Paul Overaa brings you the latest Amiga news, discovers how to improve his built‑in speaker sound quality, and discovers the meaning of giftware...
Amiga Technologies Gmb(UK), the company formed by the German firm Escom, have certainly not been letting the grass grow under their feet since they took control of the future of the Amiga. The company have already opened a UK office in Maidenhead (just down the road from the old Commodore headquarters), and have held press, dealer, and developer conferences to both announce and discuss their plans for the relaunch of the Amiga range. Ex‑Commodore UK Production Manager Jonathan Anderson will be running the show, and he won't be alone — other ex‑Commodore staff include National Account Manager Bob Burridge, technical whizz‑kid Sajjad Majjid, Sales Manager John Smith, and Claire Rudd.
With the physical side of the organisation already comfortably in place, there's every chance that new A1200s, and perhaps even the high‑end A4000 tower systems, will be on sale by the time you read this. Around 60,000 A1200s have been ear‑marked for the UK this year, and the price has been provisionally set at £399. Whilst this makes the A1200 £50 more expensive than before the Commodore fiasco, this unavoidable increase can be attributed to a number of factors, including the raised costs of rushed manufacture, and the current prices of DRAM chips.
Despite the higher price, the improved A1200 is certain to do well — particularly since a fair amount of software is being bundled with the machine as part of the relaunch package. This is always the sort of thing that both retailers and users alike get excited about, especially since Amiga Technologies have already indicated that one of their longer‑term goals is to capitalise on the Amiga's now acknowledged potential as a multimedia machine. They've already announced that they're working closely with Scala, and there's even a rumour going around that Scala software may be bundled with new Amigas at some stage.
Most people would agree that in terms of sound quality, the majority of Amiga monitors leaves much to be desired. A couple of multimedia‑style speakers (the sort that come with a built‑in amp), undoubtedly help matters, although many of the current offerings still have rather limited EQ control. This, coupled with the average speakers that are normally provided (and I'm being kind here), usually means that even once you've added a separate multimedia speaker system, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
This is where the Little Gem, a new unit from Gillett Multimedia, is likely to come in handy. It's a small (7.5cm x14cm x3cm) 2‑channel In/2‑channel Out audio mixer that provides independent gain, +/‑ 12dB high and low frequency boost and cut, and left/right stereo panning adjustment. The two input and output connectors are phono type (ie. the same as the Amiga uses), so connection is just a matter of linking the Amiga's sound terminals to the Little Gem via a stereo phono lead, and connecting the unit's output terminals to your existing multimedia sound system. The unit is powered by a 9V PP3 battery, but mains operation is also possible via most everyday regulated power supplies (the Little Gem will operate satisfactorily anywhere between 9 and 18 Volts DC, and accepts any polarity).
In the general world of mixers, the Little Gem is obviously not going to cause any great interest. It's a pretty simple unit, but having said that, it has been designed with the Amiga in mind, and does appear to do quite a good job. Needless to say, being able to control the signal level being fed into a multimedia‑type speaker system can make a significant difference to the final audio output, and if nothing else, boosting the bass and treble end of your audio signals alone will often be enough to make up for any speaker deficiencies, and provide that extra punch to bring your music to life.
Most current Amiga sound samplers have little, or no signal EQ control, and unless the sound source itself provides these, or you're using a separate mixing desk, you're stuck with sampling whatever signal arrives at the sampler. If, however, you put the Little Gem between the audio source and the sampler, then you get the option of adding some EQ control to a sound before it is sampled.
The Little Gem Micro Mixer certainly works well, has relatively low noise, and the internal construction is fairly good. Its only disadvantage is that at £69.95 (including UK p&p) the Little Gem is relatively expensive compared to the prices of many of the Amiga multimedia sound systems around. Nevertheless, for those users looking for a convenient way of enhancing their existing Amiga internal sounds, this box of tricks could be just the job. For more details, contact Gillett Multimedia on 01353 669203.
