There was a time, not so long ago, when it was often necessary to explain to confused newcomers to music technology that, though they could usefully compare a sequencer program to a multitrack tape recorder, it was not possible to record audio with a computer-based sequencer. Now, of course, the situation is rather more complex: you can, given the right package and external hardware, use your sequencer for audio recording, treating audio just like MIDI data, and this remarkable facility has fired the imaginations of studio musicians at all levels.
US software house Opcode were the first to offer audio tracks, in conjunction with Digidesign audio cards on the Apple Mac platform, with their ground-breaking Studio Vision software. The major competitors have followed suit, and now most of the available programs can also work with the A/V capabilities of most Macs, without Digidesign hardware. Studio Vision, Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Performer, and Emagic's Logic Audio also work with the Yamaha CBX series hard disk systems, which are available as stand-alone units controlled by the Mac software.
The first MIDI + Audio sequencer available for Pro Tools III and TDM systems was Digital Performer 1.6, the only choice for Pro Tools III/TDM users until the other packages actually became available with the necessary support in the last quarter of 1995. The Performer MIDI sequencer reigned supreme on the Macintosh until Studio Vision came along and made inroads with professionals working on film music and records. Logic and Steinberg's Cubase came to the Mac much more recently, but are now seriously rivalling their more established Mac-based competitors. Vision is now very similar to Performer in the way it works, while the German packages, Cubase and Logic, are very similar to each other in concept, yet different in several ways from their American counterparts. In the USA, Japan and Australia, Vision vies with Performer for the No. 1 spot, while here in Europe, Cubase is probably the most widely-used sequencer, taking into account Atari and PC versions, while Logic is probably the most popular sequencer on the Mac.
As far as the audio versions of these sequencers are concerned, your choice probably depends mostly on which sequencer interface you prefer, as the digital audio features are broadly similar across the various packages, though more significant differences are starting to appear: waveform editing facilities have appeared within some of the programs, as have timestretching and pitchshifting, Audio-to-MIDI, MIDI-to-Audio, much better tempo control features, sync to QuickTime video, and so forth.
All current audio versions now include TDM support. TDM allows you to route your audio both within the system, and in and out of the system via your hardware interface(s), and offers up to 48 tracks of digital audio. An important feature is the ability to use software plug-ins for TDM, and a number of these have already appeared from Digidesign, Waves, Steinberg and others. These plug-ins are the software equivalent of studio outboard gear and include delays, harmonisers, compressors, equalisers, and so on.
One of the main points of comparison for me, when looking at the four main audio sequencers, has to be the look and feel of the user interface. Other comparable features include the audio editing windows, the mixing features, the automation features, whether or not you can automate plug-ins, what DSP features are included, and the tempo control features. I'll be addressing all these points for each package.
For a start, you definitely need a large-screen Mac for using any of these programs, or, better still, two screens. As far as RAM is concerned, I'd recommend not less than 24Mb, and 48Mb would be better, especially if you're using several TDM plug-ins, though you could get by with 16Mb on a Quadra 650 if you're not doing anything too fancy. PowerMacs are more demanding as far as RAM is concerned, but when native versions of the current software is released, the extra speed increase is sure to be worth it.
The next consideration is PCI, a new standard buss system used by the latest PowerMacs, the 8500 and the 9500, in place of the NuBus system used in prior models. All the Digidesign cards use NuBus, but it is possible to buy a Digidesign-compatible NuBus expansion chassis from a company called Second Wave, which connects to these new models using a PCI card (if you want to use a NuBus digital video system, however, you should be aware that Radius VideoVision Studio does not work in the NuBus-to-PCI expansion chassis). Digidesign have announced that they will be producing PCI versions of their hardware from around the first quarter of 1996 and that there will be a crossgrade path for Pro Tools III users for one year following the launch of the PCI versions.
This change to PCI slots poses a problem if you are intending to buy a new Mac system or upgrade an existing one today. From many points of view you will want to choose the latest technology (PCI) but if you already have NuBus cards, or plan to buy a NuBus-based Pro Tools III system, these will not work in PCI slots. The best solution is probably to buy a Second Wave chassis, although this will add something like £1000 to your budget!
Yet another decision to make is which hardware to use for your audio. If you need 16 tracks or more, there's no choice -- you need Pro Tools III with its two NuBus cards. You may well need additional DSP Farms if you want to run more than a couple of TDM plug-ins, and you may want to integrate a Lexicon NuVerb and a SampleCell II card into your system via TDM. If you want to use PostView for random access working to video, you'll also need a digital video card. For the highest quality here, you will also need a SCSI accelerator card and an array drive system specially for the digital video. You might easily need seven or more NuBus cards with such a system, so you would have to use either a Digidesign 12-slot or a Second Wave 4- or 8-slot NuBus expansion chassis.
The original Pro Tools 4-channel system is still available, and you can always add a DSP Farm with TDM to this. For existing users who are happy with just four tracks of audio, this makes a lot of sense. Below this, you might use Sound Tools II or AudioMedia II, but you cannot use TDM with these, which means you can't run TDM plug-ins.
