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What is Neuron Plugin Scanner?

Do you want the application “Neuron Plugin Scanner.app” to accept incoming network connections?

The Problem

If you’re on a Mac running a contemporary1 version of OS X with the Firewall engaged and trying to fire up RX 5, you might encounter the following error.

screen capture of the alert dialog box

Do you want the application “Neuron Plugin Scanner.app” to accept incoming network connections?

What is Neuron Plugin Scanner? The alert dialog box warns: “Clicking Deny may limit the application’s behavior. This setting can be changed in the Firewall pane of Security & Privacy preferences.”

The only solid reference to this app that I could find is a tiny thread on this forum. A guy named Jonah (possibly this guy?), who claims to work for iZotope Inc. (software developers of the amazing RX 5, Ozone, Iris, etc.), states that Neuron Plugin Scanner is a “helper application to scan your host for plugins to use” and that “it never connects to any other computer, iZotope, the internet, or anything else!”

That seems harmless, but I wanted better proof that Jonah was legit and the app wasn’t something more malicious. I contacted iZotope customer service and got this reply:

Hello Scott,

Thank you for reaching out! Yes the Neuron Plugin Scanner is related to RX 5. RX 5 has the ability to host 3rd party plugins. Those plugins have to be scanned by the Neuron Scanner before they are instantiated. Allowing this functionality is recommended.

Thank you for your time!

Sincerely,
Matt

iZotope Customer Care

Verdict: Neuron Plugin Scanner is safe. Simply click Allow and keep making music.

The Solution

It turns out the app is harmless. But clicking Allow every time you open RX 5 is a pain. Shutting off the Firewall is not wise. So if you want to make this dialog box go away forever, here is what to do.

1. Open Security & Privacy panel in System Preferences

You can find System Preferences under the Apple logo () on the far left of the menubar. Click on the Security & Privacy icon.

screenshot of System Preferences

Click the Security & Privacy icon

2. Unlock System Preferences

If your System Preferences are locked, unlock them. Enter your system account password when prompted.

screenshot of lock

Unlock to enable changes to the Firewall

3. Open Firewall Options

Once you enter your password, the Firewall Options button will no longer be grayed out. Click it.

screenshot of Firewall Options button

Click on Firewall Options

4. Find the app Neuron Plugin Scanner in the list

Scroll down until you see Neuron Plugin Scanner. It will have a red dot and the words “Block incoming connections” beside it.

screenshot of firewall settings for various applications

Find the Neuron Plugin Scanner.app

5. Allow Incoming Connections

Toggle the setting for the Neuron Plugin Scanner app to read “Allow incoming connections” and exit out by pressing the OK button.

screenshot of Firewall settings being changed from block to allow

Set the Neuron Plugin Scanner to “Allow incoming connections”

That should fix the problem. The alert dialog for Neuron Plugin Scanner will no longer pop up…at least until iZotope updates their software or Apple changes their operating system. This is what worked for me with RX 5.00.135 running on OS X 10.10.5. Not all systems are the same. YMMV.

1Contemporary = a version released within the last few years prior to this article being publish. If these issues still exist at some point years from the publish date, I would be surprised. If so, well hello dear reader from the future. Do we have flying cars in the time you are from?

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5 Tips for Audio Recording Hard Drives

Hard drives are hard.

hard disk drive with Pro Tools logo as the platter

You want to record audio in the modern age? You don’t have a Zildjillion dollars to be able to record to tape? Even so, it all ends up digital. You need some hard drives.

Five Audio Recording Hard Disk Drive Tips

Hard disk drives aren’t all the same. Picking out the right one can be tough. Here are some things I’ve learned — sometimes the hard way.

1. Heed the DAW makers’ suggestions.

If AVID says that Pro Tools doesn’t support it, don’t expect it to work. Legit DAW makers will post the system requirements for their software/hardware. Look them up. Follow their recommendations and instructions. Spoiler: You’re probably going to have to spend more than you had planned for.

2. Faster is better.

A faster drive means it read/writes faster. And faster read/writes means more tracks and/or higher quality.

Traditional hard disk drives have platters that spin. A hard disk drive that spins at 5200 rpm really isn’t fast enough — it’s like red-lining a Geo Metro. 7200 rpm is better. 10,000 rpm better still.

