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Lunchbox Computers for Live Music Performances? 276

Dan Reetz asks: "As a PC based musician, mobility is critical. However, most laptops have horrible soundcards. PCMCIA cards like a VXPocket cost about 700 clams. A friend of mine recommended I look into 'lunchbox' style computers as a portable solution. A few searches revealed them to be quite expensive and they are hard to find used. Does anyone know of a source for used Lunchbox PC's (even just the diplay would be fine) or a better low latency/noise audio solution for laptops?"
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Lunchbox Computers for Live Music Performances?

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  • Try a shuttle! (Score:3, Informative)

    by IIOIOOIOO ( 517375 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:42PM (#2800210)
    I've seen Shuttle SV24s with pretty good kits inside of them. Starting at $250 buy-in, that's not bad. Also, I've seen one where a guy bolted on an Amp Strap to the top of the case, which seemed to work well.
    • How about some details? I've been trying to turn an old laptop into a portable linux musicox for some time now, with limited success. I've had my eye on the shuttle for months, thinking about putting a handle on it -- but the innards seemed insufficient. I would love some specs about what went inside the box.
      • Re:Try a shuttle! (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I have to say that I recently purchased a shuttle and stuffed it with a 700 celeron. I have to say that I have had zero problems with it thus far. I really like it and it would work well for what you are looking for. The expandable PCI slot is a perfect place for a good sound card. With the standard 3.5" hardrive slot, I stuffed mine with a 40Gb. But you could use what you want. I also did not install a floppy drive, mine booted right from CDROM so you can even utilize that slot for another hardrive if you wish. Size is great. The packaging for the celeron 700 was as big as the case. Quite a small compact package. And with the PCI slot, you could stuff it with a good sound card.
      • Just so happens that there is a review of this at:
        http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.html?i=1572
    • Re:Try a shuttle! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Myself ( 57572 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @04:05PM (#2800382) Journal
      Yeah, I was looking at an SV24 and some gel-cells to replace my aging laptop. Only problem is, the on-board video doesn't have a digital output, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna run an LCD panel with analog input.

      You should check out the review of the FV24 motherboard [viahardware.com] and the review of the whole system [viahardware.com].

      Plunk a high-end PCI sound card in this baby, and you're all set. Also, 3.5" drives are way cheaper than 2.5", although not as shock-resistant.
      • 0) I'm using an analog LCD monitor right now, and I'm content with the quality. It's a ViewSonic ViewPanel VG150, and you ought to be able to get one for under $400.

        1) If you really want DVI, use the PCI slot in the SV24 for a PCI video card. I'd go with the PCI Radeon, personally.

        steveha
  • Empeg? (Score:4, Informative)

    by JoshMKiV ( 548790 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:42PM (#2800217) Homepage Journal
    What about the empeg? http://www.empeg.com
    • Re:Empeg? (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The empeg website redirects to Riocar which is now discontinued. From the link about empeg the first line is: "On November 1st 2000 empeg Ltd was acquired by SONICblue." For those of us who are curious, what WAS empeg?
      • Re:Empeg? (Score:2, Informative)

        by JoshMKiV ( 548790 )
        Check out http://www.riocar.org It's a little Linux box/MP3 player/dual notebook hard drive setup. Can play in your car, or at home as well. The "Mk2" unit has Ethernet, USB, and all sorts of goodies. You can still get them from SonicBlue, but you better act quickly. BTW, the price was down to $199 for the 10gig unit. Hope some fans picked them up.
    • Re:Empeg? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Night Goat ( 18437 )
      Firstly, the Empeg is nearly sold out for good, if it's not already gone. Also, I don't know that the Empeg's interface would be right for musicians. It's pretty time-consuming to find certain mp3s. I am assuming the guy's going to be using the computer as a sampler, not as a way to play songs that have already been fully put together. Talk about your boring concerts!
  • USB/Firewire Audio (Score:5, Informative)

    by self assembled struc ( 62483 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:43PM (#2800219) Homepage
    M-Audio and one other manufacturor (I can't remember their name) make USB and Firewire break out boxes for laptops with Audio In/Out (Balanced XLRS, 1/4 stereo and mono) with on-board high-quality DACs.

    I'm looking to get the M-Audio one for my iBook to do digital recording as Macs don't come with Audio in anymore, leaving it up to third parties to make Firewire/USB solutions. They have low latency (I would image the Firewire one would be lower due to Firewire's higher transfer rate), but I've heard nothing but good things about them.

