SEKD Samplitude Studio

PC Hard Disk Recording Software

Published in SOS November 1995
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Reviews : Computer Recording System

Keen to get into PC hard disk recording? Samplitude Studio, the top of an impressive range of programs from German manufacturers SEKD, is one of the cheaper options available -- but it's certainly not short on features. PANICOS GEORGHIADES and GABRIEL JACOBS are mightily impressed...

 

Adding to the ever-growing pile of such programs now available, Samplitude is a multitrack hard disk recording system for the PC running under Windows, manufactured by a German company called SEKD, which started life writing music software for the Amiga. SEKD stands for Studio für Elektronische Klangerzeugung Dresden, and if your German isn't up to much, that translates as Dresden Studio for Electronic Sound Processing. The original version of the program was more like a sample editor than a digital multitrack, but due to recent developments, it now also offers comprehensive multitrack hard disk recording facilities, and is available as one of the following three packages:

Samplitude Multimedia -- a 4-track system providing virtual editing and MIDI/AVI integration.

Samplitude Pro -- an 8-track system with functions as advanced as resampling and time-stretching, MIDI sample dump, and so on.

Samplitude Studio -- a 16-track system with features such as external sync and various digital filters.

It is Samplitude Studio that that is under review here, but the differences between the three versions can be seen in the 'Samplitude Versions' box.

PROJECTS

When you double-click on the program icon, Samplitude automatically opens a virtual project and puts the recording window on top of it. A project consists of one or several samples or wave files which must all have the same sampling rate, and which are always treated together as a group.

There are two types of project: physical and virtual. Physical projects are so called because every edit move is carried out on the original sound data, which can either be handled in the computer's memory (RAM), or on the hard disk. When a physical project is handled in RAM, operational speed is increased, but size is then a limitation. On the other hand, hard disk-based physical projects can be as large as the remaining free space on your hard drive, but will be handled more slowly.

Virtual projects are always handled on the hard disk, and all the edit moves are stored on a To Do-type list, while the original sound data remains intact. This is generally known as non-destructive editing. Samples in virtual projects can be processed as Objects -- an object being an image of a sample, or a range marked within a sample. The object contains no audio data itself, but is merely a reference to the physical sample stored on the hard drive.

In fact, virtual projects are the main plus point of Samplitude Studio. In a virtual project, you can use a section more than once without taking up extra memory: you simply refer to the same section of audio again.

Samplitude supports the Windows MDI (Multiple Document Interface) -- in other words, it can handle multiple projects open at the same time (up to as many as your machine can handle before it crashes).

Any number of individual recordings can be combined into complex arrangements of 1 to 16 tracks, and positioning, cutting, volume fades, crossfades, and the like are all performed without altering the original data. They are processed in real time during playback, and because the routines are in low-level assembler code, the program works quite rapidly.

Having decided which kind of project you wish to work with, you can either import sounds from existing disk files, or record them using Samplitude's Record facility. Sounds can also be imported via MIDI from an external sampler, if you wish to use Samplitude as a sample editor.

RECORDING

In order to record a sound, you first select the sample and bit rates. The program provides a monitor facility featuring VU meters with dB markings and clipping level indicators. Since Samplitude uses the Windows MCI drivers to access soundcards, you need to use your soundcard's mixer program to alter the input signal in order to get the correct level, but fortunately there's a real-time window which allows you to view the incoming waveform, making the level-setting task a bit easier. After selecting the sample and bit rates, you simply click the Record button and you're away. Recording can also be triggered via external sync from a sequencer, even with an offset setting.

Samplitude provides a setup window where you can alter the size of the recording buffers (temporary recording memory areas) to suit the power and configuration of your machine, although you only need to alter them if you have problems with recording or playback.

After recording a section and leaving the recording window, the recorded material appears as a waveform ready for playing, and editing if this is required. Samplitude provides a veritable wealth of editing features for manipulating samples or waveforms -- see the box elsewhere in this article for full details.

POSITIONING AND EDITING

As previously mentioned, once you have recorded or imported a section, or opted to work with a part of it, it becomes an object, which can be positioned within a virtual project. Such objects can be dragged and dropped using the mouse, although unconventionally for the PC, the program uses the right mouse button for many operations, so you either have to get used to using it this way, or change the default settings. A neat feature is having the choice of grid scale for tracks -- you can have either samples, milliseconds, SMPTE (at either 30, 25, or 24 frames per second), or bars and beats. Configurability doesn't stop there -- apart from screen colours, font types and sizes for various labels can also be selected.

After positioning the different sound clips in time, their levels have to be adjusted to create a mix. For this, Samplitude provides so-called 'volume rubberbands'. These are volume curves implemented by the program in real time (so, again, your original data stays intact). The program uses a variation on this theme in order to do crossfades and fades, though a fairly powerful processor, such as 486 66MHz or a Pentium, is required for this function.

Unfortunately, the same type of rubberbands are not available for panning sounds in real time in the stereo field, so the volume levels have to be adjusted in order to get the required effects, or to position sounds. This is neither intuitive nor straightforward, but nevertheless possible.

Among the most important aspects of programs such as this are the transformations and effects that can be applied to a waveform (again, see the 'Edit Functions' box for a complete list of these). Note, however, that these do constitute physical changes to the data on the hard drive.

Normally, on playback, the program mixes the data of the separate tracks from the hard disk or RAM into a stereo track in real time, and outputs this to your soundcard. If you wish to have multiple physical outputs, you need to have more than one card. This is possible in Windows, provided the card's installation procedure allows it, and doesn't delete the installations of the previous cards, in which case you may have to dabble with the Windows SYSTEM.INI file. In any case, Samplitude allows you to allocate tracks to be output on specific cards, so if you want to have simultaneous record and playback, you either have to use two or more cards (record on one while playing on the other), or a single card that allows this feature by using a specialised processor, such as the Roland RAP 10.

For managing projects, apart from the obvious Open and Save, you can rename, delete, import and export samples, and do MIDI Sample Dumps. There's also a facility to sync to MIDI or AVI files, and although the manual makes a fuss about this, consider it as a little extra rather than a main feature -- the built-in facility is pretty basic in comparison to what you get in a true multimedia presentation package.

PROCYON

If you are truly interested in synchronising MIDI to digital audio, Evolution, the suppliers of Samplitude in the UK, have provided a much better solution, called Procyon. Not only is Procyon a very good sequencer (see the mini review in the article 'Budget Sequencing on your PC', SOS October 1994), but it also includes code specifically written to interface with Samplitude, turning the two programs into a more-or-less integrated package. If you choose to run both Samplitude and Procyon at the same time, you have the option of splitting your computer screen in two, with one program running at the top, and the other at the bottom. The two programs then run linked together, even when you zoom in or move to a different position.

There are two versions of Procyon (Lite and Pro), which means that if you already have another sequencer, you could buy Procyon Lite at only £40 and just load final versions of your MIDI files simply to sync to the digital audio. If, however, you don't have a sequencer, you should certainly consider Procyon Pro, as it compares well with its competition, and weighs in at only £99.

CONCLUSION

Samplitude offers many worthwhile features, and the various options are reasonably priced compared with similar products on the market. It works well, is fast, and didn't crash once during our tests.

However, the fact that the interface doesn't follow standard Windows menu conventions is irritating, and means that you have to constantly refer to the manual, whereas most Windows programs let you get started right away. Another complaint is the lack of a more straightforward panning and sound-positioning facility -- but these are just niggles. Generally, we can highly recommend the program (and the Procyon bundle). Together, they represent one of the best deals on the market.

 

HARDWARE REQUIREMENTS

You need a minimum of a 386 PC with 4Mb of RAM, Windows 3.1, and a compatible 16-bit soundcard to run Samplitude Studio.

For real-time filter preview and volume rubberbands on more than four tracks, you need a 486 PC with a minimum clock speed of 66MHz, or a Pentium processor.

To use MIDI sample dump or to connect to MIDI devices, you must have a Windows-compatible MIDI interface.

For external sync via SMPTE, you need a special SMPTE interface, though for sync via MIDI Time Code or MIDI Clock, you can use any Windows-compatible MIDI interface.

