GIGASTUDIO 160 2.0 (WIN)A popular disk-based software sampler gets a virtual makeover.
Several years ago, NemeSys Music Technology introduced its groundbreaking GigaSampler program. The virtual sampler could play huge samples directly from a computer hard drive and could crossfade, layer, and switch among hundreds of samples within a given Instrument. Because of its reduced dependence on RAM, GigaSampler could create highly expressive and realistic reproductions of acoustic and electronic instruments.
NemeSys, however, didn't rest on its laurels. The company has been refining and enhancing its product line, and its latest flagship product, GigaStudio 160, is quite a step up from the original GigaSampler. Offering 64 MIDI channels, up to 160 notes of polyphony, real-time effects, onscreen mixing and routing, enhanced sampling performance, and a host of other goodies, GigaStudio 160 could be the primary sound source for your next masterpiece. (NemeSys also offers GigaStudio 96 [$399], a "lite" version of GigaStudio 160 with 96-note polyphony, 32 MIDI channels, and fewer effects.)
GigaStudio 160 comes on two CD-ROMs and installs quite easily. Once the software is installed, a configuration wizard takes you through the necessary settings.
I reviewed the original GigaSampler in the March 1999 issue of EM, so I won't repeat myself here. However, there are plenty of new things to talk about, including the spiffy new user interface. Several graphical screens provide intuitive and efficient access to all the program's functions. I was rarely more than one or two mouse clicks from any feature I needed.
THE MAIN PANESAlmost all GigaStudio interactions take place within a single three-paned main window (see Fig. 1). Across the bottom, a QuickSound area lets you easily access or convert your computer's sounds. The Navigation Bar (in the upper left) and the Main display next to it appear above the QuickSound area. The selection that you make in the Navigation Bar determines what you see in the Main display.
The main window also provides a few menu items and a toolbar for commonly used features. Status indicators at the bottom of the Navigation Bar show the number of voices in use, the peak number of notes used in a session (for monitoring available polyphony), the available memory, and the CPU processing demand. MIDI activity indicators are also provided for each of GigaStudio's four MIDI Ports.
GigaStudio's Ports each support 16 MIDI channels, providing a total of 64 parts. Each Port can be controlled by its own MIDI input (if you have a multiport MIDI interface), and you can also connect the same MIDI input to multiple GigaStudio Ports for some nice layering effects. If you use a sequencer and GigaStudio on the same machine, the four GigaStudio Ports appear in the sequencer as independent MIDI outputs.
Each Port has an entry in the Navigation Bar, and selecting a Port provides access to its four corresponding screens: the MIDI Mixer, the Loaded Instruments screen, the MIDI Control Surface, and the Distributed Wave Instruments. You open each screen by clicking on the appropriate index tab at the bottom of the Main display (just above the QuickSound area); each screen includes the 16 Instrument slots (one for each MIDI channel) across the top.
KEEPING TABSThe MIDI Mixer is the first screen. It provides a channel strip for each of the 16 channels in the selected Port. Each strip contains Mute and Solo buttons as well as controls for Instrument pitch, pan, and volume. The controls respond to the appropriate MIDI controller messages, but you can change the default controller mappings if you like.
GigaStudio can load more Instruments than it needs, which makes it easy to switch between Instruments with MIDI Program Change commands. (The Instruments in use appear in the 16 channel slots.) Although GigaStudio plays samples as large as 4.3 GB, the attack portion of each sound must be precached in RAM before the sound is played. To help you keep track of the loaded (precached) samples, GigaStudio provides a Loaded Instruments screen, which is represented by the second tab in the Main display for each Port. Most of the information contained in this screen is identical for all Ports.
You can activate any loaded Instrument by dragging it to a channel slot. The Loaded Instruments screen also shows the bank and patch number for each Instrument (should you wish to switch to an Instrument from a sequencer or an external controller) and indicates which Ports and channels are used by the Instruments. A Virtual Keyboard lets you audition the sounds. You can also unload Instruments from this screen, open Instruments in the GigaStudio Instrument Editor (more on this later), or generate a text file with all the Instrument names (for reference or for importing into a sequencer).
Each Port has a MIDI Control Surface as its third screen (see Fig. 2). The MIDI Control Surface provides faders for each of the 16 channels. These faders send any MIDI controller message (as well as program changes and tuning) to the GigaStudio Instruments. The faders also respond to MIDI messages from external sources. If any controllers are set up to change a particular sample within an Instrument (to affect performance characteristics, for example), the program automatically maps these controllers to faders when you load the Instrument. You can even label each fader to remind you what it controls.
The MIDI Control Surface has the same Virtual Keyboard as the Loaded Instruments screen. The keyboard is actually more than just a playing surface; it indicates which keys are enabled in the Instrument, which keys have layered sounds, and which keys are used as key switches. (GigaStudio Instruments lets you choose sounds using specially designated keys on the keyboard.)
