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PCRecording.com - - Samplitude 2496 Review

Manufacturer: Sek'd America
Price: MSRP $799.00
System Requirements: IBM-compatible PC, min. Pentium II 266
16 MB RAM (32 with NT), more highly recommended
CD-ROM and floppy drive

 

Sek'd, the maker of Samplitude 2496 describes it as a complete package for recording, editing, mastering digital audio from beginning to end. I was quite excited to receive a copy for review and was prepared for a new experience. I was not disappointed. Actually, I was a bit intimidated at first when I first looked at all the functionality of this system. These fears faded away as I learned the systemology of Samplitude, the powerful and ultimately timesaving characteristics of this program became readily apparent. Like most things worthwhile, there was an investment in time and effort in learning before the "light" went on in my head. Samplitude uses object oriented techniques to record, manage and edit audio/MIDI signals. This results in tremendous flexibility, particularly as it pertains to editing. Recently, Sek'd has added MIDI functionality to round out this very powerful multi-track software. Some of the general features are listed below, there are many more which are not listed.

Features:

  • Multi-track Recording - up to 999 stereo tracks
  • MIDI-recording, play-back and editing
  • Audio editing in 24-Bit/96 kHz - internal resolution at 32-bit
  • Object oriented editing - Non-destructive and Destructive modes
  • Real-time effects processing - Sek'd effects and 3rd party DirectX
  • Real-time mastering - Multi-channel virtual mixer
  • MPEG Encoding
  • Real-time CD-Burning

Setup:

Samplitude 2496 comes with a CD, a floppy disc key, and a 326 page manual. I installed Samplitude without incident from the CD. At one point , it asked for the floppy key which I inserted into the A: drive. It chugged away and successfully completed the installation. At the time I received the software, the latest version released on CD was 5.3. Mike Seltzer, VP at Samplitude, told me to be sure to download their online upgrade. I downloaded the update from the Sek'd website to my desktop. Installation of that was very simple, I clicked on the zipped file, unzipped it to the Samplitude directory, it asked for the floppy key which I inserted. It chugged away and I had now successfully upgraded to version 5.57.

My system is a Celeron 366, Win98SE, 128 meg of RAM and a 20 gig Maxtor harddrive. I run everything through my Folio Notepad mixer, using a pair of Marshall 2003 microphones and monitoring through my Vergence monitors. I found Samplitude to be entirely compatible with everything in my machine and setup.

Manual/Help:

As is my practice, I dutifully read the manual. The manual is an essential element in figuring this system out. While it contains a great deal of information, its format and writing style is a bit byzantine. It starts with an explanation of the program's editing functions. At first I was a bit setback because I wanted to get right to recording my guitar! I then figured out that the explanation of the editing functions provided important information on how the program was designed around Objects and how to manipulate them. The light then came on. In an Object oriented environment, detailed, discrete modifications can be easily made at a very detailed level. More global modifications are available via the Mixer and other settings. The devil is always in the details, you cannot appreciate this program until you understand it design philosophy. The CD features two .avi-based tutorials that I found to be helpful though a bit dated. For instance, the mixer design has changed considerably in 5.57 as compared to the CD. The Sek'd site has a helpful FAQ page the answers many common tech support questions. I found that many of my questions were answered before I had a chance to ask them here.

Appearance:

At first blush, Samplitude has a rather monochromic utilitarian appearance and is a bit overwhelming when you see all the cryptic buttons and functions on the first screen. The designers clearly concentrate on function over form but that is not to say that beauty does not lie below the skin. Ultimately, to know Samplitude 2496 is to love it. The reason is that Sek'd has packed a tremendous amount of power, flexibility and functionality into Samplitude 2496 - - its beauty is in its beastly power. (It also has a few "gee-whiz" things too).

Samplitude works on an Object oriented basis for recording and editing. Samplitude records audio to your hard disk or to system RAM. These are named either Hard Disk Project (HDP) or RAM project. For most editing, Samplitude opens a Virtual Project (VIP) window which uses representations/copies of the above HDP or RAM projects. The user can cut, splice fade, or otherwise manipulate the Object, but since they are mere representations, the original recording is left alone. The VIP windows are divided into two parts each - - an upper Play Range and Manipulation area and a lower Object Manipulation area. The tracks display colored waveforms against grey backgrounds.


