4T/FX and d2d Edit
Software for the Atari Falcon
From D2D2U - tapeless recording on the Falcon
Ian Waugh goes directly-to-disk, and finds the Falcon on the crest of a wave...
In the tech spec for Atari's new(ish) Falcon computer you'll find reference to a DSP - Digital Signal Processor. It's a Motorola 56001 chip operating at 32MHz with a performance of 16 MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second). Listed uses for the chip include the connection of low-cost 19.2K baud fax/data modems, voice-mail systems, JPEG/MPEG image compression and direct-to-disk digital audio recorders...
So, is this the power-without-the-price Atari has been singing about? A computer with built-in direct-to-disk recording capabilities (and those all-important MIDI sockets, of course) sounds just what the budget-conscious muso needs right now. That and some direct-to-disk software.
d2d (cute name, guys) are a software development company involved in the production of software for high-end digital recording gear. The company were apparently given a Falcon development machine and actually showed an early version of a direct-to-disk package at the official Falcon launch in Dusseldorf last year. Now, finally, the production version has hit the streets.
There are actually two pieces of software - 4T/FX and d2d Edit. 4T/FX offers 4-track direct-to-disk recording with built-in FX. d2d Edit is bundled with this but is also available separately. It offers stereo direct-to-disk recording with editing; the 4T/FX has no edit facilities at all.
Potential purchasers will need a Falcon with a hard disk and at least 4Mb of RAM. The programs are protected by a dongle which has to be plugged into the Falcon's parallel port, but this has a thru socket so you can still connect a printer or even other dongles.
4T/FX only has one main screen which is laid out rather like a 4-track recorder. It has four fixed sample rates - 50, 32, 24 and 12kHz. Interestingly, the Falcon's clock can't generate a 44.1kHz or 48kHz sample rate (the rates usually employed by CDs and DATs) although these are attainable through the use of an external device such as d2d's SPDIO or Singular Solution's A/D64x. The SPDIO is a digital interface which will allow you to back up to a digital device such as DAT. It's expected to retail for around £299.
Disappointingly, Atari have opted for a miniature stereo jack mic socket for the Falcon's audio input. This is simply not up to professional standards and makes it difficult to get a good line level signal into the machine. Atari are apparently considering fitting Falcons with phonos (although I certainly won't be holding my breath) - a move which would also benefit home users as most domestic hi-fi systems have phono connections.
To record a track it's necessary to open a file for it on disk. Recording uses traditional tape transport controls and is quite straightforward, but the program doesn't have an input level meter so you can't check the recording level.
The Mic input is actually 'hard wired' to tracks one and two. So, to record on the other two tracks you have to open the files created by tracks one and two into tracks three and four and then record on tracks one and two again. The software is capable of recording on all four tracks simultaneously, but this requires additional hardware in the form of d2d's 41/40 unit. This will feature professional inputs and its own AD and DA converters - more about this in a moment.
You can bounce tracks in time-honoured multitrack tradition and apply the built-in effects using the Effect Send and Effect Return sliders. There are 10 effects in all: delay, flanging, chorus, ring modulation and reverb. Each has up to four parameters which may be adjusted from the main screen. As this kind of effects processing is simply(!) a matter of processing numbers, it should be relatively easy to add other effects by writing new processing algorithms.
Of course, one of the main uses of a direct-to-disk system is to run it in sync with a sequencer so you can record a MIDI backing in the sequencer and add vocals, acoustic instruments and so on in the recorder. 4T/FX can run as a desk accessory and sync to Cubase v3 without using a multi-tasking environment such as Multi-TOS. The insert on the box says it will also sync to Notator Logic but at the moment this is not the case.
d2d is aware of the problem and hopes to sort it out soon. But the full release version of Logic has only just become available for the ST, so perhaps the company was using a slightly different beta test version. In any event, running Logic and 4T/FX together on a 4Mb Falcon proved a very tight squeeze (unless one of the programs was hogging memory).
4T/FX will also sync to an external sequencer using MIDI Time Code (MTC) so if you're thinking of buying a Falcon, hang onto your old ST for the moment!
To edit a 4T/FX track you have to export it into d2d Edit which handles two tracks as a single stereo file. The file formats of the two programs are different and to load one file into the other program you have to run it through a converter in d2d Edit. This program has several major processing and edit functions each with their own window which can be resized and positioned anywhere on the desktop. A Toolbox window gives you quick access to functions such as zoom and to the windows.
