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Emagic Soundiver 3.04

1/1/2002

Since the review of Emagic's SoundDiver 1.5 in the July 1995 issue, the program has undergone several updates. Many new features consist of cosmetic overhauls, changes in nomenclature, bug fixes, and new editors for devices that hit the streets after version 1.5. In addition, several substantive changes deserve closer scrutiny, including the program's beautifully enhanced graphics, support for key commands, and consistency of features between Mac and Windows platforms. SoundDiver ships with Mac and Windows versions on the same CD-ROM. Since the release of version 3.0, the two platforms share identical features (except for the differences between Mac and Windows menu conventions and MIDI interface support).

I installed SoundDiver on my Power Mac 8500 running OS 8 without a hitch. The program no longer supports 68000 Macs, but any PowerPC will do. The copy protection scheme consists of a temporary authorization from the CD-ROM. After the hard drive is authorized, the program requests the original CD every few weeks. A week before the authorization expires, SoundDiver presents a warning so you won't be caught by surprise. That beats dongles and is better than losing installations from hard-disk crashes, but it's not especially convenient.

WHERE'S MY GEAR?

When first launched, SoundDiver scans the MIDI ports to sort out the interfaces and patch bays connecting the MIDI gear and then quickly opens the Install window (see Fig. 1). That window provides a list of editors for an array of synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, effects processors, and other devices. At the left of the list are three buttons for installing editors: the Scan All button polls your MIDI system for each device on the list (and takes a while); the Scan button checks only for selected devices. I recommend using the latter. If all of your devices aren't recognized, the Add button lets you select and set up devices manually.

I first tried the Scan All option. After a lengthy assessment of my connections, the Setup window opened to reveal only some of my system's devices (see Fig. 2). That isn't necessarily the program's fault. For example, my Casio VZ-10's primitive implementation necessitates manual installation and dumps from the front panel. My Kawai K5m defaults to SysEx-disabled whenever it is powered on.

SoundDiver has added support for Open Music System (OMS), allowing users to switch freely between the program's built-in MIDI system and OMS. I created a new installation using OMS as a MIDI driver; to ensure an accurate setup, I quit the program and trashed my SoundDiver preferences in the System folder. When I restarted the program, SoundDiver was initialized and ready to set up. After a new scan of my system, the Setup window showed duplicates of many devices. I continued the installation and deleted the duplicates afterward. When MIDI devices are scanned and accounted for, they appear in SoundDiver's Setup window, and a dialog box pops up asking if you want to request the memories from your devices. At that point, you can retrieve the data stored in your devices for editing or safekeeping in a library.

HELLO, INFORMATION

MIDI devices appear in the Setup window as realistic three-dimensional icons, along with a virtual patch bay line connected to a virtual computer. Clicking on an icon opens the Device window (formerly called the Memory Manager). The Device window displays your synthesizer's memory architecture (see Fig. 3). I double-clicked on my Korg Wavestation A/D's icon and was greeted with a window containing a layout of the synth's Byzantine memory architecture, including Patches, Wave Sequences, Performances, Multimode setups, Global parameters, and even user scales. That can be a double-edged sword.

With all of that information presented at once, finding your way around (especially in devices as complex as the Wavestation) can be difficult. Fortunately, SoundDiver provides several ways to focus on what you need. Buttons at the top of the Device window can hide or reopen any level of the device's memory structure, such as programs, combinations, and Global settings. Furthermore, you can display or hide each bank retrieved from the device, which lets you isolate a single memory area for editing. You can also zoom the Device window in or out for a broad or narrow overview of the device's contents.

The Library window lets you store anything, from a device's patches to your MIDI system's memory contents. Because libraries can hold just about everything that you need to store, it's important to keep track of related data, and SoundDiver nicely handles that task. For example, clicking on a Korg M1 Program in the Librarian window reveals a list of Combinations that use the Program. Similarly, clicking on any Combination provides a list of Programs that comprise the higher-level sound. Deleting a Program opens a dialog box warning you that you're about to remove a component of a higher-level memory structure, thus preventing your carefully sculpted brass-section Combination from sounding like a Martian banjo orchestra or vice versa.

EDITORIAL ASSISTANCE

Double-clicking on a device's memory constituent (such as patch or performance) opens the Edit window. Top-level Combinations that usually provide patch layers, Velocity switching, splits, and so forth have handy edit button links to the lower-level patch components. In that way, you can easily shuttle between the performance and its components, making edits as needed. If you think that seems like too much for one monitor to handle, you're right. However, you can resize windows to focus on what you need and save window settings as Screensets. You can then toggle between screens with key commands.

SoundDiver displays your patch's architecture in gorgeous, color-coded detail. You can change the color of backgrounds, parameters, parameter labels, value fields, and even the handles that shape the envelopes.

In some cases, Emagic's programmers extended features beyond a device's native capabilities. For example, in addition to the typical programming parameters on the Kawai K5000 additive synthesizer series, SoundDiver's Patch editor provides a three-dimensional time-and-amplitude waveform display, a pull-down menu of preset analog synthesizer waveforms, and an assortment of preset Formant Filter settings. Moreover, you can load a digital-audio file for analysis and resynthesis to provide a raw oscillator waveform from which to work. The results provided a good number of interesting timbral springboards for programming. Although that feature was not introduced in version 1.5, the instrument (and consequently, its editor) arrived on the scene after the review in EM. Furthermore, the Import function didn't work reliably until version 3.0.