For some users, the Yamaha CBX-D3/5 digital audio systems provide a cost-effective option, and if you're working to a tight budget, the Apple Sound Manager will give you 16-bit audio capabilities running on any PowerMac, PowerBook 500, Quadra 840 or 660 AV models. What you'll miss using the Sound Manager is the professional audio interface with its multiple high-quality analogue audio input and output connectors, and (more importantly for some) the ability to bring in your audio digitally, process it, then send it out digitally to a DAT recorder or whatever. I'm waiting for some on the ball manufacturer to bring out a more professional audio interface with high-quality analogue and digital inputs and outputs for the PowerMac, which could surely be designed quite cheaply to interface to the DAV (digital audio and video) socket on these models.
So which package should you go for? I am starting to appreciate each program for what it does best, and your choice will, to some extent, depend on your project.
Digital Performer is the least expensive at around £600, followed by Logic Audio at £650. Cubase Audio and Studio Vision both cost around £800, but if you add in the Logic Audio extensions for TDM and A/V this brings the cost of Logic up to about £875. However, Logic Audio only needs the AV extension if you want to run the Digidesign hardware at the same time as using the computer's own sound system to add more tracks. If you just want to use one or the other, you only need the basic software.
The MIDI-to-Audio, Audio-to-MIDI, and Fit Tempo options are examples of the major new features on offer in this round of upgrades, and are most neatly implemented in Studio Vision. However, the things you can do now in Logic Audio with its Digital Factory, and which you will be able to do in Cubase Audio 2.5 with its Edit in Time Domain features, are also extremely innovative. If PowerMac native code is a priority for you, Logic Audio is probably the best bet at the moment.
For many users, the most attractive and effective user interface will be high on their list of priorities, and in this department Digital Performer scores extremely high, closely followed by Studio Vision. Logic Audio wins plenty of points for its innovative screensets, which really help you to manage your screens, and make it much more feasible to work on smaller screens if you simply can't get your hands on the large monitors you ideally need to use with these programs. Cubase is in a process of transition, but still has a long way to go before it can outshine the others in the graphics department. For some, the inclusion of waveform editing and comprehensive scoring capabilities will make Logic Audio or Cubase Audio the more attractive choices. All of the packages except Digital Performer now include advanced DSP functions, but if you can afford to wait for these, MOTU are working on their next major upgrade, which will certainly include many similar features.
Digital Performer works with Pro Tools III/TDM, DAE, and Yamaha CBX-series digital audio systems -- but not with the Apple Sound Manager A/V. Daniel Rose of MOTU explained: "We decided to focus on the high-end with Pro Tools III compatibility, rather than on the lower end A/V stuff. You get sync problems on slower models like the PowerMac 7100s, and even when you use 'strip silence' in some of the rival programs, stuff drifts out of sync the further you go along your music. Most of our market is high-end, so A/V is a lower priority for us."
LOOK AND FEEL:
Every screen and dialogue box in Digital Performer uses colour in a unique way to create an extremely pleasing 3D look. After hours of staring at the screen you really come to appreciate this! In my opinion, the program's editing features are also particularly easy to learn and use. For instance, new options in 'Split Notes' let you quickly take a combined drum track and split each drum to its own track. You can split individual pitches or set a key range and split performances into multiple tracks, which is great for real working situations.
Digital Performer uses MOTU's own FreeMIDI system which is, broadly speaking, a similar concept to Opcode's OMS, with which there is a basic level of compatibility. FreeMIDI gives you powerful control over your MIDI rig with its auto-configuration and device management, and lets you synchronise timing with other FreeMIDI applications such as Mosaic, FreeStyle and Unisyn.
The notation facilities are OK, and work well enough as a guide for editing MIDI data. Data can also be displayed as a score, which can be printed out, but Digital Performer's scoring is simply no match for what you get in Cubase or Logic, let alone a dedicated scoring program.
These are first rate, and are currently supplied in soft-bound books rather than in ring-binders as they used to be. The excellent 'Getting Started' manual provides a highly-illustrated and very readable overview, with useful tutorials. Just about every feature is described in detail in the 750-page Reference Manual, and the Digital Audio features are described separately in the Guide to Digital Audio.
In the multitrack audio editing window, you can select any combination of audio tracks to view and edit simultaneously -- from a single track to your entire arrangement. Volume, pan and loop information can be superimposed on top of the audio waveforms, and you can scrub through your digital audio to find exact cues. However, you cannot set Q-points as in Cubase and Logic Audio, and there is no Waveform editing window, so you have to use Sound Designer II for detailed edits.
MIXING AND AUTOMATION:
The new Mixing Board window is well-designed and lets you show or hide any combination of MIDI and digital audio tracks. You can even create automation groups with any fader as the master, and it's possible to operate the faders remotely with any MIDI controller. MIDI real-time output processing effects, such as compression/limiting and transposition, are also now available from pop-up menus in each MIDI mixer channel.
