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MAGIX Samplitude Professional 7.11 (WIN)

January 1, 2004
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First appearing on the PC in 1994, Samplitude has evolved into one of the most powerful and full-featured audio programs on the market. It lets you create up to 999 (combined) audio and MIDI tracks, can display individual video frames, supports 5.1-surround editing, and provides an array of professional-quality effects and customization options. In other words, Samplitude Professional 7.11 has the potential to be the center of all your music-making activities.

EM reviewed Samplitude Producer 2496 6.02 in the May 2002 issue, so I'll focus on what's new since that review. As with past updates, the list of new and enhanced features is substantial. I'll therefore only include a sampling of the important new components along with a short overview of the program. Note also that Samplitude Professional is the middle sibling of a family that includes Samplitude Classic on the low end and Sequoia on the high end. The differences between the versions are described at the Magix Web site.

FROM THE TOP

In addition to its huge number of audio-editing options, Samplitude now offers limited but functional MIDI support and a new video-editing suite called Video deLuxe 2.0 to get you going in the world of audio for video. The program includes CD-burning capabilities and can apply nondestructive effects on the fly while burning. It handles up to 32-bit, 192 kHz sampling rates and has a dedicated screen for editing stereo files.

FIG. 1: Samplitude's main project screen is highly customizable. Startup wizards allow you to choose from a number of cutom workspaces, including Power user (shown here), which puts all the program's controls on the screen.

Samplitude is highly customizable and offers several preset “workspaces” that are optimized for various types of jobs. When you first run the program, the Startup Wizard provides you with layouts for CD burning, multitrack editing, and recording, as well as a layout called Power User, which puts the program's entire tool set at your disposal (see Fig. 1). You can save your own custom layouts as needed.

Samplitude Tracks consist of audio and MIDI Objects that represent in and out points in the actual files on your system. You can edit individual Objects using the Object Editor, where you'll find a large number of options grouped into three categories: Object Effects, Position/Fades, and Pitchshifting and Timestretching. Tracks can be individually resized, and Objects, entire tracks, and even (in the stereo-editor screen) a highlighted range can be saved as a new file.

GET WITH THE HOST

New or enhanced features appear in nearly every corner of the program. Among these is direct hosting of VST instruments and effects (no VST-to-DX adapter needed). You can automate VST (but not DirectX) plug-in parameters using one of two methods: drawing envelopes to control parameters directly on the main screen or recording fader movements in the VST Parameter dialog box, which displays assignable faders for up to eight parameters at once. (The VST Parameter dialog also contains a feature for randomizing all parameters.) Fader motions that you record in the Parameter dialog are available for editing from the main screen (see Fig. 2). Though you can automate any parameter using the Parameter dialog, you can't simply record the movement of knobs and sliders directly from your plug-in's main interface. That would be a nice touch.

You can also map MIDI controller data from an external device to specific parameters of a VST plug-in in the VST Automation screen. This screen provides a list of all the effects and Instruments currently loaded, and it lets you chose which ones you want to work with. A MIDI Learn feature lets you assign a controller to a parameter just by moving that controller on your external device, and a Setup screen offers advanced options, such as controlling the resolution (calculated in number of samples per step) of the automation data.

FIG. 2: The Parameter dialog provides access to as many as eight parameters at once. As you move the faders in the dialog display (bottom), automation curves appear in the track (top).

Like volume and pan data, effects automation “lives” with the track, so if you design a fancy automation curve and decide that you want to use it on some other audio, just substitute a new Object for the existing one, and the automation remains in place. You can't, however, copy settings and paste them into a new track.

Assigning a VST instrument as the destination for a MIDI track is a breeze, and routing the audio outputs of an instrument is similarly easy. In about a minute, I was able to configure a routing scheme with six audio outputs from Native Instruments Reaktor 4 going to different tracks, each with its own chain of effects. Unfortunately, as in many other VST hosts, you can't tweak the controls of a VST instrument while recording its output — you must first record your automation, then bounce the audio to a new track. You can also use Samplitude's handy Freeze feature, which “prerenders” all audio, MIDI, and effects on a track to a new WAV file and automatically substitutes the new file for the data that was frozen.

IN EFFECT

Several new internal effects significantly enhance Samplitude's toolkit. Among these is a high-quality vocoder. The vocoder reads the audio in an Object or a track and uses it to modulate one of the ten WAV files that Samplitude provides as carriers. Or you can use any WAV file on your system. If you prefer, you can use the left and right channels of a single stereo file as modulator and carrier respectively. You can also override the carrier audio by adding copious amounts of noise, which is great for creating whispering or breathy vocal sounds. You can even change in real time the number of bands (up to 100) that the vocoder's two filter banks use. The wide range of features the vocoder provides is typical of the program's thoroughness — nothing about this software is half-baked.

Your guitar tracks will sound great using the new Amp Simulator, which offers ten speaker models and five amp models, all fully programmable. The Practice Amp model brought back memories of my first amp (a Silvertone), and the British Stack preset adds some hefty distortion.

IN MY ROOM

The new Room Simulator allows you to apply the impulse response (ambient characteristics) of one sound to another. The over 400 MB of included impulse-response files, which range from tunnels to garages to small rooms, provide a wide range of sonic environments. Once you register, you can access an additional 30 MB of files “sampled” from the TC Electronics M3000 effects processor.

For even more esoteric purposes, you can use any WAV file on your drive as an impulse response. That can produce all sorts of filtering and reverb effects, including many that are unpredictable (though often very useful). Like Sonic Foundry's Acoustic Mirror room modeler, Room Simulator lets you change response files while your sound continues to play. But Samplitude goes one better: you can also modify the effect's parameters in real time, and your response files can be of any length. (For real-time use, Samplitude suggests that you keep the response files under three seconds, even on a fast computer.)

