Fun Stuff To Plug Into Your USB Bus

USB buses are good for a lot more than just sticking in printers, mice, and dongles. Want some examples? Sure thing!
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CEntrance MicPort Pro

($149.95 list,

I’ve used USB mics for doing video narration in a German hotel room, recording band rehearsals, and grabbing samples with my laptop. But I’ve often wanted to use my favorite, non-USB mic as a USB mic . . . and now I can.

MicPort Pro is a clever little cigar-shaped interface with a female XLR connector at one end for plugging in your mic of choice, and at the other end, a mini-USB jack, headphone jack, and +48V phantom power switch—which, by the way, is almost impossible to hit accidentally when you have cables plugged into the headphone and USB jacks.

What’s more, it sounds really good. The MicPort Pro goes up to 24/96, and the headphone out has plenty of clean volume—it makes a fine laptop audio interface. You get a volume control for the headphones, and a mic level control that also provides zero-latency monitoring. MicPort Pro can work sans drivers with Windows XP, Vista, and Mac OS X 10.4, but ASIO drivers are available on the CEntrance website.

The package includes not just the interface, but also a 6' USB cable and carrying pouch—nice for when you want to throw the thing in your laptop bag. But also consider bringing a female-to-male XLR cable; although you can plug a mic into the MicPort Pro, you might not always want the extra length/weight.

Convenient, sounds good, does USB, lets you use your own mic . . . works for me!

Tapco LINK.midi 4X4

($149.99 list,

It’s not just over-the-hill rock stars who make comebacks: Technologies can as well, and after DAWs binged on new audio features for a while, MIDI is back in a big way—from virtual instruments to master keyboards and particularly, control surfaces.

But a lot of otherwise wonderful audio interfaces skimp on MIDI, giving you just one port (sometimes on some weird breakout cable) or even none at all. That’s why Tapco’s LINK.midi interface, for Windows XP SP1 or Mac OS X 10.3 (or higher) comes along at just the right time: Its four ports deliver a whopping 64 MIDI channels to your sequencer of choice, and by being USB, it won’t upset those FireWire peripherals that you finally got working.

The LINK.midi is bus-powered, has front panel MIDI activity indicators (green LEDs for In, red for Out), MIDI thru so you can drive several sound modules from a single master controller, sits on your desktop horizontally or vertically, and has 1 input and 3 outputs on the back panel with 3 inputs and 1 output on the front panel. And I gotta admit, it looks cool, too.

I tested it on a dual G5 Mac; LINK.midi worked as soon as I plugged it in—no weird driver issues or other problems, and within seconds, I had a whole lot more MIDI ins and outs than before. So if you’re happy with your audio interface, but it doesn’t have enough MIDI for you . . . problem solved.

Multi-Gigabyte USB 2.0 Memory Sticks

($20–$70; various manufacturers)

Sure, you know about USB memory sticks, also called “thumb drives”: They’ve basically replaced the floppy drive for getting data from one computer to another. But note that you can record to them, too. Most DAWs and digital audio editors write to a temporary location, which generally defaults to your main drive but can be changed to a different drive—in most (but not all) cases, even a USB drive. And for programs that “collect” all files in a single folder (sequence, audio files, presets, etc.), put that folder on a memory stick and all files will be read from it.

For example, I was developing an Ableton Live project on my desktop that was going to end up on a laptop. By saving the project to a memory stick, all the clips instantly became “RAM clips,” and the laptop’s hard drive activity plummeted. Furthermore, if I made a tweak in the project while working on the desktop or laptop, I simply saved to the stick and took it to the other machine (and took the stick with me for the performance). Oh yes, and I recorded 36 tracks simultaneously with Sonar 7 on a laptop—trying to do the same thing with a 5400 RPM hard drive was glitch city.

With 2 and even 4GB sticks becoming available, that’s a lot of audio recording time. Check the Sunday papers for good prices on memory sticks at local office supply stores, and get into RAM recording.