NEMESYS GigaStudio 160

A sampler, some argue, is a producer's best friend. What other relationship gives us so much flexibility and freedom? We can sample, resample, truncate,
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A sampler, some argue, is a producer's best friend. What otherrelationship gives us so much flexibility and freedom? We cansample, resample, truncate, attenuate, crossfade, degrade. We canadjust the Q, apply an LFO, shave a little A (attack), and providea bit more S (sustain), while leaving the R and D (release anddecay) intact. We can turn on loop mode, stretch the tempo, adjustthe pitch, garnish with effects, then mix with our own style. Withall that freedom and history, why would we ever turn our backs onour main squeezes — our dependable, stalwart hardwaresamplers — for a software sampler, particularly since thehardware has become increasingly more powerful and simultaneouslyless expensive?

NemeSys Music Technology doesn't mean to bust up an oldfriendship, but the creator of GigaStudio 160 makes thetacit assertion that software samplers, not hardware, are the waveof the future. This is partly due to the awesome processing powerof today's PCs and the affordability of roomy hard drives, allsitting right there under your desk. As with soft synths, softsamplers are manageable, reliable, and cost-effective, making thema logical choice for many studio environments. And you can expectan explosion of new options for soft samplers in the coming year.Let's face it — the soft-sampler argument really does makesense. Why, for instance, would you buy three or four identicalAkai, E-mu, or Yamaha units if a PC-based sampler offers morepolyphony, greater sampling capability, built-in real-time effectsprocessing, and more MIDI channels?

BIGA GIGA

NemeSys's GigaSampler introduced the concept ofdisk-based sampling back in 1997. GigaStudio 160represents the second generation of this patented technology, inwhich the software is specifically designed to stream samplesdirectly from a hard drive instead of squeezing all samples intoRAM. The clear-cut advantage of the NemeSys design is that RAMremains available for other processing tasks, while sounds playdirectly from where they are stored. NemeSys has engineeredGigaStudio to outperform any hardware sampler currently onthe market in terms of polyphony, sample size, MIDI mapping, andeffects processing. GigaStudio 160 provides 160-notepolyphony, 64 MIDI channels, zero-latency expandable DSP effects,and playability comparable to that of the best electronic keyboardsand pianos.

The 24-bit samples that emanate from your PC speakers when youuse GigaStudio are, at the very least, inspiring. Loadingand mapping sound banks or layering and combining samples has neverbeen this quick and easy, in part because the sounds are not loadedthe way they are with hardware samplers — they are alreadyassigned and instantly accessible. This lets you assign hugesamples (200 MB or more) in less than 5 seconds. Once assigned,each channel has eight auxiliary sends, which you can set up aspre- or postfader. You can also apply effects processing to eachchannel using cascadable (serial) insert effects.

GIGA INSTRUMENT

GigaStudio 160 features two separate applications: theWorkstation and the Instrument Editor. The Workstation is theprimary window for sample playback, adding effects, and samplelayering. The Instrument Editor alters amplitude, filters, pitch,LFOs, crossfades, and similar tweaks.

In the Workstation window, the QuickSound sample finder narrowsthe search when you're looking for a specific sample in yourGIG-file library (which lives on your hard drive). QuickSound letsyou easily browse large catalogs of effects and samples byremembering search criteria and searching by keyword. For instance,search for piano and QuickSound will return piano,Fender Rhodes, keys, electronic piano, and so on. As youupdate your hard drive, QuickSound updates the catalog behind thescenes. Once sounds are assigned to channels (loaded), theWorkstation becomes the operating table for sample playback.

Whether you're interested in percussion stacks, pad layering, orsynthesizer-orchestral combos, the MIDI channel map isstraightforward and flexible. The 64 MIDI channels are groupedlogically into four internal ports containing 16 channels each. Youcan link ports and layer them against corresponding channels in thefollowing manner: a sample located on MIDI channel 1 on port 1 cantrigger at the same time as a sound on channel 1 on port 2, 3, or4. This method easily provides layering of up to four sounds.

