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Steinberg Pro24 Version III

Steinberg's Pro24 sequencer for the Atari ST has been around for over two years now, and has firmly established itself as the 'industry standard' ST sequencer against which all others are judged. Just when it looked like being overshadowed by some of its competitors, Steinberg released Version 3.0 of the program complete with some significant new features and enhancements. Pro24 owner David Hughes deliberates over the upgrade.


Steinberg's Pro24 sequencer for the Atari ST has been around for over two years now, and has firmly established itself as the 'industry standard' ST sequencer against which all others are judged. Just when it looked like being overshadowed by some of its competitors, Steinberg released Version 3.0 of the program complete with some significant new features and enhancements. Pro24 owner David Hughes deliberates over the upgrade.

Main screen from Version 3.0.


Steinberg's Pro24 package has to be one of the success stories of the music industry. I don't know of any other program that has demonstrated the advantages of a computer-based system more effectively than the Atari ST/Pro24 combination. According to a recent Steinberg press release, a staggering 22,000 units have been sold throughout Europe. Quite an achievement. Like most computer programs, Pro24 has evolved through a number of previous generations leading up to the current release, Version 3.0.

Version 3.0 arrives on a standard double density disk along with a number of sheets which are intended as additions to the previous user manual. These are, in general, an improvement on the original notes in that the (German) translator seems to have learned a little more about the English language! The original manual was infamous for its inability to explain the various features of the sequencer in a clear and precise manner, principally due to the horrendous number of grammatical errors. I discovered most of the program's features either by intuitive guesswork or just basically mucking about.

My complaints relating to the manual do not end there. Steinberg have appointed Evenlode Soundworks as their UK distributor. In the letter accompanying the package, Evenlode invite the subscriber to purchase 'a completely revised (and greatly improved) operating manual which includes all Version 3.0 functions'. The wording says it all. They even admit that the original manual was not up to scratch. To compound the misery this manual is available for 'a grand total of £19.75'. This made me very unhappy. The upgrade subscription costs £40 on top of the £250 the user has already spent on the software itself. I wonder where the money has gone?

The next stage of the proceedings made matters worse. Like many Steinberg users, I own an Atari 520 STFM computer rather than the more expensive 1040 ST or Mega ST. When I bought my system, such machines were sadly well beyond my budget. However, there are only two major differences between the 520 ST and the 1040 ST. The first is obviously one of available memory. The second is that the internal disk drives differ slightly. The 520 drive uses single density format whilst the 1040 uses a double density format. (I understand that Atari now use double density drives on all of their machines.) The Pro24 Version 3.0 disk is double density and my 520 ST wouldn't read it. It insisted that the drive wasn't responding. After a minor coronary, I checked the disk on a 1040 and found that it could read the disk with no difficulty whatsoever. The obvious solution was to upgrade my Atari 520 to a 1040. This cost me £250; £130 for another half megabyte of RAM (the price, of course, has just recently increased) and a further £120 for a double density disk drive. This is what I found...

CH-CH-CHANGES



Version 3.0 of Pro24 has indeed gone through a major cosmetic and operational change. The screen is very much more densely populated - the older Version 2.1 looks distinctly sparse by comparison. The same basic information is available, though it is presented in a very much clearer manner. For instance, the MIDI channel number for each track is displayed with the track status and track select headers, which is a great improvement. The 'fast access' window is now in the centre of the screen. It has been updated to give a number of useful new functions, such as the ability to name each track, eg. 'piano', 'strings' etc. It also incorporates a buffer which functions as a temporary store for pattern data and can be used, for example, to undo the aftermath of an unwanted quantise operation. To the left of the 'fast access' window is another new function which Steinberg have christened 'cycle multi recording'. This allows the user to record on any four tracks simultaneously or in succession.

It was interesting to find that the 'Copy' page has been transformed completely. Most of its functions are now located on the front panel. Multi Copy and Track Copy are still present in the normal pull-down menu together with a new option, 'Free Copy'. However, pattern data may now be copied using the box marked DEST situated just below the Left and Right recording locators. Clicking once on DEST allows the user to set a destination start point for a pattern. The pattern to be copied is then selected using the track information and fast access selectors and dragged to the destination track. This is a positive improvement over the original method.

'Cut Copy' also benefits from this modification. To copy a subsection of a pre-recorded pattern, the user must double click on the 'Cut Copy' button (also situated in the 'fast access' panel). A window then opens into which you can enter the required range for the copy. Once this is done, the window closes and the user must then set the destination point for the new segment. Copying is then achieved by dragging the 'Cut Copy' box to the desired track. In the past I often had difficulty in achieving the desired result and tried to blame it all on the manual. With Version 3.0 I have no easy scapegoat other than perhaps the dog. Copying, in its many guises, is much improved. Steinberg have obviously listened very attentively to what their considerable number of users have had to say. Full marks!

On then to the finer points. Version 3.0 sports another edit page, giving a total of three possible methods of manipulating recorded data. 'Grid Edit' still functions in much the same way as before and is still the screen I find most useful. The 'Score Edit' page is also very much the same as before but gains a 'step input' feature, which seemed to be a strange omission from the original Version 2 page. Further additions to the Score Edit page include an ability to dump Score Edit notes to a printer and a further temporary edit buffer christened the 'Clipboard'. The Clipboard makes life easy. You can grab several screens' worth of data and stuff it away into this buffer and subsequently exit the Score Edit page, select another pattern for editing, and then recall the previously saved data for incorporation into the new pattern. There is one minor curiosity, however. Both Score Edit and Grid Edit contain an option to 'Swap Edit Page'. This feature allows you to toggle between these two pages but not the new 'Drum Edit' page. You must leave Score Edit or Grid Edit entirely to use this feature. Strange.

