Martin Russ checks out this update to the popular ST Replay sampler.
When I looked at the ST Replay 4 hardware/software package in the January 1989 issue of SOS, I did not expect events to move as quickly as they seem to have done! Here we are just over a year later, and the newly released 'Professional' version has extended the system far beyond the limitations of the previous model.
The new Replay Professional package comes in a larger box, with improved hardware and much better documentation: there are three comprehensive manuals which cover the programs themselves, some technical aspects, and hints on using it. Replay Pro is, in fact, three programs (plus a public domain sample rate convertor program) which come on three single-sided 3.5" floppy disks, together with lots of samples, example files, patterns, songs, drum kits, and comprehensive details of program version numbers - altogether a very professional package.
The cartridge is much the same in appearance and size as Replay 4. The first and most obvious improvements are the screen displays - the programs run in high (monochrome) and medium resolution (4 colours) - but there are much more significant differences:
• Improved functionality - the Atari's Escape key is used much less frequently, and some functions are now entirely mouse-driven. A real-time oscilloscope display runs whenever you are not playing back or recording a sample, making it much easier to set correct levels. In addition, a real-time FFT display shows the frequency content of the incoming audio signal. The Effects program, which used to be separate, is now included in the Editor program and allows processing of samples with echo, flanging and reverb type effects, with additional digital filtering also possible. A sample 'cut and paste' buffer makes editing quicker and easier. Overall, the user interface is much neater with GEM, keyboard short-cuts, and the mouse being used to great advantage.
• Improved hardware - although still an 8-bit input, the cartridge now offers 12-bit output resolution. Actually, the samples themselves are still only 8-bits but they can be scaled using the 12 bits of resolution - so that the 8-bit quality applies over a wider dynamic range. (Replay 4 reduced the volume of samples by reducing the number of bits used to encode the samples, which reduced sound quality considerably.) Sample rates range from 8kHz to 48kHz.
• Polyphony has been increased from one or two notes to four, which makes the resulting sample playback and drum machine much more usable.
• Talking of drums, Drumbeat Pro is rather less of a diversion and more of a serious program than in the previous version. A mouse-driven GEM environment combined with MIDI output (including start and stop messages as well as note-ons) and internal/MIDI clock syncing improves the compatibility and makes this program versatile and surprisingly useful. Up to 15 sampled sounds (10K maximum each: sampled at 22kHz) can be assigned in four-note polyphony to 10 songs, made up of 99 entries in a pattern sequencer controlling repetitions and jumps using up to 50 patterns. Tempo is now controlled in beats per minute.
Drum kits can be specified and stored on disk, so that loading a complete set of drum samples need not involve you in 15 separate disk load operations. Apart from the less controllable dynamics (you can only assign velocity on a 'per drum' basis, instead of 'per beat'), this program now exhibits much of the feel of the excellent MIDIdrummer (reviewed SOS June 1989).
The new MIDIPlay is an extended version of the far simpler MIDI functions found in the ST Replay 4 Editor program and the Replay Pro Editor. It provides a multi-sample playback facility similar in many ways to some professional dedicated samplers: you can assign up to 128 different samples to MIDI note numbers (if you have enough memory!), assign splits, tune each sample independently, choose looping points, assign pitch bend, etc - again, with up to four-note polyphony.
Once you have assigned all the samples to notes, you can save a complete keyboard setup; essentially a map of how the samples are allocated. Loading in this file restores the samples and the mapping completely, enabling entirely different 'virtual' instruments to be created. In much the same way as the drum kits, this makes using lots of samples much easier to handle; once you have defined the setup, from then on you only ever need to load the definition file.
If you like the idea of having four-note polyphonic samples controlled by MIDI on your Atari ST, then you might be interested in a Microdeal product called Quartet. This enables MIDI playback of any four of up to 20 samples (memory permitting) at rates from 4kHz to 16kHz. Loops, filtering, and simple editing can enhance the samples as well, and the sample files Quartet produces are compatible with both Replay 4 and Replay Professional. You can even compose the music that the samples will play with Quartet, using a powerful mouse-controlled music editor with four scrolling staves and MIDI record capability.
Evidence of a professional programming attitude is found in one of the Replay Pro manuals, which gives details of the AVR sample file format. Replay 4 used simple headerless sample files containing an image of the memory containing the sample. Replay Pro also understands the .AVR format, which uses an additional header section to provide information about the type of sample data, mono or stereo, loop points, assigned MIDI note etc. This ties in nicely with the format used in the 12-bit and 16-bit stereo samplers from Audio Visual Research (the 'Pro' part of 2-Bit Systems, the designers of Replay Professional).
To conclude, if Replay 4 was considered an advanced 'toy' for learning how 'real' samplers can be exploited musically, then Replay Professional comes very much closer to being a real sampler - the only weak points remaining are the four-note polyphony and 8-bit sample resolution (though still comparable to an Ensoniq Mirage). The software itself has improved almost beyond recognition.
In my previous review I made the mistake of saying that you lost a lot of functionality and performance when you bought a combined sampler, drum machine and effects unit for £80. Well, the sacrifices seem to be diminishing all the time - it now looks as if £130 buys you a lot more for your money.
Replay Professional: £129.95 inc VAT.
Microdeal, or AVR, (Contact Details).
Quartet: £49.95 inc VAT.
Microdeal, (Contact Details).
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