Wave view

Track Control  

 

To the left of the waveforms is a set of track controls. The ? displays the tracks properties, such as which cards are selected to record/playback, what the MIDI options are and where the global recording directory is located. The control panel features peak-hold meters, volume and pan sliders to quickly adjust the track's overall volume and pan settings. There is a series of buttons that control track functions, M1 mutes the track, S solos the track, and L locks Objects (track) to prevent horizontal movement. V enables the custom volume curve displaying a yellow line to represent the track's volume. Similarly, the P enables the custom pan envelope displaying a blue line to represent the track's pan position. Lastly, the Multi Card Mode enables support for soundcards with multiple I/Os.

 

 

 

 
There are even more editing controls. In the image below, I have clicked on one of the Objects and grab handles appear in the Object's corners and a fifth handle at the top center. The Object's volume and panning can be changed independent of the underlying track. The Object's volume can be attenuated by dragging the center handle down with the mouse. The waveform will correspondingly decrease in size - - you can measure the decrease in the indicator that appears showing dB attenuation. Simple linear fade-ins and fade-outs are done by simply dragging the upper-corner handles left or right. For more detailed fades, double-clicking in the middle of the object opens up a dialog box where adjustments can be made.

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Object Edit View

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One new feature that Samplitude highlights is the unique Comparisonics option - - a function that renders a waveform in variegated colors that differ with the harmonic content of the signal. This feature is purported to help identify and pinpoint differences between similar sounds and can use a sophisticated algorithm to locate portions of your signal that have similar harmonic material.

Mixer:


The mixer window is one of the beautiful things about Samplitude. If you need to show a client something "cool" about your setup this would be a good thing to use. It is organized much like a hardware mixer with familiar looking virtual sliders and knobs. Arranged in a series of channel strips, Master section and a set of routing controls, the user has at hand all the necessary tools to manage, manipulate and master the final mix. The tracks are laid out in stereo pairs. The stereo slider volume controls can be linked or operate separately and are near the bottom just above a button that sets the soundcard selection. Playback levels are displayed in stereo level meters. The user can mute the track, solo the track, or apply DirectX effects to each individual track. Above the sliders eight knobs provide for setting Pan, EQ (Lo, Mid, High), Dynamics, Delay, Aux1, and Aux2 levels. To the right of the stereo tracks, at the bottom is the Master section. This features master volume sliders, normalization function, Master DirectX effects and peak meters. Above the master sliders are knobs for Dehissing/Stereo enhancing, Master EQ, Master Compression/Limiting. Lastly, to the far right is a set of buttons for playback, resetting various functions and input attenuation.

One cool feature the mixer has is volume/pan automation - - any volume fader or pan knob movements can be recorded so you do not have to repeat yourself every time you mix down. This allows you to concentrate on other settings such as EQ, compression and DirectX effects, etc. Speaking of DirectX, to utilize these effects you simply right-click on the DirectX button and a list of the available DirectX effects appears. Highlight one, click on it and it will begin processing your signal. To make adjustments, double-click on its name and it interface window will appear. Other features that can be utilized are Multi-band Dynamics (compression and Lowpass and Highpass filters, bandpass filters) and Multi-band Stereo Enhancer.

 
Effects:

Samplitude 2496 includes an extensive list of effects that can be used to modify your signal and improve its sound. There are so many that I will list them below with only the briefest of descriptions. Suffice it to say, the list is robust and all work quite well. Samplitude does support 3rd party DirectX plugins but you may not need them if you employ all the ones that come with this program.

  • Normalize - raising the overall amplitude of a HDP or selected Object.
  • Parametric EQ - 3-band EQ can be applied to HDP or selected Objects.
  • Graphic EQ - 5-band EQ featuring 5 separate sliders, Q adjustments for HDP and selected Objects.
  • FFT Filter/Analyzer - Combines a Fast Fourier Transform Analyzer with an FFT filter.
  • Compressor/Expander/Noise Gate/Limiter - An all-inclusive Dynamics processor.
  • Multi-band Compressor - Broadband Dynamics, 2-band, 3-band and 4-band Dynamics processing are possible with this setting.
  • Room Simulator - Apply various reverb-type effects, infinitely adjustable or choose effective presets.
  • Declipping - Repair digital "overs" at selected -dB levels.
  • DC Offset Removal - Center waveform at zero amplitude line.
  • Convolution- Apply a selected portions characteristics to another HDP or Object.
  • Noise Sample - Apply to get a noise print of your object.
  • Noise Reduction - Removes Noise Sample or a set of preset samples.
  • Resample/Timestretch/Pitchshift - Adjust sample rate, stretch time or shift pitch of a HDP or selected Objects.
  • Dehissing - Set absorption, reduction and resolution dehiss levels for HDP or selected Objects.
  • Stereo Enhancer - Expand or collapse stereo image of HDP or selected Object.
  • Echo/Delay - apply to HDP or selected Object.
Recording:

