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Microdeal Clarity 16 Sampler

for the Commodore Amiga

If you’ve got a Commodore Amiga computer, this could be the sampling system for you. Ian Waugh examines the add-on that might just take off

Can Microdeal do for budget sampling on the Amiga what they've done for the ST?

Some of Clarity's windows - the ever-present Control Panel in the top left, the Meters window, the MIDI keyboard and the sample itself

Where would we be without samplers, eh? Yeah, but apart from having to produce more original music? Apart from having to program our own sounds? Apart from wiping out at a stroke the music industry's greatest growth area - sample CDs - where would we be? And where would Microdeal be? The company's role as a producer - or the producer! - of high quality, budget-priced, computer-based samplers has been confirmed once again with the release of Clarity 16 for the Amiga.

Clarity goes a stage further than Replay 16 for the ST (see MT December '92) in that it has full stereo recording and playback capabilities. It's a 16-bit machine and it can record at up to 44kHz. Hmmm... You wanna check the price again?

The catch? Well, there are a few caveats but no real catches. The quality is mainly the result of the hardware which was designed by Microdeal sampler stalwarts AVR - although the software has a new author.

The hardware plugs into both the serial and parallel ports and sports stereo phono Ins and Outs plus MIDI In and Out sockets. Connection is as easy as cashing a giro. There's no recording volume control (although there's a hole in the casing which looks as though it should have had one) so you have to set the recording level at the source. Not ideal.

The software is rather copious and requires at least a 1Mb Amiga to run it. However, you really need more than 1Mb of RAM to make the most of the system as all those high quality stereo samples eat it up like bran flakes. You'll also be better off with a machine with a bit more oomph than your bog standard 500 or 500 Plus. Ideally you want an A1200 or A3000 or a standard Amiga with an accelerator. As yet the software doesn't support the A4000, but the developers are working on it.

A 1200 will sample at around 42kHz in stereo but a standard machine will only manage 42kHz mono or 32kHz in stereo. And that might be pushing it. Still, that's not at all bad considering the excellent results that can be achieved even at 20kHz.

The basic sampling procedure follows traditional lines, although the program has a slightly different interface to the other Microdeal samplers. It uses a series of windows. There's a common Control Panel with eight icons - Record, Play, Sample Pad, Scopes, MIDI Play, Sequencer, Memory and Real-time FX - and each pops up in its own window. Samples appear in their own window, too (on the desktop), and these can be resized and repositioned in the usual way. You can have up to 64 samples in memory, RAM permitting, and open windows for up to eight of them.

The sample is displayed in the traditional waveform format with a cursor and two optional loop markers. You can zoom in and out and highlight a section of the sample by clicking and dragging. There are the usual cut, copy, paste and delete block functions plus mix and overlay and it's easy to take bits from several samples and combine them.

There are several other functions in the Process menu, including Reverse, Channel Swap and Channel Copy (for stereo samples), Normalise (which maximises the volume of samples) and Fade In and Fade Out. And you can also alter the volume by a specific percentage and create the classic sample pan effect where a sample starts in one ear and moves to the other. You can do cross fades with this, too.

Filtering is available should the noise level prove too much and an FFT display which serves little practical purpose other than to impress the hell out of your friends and without which no sampler would be complete.

Roar, roar, scream, scream, munch, munch - another lion tamer hits the back of the throat courtesy of the Clarity 16 sequencer

You can trigger samples from an attached MIDI keyboard using the MIDI Play function; it's possible to map samples to different keys across the keyboard and assign them simply by clicking and dragging the mouse over the onscreen keyboard. If you don't have a MIDI keyboard you can still play them using the functions keys, albeit with some restriction on your musical prowess. On standard machines, one or two samples may be played at the same time, rising to four on the faster machines. There are some restrictions, however. You can only play 16-bit mono samples through the Amiga itself and no looping facility is provided.

You can, of course, trigger the sample via a sequencer, although you would need a hardware device or a second computer to run this. However, Clarity does have a built-in sequencer - of sorts. Its a single track affair which lets you construct a 'hit list' of samples and cue points. (The demo is a rip-roaring sonic description of a lion tamer being eaten by a lion - bite it and believe it!) It works fine but there is no sync function to allow it to be controlled by an external MIDI source, although it can be made to generate a MIDI start message which the sequence starts playing.

