More news from Martin Russ, including a look at a practical DA from Hinton Instruments.
Professionalism. A strange word to be used in the same context as the music business, perhaps, but there really are small pockets of quality and expertise out there! One such outpost of excellence is Hinton Instruments, based in Somerset.
You may never have heard of Hinton Instruments, mainly because they have always concentrated on the professional audio end of the MIDI spectrum, and so you tend to find their customisable MIDI routing and switching products in 'big name' studios rather than your average home/bedroom studio. Graham Hinton, the powerhouse behind the eponymously named company, has a no-compromise attitude and a clear-sightedness that helps him design products that have long useful lives.
One classic example is MIDIC — when MIDI was first announced, almost everyone rushed together MIDI interfaces for the popular home computers of the day: Sinclair Spectrums, Commodore C64s and BBC Model Bs. The exception to the rule was MIDIC, a small and rugged little box which has serial RS232 on one end and MIDI on the other. Unlike almost every other MIDI interface you have ever seen, MIDIC can be used with virtually any computer, and so you can transfer it as you upgrade your computer — no built-in obsolescence here!
MIDIC turns up in the best places — since it can be used on big and small computers, I went to the top, and phoned DEC, one of the world's largest computer manufacturing companies and asked about a MIDI interface for a Vax computer (one of their mainstream products, used in universities and industry for a wide range of heavy processing tasks). The extremely helpful person at DEC'S Newmarket office (when computers cost that much, the telephone support is naturally very good!) suggested that a MIDIC would be suitable... MIDIC was first released over 10 years ago, and still seems to be going strong.
With the background set, it is time to turn to the news. Hinton Instruments' latest product is a calculator. But not any ordinary calculator; this is a software tool for use by audio engineers, musicians and technicians. The first inklings that something was happening appeared in ST Applications magazine a few months ago. A new name started to appear in the responses to questions 'bulletin board' section: Graham Hinton. I wondered at the time if the person with considerable in-depth knowledge of the Atari Falcon was the same person, and my suspicions were confirmed a few days ago when a demonstration disk for Hinton Instruments' AudioCalc arrived by post.
AudioCalc is a desk accessory — one of those useful little programs that can be called up at any time from the Atari's 'Desk' menu. In fact, it is intended that you will typically use the calculations whilst running a sequencer, audio or multimedia program. Want to know how long a quarter note is in milliseconds at 120 bpm? Or what the harmonisation ratio is for a pitch change of 100 cents? How can you find out the number of bars and beats between those two SMPTE times on the video? As I'm sure you have already guessed, the answer to these questions (and more) is AudioCalc.
The program offers five different calculators, each dealing with a specific topic: Sound; Tape; Music; Analog; Digital. The same operation principles apply in all, of them — you fill in some of the values, then press the 'Calculate' button and all the remaining related values appear. Better still is the extensive input checking routines, which mean that you can type in almost any sensibly formatted values and the program will interpret it correctly. This may sound obvious, but it is not at all easy to make a program behave like this!
If you still need convincing of its usefulness, a PD Demo version of AudioCalc is available where only two of the topics work: the Sound and Analog areas. This lets you play about with calculations involving time delays, standing waves and other PA/speaker related things, as well as those tricky decibel to RMS level, impedance and dBu, dBV or dBm conversions. The full version covers the other topics with equal ease-of-use and wide application, and costs £39.95. For example, the Tape topic covers pitch changing and varispeed versus times, which makes sample loop timing, tuning and syncing a science rather than a lot of tedious edits. The Music topic lets you sort out those timecode to bars and beats conversions, echo timing and tempo problems. Finally, the Digital calculator sorts out media size, bandwidth, format, word size and time — enabling you to quickly answer questions like 'will that sample fit on the floppy disk?' Graham is open to suggestions for additional facilities in future releases.
For a professional product, you expect comprehensive support and facilities, and AudioCalc runs on any ST or STE with a monochrome monitor, as well as any TT or Falcon030 on a monochrome ST monitor, SVGA or multisync monitor. The colour Falcon screens have a 3D appearance which looks rather like Windows 3.1 on the PC, but with slightly more polish. AudioCalc is actually part of the forthcoming A440 Audio Engineering Toolkit for the Falcon030, but has escaped into the real world early! If AudioCalc is anything to go by, I have a feeling that we will hear a lot more of A440 in the future. Meanwhile, I was so impressed with AudioCalc that I ordered one — so expect a new precision in my future articles!
You may have missed the recently published SOS news item about Hollis Research, so here's a quick reminder that the company's Trackman 2.5 Atari sequencer (offering MIDI File support via a conversion program) is now available. And don't forget MIDIman, the small but very neat and hugely useful generic editor. Together, the pair provide a simple yet powerful MIDI music-making package at a very reasonable cost.
Feature by Martin Russ
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