I last reviewed Samplitude 2496 in April 1999 and was impressed with the program's capabilities. Version 5.12 made it possible to record multiple tracks of 24-bit digital audio at 96 kHz, apply real-time effects processing, and burn a CD of the music that you created in the program. You could even download a utility that let you use a Peavey PC 1600x as a control surface for the software. Given the state of computer power at the time, Samplitude 2496 was an outstanding host-based multitrack audio program, though it wasn't fully competitive with its digital-signal-processing (DSP)-based rivals.
What a difference a few years can make. Computer power is now sufficient for well-written, host-based audio software to compete favorably with most DSP-based workstations. Furthermore, with the advent of new hardware controllers from companies such as Radikal Technologies, Samplitude users can take better control of program tracks, effects, and editing views.
As you might expect, the renamed Samplitude Producer 2496 takes advantage of all of the improvements that the current generation of computers allows. For instance, Samplitude Producer supports WDM drivers, works with multiple processors in Windows 2000 and XP, and is optimized for use with Pentium 4 CPUs. Additionally, the program can record, play, and process 24-bit, 192 kHz audio with 32-bit floating-point resolution.
THROUGH ANY WINDOW
One thing that hasn't changed is Samplitude Producer's overall architecture. The central work space is still the Virtual Project (VIP) window, the multitrack display where you assemble data, perform mixes, and do most of your editing and processing chores. The VIP window shows graphic representations of audio clips known as Objects, which are simply pointers to the actual audio data on your hard drive.
With Samplitude you can record directly to the hard drive, in which case the recording is referred to as a Hard Disk Project (HDP). You can also record to RAM, thereby creating a RAM Project (RAP). At some point, you must save a RAP recording to disk, or you'll lose it when you turn off the computer. HDP files are always read directly from disk, whereas RAP files load into RAM before playback. Because data in RAM can be accessed so quickly, RAP files are well suited for use by short repeating sounds or loops.
You can create Objects by recording directly into the VIP window or by importing data from HDPs or RAPs. When you record an Object directly into the VIP window, its corresponding HDP is automatically generated. Once you have recorded an HDP or a RAP, you can simply highlight all or part of its waveform and drag it into position on the desired track in the VIP window. The main difference between the VIP window and the HDP and RAP editing windows is that VIP editing is nondestructive. Editing HDPs and RAPs is destructive, although you can create backups of each edit.
Longtime Samplitude users will notice right away that the VIP window has a new look that makes getting around much easier (see Fig. 1). With the Workspace drop-down menu in the lower left of the screen, you can configure the work space to show only the tools (the buttons surrounding the Track area) that you want to see for a particular session. For example, the Power User setting displays all of Samplitude's toolbars at once, whereas the Editing work space provides a smaller toolbar configuration that is set up just for editing. By right-clicking on the Workspace menu, you can also create and store your own custom work-space settings for VIP and Waveform-Editing windows.
Next to the Workspace menu are four rectangular buttons labeled Object Editor, Visualization, Transport, and Mixer. Clicking on any of the buttons opens the corresponding window. If that window is already open, clicking on its button closes it. That's a handy way to show essential tools and hide the tools that you don't need. For example, if I'm working in the VIP window, I usually want to see the Mixer only occasionally. Likewise, I want to see the Transport just when I need to use it; otherwise, it's in the way.
Two of the cooler new features added to Samplitude since EM's last review are the Visualization window and Comparisonics. The Visualization window is similar to the Oscilloscope and Phase Correlator displays but adds a Peak Meter, Spectroscope (see Fig. 2), and Spectrogram. Those are handy displays to have when you need to examine frequency response and stereo phase stability. You can run different Visualization modes simultaneously for a track or a bus routing assignment, but you can't run independent instances of the same Visualization mode to examine several tracks at once. I hope Magix includes that capability in the next update.
The Comparisonics feature enables you to quickly search for the same or similar-sounding regions in an audio file. That can be particularly useful if you're trying to identify a sound or some program material that repeats throughout a track. To use the feature, open the Waveform-Editing window that includes the material you need to search through. Highlight the area that includes the first instance of the information that you want to find and copy that area into the Clipboard. Next, select Comparisonics Audio Search from the Range menu, and Samplitude finds the other areas where the program material occurs based on the sensitivity settings that you select for the Comparisonics algorithm.
You can also set the waveform colors in the VIP window to the Comparisonics Colors option. Samplitude then uses the Comparisonics algorithm to display the sonic material in various colors based on frequency and other parameters. Low notes are given shades of blue; midrange through high frequencies appear in shades of green, yellow, and red. Noise and nonspecific audio are represented by shades of gray.
Using the Comparisonics Colors option, you can search for similar sections of program material by sight alone. Depending on how distinctive a particular sound is compared to the rest of the audio in the waveform display, a quick visual inspection may be all that is needed to pinpoint what you're looking for. The Comparisonics Colors option also makes a good rough spectrogram. For example, track 7 (vocal 2) in Fig. 1 shows a waveform display that is mostly blue, with occasional changes to green and red, and periodic sections of gray. That indicates that the vocal track consists mainly of low and midrange frequencies and that a fair amount of sibilance (as shown by the gray areas) is present as well.
MIX IT UP
Samplitude's sophisticated new Mixer (see Fig. 3) is a major improvement over earlier versions. It now offers gain adjustment, four auxiliary bus sends, delay/reverb, multiband dynamics processing, and 4-band EQ on all channels. In addition, you can insert DirectX plug-ins into each channel. Naturally, the number of active DirectX plug-ins that you can run is limited by your CPU's processing power.
