Test Drive: Samplitude Studio 4.0 Digital Multitracking Studio from SEK'D America

Article Index

samplitude-studio-main-screen

by Jerry Vigil

Have you noticed how inexpensive high-powered computers are these days? Have you noticed the incredibly low prices of disk drives and RAM? Sure you have. Have you checked out the amazing quality and abundance of software available for audio pros such as yourself? Have you noticed that a very small investment can provide digital recording technology that simply was not available for under ten grand a few short years ago? In fact, much of the technology was not available...period! Samplitude Studio from SEK’D is another fine example of just how far digital audio has come. and with a label that reads, “Made in Germany,” Samplitude Studio proves that the language of multitrack digital audio production is basically universal. At a list price of $599, this Windows-based software package puts high quality digital production capabilities in your PC that would have revolutionized audio production just five years ago.

Samplitude Studio is a member of a family of digital audio software programs from SEK’D. A scaled down version, Samplitude Pro, is a pretty healthy 8-track system for the mere price of $199. But if Samplitude is to be considered for the professional audio environment of a radio station production studio or the independent producer’s studio, Samplitude Studio is the less limiting choice.

What You Get

Samplitude Studio comes in a box large enough to hold the software CD and the two manuals, the Tutorial and the Reference Manual, each about a half-inch thick and loaded with more information than the average radio prod pro has the desire or the time to deal with. Unfortunately, book time is essential, but the result is well worth the time invested. Once you get past hand shaking with the mouse and a few trips to the manuals, you discover a power-packed digital multitrack workstation designed for speed.

Samplitude Studio provides up to 999 stereo tracks. Of course, how many can be mixed simultaneously in real time is dependant upon your computer hardware. (A nifty little indicator on the main screen displays the percentage of DSP power being used to let you know how much power you have to spare!) SEK’D suggests at least a 486 PC running at 66 megahertz with 16 megs of RAM and an A/V capable hard drive along with Windows 95 or Windows NT. A Pentium is “strongly recommended,” and that is what this Test Drive is done on, a Pentium 200 with 64 megs of RAM. The audio card on our system is the Tahiti card from Turtle Beach Systems.

Right off the bat, one thing that makes Samplitude Studio attractive is its ability to address several audio cards. This review only played with Samplitude on a single stereo in/stereo out card, but Samplitude Studio allows assigning individual tracks to individual channels of any number of cards. The program is compatible with all Window’s compatible cards, including SEK'D's own audio cards (ARC 44 and ACR 88), so the options are numerous. If you’re into live music recording, record multiple tracks simultaneously. Samplitude Studio also allows recording while playing back other tracks. But perhaps most useful to the radio production environment is Samplitude Studio’s ability to assign a second stereo I/O card to the program’s two auxiliary sends (found on the internal mixer). This makes it possible to use any of your external effects boxes and bring the returns to your console or even to additional tracks in Samplitude Studio where you can further manipulate the returns.


Projects, Objects, and Virtuosity

In Samplitude Studio, everything is a project. A single sound file is a project, and an entire multitrack production is a project. There are three types of projects. When you record a soundfile, you are creating an HDP or Hard Disk Project. Samplitude Studio also gives you the option to record the soundfile directly to RAM rather than on the hard drive. This enables faster editing and processing of the file because it is in RAM, but you must make sure you have plenty of RAM to avoid system crashes. This type of soundfile is called a RAP or RAM Project. (We like the acronym!) When these individual soundfiles or “projects” are pasted onto the multitrack screen, the multitrack production becomes a VIP or Virtual Project.

There are numerous dialogue windows for the various functions of the program, but for the most part, the main windows to deal with are the Virtual Project Window, the Physical Audio Data Window, and the Mixer Window. As mentioned, the Virtual Project Window is where the multitrack work is done. Virtual Projects (VIPs) can be created with preset configurations or custom configurations of stereo or mono tracks. For example, you can create a VIP with 8 stereo tracks or one with 16 mono tracks or one with 100 stereo tracks, etc.. Additional tracks can be added to or deleted from a project at any time.

The VIP screen can be configured in a number of ways, showing any combination of the various tool bars and displays available. There are zoom in/out functions for filling up the window with a single track or displaying as many as thirty tracks or more, depending upon how the VIP window is configured.

To the left of each track are track buttons. Press the ? button to retrieve Track Info, name the track, and more. The = button links two mono tracks in a mono VIP. The M button mutes the track. The S button solos the track. The L button locks the track and prevents editing on that track. The V button activates the volume curve and enables a click/drag function for adjusting levels on a track. Finally, the R button enables the track for recording. Below these buttons are the level indicator, volume fader, and pan fader. Some of these controls and indicators become hidden when many tracks are displayed on a single screen.

