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Falcon hardware mods

Give your Atari more studio cred

Atari's direct-to-disk recording system was more turkey than Falcon for Ian Waugh... until he discovered a system solutions

Audio Master uses a system of non-destructive cues to build up a complete song

Atari's Falcon is one of several direct-to-disk recording packages I've been asked to review recently. It's a popular system, but I've had niggling problems with mine, such as distortion and loss of high-end. I have been trying to discover the solutions to these problems for several months, but both Atari and their software developers have proved somewhat elusive and vague on the subject.

In case you need reminding, the Falcon has a built-in DSP, which allows it to perform direct-to-disk recording without any additional hardware, such as the digital audio card you need with the Mac or PC. As such, it has the potential to form part of a very inexpensive computer-based DTD recording system.

My Falcon was thus despatched to System Solutions, also known as Atari Workshop, for a checkup. The company supplies complete Falcon systems for all applications, including DTD recording. The prognosis was that some adjustments needed to be made to the machine.

There are three modifications you can make to the Falcon to improve the digital quality.

D2D - the first DTD recording system for the Atari Falcon

The first is a CPU clock buffer mod, which is an essential modification for virtually all Falcons. Without it, under certain conditions distortion can occur on an audio or video signal, and the computer can even hang up. The mod is commonly performed to make a Falcon suitable for Cubase Audio, but distortion can occur with any audio or video signal, not just with Cubase.

The other two mods are usually performed together. They are to remove the bass boost, and to make the audio sockets Line level. The mod actually makes the Input -6db and the Output Linear, so reducing the bass boost on the output. The boost may be fine for games and the like, but not for serious recording purposes. The result is actually a level inbetween Mic and Line.

Having put my Falcon through surgery, I can now report that it is cured! Whatever was troubling the sound quality before is troubling it no longer. The audio output is quite excellent, and well up to the standard we were given to expect when the Falcon first appeared with its promise of cheap DTD recording.

System Solutions considers the CPU clock buffer mod essential to the correct functioning of the Falcon, and the company will perform this free of charge if you buy a Falcon or a system from them.

Head man and chief techno wizard Karl Brandt suggests that the mods may, eventually, be made by Atari on the production models. However, this does beg the question, why are Falcons shipped like this in the first place, and why was it so difficult getting information about the situation from Atari?

DigiTape supports up to four tracks of audio recording

It also says something about the wisdom of buying your computer from a reputable dealer rather than a box-shifter, especially if you are going to use it for music. A company which knows what you are going to do with it can optimise it for you, and will very likely be aware of any problems you may run into.

This news puts Falcon firmly back in the ball game as far as DTD recording goes. Steinberg's Falcon Audio is next on my review list, and Emagic's Logic Audio for the Falcon was announced at Frankfurt, so the big boys obviously see the Falcon as a serious alternative to the PC and the Mac.

The essentials...

CPU clock buffer mod: £49.95 inc VAT
Audio bass and line mod: £59.95

More from: Systems Solutions, (Contact Details)

Software extras

Although you can do MIDI sequencing and DTD recording on a bog-standard Falcon straight out of the box (mods permitting), there are several useful software programs which will improve your working environment.

NVDI (£49.95) is a screen accelerator which replaces the Atari display routines. It makes the screen redraw between three and ten times faster, and it works on both the Falcon and the ST.

Blow Up increases the size of the image on the monitor by up to 400%. You can also create a virtual display up to 800% larger. Very useful with windows-based programs such as Emagic's Logic. There's a software-only version (£15) and hardware versions for multisync monitors (£49.95) and VGA/SVGA monitors (£69.95).

HD Driver (£19.95) is a replacement for the Atari hard disk driver which has caused one or two unlucky users a few problems. For example, when a disk partition is full, it has been known to overwrite the next partition! HD Driver does not do this and it's also faster, which is always useful for DTD applications.

Power Up 2 (£59.95) is a 32MHz accelerator for the Falcon which doubles the clock speed. Fitting it can be a little tricky, as it needs to be soldered into your machine, and a surface-mounted resistor needs removing. If you don't think you're up to the job - and beware of invalidating your warranty - System Solutions will install it for you for £40.

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Vertical hold

The Mix - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


The Mix - Aug 1994

Donated by: Colin Potter

Control Room

Review by Ian Waugh

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