In today's world of blazingly fast gigaHertz processors and high-end plug-ins, does it really matter which application you use to edit and master your music? Aside from performing relatively mundane tasks like CD indexing and routine edits, audio editors, for many people, have become little more than an intermediary between sophisticated plug-ins and finished tracks. Indeed, many plug-ins cost more than the editing apps themselves. So do you really need another audio editor? Magix seems to think so, and is willing to bet that you won't need any fancy third-party processing to achieve professional results with Samplitude Master 6.0.
Samplitude may not be a household name, but the program is certainly no newcomer to the audio-editing scene. Originally developed as a multitrack recording and editing program, Samplitude was hot with users in need of a comprehensive solution for multitracking audio on the PC. As technology progressed and sequencers like Emagic's Logic Audio and Steinberg's Cubase began to incorporate robust audio features, the need for stand-alone multitrackers waned, causing Samplitude and similar programs to fall into relative obsolescence. The Samplitude team refused to be lost in the shadow of a shifting market, and the result of its perseverance is Samplitude Master 6.0 — a retooled workhorse aimed squarely at snatching the crown from high-profile editing applications like Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge and Steinberg's Wavelab.
Just looking at the 492-page manual was intimidating, so I opted to jump right in. Installing Samplitude was a breeze on my test machine, an 800MHz Pentium III with 512 MB of RAM, Windows 2000 Professional, and a Mark of the Unicorn 2408mkII. Setup executed automatically when I inserted the CD, and the default install parameters didn't require any changes. Samplitude doesn't support VST plug-ins, but during Setup, you're given the option to install a lite version of FXpansion's VST-DX adapter, which allows you to use all of your VST effects as if they were DirectX plug-ins. Don't get any smart ideas about using it with other DirectX audio software, though — the adapter is licensed for use exclusively with Samplitude and doesn't work with other audio applications.
Working with Samplitude is easy, but the program's design and terminology can be a little confusing at first. Samplitude is a nondestructive, object-based audio editor; when you load audio into the program, you're not actually working directly with the source file, but rather with an object that represents that file. These objects look and act just like the original audio; you can cut, chop, process and otherwise manipulate the file — even in real time — and the changes are processed on the fly while leaving the source material untouched.
Users work in two primary environments: Wave Editing, which is geared toward editing a single audio file, and Virtual Project (VIP), which is designed for multitrack projects. Both environments offer a complete selection of editing tools; however, to take advantage of the powerful Object Editor and auxiliary busing capabilities, you have to work within a Virtual Project. Samplitude Master 6.0 is limited to four stereo tracks in each VIP; if you need more, you have to upgrade to Samplitude Studio or Samplitude Producer 2496, both of which provide as many as 999 stereo tracks per VIP.
DON'T MISS THE BUS
The real-time mixer section in Samplitude is a joy to work with (see Fig. 1). The interface is beautiful, and the layout of controls is ergonomic and logical, with common channel-strip parameters easily accessible. Each VIP track is represented as a mixer channel, including a versatile master section containing additional processing options. Right-clicking on any knob brings up an associated dialog containing a detailed display of related parameters, making it easy to find what you need quickly without having to navigate any menu trees. Each track also features easy-to-read meters that are extremely accurate and responsive, even when the CPU is under heavy load. The master section also has a bounce facility to print final mixes to a new file.
Samplitude also features an extremely robust auxiliary busing system that merits special mention. Any number of tracks in a VIP can be configured as aux buses, and audio from other tracks can be routed through those buses, where additional built-in and DirectX effects can be applied. Aux buses can, in turn, be routed to other aux buses, and so on, offering an unprecedented level of control over the audio stream. Because any track in a VIP can address any channel on your sound card, you can even route the output of an aux channel out through an external effects loop and back in, opening up a whole new realm of processing opportunities!
OBJECT OF DESIRE
One of the most powerful tools in Samplitude is the Object Editor, an effects powerhouse that allows you to apply a whole slew of built-in and DirectX effects to individual objects before they hit the real-time Mixer (see Fig. 2). The Object Editor contains facilities for chaining an unlimited number of DirectX plug-ins and as many as three instances of Samplitude's own real-time processors. You also have direct access to a dedicated equalizer, dynamics processor, and real-time pitch-shifting and time-compression/expansion tools, all of which can be adjusted freely while auditioning audio.
The processing flexibility made possible by the Object Editor is mind-boggling. Remember that what you do in the Object Editor only affects the clip you have selected; multiple clips on the same VIP track can have completely different settings in the Object Editor, and you still have the ability to add separate processing to each overall track in the VIP and again to each track in the Mixer. If that's still not enough processing, you can add even more to the Mixer's master fader. The routing possibilities in Samplitude will keep you experimenting for hours on end.
CUTTING, PASTING, SPLICING, DICING
Working with audio data in Samplitude is relatively straightforward and on par with most other editing apps. The nondestructive nature of the program makes it easy to perform standard cuts and edits without worrying that source material is being damaged. Splitting tracks is as easy as clicking on the Scissors tool and then on the split point. Split tracks are treated as new, discrete objects with their own associated Object Editor.