CATCHING WAVESGigaStudio is quite adept at applying all sorts of filtering, manipulation, and modulation to a large number of samples within a given Instrument. Yet you may not want to create a full GigaStudio Instrument with all of its capabilities. You might just want to quickly play some rhythm grooves or trigger various sound effects in real time. Furthermore, if you already have the sounds stored as WAV files, creating GigaStudio Instruments from them forces you to store the sounds a second time on your hard drive.
To solve this problem, GigaStudio offers its Distributed Wave Instruments screen, which you access from the Main display's fourth tab. This screen lets you distribute WAV files across your keyboard for easy triggering. Creating such an Instrument is simple: you choose a starting point on the Virtual Keyboard and then load one or more WAV files. Each file is mapped to the next available key or to another key that you specify.
Once you've set up your Distributed Wave Instrument, you can save it to disk for later recall. Only the WAV-to-key mappings are saved in the Distributed Wave Instrument file, which saves disk space. If one of an Instrument's WAV files is destroyed or renamed, you can still load the rest of the Instrument. Only one Distributed Wave Instrument can be loaded at a time, although you can share it among multiple Ports and MIDI channels.
CALLING ALL STATIONSEach Port/channel combination in the Main display is assigned a pair of Input channels in the DSP Station (see Fig. 3). The DSP Station is an onscreen mixer that brings together multiple GigaStudio Ports and channels and lets you apply various effects to them. It then routes the signals to your audio hardware's outputs.
The DSP Station offers eight aux buses, up to 32 Input channels, and up to 32 Master Output channels. (The Master Output channels are limited by your system's number of audio outputs.) Each channel type appears on its own tabbed page.
The 32 Input channels are grouped into 16 stereo pairs, although they can operate in dual-mono mode. With the exception of the Volume faders and Pan sliders, only one set of controls is provided for the stereo pair. For dual-mono operation, therefore, you must use the L and R buttons to specify which channel's settings you want to change.
Each Input channel accommodates up to four insert effects and can send its signal to any of the eight aux buses. To add an insert effect, simply click on one of the effects slots and then choose from the available NFX effects. (GigaStudio does not support DirectX or VST plug-in effects.) Once you choose an effect, the adjoining Edit button opens a graphic display with the effect's settings. The aux sends can operate in pre- or post-fader mode.
Each Input channel has Mute and Solo buttons, tri-color meters, a Master Output selector, a Link button for the Volume faders, and a label that automatically shows the channel's Instruments. You can disable a channel's effects sends to save processing power.
The aux-bus controls resemble the Input channels, except that they have only four effects slots and they lack the Mute, Solo, L, and R buttons. The Master Volume controls provide only the Volume faders, level meters, and labels.
Nearly all of the DSP Station controls can be linked to MIDI controllers, which is quite handy for automating mixes or for using a hardware control surface. Simply right-click on the onscreen control that you want to automate, choose a MIDI port, channel, and controller, and you're all set.
CAUSE AND EFFECTGigaStudio comes with three NFX effects: Reverb, Chorus, and Tap/Delay. You get a fourth effect (EQ) when you register the product. All four have a similar look and feel and share a number of features.
When you first click an Edit button in the DSP Station display, GigaStudio presents you with a control panel for the corresponding effect. Each subsequent effect that you open appears in the same space (covering the previous one), and a list of all the control panels that you've opened is displayed on the left. This feature keeps the effects panels from cluttering up the screen.
The effects have an assortment of presets, and they let you create your presets by dragging various parameter sliders. All but the EQ have a Patch Navigator control that lets you browse through the presets in sequence or jump to the next effect with characteristics similar to the current one.
All the effects also have a Bypass button, a clipping indicator, and an A/B switch, so you can compare an effect's original and edited versions. The Output control allows you to send only the effect's left or right channels, and the Reverb, Chorus, and Tap/Delay also have separate level controls and left/right switches for both the input and dry output signals.
EQ appears in all the effects; it provides a three-band semiparametric equalizer with control of low- and high-frequency shelving and mid-range cut or boost (up to 18 dB). A graphic display shows exactly what you get. The boundary between the mid- and high-frequency bands is fixed at 2 kHz, but the low-to-mid crossover point is user configurable.
Reverb has some nice features, including controls for Room Size, Pre-Delay, Damping, Decay, Diffusion, and three bands of EQ (see Fig. 4). Some of the presets add chorusing, echo, or flanging. There are no settings for room type (chamber, hall, and so forth) or for extra effects like chorusing. Instead, you pick a preset that is close to what you want, and modify the settings from there.
Chorus is capable of several commonly used effects, including chorusing, flanging, and phasing. You specify settings for speed, depth, feedback, delay, and the three bands of EQ. As with the Reverb unit, however, you must start with a preset that is close to what you want.
Tap/Delay has four independent delays, two of which have auto-panning capabilities. For each delay, you can specify a delay time, feedback amount, high-frequency damping, pan position, and volume level; for the auto-pan effect, you can specify the speed and depth. You can also adjust the three-band EQ settings (which affect all the independent delays).
I particularly like the delay-time parameter; it lets you specify a value in either milliseconds or bpm, and the delay-time slider sets itself to a quarter-note position for that value. You can then easily and accurately change the delay time to repeat on sixteenth-, eighth-, or half-note beats instead.
