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Nemesys Music Technology Gigasampler 160

Software Sampler By Martin Walker
Published November 2000

Gigastudio has four Port screens like this one, each containing 16 channels and extensive MIDI control options.Gigastudio has four Port screens like this one, each containing 16 channels and extensive MIDI control options.

Nemesys' Gigasampler proved that a fast PC could compete with the latest hardware samplers, and provided some features they simply couldn't match — such as sampled instruments many gigabytes in size. Now the company has updated the range to include two new products. Martin Walker asks if rackmount samplers have finally met their Nemesys...

When Nemesys first introduced their Gigasampler software, most hardware samplers were only expandable to about 32Mb of RAM, so the idea of being able to use sampled instruments of up to 4.3Gb in size was pretty remarkable. It relied on patent‑pending Endless Wave technology to stream the sounds in real time from a hard drive, rather than loading and then playing them from RAM. Nowadays you can fill samplers such as Akai's S5000 and S6000 with up to 256Mb of RAM, but often this still requires sounds to be looped, which can be a compromise.

The beauty of Gigasampler, by contrast, is that you can create no‑holds‑barred libraries of multisampled acoustic sounds like bass, choir, guitar, harp, piano, and strings, either with extremely long loops or with no looping at all, and never have to worry about running out of space. With almost unlimited sample capacity, you can also use multiple layers of samples to obtain more expressive sounds, either using velocity‑switching, or with what Nemesys call 'Dimensions', switched using any MIDI controller. Using Dimensions you can change playing style during a performance at the twist of a mod wheel or the push of a foot‑pedal, or have two different layers of piano sounds depending on whether the sustain pedal is up or down.

Not surprisingly, Gigasampler has become extremely popular, especially now that the price has dropped — the 64‑voice Gigasampler 64 is now £239 and the 48‑voice Lite Edition (Gigasampler LE) is just £79 — but Nemesys haven't rested on their laurels. There is now a thriving sound library in Gigasampler format, containing over 70 CD‑ROMs to date and including well‑respected titles such as Peter Siedlaczek's Classical Choir and Advanced Orchestra, and Miroslav Vitous Symphonic Orchestra, all of which have been specially remastered to take advantage of Gigasampler technology. Nemesys also have their own library that includes Jim Corrigan's High‑Strung Nashville Guitars, Gary Garitan's GigaHarp, and Larry Seyer's Upright Acoustic Bass, all of which use Dimensions extensively to alter playing style 'on the hoof'.


Since I reviewed Gigasampler 64 in SOS December '98, Nemesys have encouraged their users to submit wish lists for future releases. The result is Gigastudio, a new range of two products with a far more powerful feature set. Gigastudio 96 can stream up to 96 simultaneous voices through 32 MIDI channels, while the flagship Gigastudio 160 reviewed here can stream a staggering 160 simultaneous voices through 64 MIDI channels! This will be of particular interest to those working in film and particularly with orchestral music, and Nemesys have just gained an endorsement from Academy Award‑winning composer Hans Zimmer.

Both models support GSIF‑compatible hardware with up to 32 audio channels and up to 24‑bit/96kHz sampling, and incorporate a virtual digital mixing console. The new DSP Station lets you add proprietary insert and send effects to any of these channels, which will remove the need for many musicians to use multiple hardware outputs and add them externally. Both models also include the NFX1 reverb/multi‑effects module, while Gigastudio 160 also includes the NFX2 chorus/flanger and NFX3 tap delay/auto‑pan — these are available separately to Gigastudio 96 owners.

Gigastudio supports a new Gig 2.0 instrument format that loads up to five times faster than the previous Gig 1.0 version. The new format is also compatible with QuickSound, a database search function for quickly and easily locating sounds of a particular type on your hard drives. As before, the SConverter utility lets you import programs and their associated samples from Akai‑format CD‑ROMs, but this is now neatly integrated into the main program so that users can use Akai sounds as easily as those on their hard drives. The existing 1Gb GigaPiano is still bundled with each package, along with various drum sets and demos.

"The Gigastudio range is one of the few products that makes some Mac owners wish they had a PC. You can't get a much higher recommendation than that!"