Up to 48 tracks of audio are available with Pro Tools III (up to 64 inputs/outputs), and there is complete TDM compatibility, so you can insert TDM plug-ins via the effects inserts in the Mixing Board window. You can automate mixdowns with virtual faders and knobs to control volume and pan (but not mutes), and effortlessly create fader automation groups with any fader as the master. Each track has its own solo, mute and automation enable/disable buttons, and you can also take snapshots of the Mixing Board settings to save scenes.
You can insert up to five plug-ins into each channel, although you won't really be able to use more than a couple unless you invest in additional DSP farms -- you'll need at least one extra to get anything but the most basic mixing facility set up if you intend to make use of plug-ins.
It is not possible to create master stereo output faders, although you can use mono, mono-to-stereo, or stereo TDM plug-ins. The TDM plug-ins are shown as one list with mono-to-mono and mono-to-stereo, rather than conveniently split into two groups as in Logic Audio. By default, audio tracks are mono and are panned across the output pair assigned to the track in the Tracks window. If you choose either a mono-to-stereo or a stereo effect, the track's output becomes stereo. Another missing feature is aux sends, which would allow you to send from any group of channels to one plug-in effect -- allowing you to make more efficient use of your available DSP power.
As far as plug-in compatibility is concerned, Crystal River Engineering's ProTron was the only plug-in which failed -- and, unfortunately for MOTU, only with Digital Performer. Plug-ins and effects cannot be automated in DP 1.6, although automation is planned for future versions. The program does provide access to the built-in EQ facilities of AudioMedia II and non-TDM Pro Tools systems.
Digital Performer 1.6 does not feature any digital signal processing as yet, although pitch shifting and timestretching are planned for the next version.
Neither of these features is included in the current version.
You can scale the time or tempo of your MIDI sequences using simple to operate region commands. You can also use the Change Tempo command to create ritards and accelerandos, or to randomise tempo.
Using the Record Beats command, you can tap out a series of MIDI notes in time with the digital audio, and then produce a tempo map from this information, which will match the tempo variations in the audio -- as long as you tap accurately enough.
MIDI MACHINE CONTROL:
MIDI Machine control is available for ADAT, DA88, RD8, Akai DR4D or other MMC-compatible recorders. This lets you operate transports, record-enable tracks, and even set auto punch-in and pre-roll times. It is fast and effortless in use, and worked perfectly with my ADAT via the Steinberg ACI.
You can open and view synchronised QuickTime movies directly, for complete random-access control over MIDI, audio and video. You can even Scrub or Frame advance/reverse videos to find specific hits. This lets you quickly place sound effects and timed musical hits without worrying about numbers or hardware synchronisers.
Not available yet.
£ Digital Performer 1.6 £599; registered Performer users (any version) can upgrade to DP 1.6 for £249; registered DP users (version 1.4) can upgrade to DP 1.6 for £136. Prices include VAT.
A MusicTrack, PO Box 4, Arlesey, Bedfordshire SG15 6AA.
T 01462 733310.
F 01462 733390.
Like Logic Audio, Studio Vision Pro is compatible with the entire Digidesign range of digital audio cards, plus the Yamaha CBX-D3/D5, and the Apple Sound Manager -- so it'll give you 16-bit audio capabilities running on any PowerMac, PowerBook 500, Quadra 840 or 660 AV models. This range of functionality is included in the standard software, unlike with Logic Audio, where you pay extra for different modules to 'talk' to different hardware. Studio Vision can also play both 44.1 and 22.05kHz audio via Sound Manager -- unlike Cubase Audio, which is restricted to 44.1kHz. You get at least eight tracks of audio using the Sound Manager on a PowerMac 8100, and you need System 7.5 for best results.
LOOK AND FEEL:
Studio Vision makes good use of colour and attractive graphic design, but this has not yet been implemented in all the windows and dialogue boxes. The Markers implementation is still not quite as neat as in Performer for me, although the graphic editing windows seem better designed and more responsive at times.
Studio Vision integrates extremely well with Opcode's Galaxy Editor/Librarians and OMS 2.0 -- which allows you to choose the synth patches currently in your synth rig from within Studio Vision, as well as the synth you want to use. This is much better than having to type in the MIDI channel and interface port, and a program change number for the patch, as you had to do previously.
The notation editing works very well, and is very easy to read, although the printing features are not as advanced as those in the rival programs.
These are almost as good as Performer's and, again, are supplied in soft-bound books rather than the ring-binders originally used. Getting Started with Vision provides an excellent step-by-step tutorial, but is not as comprehensive as Performer's. The 350 pages in the MIDI Reference Manual are well written and laid out, but not as detailed as Performer's, while the Audio Reference Manual is somewhat more detailed -- perhaps because Studio Vision currently has more audio features than Digital Performer.
The graphic audio edit window allows you to view a waveform in more detail than you can in the Arrange window, but does not provide anywhere near as much detail as the Waveform edit windows in Cubase and Logic Audio. Nevertheless, this is fine for most of the straightforward cut and paste edits which you will do regularly. However, you cannot set Q-points as in Cubase and Logic Audio, and you have to use Sound Designer II for detailed edits.