The effects can be adjusted in real time, and there's no perceivable latency between moving a control and hearing the results. (NemeSys applied the same performance enhancements to effects processing as it did to sampling and mixing. It also accelerated the means by which audio passes through effects.) As with the DSP Station controls, you can link most of the effects settings to external MIDI controllers.
The effects sound great, although there is some funky pitch-shifting right after changing a delay time in the Tap/Delay effect. (This behavior is to be expected as the delay time changes, but not afterward.) I also had a little trouble establishing a crisp "small room" setting in the Reverb effect, but a little editing eventually gave me want I wanted.
QUICKSOUNDThe QuickSound area at the bottom of the main window offers a split Windows Explorer-style display with a hierarchical list of drives, directories, and files. The handy file view combines with GigaStudio's powerful search engine to help you quickly locate Instruments and other sounds.
Type "piano" into the Search field, for example, and you get a list of all the GigaStudio-supported piano sounds on your hard drive. Type "piano not electric," and you get a shorter list. QuickSound also supports more complex searches, such as this example from online help: "(cello OR viola) NOT (pizzicato OR tremolo)." GigaStudio locates sounds even if the instrument's name is not part of the title, like when a trumpet is labeled as a brass Instrument.
How does it work? WAV and GigaStudio file formats support the inclusion of identifying information. GigaStudio scans your system for file types it recognizes and adds this identifying information to its database, which it continually updates. You can also browse through your system's sound files as you would in Windows Explorer, and even find files on networked drives.
Once you locate the files that you're interested in, you can drag GigaStudio files to a Port and channel slot, move WAV files into a Distributed Wave Instrument, view the file properties, or simply audition the sounds. Aside from its other talents, QuickSound converts Akai samples to GigaStudio format and audio CD tracks into WAV files. (For more information on the Akai conversion feature, see EM's March 1999 GigaSampler review.)
ONE MEAN EDITORNo, I'm not talking about EM's Steve Oppenheimer. GigaStudio includes the Instrument Editor (see Fig. 5), which lets you create Instruments from scratch. In general, this part of the program hasn't changed much since the previous (Giga-Sampler) version, but a few enhancements merit attention.
For starters, the Instrument Editor supports the 2.0 version of GigaStudio Instrument files. Version 2.0 supports faster load times, more layers, enhanced crossfades between layers, enhanced filters, more LFOs, and MIDI control of more Instrument settings. You'll also find some new features to combine layers from other Instruments into new ones, Macros to speed up repetitive editing tasks, and other features designed to make editing easier.
The Instrument Editor can save all Instrument parameters to Articulation files, which are just like Instrument files, except they don't have the actual audio data. Their greatly reduced size facilitates the sharing of edited Instruments through e-mail and Internet postings. Naturally, the receiver of an Articulation file must have the original Instrument file (with the audio data).
THE GIG IS UPGigaStudio has two other notable features, both of which also existed in GigaSampler. First, you can capture your GigaStudio creations to a WAV file. Just hit the Record button and start playing. (If you're using a sequencer, you can take advantage of GigaStudio's ability to wait for a MIDI Start message before recording.)
You can also load and save GigaStudio Performances. Performances are snapshots of the entire GigaStudio environment (except for the Distributed Wave Instrument settings). Though this feature existed in GigaSampler, now you can include much more in a Performance file, such as DSP Station routings and effects settings. In fact, you can create some crude "snapshot automation" capabilities by saving several Performance files for a particular project.
GigaStudio's system performance is excellent, and dozens of sound cards can take advantage of the software's extremely low-latency operation. (Any native DirectSound card can be used with GigaStudio, but those that support GSIF - the company's proprietary audio interface - offer the best performance. DirectSound cards are also limited to two channels.) I experienced no fatal crashes during the review period. Although it had a number of bugs, none were serious and most were cosmetic.
Unless you have a humongous system, don't plan on running 64 different Instruments into 32 different channels with lots of added effects; you'll probably run out of memory or CPU resources before you get there. In general, Instruments tend to eat up memory, and effects are more likely to use up CPU capacity.
I tested GigaStudio on a fast Athlon machine with 256 MB of RAM and ran out of memory after about 30 assorted Instruments; it took about 10 effects to use up half of my CPU power. Your mileage may vary, mainly because each Instrument's complexity (rather than size) greatly influences the RAM requirements. For example, you can load hundreds of simple Instruments within the same amount of memory as only ten or so more complex Instruments with hundreds of samples each. In other words, the total number of samples determines how much RAM you need.
Overall, GigaStudio produced excellent sound quality. The program ships with GigaPiano, and also includes a Retro drum kit along with several demo files from commercially available sample libraries. The printed documentation consists of an 83-page, unindexed Getting Started Guide, and a more complete online manual with an index. I had no trouble finding what I needed to know from the documentation.
GigaStudio is a great product at a fair price. If your projects demand that you access and organize big sample libraries or if you like working with big samples, GigaStudio can help get the job done efficiently - and with impressive results.