Chicken Systems Translator Review

Thanks to MIDI, samplers can easily talk to one another, but that doesn't mean they speak the same language. For myriad reasons, a universal sample format

Thanks to MIDI, samplers can easily talk to one another, but that doesn't mean they speak the same language. For myriad reasons, a universal sample format has never materialized, and manufacturers continue to cling tenaciously to their proprietary formats. As new hardware samplers enter the market and as powerful software samplers join their ranks, the number of sample formats has spiraled out of control, causing headaches and frustration for desktop musicians. Sample obsolescence runs rampant; selling your sampler and buying a different model usually means losing a perfectly good library of sounds. Moreover, many musicians are forced to use two or more brands of samplers in their setups just so that they can access sample collections in different formats. Fortunately, Chicken Systems has confronted this file-format Tower of Babel and has, to a great extent, broken the language barrier with Translator 2.5 ($149.95).

Readin' and Writin'

Translator is able to read from and write to a wide assortment of popular sample formats and can even tackle several formats that one might charitably refer to as obscure. Do you want to convert your Kurzweil K2000 library to Roland XV-5080 or Korg Triton format? No problem. How about Ensoniq EPS into E-mu EIIIx or Akai S3000? Again, no problem. Tascam Giga-Studio users should be especially pleased to learn that they can now convert their old hardware-sampler libraries into Giga format. Translator supports dozens of formats, including AIFF, WAV, and SoundFont. Native-format support for Seer Systems Reality, Native Instruments Reaktor, Steinberg Halion, Emagic EXS24, and BitHeadz Unity DS-1 is also included along with support for Digidesign SampleCell and Cream-Ware Pulsar. (See the Chicken Systems Web site for a complete list of supported formats.)

Translator doesn't simply convert raw samples from format to format; it also converts keymaps, Velocity switches, modulation routings, envelopes, tuning, filter settings, and many other parameters. Of course, not all parameters convert directly from one format to another. As described in the documentation, Ensoniq supports bidirectional loops, Roland supports standard forward-and-release loops, and Akai supports multiple loops. If the destination sampler doesn't support the appropriate type of looping, Translator alters the samples to simulate the appropriate effect.

In a similar way, the program compensates (when possible) for differences in sampler architectures to yield a suitable result. For example, Translator automatically compensates for the Frequency Emphasis boost in Roland S-series samplers so incoming samples from other devices won't sound dull on a Roland instrument and so exported Roland samples won't sound abnormally bright in other formats.

Language Master

Translator's user interface is simplicity itself. The main window presents a hierarchical file-tree display that resembles Windows Explorer. The computer's DOS-formatted hard drives appear at the beginning of the list, followed by any attached SCSI, ATAPI (IDE), or USB drives with proprietary formatting, such as Roland, E-mu, Akai, Kurzweil, and Yamaha. You can also create virtual drives (large files on your computer's hard drive) that are formatted in any supported proprietary format — a handy feature for burning your own sample CDs. To help locate specific files, you can audition samples directly from disk.

To translate a file, simply select and drag it from a sample CD or hard drive and drop it onto another drive (real or virtual) after specifying the new format. You can also right-click on your files to select and convert them in a similar manner. Translator lets you convert a single sample, preset, or program, and you can batch-convert banks, volumes, and complete directories. If you select an entire CD of samples and convert them all at once, you can sit back and watch as Translator whizzes through the files and writes them onto the destination drive.

Most of the time, the batch conversion goes without a hitch; occasionally, though, a patch has trouble, which triggers a dialog box explaining the problem. Chicken Systems is quite responsive to those glitches and encourages users to send in errant files for analysis.

Although Translator officially supports only CD-ROMs, hard drives, and magneto-optical (MO) drives, it does include four unsupported utilities that can read floppies from Ensoniq, Akai, Roland, and E-mu Emax sample libraries. The conversion process can be somewhat tricky, and the results are not always predictable, but the handy utilities may help you resurrect an old collection of patches that might otherwise be lost to the sands of time.

Sampler Helper

Translator's seemingly simple operation belies its complex and sophisticated inner workings. It's no simple task making samplers multilingual, and Chicken Systems accepts the challenge with zeal. As the company states, Translator is “the indispensable sampler utility that no sampling musician can live without.” Unless you've never had to use more than one sample library and one sampler, I would have to agree.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4.5
Chicken Systems, Inc.; tel. (800) 877-6377 or (320) 235-9798; e-mail; Web