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Media Vision's Memphis

PC Notes
Published June 1994

This month, Brian Heyward presents his round‑up of the MEMS show, and takes a look at Media Vision's Memphis multimedia upgrade...

Wandering around the MEMS show at the end of April, I wasn't struck by any startling new innovations in the PC music world. The various vendors seemed to be concentrating more on honing their current product range, rather than turning the world upside‑down with new ones — evolution rather than revolution. Still, there was a fair amount of PC‑based action — over half the stands had some PC products on show or sale.

Steinberg News

Harman Audio were demonstrating a number of new Steinberg products, including a new Windows application and a 16‑bit MPC Soundcard. The software package is called MusicStation (£149), and aims to be all things to all musicians, from complete beginners to experienced songwriters. The package is capable of digital audio replay of WAV files, and has both 'piano roll' and score editing of MIDI data. There is also an auto‑accompaniment function with 15 style templates, each with 64 variations. Finally, Steinberg have thrown in their excellent MIDI Xplained hypertext manual, to allow you to delve more deeply into the mysteries of MIDI. The soundcard is called the XDMC (£199), and features 16‑bit audio, a GM‑compatible synth based on Ensoniq technology, and the usual mixer and MIDI interface. Both the above will also be available bundled as a single package for around £350; for more information give Harman a call on 081 207 5050.

Boosey & Hawkes

Making their first foray into the world of high‑tech music, Boosey & Hawkes were exhibiting their 'style guide' books by Christopher Norton. Whilst not specifically computer‑based, they each come with a disk full of Standard MIDI files (SMFs) to illustrate the text and give you something to practice with. The idea is that you load the files into your favourite sequencer and mute any tracks that you want to ignore. The books cover a variety of styles including pop, rock, and jazz. For more information, contact the Marketing Department on 081 205 3861.

Soundcard Offerings

Creative Labs had their latest 16‑bit soundcard on display. This is the Sound Blaster AWE32 (see review in this issue), with which they have jumped on the 'wavetable in RAM' bandwagon. The card features the Emu 8000 synth section, with a GM soundset and programmable effects processor (which features QSound as well as the more common chorus and reverb effects). The card comes with just 512K of RAM, although the programmable wavetable is expandable up to 28Mb using two standard SIMMs — or at least it will be when 16Mb modules become available. At the moment, there is only a very basic tool for mapping, looping and downloading WAV sample files to the card, but Creative are working on a more advanced utility for this purpose, which should be available towards the end of June. For more information, contact Creative Labs on 0743 248590.

Optech had their new Gravis UltraSound Max card on display. This new card integrates the 16‑bit recording option and a number of common CD‑ROM interfaces with the existing UltraSound hardware, to give a complete 16‑bit MPC soundcard. Also being exhibited was Twelve Tone Systems' CakeWalk Home Studio, which is a cut‑down version of their professional sequencing package for Windows. As well as performing all the tasks that you'd expect of a MIDI sequencer, it can print scores and replay WAV files. For more information, contact Optech on 0252 714340.

Bluepoint were also showing a range of Sound Blaster‑compatible soundcards. At the top of the range is the SoundFX Classic 3000, which retails for £234 (though it's worth shopping round for the best prices). The card incorporates a 16‑bit digital audio capability, the standard OPL2 and OPL3 FM sounds, and a PCM synth section, which is 24‑note polyphonic and compatible with General MIDI and the Roland GS, MT32, and LAPC. In MIDI terms, the interface is compatible with the Roland MPU401 (in dumb mode). Unusually, the card can use sample rates of up to 48kHz, which is the same as the DAT standard. Another product in the range is the Wave FX, an add‑on module which lets you add PCM sounds onto any soundcard that has a WaveBlaster‑compatible connector, such as the Turtle Beach Tahiti. The Wave FX retails for just under £100 . Bluepoint can be contacted on 0908 277007.

Recording The Hard (Disk) Way

On the Soundscape stand, staff were demonstrating the new 8‑track software for the eponymous modular hard disk recording system. The Soundscape can now play back up to eight tracks (as long as your hard disks are fast enough), and now also has real‑time parametric equalisation. For more information, call Chris Wright or Nick Owen on 0222 450120.

Not to be outdone, Digidesign were showing off the Session 8 hard disk system, which was hooked up to an ADAT with their new interface. The system allows you to slave as many ADATs as you can afford to the Session 8, and digitally bounce tracks around. You can even use the ADAT to back up audio data from the SCSI disk if you want. The hybrid system seems to hang together very well, and is certainly worth looking at if you need to record lots of tracks at once — for instance to capture the feel of a live band. For more information, contact Digidesign on 081 875 9977.

While we're on the subject of hard disk recorders, Studio Audio have announced version 2.1 of their SADiE software. The new version adds a number of features requested by SADiE users, including automation, auto‑conforming, 9‑pin machine control, networking and CD‑ROM support. A little further down the road is version 2.2, which will add pitch shift, improved 'Time Scrunch', support for Magneto‑Optical drive, Exabyte 8mm tape for backup, and the DDP CD mastering format. The new software will be on show at APRS, or you can contact Studio Audio direct on 0353 648888. As usual, all existing customers will be updated free of charge.

Multimedia Corner

More than just a soundcard, the Memphis upgrade aims to put a multimedia system on your desktop, by adding a double‑speed CD‑ROM drive, speakers, and a Sound Blaster‑compatible soundcard to your humble PC. The desktop unit is designed to be used as a pedestal for the PC's video monitor, giving quick access to the CD‑ROM drive by flicking down the front panel. However, you have to be careful that the CD tray doesn't trap your fingers against the case as it ejects the CD‑ROM. To make the system as flexible as possible, the speakers can either be slotted on the side of the CD‑ROM drive to give a compact desktop sound system, or they can be placed on the floor using the clip‑on speaker stands (say on either side of your desk), thus improving the stereo imaging. The Memphis will also allow you to play audio CDs via the controls on the front of the unit.

For the musician, the fact that the MIDI connections are readily accessible on the desktop unit makes it easy to connect a MIDI keyboard and sound module. The latter point is important, as the soundcard only has rather naff OPL3 FM sounds on board. The card can also emulate the MPU401 MIDI interface for DOS applications by using a supplied software driver, though only in dumb or UART mode. The system comes with a half a dozen or so CD‑ROMs, ranging from DOS games to Compton's Multimedia Encyclopaedia. On the MIDI software front, you get MIDIsoft's Recording Session and a number of MIDI files, but obviously you can use any Windows MIDI software with the system.

The system is a bit pricey at £599, but as it comprises a single module which fits under a PC's monitor, with all the audio and MIDI connectors easily accessible, the sheer convenience factor may make it worth considering, especially if you can't dedicate a PC to your musical activities. For further information, contact Media Vision on 0494 465050.