Turtle Beach Softworks Sample Vision
Software for the IBM PC
Generic sample editors have been giving Atari ST users a lead in sample editing for a while; now IBM PC users have the chance to get ahead. Dennis Miller has a vision.
This new American program brings generic sample editing to the IBM and adds several facilities not available in any other software.
DESPITE THE PROLIFERATION of software for the Atari ST computers, you'd be mistaken in assuming it's the only computer receiving attention from software writers. In the States the Macintosh has a head start over the Atari; in Europe the Atari has a significant cost advantage over the Mac. Then there's the IBM PC... American company Turtle Beach Softworks, have just released a sample editing program for the IBM called SampleVision. Its tool kit includes Fade/Scale, Normalise, Mute, Interpolate, Merge, Mix and Reverse as well as a collection of handy loop-editing features. It also lets you peek at your sample in some pretty unusual ways, including what it calls Animate and Browse. Sound interesting?
SAMPLEVISION IS A generic program which currently supports the following samplers: Akai S1000, S900, S700, X7000 and S612; Casio FZ1, FZ10M; E-mu Emax, Emax SE and Emax HD; Ensoniq EPS and Mirage; Korg DSS1 and DSM1; Oberheim DPX1; Roland S10, S220, S330, S50/550 and MKS100; Sequential Circuits Prophet 2000 and 2002; Yamaha TX16W; and the Sample Dump Standard. It requires an IBM PC/XT/AT or compatible and will also run on the Yamaha C1. Because of its graphic orientation, you'll need 640K memory, a hard disk and a graphics adaptor. The colour on an EGA monitor is incredible, but you can certainly manage with a monochrome display. Also, better have a Roland MPU401 or compatible interface around or you won't get SampleVision to talk to your sampler.
Bear in mind that a generic program like SampleVision can't help you control the front panel of your sampler - you'll need a dedicated program for that. (Turtle Beach also have an editor specifically for the Akai S900 and for the Mirage.) What we're doing here is working with sound itself. SampleVision will let you send samples back and forth between different machines - it reads 8-, 12-, or 16-bit as well as Sound Designer file formats, and converts them all into its own file type. Unfortunately, it relies exclusively on MIDI for communication and doesn't offer the speed of a SCSI or RS422 protocol (for the few machines that offer it). It's a little frustrating to wait while SV (or any sample editor for that matter) sends your soundfile back to the sampler - only loop points can be updated quickly - though I'm told Turtle Beach should soon be offering a Digital Playback Port hardware add-on which will have an audio output. This preview capability will be a great asset.
TO GET A sense of how SampleVision works, let's go through a normal editing session. After SampleVision initialises your MIDI setup and you choose which samplers you want to work with, you'll arrive at the sample editing window. The user interface is based on the GEM model, which means that you'll be using icons, pull-down menus, scroll bars and windows to get around. With a mouse (optional but highly recommended) you won't have to mess with the keyboard at all, but if you like you can use control or alt key "shortcuts" for virtually all the program's functions.
From the Sample Edit screen, you get a sample to work with either by loading a file from disk or retrieving one from your sampler. If your sampler is capable of storing only a single sample (like the Akai S612), you'll use your hard drive as a soundfile "library" and keep all of your soundfiles there. If you want, you can load a second sample at this point, because SV has two Sample Buffers. A single mouse click moves you between the buffers, and you can easily transfer sounds from one to the other. You can also name the soundfiles in each buffer, which will help you remember which sample you're working on.
Depending on the resolution you choose and the size of your sample, you can see the entire soundfile displayed, or just a single two or three sample segment. SV lets you view and edit at a maximum resolution of 1/50,000th of a second, which is as good as almost any commercial program I know of. As for the big picture, you can work with a sample of about 2000Meg if you happen to have the disk space free. By the way, SampleVision is a "hard disk-based" system, not a RAM-based one, which means you're going to be able to readily access a lot more of your sound "at once" than you ever imagined. More on that later.
AT THIS POINT you're probably ready to fine tune your sound so you'll want to zoom in on a segment - by clicking on the mouse and holding it down while you drag it across the wave. I had better luck getting to the absolute start point of a sample by moving the mouse from left to right. Not a big deal by any means, but it's strange that you can't just start at zero and go out from there. From the pulldown Edit menu, you can choose to Cut, Trim, Paste, Mix Paste, Delete or Copy the segment you've selected. Unfortunately, SampleVision only has a single cut/copy buffer which can't be named; this won't be a problem unless you're trying to design a sound using pieces of many different samples.
Once you've part-tailored your sound, you can go into greater detail by working with the Tools menu. In this area you'll find a number of functions which will affect your entire soundfile, or only the range you choose in the Range Selection window, which opens up before any type of processing is done. Among the more self-explanatory features are Reverse, Invert, Mute, Fade and Scale. These features worked quickly enough on my XT, but when I ran the program on an AT, they really blazed. Speed is not much of a concern with these functions, but when you get into Frequency Analysis and such, a quick machine is a real asset.
Other tools in this menu are the Normalise function, which raises the volume of your sample as high as it can without going through the ceiling, thereby increasing the signal-to-noise ratio of your sound, and Interpolate, which improves the resolution of your sound by taking an average of every consecutive pair of samples and adding it as a third sample to the pair. This increases the size of the soundfile by 50%, but really makes a noticeable difference, especially when you're using older, low-resolution sounds with a newer sampler.
