Digital Hell

Updates/further posts: Digital Hell part 2, Digital Hell part 3, Digital Hell, conclusion

Borrowed the title from a Raggedy Angry song, fits my last 48 hours, though (that or Malhavoc’s “Totally Fucked Up”). I just spent the last two days in noise Hell.

No, that’s not the title of a new EP, or the sonic description of such. I’ve got a new MBox Pro 3rd generation interface for Pro Tools which is plagued with all sorts of interference, ratting sounds, pops, clicks, hisses, distortion, etc.

First run through the Google results trying to troubleshoot it basically all said to just reboot everything when it happens. Well that’s great if it was rare but I was doing multiple vocal takes on loop repeat, a verse a a time, so maybe 20 seconds per take, and within 2 or 3 takes the damn thing was back hissing and gurgling again. So, stop, shut down, power cycle, etc., every minute of working time? No way.

I tried tracking directly into the box, then using external mic preamps. I tried moving the preamp box away in case the tube in it was causing the problem. I tried every single mic cable I have, including a couple expensive Mogami ones – and these were all XLR and balanced cables that are supposed to be shielded from interference. Different microphones, both phantom-powered and not. And every single input on the interface and the preamp. All the same.

And I tried it with different song sessions, doesn’t matter.

Then I noticed as I was checking my phone at my desk it was way worse. I took the phone out of the room. The problem continued, just not as loud.

Ditto when I wondered if it MIT be the ultrasonic electronic mouse repellent I had plugged in to keep Eddie the fuck away from my space. But unplugging it made no difference either.

And I was going with the superstition-based power-on order as recommended on various forums: first the external hard drive, then the Mbox, then the computer, then Pro Tools.

Spent 6 hours tracking vocals yesterday and all the takes were ruined by noise.

More Googling, and now I found mention of wi-fi interference. Well, the synth cave is in a building with wi-fi Internet. Making a Twitter lament about the problem late last night and that I would try killing the wi-fi today I got into a conversation with Ben from C/A/T and he’s found the wi-fi thing can be a problem.

So I went in today and turned off the wi-fi on my phone and my iPad and the computer and set to tracking. It definitely helped, in that I got an hour of vocal tracking in before the problem because noticeable again, so that was an improvement, but then it was back to having to stop after every take to listen to it for distortion and clipping out, then back to the stop every couple of minutes, turn everything off to let it power cycle, then reboot, fire up the MBox and ProTools again and keep plugging away.

I was able to finish the vocal tracking for “Constrictor” today and get useable takes, so at least that’s progress.

I did also notice that perhaps it’s a clocking error where the internal clock on the MBox Pro was set for 44.1 kHz when I’m working 48 kHz, but fixing that again only reduced the frequency of the noise and interference, it didn’t eliminate it.

And with every reboot I’m having to go back in and fix the playback engine settings with the hardware buffer size because God forbid the damn software remember what I keep setting it to. :p

Of course, if the root cause is the damn wi-fi, with the whole buildings being full of wi-fi, I’m going to have to figure out some sort of shielding solution.

I do wonder if maybe it might be time to start using an external clock or if that’s overkill. Will have to ask a few friends who swear by their Rosettas about how they have shit set up.

Or maybe I got a dud interface. Still have two weeks left in the returns/exchange period, so I’ll see if I can get rid of the noise but some other means before then, but at least I know I have the option to trade it in.

And hey, I have til Aug 17. The Mercury retrograde that my brother insists fucks up technology toys is over on the 8th. Maybe it’ll all just clear up on its own on the morning of the 9th.