by Jerry Vigil
Unless you've been in hibernation for the past couple of years, you are aware that the cost of RAM, hard drives, and high speed computers has dropped dramatically. This has made very powerful computer systems very affordable. Couple a high-performance computer with some of today's cutting edge DAW software, and you have an wonderful multitrack digital audio workstation at a price impossible to reach just a few years ago.
SAW (Software Audio Workshop) Plus, from Innovative Quality Software, is probably one of the most popular packages on the market today. It is sold directly from the manufacturer. The list price is $999, but IQS loves to have "sales," and the going price as of this writing is $499. That's quite a discount! Of course, you need a computer, and, as mentioned, the price is right these days. For this Test Drive we were able to put together a Pentium 200 MHz PC with 64 MB of RAM and a 1.2 gigabyte drive for about $1,500 (less monitor). That's a total investment of $2,000 for a pretty powerful digital multitrack workstation. (Minimum requirements recommended by IQS are a Pentium 90 with 16 MB of RAM, DOS 6.2, Windows 3.1, an SVGA monitor with 800x600 resolution at 256 colors, at least a 500 megabyte drive, and any 16-bit Windows-compatible sound card.)
SAW Plus is a 16-track system. Each track can play either a mono soundfile or a stereo soundfile. Up to sixteen stereo tracks can play back simultaneously for a total of thirty-two tracks. How many tracks will actually play back is dependent upon the speed of the computer. One big feature of SAW Plus is its ability to play back soundfiles of different formats and sampling rates--8-bit, 16-bit, 22.05kHz, 32kHz, 44.1kHz, etc., and this sample rate conversion is done live, in real time. This means you don't have to wait for the system to rewrite files before you can play them. There's no waiting for a "mix" file to be written before playing it. This means edits and changes made to the mix are non-destructive. And the ability to use different sample rates means you can conserve disk space and sample audio based on its frequency spectrum--low quality sound effects at 11.025kHz or 22.05kHz, voice tracks and music at 32kHz, for example. Many systems do not allow this mixing of file formats.
SAW Plus supports up to four sound cards, so it is possible to record up to eight channels simultaneously, but this is of more value to the recording musician. For broadcast production, a single card with stereo analog I/O will suffice. If you want to keep things in the digital domain, step up to a card with digital I/O. SAW Plus supports both. The card used for this review is the Tahiti card from Turtle Beach Systems.
You might want to spend the extra dollars on a 17-inch monitor. The SAW Plus screens are loaded with information and there are several screens you might want to have open at the same time. The large monitor and increased resolution make things much easier to see. And speaking of the various screens, the 3-D graphics on all the SAW Plus screens are a treat for the eyes. You can even change color schemes to suit your tastes.
The main window is called the MultiTrack View (see photo). This is where most of the work is done. The window can be resized to show all sixteen tracks, taking up the entire screen, or it can show only a few tracks at a time, leaving room for other windows on the screen. Each track is numbered at the far left. Clicking and dragging on these track numbers moves the track's position. Let's say you recorded a voice track on track 3 and some sound effects that are related to the voice-over on track 8. Click on the 8 and drag the track just below track 3 to have both tracks sitting next to each other.