It's exactly four years since I first mentioned the Soundscape SSHDR1 hard disk recording system in this column, back in the March '93 issue of SOS. Since then, the system has gone from strength to strength, acquiring a wide user base and being employed on a number of high-profile jobs, including the audio post-production for the National Lottery TV ads. In fact, it would be fair to say that the Soundscape system has become one of the major non-linear audio editors for the PC. Emagic and Cakewalk certainly think so, as they now directly support the hardware in their MIDI + Audio applications.
Far from resting on their laurels, Soundscape have now launched an accelerator card, the SSAC1, and a new audio interface, the SS8IO1, which add substantial new features to the SSHDR1 system. The SSAC1 essentially upgrades the DSP (Digital Signal Processor) in the current SSHDR1 so it can handle the improved features in the latest version (v2.0) of the front-end PC software. The new card also offers an extra eight channels (ie. inputs and outputs) in the form of a TDIF (Tascam Digital Interface) port, which means that the upgraded SSHDR1 module will be able to handle 12 outputs and 10 inputs.
The whole concept of the SSAC1 fits in well with both the PC philosophy and the original Soundscape concept: that of expanding and enhancing the existing unit instead of replacing it. Current users of the SSHDR1 will be relieved to know that the new card can be easily retrofitted to all existing units; however, they will need to upgrade to version 2.0 of the front-end software to take advantage of the extra inputs and outputs, and this requires Windows 95. The choice of the TDIF interface is interesting, since it allows direct connection to a Tascam DA88 or Yamaha 02R/03D console with no extra hardware. The SSAC1 card costs £600 including VAT, and needs to be fitted by Soundscape, so you have to ship your SSHDR1 back to them. There is also a £50 fitting charge.
Users that don't have DA88s, or (like me) use ADAT, aren't left out in the cold, as they can use the new audio interface. The SS8IO1 (price £1495 inc VAT) gives you access to the eight extra I/O channels in both digital and analogue formats. The 19-inch 2U rack unit connects to the SSAC1 card via the TDIF connector, and uses 20-bit crystal semiconductor converters to provide A/D and D/A conversion. The unit also has an optical interface for direct digital connection to ADATs, and LED level metering provided as standard. If you don't want the extra inputs and outputs, but want your augmented SSHDR1 to connect to your ADAT in the digital domain, a cut-down version (the SS8IOD) will be available, although the price for this has yet to be set.
In all, the upgrade looks pretty comprehensive, and will give Soundscape a keen price/performance ratio. But it doesn't end there; Soundscape are also releasing a cheaper version of the SSHDR1 hardware/software package to make it easier for PC musicians to get into the world of hard disk. The new system will be known as the SSHDR1 FS (fixed software -- price £1999 inc VAT). Anyone who buys this will be supplied with the version 1.18 front-end software, an AVI file player, and remote control software for RS422/MMC control of DA88, ADAT and VCRs. An further upgrade is available to buyers of the FS system to give them the latest version 2.0 front-end software and the SSAC1 card (this costs £1250). Finally, if you want to go the whole hog, the full version of the SSHDR1 (now known as Soundscape Plus, and retailing for £3200 inc VAT) comes with the SSAC1 card and version 2.0 software pre-installed.
Don't be fooled by TV adverts and computer sales people; any system as complicated as a personal computer is likely to need some corrective tweaking every now and then. This is especially true for all of us who use PCs for music, since we often operate on the leading edge of PC technology. This is not because the technology we use is particularly advanced, but is rather down to the fact that we use odd combinations of hardware which are unlikely to be found on your average office or home-based PC. Mixing multiple soundcards from different manufacturers with network cards, video capture cards, MIDI interfaces and the like can create strange brews that can drive us to distraction -- and completely baffle computer support types. In this situation, it is useful to have a toolkit that allows you to see what's happening deep down in Windows -- 'under the bonnet', as it were. I've been using a software package called CheckIt over the last few weeks which aims to provide this kind of facility to Windows users. The package actually comes in two flavours: the basic pack is called WINCheckIt and seems to contain all the main software components, while the 'Pro' version is called CheckIt Diagnostic Kit, and includes additional stand-alone software and some hardware bits and pieces.
The Windows side of the package includes a control panel that lets you monitor the current state of your operating system and collect information about your PC. Using this control interface, you can run basic system tests, and compare the results with benchmarks to see how well your PC performs compared to a number of standard PC configurations (for example DX4/100s and Pentium 133, 90, and 60s). There are also three useful Windows utilities that help you maintain your system; Clean&ZIP allows you to remove dead and duplicate files, or compress files that you don't use very often, Uninstall helps you find and remove unwanted applications, and TuneUp defragments your Windows RAM. I found the Clean&ZIP applet particularly useful, as it allowed me to reclaim about 77Mb of hard disk space taken up by 'dead' temporary files and old backup files.
The additional hardware supplied with the Diagnostic Kit include 'loop back' plugs that let the software test your serial and parallel ports, and a set of disks that allow you to check out a PC that won't boot from its hard disk. This last facility is very useful for chasing elusive problems like those caused by dodgy RAM. Both versions of CheckIt come with a CD-ROM containing the McGraw-Hill Technical Library, and four fairly basic PC reference books (in Adobe Acrobat format) that cover DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, and upgrading and repairing your PC. The basic package costs just under £30, while the more comprehensive Diagnostic Kit one clocks in at £58. Both versions are available from Software Warehouse (01675 466467).
If your curiosity has been engaged by the current hype about the Internet, and you have logged on to the World Wide Web (WWW), you probably know how difficult it is to find anything useful. This is because the Internet is a 'flat' network on which any node -- for instance your PC -- can connect to any other node that is equipped with a suitable web server. This can be frustrating, since the information you want may be available, but you probably don't know where to look for it. It's like having a huge encyclopaedia with the entries in a random order and with no index.
One way to get around this problem is to use a 'search engine' like the one available at Digital Equipment Corporation's (DEC) AltaVista WWW site. This allows you to do free text searches of the WWW or the Usenet newsgroups. The system works by 'crawling' the web (ie. accessing each page on the web and reading the text content) and storing key words from each page. This means that it can search its own internal database rather than the web itself, and thus return an answer very quickly. If you want to check out AltaVista, point your web browser at http://www.altavista.digital.com/