If a sample needs more tweaking or layering, the InstrumentEditor is the way to go. This part of GigaStudio is quitepowerful — which means it's also a little tricky to use, evenfor some simple functions. Also, certain features lackcorresponding help files. Nevertheless, even with my puny 14-inchmonitor, it beats using an LED screen any day.

GAGGLES OF GIGAS

Managing all the different sample-file and brand-specificformats of hardware samplers is often a headache.GigaStudio can read GIG, SoundFont, SF2, and DLS files andcan rip discs straight from your CD-ROM drive to WAV files. TheS-converter utility can quickly convert batches of Akai S1000/3000samples. Once a sample is in the correct format, you can access itvia the QuickSound navigator, which takes inventory upon startupand then catalogs the new results.

As for GIG sample titles, NemeSys recently converted manyclassics to ship in GIG format, while new releases are alreadytaking GigaStudio to a new level. The includedGigaPiano (1 GB sampled piano) and RetroDrums(vintage drum libraries) are a decent start, but you'll likelycrave a variety of instruments and new sounds to spice up thesoftware's potential (see the sidebar “GigablePlanets”).

REQUIREMENTS

GigaStudio 160 is a bit finicky and unstable at times.You should expect a few of the usual “Bill Gateslegacy” crashes that seem to accompany any new installationof PC audio software. Go slowly and carefully when saving patcheswith GigaStudio. More than once I experienced blue screenswhen the Instrument Editor window was open by itself and also whileI was trying to save parameters to a custom patch.

GigaStudio 160 runs under Windows 95, 98, MillenniumEdition, and XP. Also, NemeSys provides free updates to registeredcustomers, so you can download the latest software update —gspatch160.exe — which upgrades the QuickSound sample finderand MIDI functionality and includes a laundry list of othernecessary improvements.

There are some hardware considerations as well. The GettingStarted guide recommends an 800 MHz Pentium or Athlonprocessor with 128 MB of RAM and at least 6.4 GB of space on ahigh-end hard drive. Because GigaStudio relies so heavilyon your hard drive, NemeSys recommends drives with a maximum seektime of 9 ms and a minimum spin time of 7,200 rpm. I used a 20 GBWestern Digital 7200 for testing and never heard any artifacts orglitches.

On NemeSys's recommendation, I used an M-Audio Delta 10/10 soundcard for the evaluation on my 700 MHz (slower than recommended)Athlon PC with 256 MB of RAM. I was extremely satisfied with thesound of the card and the easy-to-use drivers and software mixer.The Delta 10/10 and GigaStudio 160 are a nicely matchedpair.

Also of interest: when I pushed well over 100 MIDI notes throughCubase, creating a horrible noise, my PC reached only 32percent CPU usage and 6 percent memory usage. Slick.

GigaStudio supports 24-bit, 96 kHz hardware and isnetwork friendly. NemeSys promises that samples will play through aLAN with no impact on latency. The DSP Station contains a 32-bit,32-input channel, 32-bus mixing console with eight stereo auxbuses, inserts, level and pan controls, and automation. Itsadvanced synthesis engine boasts multimode resonant filters, turboresonance LPF, external Q and FC, multiple crossfade modes, andamplitude, filter, and pitch LFOs.

NemeSys does not recommend USB MIDI or sound cards; the added 5to 6 ms of latency can hamper GigaStudio's performance.GSIF sound cards are the best way to make the program feel like asampler when playing it from the keyboard. (Visit www.nemesysmusic.com for a list of compatiblesound cards.)

If you are using digital outs (for example, S/PDIF outputs),note that GigaStudio often sees these as the last twooutput channels. I used the S/PDIF out on the M-Audio Delta 10/10.I originally configured it to access output 1/2 and checked theS/PDIF-out box on my sound card mixer. Luckily, the folks atNemeSys pointed out that due to the lack of standardization amongthe gazillions of available sound cards, users employing the S/PDIFoutput should try the last two outputs first — in thisinstance, 9/10.