“Handles” in the Wave window make it easy to adjust parameters such as fade-in and out times, start/end time and overall clip volume. Custom volume and pan envelopes are easy to create: Just click on the appropriate button and draw in the change you'd like to make. Crossfading takes place automatically when two on the same VIP track overlap. You can edit crossfades directly in the Wave window using handles at the edges of audio clips in the Object Editor or in the Crossfade Editor window.
MASTER OF ITS DOMAIN
It's conventional wisdom that the digital signal processing (DSP) tools bundled with most editing apps tend to pale in comparison to task-specific third-party plug-ins, but even a cursory listen to some of Samplitude's native processing might have you rubbing your ears in disbelief. Skip the relatively mediocre effects plug-ins like echo, delay, reverb and distortion and head straight for the mastering processors.
Samplitude really shines when you dig into its real-time DSP tools. The Parametric EQ, Multiband Dynamics, Advanced Dynamics and FFT Filter are truly outstanding tools for a program at this price. When you take into account the cost of some third-party multiband compressors and volume maximizers — often more than $400 — the bundled Multiband Dynamics tool is nearly worth the price of admission alone (see Fig. 3). This little gem features four bands of compression, each with adjustable bandwidth, a full complement of compression features and a gate. It also has an option to route the output to Samplitude's limiter, just in case you need to tame any rogue peaks. Most casual users will probably find this processor to be more than capable of giving the control they need to wrangle a bass-heavy mix or sibilant vocal track into submission, and in all likelihood won't need to look much further than the 15 presets to get a loud, punchy, maximized sound. Like other “mastering” plug-ins, this tool isn't a replacement for proper mastering by a skilled engineer, but it'll do an outstanding job if you're looking to balance your mixes and squeeze out a few more decibels without damaging your sound.
The Parametric Equalizer is equally outstanding, boasting four bands of EQ with shelf and pass options on the upper and lower sections. Each band is sweepable from 10 Hz to 22 kHz and offers a whopping 20 dB of gain. The EQ sounds stellar and is available in the Object Editor, on each Mixer track and on the Master Output section. Engineers looking to do advanced sonic surgery would do well to pick up a plug-in with a few more bands, but for most tasks, Samplitude's EQ is transparent and capable enough to get the job done.
I could go on and on about the other plug-ins Magix has included — such as the multiband stereo enhancer, room simulator, FFT filter, de-hisser and so on — all of which are outstanding for their price points. The interfaces to these plug-ins are sometimes cryptic and cumbersome to work with, but if you're on a budget and have to pick an inexpensive package that includes all of the processing you need to perform midrange mastering tasks, Samplitude Master is the one.
Samplitude Master supports all common audio-file formats. Native support is provided for standard formats such as WAV, AIFF and MP3. High-quality MP3 encoding is available in Samplitude at bit rates ranging from 32 to 320 kbps. I encoded a couple of tracks at 128 kbps and thought they sounded great. Nonetheless, if you're particularly attached to the sound of a certain encoder, Samplitude supports encoding with an external command line codec. Samplitude has the ability to save your projects directly to Windows Media and Real Audio files, making it ideal for producing audio slated for online presentation.
Samplitude Master also supports creation of Red Book Audio CDs from directly within the program. It's a snap — simply load your audio, put the cursor where you'd like to drop the index and click on the Set Track Index button. If you're working in a VIP and can't spare the time to poke through your project to find good index points, don't sweat it; Samplitude can do the dirty work for you by creating indices automatically at silence points or at the ends of clips. The usual array of CD options is available, including support for ISRC codes, pre-emphasis, CD Text and so forth.
Working with Samplitude is a pleasant experience, and the application is relatively stable under normal circumstances; however, I do feel that the program crashes a few too many times when heavy demands are made on the real-time engine.
Most music professionals are used to a little flakiness when it comes to audio software, and crashing computers is second nature to many. Samplitude is no different. As with any advanced audio software, take special care and save frequently.
BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
The latest version of Samplitude Master is rife with built-in goodies that make it well worth the price. Any one of the mastering tools alone would be worth the price of the whole package, and even if top-quality plug-ins weren't part of the deal, the flexible Mixer section and aux busing options would make Samplitude Master an attractive and cost-effective alternative to pricier editing applications. If you're strapped for cash and need an all-in-one program that can provide professional results, believe in Magix. Samplitude can do just about everything for half the price.
Samplitude Master 6.0
Pros: Nondestructive, object-oriented editing. Outstanding mixer section. Extremely flexible effects-routing capability. Efficient, ergonomic user interface. Top-quality proprietary plug-ins included.
Cons: Moderate learning curve. No native support for VST plug-ins. Cumbersome effects interface. Occasionally unstable when using real-time plug-ins.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4
Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000; Pentium II/200 (III/800 recommended); 100MB RAM; 8005600 display; 16-bit sound card; CD-ROM drive