A Hell of AMAS
Darrin Williamson looks at an Amiga sampling package and MIDI interface all in one
Software-based samplers have been treated with contempt over the years - can Microdeal's new package change that? - Darrin Williamson finds out
It's not long ago that software house Microdeal were known as "The Pirates of Penzance" due to the uncanny resemblance many of their games had to certain arcade classics I could mention.
So what could this company do to redeem the already laughable image the software-based sampler programs already had?
For starters A.M.A.S. (Advanced MIDI Amiga Sampler) is a combination of the relevant A-D/D-A hardware which includes a full MIDI interface (IN, OUT and THRU) and all the software needed to run this combination.
The MIDI interface should work with all Amiga software that requires an RS-232-based set of MIDI ports. As yet, I have found no package that isn't compatible. Therefore the unit can effectively be plugged in and forgotten about if you're planning to use your serial port for musical applications only.
The interface also sports two line level phono inputs (left and right) plus a 3.5 mm mic level socket so whatever you intend to sample from, be it the highest quality CD player or the lowest quality microphone, you're catered for.
On paper the software looks very impressive indeed: audio bandwidth catching top frequencies of up to 28Khz, full stereo capability, realtime spectrum analysis, options to load and save samples as raw data or as IFF files for inclusion in other packages plus all the editing facilities you can think of.
MIDI facilities are also up to standard with a host of channel assignment and keyboard split options making it what proves to be a most flexible unit, at least on paper. Let's see how it stands up on screen.
As with many of these programs, all the controls are confined to one screen to give the appearance of a highly sophisticated tape recorder.
At first this looks quite complicated but in the long run is the best way to lay this kind of package out as loading several screens in off disk is a time consuming process (particularly with the speed of Amiga disks!).
At the top of the screen are the cursor position displays and the bank memory selectors. Up to eight banks of ten samples can be stored in the computer at any one time - assuming you have two Mbytes of RAM to play with. A bog-standard 512K gives you one bank of eight samples which is still comparable with several pro hardware samplers on the market. Each additional bank of samples requires a 200K block of memory. A.M.A.S. will suss out what RAM you have spare and allocate it accordingly.
Below that are two sample edit windows for left and right sound channels. In the middle of the screen are the transport and sampling controls, to the left and right of these are a pair of oscilloscopes, again, one for each channel.
At the very bottom of the screen are the various utility icons which carry out most of the A.M.A.S. editing facilities along with the standard disk and data management task (Saving, Loading, etc). Their uses are as follows:
Merely gives you the usual blub about who wrote the package and when.
This allows you to overdub sounds on one or both channels.
Flips the sample on its end so that the sample's end is at the beginning. Useful for percussive effects but in general of no more use than a similar control on a video recorder.
Handles all your cut and paste requirements. Cuts out the section of sound between the two pointers and joins the two ends together.
Copies of small parts or whole sounds can be can be placed within the same sample or between the two channels.
Compressing samples is often an excellent way of saving memory without losing much sound quality. For instance a 10Khz sample squeezed by 50% will only be 5Khz but will, in general, sound better than if you'd recorded at 5Khz to start with.
Creates some interesting crossfading and panning effects which are useful for thickening up a rather weedy mono sample.
Not surprisingly, saves and loads all sound data in memory.
With this activated anything saved or loaded will be in IFF format which will allow you to use other people's sounds (Public Domain Libraries, Bulletin Boards etc) plus, of course, using sounds you have created yourself with A.M.A.S. within other sequencers such as Intelligent Music's M or indeed Music X (when it arrives!).
Clears out your memory.
Boosts or cuts the output of a sample to your requirements. It's a good idea to keep a copy of what you've got as messing about with this option isn't reversible.
A rather nifty little utility that allows you to fade in or out the sound in memory. Excellent for creating slow attacks on string sounds.
For intricate editing you have the option to zoom in on a small section of the sound. Once you've done all the tweakings you need you can zoom out in exactly the same way.
Internal low pass filter can be used here to reduce the amount of top end noise heard. This is especially useful on vocal samples or sounds off audio tape which have a lot of background noise.
Takes you out of A.M.A.S. and onto the workbench screen.
Clicking on the MIDI icon alters the bottom of the screen and another set of gadgets pop up, much like the dashboard of the Lotus Esprit owned by James Bond.
MIDI Mono or Omni modes can be selected allowing MIDI response from one or all 16 MIDI channels. Additionally you can assign up to ten MIDI key splits (great for drum banks), octave shift up by two or down by one, fine tune samples, play stereo samples (with two voice polyphony) or mono samples (with double the polyphony).
A.M.A.S. has two major uses - as a cheap sound expander/drum machine to be driven from an external sequencer, or as an IFF compatible samplemaker which can be used to provide useful sounds for sequencer packages that cater for this option.
As for sound quality, one can easily be confused by figures quoted by manufacturers. Microdeal quote around the 25Khz mark and in fairness the quality isn't at all bad. Certainly usable. But don't be misled into thinking that a package retailing for less than £100 will replace hardware samplers costing over ten times that amount.
What it does do is offer a superb introduction to the world of sampling where you can pick up all the editing and looping skills you need for good samples without breaking the bank in the process. Furthermore the samples will certainly hold their own within a mix and you get a full MIDI interface as well. Who could ask for more?
Supplier: Microdeal Ltd, (Contact Details)
Review by Darrin Williamson