    Also, if you're doing sequencing, you can get a MIDI breakout box and connect to another MIDI device for audio output.
    • by MO! ( 13886 )
      Roland/EdiRol also has several different USB connected devices ranging from straight audio in/out to combo's with MIDI and optical ports. I'm looking at picking up one of the audio/MIDI combo's once my new guitar arrives.


      • The Roland/Edirol [edirol.com] UA-100 is a great solution.
        Currently marketed as the RolandED Audio Canvas UA-100G, it's been around for a while and has good support under Linux and BeOS. You should be able to find a used one. It accepts analogue (mic/guitar) and MIDI inputs (and outputs) and is an all-round good piece of kit.
        - Derwen

    • At least some here knows about real studio equipment. After reading the article I feel sick, it doesn't even make sense. There is no mention of this guy's needs except for some reason (unexplained) he needs a lunchbox machine?!? Com'on This guy (1) can't afford real audio equipment (2) Hasn't picked up a Damn music hardware catalog in about five years. (3) Probably has never played a real gig. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but if this guys a pro musician I will cut off my arms so everyone would know that I'm not.
    • by frankie ( 91710 )
      Regarding external equipment and Apple laptops, MacOS X was designed to be very music-friendly. Core Audio [google.com] has extremely low latency, 32 bits, unlimited channels.

      A Combo iBook plus some audio gear should cost less than the lunchbox.
    • by Darlington ( 28762 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @04:29PM (#2800540)
      I use a notebook computer for live performances, and bought the Emagic EMI 2|6 USB audio interface. It's great. 24-bit DAC, 48 KHz, 2 ins, 6 outs, coaxial S/PDIF, $325. If you use Logic Audio like me, then it gives you the added bonus of low-latency virtual instrument playback. Check it out.
    • Definitely go Firewire with a Powerbook G4 or a newer iBook (depending on funds). Although I'm a Windows guy, the multimedia laptops for the PC are still not as slick as the Apple offerings. If you must go PC, I would go with a Sony (w/Firewire, of course) and Win2K (as I personally have yet to test a lot of popular music software on XP).

      I would personally recommend trying the MOTU 828 [motu.com], which has great sound quality. There are also many USB MIDI choices as well (from MOTU and others).

      It really is a shame that PC laptop hardware is not quite up to par in this area.
    • by Bilestoad ( 60385 )
      Xitel has a good USB 20-bit DAC box for about $50. stereo-link has one including a headphone amplifier for about $150.
  • USB audio devices (Score:3, Informative)

    by antibryce ( 124264 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:43PM (#2800227)
    Why not get a USB audio device? I have the Audiosport Quattro [midiman.com] and it works great. www.edirol.com has some nice cheaper ones as well.
    • The specs say it requires Windows. What's the deal with linux support?
      • The specs say it requires Windows. What's the deal with linux support?

        Who uses linux for pro audio?[1]

        This guy sounds like he's doing something a bit more advanced than playing MP3 remixes of the "Free Software Song".
        Something where decent software support just might come into the picture.

        C-X C-S
        [1] Nobody. Last I heard all the major PA wares were win/mac only.
  • There are some very small cases and mobo combinations around these days. A couple of soundcards and a harddrive full of cds as wavs (hey a 100gig is cheap) and you have yourself a portable mixing setup.


    I have done a dj thing at a small event (party for uni society) with just a PC and a whole load of tracks i ripped for ease or mixing on a pc. Plus with a TV out card card winamp plugins can be projected onto a well

    • There are some very small cases and mobo combinations around these days.

      There has been for a very long time. I have a 286 luggable to hand, you could shoehorn a small mobo into it and (because it was designed for a baby-AT with ISA slots) do some surgery on a Yamaha or other cheap-but-good PCI soundcard to fit it in.

      You'd probably have to use a laptop CPU to avoid overloading the ancient PSU in those things but OTOH the hard drives of the era weren't exactly light on power either so a compromise with a low-ish powered mainstream CPU might work.

      You generally don't get battery operation like a laptop, though, unless you're also prepared to lug an inverter and battery, or modify a PSU to suck 12V (not as difficult as it sounds but still need some electronics expertise) and lug just a battery (or 'gator clips and a lead to your car).

  • Make one Yourself (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spirit of Ishmael ( 309999 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:44PM (#2800237)
    Seriously, its not really that hard. Check out the case and cooling forum at ArsTechnica:
    http://arstechnica.infopop.net/OpenTopic/page?a= fr m&s=50009562&f=77909585
    Search around and I'm sure you'll find guidelines on how to build if not a lunchbox computer, at least a suitcase computer.
  • A quote from the site linked to in the submission.