The program can handle AVR, IFF and AIFF formats although you are encouraged to use the AVR format. It also supports MIDI Sample Dump and Prophet Sample transfer routines. The manual could be a little more explanatory - a few sampling hints and tips; an explanation of the sample formats; a bit of information about the trade off between sampling rates/resolution, memory and sample quality - that sort of thing. But all the info's there and no one should have any problems.

As I mentioned earlier, the software was not written by the usual AVR crew, and (presumably) as a result, there is no separate Drum Beat program as there is in most other Microdeal sampler packages. Also, having been particularly impressed with the icon-based/object-oriented approach of Replay 16 on the ST, I was a little disappointed not to see a similar system here - although such a system would be difficult to implement on the Amiga. But generally, the Clarity 16 software could do with a sprinkling of magic dust to give it a bit sparkle.

The program did fall over a few times but I was running it on a 1Mb machine with a hard disk so it was training at the limits of its RAM. If you ask the program to perform a function for which there is insufficient memory - such as load a sample or create a block - it won't do it. Trouble is it doesn't tell you it's not going to do it! However, the software is already undergoing several updates and this should be rectified by the time you read this. It should also boast several additional enhancements.

The software definitely needs tidying up in a few places, but it works well enough and the sample quality is amazing. A budding composer could use Clarity at home and transfer the samples to a more upmarket hardware unit in a studio. Alternatively, if you have an instrument which can load samples such as the Yamaha SY99, you could create and edit them using Clarity - there can't be a cheaper option. That said, the pros may well want to see a few more bells and whistles in the software before allowing themselves to be won over by the hardware. Of course, lots of home sound engineers will use it to create samples for tracker programs, even if they do degrade the samples to eight-bit after sampling, so watch out for some mega tracker tracks appearing in demo land.

As of writing, Microdeal is struggling to produce enough hardware units to satisfy demand (this shouldn't be a problem by the time you read this) - and no wonder! With a few software upgrades on the way, Clarity could well be the Amiga sampler by which the others are measured. As it is, you're not going to get this quality of sampling for this price anywhere and that's the bottom line.

Price: Clarity 16 £149.95

More from: Microdeal (Contact Details)

On the panel

The Control Panel is a constant on the desktop. It contains six icons which are used to select the following functions and windows:

Record: Records a sample. It will record over an existing sample window so you can easily do several takes if the first one isn't quite right. You can also elect to record over the currently highlighted block.

Play: Plays back the whole of the selected sample window from the beginning. You can select Play From Cursor from the Edit menu and you can play a highlighted block by double-clicking on it.

Sample Pad: Stores a list of the samples in memory - up to 64 - although it would be useful if it showed their format and how much RAM each sample took. Double-click on a sample to open its window. You can have more than one window of the same sample open at the same time.

Scopes: Offers VU Meter, Oscilloscope and LED displays of incoming data to help you set the optimum recording level. You can also switch between mono and stereo monitoring.

Sequencer: A one-track device which can hold up to 300 events. You insert samples into it which will play in order. You can insert pauses into the sequence and a time list shows exactly when each sample will play.

Memory: Shows how much free memory is available.

Real-time FX: Lets you route incoming sounds through the five special FX in real-time. It's, er, interesting.

Special FX

The Special FX menu houses five FX which you can apply to the whole sample or any section of it. Each has a Set window which lets you adjust some simple parameters as follows:

Echo: three Delay Tap setting
Reverb: three Delay Tap settings
Flange: Rate and Depth
Chorus: Sync
Distortion: Distortion and Mix

Going loopy

As all sampler users know, loop points can be notoriously difficult to create. Clarity doesn't have an auto loop facility (something for the update, perhaps) but it does allow you to butt the end of the loop against the start of it and scroll through the two parts in search for a suitable loop point. Possibly because of the (relative) lack of processing power of the Amiga, you can't do this while listening to the loop. As with most computer-based samplers, recording and playback locks you out of the system completely. If a loop is proving elusive, there's a Loop Fade function which fades a portion of the sample before the start of the loop into the end of it. It's not a universal panacea but it certainly did a good job on several 'difficult' loops I tested it with.

Previous Article in this issue

Roland JD-990

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All For One And One For All

Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Jun 1993

Gear in this article:

Software: Sampler > Microdeal > Clarity 16

Gear Tags:

Amiga Platform

Review by Ian Waugh

Previous article in this issue:

> Roland JD-990

Next article in this issue:

> All For One And One For All

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