It's been exactly a year since I started writing the PC Notes column, so it's probably as good a time as any to look at the state of the PC music scene. This time last year Windows 3.1 had just been launched and was an unknown quantity in terms of its music capabilities. We knew (more or less) what it could do from the Multimedia Extensions to Windows 3.0, but we really didn't have any idea how it would perform on the mass market. Today it seems that everyone and their small furry animal is releasing hardware and software to tap into the immense PC Windows marketplace that has developed over the last 24 months. Even Digidesign, doyens of the Macintosh, have released a flagship product on the PC in the form of Session 8, an 8-track disk-based recording system.
On the software side, Cubase Windows is now outselling the Mac versions of Steinberg's premier music sequencer by two to one, and it appears to be catching up on the Atari ST. There are now so many music and sound programs being released for Windows 3.1 that it's difficult to keep track of what's going on. Of course things are likely to slow down once all the major application areas have been covered, but even now there is wide range of music software available. In short it looks like Windows 3.1 has carved a substantial niche for itself in the music software world. One type of software missing, though, is a good 'music sampler' editor equivalent to Turtle Beach's SampleVision; strange but true.
Staying with Cubase Windows for a minute, now might be a good time for Cubase users to check that they have the latest version of the program. The only way you can tell is to look at the size and date of the CUBASE.EXE file in your Cubase directory. The easiest way to do this is to use the Windows File Manager to browse through your hard disk — the latest version is dated 01/12/92 and has a size of 861,184 bytes. If you have an older version then you can get a free update by calling Naji on the Cubase Help Line ((Contact Details)) between 2 and 5pm on weekdays. Incidentally, this number is connected to a fax machine at all other times, so you can also fax your request.
Another piece of Steinberg kit that may be of interest to Cubase users who have upgraded to the PC is the PC Drive Card. This card allows you to connect Steinberg's 'all singing/all dancing' SMP24 (or SMP-II) synchroniser/MIDI processor to your PC, giving full access to its SMPTE/EBU timecode facilities and multiple MIDI In and Out ports from Cubase. The card costs £115; contact Harman UK ((Contact Details)) to find out where to get one.
As mentioned in Shape Of Things To Come last month, the Soundscape hard disk recording system has survived the disappearance of Cheetah from the music world. According to Chris Wright, of the new Soundscape Digital Technology company that is developing and marketing Soundscape (and some other ex-Cheetah products), the system places very little load on the PC that hosts the system. In fact you can actually switch off the PC and Soundscape will continue to play back from its internal IDE hard drives. The upshot of this is that you can run the software on quite a low powered (and therefore cheap) PC, such as a 286. Alternatively, you can add it to your current Windows sequencing system without appreciably increasing the load on the PC. Certainly this is a system worth keeping an eye on. I should have had a chance to see a Soundscape in the flesh at the MIDI show by the time I prepare the next column; I'll keep you informed. Contact Chris Wright ((Contact Details)) for more details about the new company's product range.
One problem with using a computer in a studio is where to put the damn thing. Although rack mountable PCs have been available for some time, they tend to be outrageously expensive since they tend to be 'ruggedised' for industrial applications. GAS (based in London), who are well known for their audio and video studio designs are aiming to change this with their new range of rack mounted PCs.
The PCs, which are specifically designed to be used in video and audio production environments, take up a 4U rack space and have their keyboard and mouse connections accessible on both the front and rear panels. There are a number of configurations available, ranging from a fairly modest 386SX to a powerful 50MHz 486DX with a 256K RAM cache. The prices are very reasonable (for a rackable system) with the 386SX system starting at just over £900 (inc VAT) going up to around £1,500 for the top of the range 486DX. All systems come with a 14" super VGA colour screen and a 1 MB graphics card, an enhanced keyboard, DOS 5.0 and an 80MB IDE hard disk (except for the 386SX which has a 42MB HD). If you're interested in a rackable PC then contact Adam Brown at GAS on (Contact Details).
Zone Distribution are now handling PG Music's Power Tracks — PG are perhaps better known for their Band-in-a-Box auto-accompaniment software. Power Tracks is set to retail at less than £30 (not £49.95 as stated in last month's column), which makes it a must for any PC owner who wants to dabble in MIDI sequencing. Zone also now have Jammer Pro and the Windows version of Band-in-a-Box in stock — I now have copies of both these programs for evaluation, and I'll let you know how I get on with them. Zone can be contacted on (Contact Details).
Finally, anyone dabbling in multimedia authoring might be interested in a MPC CD-ROM from Media Design Interactive (MDI) based in Farnham (Surrey). The disc is called Grooves and contains 90 'royalty free' music clips that can be included in your own multimedia productions. The music is stored in both digital audio and normal CD audio format, which means that you can actually play the disc on a standard stereo music CD player, though MDI suggest you skip the first track. If the disk is used in an MPC CD-ROM drive then you get a natty little audio juke box — complete with Wurlitzer logo—to audition the music, looping the tracks if you want. One interesting feature is the ability to save the tracks as a .WAV file, although the quality is rather 'lo fi' (22kHz, 8-bit mono samples). Of course there's nothing to stop you recording the CD audio on your 16-bit audio card if you want a higher quality or stereo. The only additional feature I would have liked to have seen would be General MIDI versions of the tracks. Grooves is a bit pricey at £99 pounds, but at least it saves you any hassles you might have with getting permission to use copyright material. Contact Optech on (Contact Details) for more details.
Feature by Brian Heywood
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