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Creamware Masterport v2.4

Hard Disk Recording & Editing System By Janet Harniman-Cook
Published October 1997

The Masterport system consists of dedicated multitrack software and a high‑quality card, allowing you to avoid the compatibility problems that can arise when software and hardware from different manufacturers are run together. JANET HARNIMAN COOK thinks it's the cream of the crop.

Creamware Masterport v2.4 is an integrated multitrack audio recording and editing system for Windows 95 PCs, consisting of the Masterport software and the excellent Triple audio card. Because the Masterport hardware and software are specifically designed to run together, not only are the compatibility problems that sometimes arise when you're using soundcards and software from different manufacturers avoided, but also a higher level of functional integration is possible than can be provided by the basic Windows MME specification. Masterport 2.4 is capable of simultaneous 16‑bit 4‑channel recording and playback on up to 16 mono or stereo virtual tracks, and sampling frequencies of 32kHz, 44.1kHz and 48kHz are supported, although all samples within a Masterport project must share a common rate.

The Triple board used by Masterport is identical to that used by the more expensive Creamware TripleDAT system; the board can be thought of as two audio cards in one: stereo digital and analogue signals can be input and output discretely in parallel, to give 4‑channel operation, with the digital S/PDIF connectors switchable between optical and co‑axial. The analogue signal chain is exceptionally quiet and sweet‑sounding, with high‑quality, gold‑plated RCA phono connectors used rather than the more usual mini‑jacks — full marks to Creamware here! The Triple board consumes only minimal PC resources and requires only a single interrupt setting (IRQ) and a single memory address for all of its MIDI and audio activities — and as it is MME‑compatible it can be used with any Windows audio application. Audio can exported as Windows WAV files from Masterport, and WAV files may be imported, but are converted to the Masterport proprietary format with a full duplicate of the sound data. The positive consequence of this is that on‑line editing in Masterport is non‑destructive; the downside is that you need lots of hard disk space if you wish to retain the original audio file, and in practice it's a good idea to have a hard disk devoted to Masterport (a fast 2.6Gb EIDE drive should do the trick.)

The Package

The Masterport package contains the application setup files on two floppy disks; the Triple board; a co‑axial audio and MIDI I/O interface cable; an infra‑red DAT remote sensor cable; the User Guide; and the Masterport registration documents. The User Guide is a bulky, 300‑page, loose‑leaf binder written in a readable, often humorous style, and includes installation instructions, a troubleshooting chapter, an index, and tutorials, together with a wealth of fascinating information covering every aspect of Masterport, along with useful advice on mastering and dialogue editing for broadcast and AV work. Further assistance is available in the form of comprehensive on‑line Windows help, or via the Creamware web site and the technical support line of the UK distributors, System Solutions.

Installation was uneventful, and during the review period Masterport proved stable and performed well. It will take new users a little time to become familiar with the Masterport way of doing things, but once the initially steep — but mercifully brief — learning curve has been overcome, working becomes fast and enjoyable. The cherry on the top is that copy protection is avoided, as the Masterport software only operates with the Triple board.

User Interface

Most activity in Masterport takes place in two main windows: the Arranger, as its name suggests, is where the audio segments, known as Samples, are assembled in linear sequence across the 16 tracks; sample‑accurate editing takes place in the Cutter window. Masterport windows and dialogue boxes are generally clearly laid out and functional, but initially appear rather grey. This is due to the limited use of colour, although more adventurous users can customise colours by editing the arg.ini text file found in the Masterport folder file, but beware: this is a cumbersome tweak and requires prior calculation of the RGB values!

Masterport 2.4 is intensively mouse driven, with frequent use of right mouse button‑activated pop‑up option menus — the golden rule in Masterport is 'if in doubt, click the right mouse button'. There are relatively fewer keyboard shortcuts in Masterport than are typically found in other Windows audio applications, nor does Masterport always follow conventional Windows shortcut conventions (such as fast save with Control + S). Being a bit of a keyboard fan myself, I was initially apprehensive about being able to get up to speed, but the shortcuts that have been implemented are well chosen, and despite all the 'mousing about', getting around became quick and easy once I gained familiarity with Masterport routines. One point to note is that Masterport dialogues should always be closed using the confirmation button — changes will not be saved if the dialogue title bar X button is used.

Global Control

At the top of the Masterport workspace are the Drive Control transport panel; the Control Panel containing shortcuts for file, synchronisation and snap functions; VU meters; Time display; DSP usage indicator; and the very impressive real‑time global pitch‑shift control, which allows up to plus or minus 50% speed adjustment and may be used in the same way as the varispeed function on conventional tape recorders. Below are the Markers bar, and the Ruler, which can display Meter, Time, Data blocks or SMPTE frames.

