Ofir Gal reflects on the history of the Falcon with mixed feelings, and revisits the current C‑Lab MkX...
I've spent the last few days with my Fender Strat plugged into the new C‑Lab Falcon with Cubase Audio v2.06, recording and playing around with the built‑in effects and the audio editing facilities. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it performed faultlessly, in contrast to the original Atari model, which was problematic for me.
Although I was one of the first to buy the Atari Falcon, I never had the need to push its audio capabilities to the limit. I was more interested in general use — word processing, graphics, DTP and comms. When I did try Cubase Audio, I hit various problems. The first version was far from perfect, and the Falcon's clumsily‑designed SCSI hardware was showing its weaknesses. I tried two of the SCSI modifications that were published by Atari, and although these improved performance, I just couldn't trust the machine for recording my band's first album. Since we were given 'proper' studio time by the record company anyway, we just stuck with our MegaST and plain old Cubase for the MIDI side of things.
The New Pretender
The news of the C‑Lab Falcon arrived as the aforementioned album was nearing completion. I saw it demonstrated and I was quite impressed, but you can only learn so much from a demo — you can't really tell how reliable a system is until you try it for yourself.
Later on, I was able to review the new machine, but not for long enough to really push it hard. However, user reports seemed quite positive, so eventually we (the band) decided to get one for the humble home studio which we mainly use for songwriting and putting demos together. For one reason or another, it took until late May this year to arrive — just in time for a little project we had going: a radio jingle to promote a gig on Radio Caroline. Armed with the new Falcon, we started putting together the 30‑second promo by capturing audio from our CD and compiling the jingle. The basic idea was to cut and paste together a few key passages from the album and overdub some speech on top — nothing too technically demanding, as I'm sure you'll agree.
I recorded some guitars, grabbed audio off a CD, edited the recording, even used effects, and it all worked without crashing once.
We came across a variety of problems. To start with, things went well. Apart from some minor bugs in Cubase Audio, the Falcon seemed to be working OK. But gradually, as the recording became more complex and contained more edit points and effects, the odd random audio click would appear, along with inexplicable crashes. I was losing confidence in the Falcon very quickly, but we did manage to complete two versions of the jingle, as Caroline listeners in Kent can testify.
I spoke with Paul Wiffen from C‑Lab Falcon distributors Digital Media, who was convinced that there was something wrong with my setup. After I had followed his various suggestions, to no avail, he decided to send me a replacement Falcon. The new machine worked perfectly. I spent hours trying to make it misbehave, but simply couldn't — I recorded some guitars, grabbed audio off a CD, edited the recording, even used effects, and it all worked without crashing once. The only problem I faced was a bug in Cubase Audio, which sometimes forgets to place a new recording in the Arrange window, so you have to drag it manually from the Pool.
Only time (and perhaps a serious assessment of the C‑Lab Falcon/Cubase Audio combination) will reveal the long‑term prospects for this machine, but in my opinion the C‑Lab Falcon is now a system that has had time to mature, with enough hardware support to make it a viable option.
There's more trouble in Atari‑land, as the last news‑stand magazine closes. ST Format, the longest‑running Atari title in this country, is to close down. Reasons for the closure have not been made public, but are believed to be over‑estimation of the Atari market and a decline in overseas sales. The only running title is now ST Applications, run by the FaST Club (0115 945 5250). This disk‑based magazine is still a source of useful, although not music‑specific, information. There is also some talk of a subscription‑only magazine — more news should be arriving over the next few weeks.
Interactive, one of the biggest supporters of the Atari shareware scene, now has a web page advertising its shareware collection, which includes favourites like Freedom and Egale, plus OCR and other utilities. The Interactive page includes demos and lots of information, and is available at: