Hybrid Arts ADAP Soundrack
The eagerly-awaited 16-bit digital stereo audio processing system for the Atari ST has arrived. Scott Gershin checks it out and acquires a new outlook on sound sampling.
The wait is over. The affordable, Atari ST-based, 16-bit stereo sampling sound processor from Hybrid Arts has arrived - it may change the way you think about sampling.
BEFORE READING THIS article, make sure your computer can't read over your shoulder. This may come as a shock and beware: home computers are implanting radio-controlled processors in human brains and are starting to take over the world via modem. Next time the phone rings and no one answers...
Well, now that I have your attention, I have some great news. Hybrid Arts have finally released their 16-bit stereo sampling machine, the ADAP Soundrack.
ADAP (Analogue/Digital Audio Processor) comes in the form of a single space 19" rack (which is the main ADAP unit), a sample digitiser (a grey box that connects to the STs cartridge port) and the ADAP master software disk. Quarter-inch jack inputs and outputs are the ADAP's connection to the audio world. The ADAP system, which supports six-voice polyphony, runs on the Atari ST computer (containing at least one Meg of RAM). At the 44.1kHz sampling rate, a one Meg ST will hold 18 seconds of sampling time or, in stereo mode, nine seconds for each channel. Additional hardware features, such as a hard disk expander allowing stereo direct-to-disk recording, will be made available in the future.
ADAP's software consists of five different screens: the edit screen, the keyboard screen, the rack screen, a spectrum analyser and an oscilloscope. Since the system is software based, it can be updated to keep pace with the growing needs of the synth world. ADAP has been created as an open-ended system, and updates are already in alpha testing; and Hybrid Arts have informed me of a long list of features they are planning to add to the ADAP system (more on these later).
THE EDIT SCREEN is where most of the activity on ADAP occurs. The screen is laid out with the top portion dedicated to the manipulation and display of the sample. The bottom section is a series of software toggles and commands. From this screen you can save and load files into the system. One of the many great features of ADAP is its ability to load sound files from other samplers via the Atari disk drive. You can then manipulate those files using the Edit screen as well as the other screens. The files that can be loaded at present are the Akai S900, Mirage, Prophet 2000, E-mu Emax, Korg DSS1 and Roland samplers. It's about time someone came up with a unit that can access the different sample formats and manipulate the samples instead of just being able to play them back.
For those not using a MIDI keyboard, ADAP has the ability to play the samples from the computer with the Play square. When clicked by the mouse, the computer will play back everything in memory. There's also a Play Range square that allows you to play back only the part of the screen that has been highlighted. Highlighting part of the screen is simply accomplished by dragging the mouse over the section of screen that you want to manipulate or edit.
Just below the Play Range square is the MIDI Enable toggle which lets you trigger samples via a MIDI keyboard. One drawback here is that, once in MIDI mode, the screen freezes up and the mouse becomes inoperable. By pressing return, the mouse and computer are restored to full function. In the version that I used, the MIDI implementation was somewhat weak but I was told the next revision is due for October release.
The new MIDI features will include implementation of MIDI Mode 4, pitch-bend during playback, positional crossfade, velocity crossfade, and having the use of all 128 MIDI notes instead of the 61 that are currently accessible. Other features in the upcoming revision will include a memory indicator, the ability to edit in compressed mode (which I will cover later), further file capabilities and SMPTE triggering, which will allow different samples to be triggered at a designated time code number. A definite plus in the TV biz.
LETS TAKE A look at some of the editing capabilities that ADAP includes. Cut, Copy and Insert (paste) squares allow you to reconfigure parts of a sample by cutting and pasting different portions. Cut removes the section of the sample that is highlighted by the mouse and places it into buffer memory. It can be retrieved by re-inserting it into the sample at a different position. You can either choose a single insert or can specify the number of times the insert should be repeated.