Installation And Setup

Gigastudio 160 is supplied on two CD‑ROMs, the first containing the applications and various demo sounds in Gig format, and the second containing the GigaPiano. I was very pleased to see that Nemesys had discarded their original protection system that required you to contact them within five days to get a unique key number to unlock the program permanently. This time round, entering your supplied CD key number is all that is required, and as an incentive to register on‑line, Nemesys will email you the NFX4 EQ effects module free of charge.

The installation routine makes some sensible default choices for storage: the first available drive is used for installing the application, and the last available one for samples. Most people will want to install everything on offer but you do have the option to install the Program Files (58Mb), the basic demo samples (8Mb) and the GigaPiano (647Mb) separately.

When you first run Gigastudio it scans your PC to build an initial QuickSound database from any Gig 2.0‑format sounds already installed, and then lets you accept or reconfigure its default system settings, although you can alter these at any time from its Settings menus. Gigastudio defaults to a maximum polyphony of 64 voices — a sensible compromise when running other applications simultaneously — but is fully variable between 12 and 160 voices for those with hardware up to the task (see System Requirements box). The number of Transition voices, which can be set between six and 32, determines how many voices can be stolen in their decay mode to start new voices. Those who use lots of block chords may find higher settings more useful.

The Master Attenuation setting is best left at 0dB when playing only a few notes, but up to 15dB of attenuation is available to prevent audio clipping when the full 160 voices are playing simultaneously. Other Gigastudio settings include quick‑launch buttons that you can point to your choice of sequencer, patch editor and audio editor. The Hardware settings show a list of available GSIF‑compatible hardware in a drop‑down box, and you can also choose 32, 44.1, or 48kHz sample rate, which output pairs to devote to Gigastudio, and which MIDI In ports to map to each of the four Nemesys MIDI ports supporting a total of 64 MIDI channels.

A Guided Tour

The majority of Gigastudio's functions are presented in one main window containing various resizeable panes. Across the top is a Tool and Command Bar: from here, three optional panes can be toggled on or off to suit your way of working. The Navigation Bar is a vertical strip down the left‑hand side of the screen with icons for quick selection of seven main window displays, while the bottom portion of the screen normally accommodates the Instrument Loader pane, and there's a Status Bar beneath this.

The Instrument Loader pane looks very much like Windows Explorer, with nested folders displayed in its left‑hand column, and the contents of the one currently selected on the right. You can look for sounds by hand if you wish, but the new QuickSound database lets you type in search words like 'guitar', 'voice', or 'piano', and a full list of all similarly tagged sounds in the selected folder will immediately appear in the right‑hand window. This saves lots of tedious folder navigation, especially for those with large sound libraries.

The Navigation bar contains icons for Port 1, Port 2, Port 3, Port 4, DSP Station, Settings, Diagnostics, and Help. Beneath these is a useful set of Status indicators displaying the current and peak number of voices used, the proportion of system RAM and CPU being used, and four MIDI Port indicators that show the presence of incoming data and the MIDI loop status.

Each of the four Ports (or two in the case of Gigastudio 96) has a 16‑channel MIDI mixer and is assigned to one of Gigastudio's MIDI inputs. You can also link any combination of ports to Port 1 to layer up to four sounds on a single MIDI channel. Double‑clicking on a sound in the Instrument Loader will automatically load it into the lowest available channel in the currently selected mixer, or you can drag it into one of the 16 MIDI slots across the top of a mixer. Each mixer channel strip has Mute and Solo buttons at the top, followed by Tune and Pan sliders, and then a Volume slider and level meter: all three sliders can be reassigned to any other MIDI controller you choose. Finally, at the bottom of each strip is a destination box, allowing you to choose where in the DSP Station Mixer each channel is routed.

Audio Mixing

The DSP Station Mixer has three tabbed sections: Inputs, Aux Busses, and Master. There are 16 stereo channels in its Inputs section, and you can route any number of MIDI mixer channels to each pair, and then add EQ and effects to your sounds. Nemesys have developed a proprietary NFX format for their effects, largely to maintain the low latency and high polyphony achieved by their sampler engine, although they also claim that their own effects use less processor power than DirectX and VST‑compatible ones.