ON THE SURFACE

SoundDiver now supports a variety of MIDI control surfaces, including the Radikal Technologies SAC-2K (see p. 146 for a review of the SAC-2K). I don't own a dedicated control surface, but I installed a dummy unit in my Setup window to check out Emagic's new drag-and-drop programming feature. As usual, double-clicking on the SAC-2K icon opens the Edit window; however, in place of an abstraction of the device's memory contents, you get an enlarged view of the control surface. To assign controls to a synthesizer parameter, simply open the Control Assignment window, click on one of the virtual SAC-2K's faders or buttons, and drag a virtual patch cord to a synth editor parameter in another window. The intuitive user interface for programming control surfaces let me program the dummy SAC-2K with a knob that could select high or low harmonics in my K5000W synth (see Fig. 4). I then assigned a fader to change the gain level of the selected group of harmonics. The entire process took less than ten seconds.

SoundDiver lets you set up a MIDI keyboard as a control surface to edit other synths. You can map practically any incoming MIDI message to control an editing parameter, so even if your master keyboard offers only the standard set of Modulation and Pitch Bend wheels, you can quickly press them into service as editing tools. I opened one of my Oberheim Matrix-6R patches, highlighted the FM Amount parameter, and hit Command + L. I could then adjust my Matrix-6R from my Korg M1 and play while I edited. You can test edits for playability as you make your changes — a very musical approach to programming.

Another clever editing feature is the Overview window. It provides a generalized view of a device's parameters and signal flow, which lets you make coarse adjustments to the patch (see Fig. 5). A single-click just outside a gadget that adjusts parameters opens a full-feature editor with the selected parameter visible in the center of the screen. You can toggle between detail and overview from a field at the top of the Edit window. That's great stuff because it lets you locate and focus on the elements you need to work on, despite a potentially bewildering array of parameters.

Unfortunately, the Overviews are not consistently implemented in all of the editors. The K5000W editor module offers more parameters than could possibly fit on one screen, yet it has no Overview. Thankfully, the editor for the Wavestation A/D does. The work-around is to create multiple Edit windows for a device with each window showing a different parameter area. You can then resize the windows and switch between them. Edits made in one window are linked to the other windows, but that approach seems like a cluttered and rather clumsy way of focusing on what you need.

You can also grab the bottom-left corner of an Edit window (just before the scroll arrow) and drag directly to any group of parameters. That's a handy navigational tool, but I would most welcome a context-sensitive pull-down menu for jumping to a specific group of parameters (such as the filter section). When navigating a complex device, dragging until you find your area of interest is not the most elegant solution.

ADAPT OR DIE

Adaptations are user-created editors, and the Adaptation Editor does not let you create Overviews, so Adaptations don't have Overview windows. That brings me to my next big gripe: of SoundDiver's 346 editors, 65 are Modules and 295 are Adaptations. It may seem trivial in the face of so many supported devices to carp about the ratio of Emagic-authored to user-created editors. However, Adaptations differ from Modules in many ways, and sometimes their feature sets are minimal. For instance, the K5R Adaptation offers no editors whatsoever; it offers only librarian capabilities. Modules are generally full-featured editors. It's great that SoundDiver includes facilities for creating editors; as an end-user, however, I would much rather spend my time with music and sound design than with tables of SysEx values.

The manual is quite good and thoroughly tackles the enormous number of features. Additionally, the CD-ROM contains PDF files with documentation listing supported devices and editable parameters. You also get a programming guide for creating Adaptations and an application for compiling Help files. The software provides extensive context-sensitive help, though the program often quit unexpectedly in the midst of selecting topics.

DIVER DOWN

An editor-librarian program can be far more than an efficient tool for retrieving, managing, and creating patches for MIDI gear. A consistent graphical user interface (GUI) can offer windows into the inner workings of synthesizers by presenting a better visual understanding of the device's architecture and signal flow.

I have strong but conflicting feelings about Emagic's SoundDiver. Its powerful, feature-laden graphical editors are often hampered by the sheer amount of information they contain. Fully developed editors run alongside sometimes less-than-utilitarian Adaptations.

The Overview window helps alleviate the information overload, but it's not implemented consistently. However, the software supports a slew of MIDI devices — far more than I'll likely ever own — and some of SoundDiver's features are absolutely inspired. What's more, the editors often provide additional tools that cater to a device's unique features.

SoundDiver's focus on an almost totally graphical user interface provides incredibly intuitive programming. Yet the sheer task of navigating the windows can be tedious and counterintuitive — the interface giveth; the interface taketh away.

Regardless, SoundDiver is a powerful and versatile tool, and I look forward to the program's next release. You may not want to wait that long to check it out.


Synth programmer and EM assistant editor Marty Cutler eagerly awaits an editor-librarian for his VCR.

Minimum System Requirements

SoundDiver
MAC: PPC/601; 3 MB RAM; OS 7.5.3

PC: Pentium; 3 MB RAM;
Windows 95/98/NT 4.0/2000

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Emagic
SoundDiver 3.04 (Mac/Win)
universal editor-librarian
$199

FEATURES 4.0
EASE OF USE 3.0
DOCUMENTATION 4.0
VALUE 3.5

RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Graphical interface provides intuitive patch editing. Device windows let you work at all levels of memory architecture at once. Control surfaces can be programmed quickly. Overview window quickly toggles between simple edits and specific synth parameters.

CONS: Overview window isn't available for all devices. Without Overview, Editor windows can be difficult to navigate. Many Adaptations are incomplete. High ratio of Adaptations to Modules. Context-sensitive Help menus frequently cause program to quit.

Manufacturer

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

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