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+ 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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
Feature by Paul Austin
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