The Input controls are certainly comprehensive, with selection slots at the top for four cascadable insert effects, followed by eight aux send controls per stereo output pair, Mute and Solo buttons, a DSP button to enable/disable NFX processing, a Link button for dual‑mono or stereo operation, Pan slider, and finally a level fader with meter display alongside. At the bottom of each stereo pair is an output routing box, whose destination options will be determined by what soundcard hardware you have allocated.

I found that all of this worked well in stereo mode, apart from a couple of small bugs: the DSP button didn't disable the effect, and the fader caps didn't move when I changed the level of a muted channel. Things got rather more confusing in dual‑mono mode, where L and R buttons let you "select which channel is currently operated on by the solo, mute, insert, and auxiliary sends." Using these it's possible to allocate different effects to each individual channel, but since all the effects have stereo in/out routing you also have to disable the relevant input in each effect control panel as well. I did fathom it out in the end, but do think Nemesys need to do a little tidying up here.

The aux busses section has eight stereo channels, each with slots for up to four cascadable effects, a Link button, and stereo faders, while the Master section simply has a Link button and a pair of overall level sliders and meters. You'll find one stereo pair for each soundcard hardware output you've allocated to Gigastudio.

Audio Effects

Clicking on one of the effect slots launches a window showing the available options; as I was testing Gigastudio 160, I had the full selection of four mentioned earlier. The NFX1 reverb/ multi‑effects plug‑in proved surprisingly versatile, providing fairly smooth reverb tails with only a small amount of metallic coloration at their very end, and with a comprehensive set of controls for Room Size, Pre‑Delay, Damping, Decay, and Diffusion. A set of 24 programs provides a wide range of spatial effects ranging from Halls, Chambers, to Plates, 12 of them offering speed and depth controls for optional flanging and chorus. Along with the expected Effect and Dry sliders and metering, the output also passes through a 3‑band semi‑parametric equaliser.

This is identical to the separate NFX4 EQ effect (which is more useful as an insert), and provides low, mid, and high level sliders with a range of ±18dB. The low band has a shelving response and a crossover point to the mid section variable from 10Hz to 2kHz, while the high shelving section has a fixed crossover from the mid band at 2kHz. It

sounded fairly good to me, and just the job for tweaking sounds in the mix, although it would have been useful to be able to adjust the high crossover point as well.

The NFX2 chorus/flanger is an enhanced version of the one in the reverb/multi‑effects module, with added feedback and delay controls, and provides rich chorus, delay, and flanging effects, once again with the 3‑band EQ on its output. The NFX3 tape/delay plug‑in provides four discrete delays that can each be adjusted either by time or tempo, and also have feedback, damping, pan, and volume sliders. Delay 1 and 2 also have an LFO with speed and depth controls for optional auto‑pan effects.

All four effect modules sounded good (although I doubt that Hans Zimmer would use NFX1 as his main reverb) and took only a modest amount of processor overhead. On my Pentium II 450MHz the reverb took 10 percent, the chorus 8 percent, the delay 5 percent, and the EQ 3 percent — similar proportions to comparable DirectX and VST effects. Nemesys also have more effects in the pipeline from third‑party developers, including distortion, amp simulation, compression, time‑ and pitch‑shifting, as well as mastering EQ.

In Control

For creating sounds, the Instrument Editor is extremely comprehensive, and although it's a separate application from Gigastudio itself, most edits are carried out in real time and can be easily auditioned from the main application. The graphic interface makes setting up velocity‑switching and Dimension control relatively easy, and the four‑step Wizard tool will save most musicians a considerable amount of time by creating multiple keyboard regions and a number of Dimensions, and then mapping your samples into them automatically. Instruments can use low‑pass, high‑pass, band‑pass, or band‑reject filters, and amplitude, filter cutoff frequency, and pitch each have a dedicated envelope generator and LFO.

If you already have a suitable sample library, and simply want to map WAV files to individual keys and play them directly from the hard drive for drum loops or sound effects, you can do this directly from Gigastudio's Distributed Wave window.

Real‑time control options abound in Gigastudio, and the MIDI mixers have a separate control surface page where you can set up up to 16 MIDI controllers. Their functions are defined in the Instrument editor and can be allocated to various aspects of sound alteration such as the Dimension switching mentioned earlier, or functions like drum decay and filter cutoff. The main parameters in each NFX module can also be assigned to any MIDI controller for real‑time automation.