    A lunchbox is NOT a cheap, off-the-shelf, shrink-wrapped computer system. In fact, one can generally purchase a fully operational notebook computer for less than the cost of the bare lunchbox chassis.

    So why do you think that we will be able to work the magic for you. Of course you can argue that they are just saying that so you shell out the big $$$ to them, but still. Its like reading on CNN that nobody knows where Bin Laden is, and then asking slashdot for his mailing address!
    • by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:58PM (#2800336) Homepage
      Amen. So many of these slashdot questions (and I'm not usually so critical of them) are in the form of:

      The rest of the world seems to have to do/pay X to make Y. I don't have X. How do I make Y?

      Computer based musicians should know that it's a terribly expensive hobby. I say hobby, because, he's obviously not makin too much money off of it. What would he do if he actually had to pay for his software too (as the software will usually run you up into the 1000$'s once you have all the neccessary effect and software synth packages most comp based musicians need)? Oh wait, I guess he'd just ask where he could pick up Emagic Logic Audio on the cheap too ;)

      As for the original question, going the lunch box route would be lunacy. They were not built for mobile musicians, so why not realize that the best route would be to figure out what other musicians of his industry demographic are doing? His underlying question would be far more appropriate on a comp-musician's website like Sonic State [sonicstat.com] or Harmony Central [harmony-central.com] ... you know you're on the right path when you're dealing with cheap enough gear thats not quite good enough, not when you're looking at aquiring super expensive gear thats likely overkill for your desired application and use on the cheap.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Jeez - you guys take yourselves way too seriously and come across as boring and pedantic. Big deal if the guy is asking the impossible. Read something else and don't waste his time with a lame reply.

        Sheesh.
        • > Read something else and don't waste his time with a lame reply.

          Uh, Mr. AC, obviously I /wanted/ to give a lame reply. Things only seem to happen when you complain about them enough (look at Bush's attitude towards taxes, which makes absolutely no sense). I suppose you didn't want to give a lame reply (offtopic to boost!), or am I confusing your reply with a useful one?
  • by Mad-Mage1 ( 235582 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (bm.yugcesofni)> on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:45PM (#2800245) Homepage
    Lunchbox machines aren't meant to be cheap or inexpensive...Their meant to be ruggedized PC's in portable enclosures for jobs that need the full power and expandability of a desktop PC without the (relative) fragility that comes along with desktops. You probably are not going to find one cheap. If you want this kind of power and can be reasonably careful, an intelligently built desktop that is carefully secured inside the case can do your job. You want that ruggedness...you're going to pay for it.
    • G E B (Score:3, Interesting)

      by a!b!c! ( 137622 )
      I got to share my favorite anecdote about rugged pcs. Some guy was having problems doing live shows, and his labtop was completely crashing. Apparently, the massive bass from the sound system was knocking the heads of the hard disk around, causing the computer to act all goofy. That's a pretty difficult problem to resolve.

      Anyways, my friend described it as an up to date version of a Godel Escher Bach tale where the tortoise is trying to build a record player that can't be broken. But no matter how complicated a machine he makes, there is always a record that will destroy his system.

      That wasn't all the clear, but if you know the book, you'll get the gist of whatIsayin.
    • ... without the (relative) fragility that comes along with desktops.

      Do you mean desktops or laptops?

  • If you're looking for an older-style sound, say...like a cheap clock radio, i'd definetly recommend a Sparc Classic. With 8-bit & 11kHz you can't go wrong. But, if that's not in the cards, I'd recommend finding a nice 10" monitor like they have for grocery store checkouts. Couple that with a box the size of a classic with a nice sound card and you'd do fine. Not the most portable, but I assume you'd haul it to point B, set it up, play some tunes, take it down, drive back to A. Really not that much work I'd think.
  • by strredwolf ( 532 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:47PM (#2800253) Homepage Journal
    Why replace a whole computer (with a $999+ component from ThinkGeek, perhapse)? Keep the laptop, but use a different method of getting the tunes *OUT*.

    You know that PCMCIA cards suck. Have you tried USB or maybe Paraell port? I know of one product, lp3 [lp3music.com], hooks into the paraell port and you basically print the MP3 to it. Unfortunately the lp3 is not shipping (they're having problems handling shipping).