Studio Vision does not make it as easy as with Digital Performer or Cubase Audio to view all your audio waveforms in one window for ease of editing. You can do this, but you have to copy or cut and paste all the audio tracks into one merged track. This is less convenient than in Digital Performer, where all the audio tracks are immediately visible for editing from within any single audio track, or in Cubase Audio where you can open an audio editor window with all the audio tracks on display.
MIXING AND AUTOMATION:
One of the neatest new features is the flexible Mixing Consoles with recordable automation for both MIDI and audio tracks. You can display these in wide or narrow formats to suit your available screen area. Both console styles feature automatic volume and pan setup, and either one can be brought up in a snap by using the 'Make From Selected Tracks' command.
The mixing consoles feature faders for volume, and pan, including EQ control for Digidesign DAE (even without TDM). Any fader is easily assignable to any MIDI controller, and there are mute and solo buttons as well as LED-style level indicators -- showing volume for audio, velocity for MIDI -- plus all the control features that were available in earlier faders including remote control and assigning of any fader to any controller. You can record fader and pan movements as MIDI controller data, and to create snaphots of your mixing board you can simply copy all the fader data to the clipbboard and paste this into a MIDI track. Unfortunately, you cannot record mutes.
You can use up to four TDM inserts per track; TDM plug-ins are shown in pop-up menus. Only the mono in/mono out plug-ins show up in the pop-up menu lists, unlike with the other sequencers, where mono in/stereo out plug-ins are also shown. As with Digital Performer, you don't get any aux sends, or master faders for the Pro Tools III/TDM mix outputs. You cannot automate plug-ins in Studio Vision.
There are various new non-real-time Opcode DSP functions you can apply to any audio file from within Studio Vision. When you apply any of these functions, a new file will be created, rather than overwriting the original file. These DSP functions don't require a 56000 DSP chip, so they will work on an A/V Mac, for instance, without a Digidesign audio board.
The new features include Pitch Shift, and Time Compression or Expansion. Pitch Shift changes the pitch of the audio without changing the time, while Time Scale changes the time (longer or shorter) of the audio and not the pitch. You can set Time Compression and Expansion musically (bars and beats or SMPTE time), and you can set the Pitch Shift simply by changing from, say, D to, say, F#.
So if you have a drum loop you wish to have running for four bars at 127 bpm, simply set the sequence tempo to 127, select the audio, choose Time Scale from the DSP menu, type in '4' as the number of bars, and save a new file to run at this tempo -- magic! You might also want to transpose your MIDI sequence up and make the audio match. It's always been easy to change the MIDI data, but now you can have the same control over your digital audio.
You also get most of the DSP functions provided in Sound Designer II, including Normalise, Reverse, Invert Phase, Sample Rate Convert, EQ, Dynamics, and Fade In/Out.
The new Audio-to-MIDI function turns a monophonic digital audio recording of a single musical voice into MIDI pitch and volume data, along with accurate pitchbend and modulation (for velocity and brightness) information. Even better, you can use the MIDI-to-Audio feature to apply these edits to the original audio file! This feature is not found on any other software, and you can use it to fix an out of tune note, change the pitches in a melody, double a part with MIDI, or even create a harmony of the melody -- amazing!
Adjust to Tempo is yet another new feature unique to Opcode. This makes it possible for the user to create a ritard or accelerando in a MIDI sequence and then have the digital audio follow it by adjusting its tempo to the MIDI sequence's tempo map. Alternatively, you can simply take a track with wavering metrical time and fix it at a certain tempo.
Studio Vision also features easy-to-use tempo controls for MIDI data, similar to Performer's, including Scale Time, Change Tempo and Reclock, although the options available here are not as comprehensive.
MIDI MACHINE CONTROL:
The A/V controls are not quite as well integrated as in the other programs, although they are pretty comprehensive, and well explained in the manual. The A/V controls window is a separate application program, and its window goes behind any open Studio Vision windows. This can be a problem if you need to use up a lot of your available screen area with Studio Vision windows, as you will not be able to keep watching the A/V controls window unless you reduce the size of a Studio Vision window.
QuickTime video support is not as well-integrated in Studio Vision. You have to use a separate application, the OMS Movie Player, which you need to synchronise with Studio Vision using OMS's Inter-Application Communication feature. You have to set up this sync before opening the movie using the player, start Studio Vision playing and then click on the OMS Movie Player window to bring it to the front.
PowerMac native software is not available yet.
£ Studio Vision £799 inc VAT and Galaxy librarian.
A MCMXCIX, 9 Hatton Street, London NW8 8PR.
T 0171 723 7221.
F 0171 723 8150.
Originally, Cubase's audio features required you to use one of the range of Digidesign NuBus-based systems (Sound Tools or Pro Tools). Now you can choose to work with an A/V or PowerMac, as these models can handle 44.1 kHz, 16-bit audio pretty well via Apple's Sound Manager software. This Sound Manager support has been implemented using native PowerPC code, and allows you to play back up to 16 tracks of digital audio on the PowerMacs. You can only play 44.1kHz audio via the Sound Manager, and there is no support for the Yamaha CBX-series hardware.
