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Evolving Role Of The PC; Steinberg Wave Player

PC Notes
Published March 1995

This month, Brian Heywood takes a look at the evolving role of the PC, and considers the parts CD‑ROMs and the Internet have to play in the future of music and shopping...

This column is a bit of strange animal, in that it has to cover the musical applications of the PC, as well as all the other possible uses a musician might have for a PC. This is an ever‑expanding task, as the PC is rapidly becoming more of a multimedia‑based platform, and is joining the list of other media players, alongside the traditional TV, video machine, and radio.

This widening out of the PC's role may explain why the PC is virtually taking over the personal computer market, but whether this is a good thing is another matter. On the hardware side, it is, since the PC has an open architecture. There's plenty of competition, which keeps prices low, and ensures a wide range of choice. The software side is not such a free market, with Microsoft ruling the roost in terms of the Windows operating system.

Consider the alternative, though. Imagine if the Macintosh was in the number one slot. Since Apple are extremely proprietorial about their hardware and operating system, they would have a stranglehold on the entire market place, far more so than Microsoft. At least the Seattle‑based software house has ensured that their operating system will run on the 'standard' PC, and have no temptation to include features that will require the purchase of more hardware. If Apple can break out of their 'proprietary' rut, and release their operating system as a stand‑alone product (like Windows), they could then be in the running to become the next personal computing standard.

But despite Apple's recent commitment to do just this (with IBM and the PowerPC), this action is so out of character that I think the company will get cold feet. It'd be nice to think I'm wrong, as competition would undoubtedly improve the 'breed' of personal computers. I remain to be convinced.

Steinberg Wave Player

One of the most common misconceptions about the digital audio aspect of Windows MPC soundcards is the extent to which you can practically use your soundcard as a replacement for a music sampler. There are a number of reasons why this is difficult for the average soundcard, the most problematic being that soundcards are normally monophonic — so each time you trigger a new sound, any playing sound will be cut off. Compare this to even a fairly modest stand‑alone sampler like the Akai S900, which can play back eight different sounds simultaneously, and you see the limitations. There are a number of cards that integrate a sampler alongside the normal digital audio section (for example the Creative Labs AWE32 and Gravis UltraSound), but this not a lot of help if you already own a perfectly serviceable SoundBlaster card, and don't wish to pay out for a new one incorporating a sampler.

Steinberg have tried to address this problem with their new WavePlayer. This application allows you to control the digital audio section of your MPC soundcard over MIDI. WavePlayer lets you 'fire off' samples (ie. Windows WAV files) from any MIDI sequencer, by associating a sample with a particular MIDI note value. For example, you could attach a number of breakbeats to a range of notes, and then use the MIDI keyboard to trigger them at the correct time. The software works by creating a pseudo‑MIDI device that can be selected from your sequencer. The Wave Player — which needs to be running — monitors the MIDI data being sent to the port, and plays any of the sounds it's been configured to recognise when the appropriate MIDI note is played.

There are limitations, of course; the MPC digital audio facility is monophonic, so triggering a new sound while one is already playing will cut off the original. You are also held ransom to a certain extent by the quality of your soundcard's driver software, and the speed of your hard disk. One thing you don't have to worry about is the length of the sampled sound file, as the data is played directly from the disk rather than from memory. The Wave Player supports 8‑ or 16‑bit sound samples recorded at 11.025, 22.05 or 44.1 Khz, in either stereo or mono.

There are quite a few possibilities for this utility — you could, for example, record a vocal track in 'sync' with a MIDI backing track, and then trigger it from the sequencer to get a low‑budget MIDI/digital audio system. But the nice thing about Wave Player is that it will work with any MPC Windows MIDI sequencer. All you need to do is select the 'Wave Player' device from the list of available MIDI output devices. So, although Wave Player can't play more than one sound at a time (thanks to the limitations of the Windows digital audio sample player), the program does allow you to make practical use of the sample section of your soundcard in your music making.

Wave Player is an excellent example of what you can do with a multi‑tasking operating system like Windows, and costs just under £60. To find out who your local dealer is, contact Harman Audio on 081 207 5050.

Try Before You Buy

OK, so no‑one said that buying a music system for your computer was going to be easy. It's all very well scrutinising the reviews and shopping around for the best price, but you may still find that the software doesn't suit the way you work. It's even worse if you're new to the game, and are not sure exactly what you want anyway. Relying on your friendly music shop assistant is not necessarily going to help much, unless you can arrange a demo in the shop.

