillion of ’em, and we should make a couple of direct comparisons.

Here’s a snippet of chords from “Lukey,” alternating between the MXL-990 (unaltered factory) and the RK-47/990B. It starts with the MXL-990, then transitions in-song to the RK-47, then back and forth. It ends with the RK-47. It’s a pure mono signal path until prepped for uploading to Soundcloud.

And here’s a short melody, on zouk – again, starting on MXL-990 (factory stock), then RK-47, then back to MXL-990. The last phrase is repeated to allow us to end on the RK-47; also, I wanted that ending bit to be presented on both microphones. The glissando really highlights some of the differences.

But that’s shooting fish in a barrel, as it were. The MXL-990, while popular, is not a good microphone. We should do comparisons to microphones I actually like – let’s say, the M-Audio Nova. At about twice the price of the MXL-990, it’s still a cheap microphone, just one I consider entry-level competent. But it has issues – not the least of which being it’s kind of a noisy beast as these categories of microphones go.

So let’s take the easy swing – here’s a sharply boosted noise level comparison of the RK-47 to the M-Audio Nova, at equivalent gain levels. This is not the noise you’d actually hear; I recorded a silent room at gain appropriate on each microphone for instrument recording, then cranked that recording up 32db for easy noise levels comparison.

Unfortunately, this really requires headphones, because it’s RK-47 on left, Nova on right:

NOT SUBTLE. But also, an easy shot. The Nova is noisy and everybody knows it. There are some mods out there to improve that, but they change the sound a bit in ways I don’t like, so I work with it.

comparison of waveformsSo let’s dig down a bit. Pictured here is a snippet of waveform from a bit of music played, in mono, over my studio monitors, into identically positioned microphones relative to those speakers. These two recordings were made simultaneously.

You’ll note in this highly-zoomed-in render how the RK47 waveform remains clear and unmuddled in these extremely rapid changes, while the Nova’s blurs into a bit of a mush. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about, and also, the sort of thing you can hear in these very short snippets of horns from a jazz track. This comparison requires headphones, possibly good ones:

They’re short because they must be uncompressed for best comparison – sorry about that – but listen to them a few times and compare. Note how the edges of detail – bits which add flavour – are blurred in the Nova, but retained in the RK-47. Neat, eh?

That out of the way, let’s step up a level in comparator microphones. Oktava 012s are considered very good affordable microphones, particularly strong in their price ranges, and street for a new 012 and one pickup is comparable to the cost of this kit. With a second head (to add a second pickup pattern, as this mic has), it’s a bit more. They’re small-can capacitor instrument mics, rather than large-can, but we’re doing instrument recording, so that’s fair. The components inside – particularly older ones picked up used – can be a bit dodgy, but the design is great and the pickups are great, and you can upgrade the iffy capacitors and the suspect transistor if necessary. I have, of course, done this with mine.

Here’s the intro to “King of Elfland’s Daughter,” on the Oktava 012 (upgraded components) and the RK-47/990B kit. This recording repeats phrases, with the Oktava 012 first, then the RK-47/990B. Pure mono signal path, identical recording setup made within a few minutes of each other, but not simultaneously, as you can’t put two microphones in exactly the same place and I wanted the most equal comparison I could, modulo performance limitations. This probably also requires headphones, as the 012 is a pretty darned precise microphone itself:

44.1khz/16-bit uncompressed WAV file version here.

Once again, I’m finding that the RK-47 has a real staging advantage. There’s a sense of in-the-room presence with the RK-47 that I can make happen by dual-miking with my other microphones and mixing down, but not directly in mono.

Now, I don’t want to leave the impression that it is BEST AT ALL THINGS, because it’s not. These aren’t the only recordings I made – they’re just ones that show differences best. The first example I found was mandolin – the Nova likes my mandolin better than the RK-47 does. The specific response behaviour and foibles of the Nova work in its favour; a single RK-47 may have more presence and precision than a single Nova, but the Nova recording sounded more musical just the same. I’m sure there will be other examples as well.

In the end, I think this will probably become a heavy-use microphone in my kit. It may even become my go-to mic on the zouk – I need to do some stereo and multi-distance comparisons before I will know that for sure, but it’s looking very good. I also like what it does with piccolo and flute. I haven’t done any playing around with fiddle or drums, and one thing I want to play with is a two-mic setup with the ribbon kit mic I built, to see how those behave together – it’s a mic placement technique I’ve wanted to try for a while, but have never got round to testing. Now is probably the time.

I kind of wish I’d ordered the matched-pair version of this microphone kit. But it would’ve cost twice as much and I couldn’t know in advance I’d like it this much, so.

a bit of errata for the rk-47 build report

A bit of errata on the micparts rk-47/990B kit microphone build report yesterday:

First, I didn’t mention that the board kit includes extra capacitors, to be used either for different capsules than I chose, or to tailor the response curve of the microphone. I went for flattest response, but I could’ve had more or less high-end responsiveness by choosing which included tone capacitors to use.

Second, I said that the “omni” switch setting probably wasn’t really going to be actually “omni,” but was more likely to be figure-eight or the like. This was in response to both the capsule design, grille design, and older pictures of the circuit board which appeared to indicate that. In testing, I discovered that I was mistaken – as you can see here, levels as seen in waveforms made by holding a tone generator at the four cardinal directions remain constant. But read on, after the graphs, because there’s a catch:


rk-47 set to omni, against tone generator at 30cm, front, right, rear, left positions

And here’s the same test, with the mic set to cardioid:


rk-47 set to cardioid, against tone generator at 30cm, front, right, rear, left positions

And here’s an M-Audio Nova, same conditions, for comparison:


nova, cardioid, against tone generator at 30cm, front, right, rear, left positions

The total pickup is certainly omnidirectional. But this is not a true basket head on this thing, there are support brackets on the left and right sides, and that does affect tone! High-end harmonics definitely fall off on the left and right sides.

So while it does qualify as an omnidirectional microphone in “omni” mode, I’d have to call it flawed in that mode, and use something else – like an Oktava 012 with the omnidirectional head, which is built for true omnidirectional pickup and does not exhibit this behaviour.

Alternately, I suppose it might be usable in that mode if you’re recording someone who is a tad screechy – aim the wrong side at the performer and presto, fewer high harmonics. EVERYBODY WINS XD

let’s build an rk-47 kit microphone!

After a few suggestions that I do so, I finally went ahead and splurged for another kit microphone – the micparts RK-47 capsule and amplifier circuit board, both sized to use the dirt-common MXL-990 microphone case.

The MXL-990 is kind of a go-to microphone for people just starting at home recording. I don’t recommend it, even in that role; I think it’s a nasty piece of kit and sounds terrible. Even at $50 – the used price, roughly – you’re better off spending another $40 and getting a low-end AKG or Nova. But it is about the cheapest condenser microphone with XLR out that you could pretend to treat like a real mic, and that has meant a thriving mod community.

Here are the basic parts included with the kit. I didn’t have the capsule out – the actual thing that vibrates to sound – because it needed to stay in its protective box until installation.

This is technically an MXL-990 mod, one wherein nothing is kept but the case and socket. It’s also a nontrivial assembly, so I’m going to talk about building in this one, and have some sound samples in the next.

You can see the instruction booklet over on the right. It’s quite clear, and has some important commentary, about extra care being needed not to touch certain components any more than you have to, and which parts are particularly sensitive to heat. It does not say up front that about 25 pages in it will suggest that you use a couple of chemical products if you have them, so I ended up having to order some purple loctite and conformance coating.

If I had it to do again, I probably wouldn’t order the conformance coating, because the MDA sheet on that is not attractive. But now that I have it, I might as well use it. If anyone local needs some, let me know.

As you can see, the board is clearly labelled:

For the most part, this is one of those insert-and-solder projects. The tolerances are reasonable, though they were emphatic about working at a meaningfully lower iron temperature than I prefer. If you use 60/40 lead solder, their temperature would be fine.

(I ran at 350°C, which is a little hotter than they recommend, but I use silver solder, and it seemed to work out. In these cases, I solder only one leg from each component, then cycle back to the start, and do the second leg, then cycle around again for the third if necessary. This lets the heat that is building up in the component itself dissipate, reducing peak temperature inside the component. This is most important with semiconductors, usually – particularly transistors.)

They also have you cleaning the board with isopropyl alcohol regularly, and suggest cleaning your iron between each solder point. I don’t know if they just meant wiping the tip or actually using the sal ammoniac, so I kind of compromised. (Though for the most sensitive components, I did do a complete sal ammoniac cleaning between each point.)

This is the board essentially complete:

The process is a bit fiddly, I have to say. They’re quite strict in the manual about flux cleanup and so on, so you’ll end up using tweezers and foam swabs and lint-free cloth and and and. Still, with kits this expensive, it’s best not to take chances.

You might note that the connections on the switch are not made yet; that’s because you’re wiring two of the leads from the pickup to the circuit at these points directly. Those connections are where they’re most persnickety about how things are to be done – but I followed their directions precisely and it worked out.

Here’s the new RK-47 pickup canister in its mount:

I’m liking this canister already, at this point. I know, I know, “good feel” is silly, but this capacitor pickup has a good materials feel to it. The mounting system you see in use is also partly a replacement – the original was a ring mount system; this is a saddle, larger, and is also where you need the threadlocker. I’m not convinced MXL used a threadlocker on that post, but I see how the larger, heavier pickup does kind of call for it.

Once the board is mounted back into the bracket and grille, you end up with this:

And once you’ve wired the three leads from the pickup and the three from the XLR connector, you’re pretty much ready to test.

I did have an initially-worrying test result: voltage at the primary test point – the one you conduct before any audio checks – was running high. The manual had a lot to say about what you’ve probably done wrong if it runs low, and further tests to isolate your mistake, and spends a couple of pages going on making sure you’ve got a bare minimum of 45V going to the exciter, with a preferred minimum of 50v, and an “operating range” of 50-62v, where 60v is optimal.

The range on mine ran from a low of 62.45v to a high of around 68v, so I was concerned. But it turns out the actual operating range is 50v-70v – they just don’t expect anybody to be able to get to the upper end. Support even said that if I was mostly recording quiet material I could safely crank it up to 65v full-time for an even hotter pickup, but, heh, that’s not what I generally do, so I’ll leave it where it is. XD

As for the sticker – I put “MP-SVS” over the “MXL” logo because at this point, it’s not an MXL microphone in any way, so why would I keep that? It’s just silly. MP-SVS is MicParts-Supervillain Studios, naturally. I also changed the model number to RK-47, after the canister number.

I did not mention before that this is a switch-selectable dual-pickup-pattern microphone:

That will let me try an instrument miking style I’ve wanted to try for a while anyway. The only downside of using an existing microphone housing is that the switch has to live on the inside, and you have to unscrew the bottom of the housing to get to it. But it’s just twist-open, so not really an issue.

Regardless, as you can see, the switch says “cart” (for cartioid) and “omni” (for omnidirectional), but I think I’m pretty sure it’s really more figure-eight, given the construction of everything and what the switch does. And pictures in the manual actually agree with that – the printing on the board is different in the photos.

An optional modification to the case involves coating the lower half with silicate caulk (or a couple of other listed materials). I, of course, did that too:

The idea is that this reduces case resonance. Does it? I dunno, I just went ahead and did it because silicon caulk is dirt cheap – the local hardware store down the hill had a small tube for three dollars. The lack of silicon at the top is necessary – the upper part of the case scrapes into the lower half quite tightly, and any added material would be scraped off right away. As you can probably see, it’s even scraping off its own coating.

This is what it looks like all put together, and put in the standard MXL-990 shock mount:

As always, larger versions of the photos are at my Flickr account.

All in all, I’d call it a straightforward well-documented build. It’s far from the most difficult I’ve done. Not a good starter project, but if you’re reasonably good with a soldering iron, you’re going to be fine.

And this is already a long post, so I’ve decided to make it Part 1 of 2, and will talk about the important part – what the result sounds like – next time. Spoiler: a whole hell of a lot better than an MXL-990. But it also has audibly (and visibly, in the waveform) finer and more precise pickup than, say, my Novas.