And then there’s flash drives, which are way faster than hard disk drives.

There are also seek times to consider, for which lower numbers are better. Seek time is the baseline amount of time in milliseconds that it takes for a drive to fetch data.

I have found that drive manufacturers don’t always make these stats readily available. When in doubt, assume the drive doesn’t meet spec (because it likely doesn’t).

3. Data interfaces matter.

Hard drives have come with lots of data interface flavors: PATA, SATA, USB (1, 2, 3), FireWire (400, 800), Thunderbolt, Ethernet, and some are even wireless. The data interface dictates bandwidth, which roughly translates to how many tracks you can record at once and how much latency your playback will suffer. More bandwidth is better, which translates into better recording and mixing experiences. Again, check your DAW maker’s system requirements and choose the drive with the fastest and most forward-compatible data interface.

Also make sure your computer can handle the data interface type you’re choosing. And find out if the data port you intend to use on your computer is sharing a bus with any other peripherals in your computer. That can adversely affect your bandwidth, causing a data bottleneck.

4. Bigger isn’t better.

For tracking and mixing, you don’t necessarily need a 3 TB drive. (Unless, of course, you’re recording a 10-piece prog-rock group with 40 minute “works” at 32-bit 192kHz.) Save the big, slow drives for backups and archiving. Use smaller, faster drives for works in progress. If you have more than one project going at a time, consider using a small drive for each project, so the different project files are not interleaved with each other on the drive. This will speed up read/write times, as the drive will not be jumping around on the platters trying to find the files for the current session. This also saves money, since really fast and really big drives are expensive.

5. Always have a backup.

Have a backup plan, because hard drives fail. All the time. More so than any other part of a computer. Make sure to always backup your work after every session, whether recording, editing, or mixing. And make sure you have an extra drive ready in case one goes down during a session. I can’t stress this enough. Millions of ones and zeros (i.e. your priceless recordings) can go poof at any time — and there’s never a right time for that. Buy more hard drives. Make backups like a chronic. Sleep well.

Coda

So there you have it: my top five hard drive tips. Comment below to let me know what you would add to the list.

And enjoy some “Tainted Love” made with old hard disk and floppy disk drives…

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Export MIDI from GarageBand

GarageBand likes to keep MIDI data hidden and inaccessible. Here’s how to extract it anyway.

GarageBand icon with MIDI cable superimposed

Apple’s GarageBand makes it relatively easy to sketch out an audio demo, but it does have some severe, intentionally-crippled limitations.

One of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of built-in support for exporting MIDI data.

Performances are stored inside the session file in some sort of MIDI fashion, but Apple doesn’t give users an easy way to get that information out. Major bummer. *looks west towards Cupertino, squints eyes, shakes fist in air, mutters under breath*

However, a nice guy named Lars Kobbe has put together a workaround/hack that extracts MIDI data from the reluctant clutches of GarageBand. You can download his GB2MIDI Apple droplet script from his site: MIDI-Export in Apples Garageband. Here’s the direct download: GB2MIDI.ZIP

The article is in German, but instructions in English are found near the bottom of the article (just before the comments section). Getting the MIDI data out involves several steps. Here’s my summary of the process.

How to Extract MIDI Data from GarageBand

  1. Join (Command-J) regions of a track you want to export
  2. Convert that region to a loop via Edit > Add to Loop Library (NOTE: In GarageBand 10.1.0 this menu item is now located under File > Add Region to Loop Library )
  3. Find the newly created loop file (an .AIF with MIDI data hidden inside it) in the folder: Macintosh HD (or whatever your system drive is named)/Users/(your home folder)/Library/Audio/Apple Loops/User Loops/SingleFiles/
    or the abbreviated: ~/Library/Audio/Apple Loops/User Loops/SingleFiles/
  4. Drop that .AIF file on Lars’ GB2MIDI droplet
  5. Grab the freshly extracted .MID file, which should appear in the same folder where the .AIF loop was. If not, see the comment section below.
  6. Import the .MID file into a respectable DAW (basically almost anything other than GarageBand).
  7. Make next hit record.

That last step is optional, but I say go for it. 😉 Let me know if this helped you.

