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Evolution Sound Studio Gold

PC Sequencing Software By Martin Walker
Published November 1997

With Sound Studio Gold, Evolution refuse to let budget sequencing mean budget features. Martin Walker examines a grown‑up package at a baby price.

The Evolution Audio software was reviewed as part of the Music Creator Pro package in the January '97 issue of SOS. Besides its MIDI features, it also allowed playback of a single mono or stereo WAV file, but had no built‑in digital audio recording facilities. Sound Studio Gold is somewhat more ambitious, since it supports audio recording of one mono or stereo track at a time, and playback of up to 16 audio tracks alongside up to 256 MIDI ones. You don't need a machine capable of running NASA control either, since (allegedly) a 25MHz 486 can scrape through — although if you intend to try simultaneous audio recording and playback with a duplex soundcard, this does seem rather optimistic; a 100MHz Pentium would seem a more suitable starting point. The program will run in Windows 3.1 as well as with the newer Windows 95 operating system, and if you're using an older machine, this is good news.

In Context

Sound Studio Gold sits at the top of the Evolution range. Apart from Evolution MIDI, which isn't on commercial sale and only supports 32 MIDI tracks, all the rest of the range will run up to 256 tracks of MIDI. Both Evolution Audio and Evolution Audio Pro will play back a single mono or stereo audio track, but the Pro version allows multiple‑staff score editing (as opposed to a single staff on the lower‑priced version) as well as many of the more advanced features of the flagship Sound Studio Gold. These include the Chord Wizard (a "quick and easy way to lay down a backing track for a song in a number of preset styles"), MIDI Clock, SMPTE/MTC Sync support, lyric‑editing facilities, and multiple editing windows. Sound Studio Gold adds to this feature list the 16 audio tracks, real‑time audio delay, echo and reverb effects, as well as control of audio pan and volume, AVI support, and a host of other related goodies.

On The Right Track

From the moment the first screen display appears, anyone who has used a sequencer before will sense a feeling of deja vu. There is a certain familiarity about most of the layout, and the unfamiliar bits use some well‑designed graphics that leave you in little doubt as to what does what — suffice to say that as a seasoned Cubase user, I quickly found my way around!

The main Track window features the now standard part‑based approach, and includes features such as Parent/Child patterns (the Parent is a real part, the Children are ghost copies which take up little extra space, and follow any changes in the Parent). Right‑clicking the mouse button brings up a small tool menu, with arrow, pencil, eraser, mute, knife, and glue tools: their operation is pretty self‑explanatory. All the normal click and drag mouse operations are available, and the only thing I missed was visible note events in the individual parts.

For tweaking individual parts, the selection of editors is comprehensive, and from the Track window, a small vertical strip of buttons in a floating menu provides single‑click access to all the other editors. The Piano Roll is keyboard based, with a main note window above, and a smaller window beneath showing one of a selection from note velocity, aftertouch, pitch‑bend, and a host of other MIDI controllers. The Event editor is MIDI data‑based, and has clickable headings to display or filter out selected types of data, so that you can narrow down your editing to more specific areas. The Drum editing window provides the familiar vertical list of drum and percussion instruments.

The Score editor has a traditional staff display, and while it isn't likely to be used for providing printed parts for the London Symphony Orchestra, it offers a perfectly usable environment, particularly for those wishing to work with simple classical scores. You can even use the Lyric editor to add words to a song, and these will then 'light up' in time with the music playback. Apparently, many commercial Karaoke MIDI files contain embedded lyrics, and I personally think this is a great idea — keeping the words as text only is a far better idea than allowing people to actually sing along.

There are so many editing options available that the Fast Menu can be extremely useful. This allows you to store the 10 functions you use most often on a small floating menu of buttons; to call up a function you then simply click on its button, which can save a lot of time. Considering the huge number of buttons and options available, it might also have been useful to have ToolTips (those little descriptions that appear in many Windows programs if you pause the pointer over a button), but the button graphics are well designed, and most of their functions are fairly obvious.