    I've also heard of the LPBlaster, and of course numerous supported USB audio devices...
  • by zulux ( 112259 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:47PM (#2800256) Homepage Journal
    A cheap new laptop with your expensive PCMICA sound card would still be under $2000. Thats much cheaper than any of the decent luggables, and less expensive than making your own luggable - if your time is worth more than $20 an hour. If price is an issue, than a used MicroATX form factor computer with a 15" LCD monitor strapped to it permently coulden't cost more than $1000 and would weigh about 15 poinds. Paint the whole thing black with Krylon and it might even look cool.
  • PowerBook (Score:4, Informative)

    by TTop ( 160446 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:47PM (#2800262)
    The Apple PowerBooks [apple.com] have a good reputation among musicians. Apple has posted a page of music-related technologies [apple.com] for the PowerMac line, such as the AudioSport Quattro 24/96 [apple.com], described as "24-bit 96kHz USB audio and MIDI interface with direct monitoring switches; 4x4 audio interface; with ASIO and OMS MIDI drivers."
    • Re:PowerBook (Score:2, Informative)

      by ericdano ( 113424 )
      Indeed, Apple powerbooks, both the G3 and G4, are pretty much the ones I see and know of people using on gigs. There are a number of interfaces you can get as well, Firewire or USB.

      Another thing to perhaps recommend is getting a rack mounted computer. Most gig rigs are in portable racks, so perhaps getting a rack mounted computer would solve the portability/durability issue.

      But still, people seem to be more inclined to use laptops or even all in ones like the iMac. It's not so much a ruggedness, but a clean easy hookup issue. Less cables are better, and a laptop with a USB or Firewire hookup to your synths/modules/interfaces that are in racks seems to be the best way to do things....

  • Some good replies (Score:5, Informative)

    by 3ryon ( 415000 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:49PM (#2800274)
    There was a similar article [slashdot.org] on Slashdot (a long time ago, not a dig at /. editors) which should have some good ideas for you. I only remember it because I was the one who asked the question.
  • by unformed ( 225214 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:50PM (#2800278)
    especially because you have to pay royalties on whatever special character you want on it. For example, some people would want Batman Lunchbox PCs; Some would want Cabbage Patch Kids. And some (like me) would want the almighty Penguin-Man.

    Don't listen to them, it's a conspiracy; THAT'S the real reason LPCs get pricey
  • i used to use a powerbook back when i did live music. the latency on the built in audio cards is top notch, and the notebook all around rocks for live audio playback. mine was even relatively old.

    .brad
  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:52PM (#2800293) Homepage
    How about using the USB ports for audio? You probably don't want a cheap pair of USB speakers, but perhaps just a box you can hook up from USB to your amplifier. A quick web search found one [usbgear.com] but of course I have no idea if it meets your quality needs. If this works, you could use any laptop with decent USB.

    Perhaps you could get a small computer that has a PCI slot, such as a Shuttle SV24 [spacewalker.com]. Get a flat-screen display and a small keyboard and mouse, and then stick in your choice of high-quality PCI-based sound card. This plus a couple of carrying cases would be about as functional as a lunchbox portable, and a heck of a lot cheaper.

    Good luck.

    steveha
  • Not Cheap But nice (Score:3, Informative)

    by Heem ( 448667 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:54PM (#2800301) Homepage Journal
    Check out CyberResearch (PDF) [cyberresearch.com] or Their Website [cyberresearch.com] for some nice machines like you describe. I know I've posted about them before, I used to work for them, and while, this stuff is not cheap, it is high quality and they stand behind it. If this is going to be your livelyhood, why not do it right the first time. I'd rather spend $3000 once then spend $1000 4 times.

  • "As a PC based musician" ...

    As a musical instrument-based programmer, I still haven't found a grand piano with a good C compiler ...
    Seriously though, what the heck is a "PC-based musician" ?

    • I'm sure MS would sell you one with a C# compiler though.

      ba-dum-bum
    • You have to ask?

      Someone who composes songs on the piano or keyboard: pianist.

      Someone who composes songs on the sax: saxophonist.

      Someone who composes songs using a computer and software synthesizers and trackers and sequencers and loop based software: PC-BASED MUSICIAN.

      I couldn't tell if you were being glib or serious, but a PC-based musician is someone who uses the PC to actually /generate/ and /sequence/ music with respect to mixing down songs to media, or performing in a live venue.
    • Seriously though, what the heck is a "PC-based musician" ?

      there are any number of virtual analog modeling software, composition/sequencing, performance aplications out there which, when combined with soundcards with onboard synths and hard disk sampling, do, indeed, allow a person to be a musician who uses nothing but their computer.


