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Amiga Notes


Paul Austin spotlights the latest in internal Amiga sampling and looks at the all new OctaMed Pro.

With the various elements of video, audio and game-play all converging at an alarming rate, teaching a computer to sing under its own steam could become a profitable business. As a result, this month's column spotlights two of the power tools in the teaching process.

DSS8+


DSS8+ is essential, an all-singing, all-dancing hardware and software combination which attempts to combine sampling, editing and song construction within a single interface — if you're looking for a painless introduction to the Amiga's internal talents, it could well be ideal.

Although combined software modules aren't unique, the same certainly can't be said for the see-through styling of the hardware. As far as connections are concerned, there's the usual array of twin RCA/phono-ins plus an additional mini jack for a microphone — with standard connection to the Amiga via the parallel port.

Although designer styling is all very nice, it's the sound quality that counts, and in this department DSS8+ is very impressive, easily matching the best efforts in the 8-bit market.

Alas, it's not all good news, as the accompanying software doesn't quite match the performance of its plug-in counterpart. As a consequence, all the editing basics are on hand, while some of the more subtle aspects of song construction appear to have been overlooked.

POWERING UP



On boot-up, the software defaults to the sample list, which is capable of holding up to 31 samples simultaneously — whether they're stereo, mono, or chip based tracker samples. As well as being a straightforward list of the available samples, the list also allows each sound to be played back without accessing the editor or tracker module.

INSTANT RECORDING



On access to the sampler, the main screen updates, showing the various monitoring and recording presets. Audio input may vary between left, right, stereo, mic or combined left and right, producing a mono end result. Better still, both channels have independent gains — which can be set automatically if required — allowing live mixing of the incoming stereo. As you'd expect, monitoring caters for both mono and stereo input as either an oscilloscope or — mono only — spectrum analyser.

Assuming setup and signal analysis is complete, all that remains is to set the sample length. Most of the remaining options concern the all-important sample rate — which can reach 51,136 SPS for mono and 42,613 for stereo.

After setting up and checking the signal isn't being clipped or distorted via the monitoring options, recording is simply a matter of hitting the button and waiting, poised on the left mouse button, ready to initiate recording. Once captured, the program will ask for a title for the new sample and then add it to the sample list ready for editing or as an element within a tracker song. If you wish to continue sampling you simply select another slot in the list and repeat the process.

When the sampling is complete, you simply pick a sound from the list and move on to the editor. My only real complaint in the sampling department is the lack of an auto record trigger — not essential, admittedly, but quite useful on occasion...

CUT AND PASTE



Moving onto the Editor Module, life isn't quite as idyllic, with relatively few features in comparison to the better standalone sample editors such as Audition4. To be fair, all the basics, such as cut and paste, looping, magnifying, freehand editing, range marking, buffer control, mono/stereo and stereo/mono conversion are all on hand, plus the essential sample merge, but it must be said that some of the more subtle aspects of editing are, at best, difficult to achieve.

Notable omissions include the inability to add additional workspace to a sample — a problem which tends to produce abrupt cut-offs when one of the few special effects are applied.

Even though direct point and click isn't available for things like additional workspace and channel editing, such effects can be generated by using the sample list as a multiple buffer — copying and combining samples to produce the results you require. As for playback, there's the usual selection of play range, play screen or play entire sample, whilst markers and loop points can be applied with the usual point and click and then fine tuned with tape deck-style icon controls.

Assuming your masterpiece is complete, files can be saved in Sonix, IFF or Raw file format in one, three or five octaves. And, of course, samples can be transferred to chip memory and then used in the tracker directly, thereby being saved as an element within a song module.

TRACK TALK



Like the editor, the tracker is perhaps best described as basic rather than spectacular. For those who've used the innumerable tracker clones this one will be very much home from home.

Like the vast majority, it boasts four tracks, which employ a block system with which to construct tunes. Each block consists of 64 potential sample locations across each of the four tracks. At each of these points a sample can be added, along with one of eight special effects which either directly effect the sound or alternatively alter the entire sequence — a prime example being volume changes, or perhaps the jump option, which allows the rest of the block to be skipped, leaping directly to a new block of your choice.

