This month I'm going to take a look at one of the hottest items to hit the Amiga music scene for some time — the Clarity 16-bit stereo sampler, which at only £149.95 represents remarkable value for money. Due to the constrictions of a single page I'm afraid this will be something of a whistle-stop tour, but with the hidden power of the package and a whole host of updates on the way, rest assured that this won't be the only issue to feature the Clarity combination of hardware and software.
Unlike many power products, Clarity (distributed by Micro-Pace UK, (Contact Details)) doesn't necessarily require the usual profusion of expensive hardware. In fact the hardware and software will happily run on a standard machine with or without a hard disk. Better still, Clarity is totally generic and will operate on any Amiga thanks to an external design which makes the necessary connects via twin serial and parallel leads. Alongside the Amiga cabling, Clarity also boasts twin phono audio in and out, plus the essential MIDI I/O ports.
Now before you dive for the cheque book, this apparent miracle of compatibility does make the odd compromise in order to operate on the entire Amiga range. Although compatible with all, Clarity is only really at its best on accelerated machines such as the A1200, A3000 and A4000, plus standard Amigas fitted with 020, 030 or 040 accelerators.
On a standard 68000 machine, Clarity will only allow playback of two channels as opposed to the four available on faster systems. Leaving machine speed aside, the only other prerequisite to successful application is RAM. As far as this particular element is concerned, the more the merrier, with at least 2MB being a respectable starting point.
Although Clarity marks a real breakthrough in budget Amiga music it isn't without its faults. Arguably the most damaging is the lack of direct-to-disk recording. In addition timecode, whether it be SMPTE or MIDI, is again obvious by its absence.
However, according to Dan Lennard, the designer of the existing software, all of the above are in the pipeline and should be available either via an update or more likely in the form of an add-on which will also boast a 4-track drum sequencer poached from a similar sampling system already available on the ST.
While on the subject of the swings and roundabouts, it's perhaps about time to mention the overall sound quality of the system. As you may have guessed from the price tag, Clarity isn't designed to take on the Akais of this world, but rather offer the very best combination of price and performance.
In order to achieve the amazing price point, Clarity is forced into a compromise which takes the form of a combination of both D-to-A and A-to-D convertors. In real terms this means the occasional pop as the sampler switches between record and playback modes, plus a slight increase in background noise in comparison to its stand-alone competition.
The maximum sampling frequency is 42kHz — not as high as that offered by some samplers, but still high enough to ensure a frequency response that goes as high as your ears will.
Although the Amiga may be a new player in the world of 16-bit sound, the machine itself already has a long history as far as 8-bit sampling and editing is concerned — this is reflected very clearly in the available editing options. Fading, looping, resampling, cut and paste, mixing and merging are all on hand, and for those who've used 8-bit editing software in the past the package is literally fit to burst with old favourites plus numerous pleasant surprises.
As in any sampling environment, monitoring is essential, and in the case of Clarity this particular aspect is very well catered for via three options: oscilloscope, good old VUs, and finally LED graphic bars. Alas, all three modes only operate during monitoring while remaining inactive during recording — a feature which I must admit can be mildly annoying on occasion.
One of the real strengths of Clarity, apart from high sound quality, is the number and variety of playback options, which build from basic mouse and icon options while editing into full MIDI compatibility during performance.
On the internal side, the software allows playback via function keys — ideal for dubbing special effects onto video — while the built-in single track sequencer offers a more automated if rather limited hands-off alternative. On the external side, you can use a keyboard or sequencer to control Clarity via MIDI. A particularly well thought out MIDI sample player allows all samples presently in RAM to be mapped onto a keyboard via a MIDI map which can be loaded and saved with all its component samples as required.
Each sample can occupy a single note or an entire series either ascending or descending in pitch, and since triggering only requires the most basic on/off, MIDI information linking the sampler to an external sequencer is simplicity itself.
In practice though, problems can arise when a shared or complex signal is received. More on trouble shooting next month, perhaps...
As promised that was indeed rather short and sweet, but even with this rather brief outline I think you'll agree Clarity has real potential. With numerous revisions in the pipeline, the potential of the system is almost as amazing as the asking price.
Admittedly there's a long way to go before the Amiga becomes the de facto studio sampler, but for just £150 it's hard to find fault with what is an excellent budget investment. Highly recommended.
For more information contact Micro-Pace UK (Contact Details).
Feature by Paul Austin
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