Locating The Files

UPDATE 2014-08-10

If you’re having trouble locating the loop file, it may be because your Library and/or Users folders are hidden, as later OS X versions have been wont to do.

To unhide the Library folder, open the Terminal application, which is found in the /Applications/Utilities/ folder. At the prompt type the following:
chflags nohidden ~/Library/

To unhide the Users folder, type this into Terminal:
sudo chflags nohidden /Users
Then enter your administrator password.

Look for the newly unhidden Users folder in your hard drive’s root folder. It should look something like this:

screenshot highlighting location of User folder

After running “sudo chflags no hidden /Users” you should see the Users folder (highlighted in red in the image above) appear under the root folder of your hard drive (often named “Macintosh HD” by default).

For more on the hidden Users folder issue check this article from The Mac Observer. It seems the problem was introduced with iTunes 11.2 when Find My Mac is enabled. Another blog suggests that updating to iTunes 11.2.1 fixes the issue.

GarageBand Alternatives

UPDATE 2016-02-04

This GarageBand MIDI article has regularly been one of the most popular posts on my site. That means there are a lot of people using GarageBand and discovering its unfortunate MIDI limitations. The best bit of advice I can give to any musician or audio engineer still using GarageBand is STOP. I know that may sound harsh, but GarageBand is intentionally made to be consumer-grade software. If you’re serious about recording, take the time to investigate other DAWs. Find an alternative solution. There are many to choose from and nearly every one of them is less limited than GarageBand. They range from super affordable to “professionally priced.” Here’s a list to get you started. (Some links are affiliated.)

Pick any of the DAWs above (or find another — this list is by no means exhaustive) and you’ll find it much easier to work with MIDI. Let me know what software you chose.

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FIX: Pro Tools “You do not have appropriate access privileges (-5000)”

Oh, yes, you do!

A friend gave me a Pro Tools session on a thumb drive. I copied the entire session folder to my external hard drive and opened it. After changing the routing to work on my system, everything played back fine. Then I tried to clean up the session.

Every time I attempted to cross fade or consolidate an audio or MIDI region, I would get an error like this:

screen shot of a Pro Tools error dialog

“Could not complete your request because You do not have appropriate access privileges (-5000)…” Why do you build me up, Buttercup? Capitalize ‘You,’ then award me negative five thousand points…pssh.

The Fix

Seeing the “access privileges” bit, I figured the problem was probably an operating system issue, not a Pro Tools thing. The session files were indeed set to ‘Read Only,’ which is why I could play back the session, but couldn’t do anything to the regions or fades.

Here’s how to fix the issue.

  1. Close the session. You shouldn’t have your Pro Tools session open while changing its permissions.
  2. Select the session folder in Finder. Make sure the session folder is highlighted, not the files inside the session.
  3. Get Info. Hit Command-I (capital i) or from the Finder menu select File > Get Info. An Info window will pop open.
  4. Change all privileges to ‘Read & Write.’ At the very bottom of the Info window is a box with a list of users and their privileges. They should all be set to ‘Read & Write.’ You may be asked for user password to unlock and verify the change.
    screen shot of Sharing & Permissions file metadata

    Not listed are NSA permissions, which by default are set to ‘Collect All,’ but, like, totally isn’t a violation of your privacy.

  5. Close the Info window. After making the privilege changes, try reopening your Pro Tools session and editing some regions. If you can, this fix worked for you.

Why does this error occur?

Many common problems that Macs develop are related to file permissions errors. Files are given various permissions to maintain privacy between computer users and prevent users from easily messing up the operating system.

Permissions can get wrecked when disks are removed without being ejected and during unexpected shut downs. That’s why it is important always to try to eject disks and shut down your Mac properly.

Permissions can also get messed up during copying and moving of files or while installing software. That appears to be why I experienced this error. During the copying of the files, the permissions were never changed to grant me access. Simple problem, simple fix.

