Hybrid Arts SMPTETrack II V5.09
Software upgrades mean there can never be a definitive review of a program. David Bradwell keeps track of the latest Hybrid Arts' SMPTETrack updates.
THE PROBLEM WITH choosing a software sequencer package is that it takes so long to get to know one program well enough to fall in love with it, that you rarely have the chance to make a fully informed choice. On top of that, there are now so many sequencers on the market which offer "incredible" facilities that it's easy to overlook the small points which make working with a computer enjoyable. Equally as important is the ability of the manufacturing company to continually offer upgrades to keep their program as up to date and as powerful as possible.
One company making quite a habit of just this kind of support is Hybrid Arts, who have now just released version 5.09 of their flagship SMPTETrack sequencer. It's so far advanced from the first version (released in 1986) and its subsequent upgrades, that it's now referred to as SMPTETrack II. Its hardware-free, and therefore SMPTE-less, counterpart EditTrack has been re-named EditTrack II, and production of its FSK-sync'ed sister, SyncTrack, has been suspended, if you excuse the alliteration. Version 5.09 contains the same features as its immediate predecessor (v5.0, released last year), but works approximately three times as fast.
The most obvious apparent difference between SMPTETrack and SMPTETrack II is the Control Column which runs like a gash through the middle of the main screen. This works in conjunction with the fader (also new) to make changes to controllers in real time. Like most of the other improvements, this is designed to make the job of programming songs even easier and quicker than it was before. The whole program is designed with responsiveness in mind, so you can spend more time being creative and less worrying about the boring technicalities that can stifle inspiration.
The Control Column allows you to view the activity of controllers 0-120, patch changes and pitchbends on up to 16 different MIDI channels simultaneously. Clicking on the value for any channel brings up the fader at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. Any changes made here are saved to the keep buffer and can in turn be saved into any track location just like other forms of keyboard data.
In this way it's possible to perform and record MIDI automated mixes in real time with exceptional ease and flexibility. Once you've worked with the Control Column for any length of time you come to depend on it more than you would ever first imagine.
The same can be said of other SMPTETrack features, such as the Graphic Screen. Interaction between Graphic and Text editing modes has been simplified with the addition of a Flip box in both to toggle between the two. Clicking both mouse buttons on any track number automatically takes you into either edit mode, depending on which one you have chosen in the new User Preferences section.
Other new features, which are fairly self explanatory, include auto-quantise, aka Quantized Record, and Cycle (or loop) Recording, both of which clear up areas which were lacking in previous versions of SMPTETrack. There are new choices for visual indication of track activity, and the track scroll bar shows used tracks offscreen. Delete Track deletes all related information such as MIDI channel and output port. Clicking the Keep Box not only saves what was in the buffer memory, but automatically assigns the correct channel and output, and unmutes muted tracks.
If you feel the urge, you can construct complete Sets and then perform them - in other words instruct the computer which songs to play and in what order. All of the songs need to be on the same disk, but if you have a hard disk you can produce a whole live show at the touch of one button.
Unmixing tracks by channel or key zones has been vastly improved and simplified. Tracks can be transposed and given timing offsets in real time, or have their timespans altered. Optimize Every thins out controllers to save memory, while Record Filtering allows you to either record all events, notes only, or absolutely nothing in Rehearsal Mode.
These are just some of the new or enhanced features which reassert SMPTETrack's challenge to the Cubase/Notator throne. There is a shortage of space to do sufficient justice to its SMPTE sync facilities, the possibility of 64 discrete MIDI channels with Hybrid Arts' Midiplexer or ail of the other features which make working with the program a joy. Planned revisions for the next update include Group Track Editing, to edit multiple tracks simultaneously, 192-tick resolution, a completely enhanced Graphic Screen and sequencer transport control from a MIDI keyboard. If Stefan Daystrom and his workmates keep true to form, there will be a host of surprises on top of these that leave you wondering what they could possibly think of next.
The only thing lacking, apart from these, I can imagine, is a MIDI effects section, to create delay or other effects via MIDI note commands (including automated grooves). Apart from this, SMPTETrack has to be one of the best-specified, and easiest to use software sequencers on the market. It's quick, flexible, intuitive, inspirational and not even slightly boring. A round of applause for Stefan please, will somebody buy that man a pint.
Price SMPTETrack II, £499; EditTrack II, £79. Both prices include VAT.
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Review by David Bradwell
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