Roland Stewart of Trinity Audio Devices writes in to clear up a number of the questions we had about their upcoming portable Linux-based audio recorder. While the device is a bit pricey, with a list expected at US$999, it will certainly do things other devices can’t: it’s a full-blown computer, but without the power consumption problems usually associated with that, and it’s price-competitive with some of the higher-end hard disk recorders, but with the ability to run any Linux software you want. That last point is where some of the more interesting details emerge. I’m not sure it’ll make me give up my laptop, since I care about having a full-sized screen and keyboard and having the horsepower to run soft synths, but if you’re looking to invest in a field recorder and want computer-style editing, this will be one worth watching as it evolves, especially as a Linux-based rival to new ultra-portable Windows PCs. (And yes, I do agree, laptops are overly bulky to work as field recorders.)

Roland writes:

On the design concept and specs: My roots as an audio engineer and remixer are based on Mac and Pro Tools since 1990. The desire and vision to ‘roll out’ a Pro appliance in Linux was only motivated by constant claims that Linux doesn’t stack up to Windows and Mac. I really just wanted to create something to contribute to the advancement of Linux audio as a Pro solution. I’m over Pro Tools and big bulky solutions. The project itself is in the 16th month of development. We quickly prototyped an X86 version, but right away there were way too many power and power management issues. I noticed that UMPC is experiencing those issues now. [Ed.: Other readers could probably comment more on the UMPC, but my sense was that this wasn’t the last word in Intel’s lower-power platform, that the hardware may remain a work in progress. Then again, Intel has stiff competition in the small devices space, so it’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out. -PK]

So basically we have spent a year perfecting and polishing our ARM9 [processor] solution. Granted, better website info and photos of the unit would be helpful, but we are limited by delivery times and schedules of our vendors. The next preview of the device will be the ‘retail version’ prototype.

When deciding what would be Trinity’s’ core, I had to decide what minimal features and components do I need to produce or remix a track of professional quality. I am confident that it can be done with what Trinity provides. Now I don’t expect someone to produce the soundtrack for the next Spiderman movie on Trinity but you could certainly sample your source audio for it quite well.

On the input device: Somehow Henry at Linuxdevices wrote that Trinity has a touchscreen; it doesn’t. We tested the touchscreen and touch just has too many drawbacks and we didn’t want to tote the touchscreen baggage. We figured we would have enough issues as a ‘come out of nowhere new product’ to load up on touch issues. Also, in order for the Compulab SoM to interface with our base board Codec you have to remove the AC97 codec on the SoM. When you do that you lose touch capabilities entirely.

We literally dabbled with a few solutions including the ‘Q’ click wheel and others. The biggest drawback here is we felt the
safest ease of use was to make sure the HID acted like an extension of your hand. Synaptics provided us with their roundpad touchpad which acts exactly like the touchpad on a laptop. Ed: This decision makes sense to me. Synaptics makes fantastic touchpads for many of the PC laptop makers — and Apple, incidentally — so this may be more reliable than relying on a touchpad.

On Software: Peter, I gotta tell you, the new features in Audacity 1.3 make the app pretty good. Colapsing tracks and the ability to shift/slip tracks are a real improvement. Currently we are running Debian [Linux distro], with XWindows (tiny x) and Blackbox desktop. We want to deliver an appliance running audio apps with a desktop. Blackbox is minimal, but I would like to see KDE by the time we ship. About Transmission (our audio app) I really think when we have this running on Trinity, then we will make some heads turn… but that will take some more time to complete.

Computer I/O [In addition to the audio I/O] The unit has 2 available USB ports one slave and one host. You can plug
it into your PC and the PC will see Trinity as a hard drive so you can transfer audio or sessions over. The other USB port allows for any type of USB music instrument. I noticed all of these USB-based turntables and mixers are coming out.

Definitely some interesting details in there. The most important point to me is the ability to run your own software under Debian Linux. I’m actually surprised Roland wants to replace the Blackbox windowing interface with something like KDE, as I’d personally rather have something simpler and more lightweight. But because this is Linux, and because Roland says he will encourage people to customize, there are broad possibilities for what people could do with this device.

Audacity 1.3 also does sound promising; part of the reason the current Audacity is in such poor shape and has lacked updates so long is that the development community have been focused on 1.3 for some time. I think we’ll really see whether this device is useful when we see what custom software Roland has in store for it.

We won’t know for sure until this ships and is a real product, but it’s interesting enough to keep an eye on it, so stay tuned.

  • does anyone know how the specs translate to capabilities for audio editing? i can't find much on how the arm9 processor would do in such an application. and the ram seems kind of low. (which raises the question, are these base specs, or will the trinity (hardware) not be customizable.)

    thanks to mr. stewart for the information. not in the market for such a device, but i'm still interested . . you know . . just because. 🙂

  • Damon

    Well, this was inevitable, though spending big bucks on Linux, where Linux is notoriously budget friendly, seems a bit oxymoronic, but who knows? Could turn out to be something really effective long term.

    I was 1 of the bone heads who bought the first mp3 player, the Portable Jukebox, for like $700! Thinking it would take years for the technology to come down in price. Oops!

    Well, if this thing is to Linux what the Portable Jukebox is to mp3 players, then this may morph into what the iPod is to mp3 players. Scoff now, and be pleasantly surprised later.

    In the future (please pardon my vulgar display of ratios), Linux may be to gear heads what the Mini Moog is to synth technology. Nobody will need one, but everyone will want one.



  • cobalt

    One of the biggest complaints about the UMPC platform right now is battery life, which typically runs around or less than 2 hours. The Trinty, at the same price as the UMPC, looks to be a better performer in this area.

    This illustrates the potential for open source, which is that it can be better optimized for special purpose devices. Neuros Audio is moving towards open source (starting with the 442 PMP) as is Nokia with the Internet Tablet. The problem with Linux however is that some people know a lot about it and most people don't know much about it at all.

    The Trinty could be compared to a stereo field recorders (like the new flash memory units by M-Audio and Ediorl, but larger). But it also looks like it will provide a lot of the functions of a simple digital, 2-in 2-out multitrack recorder, which sacrifices dedicated hardware controls for a much larger UI and battery power.

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  • fpr whatever its worth, roland was interested in running ardour on the trinity. i think its great that he has the device "done", but i continue to believe that with a screen of this size, running ardour (or any other full-featured DAW for that matter) is pointless. yes, you could display via X on a bigger machine, but this is being sold for the functionality of the unit itself. if you want ardour or another DAW, just mount the filesystem remotely (or better yet, make sure it can appear like a UMS device) and then you record wherever and mix/edit on a desktop with decent screen real estate.

  • Paul, I agree absolutely. Although that does make it seem like there's room for a mobile-friendly recording app that is suited to the job, as a satellite to things like Ardour; maybe the software Trinity is working on will fit the bill.

    As for specs for recording, these look capable to me as far as the field recording application for which this is intended.

    I would keep an eye on the UMPC, too, though, to see if the next generation gets the battery life in line. And again, there's a market for people to imagine different applications based on the hardware. My favorite underacknowledged gem from the Tablet PC platform is the handwriting recognition for music notation … I'd love to see things like that expanded.

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