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Creamware TripleDAT

Digital Audio Interface
Published September 1995

Creamware TripleDAT

Out of the wilds of Germany comes an interesting attempt at addressing the key aspects of hard disk recording on the PC for the DAT‑owning musician. Brian Heywood reports.

The TripleDAT system, from German company Creamware, is designed to bridge the gap between the cost‑effective but non‑professional world of MPC Windows‑based audio applications and the requirements of the audio professional. Based around an SP/DIF (Sony/Philips Digital InterFace) socket incorporated on to a standard ISA expansion card, it allows you to record or play back audio from any digital source — such as a DAT or a CD player — using either the optical or digital connection. Simply put, TripleDAT is a digital audio interface which allows PC users on a modest budget to tap into the quality required by the pro audio world.

However, it is more than just a piece of hardware for transferring audio in the digital domain, it also comes bundled with a sophisticated Windows‑based, non‑linear audio editing application and DOS software that gives you the ability to use any standard audio DAT recorder as a means of backing up the PC's hard disk drive. This last inclusion addresses one of the major bugbears of running a hard disk‑based editor, namely what do you do when your hard disk becomes full?


Creamware TripleDATCreamware TripleDAT

The hardware component of the TripleDAT system consists of a three‑quarter length 16‑bit ISA (or AT) expansion card. The external connections consist of a pair of optical digital audio connectors, a stereo analogue output, a feature connector for MIDI and S/PDIF signals, and a remote controller. The last item is essentially a couple of infra‑red light emitting diodes (IR‑LEDs) on the end of a long wire, which allows the backup software to directly control the DAT via its infra‑red remote control facilities.

The card has three digital inputs — one optical and two S/PDIF — any one of which can be selected via the software interface. The digital output appears on both the optical and S/PDIF connector, and there is an S/PDIF 'through' signal available that should allow you to daisy chain several units. While the card is primarily a digital interface, it also features an analogue audio output via a standard (ie. 'Walkman' style) stereo mini‑jack connection, designed to be used for monitoring purposes. The MIDI department consists of one In and one Out, with a 'Thru' (or MIDI echo) being available under software control.

Most of the electrical connections are made via a 25‑way D‑type feature connector on the back plane of the expansion card. I was provided with two cables for this; one with MIDI plugs and the other with the S/PDIF electrical connectors, so I couldn't use both the digital interface and the MIDI connector at the same time. However, since a connection diagram is provided with the documentation, it would be easy enough to get a cable made up if you required both these facilities at the same time.


Creamware TripleDAT

The software supplied actually falls into three categories: Windows drivers; Windows non‑linear editing software; and a DOS backup application. The TripleDAT drivers allow any Windows application that is multimedia 'aware' to use the MIDI and digital interface facilities provided by the card. This is quite a useful feature, as it allows you to upgrade an existing MPC‑based editing system to incorporate the digital interface. The benefit of this is that you can still use your current working environment while taking advantage of the improved audio quality.

A MIDI driver is also supplied that allows you to 'internally' synchronise a sequencer with the bundled editing software.


Creamware TripleDAT

The non‑linear editing software is called TripleMAGIC! and conforms to the 'multitrack tape recorder' user interface that is common amongst professional hard disk recording systems. This means that the screen is divided into horizontal bands — or tracks — with the audio appearing as blocks. The audio data is stored on the PC's internal disk and the edits are performed non‑destructively in real time. The software offers a number of advanced features such as real‑time crossfades, a multitrack editing interface, and modular filters and effects. One particularly nice feature is that the software will let you use any existing PC soundcards installed in the system, giving the possibility of multiple analogue outputs.

The number of usable tracks is dependant upon a number of factors, the most important being the power of your PC. My DX4 PC (with a VESA hard disk controller) could only reliably replay four tracks, and this was only when the software wasn't trying to synchronise to MIDI Time Code (MTC). The reason you need a powerful machine is that the software calculates the audio segment fades 'on the fly', which gives the quickest response when editing but means that the processor is doing a lot of work when the sound is being replayed. The software seems pretty robust and — as long as you ignore the rather alarming error messages — you can usually get around any performance problems by tweaking the arrangement.

TripleMAGIC! has two basic operational areas: the Arranger and the Cutter windows. The Arranger allows you to sequence the digital audio, specifying crossfades and performing simple edits. The window has an associated mixer that allows you to control the overall volume and pan setting of a 'track', as well as control the overall output level of the mix. Each channel also has a mute and solo control and the channels can be grouped, to give combined level control of a number of tracks. The Arranger audio segments must all have the same sample rate (ie. 44.1 or 48kHz) and are grouped together in 'projects', though any samples which have the 'wrong' sampling frequency can easily be converted.

For more precise control of the edits, the Cutter window provides a graphical display of the audio data to be manipulated. The two primary functions of this window is to define the regions (or segments) of the audio to be replayed and to create a volume curve; the latter can then act as a segment‑based form of level automation for the audio. All edits are non‑destructive (ie. they don't harm the original audio sources), and because they are saved as separate files (.CUT) they can be used within a number of arrangements. The volume curve feature is particularly flexible, as it allows you to position a number of level changes within a single segment.