I’m also going to see if I can’t do some comparisons to my Oktava 319 and possibly the (already-improved via mods) Oktava 012s as well before next time. That, too, might be interesting.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

wherein i thought i was going to be posting about a new microphone today

I thought I was going to be posting about a new microphone I built today! I was pretty sure I could get the kit construction finished and even make a couple of recordings.

And I could’ve, but no, I had to have one of these moments:

…wherein on page 24 of the assembly instructions it talks about connection sealing material and special kinds of thread-locking fluid which aren’t strictly necessary but are definitely good to use, if, you know, you just happen to have them around, and if you don’t, well, you can add them later but EVERYTHING WILL EXPLODE.

Particularly the connection sealing material. Apparently.

None of this was in the components and tools list up front. Of course. So thanks, now I get to order all that stuff, which I already have, and it’ll get here Wednesday. (No, it’s not at the local hardware. I did check!)

Anyway, this is how far I got, and where it’ll be until Wednesday:

and some days things don’t work

I wanted to post about the cool second-generation crystal microphone today BUT NO IT’S ALL STUPID AND NOISY AND I DON’T KNOW WHY but it sounds like either a really bad cold solder joint (please be that) or a bad transistor (@&*$&!!! special orders please don’t be that) and I don’t know which.

It’s too bad because I came up with a nice little jury-rig jig (say that five times fast) and so the backplate of the housing came out really well and I was looking forward to showing that off. Fingers crossed this is some sort of Surprise It’s Easy! fix – that would indeed be a surprise, to be honest about it, but a pleasant one.

In the meantime, enjoy this video of Overwatch players in custom game mode making some genuinely gorgeous Genji Beams. These are effects created by lining up opposing teams of Genji players opposite each other, in continuous-shot-deflection mode, and hitting them with various weapons. The shots bounce back and forth between the teams, and you get some really neat graphics interactions. It’s pretty cool and occasionally hilarious. Enjoy:

i kind of had a plan for today, but

i was going to post the more than vaguely punchdrunk tweetstorm from my 13-hours-and-counting marathon run-in with Microsoft technical support about why windows hadn’t been letting me install security updates since AUGUST directly into the blog, because some of it is pretty funny

and i’m gonna do that anyway

but the seventh (7th!) tech sport did something i specifically said we cannot and must not do and destroyed my desktop machine, which drives all my audio software

(seriously, completely levelled it, i’ve got partition recovery running right now)

(broken boot table, no more linux system partition, no more swap partition, can’t even get to windows loader because grub2 is 100% made of “wot?”)

so i just storified the twitter rant instead of making a fake collection here (it’s pretty ragehappy) and then played the hilariously stupid current special brawl in overwatch, which is all pharah and mercy (phamercy brawl! <3) and double TriplQUADRUPLE kill Play of the Game until i felt better.

because it turns out i get pretty good at smashy brawls when i’m, like, really mad and have rocket launchers.

so, yeah. fun? enjoy my ranty goodness while I’m rebuilding my machine, again.

mod report: oktava mk-012/mc-012 microphone

Oktava has some great microphone designs. But the quality of the components can be pretty random, particularly in the used market, since a nontrival number of those were made in the early post-Soviet era. My two 012s sounded pretty different – one in particular rather unpleasantly harsh – so I implemented Recording Magazine’s recommended component upgrade* on the harsh one, which we’ll call Nr. 1.

Nr. 1 may have been modded a bit before. It’s certainly been opened before; one of the three screws was stripped and useless, the other was jammed badly. I had to drill both out, so I’m hoping I can order replacements. The third was fine.

As soon as I had the microphone open, I saw what Recording meant by random components. The key transistor was a make so old that it had a metal shield ground cap, and separate lead to that cap, something I haven’t seen in gear made after about, I don’t even know, 1978? I also saw what they meant by “fragile circuit board,” because wow, you could lift these circuit board traces with an overly-aggressive hair dryer. Take care!


Comrade!

Still, it was mostly a matter of being methodical and not rushing things, and in good time, I had the key components upgraded, with no surprises other than the transistor’s extra lead.