Using Gigastudio

To get the most from your soundcard with Nemesys products you may need to follow specific instructions from its manufacturer: my Echo Gina card, for instance, needed its DirectSound support disabling to run Gigastudio, and I also ticked its MultiClient support box to let me run Cubase VST and Gigastudio at the same time.

I found the new interface much easier to use than the 'virtual rack' of Gigasampler, and was impressed by the streamlined system performance. Sound quality was excellent, latency so low that I wasn't aware of it at all, and even with my 450MHz Pentium II processor I managed about 120 simultaneous voices, with 60 percent CPU overhead, before audio break‑up occurred — though this would drop significantly with a few NFX EQs and effects enabled.

To get optimum performance you may have to tweak some of your Windows settings, although you might have to compromise if you're running other applications. For instance, Cubase tends to like high vcache settings, whereas Gigastudio seems to benefit from smaller settings and more available RAM. However, both audio sequencer and Gigastudio will benefit greatly from having bus Master DMA enabled on the audio hard drives.

Initially, I had problems launching VST at all after installing Gigastudio and routing it to Gina channels 1 and 2. Eventually I discovered that this was because soundcard channels allocated inside Gigastudio are still grabbed even when it's not running. Once I reallocated them to another combination of Gina channels, VST booted up normally, and then it only took me a couple of minutes to get both applications running simultaneously. I then managed around 48 Gigastudio voices while replaying 16 audio channels in Cubase — better performance than I've been able to get running most soft synths.

In a situation like this, capping Gigastudio's polyphony at 48 voices in its Settings section should provide the best system stability, rather than letting it grind your PC to a halt attempting to run additional voices beyond its capabilities. If you do run out of polyphony, there's a Capture‑To‑Wave function that allows you to grab the sample performance as a stereo audio track for import into your audio sequencer.

Loading and using Gig 2.0‑format samples proved to be quick and easy, but Gigastudio sample libraries are all supplied in Gig 1.0 format, as this gives them compatibility with Gigasampler as well as Gigastudio. Converting them to Gig 2.0 format once on the hard drive is very worthwhile, improving sample loading times as claimed: it initially took me 38 seconds to load in the 473 megabytes of GigaHarp, and 33 seconds to perform the conversion, but future loads took just eight seconds.

Final Thoughts

I was very impressed with Gigastudio, despite the few bugs that I discovered, since its unique approach to soft sampling gives it far greater polyphony for a given PC spec than any other product. Nemesys can now boast a far more impressive sound library than they could when Gigasampler came out, and some of its instruments offer more expressive possibilities than you could ever fit into a hardware sampler. Moreover, providing Akai CD‑ROM compatibility gives it a huge potential choice of sounds.

Gigastudio keeps Nemesys ahead of the competition in several ways: of the other Akai‑compatible products, Creamware's Powersampler offers only 32 voices and Bitheadz's Unity DS1 only 64, although it should achieve 128 voices in the forthcoming PC version 2. From my many forays into user forums, it seems that the Gigastudio range is one of the few products that makes some Mac owners wish they had a PC. You can't get a much higher recommendation than that!

Brief Specifications

The new DSP Station lets you add real‑time insert and send effects to any of its 32 channels.The new DSP Station lets you add real‑time insert and send effects to any of its 32 channels.
  • Maximum number of voices: 160 (Gigastudio 160), 96 (Gigastudio 96).
  • Number of MIDI channels: 64 (Gigastudio 160), 32 (Gigastudio 96).
  • Maximum number of audio channels: 32 with suitable GSIF‑compatible soundcard.
  • Filters: low‑pass, high‑pass, band‑pass, and band‑reject, all with dynamic resonance.
  • Envelope generators and LFOs: three pairs dedicated to ampltitude, filter cutoff, and pitch.
  • Maximum number of voices: 160 (Gigastudio 160), 96 (Gigastudio 96).
  • Number of MIDI channels: 64 (Gigastudio 160), 32 (Gigastudio 96).
  • Maximum number of audio channels: 32 with suitable GSIF‑compatible soundcard.
  • Filters: low‑pass, high‑pass, band‑pass, and band‑reject, all with dynamic resonance.
  • Envelope generators and LFOs: three pairs dedicated to ampltitude, filter cutoff, and pitch.
  • Effects included: NFX1 reverb/multi‑effects (both versions), NFX2 chorus/flanger and NFX3 tap delay/auto‑pan (included with 160, optional extra with 96).
  • Audio processing: 32‑bit.
  • Audio formats supported: up to 24‑bit at up to 96kHz sampling rate.
  • Sample formats supported: Nemesys Gig, Akai S1000/3000, SoundFont, WAV.
  • MIDI‑to‑audio latency: 3 to 10mS when using GSIF‑compatible soundcard drivers.