An excellent 'giftware' Amiga program for playing type 0 and type 1 MIDI files has recently come to my attention. It's called MIDIPlay and has been written by Janne Syväniemi. In short, it's probably the most sophisticated MIDI file player available for the Amiga at the present time! The main features include a tape deck‑style graphical user interface, playlist facilities, GM support, program change and drum mapping, variable tempo control, and muting, soloing, and transposition of MIDI channel data. Program change, pitch bend, and SysEx messages can be filtered, and the program can use both external (ie. MIDI Clock‑based) sync'ing, or an internal clock for its timing signals. It also provides ARexx support, recognising around 80 different ARexx commands.
One very useful facility of MIDIPlay is its ability to print to the console window. This feature is not just limited to lyrics, but many other file events as well, such as copyright notices, sequence and track names, instrument names, and so on. MIDIPlay also allows you to designate a drum channel, ie. a MIDI channel that is protected from transposition. In the program's documentation, the author mentions that he uses Dr T's KCS for his Amiga sequencing, so there are no prizes for guessing where the idea of having a protected drum channel originally came from!
There are so many options available with this program that I did wonder whether Janne had overdone things a bit. It's all very well being flexible, but there comes a point where the sheer volume of possible options becomes daunting to the average user (especially out on live gigs). Luckily, most of the program's default settings are such that you only really need worry about the options you do want to use!
MIDIPlay requires at least OS 2.04 to run, and the techies among you may like to know that the program uses Bill Barton's (Pregnant Badger Music) respected MIDI library for the underlying MIDI message handling operations. Needless to say, this library is also provided on the MIDIPlay disk (more information about Bill Barton's MIDI library can be found on Fred Fish disk 227).
Another point of interest is that by default, the MIDIPlay program uses the fairly high‑level timer device for producing its MIDI file event timing. Although this is a very efficient way of handling time delays in a multi‑tasking environment, there is an increased software overhead with this approach, and this can produce slightly slow playback timing. Much depends on your Amiga model, the types of MIDI files being played, the other tasks being run, and so on, but if you do try to multi‑task MIDIPlay with other programs, you may find you occasionally get erratic timing. The MIDIPlay program does, however, provide an option for taking over a couple of the Amiga's CIA chip hardware timers directly. Since this eliminates the need for the program to make those high‑level timer device calls, the result is that playback timing will be noticeably improved, particularly on slower machines.
We've had freeware, shareware, charityware, and even vapourware (ie. software that gets all the usual pre‑release promotion, and then fails to actually see the light of day) — but giftware? That was a new one on me. It turns out that it's a variation on the shareware software theme — the idea being that people who use MIDIPlay regularly, should consider rewarding the author with some music‑related gift — a CD for instance, or a disk of your own tracker music modules (if you've created any). If you choose to become a registered user in this way, you will be sent some additional MIDIPlay ToolKit software.
The bottom line? MIDIPlay is likely to prove useful to all MIDI‑based Amiga musicians, and as such is well worth trying. The program should be available from most of the larger Amiga PD libraries by now.
- SIRENS SOUNDING
Siren Software are currently offering discounts on their Speedcom Modem range. The Speedcom+B (14,400 V32 bis) is now down to £109.99, the Speedcom+ET (19,200 V32 Turbo) comes in at £139.99, and the Speedcom+BF (28,800 V34 &VFC) drops by £25 to £174.99. All modems come with an RS232 cable, UK power supply, telephone cable, and NComm3 software. You also get an 'Amiga guide to Comms' thrown in as well. For details, contact Siren Software on 0161 796 3208.
- AMOS AGA
Interest in AMOS seems to have declined of late, and one reason may be that it does not support AGA graphics. Fortunately an AGA AMOS extension has now been designed by a group of Amiga enthusiasts, and it's now available from the Amiganuts PD library at a cost of just £10. For details, contact Amiganuts on 01703 348943.