Magnification functions can be accessed from the Zoom icons, from the numeric pad + and — keys; or by dragging on the scrollbars — the horizontal scrollbar re‑scales the time axis and the vertical scrollbar controls amplitude magnification. Navigation would be even quicker if Masterport could store screens as snapshots, as is possible in Steinberg WaveLab and Sonic Foundry Sound Forge, but fortunately Masterport has a powerful and versatile marker system which can be used to identify or select audio sections and to recall edit points — these markers may even be used to sequence your DAT player — full marks for this level of studio integration! Markers can be entered easily during playback, by pressing Keyboard M, and repositioned by dragging. Double‑clicking on the marker head opens the dialogue box which enables you to rename, lock, fine‑position and associate remote control commands for your DAT machine. The Track Mixer is where the playback status for each track is defined, with settings for effects routing, mute, solo, group assignment, pan and level offset. Masterport v2.4 is unusual amongst dedicated audio editors as it provides a metronome function — the tempo can be set from the Control panel and can be assigned to play through the PC speaker or via a MIDI device, although in a multiple‑PC MIDI port setup only the base MIDI port can be used. Additionally, Masterport can also import and play a MIDI file — but, again, only single‑port playback is possible.

The Arranger

Audio files appear on the Arranger window tracks as rectangular Sample blocks containing a graphical waveform display. Samples can be selected individually or as a group for editing, and locked to prevent accidental repositioning — Masterport terms this 'freezing', and the cursor icon changes into a very cute little snowman as it passes over a frozen sample! The selection can also be defined by time and appears as a red block on the markers line above the ruler. Samples may be fast‑edited in a variety of ways: dragging the centre of the vertical borders of the Sample edits its length; dragging the upper corners of a Sample creates fades: crossfades are automatically created when two samples in the same track overlap, and double‑clicking on the crossfade area opens a dialogue box which gives a choice of five fade envelope types. Track output, offset, mute and name can be quickly defined from the track information panel to the left of the pane, and multiple samples, even if placed on different tracks, can be merged (mixed down) to form a new Sample or exported as a WAV file. The Arranger window has its own Toolbar, which can be repositioned anywhere on screen, and contains icons for the Loop, Shears (Sample cut tool), Remove Sample, Loop, Freeze and Zoom tools, plus shortcuts to the Track Mixer and to the Sample Manager (which is where the audio files that are in use by Masterport are listed).


Recording is straightforward, and Masterport is well suited to live recording, with excellent, easy‑to‑use multi‑take and overdubbing routines. Although all audio files used in a Masterport project must share a common sample rate, most projects will, in practice, be 44.1kHz, and when recording from a 48kHz source such as consumer DAT, Masterport helpfully provides automatic sample rate conversion. Once you enter record standby the incoming signal is displayed on the output VU meters, but as Masterport has no analogue input level attenuation you must adjust the output level of your source device (your mixer, tape deck or keyboard). When placed in the Arranger window, the newly recorded sample retains its timing relative to the rest of the tracks, and there is no need to name the Sample prior to recording, as Masterport does this for you automatically, and you can rename the Sample later from Sample Settings.

The Cutter

The Cutter window is the Masterport sample editor, and features sample‑accurate editing, audio scrub, and volume‑curve mapping. Areas of selected audio can be processed; defined as a Region (cut file) and added to the Arranger; or exported as a WAV. Oddly, the Cutter window lacks a time ruler and it can occasionally be difficult to recognise individual sections of audio without recourse to the scrub function, even though markers are carried through from the Arranger window and can be added in the Cutter.

Situated beneath the Cutter waveform display is the Volume Envelope pane: complex level envelopes can be constructed by creating a series of gain‑change points, or curve nodes; these may be one of six types (logarithmic, linear, or polynomial 1‑4). Entering the Cutter during multitrack playback allows you to adjust the Volume Envelope in real time, and with multiple Cutter windows open it is even possible to edit the levels of several tracks on the fly. The Cut List stores up to 256 selection blocks and enables you to undo edit changes by recalling previous settings, but I found the Cut list rather unwieldy, and similarly I missed the simplicity of editing using conventional Windows cut and paste routines. I was also puzzled by the absence of a Snap To Zero‑Crossing function, even though Masterport has an automatic cut de‑glitcher in the Audio Settings/Smooth Cuts function.