Typical number of tracks (mono) in virtual projects:

• 386/40MHz with AT hard drive: four tracks at 32kHz
• 486/66MHz with AT hard drive: four tracks at 44kHz, six to eight tracks at 32kHz
• 486/66MHz with SCSI hard drive and PCI controller: six to eight tracks at 44kHz
• Pentium with PCI, SCSI controller: 12 tracks at 44kHz and 16 tracks at 32kHz

Using stereo tracks instead of two mono tracks increases the performance. The hard disk transfer rate should be 176.2 kilobytes per second for every stereo track at full CD bandwidth. This is a theoretical value, however -- in fact, you are advised to have a rate between 1.5 and two times higher.

 

WAY TO GO, 'TUDE: SAMPLITUDE VERSIONS

SAMPLITUDE MULTIMEDIA

Samplitude Multimedia has the following features:
• Hard disk recording/playback with any Windows-compatible 16-bit soundcard.
• Virtual projects with up to four tracks.
• Support for mono and stereo projects.
• Support for RAM or hard disk projects.
• So-called volume rubberbands for real-time mixing of the virtual tracks.
• Real-time crossfades in virtual tracks with various curves.
• Linking to MIDI and AVI files.
• Real-time surround effect.
• Fast physical sample processing (eg. cutting, normalisation, fading, crossfading, echo, hall effect, filter, and so on).
• Real-time, non-destructive fade-in, fade-out, and volume on every object.
• Multiple projects running simultaneously.
• Automatic loop optimisation.
• Autoscroll mode while playing.

SAMPLITUDE PRO

In addition to those available on Samplitude Multimedia, Samplitude Pro has the following features:
• Virtual projects with up to eight tracks.
• MIDI sample dump for sample transferring with MIDI samplers.
• Resampling, timestretching and pitch-shifting.
• Track bouncing (converting virtual projects into a physical file -- up to 16 tracks can be combined).

SAMPLITUDE STUDIO

Lastly, Samplitude Studio, in addition to all the features included in the other two versions, offers:

• Virtual projects with up to 16 tracks (16 mono or eight stereo).
• Record while playing if supported by the soundcard(s).
• Support for up to four soundcards for genuine eight outputs.
• External sync via SMPTE/MTC/MC (slave) or MC (master).
• High-quality digital filters (graphic EQ and parametric EQ) with real-time preview.
• Dynamics compressor/expander/noise gate with real-time preview.
• Convolution for enhanced effects like reverb, echo and filter.

 

SAMPLITUDE EDIT FUNCTIONS

Set Zero

creates silence

Invert

inverts sample data

Backward

reverses sample data

Fade in/out

fades using adjustable linear logarithmic and exponential curves

Normalise

optimises amplitude

Amplitude / 2

divides amplitude by two

Amplitude x 2

doubles the amplitude

Compressor

dynamic functions like Compressor, Limiter, Expander, Gate

Sampledata / 2

divides the number of samples

Sampledata x 2

doubles the number of samples

Resample

resampling and timestretching

Convolution

provides effects like reverb, echo and filters

Echo

an echo effect is calculated

Reverb

a reverb effect is calculated

Filter H

igh-pass, Band-pass, Low-pass

Graphic EQ

graphic 5-band equaliser

Parametric EQ

parametric 3-band equaliser

Build Loop

a smooth loop is calculated

Undo

undoes last operation(s)

Redo

undoes last Undo operation(s)

Note that in virtual projects, the Undo function can hold up to 100 changes.

 

SAMPLITUDE STUDIO £400

PROS
• Excellent value for money.
• Wide range of features.

CONS
• Unconventional Windows interface.
• Panning and sound positioning facilities could be improved.

SUMMARY
A well-specified hard disk recording program at an
impressive price, Samplitude is highly recommended.

 

info

£ Samplitude Studio £399.99; Samplitude Pro £249.95; Samplitude Multimedia £99.99; Procyon Pro £99.99; Procyon Lite £39.99; Sound Studio (a bundle containing Samplitude Multimedia and Procyon Pro) £149.99. Prices include VAT.

A Evolution Synthesis, 8 Church Square, Leighton Buzzard, Bedforshire, LU7 7AE.

T 01525 372621.

F 01525 383228.

 

A Arbiter Group plc, Wilberforce Road, London, NW9 6AX.

T 0181 202 1199.

F 0181 202 7076.

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