LOOK AND FEEL:
For this review, I had a beta release of the forthcoming version 3.0, which should be available by the end of the year. Colour is featured as part of the user interface for the first time -- and to very good effect. You can now assign colours to the parts in the edit windows, and even to the different velocities displayed in the graphic edit window. Different coloured backgrounds are also now available. However, there are plenty of windows and features which remain from the very first versions of Cubase -- featuring the graphics originally designed for the Atari, though Steinberg seem to be changing this gradually.
The OMS 2.0 support allows you to use Opcode's Galaxy synth editor/librarian software with Cubase just as you would with Studio Vision. This is a good way to go, in my opinion, as I believe Galaxy is the best software in this category, and it's been around so long that many people have their libraries in Galaxy format.
Cubase Score has the best music scoring features available within any MIDI sequencer package, and Score users will be interested to know that all Score functionality is included in Cubase Audio 3.0. So, for instance, you can export files in EPS or Illustrator 88 formats, for editing in a DTP program, and you get grace notes, polyphony, cue notes, cross-staff beaming, guitar notation, drum notation, automatic layout features and much more. For guitarists, it's easy to turn a score immediately into tablature, and you can even play your music in and watch the notes appear as such!
Steinberg supply a soft-bound Getting Started with Cubase manual which is similar to and almost as good as Digital Performer's. The main Cubase manual is supplied in a ring-binder, and is very similar to Logic's manuals, but with the audio section as an addendum. There's room for improvement here.
You can edit your audio on three different levels within Cubase Audio. Just as with MIDI data, audio is represented as Parts in the Arrangement page, and the same tools edit both MIDI data and audio. For more detailed editing, double-click on the part to enter the Audio Editor. On an 'Any' track you can view and control audio material for all 16 channels in one window, and here all editing is non-destructive. Audio is represented as a waveform and for each audio part handles are provided to allow 'masking' and 'unmasking' of audio. You can also set up Q-points, extremely useful when placing audio to particular beats or SMPTE locations. Volume can be edited and is represented in an envelope form, which is easy to change. From the Audio Editor you can click on the audio display to open a Waveform Editor which lets you zoom in to a very high level for detailed, destructive editing, as in Sound Designer II.
MIXING AND AUTOMATION:
You can create your own mixer maps to get total recall mixing, but this is rather fiddly. Mixer map templates are supplied, which offer mixing for Digidesign audio cards as well as control of external MIDI devices, but these are just not as well-implemented as the mixing consoles available in the other programs. This seemed to be the weakest part of Cubase Audio compared to the competition.
Cubase Audio's TDM page is a radical departure from the implementation of TDM support in the other packages. In all the other programs, you're provided with a mixing console which is quite similar to the one in the Pro Tools III software, with inserts on each mixer channel which you use to set up your plug-ins. In Cubase Audio there's a separate TDM page with a graphical 'patchbay', with inputs and outputs from your interface to Cubase Audio's mixer. You use the pen tool to draw in your routings, and drag your plug-ins from a list on screen, which includes all types of plug-ins, including mono-to-mono, mono-to-stereo, and stereo-to-stereo. With your connections made, you can open up a mixing console with 16 faders for the channels, plus two for the stereo outputs. Automating plug-ins is possible -- if you're comfortable setting up custom mixer maps -- but I didn't have too much luck with this using the beta software. Overall, this system in Cubase Audio is nowhere near as neatly implemented as with the other programs, and the TDM page really should be much better integrated with the functions of the mixer maps.
Interestingly, Steinberg have recently launched several plug-ins themselves, including their Virtual FX Rack (a collection of five effects including autopanning, chorus and reverb), and the De-Clicker. These work very well, look great, and are quite reasonably priced.
As with Studio Vision and Logic Audio, Cubase provides several of the DSP functions present in Sound Designer II, including Normalise, Reverse, Invert Phase, Sample Rate Convert, EQ, Dynamics, and Fade In/Out. You access these from the Waveform Editor's 'Do' menu, and basic time and pitch correction audio editing plug-ins are also now included here. For more advanced time compression and pitch shifting, there is an option to sub-launch Steinberg's Time Bandit software.
These features are not included in Cubase Audio.
Cubase, like all the other sequencers, will let you tap out a MIDI track in time with your audio using 'Human Sync', and construct a tempo map from this. However, this is quite fiddly, and not always totally successful. If you want to speed up or slow down an audio track which runs at constant tempo to match your sequence tempo, you could always transfer to Time Bandit and timestretch this to fit. The problem here is that often the audio is varying in tempo.
Cubase Audio 3.0 now provides a new 'Edit in Time Domain' feature in the MasterTrack Editor, which allows you to analyse your audio to create a series of hit points which correspond to the main beats in a drumtrack, for instance. After matching up the analysed hit points with the bars and beats in the MasterTrack Editor, you can then calculate a Tempo map automatically, and this works far better than using the original Human Sync feature. If, on the other hand, you prefer to match up your digital audio to an existing Tempo Map, this can be done with the new built-in timestretch facility, which automatically calculates the degree of stretching required throughout the file. The MasterTrack Editor also lets you use the hitpoints to match time positions to meter positions, so you can make a musical cue fit exactly to picture. You can also create ritardandi and accelerandi, or change the tempi to fit a particular cue, and the Auto Tempo Scan feature lets you find the best tempo match to a series of hitpoints.
