Paul Austin reports on a low-cost direct-to-disk recording board for the Amiga.
After a year of featuring only in press releases, the SunRize AD1012 (£468.83 inc VAT), the Amiga's first direct to disk recording system, has finally materialised. HB Marketing are the UK distributors ((Contact Details)). I know I promised a multimedia spectacular for this month's column, but the AD1012 is just too good to pass over — but rest assured the promised column will appear in the next issue, honest.
The table below shows the amount of hard disk space required for recording a mono audio signal via the AD1012 at various sample rates. It's worth bearing in mind that a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz is the industry standard for CD, so anything in excess of that is in effect a waste of valuable space.
|Sampling rate (kHz)||Space for 1 minute||Space for 30 minutes|
Although storage space is vital, speed (ie. hard disk access time) is equally important. If the chosen hard disk is too slow, no matter how much space is available, the system simply won't record the incoming signal correctly. 32ms is quoted as the maximum access time for the SunRize board, but unless you have a drive with significantly better performance, it's still very unlikely that you could play back more than one of the four simultaneous audio channels that the AD1012 supports.
Popular removable hard disks such as the SyQuest, with its 26ms average seek time, can still only manage between 2/3 tracks at the CD-quality 44.1kHz sampling rate. To actually sustain 4-channel playback, the target disk must have a seek rate speed in the "teens", and benefit from a 32-bit bus direct to the disk.
Consequently, the A3000 with its 11ms 105MB Quantum drive is ideal, as indeed are the Combo series of 030's and soon to be released 040 accelerator/hard disk combinations from GVP — again equipped with suitably speedy and sizable on-board hard drives.
The SunRize board comes with Studio 16 software to drive it. Assuming you already have a sound source and output, sampling is simply a matter of loading the Meter Window, plus either the Transport or Recorder windows (you can use either of these to initiate the sampling process). Prior to any sampling it's vital that you first specify the destination (ie. your target disk) for the sample via the Master preferences. Once defined you're ready to record.
From either the Record, Transport, or Mixers windows you can adjust the gain of the incoming signal to set suitable levels, and once you're happy with level and filter settings (and of course sample rate), you can hit record, instantly capturing the incoming audio. Once recorded the new sample is assigned to a channel for playback. From then on adding more samples is simply a matter of repeating the process until all four channels are full.
It's at this stage — or perhaps even before — where the power of the transport controls come into their own. If you've ever used a 4-track you'll know how to 'ping-pong', or 'bounce', tracks together, and you can do the same thing with Studio 16. You can in fact mix any number of samples together, freeing channels for fresh recording. Using this approach, huge sounds can be built up in stages — of course because you're working with digital rather than analogue audio, there's absolutely no degradation no matter how many times the component samples are combined.
As you can probably tell, recording and mixing is very simple, but it's by no means the limit of the software's sample handling skills. Once a sample is recorded, you can highlight it within the 'Open list' and edit it via its own sample editing window.
The usual range of, cut, copy, and paste functions are all on hand, along with a few advanced features such a scale, flip, and freehand edit. Unfortunately although beautifully implemented and extremely easy to use, the sample editing does look a little basic when compared to that available in existing 8-bit sampling software. There are no FX such as flange, chorus, echo, or even pseudo reverb, although strangely enough a whole host of 'Live effects' are available from a separate module. These can be applied on playback only, and include rather mundane chorus and delay effects.
Nevertheless, the limited editing and effects are offset by the program's excellent sample sequencing capabilities. Unlike its 8-bit counterparts, Studio 16 has a much more professional and flexible approach to the problem.
Thanks to the SMPTE In socket on the rear of the board, and the Cuelist within the software itself, you can assign an unlimited number of samples to specific time code positions. As a result, any would-be user need only stripe one track of his or her multitrack tape with SMPTE (LTC) timecode, and run the signal into the board.
One of the few shortcomings, of the board and software package, however, is that it can only read timecode, not write. This is particularly annoying as the program generates its own internal timecode in order to sync the Cuelist, and as a timecode source with which to communicate directly with Bars & Pipes Professional. So, if you're planning to sync MIDI instruments to the board without the assistance of Bars & Pipes Professional, you'll need a SMPTE generator to stripe a tape to which you'll sync both your sequencer and the board.
As I've indicated, however, the syncing situation isn't quite as painful and expensive as it may first appear — if you're willing to invest in Bars & Pipes Professional. This is the only sequencer with a direct connection to the SunRize hardware/software combination. Included in the Studio 16 package are a selection of additional tools which can be dropped directly into the B&P Pro tools box and subsequently into the pipeline within the sequencer.
Thanks to Studio 16's internal SMPTE generator B&P Pro can sync directly with the Cuelist — no need for any external hardware.
For the home recording enthusiast this board is an ideal budget introduction to direct-to-disk recording. At present its only rival is the forthcoming stereo 14-bit board from GVP, which is due for release around September.
Video is where the board really scores, and when combined with SMPTE-compatible DTV equipment it becomes the ultimate format for synchronised special effects and accompanying MIDI generated music.
Feature by Paul Austin
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