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EMAGIC EXS24 1.0 (MAC/WIN)

May 1, 2001
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As computer performance has improved dramatically in recentyears, software samplers have moved into what was formerly the turfof hardware titans. Emagic Xtreme Sampler 24 Bit (EXS24)1.0 is Emagic's sampler plug-in for Logic Audio and acomplement to its analog-modeling software synth, ES1(reviewed in the November 2000 issue of EM).

EXS24 offers almost all the features of a hardwaresampler. It provides an intelligent user interface without thehassle of coaxing your computer to communicate with externalhardware. EXS24 is smoothly integrated within LogicAudio, and it can harness Logic's solid waveformeditor and native plug-in processors. EXS24 is anintuitively designed tool that helps you focus on making music.

With Logic Audio 4.1, Emagic introduced a new type ofaudio object, the Audio Instrument. The Audio Instrument categorywas designed with virtual instruments like EXS24 andES1 in mind. As many as 16 EXS24 SamplerInstruments can be used at once, each with a maximum of 64 mono or32 stereo notes of polyphony. The number of available notes dependson your computer's processing speed.

EXS24 reads AIFF, WAV, and SDII formats and can handle8- to 24-bit resolution and sample rates as high as 96 kHz —something no hardware sampler I know of can do yet. EXS24can also import Akai S1000/3000 file formats, and support for moreformats is on the way.

EXS24 requires version 4.1 or later of Logic AudioSilver, Gold, or Platinum, or MicroLogic AV.If you have version 4.0, it will automatically update when youinstall the plug-in. EXS24 works well on the Mac orWindows platform. For this review, I used Logic AudioPlatinum on a Power Mac G4/450 MHz with 256 MB of RAM.

PLUGGING IN

Getting started is simple. Logic Audio 4.1 comespreconfigured with an Audio Instrument object already in place. Youcan insert the EXS24 plug-in into an Audio Object bysetting the Channel parameter to Instrument. (The plug-in comes inmono and stereo.) Select the EXS24 plug-in by clicking onthe top insert slot within Logic's virtual mixer andholding the mouse button down. Then double-click on the blueEXS24 label to bring up the main Editor window, a verysleek control panel with a decidedly analog look (see Fig.1).

Working within EXS24's main Editor is easy. A flip menu(Emagic's version of a pop-up menu) lets you load SampleInstruments from your hard drive into RAM and then play them backin Logic. Any adjustment made in this plug-in window canbe saved. You can quickly switch to its companion, the InstrumentEditor.

EXS24 Editor features a lowpass filter with fourselectable modes: 12 dB, 18 dB, 24 dB Fat, and 24 dB Classic. Theresonance qualities of the two 24 dB filter modes resemble thesound of analog filters. A Drive knob lets you overdrive thefilter, and you can link the Cutoff frequency and Resonance knobsfor simultaneous control. The Key knob determines how much thefilter's cutoff frequency tracks the note number.

The low-frequency oscillators, LFO1 and LFO2, are polyphonic andmonophonic, respectively. Whereas LFO1 starts its cycle every timea note is struck, LFO2 is always on. LFO1 is applied separately toeach EXS24 note, whereas LFO2 modulates all notesidentically. Both LFOs have rate controls that can be set in notevalues or hertz, and LFO1 has an additional knob to adjust thedecay or onset delay times. The LFOs provide seven wave shapes,including triangle, sawtooth, square, and random, which you selectby clicking on corresponding radio buttons.

Dedicated ADSR envelope generators modulate the filter andamplifier stages, and there are selections for monophonic, legato,and polyphonic performance modes. Like some old analog keyboards,EXS24 features glide, which can be used in mono and legatomodes.

Sliders are available for controlling sample start time, tuning,pitch, glide, ADSR values, LFO1 and LFO2 modulation range, andamplifier level. Some sliders are split with an upper and lowercontrol that establish a modulation range for Velocity and the modwheel. You can move the entire segment by clicking and dragging inthe area between the split sliders.

Although EXS24's onscreen control surface is compact,it's easy to navigate and tweak settings. You don't have to stepthrough multiple screens to get to a given feature as you wouldwhen using a hardware sampler. You can also automate all yourEXS24 fader moves while recording in Logic.

However, not all functions are available in the Editor. A moreextensive Controls screen includes all parameters in the Editor andextra controls for adjusting pitch bend, transposition,fine-tuning, filtering using Velocity, key scaling, and outputlevel (see Fig. 2). The additional parameters are markedwith bullets next to their names.

The Instrument Editor lets you assign, edit, and map samplesacross a keyboard (see Fig. 3). There, sound files on yourhard drive are assigned to Zones, and Zones can be arranged intoGroups. Within each Zone you can set each sample's key note andplayback range on the keyboard. There are also fields for reverse,one-shot, and loop modes. With loop mode engaged, you can setauto-crossfade times.

Groups provide global settings for the Sample Instrument'svolume, polyphony, panning, Velocity range, ADSR offset, filtercutoff, and resonance offset. Resonance offset lets each Group havea resonance value that's distinct from the value displayed in themain plug-in window.

PUTTING IT TO WORK

While using EXS24, the first thing I noticed was howquickly I could audition, assign, and shape sound files (see thesidebar “Multisampling Audio CDs”). It was easy to getblissfully lost in creative reverie as I fiddled with the LFOs andfilter settings. Editing mundane sounds gave them a warped newlife, resulting in rich bleeps and gurgles instead of the sterilewoodwind I started with. Generating alternate mixes became easier,too, as I could quickly alter a drum kit's sounds, deepening basstones and importing new percussion samples. EXS24 is anon-the-fly kind of sampler.

