Microdeal Replay Software
FANCY GETTING INVOLVED in this sampling lark that everyone (well, some people anyway) is talking about? If you already own an Atari ST computer, or have access to one, Cornish company Microdeal offer a relatively cheap means of getting started. Their Replay sound-sampling package for the ST uses the computer's own memory to store samples, and costs a relatively modest £80.
The package consists of Replay sampling software, Drumbeat rhythm-sequencing software, and real-time Effects processing software (for adding such effects as echo and distortion to any input signal) together with a plug-in sampling cartridge. These programs can't be held in memory at the same time, however - so you can't sequence as you sample as you process.
The Replay cartridge, which plugs into the STs cartridge port, has an audio input for sampling and an audio output for replaying samples through your hi-fi or an instrument amplifier (either is far preferable to the alternative - the ST monitor's inbuilt speaker). Replay can hold up to ten samples in the STs memory, but can only play back one sample at any given moment - in musical terms, it's what's known as "monophonic". Although you can rapidly switch from one sample to another, you can't play a chord. Mind you, this has never proved a problem for a lot of traditional instruments (the saxophone and the trumpet, to name but two), so whether or not you consider it a limitation really depends on what you want to achieve.
For the technically-minded, Replay is an eight-bit sampler with anti-aliasing filters on both the input and the output stages, a 48dB signal-to-noise ratio, and 5, 7.5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 and 50kHz sample rates. Now, for those that didn't understand any or all of that - and even for those that did - it's still worth knowing that the rule in sampling is this: with any system, you offset sample quality against sample time. So the higher the sample rate, the higher the sound quality of your sample - but the less time the sample will last for. Replay will sample into as much memory as you have available, so if you're lucky enough to own a Mega4 ST, you've got a lot of memory at your disposal - roughly 40 seconds' worth at the highest rate.
The Replay software samples via the cartridge input into an area of memory which you define using two block markers. When you're satisfied with the result, you can store the sample into one of ten Presets (and, of course, save it to disk). The currently-selected sample can be looped at any time simply by selecting the Loop function, and replayed by selecting the Replay button (this retriggers the sample, so you can create "n-n-n-nineteen"-type stuttering effects if you really must).
The block markers are also used to identify a sample area for such features as sample copy, insert, delete and overlay. Using copy and insert you can "splice" samples together, cut-up style, and then adjust the markers to label the result as one sample if you want. Other features include sample reversal and sample fade-in/out, sample magnification and a real-time spectrum analyser (which tells you the frequency content of any input sound - not very useful day to day, but certainly of educational value).
Your ten Preset samples can be played from a MIDI keyboard or the STs own keyboard. There are two options: either you assign a sample to each MIDI note (so that you could play back a gunshot on one note and a dog barking on another), or you select any one of the ten samples at a time and play it back at different pitches over an eight-octave range. The advantage of MIDI control is that you can sequence your samples from an external MIDI sequencer - though obviously if you ordinarily use a sequencing package which runs on the ST, you've got problems here.
Incidentally, computer programmers should note that Microdeal provide technical information which will allow Replay samples to be incorporated into other software - interesting for games programmers, I'd have thought.
The Drumbeat software allows you to program rhythm patterns using samples created with Replay - in other words, it creates a real sampling drum-machine. Up to 16 samples can be used within a pattern, but the software can only play two at any given moment: that's one up on Replay itself. In order to be able to do this, sample resolution has been reduced to seven bits, which means in practice that samples sound noisier. You should also bear in mind that samples must be recorded at 10 or 20kHz to be usable in Drumbeat, and can have a maximum length of 1.64 seconds (10kHz) or 0.82 seconds (20kHz) - neither of which is really long enough for, say, cymbal sounds.
You can assemble your own custom drum-kits of samples off disk, and then save the resulting combination back to disk as a Kit. Microdeal provide you with a default sampled drum-kit which includes bass and snare drums, open and closed hi-hat, cowbell and bongos. They also have disks of sampled sounds ideal for use within Drumbeat, which at £9.95 each (plus a quid for the Royal Mail and the stationery people) are real value for money. Disk 1 contains 44 sounds, including a good range of Latin percussion and such delights as cuckoo, dogyap, saxophones and record scratches.
The program presents you with a grid onto which you record your patterns in step-time or real-time (the tempo for record and playback is programmable). You can record up to 99 patterns, and then chain them together to form a song consisting of up to 70 steps. At each step, a pattern can be repeated up to 99 times.
Possible improvements? Not many. I'd like to see Drumbeat responding to MIDI sync information, so that its patterns could play in time with an external MIDI sequencer or a Drumbeat pattern already recorded on tape to a timecode.
But overall, Microdeal have to be congratulated on providing a cheap introduction to sampling which is also flexible enough to have more than just novelty value.
If you're looking for a cheap sampled alternative to an acoustic piano so that you can play Chopin etudes all day long, forget it. Microdeal's package is best suited to sampling percussive sounds, speech, sound effects and recorded music. As such, it opens a window on the most creative (as opposed to recreative) aspects of sampling.
There are even ways of getting around the software's voice limitation - by using a Portastudio, or even a stereo reel-to-reel with sound-on-sound facilities (such as the venerable Akai 4000DS) to build up parts one after another on tape. Be resourceful and inventive, and who knows what you might achieve?
MICRODEAL REPLAY SOFTWARE: £79.95 plus £1 p&p.
INFO: Microdeal, (Contact Details)
Review by Simon Trask
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