UPDATE 2013-10-30

After encountering this problem on several other sessions, I tried another method and found a better (and probably more proper) solution. Try this in addition to or instead of the above fix:

In the problematic Pro Tools session, pop open the Disk Allocation dialog (Setup > Disk Allocation…).

screenshot of the Setup menubar item in Pro Tools 9

When the dialog window opens, you’ll be presented with a list of all the tracks in your session and the location where that track should be located. If you’re having problems creating fade files and getting the sort of error that brought you to this page, then you’ll probably see something like the picture below.

screenshot of the Disk Allocation dialog window in Pro Tools 9

As you can see, not all of the tracks had their disk allocation pointing to the right place. To fix them, select all of the incorrectly allocated tracks, then click and hold the little up/down arrows on the right hand side. A little window will appear and ask you to select a folder. In my case, the session file was looking on my internal system drive instead of my external audio drive. Choose the correct location of your session files and click OK. That should solve the issue. Let me know if this worked for you.

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FIX: Sibelius “There are fonts missing.”

Those fonts probably aren’t missing.

Error dialog windows can be really frustrating. They pop up and demand your attention, when you just want to get to work on something. Sibelius 7 has thrown this missing font error for me a few times:

Sibelius 7 error dialog window

There are fonts missing. Sibelius 7 will still work without these fonts, but some scores may not display properly. The missing fonts are: Reprise Std, Reprise Special Std, Reprise Title Std, Reprise Stamp Std, Reprise Rehearsal Std, Reprise Script Std, Reprise Text Std

The Fix

Most likely the fonts aren’t missing, but simply disabled, which makes the fix really easy. Here’s how to re-enable the “missing” fonts.

First, open the application Font Book. This native OS X font manager should be located in your Mac’s Applications folder.

Second, search for the missing fonts. Font Book has a search field in the upright corner. Type in the names of the missing fonts.

Enabled fonts are shown in black text. Disabled fonts are grayed out and are labeled “Off” on the right hand side.

screen shot of Font Book OS X application

In my case, all of my “missing” fonts were part of the Reprise family, I typed in “reprise” and all of the fonts in question appeared in the filtered list.

Third, enable the fonts. Select the fonts you want to re-enable. Then hit Shift-Command-D. You can also enable fonts by using the menu bar by selecting Edit > Enable Fonts. The fonts should turn black and the “Off” label will disappear.

screen shot of Font Book drop down menu for enabling fonts

I see you checking out my wallpaper.

Lastly, close Font Book and reopen Sibelius. If you enabled all the “missing” fonts, you should be good to go. The error shouldn’t pop up this time, however, it may happen again in the future.

Why does this error occur?

I’ve had to run the fix a couple times now. I don’t know why this error seems to reoccur. If you know why those Reprise fonts sometimes disable themselves, please send me an email or comment below.

Being a graphic artist as well, I know that fonts are notorious for becoming corrupt, conflicting with other fonts, and generally being a hassle to manage. You might think being a musician is a good way to get away from graphic design problems, but unfortunately software like Sibelius relies on fonts to display notation. At least the fix for this error is easy to do and only takes a minute.

UPDATE 2013-10-30

The fix I posted above seemed to only work for a while. Occasionally, I would have to run the fix again, which is to say, it wasn’t much of a fix. So, I dug in further and found a real, permanent fix.

The issue was with duplicate fonts. The strange bit was that it wasn’t duplicates of the Reprise family, which was the family of fonts that Sibelius said were missing. Instead it was duplicates of various other fonts that Sibelius uses.

By referencing this forum post and this forum post, I figured out which fonts Sibelius requires and, thus, which ones might be causing problems. Then, for clarity’s sake, in the Font Book application I created a new Collection (File > New Collection or ⌘N). After that I did a search for duplicate fonts (Edit > Look for Enabled Duplicates… or ⌘L) and looked in the Sibelius font collection for any that were flagged. Sure enough, about a third of the fonts that Sibelius uses had duplicate copies. One by one, I “resolved” (deleted) the duplicate fonts, then rebooted. Problem solved.

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The Inception of Keyboard Instruments

Is every new technological development just a deeper dream state?

Sound is basically waves of pressure changes. The exact definition is more complicated, but essentially we perceive sound because our ears decode the frequencies of oscillating movement of particles in gases, liquids, and solids. There are many ways to generate sound waves, such as plucking guitar strings so they vibrate, or hitting a membrane like a drum head.

Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church pipe organ. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Pipe Organs

A long time ago, people discovered that sound could also be made by blowing air through a pipe with a opening on the side, thus inventing the whistle. They also found that a range of tones could be produced by assembling a group of whistles with varying lengths and diameters. Then they attached a controller (called a keyboard or manual) so that one person could “play” this collection of pipes. Their invention is what we now know as the pipe organ.

At the start, pipe organs had only one timbre – a basic whistle sound, but over the next several hundred years, smart inventors and musicians made improvements in the technology. They found ways to emulate lots of other instruments, like brass, woodwinds, percussion, and even human voices. Their hope was to fully replicate those real life instruments.

a pipe organ console

Organ console at the United States Naval Academy chapel. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As features were added, pipe organs evolved into enormous, elaborate, and expensive installations, increasingly more complicated to play and maintain. While these pipe organs were truly amazing inventions, capable of creating complex and beautiful music, they were actually quite poor emulations of the real life instruments they were intended to replace.

Still, we humans are adaptable and we fell in love with the sound of pipe organs, learning to appreciate the instrument for what it was, not what it wasn’t.

Electric Organs

a Wurlitzer organ

Wurlitzer 4100 BW Electronic Spinet Organ (1959-1963). Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Eventually, we discovered electricity and began to harness its power to create electromechanical instruments. Creative minds developed things like vacuum tubes, tone wheels, and transistors. Companies like Hammond and Wurlitzer implemented tone wheels to generate sounds approximating a pipe organ.

However, similar to the pipe organ, this new technology was a brilliant invention that poorly emulated its predecessor. These new organs were affordable alternatives to pipe organs, so in spite of being a bad imitation they became popular with smaller houses of worship. Traveling musicians took advantage of the portability of these smaller organs too, making their sound common in popular jazz, blues, and rock music.

Once again, our ears grew accustomed to the sound of the imitation, developing an affinity for the quirks of its particular aesthetic.

Keyboards

keyboard on table

Yamaha DX7. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As the march of progress continued, electronics became smaller and more powerful. Engineers found ways to replace the delicate mechanical parts in electric organs, which were subject to wear and tear, with completely electronic sound generators. Lightweight, all electronic keyboard synthesizers used a variety of methods in attempts to replicate the sounds of their heavier electromechanical ancestors.

But just like before, history would repeat itself. The new emulators were incredible technological achievements that fell short of their goal of replacing the old technology. Though they lacked the ability to fully replicate the previous generation, they possessed attributes that eventually found an audience of connoisseurs that valued them not just in spite of their glitches, but because of their unique properties.

Software

Today, we synthesize the sounds of the old technologies with computers and keyboard MIDI controllers. While initially computers could only crudely imitate the old masters, DSP technology is progressing rapidly. CPU speed and available RAM are no longer the main limitation factors. As the computational power ceiling continues to rise higher and higher, software programmers are able to provide increasingly nuanced emulators that can easily fool the listener into believing that the software is actually the real thing.

The Inception

official Inception film poster

Inception poster from IMDB.com

At this point, if you’re still reading, then you probably can see how this history correlates to the plot of the film Inception. Each new technological breakthrough has been like a deeper dream state, where the simulation moves further and further away from reality.

Real instruments
→ Pipe organs
→ → Electric organs
→ → → Keyboards
→ → → → Software

However, just like in the film, while each level becomes more strange and abstract, the deepest level — Limbo — actually approaches something most like the real thing or maybe even better. Today’s emulators delve into such detail and are able to control even the most minute aspects of the sound, that it won’t be long before they easily eclipse the believability of the old technology. In fact, we may already be there.

A few years ago (when the emulators weren’t half as good as they are now), a friend of mine (who has very good ears) dropped by the studio to hear a song I was working on. When the B3 organ kicked in during the chorus, he declared, “That organ sounds great. There’s nothing like the real thing!” Muwhahaha! The smoke and mirrors of software emulation had worked.

Inspiration for This Article

This idea of how keyboard technology relates to Inception came about through a discussion with my friend Hoss. Over the weekend we were working on the keyboard parts for our band Rudisill’s next album Take To Flight. In between takes of an organ part we marveled at the realization that the software he was using was an emulation of an emulation of an emulation — a truly strange scenario.

Follow Rudisill to hear about the new album when it is released later.