I longed for the ability to use Logic's arpeggiator tocontrol EXS24, but the sampler doesn't respond toarpeggiator data. I'm told that the problem is with LogicAudio rather than EXS24. Also, some LogicAudio functions — the looping function in the upper-leftparameter box, for instance — do not work with AudioInstruments such as EXS24. Emagic is aware of theseproblems, and an update should be available soon.

If you have a library of Akai S1000 or S3000 CD-ROMs, expectsmooth importation of samples into EXS24. I could simulatethe sound of my Akai S6000's filters, but I missed the power andflexibility of the S6000's filter options.

Having plenty of RAM is crucial to obtaining the maximum 64-notepolyphony. After Logic Audio takes its portion,EXS24 quickly consumes memory. With 256 MB in my computer,I could use EXS24 with Logic Audio, but addinganother 128 MB of RAM would definitely be in order.

When I used the single-processor G4/450 MHz, I could use all 16instances of EXS24 with a couple filters engaged. That's alot of samplers, and I didn't encounter any problems until Istarted adding more filters. There were no crashes, but Iexperienced repeated Direct Input/Output driver errors because Ihadn't set up the system parameters correctly.

As it turns out, filtering rapidly uses up CPU headroom. Toavoid problems, set your driver's buffer I/O size according to theapplication. Setting a smaller buffer length results in lesslatency and more playability, but it also consumes more of yourCPU's horsepower. During mixing, you can reset the buffer andengage more filters. You can also bounce your performances down toaudio files to prevent overtaxing the CPU.

ON THE HORIZON

EXS24 is superb for crafting sound files, but itsfile-management system is lousy. Sample Instrument files are storedin only one folder. As Sample Instruments are added and the foldergrows, it becomes more difficult to sort though the selections.

At the winter NAMM show in January, Emagic announced that ahierarchical filing system will be available in LogicAudio 4.7, which is due about the time this article goes toprint. The new version will feature a hotkey to provide easy accessto EXS24 parameters. In addition, Logic AudioPlatinum 4.7 will allow as many as 24 copies of EXS24to run simultaneously.

Emagic also announced the forthcoming release of EXS24TDM at the NAMM show. That version will be compatible withDAE, making it possible to use the plug-in with TDM-compatiblesystems. Combining EXS24 with TDM's power will save usersfrom the inconvenience of constantly switching between DAE andDirect I/O. Other new features will include as many as 32 copiesrunning simultaneously, direct-from-disk streaming, and closeintegration between EXS24 TDM and Logic AudioPlatinum. Another new version, EXS24 VST, will becompatible with any VST 2.0 host application. Both new versionswill import SampleCell and SoundFont2 formats from Windows and Macoperating systems.

KEEP ON JAMMING

Even with a couple of minor drawbacks, EXS24 is anexceptional addition to the Logic platform. It won't putyour hardware sampler out of business yet, but you might find yourold friend getting lonelier by the week.

As more laptops show up onstage, you might consider using thissoftware in live performance. The only stability issue Iencountered occurred because I hadn't properly set the buffer I/Oto avoid overloading the CPU. Unless you need EXS24 tofunction as 16 samplers onstage, overloading your processorshouldn't be a problem. With a properly configured MIDI controlleraddressing faders in the main Editor, you could jam for hours withEXS24. Its portability in a laptop also makesEXS24 the perfect travelling sampler for doing studiowork.

Even for those who have never used a sampler, EXS24 iseasy to learn and a snap to navigate. The minimum processor speedfor running EXS24 is 200 MHz, but that speed barelyscratches the surface of what the software can do. I'd recommend atleast a G3/350 MHz with a minimum 256 MB of RAM. Anything less willhamper performance.

If you own Logic, there's no excuse not to haveEXS24. Considering everything that it does, it's a greatvalue. It's inexpensive, it's tons of fun, and it might just changethe way you work in Logic Audio.


Alex Artaud is a Bay Area musician and recording engineerwho has worked in the music industry for more than adecade.

Minimum System Requirements

EXS24

MAC: 604/200; 128 MB RAM; Mac OS 8.6 (USB requires9.0.4); CD-ROM drive; Logic Audio or MicroLogicAV 4.0

PC: Pentium/200; 128 MB RAM; Windows 98 (USB requires98SE or ME); CD-ROM drive; multimedia-compatible sound card;Logic Audio or MicroLogic AV 4.0

MULTISAMPLING AUDIO CDS

Here is a multisampling tip from Emagic that harnesses the powerof Logic Audio's editing features for use withEXS24: With an audio CD, utilize Logic Audio'sOpen Movie command to select a track you want to sample. Import thetrack into the Audio Window. Drag the audio data into the Arrangewindow, and then go back to the Audio window and select the StripSilence command. This splits the file into separate audio regionsin the Arrange window. The number of regions depends on thethreshold percentage you set; the higher the percentage, the moreregions you get.

In the Arrange window, select Convert Regions to IndividualAudio Files. This results in separate files you can save on yourhard drive. Once the files are saved, you can open upEXS24 Instrument Editor, activate Load Multisample, andselect the files you just created. Each sample will be assigned toits own Zone. You can then assign them to Groups and tweak theirglobal performance.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Emagic EXS24 1.0 (Mac/Win) softwaresampler $399
FEATURES 3.5
AUDIO QUALITY 4.0
EASE OF USE 4.0
VALUE 4.5
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Smooth integration with Logic Audio'sediting and processing capabilities. Great synthesis features.24-bit/96 kHz compatible. Reads Akai-format CD-ROMs.

CONS: Poor file management. Requires fast computer withlots of RAM. Not all Logic features work withEXS24.

Manufacturer

Emagic Inc.
tel. (530) 477-1051
e-mail emagic@emagicusa.com
Web www.emagic.de

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