  • a used VXPocket as opposed to a used lunchbox. I suspect the used VXPocket would be cheaper....as for finding one, I haven't a clue.
    • Used, or new even, VXPockets are available on ebay all the time, for between $300 and $400. I know, I just bought one. Certainly the best solution I could find for laptop based recording...I don't have a clue how well it works for music creation, however.
  • Shuttle SV24 case... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Junta ( 36770 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:55PM (#2800314)
    This case and appropriate components (flatpanel monitor) could work well for this, so long as you have a nice PCI, USB, or firewire device for your audio. Of course, I don't know if having everything so cramped increases interference in the audio components, but if you are really in need of this quality you probably want a set up that keeps things digital until the signal is well away from the computer itself.
  • Whether you have a Mac or a PC, and assuming you are making techno/electro, you may want to take a look at Propellerheads [propellerheads.se]' Reason [propellerheads.se]. Another cheaper alternative is Fruity Loop [fruityloops.com].
  • Notebook musician (Score:3, Informative)

    by sid_vicious ( 157798 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:56PM (#2800322) Homepage Journal
    Here's a site [aol.com] devoted to getting mobile music out of your notebook.

    He recommends the "EMU8710" and the "WaMi Box". A quick net search shows 'em both running about $400 - a little more reasonable than the $700 quoted above.
  • by tunah ( 530328 )
    Hold onto those clams. They may not have much processing power individually, but rackmounted in the lunchbox as a beowulf cluster...

    *ducks and runs out of room*

  • by Daath ( 225404 ) <lp AT coder DOT dk> on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:57PM (#2800324) Homepage Journal
    EgoSys [egosys.net] has two products that you could use for notebooks: WaMi Box [egosys.net], which is a PCMCIA, and Waveterminal U2A [egosys.net], which is supposedly very good.

    You should also check out usb-audio.com [usb-audio.com]!
  • If your whole gig setup is a fullsized tower and a 15" monitor, you're lucky.

    Think about how much gear your average performer has on stage. Amps, effects, mixers, it's endless. That's why the band/crew shows up at 3pm for a 9pm show, even at a small club. Much carrying has to be done before the soundcheck. You're usually lucky to find time for dinner before they open the doors..

    I'd suggest getting the most solid midi-tower you can, a the smallest cheapest monitor you can live with and go.. The monitor is gonna get a beer dropped in it sooner or later anyway, so go for cheap not quality. Bring super solid cables and lots of extras. Have balanced XLR outputs ideally. Running RCAs to a PA requires special boxes which the club may not have.
  • I've been thinking about building a similar type thing myself. Take a good, metal briefcase. Go to your local computer hobby shop, and pick up a small motherboard, perferably with intigrated ethernet/modem, etc. Throw in a video and sound card, whatever proc you like, etc. Put it in the bottom of the briefcase so that the sound and video are flush with the side. Cut two rectangular holes in the side, so that the cards can have the plugs sticking out, just like in a case. Mount a sheet of metal above this. The keyboard and mouse rest there. In the top of the briefcase, take a flat screen (15in for under 300 now) cut off the stand and mount it in the top. Run the cords to a small surge that fits in the case, and cut a door for the cable to come out and plug in. I'm sure something could be done for battery power. There, for not much more than a normal desktop, you have a portable powerhouse, that will do whatever you want.
  • For remote network monitoring, we've been looking at a little shoebox unit. It has the portability, price you want, but would need adjustments to get I/O and sound into it:

    http://www.portwell.com/pna-2413.htm

    Look around and see if you can find another product of theirs that works. Price for a single 2413 unit was under $1000.

    For that matter, where stereo rackmount and server rackmount are similar form factors, I'd also start exploring rackmount PC's. Again, a fullfeatured box is a grand or so. Ruggedized?! Hardly. But keep it simple inside the box, use whatever tricks might help to ruggedize things yourself (rubber bushings on all rackmount points, secondary mounting at the back of the casing), and treat it nice (as in carry it in and out of the show yourself, rather than letting strangers treat it like the speakers get treated) and maybe it'll save you the bucks needed for a rugged lunchbox.

