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PC Notes

Article from Sound On Sound, October 1993

Brian Heywood spotlights software updates, takes a quick look at a range of PC soundcards and dispenses helpful hints with careless abandon...


Hi-Tech Music Seminar: The University of Hertfordshire will be hosting a seminar on the use of MIDI and computers in music making which will be held in the University Lecture Room at their Hatfield Campus (formerly Hatfield Polytechnic) on Wednesday, 13th October. The seminar — which is being organised by the Mid-Herts Branch of the Musician's Union — will be addressed by Vic Lennard (UK MIDI Association), Jill Jarman (Composer), Mike Barnes (Sound Designer) and myself. The action will start at 8pm and the second half will be in the form of a question and answer session. The seminar is free and is open to all; for more details contact Terry Vincent on (Contact Details).

Cakewalk Professional Version 2: Et Cetera Distribution now have the new version of this popular Windows sequencer from Twelve Tone Systems. The new version adds better score support (including printing); real-time editing; remote control of the program (i.e. from a MIDI keyboard); enhanced on-line help; layered loop recording; and an improved fader view window. The new version also allows you to 'embed' the Microsoft Metaevent into your MIDI files so that you can indicate that the file has been created using the multimedia authoring guidelines. Cakewalk costs just under £300 (including VAT). For more information or a copy of the demo disk contact Mark Balogh or Colin Budgen at Et Cetera on (Contact Details).

Turtle Beach News: It seems that Turtle Beach is about to merge with chip maker Integrated Circuit Systems Inc. (ICS). Turtle Beach produce both software (Wave for Windows, Sample Vision) and hardware (MultiSound, 56K hard disk recorder), and ICS are big in video chips, along with motherboard timing and sound chips. I guess this is just another example of the growing importance of multimedia in the mainstream computing world. Turtle Beach will remain a separate entity and will continue to develop its range of music hardware and software as well as new semi-conductor products for multimedia. Incidentally, Et Cetera (see above) can also supply Turtle Beach products and are currently selling the excellent MultiSound MPC sound card for £590 (including VAT) and the cut-down Tahiti card (a MultiSound minus the Emu wavetable synthesiser) for £469.

Sypha: Reading through the pages of Sound on Sound over the past year or so, you will have seen that hard disk recording technology has been advancing in leaps and bounds, which is great since competition brings the price down. However a busy marketplace means that it can be difficult to find the best system to suit your needs. If you can afford it, it's worthwhile getting expert advice, since the wrong choice can leave a large smoking crater in your bank balance. One consultancy that specialises in non-linear recording/editing systems (hard disk recorders to you and me) is Sypha, based in London. They can help out with deciding which system most suits your needs (if any) and then help with studio design, installation and training. They also publish a number of surveys and reviews of the hard disk recording scene, as well as the Tapeless Directory — which gives details of over 150 different systems — for £14. For more details of this and their other services contact Yasmin Hashmi or Stella Plumbridge at Sypha on (Contact Details).

MIDI Xplained: MIDI data at your fingertips


MIDI Xplained is an on-line help system that is designed to take you through all aspects of MIDI, without leaving the privacy of your computer screen. The program is essentially an electronic reference on the uses (and abuses) of MIDI with explanations of key concepts, help with setups, troubleshooting and even a cut-down version of the MIDI specification. The format of the software owes a lot to HyperCard and includes graphics and hot links to related topics (or 'cards' in Xplainer parlance). The text has been written by Ernst Nathorst-Boos — the author of the Cubase manual — and is divided into five 'books' which cover: MIDI basics, Using MIDI, MIDI in Detail, Troubleshooting and the MIDI Specification. MIDI Xplained costs £36 and is available from Harman Audio on (Contact Details). Highly recommended.

"MIDI Xplained is an on-line help system that is designed to take you through all aspects of MIDI, without leaving the privacy of your computer screen."


One of the most important and most tedious tasks that can be performed on your PC is the backing up of your hard disk. If you back up to your floppy drive, one way to reduce the number of diskettes involved is to compress the data as it is backed up. The new version 2 of PKZip allows you to split ZIP archives across a number of diskettes, formatting them as required. Since PKZip has one of the best compression ratios around, this can substantially reduce the number of floppies involved in the backup. It is quite easy to set-up one or more DOS batch files to perform this task for you: and example of such can be found below;

©echo off
cd \
pkzip a:\c_drive -rP -ex -&u c:\*.*

This will back up your entire C Drive using the maximum compression ratio into an archive called '', unconditionally formatting floppy disks as required. To restore the files use the following batch file;

@echo off
cd \
pkunzip a:\c_drive

If you just want to list the files in the archive then the following batch file should do the trick;

@echo off
pkzip a:\c_drive -vbm

If you use Windows, just create a new group in the Program Manager called 'Back Up' and drag the new batch files into it from the file manager. PKZip is available for download from most bulletin boards and probably from vendors of public domain software. The contents of these batch files should only be used as a guide — make sure you understand what they do, by referring to the PKZip and MS-DOS manuals, before using them.


Another contender in the low-cost, multimedia soundcard stakes is Aztech Labs, who have a range of Sound Galaxy PC soundcards that start with the 8-bit mono BXII (retailing at just under £70) right up to the stereo NXII Pro 16 (£175). The NX series of cards not only emulate the popular Sound Blaster range of soundcards, they are also compatible with the Disney Sound Source, Covox Speech Thing, Adlib and Microsoft Windows Sound System (NXII Pro 16 only) — letting you check your soundtracks against various standards. The NX cards also incorporate a CD-ROM interface that can be used with Panasonic, Mitsumi and Sony drives, with SCSI being an option on the Pro and Business cards.

I tested the Sound Galaxy NXII Pro 16, which is the top of the range, 16-bit stereo soundcard. This emulates no less than six different card standards as well as having a built in CD-ROM interface. The card was extremely simple to install as all the main interface settings can be controlled via software using the supplied set-up utility. The card has a built-in amplifier so that you can drive a set of external speakers or the supplied headphones, or if you prefer you can set the card to produce a line-level signal for connection to an amplifier or powered speakers. There are both line and microphone level inputs and a small condenser microphone (mounted on a spring clip) is supplied for taking voice notes.

Like most soundcards, there are utilities and applications which allow you to use the card in both DOS- and Windows-based systems. My card came with the usual text to speech software, a couple of Windows OLE utilities, a mixer for the various sound sources, a rather natty looking Audio Station application (from Voyetra) plus a version of the multimedia authoring tool, HSC Interactive (see last month's column).

Sound Galaxy's Audio Station application: Desktop hi-fi?

The card has a number of upgrade options, the most interesting of which is the Wave Power wavetable synthesiser module, which uses a chipset from Ensoniq to provide a 32-note polyphonic, GM compatible synthesiser. Another option is the SCSI upgrade for the CD-ROM interface, which allows you to use any SCSI compatible CD-ROM drive with the card. I am being sent both these modules for evaluation so I will report back in next month's column.

The Aztech cards are available from Silica Systems ((Contact Details)) with the Sound Galaxy NXII Pro 16 costing £175, the Wave Power module weighing in at £126 and the SCSI module costing £34. These prices include VAT.

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Publisher: Sound On Sound - SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

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Sound On Sound - Oct 1993



Feature by Brian Heywood

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