Turnkey in London have come up with at least a partial solution, by releasing a CD‑ROM stuffed full of demo software for you to try out in the comfort of your own home. Rather grandly entitled the Computer Music Encyclopedia, it has been set up so that the demonstration software can be run direct from the CD‑ROM, meaning that you won't have to clutter up your hard disk with lots of applications that you may only run once. Obviously, Turnkey have only included software which they sell, but it still gives a good idea of what's available, and should be invaluable if you're just about to start exploring the world of computer music. For a full contents list, see the box elsewhere on this page.

The CD‑ROM costs just under £10, and this is refundable against the purchase of any of the software featured on the disk. It's labelled as 'Volume 1', so it looks like Turnkey will be updating it on a regular basis. To get your copy, give Turnkey a ring on 071 379 5148, or call into their Charing Cross Road shop.

Whoops II: Son Of Whoops

Not content with making a mistake on the MIDI In diagram depicted in December 1994's PC Notes, and correcting it in February 1995's issue, we now realise that the correction itself needs correcting! Further apologies are due to all those who, having screamed themselves hoarse over Christmas, set out confidently on receipt of the February issue, peace of mind restored, to construct their MIDI In circuit, only to degenerate into gibbering wrecks once again when it still didn't quite work properly. Here, once and for all, is the corrected, working version... honest.

Computer Music Encyclopedia: Contents


  • Twelve Tone Systems Cakewalk.
  • Musicator GS.


  • Twelve Tone Systems Cakewalk Home Studio.
  • Twelve Tone Systems Cakewalk Pro.
  • Steinberg Cubase.
  • Steinberg Cubase Lite.
  • Passport Encore.
  • Passport Musictime.
  • Passport Mastertracks Pro.
  • Coda Finale.
  • PG Music Jazz Guitarist.
  • PG Music Jazz Pianist.
  • PG Music New Orleans Pianist.
  • PG Music Pianist.
  • PG Music Ragtime Pianist.
  • Big Noise Maxpak demo.
  • Big Noise Presto!
  • Sound Quest MIDI Quest.
  • Steinberg Musicstation.
  • Musicator GS.
  • Sion Software Quickscore Deluxe.
  • Turtle Beach Wave.

Cyberspace Corner

With so many people now making music at home, it has become obvious that traditional distribution channels are not really up to the task of getting even a fraction of the new music to the public. Record shops and the like are really only interested in 'product' that will shift in large quantities, and any small label knows the difficulties of getting distributors to handle 'unknown' artists — and more importantly, getting these distributors to pay you when the records do sell.

There are a number of alternative ways of getting your music out to a wider audience without having to go through the commercial music distribution mill. For instance, you could use the SOS Tape Exchange, or try an alternative distribution system, like CMC in the US (see December 1994's PC Notes). Both these methods involve getting your music onto a standard format — say a CD or cassette — and then getting the public to buy it.

Cerberus Sound and Vision have approached the problem from a different angle, and created a system for getting your music to the customer via the Internet. The idea is that you supply your music in a digital format which is compressed and encoded, and then made available via the Cerberus computer, based in central London. Subscribers to the service can download the music to their computer via a modem link.

The cost of each track is set by the artist (or record label) that places the track on Cerberus, and is charged to the subscriber's credit card. The distributor (ie. Cerberus) takes a commission of either 25% or 12.5%, depending on the deal. At a small additional cost, the artist will also be able to provide materials such as graphics, text and animations, that can act as an electronic version of a record's sleeve liner notes.

Cerberus apply compression and data reduction techniques (similar to those used on Mini‑Disc and DCC systems) to achieve a file size reduction of up to 16:1. This means that with a 28,800 baud modem and ideal conditions, you could download a three and a half minute song in around 10 minutes, or up to 16 minutes if you're not so lucky. To play the music, the subscriber has to use special player software — like a jukebox — which decompresses the music and plays it out via the PC's sound system.

The downloaded music file is encoded in such a way that it can only be played by the subscriber who downloaded it, so the music can't be easily pirated. Cerberus maintain that the cost of the music will be so cheap that it won't be worth pirating it anyway. This makes a lot of sense, since the artist doesn't need to go through the expensive process of creating a CD or other concrete manifestation of the music. Ideally, the music will cost much less than it does on CD, but the artists will still receive more in royalties than at present, as they won't need to pay a posse of middlemen for the privilege of making a profit out of their art.

The Cerberus service will go through a six‑month trial period, to allow potential subscribers to get a flavour of the system. During this period, there will be a fee 'holiday' for both artist and subscriber. Cerberus looks to me like the wave of the future, especially as there are supposed to be around 32 million regular users of the Internet worldwide. With this large potential audience, even music with a minority appeal could sell a large number of units.

To find out more about the service, contact Cerberus Sound and Vision on 071 497 0678.