Samplitude also includes the highly regarded POW-r dithering algorithm for changing the bit depth of your audio from 24-bit to 16-bit resolution for CD burning.

NO OBJECTION

FIG. 3: Samplitude's Object Editor (shown here maximized) provides access to a large number of parameters that control segments of audio data on a track. A MIDI Object Editor provides similar functionality for MIDI data.

Samplitude's newly renovated Object Editor is nonmodal, meaning it can remain on the screen while you continue to work on a project (see Fig. 3). What's more, you don't have to close the Editor and reopen it to tweak a different Object — just leave the Editor open and as you click on successive Objects, the Editor updates to represent the currently selected Object.

In addition to configuring custom fades in the Object Editor, you can adjust an Object's gain and aux-send levels; add, remove, or edit an effects plug-in; and configure the dedicated EQ and Dynamics section. Every Object also has a Pitchshifting/Timestretching dialog that offers six modes tailored to different types of material. Among the new modes is a beat-slicing option that is intended for use with drum loops but can also be handy for pitched material. Samplitude does a good job of automatically detecting slice points, but you can also adjust them manually.

Using any of the modes, you can stretch only within a range of one-half to two times the original length of the file or shift its pitch up or down by as many as 12 semitones. But when you consider that all of the settings in the Object Editor are nondestructive and adjustable in real time, those limitations seem reasonable.

MIDI MATTERS

Though you won't want to ditch your sequencer just yet, Samplitude 7.11 offers some new MIDI features that make it far more useful for working with MIDI data than previous versions were. One of these is a new interface for the MIDI Editor, with more ergonomic controls for zooming and scrolling. Velocity levels are now color-coded, and you can also import or export files directly from within the Editor. It's also easier now to change note lengths and positions.

You can also import MIDI files from the File menu and place them directly on an existing track or drag and drop a file from Windows Explorer. Because MIDI data is handled as Objects just like audio, double-clicking opens the Object Editor by default. But if you prefer, you can change that behavior to open the MIDI Editor instead. You can set a global fade time for a MIDI Object, adjust its start time or length, and change its overall Velocity. Because you can have data on more than one channel in a single Object, you can also determine whether changes you make are applied globally to all channels or only to individual channels.

HONE ON THE RANGE

Samplitude's flexibility is apparent in many areas of the program, especially in the handling of ranges. Once you have a range of audio selected, you can, for example, play the range, loop the range, play up to the start of the range, play from the end of the range to the end of the file, and play the entire file except for the highlighted range. There's even an entire menu devoted to ranges that includes a Range Editor for adjusting the range's start, length, and end, and Samplitude also includes a variety of keyboard shortcuts that move the range's position in time. That's quite an assortment of options!

Similarly, the Mixer is highly configurable and can be designed to look and “feel” the way you want. Using the Project Mixer Setup window, you can determine how many tracks, submixes (up to 64), and aux-send buses (up to 64) appear onscreen, and the program lets you choose from five different preset mixer configurations (including 5.1 surround, stereo master, and multi I/O). Samplitude also offers complete flexibility when ordering real-time effects, and the program provides a huge number of routing options that allow you to place effects exactly where you want them on the signal path.

COMMAND PERFORMANCE

I tested Samplitude 7.11 on a Pentium III/1 GHz dual-processor computer running Windows 2000 SP3. My hardware included a MOTU 2408mkIII PCI audio interface and a MOTU MIDI Express, and I used the MOTU ASIO drivers exclusively. The program was very responsive, and the non-real-time processing times were quite acceptable. I was able to run six stereo 16-bit, 48 kHz tracks with an effects plug-in on every track, at least one additional plug-in effect on all of the individual Objects, insert effects on two channels, one Master effect, lots of pan and volume automation, and a scrolling video track. With all of that going on I could still tweak settings and move faders and knobs without a glitch in playback.

Samplitude's manual is available both in hard copy and as a PDF file, and it's very thorough, although some of the graphics in the manual and in the online help don't match the current user interface (the Mixer Setup dialog, for example). In addition, an occasional German word has snuck into the English version. The manual contains several excellent beginning tutorials that are enhanced by video tutorials on the distribution CD. A lively forum at the Magix Web site will put you in touch with other users, and a very aggressive release schedule ensures that you'll get ongoing and regular program updates.

DO YOU FOLLOW?

Samplitude has always been one of the most powerful multitrack audio editors on the PC. Yet surprisingly, it hasn't had the following it deserves. Though not every feature is where you might expect to find it — the feature to import a video file is buried deep within the Options/Project Properties/Media Link menu, for example — Samplitude has definitely come a long way in terms of usability. And because you can customize so much of its interface, you can give it a look and feel that suits your working style.

If you're searching for a multitrack editor that can perform nearly any type of editing, mixing, mastering, composing, or sound-design process, give Samplitude Professional a try. A save-disabled demo at the Samplitude Web site is a good place to start.


Dennis Miller is an associate editor of EM.

Minimum System Requirements

Samplitude Professional 7.11

Pentium III/700 MHz or Athlon/700 MHz; 256 MB RAM; Windows 98/2000/ME/XP

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Magix

Samplitude Professional 7.11
multitrack audio editor
$1,250
upgrade from Samplitude 2496 6.0
$250

FEATURES 4.5
EASE OF USE 4.0
DOCUMENTATION 4.5
VALUE 4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Huge range of included effects. Highly configurable. Improved audio engine.

CONS: Some features buried deep in menus. MIDI features limited.

Manufacturer

Magix/X-Vision Audio/Synthax North America (distributor)
tel. (330) 259-0308
e-mail info@xvisionaudio.com
Web www.xvisionaudio.com or www.samplitude.com

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