System Requirements

There are eight aux busses for send effects, and the effects themselves have controls that can be automated using MIDI controllers.There are eight aux busses for send effects, and the effects themselves have controls that can be automated using MIDI controllers.

Like other multitrack audio applications, all Nemesys products are as dependent on the hard drive speed as they are on processor power, and the manufacturers are careful to provide sensible system guidelines. All require Windows 95 or 98 (but won't yet run with Windows 2000), and an Ultra DMA or Ultra/Ultra Wide SCSI hard drive with a minimum access time of 10mS, preferably one dedicated to Gigastudio sample storage, although this isn't mandatory.

Although the samples aren't stored in system RAM, Gigastudio makes extensive use of it for buffering, so the absolute minimum required is 64Mb, and you would be sensible to have at least 128Mb. A soundcard with GSIF‑compatible drivers is desirable, since these provide the lowest latency (3 to 10mS), as well as the option of multi‑channel outputs. Failing this, however, most cards with DirectX drivers can be used, although this will restrict you to a single stereo output. Nemesys maintain an up‑to‑date list of tested cards on their web site.

You will also need a MIDI interface to play Gigastudio as an instrument: up to four are supported if you want to access the full 64 MIDI‑channel capability of the 160 version. As far

as overall performance goes, Nemesys recommend the following, although you must remember that these specifications are for Gigastudio running by itself — if you want to try running a MIDI sequencer alongside it, or even more optimistically a MIDI + Audio one, you will need an extremely fast processor and 256Mb of RAM.

  • Gigastudio 160 optimal performance: 800MHz Pentium III or Athlon processor, 128Mb RAM.
  • Gigastudio 96 optimal performance: 600MHz Pentium III or Athlon processor, 128Mb RAM.
  • Minimum system requirement: 266MHz Pentium II or 400MHz AMD K6‑2 processor, 64Mb RAM.

Suitable Soundcards

The Instrument Editor provides a comprehensive graphic interface, along with an easy‑to‑use Wizard for painless creation of complex sounds.The Instrument Editor provides a comprehensive graphic interface, along with an easy‑to‑use Wizard for painless creation of complex sounds.

Back in 1998 there were only three or four soundcards suitable for partnering Gigasampler, and only one supporting multiple outputs (the Aark 20/20). Since then, its popularity has ensured that GSIF (Gigasampler InterFace) compatible drivers are now available from lots of different soundcard manufacturers, and with very low latency of typically 6 to 9 milliseconds. There are also plenty of compatible cards with multiple outputs to choose from.

Cards available with GSIF‑compatible drivers now include models from Aardvark, Creamware, Echo, Ego Sys, Frontier Design, Midiman, RME, Soundscape, and Terratec, while the SB Live! and AWE64 Gold are recommended using DirectSound drivers. Three products are specifically not recommended: Guillemot's Isis, the Turtle Beach Montego, and Yamaha's DSP Factory. Take a look at the Nemesys web site before you buy to check that your soundcard will be suitable.


  • Awesome 160‑voice polyphony for those with a powerful PC.
  • 64‑part multitimbral for huge arrangements.
  • Built‑in high‑quality EQ and effects can be applied to individual sounds.
  • The dedicated sound library provides uniquely expressive instruments.
  • Easy‑to‑use interface.


  • There are still a few small bugs to iron out.
  • Dual‑mono effect routing can be confusing.
  • No direct connection into MIDI + Audio sequencers.


Gigastudio 160 is probably the most powerful sampling environment in the world today and offers a unique combination of features unmatched by any other software or hardware product.