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SoundPool Audio Master

direct-to-disk recording system for the Atari Falcon

Article from Music Technology, March 1994

Budget DTD reaches the world of Atari.

Could the Falcon be to tapeless recording what the ST is to MIDI sequencing? More software to support the case, reviewed by Ian Waugh.

Whilst not exactly inundated by new music software for Atari's Falcon there has certainly been a spate of direct-to-disk recording systems. The built-in DSP (Digital Signal Processor) makes the Falcon an ideal machine for direct-to-disk recording, as the chip can do the business without the need for any extra plug-in cards (we've covered this in detail in previous issues of MT). This, of course, means that a Falcon-based DTD (direct-to-disk) system is quite a bit cheaper than its counterpart on other platforms.

Audio Master is yet another program from yet another German company. It is copy-protected by a dongle which plugs into the cartridge port (rather inconvenient if you also want to connect a music program dongle) and is compatible with hardware such as the Screen Blaster resolution enhancer and the KAT (also distributed by Q-Tek), plus lots of nice utilities including MultiTos, NVDI (a screen enhancer), the UIS III file selector and the Sleepy Joe screen protector and multiaccessory (with which, I confess, I am not familiar).

All of Audio Master's facilities are available from the one window.

Audio Master has only one main window with a menu bar above it. Additional functions are accessed by clicking on buttons within the window. The program can only handle 1-track recording, albeit in stereo, but it does work with markers and cue sheets and uses non-destructive editing (unlike DigiTape, for example, which we looked at in January's MT). The basic operating procedure is: record material, set markers and create a cue list.

As with all DTD recording, you'll need a fairly large and pretty fast external hard disk. No actual data access or transfer speed requirements are listed in the manual, but it does recommend a couple of drives, including SyQuest removable disks which seems a little optimistic, but I suppose the programmers should know. For single track recording the speed demands may not be terribly great but the software also performs real-time processing which ups the ante a bit. If the disk can't handle a process (such as real-time crossfades) then a little disk error button appears. A bit late, however, if you've already bought the drive.

To create a cue you simply select the start and end markers which define the part of the recording you want to play.

With the S/PDIF interface connected, the sample rate options expand to include 44.1 and 48kHz.

A peak meter display lets you monitor the volume of the incoming signal and, if it's arriving via the Falcon's analogue input, you can adjust it using gain sliders. Volume level of the Falcon's analogue output is also adjustable (and you can switch the Falcon's internal speaker on and off for simple monitoring), digital input data arriving via the S/PDIF, however, is not.

The program supports the usual Falcon sampling rates - 8.194, 12.292, 16.490, 20.770, 24.584, 33.880 and 49.170kHz - as functions (and limitations) of its internal circuitry. The much more useful 44.1 and 48kHz rates are only available if you use the S/PDIF. After selecting the sample rate and adjusting the volume level, click on record. You're prompted for the drive or partition in which the data will be stored, and the program tells you how much disk space there is and how much recording time that allows.

Audio Master basically works with only one sound file at a time; the Record function overwrites any existing file. To add to a file you use the Record Next function which appends a recording onto the end of the existing one. This works fine, but means you can't cut out unwanted bits of a take such as pre-and post- silences to free up disk space. It also means you can't redo a bad take and leave the others intact, unless it's the first one. The waveform of a recording appears in a small area in the top right of the window and each take is indicated by a line below the display. You can zoom in on it but only by a single factor - which isn't particularly helpful.

If you don't want to scrub your way through the samples you can enter markers on the fly.

Having recorded various sections of music, the next stage is to define the sections you want to use with markers (you get begin and end markers for free and these are not editable). Markers may be created by clicking over the waveform with the mouse and then dragging around to frame the bits you want. You can scrub through the recording and play up to and from the marker position and also insert markers on the fly.