These features have proven themselves invaluable to me when I'm creating sound effects for television. Occasionally I run across a sound that is perfect for the needs of a specific project except for an occasional click, pop, or unwanted stomach growl that could be time consuming to splice physically. By entering it into the sampler (which shall remain unspecified except for the quarter of a million dollar price tag), I can extract all the unwanted data in a matter of minutes. ADAP can do it equally well and it isn't even a tenth of the cost.
Swap Buf/Rnge enables the ADAP soundrack to toggle between active memory and buffer memory. By enabling the Mix square, you can mix together the information in buffer memory with that of the memory that is currently being viewed or highlighted. This provides the ability to stack sounds as well as to create new hybrids by mixing the two different files together. Try mixing a cymbal with a reversed cymbal at the signal peak.
Which leads me to the next feature: Reverse Sample. As you would expect, this allows a highlighted section of the sample to be reversed. (Trivia: Birds sound the same backwards as they do forwards.)
Another way of manipulating a sample is by altering the volume of a sound. Sometimes sampling from tape creates a signal that isn't loud enough, but with ADAP, all you have to do is record the sample and digitally increase the volume - without increasing the noise. Ya-hoo.
ADAP also allows you to draw and create an envelope to control the volume. So much for being stuck with a four-stage envelope. And if you don't have a MIDI controller, the Stretch and Squeeze function will allow you to change the pitch of the sample.
Those of you who thought it was your birthday after reading the previous few lines, should really enjoy the feature that enables a sample or portion of the sample to be inverted. Since ADAP works in stereo, try offsetting the right side from the left and then invert the right side.
If you need a little continuity in your life, ADAP has two types of looping capability. The sample can be looped during sustain and/or during the release stages of the sample. And yes, each one can be crossfaded. On the right-hand side of the screen there are two S's and two R's, surrounded by a square box. All you have to do is drag each of the squares to a portion of the sample that you want to be looped and then send out for a pizza. By displacing the same lettered squares from each other, you can do crossfade looping. Those of you who work at sampling will know, these features offer a great deal of power and flexibility.
Since indecision and experimentation are a large part of sound designing, ADAP can undo any previously made edit. Be aware, however, that if the edit that you want was created more than one edit ago, you can't get it back with an "undo" operation. (Just keep backing-up your samples on disk.)
To wrap up the features of the Edit page, ADAP allows you to be able to zoom in and out, both vertically and horizontally. This is a must for precise sample editing and manipulating. While zoomed-in on your sample, the visual artist in you will be able to draw, redraw, or fix a sample by simply redrawing a section of it. You can draw your own waveforms (I recommend that you do this while zoomed if you're creating samples higher than 10Hz). For sample hackers, fixing up those slightly clipped sounds by redrawing the waves should keep you busy on a rainy night.
"Incorporated into the Soundrack is a 'rack' of software-generated signal processors which can be used for processing incoming signals."
One trick for making the most of your computer memory is to sample at double speed, which uses only half the normal amount of memory, and then to play the sample down an octave. Hybrid Arts decided to help out by including a data compression mode which uses up only half the amount of memory as compared to the normal mode. This gives the sampler the advantage of being able to record longer samples. In the version I received for review, there were no editing capabilities in Compress Mode, but I was told that this will be possible in the "October" revision.
From the Edit page, you can choose between the left or right channel or stereo. For the ST user with a colour monitor, the left side is distinguished from the right side by colour. (But since I don't have a high resolution (black and white) monitor, I'm not sure how each side is differentiated on one of those.)
Last but not least, the sampling rate can be controlled from this page. (Full sampling rate is 44.1kHz, but you can also choose 31.25kHz or 22kHz.) Remember - you're still performing a balancing act between sample rate and time.
A GREAT IDEA which was incorporated into the Soundrack is a "rack" of software-generated signal processing. This can be used in conjunction with the edit screen or as a stand-alone method of processing incoming information. Currently the rack consists of three "devices", the first of which is a function generator (wave generator) which can toggle through a series of waveforms: sine, sawtooth, ramp and square waves. The frequency can also be adjusted by the rack. This is a good way of incorporating different wave shapes into the sampler.