THE LAST BYTE

GigaStudio's main selling point is that it outperformsany other sampler in the marketplace in terms of polyphony and thesize and accessibility of instruments. In a professional studio andfilm-scoring environment, the issue is efficiency. Movie-musiccomposers depend on polyphony to achieve both realism and the lushcinematic sounds we have come to expect. Put simply, more polyphonyequals a fatter orchestral bank, making the violas in that finalcadenza sound richer and more plentiful.

GigaStudio provides an incredibly efficient andinnovative way of handling your sampling needs, whether you're aproducer, film scorer, composer of video-game music, or performingartist. The wealth of sample titles being released in GIG formatand the company's expanding roster of endorsements — add Beckto the equation — speak of GigaStudio's increasingviability and supportability. All of this begs an even broaderquestion: in 2001, is there any pro audio function youcan't do from your PC?

Seattle-born drummer and producer Dave Hill Jr. hasworked extensively with drummer Michael Shrieve (of Santana) and iscurrently composing and playing in New York City.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

NEMESYS GigaStudio 160
$699

PROS: Eliminates need for racks of expensive hardwaresamplers. Lets you use extremely large samples more efficiently.Massive polyphony.

CONS: Learning curve comparable to that of mosthardware samplers. Powerful, detailed patch editor can be tricky touse.

Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4

Contact: tel. (512) 219-9181
e-mail info@nemesysmusic.com
Web www.nemesysmusic.com

Gigable Planets: GigaStudio Internet Resources

The Internet offers a wealth of GigaStudio user groups,demos, and samples. Here are a few cool sites worth checkingout.

www.amazingsound.com

Maker of CDxtract, a versatile sample-format converter.There are three versions ranging in price from $44 to $345. A greattool for any GigaStudio 160 user.

www.chickensys.com

Maker of Translator, an equally slick file-conversionprogram ($59.95). Converts files from Akai, Roland, E-mu, Ensoniq,Kurzweil, GigaSampler, EXS-24, Reality, Reaktor, and more.

www.glasstrax.com/Tips/giggatips/newgigs.html

Ignorance may be bliss, but it can also be a tad frustrating.Try this unofficial user site to learn a few new ways to useGigaStudio.

www.i-records.org/samples/Giga.htm

GIG-specific sample CDs, including dance-friendly club tracksand a 680 MB piano that makes a nice alternative toGigaPiano. Demos are available for download.

www.nemesysmusic.com

The first stop for all future and current Giga productusers. Lists the ever-growing library of sounds, along with helpfulsound-card-compatibility guidelines and links to sample-CDmanufacturer and user group Web sites.

www.northernsounds.com/sounds.html

User group site with GIG upload and download sharing.

www.numericalsound.com

Producer of the popular Drone Archeology sample CD. Itsnew release, Percussion Wall, contains some interestinglayers of electronic percussion with a lively feel.

www.sonicimplants.com

Nobody is impressed with just decent drum sounds anymore. SonicImplants has done a spectacular job in creating a range ofprofessionally sampled hi-fi percussion and drum sounds formattedfor use with NemeSys GigaStudio and GigaSampler.Both the Drum Series 1 and the definitive Afro-CubanPercussion releases are excellent.

www.soundchaser.com

Sound Chaser builds standalone, turnkey GigaStudio andGigaSampler systems, providing a great solution for thoseamong us who want to ensure compatibility, who fear the PC, or whocherish their Macintoshes.

www.spectrasonics.net

The latest batch of programming, mangling, and rhythmic mayhemfrom Eric Persing, creator of the newly releasedMetamorphosis. Here are some of the highest-quality soundsyou can buy — incredible loops and sounds from Roland'sformer chief sound designer.

www.worrasplace.com

A none-too-shabby selection of synths and old-world samples:harpsichord, strings, guitar, organ, and so on.

All this Pentium talk may make Macintosh fans feel left out, butNemeSys reports that some of its best customers are Mac-based ProTools users who run GigaSampler or GigaStudio asa standalone box through MIDI.