    LET ME SHOUT THIS AGAIN... I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT RUGGED PORTABLE SYSTEMS. WHAT I AM SUGGESTING IS SMALL, INEXPENSIVE, AND CONFIGURABLE. I hope this helps...
  • Midiman (Score:4, Informative)

    by GoatPigSheep ( 525460 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:57PM (#2800330) Homepage Journal
    Midiman makes the quattro [midiman.com] usb based sound system that apparently has very low latency and excelent quality. The price is pretty low too. It has 4 i/o's and you can get the omni system that adds 8 more inputs to it
  • Well, I wouldn't go with a USB solution, since the bus can't handle the bandwidth needed for 24 bit/96 khz recording. I would definitely recommend the MOTU 896 (markoftheunicorn.com) which has a firewire interface and works great with both PC and Mac desktops/laptops. We use it in the VCCM [virginia.edu] as well as our Portable Audio Workstation (PAWN) (click on the research link) which is a lunchbox-type solution running Linux.
  • ... and in these docking stations some of them can have a PCI card.

    I have a TP Dock (2631-20U) with my T23, and although I don't use a PCI card in there, it has support for a half height pci card.

    I'm sure there are other similar solutions available to add desktop functionality to your notebook.
  • Firewire audio (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Omega Hacker ( 6676 )
    What you really want is a regular laptop with a Firewire audio interface. There are several on the market now geared more towards multi-channel stuff, but I'm working on a hardware design that would make a high-quality (think 24bit, 192KHz) stereo output relatively cheap (say $100). Email me at omega at temple - baptist dot com for more info, but don't expect anything usable for a few months ;-}
  • Would be nice to have 16 or 24 individual inputs (balanced or unbalanced) for use at shows... you could use a decently powerful laptop as a multi-track recorder... just plug into the front-of-house mixing board and you have the entire band on disk, that you can remix to your heart's content. I haven't seen anything like this yet that's not PCI, but it seems to me that a firewire interface should be able to easilly do something like this (at least bandwidth wise)
  • Try USB audio (Score:2, Informative)

    by greygent ( 523713 )
    I'm also an electronic musician and have had good luck with USB audio adapters.

    There are three rather good cheap ones out right now:
    - The iMic which works on Win32 machines and run for $35, check out their stats at www.griffintechnology.com. 24 bit/48khz, etc.

    As well as the somewhat cheap entries from Emagic and Roland/Edirol

    All three support ASIO, I believe. I've never experienced any performance issues with USB audio devices, as the USB bandwidth is more than enough to handle audio tasks.

    Screw the lunchbox, and just stick with the laptop, it's much easier to work from one computer, and if you're like me, you're surgically attached to your laptop.
  • A laptop with a fairly lightweight and small docking station might be a solution.
  • Since most electronic music gear has standardised on the 19" rack, maybe a 1U server would fit the bill (add a good PCI soundcard, a midi interface). You can also get other accessories (LCD, keyboard) made for the 19" standard. And I know that some gear cases have the 19" built-in.

    But this can get expensive pretty quick.
  • Or just make it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zunger ( 17731 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @04:03PM (#2800366)
    As a minimal solution, it isn't too hard to actually build a box to this sort of spec. For a case, start with a toolbox and hollow it out; then strap in a power supply, a small motherboard, and all the goodies. A bit of cutting work should let the ports and so on come out.

    This is different from trying to build a portable or luggable since it doesn't need its own power source -- if you're doing music, you probably have access to 120VAC somewhere. So a traditional power supply can work.

    A setup like this could easily come down to the $1000 price range, and open you to putting more money into a really good sound card...
    • If someone does this make sure to get a portable harddrive... although most harddrives are pretty reliable they aren't designed to be constantly lugged around. Although a missing bit or two isn't that bad in audio (watch me get flamed by an audiophile)
  • by __roo ( 86767 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @04:03PM (#2800369) Homepage
    I've had great results with my MOTU 828 [motu.com]. It's a rack-mount unit that connects to my laptop via Firewire, with many digital (2 channel S/PDIF I/O, 8 channel 24-bit ADAT lightpipe) and analog inputs (6 1/4" and 2 Neutrik XLR/TRS combo connectors with optional 48v phantom power), all with 24-bit converters w/excellent range) and outputs (8 1/4"). It's rack mountable, it's got drivers for PC and Mac, and it's very dependable -- I've had absolutely no problems whatsoever. And it ships with both ASIO and WDM drivers for PC, which means that it will work with any sequencer or audio program.
  • Greetings, Check out your local thrift stores...

    I got an old 286 Luggable for $5.