When a recording is made to a track, a rectangular “Object” appears on the track with an amplitude waveform visible, depending on the current zoom factor. This Object is only a representation of the actual soundfile, and all editing and processing of this Object is nondestructive. At the same time this Object is created, a minimized window appears at the bottom of the screen and represents the actual “Physical Audio” file. More on this file in a moment. Once an Object is on a track in the VIP, Samplitude Studio’s extensive editing functions can be applied. You get the usual cut and paste editing, and because the actual file is not being edited, things happen very fast. A right-click and drag moves an Object anywhere on the VIP effortlessly. The “snap” function, when active, makes lining up Objects with other Objects or markers a snap (sorry), ensuring tight splices and accurate cut and paste editing.

When an Object is selected (by a right-click), five handles appear around the rectangle. The ones on the bottom left and right allow the start and end points of the Object to be adjusted. The ones on the top left and right enable fast and easy setting of fade ins and outs. The handle at the top middle can be grabbed and dragged to set the level of an individual Object.

Marking areas for editing on the multitrack VIP Window is a simple click and drag process. And, you can drag the pointer over any number of tracks to perform edits across multiple tracks simultaneously. Editing on the VIP Window is extremely fast once you get to know the functions, and once you get familiar with the keyboard shortcuts, hold on to your hats! Need to copy a sound effect on track 1 to track 3? Control-right-click it and drag the instantly-made copy to the desired location. Click-drag to mark multiple objects/areas on the VIP, hit Control-C to copy them into the buffer, place the cursor anywhere on the VIP, press Control-V, and voila! Instant copy. Objects can be grouped, locked into place, individually “normalized” and more. And there are up to 100 levels of undo. Let it suffice to say that once a soundfile is placed in the VIP window as an Object, you can do just about anything you can imagine with it, and then some. Furthermore, several VIPs can be opened simultaneously, and Objects from one VIP can be copied and pasted to another. And, Samplitude Studio will even let you save this multiple project work area as a Session. SEK’D gets an A+ for this versatile, nondestructive multitrack editing interface.

The Physical Audio Data Window is where editing of the actual soundfile takes place. Double right-clicking an object on the VIP window brings up that Object’s Physical Audio Data Window. Here, any editing done is destructive, and probably for the sake of speed, there is no undo. With full editing capabilities available on the VIP screen, there’s really little reason to perform destructive edits on the original soundfile, but you can if you want to. If you want to conserve disk space, open this window to trim unwanted parts of a soundfile. The manual strongly suggests making a backup copy of the soundfile before editing it in the Physical Audio Data Window.


samplitude-mixer

The Mix

The Mixer Window accesses one of the coolest software-based mixers I’ve seen. Each track comes with its own fader, level indicator, and solo and mute functions. There are eight large knobs for each track. The first is the pan pot. The next three are the Low, Mid, and Hi EQ controls. A click-drag on any knob makes the adjustment. Right-click any EQ knob to fine tune the EQ frequency bands and bandwidths on this fully sweepable 3-band parametric equalizer with 20dB of cut/boost on each band!

Above the EQ knobs is the Compressor knob. Click-drag to adjust. Right-click to make adjustments and select other dynamics processing to be applied to that track including an expander and a noise gate. Above the Compressor knob is the Echo knob. Crank this to add delay to the track. Right-click to adjust the delay time (up to 2 seconds) and select delay types (single, feedback, and multi-tap).

Finally, at the top of each mixer channel are the two Auxiliary Send pots. When assigned to a second sound card’s outputs (or additional outputs on a multiple I/O card like DAL’s V8 or SEK'D's ARC44 and ARC88), these sends can be used like the sends on a conventional mixer, enabling access to external effects boxes, etc..

Click the Auto box to activate fader automation. Make adjustments in real-time during playback, then watch the faders move by themselves when played back again. Pan adjustments are also recorded. The mixer also includes a Master Compressor and Master EQ on the stereo mix. A Master Image knob adjusts the stereo mix from full mono to stereo and even to an “enhanced” stereo mode. Again, settings can be saved to a file and reloaded at any time.

Samplitude Studio allows track bouncing, but it’s done by writing the mix to a new Wave file which can then be pulled back into a project or used alone. Bouncing tracks may be necessary if a particular project is using too many real-time effects. When bounced, the effects are recorded to the Wave file thus freeing up DSP power for real-time effects on other tracks.

