Take Me Higher
Ann Owen samples the potential of the A3000, courtesy of High-Note
With the launch of the new Archimedes A3000 RISC based technology falls within the reach of mico musicians. Is the additional software and hardware up to scratch? Ann Owen investigates.
The A3000 is pricey at £649 + VAT but already the mail order price is down to £599 + VAT and we should see further discounts in the autumn. The MIDI option can be fitted from scratch or purchased later and costs an extra £30. The A3000 supports seven position stereo sound and comes equipped with two speakers inside the case.
One of the key attractions of the A3000 is the RISC OS (pronounced Oh es!) operating system which can multitask different applications given the available RAM. The A3000 comes with 1Mbyte RAM and is upgradeable to 2Mbytes for about £200. Two bundled applications disks provide Paint (sprite and screen file editing), Draw (line art, sprites and fonts combined), Edit/wordprocessing plus excellent printer drivers including PostScript. There are also some more trivial games and utilities and a nice little music program called Maestro, which looks a bit like Deluxe Music Construction Set. In Maestro you can write your own songs using conventional notation on a stave. Maestro can make use of sampled sounds but is limited by having no printout option or MIDI facilities.
Under RISC OS and with enough memory (2Mbytes) different music applications such as High-Note and EMR's 24 Plus sequencer will be able to work together.
Acorn's OS ROM contains a few 8 bit samples but you can really go sampling with the Armadillo hardware and software combination. There are four hardware options available: eight bit mono (£130), eight bit stereo (£160) eight bit stereo with MIDI (£190) and sixteen bit sampling (£950)!
The sampling unit comes as a "podule" - Acornspeak for an addon card. There is currently room for one such card on the back of the A3000. The unit we tried out was the eight bit sampler with MIDI IN, THRU and OUT. There's a jack socket on the back of the card and a switch for microphone or line input.
The hardware is supported by the High-Note software which comes on two floppies, one acting as a "key" disk for protection purposes. The version we reviewed has been updated to act as a RISC OS application and it is difficult to fault the software. Everything happens very quickly indeed. The machine needs to be configured to have at least 750K free before High-Note will start and on one or two occasions the program complained about lack of memory to perform an option but it returned cleanly to operation without losing any data.
High-Note makes use of the RAM disc to store sample data which means that all operations take place in memory and very fast. The only disk swapping necessary is when a floppy is full of samples. High-Note will also install easily onto a hard disc. Full filing system facilities, such as copy, rename etc, are available for magnetic and RAM discs.
The desktop is remarkably easy to use. High-Note provides a number of tools (modules which appear as icons on the menu bar) with which to manipulate objects (mainly sampled data). All you have to do is bring them together by dragging icons around the desktop. For instance, to display a sample you can drag the icon representing it from the RAM disc onto the sample editor icon or you can simply double click on the sample icon which automatically opens the sample editor and loads itself!
Recording a sample involves connecting your sound source to the jack plug on the back of the podule, setting the parameters for length and resolution (quality) of the recording and selecting sample from the menu.
Once a sample has been recorded it is displayed twice in its own window, one graphical representation above the other. The top display acts as a window onto the bottom and you can zoom onto any part of the sample. Editing is done, wordprocessor style, by setting markers in the sample and performing edit functions on the "active" area. Markers can be locked into position and are usually copied with the accompanying data. Stereo samples can be created by merging two samples together at a marked point.
High-Note also provides an envelope editor in which you can "draw" the envelope shape which you wish to apply to the sample. Finally a voice setup grid assigns samples to channels. Samples can be saved in voice module form for use inside Maestro or from BASIC or machine code. Other save formats are raw data (interleave for stereo and offset), SDAF for Adit and Spectre programs and EDAF.
Samples can be played back from a MIDI instrument or from a "software keyboard" - an on screen representation of a piano keyboard which can be played from the QWERTY keys or by clicking the mouse on the screen keys.
A chunky laser-set manual provides all the background technical information and discussions of sampling technique. I didn't need to consult it much after the first read through because the software is so intuitive.
A further small point which rounds off what I think is an impressive piece of software is the flexibility. There are defaults included by the designers but you can alter and adjust almost every aspect. The samples themselves - given the right inputs - are pretty good at only eight bit resolution. Good enough to mean the Archimedes can take on the role of MIDI expander for many home-based computer musicians.
Product: High Note
Format: Acorn Archimedes
Prices: (see copy)
Supplier: Ampsound, (Contact Details)
Feature by Ann Owen
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