Another useful feature for working to picture is the ability to 'time-lock' tracks. Once a track is locked you can change the tempo of the sequencer and the locked events will stay at the same positions time-wise. Using this feature, you can create multiple tempi within the same sequence, so cue one plays at one tempo, and while this is fading out, you can insert a tempo change where the next cue begins without affecting the tempo of the first cue. These features give Cubase Audio probably the best control over tempo available within any of these programs.
MIDI MACHINE CONTROL:
ADAT users will probably be interested in a neat little device which came with the demo system: the Steinberg ADAT computer interface (ACI) lets you hook up the ADAT's digital sync inputs and outputs to it, and you connect a pair of MIDI In and Out cables from the ACI to your MIDI interface, to carry MIDI Machine Control (MMC) messages to and from the ACI. This way you can control the transport functions of an ADAT using Cubase Audio's transport controls -- a great convenience. The ACI also worked perfectly with all the other sequencers.
There is a standard QuickTime display window with Cubase, and you can synchronise your audio and MIDI to this, as with Digital Performer and Logic Audio.
A PowerMac version of Cubase Audio is not available as yet.
£ Cubase Audio £799; Time Bandit £329; ADAT Computer Interface £349; VFX Rack £249; DeClicker £799. Prices inc VAT. Time Bandit will be bundled free with Cubase Audio as a limited special offer for around three months after the release.
A Harman Audio, Unit 2, Borehamwood Industrial Park, Rowley Lane, Borehamwood WD6 5PZ.
T 0181 207 5050.
F 0181 207 4572
Logic Audio is supplied as a basic version for a lower price than the other packages, and you pay extra for extensions to work with your hardware. If you buy Logic Audio off the shelf, you can either use the DAE, which supports all the Digidesign hardware except Pro Tools III or TDM, or just the A/V capabilities of your Mac. You can't work with A/V and DAE simultaneously with this version. Now Emagic offer TDM, CBX, and A/V extensions, the latter of which allows the use of both DAE and A/V at the same time. To use TDM and A/V at the same time you need both TDM and A/V extensions. And if you buy the CBX extension you can run tracks from all three at once! The idea is that someone who doesn't have Pro Tools III shouldn't pay for something they can't use.
LOOK AND FEEL:
The general 'look' of the screens is OK in Logic and, I feel, rather better than in Cubase. However, you have to 'dig' pretty deep to access quite a number of the features you might want to use quite frequently, and the sub-menus and Environment page features can take some time to explore thoroughly. On the other hand, everything 'feels' very responsive, just about everything works in real time (saving files, editing data, and so forth) and the screens redraw very quickly -- which really adds a lot of pluses for Logic. The program also allows you to name your instrument patches in the Environment page, so you can call up any patch by instrument and patch name.
Logic's screensets have to be one of the neatest user interface enhancements around. You can store and recall up to 90 different configurations of your windows onscreen, and you can recall any screenset by hitting the numerical keys, so that one set of windows closes while the new set opens 'automatically' -- and very quickly too. This is a real time-saver compared with the other programs, where you have to laboriously open and arrange your different sets of windows for different purposes 'manually' every time.
Logic is OMS compatible, but this doesn't extend to allowing you to use Galaxy for your synthesizer
and patch names within Logic as yet -- although it should do with OMS 2.0. However, Logic can handle basic patch and instrument names already, in addition to remembering which bank change commands are required by the different instruments.
Like Opcode and MOTU, Emagic have their own Sound Surfer and Sound Diver synth editor/librarian software. Both communicate with Logic via Emagic's own AutoLink function, which allows you to suck all the sounds out of your synth, create a multi-instrument within Logic, then paste the appropriate names into the multi-instrument so that you're always using the right sounds. Diver also allows you to edit your synth sounds while Logic is playing in the background.
Logic's notation is similar to Cubase's, but not quite as full-featured. Nevertheless, if scoring is important to you, Logic Audio is a better choice than Studio Vision or Digital Perfomer.
One manual comes with the Logic sequencer and one with Logic Audio, both of which fit into a single binder. These are an incredible improvement on previous versions, which were far from satisfactory. Even so, there's still room for improvement.
When using a graphic editor for an audio track in Logic, only one track at a time can be viewed -- unlike with the other programs, which can display all the audio tracks simultaneously. This is not as disastrous an omission as it sounds, though, because zooming in sufficiently in the Arrange window reveals about the same amount of detail as provided by the other program's audio edit windows. As with Cubase Audio, you can double-click on any audio in the Audio edit window to open up a Waveform edit window which offers features similar to Sound Designer II. One very useful feature is looping of sections of audio.