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The Western Digital (WD) SmartWare Problem

Modern recording takes lots of hard drive space. It’s easy to eat up several GB on a song of average length and track depth. I’ve filled a drive or two already with various recording sessions, Photoshop files, and media. Over the weekend I had to pick up another drive just so I can finish my […]

Image of the WD 2 TB My Book Studio LXModern recording takes lots of hard drive space. It’s easy to eat up several GB on a song of average length and track depth. I’ve filled a drive or two already with various recording sessions, Photoshop files, and media. Over the weekend I had to pick up another drive just so I can finish my upcoming album. I went to the nearest big box electronics shop and picked up the the biggest drive with the best price. What I found was the Western Digital 2 TB My Book Studio LX. The size should be enough for the next year or so (let’s hope!) and the simple grey metal design suits my preference for the minimalist Mac aesthetic. Surprisingly, this is the first drive I’ve purchased that came preformatted for Mac OS. I know that some drives come advertised as such, but this was just a standard off-the-shelf one-kind-fits-all drive. Maybe this indicates a shift in the Apple/PC market share?

Western Digital enjoys the largest market share of consumer hard drive sales and is probably the most visible hard drive manufacturer in retail stores. They make affordable drives that work well. I’ve not had any issues with the WD drives I’ve owned (five and counting), so I feel good about purchasing from them.

The only thing that bothers me about WD is their pre-installed SmartWare software. It’s a huge can of donkey sauce. This multi-function bloatware takes up over half a GB of space, is loaded into the drive firmware (so it cannot just be formatted away), appears as a separate VCD that pops up everytime you connect to the drive, and cannot be completely removed without voiding the warranty. The only option WD gives the user is to download two more software packages, one that updates the firmware so you can run the second package that allows you to hide the VCD. Blehhhh…

The whole point I want to make is this:

Dear Western Digital,

I like you and your drives. I like the design, reliability, and affordability of your drives. I can’t stand your SmartWare. Please stop making it. If you can’t do that, then please make it an opt-in thing. If you feel you really, truly, just absolutely must preinstall it (instead of offering it available as a free download), then at least make it easy to permanently remove with just one or two clicks. I do not want to download more software to remove software I already don’t want. Thank you.

A regular and loyal customer,

Scott

Removing SmartWare

While removing the the VCD completely is possible and would be my preferred solution, doing so voids the warranty, which is extremely valuable should the drive ever fail. So in my opinion, doing something to void the warranty on the device that stores my invaluable data is a bad idea. Until WD decides that such action no longer voids the warranty, I cannot recommend this.

How to Hide SmartWare

WD doesn’t make it easy to hide the VCD. There are two major steps. You’ll need to download the firmware update for your particular drive and the VCD Manager. Visit the WD Product Updates page to find out how to hide the VCD for your specific device and OS.

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FIX: Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value

After upgrading to the newly released Pro Tools 9, I couldn’t open sessions or create new ones. I got this error: “Could not complete the Open Session… command because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..” I hunted around on the web and various forums, but couldn’t find a solution that fit. […]

Pro Tools error

After upgrading to the newly released Pro Tools 9, I couldn’t open sessions or create new ones. I got this error: “Could not complete the Open Session… command because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..” I hunted around on the web and various forums, but couldn’t find a solution that fit. I found several items relating to Windows and Pro Tools 8, but nothing for a Mac running Pro Tools 9. After messing around a bit I figured out the problem was with my playback engine. Here’s how I solved it. Let me know if it works for you too.

Open the Playback Engine dialog under the Setup menu item.

From the menu bar select Setup > Playback Engine… to open the Playback Engine dialog window.

Playback Engine menu item

The problem is with the Pro Tools Aggregate I/O.

By default, my current engine was set to “Pro Tools Aggregate I/O.” It’s odd that this Pro Tools would leave it that way after an installation since AVID states that it is not supported in OS X.

Select another engine

Select your current playback engine.

The fix is easy. Simply select the right playback engine. Your options may differ based on your setup.

Select your current playback engine

In my case, I usually would edit with my Mbox 2 Micro, but since Pro Tools 9 gives us so many more options for hardware compatibility, I selected Built-in Output. I was able to edit some vocal takes using my Macbook Pro’s speakers instead of pulling out my headphones. Nice!

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