David Lewis Talking Tech & Audio
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MacBook Air saves the day – 13 inches of pure happiness!

How or why it’s worked I’m not certain – but all I care about is that the problem is fixed…

MacBook Air - too good to be true

Who’d do it?

My MacBook Air often just sits there looking pretty being used only to read emails or on the sofa of an evening. But today, it’s stepped up to the plate – big time!

Content creating – simple I thought. Post a few videos, write a story every once in a while and maybe throw in a podcast now and then…how hard can it be? And why not live stream as well for good measure – what a blast!

Well, let me just say that everything is not what it seems when you are sitting there watching, reading and consuming your favourite creator’s content – the backstory often reveals a lot of blood, sweat & tears.

MacBook Air to the rescue

Live streaming was the final part I threw into my content creation mix. I realised that with my radio background that chatting live should come easily enough to me.

It wasn’t the ‘presenting’ bit that was concerning me, and the reason I kept putting it off, it was the technical side of it.

I know on the face of it, making a video looks pretty similar to live streaming. Often you’ll see us in the same sets and familiar settings, so how different or difficult can it be right?

Trust me – with very tired eyes and a buzzing brain I can warn you, enter the world of live streaming with caution – oh, and oddly maybe have an M2 MacBook Air to hand.

Saving the day

I’ve been streaming live on YouTube now for the past two months – every Wednesday from 3.30 pm. The idea has always been not to plan too much, but more just to get together and have a mid-week Apple & tech catch-up and natter.

The big issue you’ll face with live streaming is, in a word, sync! From my radio days sync and latency never really posed an issue as there was no visual element to the show (obviously)! The worse that can happen is that there is a slight delay in your headphones, which is annoying, but won’t ruin the day!

When I started to stream, I reached first for my year-old MacBook Pro – obvious choice right? 32Gb of memory, 1TB of storage and the exemplary M1 Max silicon inside under the hood powering the whole shebang! Streaming I’d want all the grunt I could muster…

The nuts and bolts

To stream you need to take onboard a few different areas of hardware – the Mac was the obvious, the camera and the lynchpin – your audio interface.

It seemed to make obvious sense both logically and financially to use the equipment I had around me. I’d put it all together so I knew how it worked and more importantly, at least I thought, how to fix issues. When everything works well, it’s a piece of cake – it’s when the you-know-what hits the fan that background knowledge comes in handy.

Although a lot of broadcasting is PC-based, DJi’ng is very much Mac-centred. Macs are perfect for live streaming being fast and equally as importantly, quiet! Apple silicon barely ever breaks a sweat, and even better – the MacBook Air as you know is fan free.

Even though no one ever noticed or at least mentioned the sync issue I knew it was there and that simply wasn’t good enough. It’s a tough competitive world out there and to stand out, everything has to be as near as perfect as possible.

So the heart – Mac was sorted I thought – so on to the next part of the jigsaw puzzle – the camera.

I am no cameraman so my knowledge of where to look for problems is limited. I had it set to 4K at 24FPS with a clean feed to the Mac and yet whatever I did, I always seemed to be two frames out of sync. Was the Canon not up to it?

When I say I tried everything – trust me I thought I had tried absolutely everything. This weekend as I pulled my hair out I tried virtual interfaces, buying higher quality leads, shortening the distance of the leads (yes – that can make a difference) and the audio chain. Hour after painful hour passed but still there was no sign of improvement.

Next up then was the interface. The interface that I have used for years is a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 – pretty much an industry-standard interface that works brilliantly with the MacBook Pro which has no drivers that need to be installed. It’s a plug n’play situation and is the easiest way of getting an XLR mic into your MacBook Air or Pro and in turn into your DAW which in my case is Adobe Audition. But then the penny started to drop – this interface was great for radio, but audio interfaces have moved on now as the world of content creation has exploded.

It must be the interface that was at fault as pretty much every other avenue had been explored.

Moving on

The other part of the streaming setup is the software or platform you use to stream or record.

I had tried Ecamm and although it has its strengths, the big weakness is that your video quality relies on both you and your guest having good internet speeds. If that takes a hit while you are live or recording that will be the only version that you have – that is as good as it gets. But there is another option – Riverside.

You’ve probably heard about them – the major USP is that the recording is made locally so even if you break up as you’re recording the actual files that you’ll use to edit will be perfect!

I use Riverside to stream to YouTube via the Mac but I had latency even in my Riverside platform before it even got to YouTube. Riverside has been nothing short of brilliant in trying to help me work out the problem – polite, quick, patient and courteous at all times.

And this morning at about 12.15 am we had that eureka moment that I was starting to doubt existed!

Hello to the future

Over the weekend I bought a new Focusrite Interface that was fit for purpose – a Vocaster One. Not only do I like Focusrite but I also know from years of experience they work great with Macs.

The Vocaster One meant I could have a fresh start away from my fiddly radio broadcast setup. It offers you a studio in a box – and importantly it’s all clean feeds straight into the Mac which is hugely important in getting rid of latency.

The Vocaster One has a single XLR cable port with 48V Phantom power – so you can use a condenser mic. The interface plugs into the Mac and the Canon connects to the Vocaster – job done! There is even some EQ for the voice going on.

I was convinced this would sort my issues out – but audio has this nasty way of kicking you in the bits! It only takes one tiny little thing to trip you up – we are talking milliseconds…less than the blink of an eye! You can imagine my reaction when I unboxed and plugged in my new interface to the MacBook Pro only to find I still had latency! How could that possibly be?

Stripping back

I was not going to be beaten! A new approach was needed – everything had to be stripped away.

The MacBook Pro although mighty powerful is full of history – I have edited so much audio and video work on there this past year with the history that brings with it. Plugins, apps and artefacts all sitting there in the background and any one of them could be the culprit.

Enter the MacBook Air!

In theory, what I am looking to do is not particularly processor-heavy, but I was still live streaming and I would have to stream wifi as I will be out of ports. All this weighed on my mind but in its favour was that I had no audio history on there. The decision was made…

At the same time, I changed browsers – Riverside works only on Chrome or Edge. As I’d never used Edge, so I downloaded that onto the MacBook Air as well…time to plug everything in…

It worked!!

The feeling of joy I have right now is indescribable unless you’ve been through this audio nightmare. But with the help of Riverside and a bit of lateral thinking on my part, we got there!

Bringing it all together

The answer was always in sight – the MacBook Air.

This tiny lightweight, portable fan-free notebook just live-streamed for an hour, in sync with no dropouts or glitches. As of now I officially LOVE my MacBook Air. You can keep the 15-inch, my little Midnight Blue baby just saved the day.

Ok, so it wasn’t entirely the MacBook Air – the Vocaster also had a lot to do with it and the using Edge and not Chrome as well – oh and streaming from the Canon in 1080p, not 4K…oh and the tireless support team at Riverside too. Today everything came together for a mini victory.

As I said, audio is made up of so many tiny little parts that it is easy to get tripped up. Luckily I tend to be tenacious and I wasn’t going to be beaten. With a little knowledge of mine and amazing customer care from Riverside, I can now record my podcast and live stream to my heart’s content with great audio quality – oh, and did I mention in sync too?

My MacBook Air though – you little beauty! How you did it I don’t know, but expect to be working a bit harder from now on!

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