MIXING AND AUTOMATION:
For mixing, an Environment page with 16 channels is provided for control of Pro Tools III audio tracks, and there are four master faders to control the four pairs of stereo outputs from the Pro Tools III hardware. You can insert stereo TDM plug-ins across these outputs -- each channel features two inserts for TDM plug-ins, plus two aux sends. You can, of course, create additional audio mixing channels to handle the aux returns. Although you can solo and mute tracks in the Arrange window, I really missed dedicated Solo and Mute buttons on these mixing channel strips. However, this is a small point compared with the fact that none of the other software features aux sends -- although you can work round this, albeit rather clumsily, in Cubase Audio by creating a second mixer in the TDM page. On the whole, Logic Audio's mixer is attractively designed, works well, and currently offers more functionality than any of its competitors.
Up to two plug-ins per channel are allowed, and the pop-up menu of TDM plug-ins is conveniently split into mono-to-mono and mono-to-stereo groups. Mix automation, including plug-in automation, is a breeze. Running GRM Tools, for instance, within Logic Audio, you simply put one of the MIDI tracks into record, move the faders on the GRM Tools plug-in, and Logic will record the GRM Tools' fader movements as controller data. This lets you do MIDI-controlled filter sweeps, and so on.
As with Cubase Audio, Logic Audio allows you to use the all the basic Sound Designer II- style DSP functions from within the Waveform edit window. You also get several impressive functions within the 'Digital Factory'. These are all non-real-time processes which create new files; unlike with TDM plug-ins, you cannot hear the results until you've created the new files, though you can process data while still playing a sequence.
Functions include the Time Machine for time compression/expansion and pitch shifting, and the Groove machine and Quantize Engine for rhythm. The Groove machine allows you to apply swing feels to existing audio, and the Quantize engine allows you to apply any available quantise value to your audio. Though these start to sound odd if you go too far, they are extremely effective and have a far greater useful range than you might expect.
Two newly-added, and unique, features are the Audio Energizer and the Silencer. The Audio Energizer increases the perceived volume of the audio through the use of peak limiting while altering the sound as little as possible (something like the effect of driving an analogue tape machine into saturation, leading to some compression and distortion of the sound which can be subjectively pleasing).
The Silencer offers Spike Reduction, which helps eliminate clicks and pops, and Noise Reduction, a noise filter which cleans up mostly high-frequency noise components in the audio.
Audio-to-MIDI Groove lets you analyse audio and use it to make a MIDI groove template. You can then apply this to any MIDI data using the Quantize feature, effectively extracting the 'feel' from the audio.
Audio-to-Score lets you turn monophonic audio into MIDI sequences, which you can use to double the audio using MIDI instruments, or print out as a musical score.
The Tempo control options in Logic have been thoroughly updated, and now include Randomize, Scale Tempo, Create Tempo Curve, Stretch Existing Tempo Curve, Create Constant Tempo, and Thin Out Existing Tempo Changes. You get both list and graphic edit windows for the tempo, so it is easy to draw in accelerandi or ritardandi, and a Reclock feature is also available -- with or without the use of a guide sequence.
MIDI MACHINE CONTROL:
MMC is supported, and all the transport controls send out the standard MMC commands. With MMC selected in Preferences, the transport bar no longer functions as a transport bar; instead, it automatically turns on Auto-Sync In, and the sync light comes on. Pressing Play on the transport sends out the MMC command to the connected multitrack, which goes into Play and sends out timecode. Logic picks up the timecode and starts. This all works well with an ADAT and Steinberg ACI. You can use multiple ADATs, although you really need a BRC for this, and many functions of the BRC can be controlled using an Environment template supplied for this purpose.
QuickTime video files can be opened within Logic Audio, and MIDI and audio can be synchronised to video to give random access to all three while producing music to picture.
PowerPC-native Logic was due for release on October 1st, with a minimal crossgrade charge. Native Logic Audio should be out before the end of the year. The code has been totally re-written to be significantly faster, unlike some of the competitors, which are PowerPC-compatible without being 100% native.
£ Logic MIDI Sequencer £399; Audio Module £299; Package £649; TDM Extension £149; CBX Extension £75; A/V Extension £75. Prices inc VAT.
A Sound Technology, Letchworth Point, Letchworth, Herts SG6 1ND.
T 01462 480000.
F 01462 480800.
An important part of any MIDI + Audio system is the hard disks. I'm using the latest Micropolis A/V models, which are compatible with all the Digidesign systems, but not every drive available works with every Digidesign system, so check carefully before parting with your money. Similarly, don't assume that your existing drives will necessarily work with any new system like Pro Tools III.
Backup systems are essential with digital audio. I back up to a normal audio DAT using Digidesign's DATa utility, which also stores the computer data on the tape. I also use removable optical disks. Another option is to use a computer DAT backup drive, or, for professionals, the more expensive Exabyte drive is a good choice. Grey Matter Response offer their Mezzo software, which lets you download and upload digital audio to and from removable media like DAT or Exabyte in the background while you continue your editing work in the foreground. Removable hard disk and CD-R drives can also be attractive, especially as prices are coming down rapidly.