The Master Section allows you to insert six DirectX plug-ins into the master outputs, and you can also use Samplitude's own real-time effects: Dehisser, FFT Filter, Multiband Dynamics Processor, Dynamics/Limiter, Four-Band EQ, and Stereo Enhancer. Furthermore, you can select the order in which the real-time and the DirectX processors are arranged in the Master section and in the individual channels, and you can save the routing presets for later recall.
The previous version of Samplitude allowed you to switch only between a full-mixer and a small-mixer display. The newest version, however, permits you to decide which sections of the mixer you want to see at any given time. You can show or hide tracks, the Reverb/Dynamics sections, the Gain/Auxiliary bus sections, EQ, and Master section. Although it's not part of the Mixer itself, the Visualization window can also be shown or hidden from within the Mixer.
Another important addition to the Mixer is the ability to create auxiliary and submix buses that show up as new tracks in the VIP window and as new channel strips in the Mixer. Creating auxiliary buses is helpful when you want to route specific audio tracks to an outboard effects processor, especially if you're using a multichannel audio card. Creating submix buses is useful for controlling groups of tracks with one channel strip. Auxiliary and submix buses also include all of the routing and processing capabilities of regular channel strips in Samplitude's Mixer.
Although the new mixer is a vast improvement over Samplitude's earlier mixer, it still has a few shortcomings. For one thing, you can route tracks to a submix bus only if the track numbers are lower than the submix-bus channel number. For example, if you turn track 4 into a submix bus, you can submix only tracks 1, 2, and 3 into that bus. To create a submix bus that lets you assign any tracks to it, a new track has to be inserted in the bottom of the VIP window. That's easy enough to do, but I'd prefer to arrange my tracks, and consequently the appearance of the Mixer channels, any way I want without that bit of inconvenience. (According to Magix, the Mixer design includes this inconvenience as a way of avoiding the potential for feedback loops.)
As mentioned earlier, in the previous version of Samplitude, you could control many parameters in the VIP window and the Mixer with a Peavey PC 1600x MIDI controller. The new Samplitude retains that feature and also includes setups for Radikal Technologies' SAC-2K, Yamaha's 01V digital mixer, and C-Mexx's C-Console (lite version) for the Yamaha DSP Factory card. Unfortunately, the controllers work only for the first eight tracks in the VIP and Mixer windows; if your project has more than eight tracks, you can't control any higher-numbered tracks. (The SAC-2K is an exception in this case; it has buttons for switching to higher-numbered banks of eight.)
Furthermore, because you must set the submix bus to higher track numbers in order to assign regular tracks to them, you won't be able to use the hardware controllers to manage those channels, either. According to Magix, the company plans to make all tracks controllable through MIDI automation in the next release. That would make it easier to control and edit program functions remotely. It would also be a natural extension of Samplitude's existing MIDI recording, editing, playback, and synchronization capabilities. Keep in mind that the MIDI features are really more of a convenience in Samplitude; the program is first and foremost a multitrack digital-audio production tool and is not intended to be used as a digital audio sequencer.
OBJECTS OF DESIRE
Samplitude Producer's Object Editor (see Fig. 4) is a major improvement over the previous version. As mentioned already, you can call up the Object Editor by selecting an Object in the VIP window and clicking on the Object Editor button, or you can simply right-click on a particular Object to do the same thing.
When the Object Editor opens, it presents you with a variety of options. Clicking on the Object Effects button displays all of the effects-processing capabilities that you can apply to the selected Object. For example, you can alter the input gain, boost the output to the auxiliary buses, and apply DirectX plug-ins and Samplitude's own effects.
Clicking on the Position/Fades button displays the Object's starting position, ending position, and length. From this display, you can change an Object's start or end time and you can set fade-in and fade-out curves and times. Clicking on the Pitchshifting/Timestretching button lets you alter the pitch of the selected Object, stretch its time, or combine the two processes to create real-time, pitch-shifted, time-stretched Objects. I used the tool to lower the pitch of the bass-drum track in Fig. 1 by 1.5 semitones.
OUT OF ROOM
I could easily double the size of this review, and it still wouldn't be long enough to cover all of the things that Samplitude Producer 2496 can do. For example, the program now includes the ability to do rich-media production. Samplitude comes with Magix Video Deluxe, which allows you to import digital video into your computer if you have the proper hardware. You can then edit the video and import it into Samplitude, where you can edit the corresponding audio. Best of all, you can mix the audio down to 5.1 surround sound through using Samplitude's Mixer.
Unfortunately, Samplitude suffers from being a too-well-kept secret. That may change soon, however. Alexander University will be offering online classes for music production, using Samplitude as the primary teaching tool. Peter Alexander and Jeff Sheridan (who uses Samplitude's older sibling Sequoia in his music projects for Walt Disney Records) are forming a Samplitude Users Club in the Los Angeles area and hope to form Samplitude Users Clubs in other cities, as well.
Overall, Samplitude does a vast number of things, and for the most part, it does them all extremely well. I've used many host-based and DSP-based digital audio workstations, and in many cases, Samplitude Producer 2496 exceeds the capabilities of those systems. That's why I use the program in my own work, from the start of a project to its final CD burning. I rarely need anything else!
Minimum System Requirements
Samplitude Producer 2496
Pentium II/200; 64 MB RAM; Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP; DirectX 6.1; 16-bit sound card
Samplitude Producer 2496 6.02 (Win)
multitrack audio editor
FEATURES4.5EASE OF USE4.5DOCUMENTATION4.0VALUE4.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Comprehensive digital-audio production package. Records to RAM or hard drive. Supports high-resolution audio and surround sound. Includes some MIDI capabilities. Comes with video-editing software.
CONS: MIDI hardware controller implementation limited to the first eight tracks in the Mixer window. Assigning tracks to submix buses depends too much on the order of the tracks.