...and Phil South has a hard time with his Amiga.
Paul Austin opened a can of worms last issue when he mentioned direct to disk recording on the Amiga. Few users of other machines would believe it, but the Amiga has always been a bit of a dark horse in musicians' circles. A number of people use Amigas professionally, but it has to be said that, until recently, the actual music hardware to drive the Amiga to its limits hasn't really been around.
The direct to disk problem is a knotty one, and although finding sampling software for the Amiga has always been easy, the 8-bit samplers on the market — SunRize Industries' Perfect Sound and MicroDeal's AMAS 2, for example — do not provide sufficiently high quality for professional audio requirements. You couldn't turn up at the recording studio for the Aliens 3 soundtrack with an A500 and an AMAS, for example. It has always been clear that higher-quality sampling on the Amiga was possible, but SunRize Industries' AD1012 board is the first real evidence I've seen that it could be a reality, and a marketable one at that.
The point is that direct to disk recording is the way to go in the audio world, and if your computer or music setup isn't capable of doing it, you're missing out on an increasingly important trend. SunRize have produced two cards to help you get in on the act, one 12-bit mono, the other 16-bit stereo. I've just received the 12-bit card, the AD1012, hotfoot from SunRize in California (UK distributors: HB Marketing (Contact Details)), so in lieu of a full-blown review, here are my first impressions.
The system comes in two parts, the hardware and the software. The hardware part is the AD1012, a full length auto-configuring Zorro card containing 64K of RAM, and the Analog Devices DSP chip which does all the hard audio work. On the edge of the card that protrudes from the back of your Amiga are three RCA jack sockets which allow you to connect input, output and SMPTE leads to the unit. The software supplied is Studio 16, a central program which can load modules for metering, recording and monitoring, SMPTE read and write, sample editing and mixing. The software can record up to four tracks, one at a time, and play them back simultaneously (in mono, of course). Before you get all excited, this isn't a digital 4-track — not in the Portastudio sense, anyway. The unit and software understand LTC and can hack VITC with a decoder (such as the Horita VLT 50, for example). Although it's not a 4-track, the AD1012 can improve your recording options; using Bars&Pipes Pro, you can sync everything together with MIDI, so you can have your vocals and even guitars running in sync with your MIDI instruments.
The uses for such an impressive tool are manifold — multimedia, music, audiovisual and film work, and even possibly some scientific and medical applications. Having access to digital audio opens up a lot of possibilities — being able to digitise speech for a presentation is the ideal way to sync it to pictures or animation, for example. And if your music is sequenced too, you can drive the speech and mix it via a MIDI mixer. The possibilities are endless.
You can use the AD1012 as a straight sampler, just like the original SunRize sampler. The sounds you create in Studio 16 can be saved in any format — IFF 8-bit, for example — so you can start off with a very high-quality sample and trim it down to 8-bit with good results. To use a parallel from the world of graphics, loading a 12-bit picture (such as a digitised HAM image) into Art Department Pro 2 and crunching it down to 32 colours gives an effect which is considerably better than the same image digitised at 32 colours.
"The point is that direct to disk recording is the way to go in the audio world, and if your computer or music setup isn't capable of doing it, you're missing out on an increasingly important trend."
The AD1012 is a mono board, but that needn't be a drawback. It has no MIDI ports, but this can be fixed by connection to Bars&Pipes Pro, which will have a module for driving the unit. I like the delay line module, though the version I was sent gives only a preview of the facilities which will be offered by the unit. Some 8-bit samplers provide what they call 'special effects', featuring echo, flanging and pitch shifting, usually pretty low in quality. This is not the case for the AD1012's effects, which are the same 12-bit quality that you'd get in an early Alesis MIDIverb — perfectly adequate for most home recording. The effects don't include pitch shifting, but perhaps this will be added in a future revision, once the module is fully finished. Effects can be created from scratch, or you can use the presets to give you some ideas.
Simultaneous playback of four channels requires an accelerator, but is an excellent feature. For movie sound effects, you could have a loop of birdsong on one track, traffic noise on the second, and music on the third, leaving one track for narration, for example.
Once you've recorded your audio to your hard disk, it can be edited like any other sample. Once you've filled up your hard disk (and you need 5MB for each minute of recording time) you can either back it up to floppies using Quarterback, back-up to tape streamer, or even record each track to DAT, and then wipe the disk and start again. It's simple.
The AD1012 has its musical uses, but I'd say it has really been aimed at the AV market rather than the music professional. The Amiga is really going places in the worlds of audio and video/film, and I hope to be looking at the 16-bit stereo version of this board (the AD516) in the near future; until then this is the top end of Amiga audio. The forthcoming Amiga A4000 will have digital audio facilities in its basic configuration, but until the happy day when it arrives, this card and its big brother are the best way into digital audio on the Amiga.
Feature by Phil South
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