    I've replaced the motherboard (Baby AT), and the drives, and it's working fine. The only thing to be aware of is the case format. Mine has the power supply hovering over the motherboard in one corner. I couldn't use my first choice motherboard replacement as it had prominent components just there (voltage regulators with heatsinks if it counts)

    It's not been upgraded too far and it only has a CGA display, but perhaps you can do better.
  • Let me also take this time to plug EM411, and excellent online community dedicated to electronic musicians. Loads of info and loads of cool people.

    Discussions often get very technical.

    www.em411.com
  • If you are going the homebrew route, one case that may be worth checking out is the case from an old compact SPARC. They had very small, very dense cases which are just great for luggable applications, and quite robust. You can probably pick one up very cheap as scrap.
  • This thread [linux-hacker.net] on I-appliance talks about the VIA Shuttle, which is halfway between a laptop and a desktop.

    anadantech [anandtech.com] - outpost, with 1GHz Celeron, $330 [outpost.com]
  • Just use a regular PC and put a handle in the case and on the monitor. Back in the days of 386s, I went on-site with such a set up: a handle screwed into the case, velcro attachments for a keyboard, even a handle screwed into the 14" CRT monitor.

    From helping musician-friends haul thier shit around, this seems an adequate solution to me...

    There was also a pretty small (Apple Cube-sized) PC case for around $250 that was mentioned a few times on Slashdot... didnt turn anything up in a search tho, sorry.
  • I use a regular pc for recording live performances. I would be interested if you find out more about Lunchbox computers. It truly is a pain to work with a regular pc. I am trying different solutions now.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Here's a nice breakdown of the laptop audio interface options (geared towards PowerBooks, but all of these are available for PC, too).

    http://www.subminimal.com/ear/pbaudio.html [subminimal.com]

    I have the Emagic EMI 2|6 myself, which I like a lot. I'd look at a number of these solutions rather than a "lunchbox" computer.

    Bill
    --
    http://www.chromedecay.org
  • unless you need the 24/96 fidelity for something (and if you're playing live it's not really going to make a difference) just use what comes built into the notebook and get a $6 patch cable at the shack. i know many musicians who use PCs (some highly successful) and only the truly anal and wealthy among them has invested in high-end sound for the PC that they take to gigs.

    here's my alternate solution: get a portable 19" audio rack bin ($60-$200 available at any fine audio gear merchant) and a cheap 1U rackmount box with 1 PCI clot from siliconrax or somebody ($700-$2000 depending on configuration). get a delta66 adapter (probably $150 by now) and shut off the onboard sound. in this way, your computer is fairly self-contained and portable, and you have more rack space for your effects, mixers, nord lead or whatever else you need to carry.
  • by -=[ SYRiNX ]=- ( 79568 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @04:21PM (#2800485) Homepage

    I used to do a lot of tracker and MIDI music and I learned many helpful tips about eliminating audio noise in electronic systems:

    • Run every device you can on batteries. The power supplied by batteries is always vastly cleaner than power converted from AC.
    • Use gold-plated connectors for all audio signal wires.
    • If an audio-generating device must run off AC, plug it into the same jack/strip that your preamp/amp use to ensure solid AC grounding and eliminate hum.
    • Purchase a new laptop, and do your homework first. Take along a pair of quality headphones (Sennheisers are recommended) and listen carefully to the integrated audio output for noise that may be generated when other devices in the system (hard drive, CD-ROM drive, processor, video) are doing actual work.
    • Parallel-port-driven audio solutions are usually the cleanest, lowest-latency solutions. Numerous websites describe the construction of such a device, or you can purchase them pre-made at some places. The next lowest latency solution is the laptop's integrated audio, although the quality of the audio output varies dramatically among brands/models.
    • Make sure your laptop has LOTS of RAM (at least 256 MB), and kill off all background programs, screen savers, power management, and other automated doodads that can kick off in the middle of a performance. For instance, there's no need to have an AntiVirus program sucking up resources during a gig! This will minimize latency.
    • Everyone and their dog will recommend using cables that are as short as possible. This is far less important than using high-quality cables. I personally use and recommend Monster Cable brand's highest quality offerings as a bare minimum. It's expensive, but it's truly worth it, and you can still use relatively long cables to allow yourself some slack.
    • For running components off AC, use either a power-filtering UPS unit, a power-filtering surge-protected AC power strip, or both. By merely plugging all AC-powered components into a Monster Cable clean-power strip I was able to eliminate all audible hiss and hum from my home theater system.
    • Most hum problems in audio interconnection come from ground loop [epanorama.net]. This has nothing to do with cable quality and everything to do with cable topology. If you have a loop of wire, and another wire carrying current runs through the loop, a current will be induced in the loop. This is a ground loop. It's easy to create one when cabling up electronics. The loop can be big; size doesn't matter in this.

