Closer To The Edit
Mirage Visual Editor
Our resident Mirage expert Tony Hastings checks out this useful means of improving the sample manipulation facilities of the Mirage - in the form of a software package from Steinberg Research.
Tony Hastings, author of our Mirage series, seemed the logical person to ask to check out the latest software from Steinberg Research - a Visual Editor package designed to aid sample manipulation on the Ensoniq Mirage.
The commonest moan heard from all who have used the Mirage sampling keyboard concerns the fact that every function is accessed through a central keypad and a two-digit LED display, giving rise to the same sort of problem that the DX7 suffers from, ie. too little information to cover a multitude of tasks. In the case of the Mirage, many different number combinations have to be memorised for you to input information and wavesample editing has to be done totally 'in the dark' by trial and error and with no visual feedback.
In America, where Apple Macs and Ibms are cheap and plentiful, there is a plethora of visual editing systems available for the Mirage. As yet, the British market is still dominated by the quaint but common Commodore 64 8-bit micro and there is at present only one Visual Editor that is readily available for it - this one from Steinberg Research.
I'm sure you are all aware that I'm a fan of the German lads, who seem to have a flair for squeezing every last drop of usability out of the humble micro, so I hooked this system up to my Mirage with great anticipation.
Before you can start you need a Commodore 64 computer, a suitable MIDI interface, a disk drive, a copy of the MASOS disk from Ensoniq, and a Mirage.
After connecting both the MIDI Ins and Outs to the computer and instrument, you must then 'boot' the Mirage with the MASOS disk. You are then ready to load the Visual Editor program.
When loaded, you are presented with the main parameter screen (Screen 1). It is on this screen that you can change all the Program and Configuration parameters for the Mirage. This covers things like the overall tuning of the sample, the filter cut-off frequency, mix mode (for those of you who know what that means), LFO settings etc. I won't go into depth because if you don't own a Mirage then you won't need to know what all the settings do. Basically, the program just takes every Mirage parameter value and puts it on-screen so that you can see all the settings at the same time.
The great thing about the Steinberg way of working is that all you have to do to change a value is move the cursor to the relevant box on-screen and increase or decrease using the + and - keys. This saves considerable amounts of time and means that you only have to use the minimum of keys to input information.
The Mirage itself has four envelope sections for the filter and the amplitude. These are dealt with at the top of the Editor screen using four boxes with the APDSR values and the customary graphic display that we have become used to seeing on most DX7 editors. There are no surprises here, everything is clearly labelled and easy to get to and it is good for once to know what's going on around you as you change values.
In the top left-hand corner there is a small oblong text display called the 'roll menu'. Using the upward-pointing arrow you can step through the various headings in the menu.
With the menu you can specify which sample on which of the Mirage's keyboard halves you are going to edit (there are up to 16 different samples that you could choose from so it's vital you know which one you are currently on). You can also call up all the MASOS Parameters and Functions from the menu. Selecting either of these will produce a small 'window' in the centre of the screen with which you decide what you want.
So far the main display is very useful but hardly vital and it would be tough to justify the asking price if that was all it did. But worry not - there is more!
In the roll menu is the option 'Swap Display'. Selecting this will change the screen from a display of the main parameters to a visual display of the whole sample that you are currently editing (Screen 2). It is represented graphically in the usual 'amplitude over time' manner ie. you get a picture of the wave from left to right - a bit like the sine wave picture you probably remember from the school oscilloscope, but bigger and more detailed.
Along the top of this graph display are the parameter controls for that specific sample. They include the Start and End pages of the sample, the Start and End pages of the Loop section, the Top Key of the sample, the Coarse and Fine Tune of the sample, plus the Relative Amplitude and Filter Frequency.
The wave itself looks interesting but there is a lot going on and the fine detail isn't too great because you are looking at the whole sample, which could easily be up to 256 pages long (64K). To view a particular section of the sample in more detail you can define an area using two cursors and then 'zoom' in. You can magnify up to 30 times and can obtain a resolution as fine as one sample page. This is a crucial facility for looking at the wave and identifying areas suitable for the start or end of loop points.
Selecting Splice On/Off in the roll menu (followed by Return) will put two dotted vertical lines where the loop starts and ends. Again, a very useful display for showing exactly what bit of the wave is being looped.
This Steinberg software also allows you to 'draw' waveforms using either the Commodore's control keys, a joystick or games paddles. But be warned, this function is only really good for erasing unwanted noises in the sample or reducing specific sections to zero amplitude for 'zerocrossing' loop points. Don't expect to start with a blank screen and be able to draw a sample that sounds like the London Symphony Orchestra....
The third and final screen display (not shown here) is also accessed from the roll menu, and is called the Key Map. One of the peculiarities of the Ensoniq Mirage is that each sample must be assigned a different Top Key so that you can map out different areas of the keyboard for different samples to play on. After a while it can be confusing just which key is on which sample, and what they are playing. This is where the Key Map display scores. It gives a nice clear representation of every Top Key and its value relative to the others. You don't actually do anything on this page, it's just a display but a very useful one nevertheless.
PROS: Well first off, I own a Mirage and I must say that in the time I've had it I have become fairly used to inputting everything from the Mirage keypad.
But only when you can see all of the parameters and their relevant values at the same time do you realise how useful this Steinberg editing program is. Using the cursor to zap around the screen changing values (which are automatically sent to the Mirage) is like breathing again after holding your breath underwater for 30 seconds... a relief.
The Key Map is useful but it's the screen display of the sample that's really fun. Through using this software I have noticed that I now spend more time 'finetuning' my samples, essentially because I have the control to actually see what I'm doing for the first time. And that means I no longer just 'give up' when the going gets tough.
CONS: Well, not exactly cons, more like 'I wish'...
- I wish you could do Fast Fourier Analysis in the software (like the Fairlight's 3D editing).
- I wish there was some additive synthesis software included.
- I wish they'd let you download samples to the Commodore's (cheap) floppy disks.
- I wish there was an auto-loop find function.
Apart from the last wish, take it that the others are just me being greedy!
This is a specialised bit of software only of use to Ensoniq Mirage owners. The only thing it does that you can't do on the standard Mirage without one is the wavesample drawing, and that requires you to have a Commodore 64 computer and disk drive.
I'd say that if you already possess the necessary Commodore set-up then you should really investigate Steinberg's Visual Editor which will make life with your Mirage much more fun (and a lot easier). If you have problems sampling with the Mirage and you have cash to spare, then get one as it will help no end. If you are already an expert in sampling(?) and broke, then you probably don't need one.
All in all, it's a well-written and very useful program that shouldn't be dismissed out of hand because it certainly can help you achieve better samples, especially in the looping section.
MRP £80 inc VAT.