Paul Austin lends an ear to the Amiga's internal sound and looks ahead to how the chips may fall in the Autumn.
The Amiga's built-in sampling abilities are often heavily flagged by the Commodore marketing machine. But do they have any serious potential? For the professional musician, the prospect of employing 8-bit samples isn't exactly ideal, but you'd be surprised at how many have done exactly that...
For those of us on a budget, the 8-bit stop-gap offered by the Amiga can provide a perfect notepad for experiments which can then be expanded later within the 16-bit environment of the studio. In addition, the rave scene isn't averse to sacrificing a little sound quality on occasion and, as a result, many a repetitive hook in among the Italian piano and pumping bass has made its first tentative steps onto vinyl via the Amiga's humble sound chip.
Because of the machine's built-in ability to play up to four 8-bit samples simultaneously, all the major sequencing packages have the ability to take advantage of the option while dealing with MIDI information for external hardware.
If you've spent any time at all browsing through the vast array of Amiga magazines, you've probably noticed it's almost impossible to turn more than a few pages without being assaulted by an increasingly garish assortment of ads, all screaming the praises of an endless collection of sampler/software combinations.
Although there are a few good cheap and cheerful units on the market, it's well worth investing those extra few pounds on quality kit. At the forefront of Amiga sampling are two units that have been adopted by almost all the leading Amiga musos. The first, most expensive, and arguably the best of these is RamScan's Audio Engineer.
This particular unit offers unbelievable quality considering its 8-bit design, allowing full stereo sampling which benefits from the best filter and anti-aliasing circuitry around; when combined with the unit's twin DACs, Audio Engineer provides unbeatable sound quality that easily rivals many 12-bit and even a few 16-bit systems.
As is the case with all quality samplers, editing software comes as part of the £199 package. The software in question is again one of the market leaders, and although labelled Audio Engineer, it's actually AudioMaster 3 with a slightly redesigned front end. This particular package has been the Amiga's major sample editing environment for years and has only recently been challenged — and, some would say, bettered — by Audition4, a stand-alone sample editor/sample sequencing package.
The second quality sampler on the market, Sound Master, is the only unit capable of challenging Audio Engineer. Although it doesn't offer the same degree of control available from its competitor, it does produce equally impressive results and, like its counterpart, comes with Audio Master 3 as part of the £129 package.
Once you're equipped with a sampler, the next task is to master the art of getting the best from the available eight bits. To do this, obviously a quality sound source is essential, but in addition it's worth becoming familiar with the accompanying software.
Both samplers and either of the two sampling software packages will sample right up to 57kHz. If you have the necessary RAM, always push the initial sampling rate to the maximum and then employ the software's waveform tuning to re-sample the sound to the desired pitch. That way you'll always get the very best from the sound, sampler and software combination.
In an earlier issue you may recall the animated ramblings of yours truly describing the new breed of Amigas, along with a promise of more information ASAP. That fateful day has arrived: according to an anonymous source, the rumours of a new generation of Amigas appear to have hit the mark. The two new machines take the form of an A4000, an 040-based machine, and a 16MHz 030-based A1000 Classic, which may also appear as the A800. Both machines will boast the new AA chipset with 2.1 ROMs.
The A4000 variant will come with 16MB of fast RAM and 4MB of chip memory, expandable to 64MB and 16MB respectively. The chip memory will be of special importance if Commodore continue their approach of holding sample data within the machine's chip memory.
The A1000 Classic/A800 comes in what's been described as a 'pizza-style' slimline case offering expandability up to 4MB of chip and 16MB of fast RAM. Both machines will also boast a full speed double density floppy as standard.
For musicians, the most interesting aspect of the upgrade is the new machine's awesome musical potential, with full 16-bit, 4-channel sound at an amazing 56kHz. In short, instant CD quality sampling plus twin built-in MIDI ports as standard. There's even provision for an accompanying microphone to plug directly into the built-in digitiser, which allows direct 8-bit 28MHz sampling in a similar way to the Mac, but with superior results.
Another useful feature is that the machines won't just be limited to 16-bit resolution, as emulation has been added to enable eight 8-bit channels to operate at 56KHz and up to 16 8-bit channels at a very respectable 28kHz.
Our un-named source is already in the process of Beta testing both products so there's no reason why at least one of the machines shouldn't be released in the Autumn. It looks likely that the 030-based machine will be the first to see the light of day, with the A4000 making its debut in the spring of next year. In fact there's probably no real reason why both machines couldn't be on the market within the next month or so, but as old Amiga hands are all too aware, the Commodore monster is a strange beast indeed.
Nevertheless, the hardware is already out there which should transform the Amiga from the ugly duckling into the golden goose of modern music. Next month we'll continue our tour of the Amiga world with a close look at the machine as the heart of a MIDI and multimedia workstation.
Feature by Paul Austin
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