Effects

Under the Effects pull-down menu are several effects that can be applied to audio in the VIP window, to the actual Physical Audio file, or both. As mentioned, there is EQ, delay, and dynamics processing available on the mixer. But in the event you don’t want to add these effects to an entire track, they can also be applied to individual Objects or marked areas on the VIP screen.

You’ll find reverbs with the Room Simulator. Room Simulator uses the impulse response of a room and applies this information to the selected audio. It’s possible to record your own impulse response, from a local theater for example, and apply this impulse response to an audio file, making it sound as though it were recorded in that theater. This is not a real-time effect and requires some processing time. The shorter the audio segment, the quicker the process. Again, the type of system you’re using will have a great deal to do with the time this type of function takes. With our P200, it wasn’t unusual to wait nearly ten seconds for a sixty second voice track to get its reverb. For this reason, those Auxiliary Sends on the mixer are perfect for sending audio to an external reverb box through a second sound card.

The Normalize function mentioned earlier raises the overall level of the selected Object or Physical Audio file to just under clipping. There’s a Declipping function that does a pretty good job on those occasional clips, but don’t expect it to restore a badly clipped audio file. Samplitude Studio’s Time Stretch effect works very well and surprisingly fast. It works non-destructively on Objects in a VIP or destructively on the original Physical Audio file. Resampling and Pitch Shifting are also found in the Time Stretch dialogue box.

There’s a Convolution effect that basically “morphs” two files together, providing some unusual effects depending upon the files being morphed. The Noise Reduction effect is a very handy tool for getting rid of tape hiss, hums, and other consistent noises. The 2-step process calls for marking an area of the audio that has only the unwanted noise, then applying the Noise Reduction effect to the part of the audio that needs cleaning up. The Draw Filter/Spectrum effect is pretty cool. This is an FFT spectrum analyzer and filter. Without getting into the technical jargon, this effect lets you see the frequency response curve of the selected audio, AND let’s you DRAW a new frequency response curve. It’s EQ with a big brush! This is a very nice assortment of effects, and it’s even nicer to find them all as part of the program and not plug-ins that you have to buy!

Other Features

Unlike many DAWs, Samplitude Studio will do real-time sampling rate conversion upon playback. This means files of different sampling rates can be used in the same project. Also, files can be imported or exported, not only in the standard Wave format, but in Apple AIFF format and MPEG Layer 2, also. If you have a SCSI CD ROM, Samplitude Studio can copy data from an audio CD directly to the hard drive, making the audio available as a Wave file ready to import into a project. Play AVI files while you work on the audio. Sync Samplitude to external devices via SMPTE or MIDI Time Code with Samplitude as the master or slave.

And there’s much more to the Samplitude family. We mentioned Samplitude Pro at the beginning. There’s also Samplitude Multimedia, a 4-track version with basic editing and effects for a mere $69. Samplitude Studio V8 ($999) is designed for use with DAL’s V8 card. There’s the Red Roaster line of audio CD mastering and authoring programs. Samplitools IR ($99) is a collection of Lexicon 480L and TC M-5000 impulse responses. SEK’D also offers Samplitude in hardware/software packages bundled with various I/O and interface cards on the market.

Summary

It’s amazing how much a person can do with a personal computer these days. Samplitude Studio provides the platform to do serious multitrack projects of any size. It provides an interface that is not only intuitive, but very fast once you’re up and running. And with the dropping prices and rising power of PCs, the budget conscious studio designer has got to be in heaven.

It’s difficult to find shortcomings with Samplitude Studio without getting very picky. An undo function when editing in the Physical Audio Data mode would at least put one at ease. Perhaps it could be turned on and off by the user. The scrub function is your basic left/right drag of the mouse, and it’s not as responsive as scrubbing in RAM. But ample zoom functions make accurate waveform editing by sight easy enough. The learning curve is a bit lengthy, and a first glance at the main screen, menus and toolbars can be a bit intimidating. The DJ down the hall might choose to avoid Samplitude Studio when he needs to do a quick voice-over, but the production power user of the ’90s will enjoy the seemingly limitless capabilities of Samplitude Studio.

Hohner Midia, with offices in Santa Rosa, CA and Schwabbach, Germany, has been the exclusive world wide publisher of SEK'D products such as Samplitude. Hohner Midia and SEK'D recently merged, and the new company now operates as SEK'D America. 

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Your post will be moderated. Your email address will not be shown or linked. (If you have an account, log in for real time posting and other options.)
0 Characters
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location