The Open MIDI System was developed by Opcode to make MIDI connections and routing simpler for musicians using the Macintosh. OMS acts as a central MIDI driver to communicate with MIDI hardware via a standard serial port connection, and provides professional quality timing services (developed by Steinberg and Opcode) for synchronising events.
Using the OMS Setup application, you specify which MIDI devices are attached to your MIDI interface, which MIDI channels they can receive on, whether they can send or receive synchronisation data, which socket (or port) each MIDI device is connected to (in the case of of a multi-port interface), and so on. OMS also allows you to route MIDI and sync data between two or more OMS-compatible applications running at the same time on your Mac.
Having completed the procedure described above, next time you ran an OMS-compatible MIDI sequencer, you would be able to make a list of all the devices in your MIDI setup available for use within your sequencer. Then, for instance, instead of having to choose, say, MIDI output port 3 on your interface and MIDI channel 1 for your DX7 on a particular sequencer track, you simply specify that a particular sequencer track will play your DX7! This is much better than having to try to remember which device is on which port and channel, as you have to do with non-OMS-compatible sequencers.
Another great feature of OMS is the ability to use a patch editor/librarian such as Opcode's popular Galaxy, to 'interrogate' your MIDI devices and have them send all their patch data via MIDI to your Mac. Once in the computer, you can save your patches onto disk, so you might have a file for your DX7 patches, another for your Proteus, and so on. This is very convenient, as you may want to change the sounds in your instrument's user-memory locations tomorrow, and come back to your current project another day.
OMS allows fully-compatible software, such as Opcode's Vision sequencer, to 'Subscribe' to a Galaxy file so that the list of patch names for a device will be made available for use within the sequencer software, just as OMS Setup data is made available to the sequencer. Now, instead of entering a MIDI Program Change number, you can select the patches in your instrument by name.
Third-party manufacturers like Steinberg, Digidesign, Passport Designs, Roland, Lexicon, Mackie, and Emagic are adopting OMS in increasing numbers -- although there is a similar system available from Mark Of The Unicorn, called the FreeMIDI System. This only works with MOTU products, and no other third-party manufacturers that I am aware of have implemented FreeMIDI as yet.
Yet another MIDI system with some similarities is Apple's own MIDI Manager software, which allows routing of MIDI data between MIDI Manager-compatible applications and to external devices. This software is not as efficient or as full-featured as the Opcode or MOTU systems, and is not normally recommended for professional work.
There have been some (very sensible) suggestions that Apple, Opcode, MOTU, and all the third-party MIDI software manufacturers should agree on one system to be adopted by all, to provide proper compatibility between all Macintosh MIDI software, perhaps with Apple providing the base level of this with a re-written MIDI Manager, and others providing the higher levels of functionality.
In line with this suggestion, Opcode recently announced that they have agreed to incorporate support for OMS into QuickTime, so that together, OMS and QuickTime will allow you to route QuickTime MIDI tracks to external MIDI devices. Full OMS compatibility is expected to be incorporated into QuickTime by the end of 1995. Steinberg and Emagic have also both added support for OMS, so this leaves MOTU standing outside with their FreeMIDI System.
It would be great if all the programs under examination here featured 9-pin control of professional VCRs, to facilitate more efficient working to picture -- as featured by Digidesign's PostView for Pro Tools III. With PostView you can not only work with digital video in a QuickTime window, you can also optionally synchronise to a professional Sony U-Matic (or whatever), and control the transport of the U-Matic directly from the Pro Tools transport controls. This works very similarly to MMC, with either Pro Tools or the VCR as Master sync source. Composers working to picture usually like to show their clients a first-rate video picture coming off the VCR, rather than the lower-quality digitised video coming off hard disk, while they can appreciate the benefits of random access to the video when working on the details of a music cue.
I'd also like to be able to cut and paste sections of video on video tracks alongside my MIDI and audio tracks, and then save the results as a QuickTime movie containing multiple tracks of audio (and/or MIDI) and compressed for playback either from hard disk or CD-ROM. This would really be the 'killer app' for multimedia, but is obviously irrelevant to anyone concerned only with audio!
Another major wish is for some extension to the MIDI file format to allow MIDI files to transfer information about the digital audio tracks between sequencers. I set up my demo project for this review in Logic Audio at first. Then I transferred to Digital Performer. I saved the MIDI data as a MIDI file to open in Digital Performer, but I had to import and place my audio files all over again into the Digital Performer project. In Digital Performer, I set up several Markers for the different sections, and then transferred to Cubase Audio via MIDI file again. Neither Cubase or Logic can read the Marker information which you create in Performer or Vision (or any other MIDI software), so I had to laboriously create new markers in these. Finally I transferred into Studio Vision, and again had to re-import the audio and place it correctly, although, thankfully, I was able to take the Marker information from the Performer MIDI file this time. The MIDI + Audio programmers should seriously consider adding OMF (Open Media Framework) file compatibility to their software -- maybe using a file translator, as Digidesign and OSC do. The benefit of OMF is that it allows you to transfer digital audio/video files between systems from different manufacturers, although I'm not sure whether OMF takes account of MIDI at present.