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December 1, 2000

Osmosis 1.12 (Mac/Win)The past decade has seen a great deal of standardization in MIDI software, audio connectivity, plug-ins, and more. Unfortunately, sample libraries have been largely excluded from this trend and still languish in the dark ages of incompatibility. Most samplers let you import libraries from other instruments, but they do so with varying degrees of success.

BitHeadz's Osmosis ($179) raises the bar for sample conversion. It can convert raw samples to Sound Designer II (a Mac-only format), AIFF, WAV, and BitHeadz Unity DS-1 formats, as well as translate Akai S1000/S3000 and Roland S700 samples into Unity DS-1 and Digidesign SampleCell formats. The program runs on Mac and Windows platforms; I tested it using a Power Mac G4/400 MHz and Unity DS-1.

Conversion MethodsOne of Merriam-Webster's definitions for osmosis is an "effortless assimilation," and the software's simple, clean interface embodies this concept. Choose your output format, pop in a sample CD-ROM, select the Convert Entire Disk command, and break for coffee. Between five minutes and an hour later - depending on the size and complexity of the disc you're converting - you'll have a collection of folders that contain sounds in the format of your choice, ready to load and play. Pretty slick!

The methods for auditioning and converting single sounds are similarly painless. Osmosis shows the CD-ROM's directory structure in an expandable list format. You can browse through the folders on the CD, audition individual samples directly from disc, and drag selected sounds (or groups of sounds) right to the desktop.

You'll find a few more features if you care to dig in. For instance, Roland samplers use pre-emphasis/de-emphasis during sample recording and playback, which often makes the samples sound brighter than normal on non-Roland samplers. Osmosis can remove the pre-emphasis during conversion.

Conversion ExperienceI converted a number of CD-ROM libraries in Akai S1000, S3000, and Roland formats, and in general Osmosis did a good job. In addition to samples and keymaps, Osmosis also converts filter and amplitude envelopes, filter settings, and LFO settings. The conversion goes a long way toward preserving a sample's original sound design, and it works much better on Roland CD-ROMs than other conversion methods that I've seen.

Support for modulation routings is fairly basic: Mod Wheel-to-LFO pitch amount is supported for both Akai and Roland formats, and Velocity-to-Envelope 1 Attack is supported for Akai, but that's about it. Many sample libraries don't rely heavily on modulation, so in most cases, Osmosis's limited support for modulation routings is not an important factor. However, if the sounds you're working with do use modulation, you'll have to re-create the modulation routing.

Mind Your DefaultsOne problem with Osmosis is that even though filter parameters are supported, files converted to Unity DS-1 programs will have the filter turned off by default. You will need to manually enable the filter for each sound. For libraries that use filters, this feature detracts from the Convert Entire Disk command's otherwise wonderful functionality.

I also experienced some small glitches in the conversion process. For example, Roland's version of Spectrasonics' Distorted Reality makes extensive use of separate loop lengths for right and left samples. The converted Unity DS-1 samples produced unwanted clicks on playback, and I wasn't surprised because the Roland-to-Unity DS-1 conversion on at least one other sampler had problems with this disc as well. One drum sound was converted incorrectly, and in order to read a mixed-mode CD-ROM in Akai and audio formats, I had to disable Apple's audio CD extension (a work-around not mentioned in the Osmosis manual). Some sounds also relied on crossfading between two sets of samples via a MIDI controller, which is not supported in Osmosis.

Effortless AssimilationOsmosis isn't perfect, but it works very well in most cases. In fact, it converts formats better than some hardware samplers. The Roland conversions, in particular, are very good. More important, the speed and ease of Osmosis can't be beat. At $179, Osmosis seems like a no-brainer purchase for anyone interested in using Akai and Roland sample libraries with Unity DS-1, Sonic Foundry's Acid, Digidesign's Pro Tools and SampleCell, or other applications that read Sound Designer II, AIFF, and WAV files.

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