The Cutter window also incorporates a number of DSP (digital signal processing) effects, including a dynamics module (stereo compressor/expander/gate), 4‑band parametric equalisation, pitch shifter, delay and room simulator (echo and reverb). These effects are calculated 'off‑line' with the newly processed data being written to disk, but a certain amount of real‑time control can be achieved by using the Arranger window's mixer to combine a 'dry' (i.e. the original) sample with a 'wet' (or processed) sample. The inclusion of the DSP effects means that you can perform a complete stereo mixdown entirely in the digital domain, thus maintaining the highest possible sound quality.


Creamware TripleDAT

The TripleMAGIC! software can synchronise with MIDI Time Code (MTC), either to external devices — such as tape machines — or to a Windows MIDI sequencer using the supplied MIDI driver. The manual suggests that you need a minimum of 16Mb of RAM if you want to synchronise the software with a MIDI sequencer running on the same PC, though the software also provides the facility to replay a pre‑prepared MIDI file, which should give you tighter synchronisation as well as tempo‑related functions, such as an audible metronome.

The synchronisation is supposed to resynchronise continuously and does, in fact, follow speed variations. However, I found that when connected to a sound source that was being altered using a 'varispeed' control, the software exhibited synchronisation errors. This would make the system unsuitable for situations where tight synchronisation would need to be maintained, such as use with a multitrack tape or video machine. Therefore, I would only recommend synchronising this package with a device that doesn't exhibit any wow and flutter, such as a software or hardware sequencer.

Backing Up To DAT

Creamware TripleDAT

The final aspect of TripleDAT is the DAT backup software. This is DOS‑based and invoked from the command line, using your DAT machine's built‑in remote control — normally infra‑red (IR) optical, but electrical in the case of the Tascam DA30 — to control the DAT transport. Many common DAT recorders are supported by the system, though one surprising omission was the Sony DTC‑1000ES (later Sony models are supported). Since I use a Sony DTC‑1000ES in my studio, I couldn't actually test the remote control option. I had to use the manual control method instead, which was an incredibly tedious task.

The backup application appears to work very much like a normal tape streamer, requiring that the DAT be initialised (placing a directory on the start of the DAT) and providing a number of different options for saving, verifying, and restoring files. The software is very flexible — you are provided with a basic set of operations with which to perform any task you wish. The down side of this is that you will have to create your own DOS 'batch' files to perform any useful tasks, which is not difficult but a somewhat time‑consuming business nonetheless. The manual is not much help here, since its combination of a jocular style and an incomplete understanding of the English language can make it very difficult to follow and an unpleasant chore to wade through.


Creamware TripleDAT

I had a surprising amount of trouble getting the TripleDAT system to work properly. I originally tried to use it on a 486SX/33 PC with 8Mb of RAM, which simply turned out to be not powerful enough to handle the load. This somewhat surprised me, since the TripleDAT system's packaging proclaimed that it only required a 386DX/33 with 4Mb of RAM. So I reinstalled the system on a 486DX4/100 with 8Mb of RAM and — when I finally got it to work — it proved to be pretty reliable, though I did have one unexplained crash that caused me to lose some work.

I have to admit that the installation procedure is of the type that causes me intense aggravation, since it makes alterations to your computer's Windows setup without asking permission. In this case it 'lost' one of the synthesizer drivers for the Tropez soundcard already installed in my machine. This problem is not unique to this particular software, but annoying nonetheless. The upshot of all this is that you may find that you have to hack about with your Windows setup before you get back all your previous sound and MIDI drivers, if — like me — you have a PC with a fairly high powered MIDI and audio specification.


Creamware TripleDAT

Priced at over £1000, the TripleDAT system is not a startlingly cheap option for turning a PC into a digital audio workstation. If you simply need a way of dumping digital audio from your hard disk on to DAT, then there are cheaper options available. However, if you consider that one of the main problems with any hard disk‑based recording system is how to safely archive the audio material once the hard disk is full, then the TripleDAT looks a far more cost‑effective proposition.

My feeling is that the TripleMAGIC! software is still somewhat rough around the edges, which is a shame really, since it offers quite an advanced specification. You will certainly need a pretty powerful PC and a supported DAT to be able to take full advantage of the facilities provided. To make best use of the system, you also need to be pretty familiar with both Windows and the DOS batch file mechanism.

Tripledat System Requirements

Creamware TripleDAT
  • DX2/66MHz PC with at least 8Mb of RAM (for 2‑track operation).
  • Windows 3.1 or Windows For Workgroups 3.11.
  • A supported audio DAT recorder with S/PDIF interface and remote control facility.

Creamware TripleDAT


  • Optical and electrical S/PDIF DAT interface.
  • Feature‑rich, non‑linear editing application bundled.
  • Can be used as a high capacity tape streaming system for all your hard disk data.
  • Built‑in MIDI Time Code (MTC) synchronisation.
  • Supports most popular DAT machines.
  • Integrates with existing PC soundcards to give additional analogue outputs/inputs.
  • MPC compliant drivers — can be used with any Windows audio software.


  • Requires a powerful PC to get the best out of the editor.
  • Doesn't support Sony DTC‑1000ES DAT.
  • Software has reliability problems.
  • You need to be technically orientated to sort the system configuration.


TripleDAT is worth looking at if you need digital audio editing facilities along with a high capacity tape streamer. The editing software is admirably suited to compiling DAT masters, 'stand‑alone' audio mastering and synchronising audio to a sequencer, but not for synchronising to a video tape machine or a multitrack audio tape recorder.