Drum Edit page.


DRUM EDIT



The remaining edit page, 'Drum Edit', is the newcomer. It resembles the LCD display on the Roland TR626 or DR 110 rhythm composers, with each line subdivided into a number of beats and a list of available instruments to the left of the screen. Operation is pure simplicity. To edit or insert notes for any instrument, you simply click on the required position with the left-hand mouse button. To delete a note, you click with the right-hand mouse button. There is also provision to add dynamics to a pattern. You simply click on the appropriate beat with the left-hand mouse button and the 'hit' velocity is increased. Clicking with the right-hand mouse button decreases the strike velocity.

There is also provision to configure your own 'drum kit' so that you are not restricted to Steinberg's configuration. This looks like hard work, so Steinberg allow the user to save and subsequently load any user-defined kit. You can have up to three kits resident in memory at the same time. Input into the Drum Edit page is, to say the least, comprehensive - as is the plethora of edit utilities. Steinberg have obviously put a considerable amount of work into this option.

The 'MIDI Definitions' page has also been revised. There is now provision to remotely control the Pro24 from a master keyboard connected to the Atari's MIDI In port. Any key on the master keyboard can be mapped onto any function of Pro24.

For example, you can start and stop a sequence playing, shift the recording pointer to either the left or the right, toggle 'cycle' or 'solo' - all from your master keyboard. A nice touch would have been to enable the user to set the left and right recording locators directly from the master keyboard, possibly using the data entry slider. Now that would be comprehensive!

Another set of features that stand out is the ability to set filters for the incoming/outgoing MIDI data so that your MIDI network doesn't become clogged with redundant data. What I liked about this was the fact that in order to keep the screen as uncluttered as possible, each of the 'Set Filter' pages simply appears on the screen when you click the respective page header. A sort of drop-down menu in the middle of a page. A 'drop out' menu perhaps?

To cap it all, there is now provision to save a written text description of your song in the form of a 'Text Input' option. This isn't a full-function word processor but it is damned useful.

IN ACTION



So what's it like to use? Simply put, brilliant! Version 3.0 looks and feels very professional. Once I'd grown accustomed to the new control layout and used the extra features a couple of times, I put all of the problems I originally experienced behind me. I still remember the days before I went all-out for a computer-assisted studio system. With the odd minor quibble here and there, I can honestly say that I've never regretted that purchase. Working with a computer for the first time can be a very difficult period, especially if you're working on your own. If you're looking for a sequencer system that will cause you minimal pain and misery, then Steinberg's Pro24 is worth contemplating. It is true that it is expensive but it does carry that elusive tag of 'professional', and I've seen a number of packages whose claim to that professional tag was either very dubious or simply undeserved.

I've already mentioned the problems concerning the need for Atari 520 ST owners to upgrade to a 1040 in order to run Pro24 Version 3.0. Looking at the problem a little more deeply, if you've already bought a Steinberg system and subscribed to the software upgrade service, then the prospect of shelling out another £250 for the extra Atari hardware upgrade may not be of too much consequence. If it is, then I would seriously recommend the upgrade anyway. The price of RAM chips has gone up recently but should settle down to more realistic levels fairly soon, and good double density disk drives are available for about £120. However, it does seem a trifle strange for a company to commit so much effort to such an obviously popular product and then to deliberately restrict the available market.

VERDICT



There is just so much to this sequencer package that I really don't think I can do it justice in this limited space. Pro24 has come a long way since Version 1, that's for sure! Many musicians object to having a computer in the studio for fear that it in some way de-humanises the musical content of their work. Version 3.0 is now so musically useful that it has dispelled those fears that I originally had.

I have reserved judgement on the manual until last. In my opinion, Evenlode should seriously consider reducing the asking price for something which should have been right first time. I don't believe the original manual was proof-read by anyone. Not even the office cat. It is truly awful.

As an after-thought, if you're a 1040 ST owner quietly chortling to yourself about all of those 'paupers' that didn't have the cash to buy a 1040 in the first place, then chew on this: what happens if you need a Mega ST to run Version 4, if and when it appears?

Contact Evenlode Soundworks, (Contact Details).

HOW TO UPGRADE YOUR ATARI 520 ST

If you're an Atari 520 ST owner who would like to upgrade to a 1040, then I can offer the following advice. There is no need to exchange your 520 for a 1040. There are only two fundamental differences between the 520 and the 1040 - the available memory and the disk drive. (The Atari operating system works out for itself how much memory it has available and adjusts accordingly.) To upgrade, you can either exchange the internal single density drive for a double density version or buy an external double density drive to supplement the present internal drive, which is what I did. It's never a bad thing to have that extra storage capacity available. It also means that you don't lose the ability to plug the 520 into a television (via the Atari's standard TV phono socket), which the 1040 doesn't have for some strange reason.

There are a number of companies who will perform the 512K RAM upgrade. Most upgrades involve adding extra RAM chips to the board. The 520 STFM has space available for the extra RAM on its memory board. Older machines have to have the new RAM chips soldered on top of the original chips, piggy-back style, with a flying lead soldered to the chip select pin. This is a horrible practice but often the only course of action available. Fear not, there is help at hand. Several companies will be marketing 'solderless' (ie. plug-in) memory upgrade boards for the ST that can increase the available RAM to 2 Megabytes. Watch the press for details.


Also featuring gear in this article



Previous Article in this issue

Win a SECK 12-8-2 mixer!

Next article in this issue

Edits


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

 

Sound On Sound - Aug 1988

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Gear in this article:

Software: Sequencer/DAW > Steinberg > Pro 24


Gear Tags:

Atari ST Platform

Review by David Hughes

Previous article in this issue:

> Win a SECK 12-8-2 mixer!

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> Edits


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