Effects Processing

Masterport ships with five WaveWalkers DSP effects modules: delay; dynamics (compressor, gate, expander, limiter and de‑esser); pitch‑shift; room simulator and a 4‑band parametric EQ. The equaliser operates in real time, allowing you hear the changes in parameter settings as you make them. The other modules are off‑line processors — the effect parameters are determined, processing is applied to the soundfile, and the results can be heard during playback. The lack of an audition function for the off‑line modules makes processing a bit hit and miss, until you get to know the WaveWalkers' characteristics, but to help out you can save your tweaks as presets. Although the audio processing of the on‑board modules is of a consistently high quality, unfortunately Microsoft's DirectX audio plug‑in architecture is not yet supported, and it is consequently not possible to use third‑party plug‑ins; however, all is not lost, as Creamware's own excellent optional real‑time plug‑ins can be used to augment Masterport DSP editing muscle: the Firewalkers DSP suite contains an 8‑band EQ, Chorus, Flanger, Pan Modulation, Dynamic Pitch Shifting/Transposition and a remarkable set of professional audio measurement and analysis tools; and the Osiris audio restoration suite is a superb collection of top‑quality audio renovation tools that includes real‑time noise reduction, de‑clicker, de‑crackler, sub‑bass enhancer, harmonic enhancer and spectrum analyser.


Although not supporting Windows AVI playback, Masterport v2.4 provides two‑way synchronisation to MIDI Clock or MTC (MIDI Time Code). Masterport will act as the master clock source and transmit timing information for the control of slaved devices; alternatively, it can act as the slave and respond to an external clock source. I set up Cubase to slave to Masterport via MIDI Clock and it worked — well, like clockwork, with rock‑solid lock‑up throughout. Synchronising to SMPTE via MTC was similarly hassle‑free, and timecode played back from a VTR audio track required only minor SMPTE offset adjustment in the Masterport Synchronisation dialogue.


In use, Creamware's Masterport v2.4 proved a stable, competent performer, and such reservations as I might have are relatively minor. Its recent re‑launch and revised pricing structure mean that Masterport represents excellent value for money. The synergy created by the very fine Masterport software and the Triple board — one of the best audio cards currently on the market — provides a true pro‑standard recording and editing environment that can be safely recommended.

PC Requirements

Creamware recommend a minimum DX 2‑66MHz processor with of 16Mb RAM and a fast EIDE PCI (or SCSI) hard drive, but significantly better performance will be obtained with a Pentium 100 or better and 32Mb of RAM. The reference PC is an Intel Pentium 200 with VX motherboard, 256K pipeline burst cache, 48Mb of RAM and a 2Mb Trio+ PCI graphics running 1024 x 768 pixels in 64K colour mode on a 17‑inch monitor. The MIDI interface used is a Mark of the Unicorn MIDI Express external unit connected to the PC parallel port.

Windows 95 Build B implements 32‑bit FAT to accommodate hard drives of over 2Gb and although this saves hard disk space by using a smaller cluster size, the disadvantage is that the hard disk has to work significantly harder and may slow down, causing performance loss in some HDR applications. To minimise this, go to Computer/Properties/Performance, and reset File system/Hard Disk read‑ahead optimisation and Graphics/Hardware Acceleration to None.

Triple Board Brief Spec

  • PC ISA card
  • 4 channels in/4 channels out, configured as two discrete analogue and digital stereo pairs.
  • Sampling Frequencies: 48kHz; 44.1kHz; 32kHz.
  • Analogue input/output: unbalanced stereo line‑in/line‑out on RCA phono jacks.
  • Digital input/output: optical S/PDIF (TOS‑link)/co‑axial S/PDIF, unbalanced 75Ω RCA phono jacks/optional AES/EBU, transformer‑balanced 110Ω XLR.
  • MIDI Interface: In/Out
  • Time Code Input/Output: MTC or MIDI Clock.
  • Analogue‑to‑Digital Converter: 18‑bit, 128x oversampling.
  • Digital‑to‑Analogue Converter: 18‑bit, 128x oversampling.

The Triple board is also used by Creamware's TripleDAT system (£1249 including VAT; £1395 with AES/EBU option), which is functionally identical to Masterport but has the following additional features: Red Book CD writing; 256 virtual tracks; real‑time DSP effects processing including Warp Mode (live throughput); Pan curves; Spectrum Analyser; Correlation Metering; Time Stretch and DAT‑ streaming archive/backup software.


  • Easy to use.
  • Great value for money.
  • Outstanding audio quality.
  • Integrated hardware and software avoid compatibility problems.
  • Excellent optional real‑time DSP effects and audio renovation plug‑ins.


  • Limited onboard DSP effects.
  • Demanding on RAM and hard disk space.
  • Needs more shortcuts and DirectX not supported.
  • Needs multiple Edit Undo.


Masterport v2.4 offers an excellent, low‑cost, integrated Windows multitrack recording and editing solution that can be recommended for both smaller studios and AV/multimedia production facilities.