      Power, grounding, and signals should follow the same tree structure, fanning out from a single power source and grounding point. You may have to violate this rule; if you do, an audio isolation transformer [allenavionics.com] should be placed somewhere in the signal chain to break the loop.

  • You may want to take a look at Magma [magma.com]'s solution : an external box with pci slots that you'll connect to your laptop using the pcmcia ports. You maqy even put a scsi harddisc inside !

    Imagine this coupled with a Yamaha SW1000XG soundcard [xgfactory.com]...
  • 24bitfaq.org (Score:2, Informative)

    by shooz ( 309395 )
    24bitfaq.org [24bitfaq.org] is an excellent resource for high quality moble recording info.

    shoOz
  • You can get a Roland UA-30 USB audio device for under $300USD. It will sound better than a conventional sound card (D/A done outside your laptop in a solid state device that doesn't have its own power supply) and has RCA, TOSLink, and SPDIF outs. They are small and well-supported.

    Check out Roland's site [edirol.com] for more information.

  • You can get a firewirecard for your laptop for not a lot of $$. Then drive it with a Sony media converter DVMC-DV1(rougly $300). The media converter runs off of 6v so you can either power it with a wall wart or some batteries. You can capture/play DV audio/video with this beast quite reasonably at a lot les $$ than buying a full dv deck.
  • Try a Flytech [flytech.com] PC. A range of ultra-compact PC's, mostly with one 3.5" and one 5.25" bay, plus about three PCI or ISA slots, at desktop PC prices. (Well, OK, I don't know their current prices, but when I used to buy from them three years ago, they were pretty competitive.)

    Add an LCD screen (maybe even fix it onto the side of the case, or buy one of their POS PCs with screen already included), and the sound card(s) of your choice, and you're set. There is a potential for heat problems, because of the ultra-crowded case, but provided you don't lock it away in a small closet with junk crowded all around it (as my users tended to do), you'll be fine.

  • I remember Dolch from way back when. They invented the high performance rugged lunchbox format machine. They make several different models and types.

    www.dolch.com

    they fucking rule.
  • PCMCIA cards like a VXPocket cost about 700 clams

    Pardon the OT post, but if you could come up with 700 clams...from the beach, say...would the stores honor [snopes2.com] this? Of course, these commercials offered stereos for bananas, but same idea.
  • I picked up the shuttle FV24 [shuttleonline.com] and and one of these [mables.com]. The board fits perfectly. I attached a 2.5in HDD inside lid with Velcro and laid some foam packing uder the Mobo for insulation then broke out the Dremel. There isn't any room to utilize the lone PCI slot (though a TV in card would be cool) and I'm still looking for a good power supply solution but this will rock when it's done.
  • There are at least two pro level FireWire multichannel audio adapters out now. One is the MOTU 828, which is a rack-mount unit that Glyph makes a matching rack-mount storage unit for as well. There is another that is notebook-sized, but I can't remember the name. You can find it in a good music magazine, or through pro audio sites. With either of these adapters, you just hot-plug a FireWire cable between the adapter and the computer, and then install whatever software is necessary.

    You can get a notebook with FireWire from Apple (any notebook from the past two years or so), Sony (some models), and a few others. Apple's machines also support mLAN, which is Yamaha's replacement for MIDI and optical digital cables, which also runs over FireWire. The content creation industries are standardizing on FireWire right now wherever they can. It's built to answer the problems that music and audio and video people face.

    I don't know what the state of USB Audio is on Windows, but on the Mac you can get a small, cheap adapter like Griffin iMic ($25) and you get 24-bit stereo recording that's free of any internal computer noise. If you only need stereo, this is an easy solution. There are also some USB mic preamps, enabling you to plug a high-quality mic into USB and get good results.
  • We've done something similar in building ISDN test rigs to carry about.

    Basically, take a small form factor PC, and a small LDC monitor, and get the people who build the flight cases for your musical instruments to build a case around them.

    Such an arrangement doesn't weigh an awful lot, you get full size(an hence high capacity) disks; PCI slots; even a CD-R. And it will probably work out cheaper than a laptop would.

If you can count your money, you don't have a billion dollars. -- J. Paul Getty

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