These are three unmodified before/after snippets in one recording – recorded under identical conditions other than the internal microphone electronics – of Oktava mk-012/mc-012 nr. 1 in my studio. Even on laptop speakers, I can hear the harshness, particularly in the first sample. In all cases, it’s pre-modification first, then post-modification after:

Oktava MC-012 nr. 2 sounded very different to nr. 1, before; opening it, I could see that the components used were of a significantly more modern variety. It may well have been made later, which would be part of that. Now, the two microphones sound much more like each other, indicating that nr. 1 really was meaningfully different in component quality.

Here is a recorded comparison of nr. 2 (still factory) and nr. 1 (upgraded). These recordings were made simultaneously, with the two microphones right next to each other. The differences are much subtler, but I think the upgraded nr. 1 has a bit more presence – or maybe sense of stage – than the factory nr. 2. Despite being mono recordings, it’s almost like there’s a slightly better stereo image in the modified nr. 1… but give a listen and hear for yourself, see what you think.

You’ll definitely need headphones to have any chance of hearing anything interesting here. Factory nr. 2 comes first in all cases:

So, all in all, very glad I did this to nr. 1; pretty sure I’m going to go ahead and do it with nr. 2 as well, though I expect a much less dramatic change.

The only thing I’m thinking about now is – there’s a bank of capacitors in back. They’re good ones – Philips, not generic, which have a good durability and spec-compliance record. (I don’t know whether they’re original; some Oktava 012s shipped with quality caps already in place, and their track record has improved with time.) So I shouldn’t need to upgrade them – and the article at Recording Magazine says not to bother if you already have “improved” capacitors.

But I don’t know how old these are, and electrolytics have a lifespan. That’s measured both in calendar time (years), and in use – tho’ the latter is in tens of thousands of hours, and these mics are certainly nowhere near that.

The small downside is time spent, the large downside is the possibility of circuit board damage, which wow I don’t want. The upsides would be 1. possible sound improvement if they are aging already, and 2. Never having to think about it again, in practical terms.

So I dunno. Get it out of the way, or leave sleeping caps lie? Hm.
 
 


*: errata for the linked article: Capacitor “C6” in the parts list is actually capacitor C1; there is no “C6” in the build description or circuit diagramme; I assume this is a typo.

Also, some of the items in their parts list are no longer made, but they have exact replacements. R1/R2 exact replacement part number as per my October 2016 Digi-Key invoice: MOX200J-1000ME-ND. Capacitor C1 (listed as “C6” in parts list, see previous paragraph) current part number: 445-4737-ND. Capacitor C2 current part number: 399-1418-ND. Capacitors C3 and C4: 4073PHCT-ND. Capacitor C5: 4047PHCT-ND. Mostly, the substitutions are lead-free versions replacing earlier versions with lead.

hard, hard candy

I made a thing! It’s called a focus knob. It’s quite simple and normally you’d built it into an electric guitar as a guitar mod, but since I don’t have an electric guitar, I built it as a pluggable external box.

Basically a mild high-pass filter that serves to pull out ‘boominess’ from instruments, it puts a bit more of an edge on an instrument’s sound – the more you turn it up, the greater the change. As effects go – on my zouk, anyway – it’s pretty subtle. But it’s also the kind of shift that is multiplied by later effects added in, and changes how later-in-chain boxes like distortion pedals work.

As you can see from the instructions here, the wiring takes all of about 20 minutes’ time. But it’s good warmup for making a bunch of component upgrades to my Oktava 012s, and I already had all the parts from the Great Radio Shack Lootfest of 2014. Plus, hey, cool hard candy tin!

So I have a a HARD CANDY knob now. It goes from Hard to Candy. Yum. 😀

edge cases of the apple ios ecosystem: musicians

So the new iPhone is out, and as predicted, it does away with the standard, unencumbered, unrestricted-by-patent 3.5mm audio connector. You can read about the release on BuzzFeed’s pretty decent writeup if you like. And this matters, even if you have an older phone, or an Android phone, because Apple is the kind of 10,000-pound-gorilla that can shape markets in this area. Even if you’re not an Apple user, this throws expectations around for the future.