I particularly liked the way the program creates new names for you automatically. Call one marker 'Verse1' and the next one will automatically be called 'Verse2'. However, it also increments the last letter of a name so 'Verse' leads to 'Versf' and 'Chorus' to 'Chorut'. Isn't computer intelligence wonderful? Of course, if you use 'VerseA' and 'VerseB' all will be well.

The marker list can display the time in bars instead of minutes and seconds, which should give some musos a more comfortable timing reference - even though it may not be as accurate. However, the program can't sync to anything, (internally or externally), so using minutes and seconds is just as convenient.

There are three types of crossfade for which you can set a duration ranging from 250ms to eight seconds.

With your markers defined, you then need to assemble a cue list. This simply involves inserting cue points in a list in much the same way as you inserted markers. Here, however, you are presented with a series of start and end markers which define the beginning and end of each cue and you can adjust the volumes of the left and right channels. This, of course, makes it possible to create fades and crossfades; there's a choice of hardcut (that is, no fade at all), linear, exponential or reverse exponential fades with a duration range from 125ms to 8000ms (eight seconds).

The system works well enough, but a more visual representation of the track would, I feel, be even better (I'm thinking in particular of the way Session 8 displays its data - see MT November '93). OK, so I've been spoilt by some of the more up-market programs, but let's face it, the software is going to have to compete with the pro systems if the big boys are going to take the Falcon seriously. Anyway...

The manual is a mere 30 pages long. It's not well laid out or organised and it doesn't use terms consistently. Wouldn't it be nice, just once, to see a manual which actually reflected the price of the software? More to the point, wouldn't it be great to find one that was easy to read and lead you gently by the hand through the operation of the program? Thankfully, once you've sussed out how Audio Master works, operation is easy enough. But that's not the point.

A Readme file was included on disk (in German, but hopefully translated into English by now) listing new functions but making no reference to the Analyse or Effects buttons in the main window. Presumably this means they're included in anticipation of updates.

The zoom function has only one scale and shows the sample very close up indeed.

Audio Master, it must be said, is a little on the basic side - single track, irreversible recording, no effects or EQ, limited zooming and no synchronisation facilities. However, it does have several things in its favour - non-destructive editing and a relatively low price as DTD systems go. For simple editing functions on stereo data, it's also easy to use. As with the other Falcon DTD software, we can presumably expect updates; the package which will eventually emerge as winner will almost certainly be the one which offers the most features at the lowest price. As it stands, Audio Master is somewhat behind the competition, but if you don't need frills it might still be worth looking at.


Ease of use Fairly traditional DTD operation, hindered by poor manual
Originality Follows a tried and tested route
Value for money Reasonable, but rather lacking in features
Star Quality Has potential if it is developed a bit more
Price Audio Master £225 Audio Master S/PDIF £325 Together £499 All prices include VAT
More from Q-Tek, (Contact Details)

Audio Master S/PDIF interface

The S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format) is an optional extra which plugs into the Falcon's DSP socket via a short cable. It comprises a small back box with coaxial and optical Ins and Outs which you connect to a DAT or CD player (if it has digital Outs).

As the unit communicates directly with the Falcon's DSP chip and bypasses the computer's own audio circuitry, there is a vast improvement in sound quality. Note, however, that this is a digital interface - as the name says. There is no analogue input so you can't plug a mic or mixing desk output into it. However, once connected, you can virtually forget about it. (That's my kind of device.) When using the S/PDIF, the range of sample rates available alters to include 44.1 and 48kHz and, though you can't boost the incoming volume of an input from DAT, for example, you can record it and boost it on playback.

The documentation claims the S/PDIF will work with Cubase Audio, Trade It's DigiTape, Compo's Musicom 2 and AudioSlide (another German program of which we have not yet had the pleasure in the UK).

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Yamaha TG300

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Bars & Pipes Professional

Publisher: Music Technology - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Music Technology - Mar 1994

Quality Control

Review by Ian Waugh

Previous article in this issue:

> Yamaha TG300

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> Bars & Pipes Professional

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