Further windows include the Mixer, which provides volume sliders, rotary pan, reverb and chorus controls, plus Mute and Solo buttons, mimicking a small mixing desk. These operate on MIDI channels only, and adjust the appropriate MIDI parameters. The Conductor window allows you to change time signature, key signature and tempo during the course of a track, with a graphic display. The Keyboard allows you to enter note data using a mouse or the PC keyboard, and also gives a useful selection of chord shapes, for single‑finger chords (don't laugh: sampled chord stabs are used in this way in much modern music). Extra features on this Keyboard also form part of real‑time Chord Track recording.

All This And Audio Too

Recording an Audio track is easy. After you click on the Record button on any audio track, the Audio Input Monitor window appears, allowing you to check incoming levels and select stereo or mono recording. If your soundcard supports full‑duplex recording, you can also play back previous audio files while recording the new one. Once you have finished recording, editing options are fairly basic — you can alter start and end points, top and tail the good bits from a longer take, swap left and right channels on a stereo take, normalise levels, and apply distortion (which "adds a rough edge to the sound"). Multiple audio tracks can also be bounced down to a new track.

Each audio track has a volume slider, pan control, Mute and Solo buttons in another page of the Mixer, as well as two buttons marked Depth and Delay, which replace the Reverb and Chorus buttons of the MIDI channel mixer. These control a particularly intriguing feature at the price: there's an extra column, labelled 'FX type', in the Track window for audio tracks. This offers real‑time delay, echo or reverb, basic treatments achieved by multiple replay of the audio part: delay is a single repeat, echo has several repeats, and reverb emulates the real thing by using multiple flutter repeats. Delay times can vary from almost instantaneous up to 700ms, and a wide range of basic sounds can be coaxed from the two controls.

The Final Mix

Apart from a slight delay before hearing results when changing audio mix settings, Sound Studio Gold worked very well for me. There's an awful lot on offer here, especially for the price. Frankly, the demo songs don't do the package justice, and bear no relation to 99% of the music that potential purchasers are likely to want to produce. I was using 'Flight of the Bumble Bee' as a demo for the Atari 800 back in the early '80s, and it was corny even then! This is a shame, since Sound Studio Gold is far more capable than its demos suggest.

Unlike many so‑called 'budget' sequencers, Sound Studio Gold is a top‑of‑the‑range product for Evolution, but at a budget price, and therefore does not suffer from an arbitrary feature set — everything you are likely to need is included in this one package. And a peep at the Evolution web site shows that the company support their customers well — a Users Group is already up and running, and there are FAQs (Frequently Asked Question files) and update patches available for all their software.

To sum up, multitrack audio recording on a sequencer at this price would be good going, but the inclusion of basic real‑time effects makes Sound Studio Gold even more of a bargain.

Budget Restrictions

It must be extremely difficult to market new PC sequencer packages. Most professional musicians will opt for one of the big two (Steinberg Cubase and Emagic Logic) for compatibility with other users and studios, or use another package if it has unique top‑end features that are particularly appropriate. At the budget end of the market, many sequencers are effectively given away with soundcards, undermining their real value to the musician. In addition, manufacturers with higher‑end packages in their range must tread a fine line — if they cut down the feature set too much, the resulting budget program will never compete with other products at similar prices. On the other hand, if they leave too much in, or — heaven forbid — add a feature not found on the more expensive product, they face the wrath of everyone who paid more for the 'professional' version.

However, for manufacturers who specialise in the budget end of the market, the opportunity exists to provide a wider range of basic features than the cut‑down versions of professional packages, while still remaining at a budget price more suitable for an entry‑level product, and this is obviously the reasoning behind Evolution's Sound Studio Gold. Getting the feature set right is a difficult balance, particularly where editing is concerned. This is one area where budget sequencers often face a tricky choice, and many only provide score editing, and no event editing. This is fine for teaching traditional notation, but not very useful for those with a limited background in music theory. Evolution's Sound Studio Gold scores a big plus here by providing both.


  • Loads of features.
  • Up to 16 tracks of audio.
  • Basic built‑in real‑time audio effects.


  • No note display in Parts.
  • Dreadful demos!


A well‑specified budget MIDI + Audio sequencer package that is excellent value for money.