for the Apple Mac
Ian Waugh logs in to a new Mac program that's a virtual CD player and virtually a sampler, allowing you to build your own library of alternatives to that irritating monkey squeak. What you do with your existing CD remote control is your own affair
A Mac sampler for seventy quid? Well, not quite. But at least it puts you in control...
I love remote control. Ever since I discovered the power of mesmerism and became able to exert control over people from a distance and make them remove their, er... Anyway, as I was saying, I'm fascinated by the ability to control things without actually touching them. Not content with having a CD player with buttons on the front, I opted for a one which I could connect to a computer so I could control it from screen. I've been using Apple's CD Remote program to do this; it's useful if a little uninspiring. Then along came Audioshop - a new program from Passport - and suddenly life has got a lot more interesting.
The front end is a virtual CD player with virtual CD player controls such as Stop, Play, Pause, Loop - and so on. In fact it's so virtual that you have to click on the Power button to quit the program (but then how do you find the Power button to click it on again!). It can also record and edit digital audio. This is the stuff you use for making weird sounds on your Mac, not direct-to-disk recording - c'mon, what do you want for 70 quid? But the program integrates these two aspects of its personality in an interesting way which we'll get to in a moment.
Audioshop (review version 1.03) consists of two files - Audioshop the application program and Audioshop Helper which is a System Extension. Helper makes any existing SoundEdit documents appear as Audioshop documents, so if you double-click on one, Audioshop opens. Bit of a cheek, perhaps, but it does let you load lots of SoundEdit files, say on a CD, in one go. In case you're new to Mac audio, SoundEdit Pro is a recording and editing system costing around £200 which is generally regarded as the numero uno in Mac audio circles - although it has had little competition.
Audioshop has three types of window - the Player, the Playlist and the Editor. The Player is the CD front end. When you insert a CD the program looks for a CD Remote Program file to see if the CD has been named. This file is the one used by Apple's CD Remote, so if you upgrade to Audioshop, all your CDs will still be named. You can also load Mac sound files into the Player and a brouhaha of sound files (I think I may have just invented a new collective noun) can be saved as a group known as a Playlist. The package includes a disk of sound effects and a disk of music examples for you to play with. And rather jolly they are, too.
The Playlist window sits in the middle of the Player but it can be detached and moved to another part of the screen. While the Player can only show one track at a time, the Playlist shows all tracks in a, er... list, in the order they will play. Using the Playlist, you can sort and re-order the tracks on your CD. What's more you can mix them with Mac audio files. You can create a Playlist from several CDs and the program will prompt you to insert the relevant one when it needs a track from it.
What's even more interesting is that you can load audio from a CD into the Mac - after all, to the Mac a CD looks just like any computer disk. You can make tracks loop and insert a pause between them. You can cut, copy, paste and drag the tracks within the Playlist and from one Playlist to another. There are also sort and randomise functions, plus a clock.
Audioshop can record in mono or stereo at a variety of sampling rates and compression ratios. The actual characteristics vary with the recording software used. Sample rates from 5kHz-44kHz may be selected, which is fine, but the resolution is only 8-bit - a limitation of the Mac rather than the software, but annoying all the same. Interestingly, Opcode claim the software will be compatible with future Macs which will have 16-bit resolution. Now that would be interesting...
The output through the Mac speakers is actually not too bad - well, as good as normal Mac sounds are providing you don't drive the speakers into distortion. If you run the output to external speakers you will notice a marked improvement, but still only 8-bit (although the first Fairlights were only 8-bit, too, remember?). You can direct the output to left, right or stereo channels. None of the current Macs with a built-in microphone support stereo sampling directly and the only way to do this is to use two serial port devices such as two MacRecorders.
The Editor lets you edit the sounds - of course - including those loaded from a CD. It has traditional sample editing features - a graphic representation of the waveform across which you can drag the mouse to select the area you want to edit. As well as Cut, Copy and Paste, there are also a number of interesting processing tools. The Envelope uses a barbell tool which you raise or lower to increase or decrease the volume of the selected area of the waveform. You can scale the effect by making one end higher than the other to produce fade ins and outs. The Bender uses a barbell, too, to alter the pitch - your own Mickey Mouse and Frank Bruno kit!
Echo, Vibrato and Flanger can be applied to a section of the track and you can set Delay (Echo), Cycle (Vibrato and Flange) and Strength parameters. Reverse reverses the highlighted part of the waveform - record your satanic messages here - and Crop deletes the non-selected portion of it. Swap Channel is only active when editing stereo tracks whereupon it swaps the channels (well, what did you think?). An Undo function lets you experiment non-destructively with the effects.
Finally, there's the manual: this is clear and well written but lacks an index. They may argue it's not necessary for 74 pages, but I'd like one anyway.
To sum up, Audioshop lets you take charge of your CD audio playback and play fast and loose with both CD and Mac sound sources. The limited quality of the sound, alas, means you won't be using it to remix CD or audio tracks for your next album. But you can go through the motions - a facility which could be very useful and popular in education. The manual suggests Audioshop be used to edit Voice Mail. This lets you send sound messages rather than text on disk and via modem to like-minded people. Great, except sound files are many times larger than text files and, I feel, for the moment at least have a higher novelty than practical value. But if you have it, Audioshop would make an excellent Voice Mail organiser.
Perhaps the main practical use of Audioshop is the creation of - and here comes the M word! - Multimedia presentations. The ability to use existing Mac sounds, record new ones, sample direct from CD, arrange all this into a playlist, edit sounds and save them in all popular formats is not to be sniffed at, and certainly should make Audioshop popular with Multimedia producers.
Personally, I enjoy using Audioshop as an OTT CD Player. However, when the rain is raining and the wind is howling and I reckon MT can wait another day for my review, there's nothing I like better than to mess around with the sounds on my Mac - you get sick of the beep and boing after a while, don't you? Audioshop makes this easy - and fun. But be warned - it's almost as addictive as Lemmings'.
Price: Audioshop £89.95
More from: MCMXCIX (Contact Details)
[Errata: In magazine production, the mistakes which are normally missed are the BIG ONES - the ones right in front of your nose which seemingly everyone else spots straight away when the mag comes out! Which is by way of a prelude to saying "Oops! We dropped a clanger last month" by crediting Audioshop to Passport when it is in fact a program from Opcode Systems. Please note also that the price is £89.95. not £69.95 as stated at the end of the review. Apologies for any confusion caused. Both Passport and Opcode are distributed in the UK by MCM, who can be contacted at (Contact Details).]