There is an adaptor – really, a mini-interface-card disguised as a cable adaptor – to let you use 3.5mm devices with the lightning port. It has to contain a D/A converter and a small amplifier. One will be included with the new phones, and it costs $9 and doesn’t make your cable weird – it’s not some big block like the previous 30-pin to Lighting interface, and it’s not $30.

I have concerns about how good a job a $9-retail D/A converter and amp unit is doing to do at rendering quality audio. It will be very tempting to make it deliver “meh” quality output, and push people to new gear. That’s short-sighted, but let’s not pretend that stops anyone.

Countering that concern is the fact that at least at one point, Apple required a specific D/A converter for the Lightning audio standard: this one. I have no idea whether that’s still a requirement. But if it is, I’m willing to assume a baseline of competence for it – anything else would’ve been suicidal for the spec right out the gate.

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about whether the new interface is built for digital rights management (DRM) as the long goal. I genuinely don’t think so, because it doesn’t really add much capability they don’t already have. Sooner or later, you have to go to analogue, and unless they want to remove the capability to connect to high-end audio equipment – and Bluetooth does not cut it for audiophiles, or necessarily even mid-philes – there has to be a way to hook up to standard, not-Apple gear.

You can’t get around that. Lest people forget, an Apple-provided solution for this already exists in the form of the dock – shown on the iPhone 7 front page, too. It’s not going away. And the reason it won’t go away is that while audiophiles are not a big market, they are exactly the kind of lifestyle market Apple wants and needs in order to support its brand, and more importantly, its markup. That’s not tech; that’s image management. Even without Steve, Apple knows its image.

Similarly, they can’t cut off concert musicians and DJs from plain old analogue output. There are too many audio pros out there using phones now, and while that market isn’t actually large, it’s a market Apple still invokes in image, and it’s too perceived as cool for Apple to throw overboard without throwing another serious wrench into its branding.

And frankly, with the recording industry betting what’s left of the farm on streaming, they don’t really don’t seem to care much about DRM on plain audio anymore. The RIAA destroyed the value of owning music, so from their point of view, who cares? Music is the billboard, not the product. I just really can’t see this as “HDMI for audio.”

So from a consumer standpoint, mostly I see “Apple has made your headphone cable annoying.” Even that’s assuming you’ve got your own headset and aren’t using the one Apple included, which most people do and will continue to do.

Now, this does get more complicated for musicians and DJs. Even if the included little cable adaptor is good – and let’s say it is straight up great – then you can’t trivially run the new devices on power and interface directly to performance gear anymore. That’s a headache. “Oh shit, I forgot to charge my phone” becomes a critical failure. Best case is you get a new device for that – and the dock is not suitable, you need something you can’t knock over or drop – which means one more damn thing to buy and carry around and/or lose.

Let’s also say you’re using some sort of audio software on the phone, and it doesn’t have a way to save files that you can transfer to other devices. (Even the software I have which does this doesn’t do it easily or well, it’s kind of a pain in the ass and I don’t do it. I use the headphone jack.) And a lot of software – like 8-bit emulator sequencers, and like Animoog, which I have actually used on multiple released tracks – just doesn’t do it. So that just got more annoying on newer hardware too. Another dock or another cable or another whatever. It’s one more step.

But, interestingly, not on the iPad. So far, I’ve heard no rumours that the iPad will drop the 3.5mm connector. And the iPad – particularly the iPad Pro – has very un-phonelike things like a keyboard case and special connector, and art stylus/pencil, and so on.

So what I’m thinking – particularly with the Pro – is that Apple is seeing a differentiation opportunity between “phone” and “pad,” and that they’re pushing “iPhone” to “purely consumption device,” paralleling their attempt to push “iPad” towards “creation device.” That’s not the actual usage out there – lots of people use the iPhone to make things – but it’s coherent market segmentation, and marketroids love their market segmentation.

Also, the iPad isn’t nearly as space-constrained as the iPhone. It’s just not comparable. On the iPhone, replacing that jack space with bigger battery and camera means vastly improved camera and about an hour extra battery life. On the iPad, it’s not a big enough percentage of space to care.

If the next generation of iPad keeps the 3.5mm analogue headphone jack – while adding support for the new Apple wireless headphone specs, of course – I’ll take that to be pretty solid supporting evidence. We’ll see.

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