Like both the editor and sampler, the tracker boasts direct access to the sample list via a small requester. To add a new sample to the song you simply select the sound, pick a track and play in the notes, via the Amiga or the program's MIDI option, which allows direct input from a real keyboard.

Another nice touch is the addition of a multiple input requester, allowing any sample to be replicated throughout the track — with a user defined offset for spacing; ideal for drum tracks and general percussion.

Moving around the song is achieved by a combination of adjustable block counters and the large scroll bar on the left of the screen — which, incidentally, is used throughout the software to adjust numerical parameters: no tedious typing guaranteed...

The songs themselves can be saved as either simple sequences, modules for loading into other trackers or stand-alone run-time modules which can be executed directly from the CLI or via its icon.

In short, the DSS8+ tracker is fine for the beginner but perhaps a little limited for the old guard who've already invested time in Med and the other more advanced trackers. But even considering the odd disappointment in the software department, I must admit to being generally very impressed with a product that offers great sound quality plus a one-stop approach to sampling, editing and song construction.

OCTAMED PRO


For those who've somehow avoided contact with Med in its countless incarnations, version 5 is the latest 8-track alternative, boasting 4-track sample playback alongside 4-track synth sounds, plus an optional 64 MIDI tracks. OctaMed doesn't stop with handling samples, synth sounds and MIDI; in fact, a complete and impressive sample editor/recorder comes as part of the system, as does a separate synth sound generator/editor.

As far as sample editing is concerned, there's very little to complain about, with all the major edit functions on hand plus a fair selection of special effects such as optional anti-aliasing, pitch changing, anti-clipping and unused space removal.

A 2.04 Amiga or above is essential to run the new version, thanks to the massive redesign of the interface, which depends heavily on the new features that WB2/3 machines can support. A perfect example of this devotion to WB2 is the program's on-line help, which allows instant access to the accompanying on-disk manual. Thanks to the hypertext employed by the Amigaguide, locating specific information is now much quicker and more intuitive.

As well as the Amigaguide, the power of WB2 has also been lavished on the interface itself, with most of the power icons controlling additional pop-up requesters, which not only tidies up the overall appearance but provides a much improved one-stop approach for feature location.

On the MIDI side, you're no longer limited to basic multiples of four tracks. Thankfully you can now have any number your system requires and, even better, the limit of 100 blocks has been trashed in preference to a whopping 1000.

More subtle add-ons include the option to calculate module length prior to saving, while a Save Timer feature provides the ability to specify a predefined auto-save period. As for file formats, there's a new sample type entitled ExtSample. This is fairly similar to a normal sample, except that it boasts two new, very low octaves. Alas, such samples are only useful for special effects due to certain hardware limitations which make their use within melodies a fairly risky undertaking.

Returning to MIDI, yet another new file format appears to cater for the new 64-track support, Sections and multiple play sequences. In addition to new file formats, an all-new Sections option has been added, allowing the organisation of songs in a much more hierarchical manner, the idea being that you can create several play-sequence lists — each of which can be named — thereby defining the order in which they are played. The section list works as the master play sequence; as a result the actual play sequences are then treated as sub-sequences.

Continuing the crusade for more ease of use, blocks can now be named, allowing much easier handling, with up to 999 entries per sequence. Yet another intuitive improvement, entitled Play After Loading, automatically initiates playback and can be set up to flush unused instruments when clearing the current song as part of a multi-module; another new feature, Play Timer, allows the sequencer to be reset by pressing the 'R' gadget, instantly positioning the song at a predefined reset point.

NEW SAMPLE EDITOR FEATURES


Although the sample editor has been a part of the Med environment for some time, it has definitely improved with keeping, and is now more than a match for many standalone sample editors — thanks to the new V5 add-ons.

If you're already sold on the all new OctaMed, it will set you back the princely sum of £30, with an upgrade from version 4 available for just £24.

Great value if you're already familiar with Med; if not, it might be worth picking up an older version on the PD, then upgrade later if you become addicted.


CONTACTS

DSS8+: £69 inc VAT. Contact Silica Systems on (Contact Details)

OCTAMED PRO V5: £30 or £24 if upgrading. Contact Seasoft Computing on (Contact Details).


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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 - Oct 1993

Topic:

Computing


Feature by Paul Austin

Previous article in this issue:

> PC Notes

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