There is also an Input Level meter here, thankfully, so you can set up the optimum recording level. However, on the system I was using, it kept flickering with spurious noise. Time to take a break to examine the sound quality, methinks...
If you run a signal into the Falcon's Mic socket and monitor the output from the headphone socket, you get a pretty good idea what the circuitry is doing to the signal. On my system there was a noticeable loss of high frequencies and, believe it or not, the resulting sound seemed to have reverb added to it. The extent to which this is noticeable depends on the input signal. It's less obvious with an orchestral mix, for, example, than with a dry drum track.
I should point out here that I was using a Falcon running TOS 4.01 and apparently this has now been superseded by TOS 4.02. (The ROM is surface-mounted into the mother board and updating it is not an easy business - so check the TOS before you buy a Falcon.) Now d2d claim that the Falcon's input socket and audio matrix are really not up to giving us the CD quality we would like. They also say that the input noise problem can vary from machine to machine and is more prone to appear on the earlier TOS 4.01 systems. This was all news to Atari's technical department who claim the system is being used in several professional studios, and leave us to draw our own conclusions. So we'll do just that.
Quite simply, the output is not CD quality - a fact to which d2d would attest - but it will be once the company releases the 41/40 which will directly access the DSP and bypass the Falcon's sockets and AD converters. This, however, is expected to cost about £399 which takes the edge off 'affordable direct-to-disk' such as the Falcon has been promising for the past year. Back to the plot...
d2d Edit has only two sample rates - 50 and 32kHz. Recording takes place in the Transport window which has more options than the 4T/FX recorder. You can set the recording length plus punch in and out points, stamp a recording with MTC to sync it to other devices and place up to eight markers in the recording to help with editing. Marker positions may be entered manually or by tapping them in real-time by pressing the space bar during playback.
You can find your way around the recording by scrubbing with the mouse - a quaint practice which allows you to move the mouse through the edit window and hear the section of the sample as you pass over it.
Edit functions include cut, copy, paste and erase and it's possible to save marked areas. But there are none of the more interesting or sophisticated functions you might find on other (more costly) direct-to-disk systems, or which you might associate with sample editors - such as time stretching, reverse, fades, dynamic adjustment and so on.
Non-destructive edits are carried out in the Cuesheet by assembling a list of previously-saved marked segments of the recording. You can't load a segment into the Cuesheet directly from the Edit window but the segment files only store the position of the segment, not the actual sample, so this saves valuable disk space. The Cuesheet may be played by using MTC or SMPTE and a Clock window lets you check that the Falcon is receiving this data correctly.
Overall, the programs are easy to use although you will need to refer to the manual to check a few functions. This was incomplete at the time of writing, but a new version together with the latest software updates will be issued free of charge to all registered users.
As the first serious direct-to-disk software for the Falcon, the two d2d programs are certainly an attractive proposition, but I do feel they should be better integrated and should be given at least some of the bells and whistles of other direct-to-disk programs on other computers. There is also the question of sound quality to bear in mind, and the current lack of synchronisation with any software sequencer other than Cubase v3. That said, the system is useable and certainly affordable.
But for serious recording, you really have to budget for the 41/40 unit, and possibly the SPDIO if you want digital integration. You'll probably need a larger hard drive, too. When all this is added up, of course, the Falcon's promise of cheap direct-to-disk recording starts to look rather less appealing, but it is still cheaper than most direct-to-disk systems on other machines. You gets what you pays for.
There are those who think Atari has missed out on a golden opportunity to bring budget-priced CD quality direct-to-disk recording to the mass market, but the fact is the Falcon - with d2d software - is available now for home users. CD quality - for those that need it -will be available soon for a little extra. If d2d really gets behind the system, it could become a serious contender. It's the first for the Falcon, and that's the one by which others will be judged. -
|Ease of use||Easy peasy|
|Originality||New to the Falcon|
|Value for money||Affordable direct-to-disk recording|
|Star Quality||The first of its kind|
|Price||4T/FX (including d2d Edit) £299 inc VAT. |
d2d Edit £150 inc VAT.
|More from||d2d Systems Ltd, (Contact Details)|
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Review by Ian Waugh
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