NEXT IN LINE is the Digital Equaliser, which gives you six filters to work with - High Pass, Low Shelf, Notch, Band Pass, High Shelf and Low Pass. Each of these can be set for a centre frequency, bandwidth and gain. SampleVision tells you what the upper limit of your centre frequency will be by calculating the Nyquist point - half the sample rate. The program itself can't EQ samples higher than 10kHz. If the equalising isn't to your liking, you can select Undo and start over.
In addition to creating a striking visual display which the manual tells us "will greatly impress our friends", Frequency Analysis (FFT - Fast Fourier Transform frequency analysis) has several practical uses. First, you can make an educated guess about a successful loop point if you locate the spot where all the attack harmonics have died down. Next, you might notice certain frequencies that you want to filter out of your sample, or you could check the FFT to see whether you are sampling at a higher rate than you need - if you could re-sample at a lower rate you'd save an awful lot of memory.
In the FFT window you first determine the range to be analysed and then set the time slice measurement of your display. You can then control scaling, direction, plotting of time, frequency, change "analysis mode", and if you're working in colour, alter the settings for the display.
"The Animate function creates an oscilloscope-like display on the screen by continuously re-plotting a single cycle throughout the entire soundfile."
If you want to zoom in on a spot, you just reset the selected range - you might request a larger number of time slices at the same time. Mercifully, SV has stored the FFT and doesn't have to recalculate the whole thing (normally, a very time-consuming process). This feature will be a real timesaver. Also, because you're working with a hard disk-based program, you could actually get an analysis of an entire 2000Meg sample (2000Meg drive not included). Many current sample editors limit you to available RAM or floppy disk space.
Another welcome feature of the FFT window is the Browse Button which, as far as I know, is not found on any other program. The Browse function allows you to see the frequency content of each individual time slice displayed as a bar or line graph - sort of like a real-time spectral analyser. You can "animate" the spectrum by moving the mouse back and forth or just click on the spot you want to see.
WELL, THIS IS what we've all been waiting for. SampleVision has several unique features which can make looping a lot less time-consuming. Clearly, this is one of the main advantages of any software-based editing program.
Before I cover some of them, let me talk a little bit about navigation. SV lets you set and name eight position markers and two loop markers to help you keep your bearings as you zoom in and out of its numerous display modes. You can move from anywhere to a marker just by pressing the alt key and the number of the marker you want; the loop start and end markers are accessed with alt- and alt = respectively. Your markers stay set even when a new sound is loaded, but you can reset them quickly with the Clear All Markers menu.
To begin looping a sample you'll probably set the loop markers in the sample edit window at a relatively "stable" phase in the sound (where the amplitude level is fairly flat), and then get a better view of the sample by moving over to SV's Frequency Analysis area. From here you move to the Loop Editor. If you've miscalculated and set your loop markers out of the range of your particular sampler, you'll get an error message in this window and none of the editing functions will work. If all is well, you can work with up to eight loop points which will be displayed at the top of the window.
The screen at this point is split into two, representing the start and end points of the loop. Underneath the window you see a set of Match -> icons which will automatically search forward or backward for points that are within five percent of the values of your loop start or end points. This will help determine a good "zero crossing" (a point at which the beginning and end points of the loop have identical amplitudes), a minimum requirement for good looping. You can also get different views of the wave from this vantage point to find good matches in timbre. SampleVision lets you preview the sound of your loop by clicking on a little quaver icon in the corner of the screen. When you're in the loop editor, the loop settings in your sampler are instantly updated every time you change them on the screen.
SampleVision has a number of other useful tools for creating good loops. Most important are Crossfade Loop and Animate functions. Crossfade is a fairly common feature which takes data from the start and end points of the loop and mixes them together. This gives a smoother transition from one side of the loop point to the other and can help eliminate glitches. The Animate function, something I haven't seen elsewhere, creates a moving, oscilloscope-like display on the screen by continuously replotting a single cycle throughout the entire soundfile. This is another way to spot where the attack portion of the sound has ended and the harmonics are dying out. But remember that not even SampleVision, which has some of the best looping facilities around, can guarantee you a smooth loop. With a complex, constantly changing orchestral timbre, it's probably not going to happen. Better know when to give up...
Now that we've covered the major areas of the program, let's move on to two other handy features. One is the Draw mode which, if you're working at a high enough resolution, turns your cursor into a pencil. If you want to "touch up" glitches in your sample, you can click on the mouse and get straight down to it. I found that using the Crossfade function occasionally left a few rough spots which I wanted to eliminate. I could have removed them with the delete function, but I had more fun redrawing the wave with the pencil. If you're so inclined, you might try expressing your artistic inclinations by designing your own waves - just Mute an existing sample, sharpen your mouse, and save your work as a new file. With a little luck, you could come up with some really useful waveforms.
Finally, there is the onboard sequencer, which lets you record and playback a couple of hundred notes for seeing how your sample sounds in a musical context once you've blasted it down to your sampler.
IF YOU'RE SERIOUS about sampling and don't plan to trade in your IBM in the near future, you'll be happy to learn that nearly all the high-end wave-editing features that you've been reading about are now available with SampleVision. The program gives you extensive editing features to work with - Fade, Scale, Reverse, Invert, Mix, Merge and so on - and allows you to do an awful lot of signal processing as well. In addition, it gives you some new functions which no program for any computer currently offers like Animate and Browse. And because it is a hard disk-based system, you can hold an extremely large soundfile in memory. Its features work as advertised; I had no trouble getting the program to do exactly what I wanted, and somehow I had the feeling that somebody who really understood the sampling process had set the program up to work in a logical and consistent way. SampleVision meets the competition head-on and, at long last, brings state-of-the-art sample editing to the IBM.
Price Expected to be £279 including VAT
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Review by Dennis Miller
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