The other two processors are an echo unit and a pitch modulator. At this stage the processors are very basic; but as we speak (or read in this case), people are burning the midnight oil creating new signal processors. Again, because the rack is software based, updates are easily incorporated. At present I don't think it has begun to reach its potential, but I'm excited to see what new features Hybrid Arts can conjure up and to what depth they will go into the world of complex processors. As a trivial note, the rack screen is set up to look like a rack setup. Perhaps the band of the future will have a couple of dozen Atari monitors, each containing the modular effects rack screen. Bets are on Zappa and Dolby...
THIS SCREEN IS particularly useful for monitoring the gain of the incoming signal so that distortion and clipping don't occur. The screen will also show a representation of the signal entering the system. A "freeze" function will be incorporated in the next update which will allow the operator to freeze a moment in time to evaluate a complex waveform.
THE SPECTRUM SCREEN provides the MIDI-hacker and serious operators with a spectrum analysis of the sample. Unlike the Fairlight and the Synclavier, however, it is only two dimensional. You get what you pay for - in this case you get quite a bit for the time being and even more when you consider the potential. The current screen is very simplistic, but as all good software users know, "It's in the next update".
THE KEYBOARD SCREEN is the file and sample manager. From this page, you can assign a sample or file to a range on the keyboard - which is illustrated on the top portion of the screen - by highlighting the name and dragging it over the desired keyboard area. The assignment of which MIDI channel is to be used when and where is also made on the keyboard page.
NOW THAT I'VE covered the main features of the ADAP Soundrack, let's discuss some of its uses. First, for those of you who are concerned with the lack of advanced MIDI implementation, the folks at Hybrid Arts informed me that it was not their goal to create another sampler but to create a device that can manipulate sound and be known as more of a "sound processor". Since the Atari is not exactly a rugged computer, using it in a live situation would force you to deal with the usual problems that go with taking computers on the road. As a studio device that doesn't get moved by the hour, ADAP and the Atari fit the bill.
The sound quality is definitely happening. During my tests I compared it with material I had on a Sony F1 digital recorder and I didn't find any degradation of the sound. ADAP unfortunately lacks the ability to affect the tonal portion of the sound since, at this time, the unit has no filtering. But ADAP has a lot to offer those of you working in the sound effects industry or those who just enjoy manipulating sounds and samples. ADAP provides a lot of the features found on devices that can cost ten times or more the price of the Soundrack. Because most of the sound manipulation I've been using for television has been done with the use of synthesisers and audio processors, I find that the ability to cut and paste sounds without having to wait for the computer to download them into a sampler is a big plus.
I do recommend that those of you who are interested in ADAP also invest in a Mega ST or a 1040 upgraded to handle four Megabytes. I found that one Meg was used up quickly, and to really get the manipulating power, four Megs of internal RAM is recommended.
Something that I've only covered briefly so far is the ability for ADAP to read the disks from other samplers. This feature alone makes this package very tempting. I loaded in some samples I had for my S900, and they loaded without problem and sounded great. The only thing that is different is that ADAP sees all the samples as one long sample, so after loading in the file I had to separate the sounds into individual components.
IF YOU'VE JUMPED to the end to read the conclusion, remember that you won't collect your two hundred pounds when passing "Go".
If you're one of those people who is still suspicious of the ADAP, I recommend checking out the unit for yourself. I think you'll be impressed by the sound quality, which is, after all, the most important part of any musical device. In this case, hearing is believing. The only awkwardness in the system is that the Digitizer has to be connected to the cartridge port, effectively making your terminal wider, and as its connector is a piece of protruding PC board it could easily be damaged. The reason for the box having to be so close is given as the speed necessary to transfer data over a certain distance.
If you're interested in investing in a sophisticated sampling processor, this might be what you're looking for - as long as you're willing to play the software game.
Price £1999 including VAT
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Review by Scott Gershin