Test Drive: SAMPLITUDE PRO X Multitrack Recorder/Editor

HERDING THOSE WINDOWS

Previous versions of Samplitude were notable for the abundance of floating windows, which demanded a large monitor and intimidated the new user. Samplitude Pro X has greatly reduced the number of these windows by introducing various ways in which they can be parked. The most important change is the Docker, which in its default mode, divides the screen in half horizontally, and displays in the lower half the Object Editor, Routing Editor, or any of nine other windows that were floated in previous versions. If you insist, they can still be detached from the Docker and made to float, or docked in other places, such as adjacent to the transport bar at the bottom half of the screen.

So while Samplitude’s interface is far simpler and less cluttered than in previous versions, it still provides you with multiple ways to perform the same action. For example, the mouse can be switched between no fewer than fifteen different tools, and it seems that there are at least twice as many menu and submenu items as there are in Pro Tools. Many things that are handled using drag-and-drop interfaces in other editors bring up dialog boxes in Samplitude. For instance, rearranging the plug-ins on a mixer channel’s inserts is handled via a dialog rather than a drag-and-drop. It’s not that Samplitude is awkward or difficult, although there is a learning curve and you will want to rely on keystrokes (completely customizable, of course) to maximize your productivity. It’s just that there are so many features and options available here that you will want to pick and choose those that fit your task, and will find yourself ignoring many of them. The upside to this is that there’s almost nothing that you cannot do in Samplitude Pro X, and there are likely multiple ways to do it.

One distinctive aspect of the user-interface design is the way in which the right mouse button is employed. Sometimes it brings up a contextual menu, as in other applications, but often it’s the means by which important dialog boxes are accessed. For instance, left-clicking on an insert slot in the Mixer bypasses a plug-in, but it’s right-clicking that opens the plug-in window for editing. This is logical and it’s implemented consistently throughout the program, but rather different from other editors, and means you absolutely need a two-button mouse, preferably one with a roller ball.

OBJECTS -- WE GOTZ ‘EM

Samplitude Pro X uses the term Object to refer to what other editors call ‘regions’, ‘clips’ or ‘events’, which are the playable portions of audio files positioned on a track in the arrange window. One of Samplitude’s key features is the extent to which these Objects can be manipulated independently of the track to which they’re assigned. Most audio packages let you apply fades and overall gain on individual clips, as well as non-real time effects processing that writes new files, but Samplitude’s audio Objects go beyond that. They can have their own real-time insert effects and aux sends -- all of which, along with the Object’s output level and pan position, can be graphically automated and stored as presets. They can be pitch-shifted and time-stretched, and you can even set an existing Object to refer to a completely different source audio file. It is entirely possible to mix an entire multitrack recording using only Object-based processing, using the mixer only for subgrouping and bus processing.

It is a very different way to work, but there are significant advantages to it, once you’ve wrapped your head around the concept. If you decide to pick up an Object and move it to a different track or time position, all of its associated Object-based effects and automation simply come along for the ride. So if you’re building a monster promo or imaging piece with thousands of sound effects, just a few actual tracks may well do the job. And Object-based effects are only active when the Object is actually being played back, which makes it a very CPU-efficient way of doing things -- and if you do run out of CPU cycles, you can always render them on a track.

Object-based processing is handled in the Object Editor window found in the Docker, which can be resized and displayed in various formats. The Object Editor follows selections made in the main arrange window, and will display the parameters of whichever Object is clicked. Rather than using Copy and Paste to transfer settings from one Object to another, there are now four snapshot ‘slots’, each of which stores an entire configuration of effects, EQ, gain and so on. To transfer one Object’s settings to another, you just Shift-click on one of the slots to store the settings, select the new Object in the arrange window, and click on the slot. You can also use the four slots to audition different processing chains. And Object settings can be saved to disk and recalled for future use, allowing you to build up a library of settings for different types of recordings, or to share them across multiple mixes from the same recording session. It’s a bit difficult to describe, but once you’ve tried it you may well be hooked.

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