 

 

 

Samplitude provides several options for recording audio. For instance, if you have a studio and have a client who has previously recorded some material, he can bring it in on a CD. Samplitude can extract the audio directly from the CD and put it in a VIP. Original recordings are done through the VIP system for audio and/or MIDI. A new project can be opened by clicking on File>New. A settings window appears where the user can select from a preset number of tracks or any custom number of tracks. Sample rates, measurement units, VIP names, and default track lengths are set here as well.

 

 

 

 

 

A familiar looking transport bar can be activated from the window button by selecting Tranport. Its size is adjustable and it features Play (forward and reverse), Fast Forward, Rewind, Record, and Return-to-Zero buttons. The toolbar at the top of the VIP window also offers Play Once, Play Loop, and Play into Loop buttons. There are many other toolbars as well for punch-in recording, grouping and ungrouping Objects, toggling Auto crossfades function, and play to and from edit points. Recording starts by clicking on the red button. A recording window appears displaying information about the soundcard selection, settings, bit rate, sample rate and recording directory. After any changes that need to be made are finished, recording begins when the user clicks on the Record button.

Useability:

I discovered Samplitude is a very efficient program to use, once I got used to it. I would not describe it as intuitive but after I learned its system it was not hard to use. With its in-depth flexibility and user defined configurations, projects can be started and completed in an efficient manner.

I set up a four track VIP, by clicking on File>New>select radio button for four track. I then right-clicked on the track control, selected my soundcard, the Samplitude Siena (review forthcoming soon), set the bit resolution at 24-bit, sample rate at 44.1 and I was ready to go. Next, I activated track 1 for recording by pressing on the R1 button. That being said, I was ready to record my Gibson Gospel acoustic. I pressed the red button on the Transport bar and set my settings in the Record window. I pressed Record and off I went. When I was done, the record window asked me if I wanted to save the take? I said yes and a waveform appeared in the VIP window.

Then, I laid down a second complimentary acoustic guitar track, a Native American flute track, a lead guitar track and then some light hand percussion. Each track appeared in it own VIP window. I had to do the lead guitar track a couple of times before I was satisfied. I used the Punch-in Record function and did as many takes as it took to be satisfied. I then picked my best one the Take Manager and inserted it into my file. I was able to preview each take in the manager before I chose the best one. This was very handy.

 

On the Native American flute track, I had a percussive air puff that was too dominant. I selected that Object, zoomed in several times. Samplitude allows the user to zoom in to tremendous levels of amplification. I was easily able to get the waveform sample big enough to where I could identify and locate the puff. I selected it, attenuated its volume and then saved it. The dominance of the puff was diminished to the point of not being discernible. This took about one minute. It was very easy and fast. On the lead guitar, I wanted a fade-in/fade out. I simply selected its Object, clicked in the middle and moved the left-most upper handle in to the right and the right-most handle in to the left. I had created a fade-in/fade-out as simple as that. The ease of doing this was truly remarkable.

I next did a preliminary mixdown and opened up the Mixer by pressing the M key. Each track was represented by its own stereo slider pair. I wanted a bit of reverb on the flute so I right-clicked on the DirectX button, selected my favorite Ultrafunk reverb the dialog window. Instantly I heard reverb on the track. I was able to make adjustments by double-clicking on the selection to open the reverb's window. I also wanted a bit of delay on the acoustic guitar. I clicked on the Delay knob, set it to 20%, and a very satisfying resonant delay on the rhythm guitar. This added a fullness to the guitar sound that was very pleasing. Lastly, I compressed the lead guitar track to keep it in control by clicking the Compressor knob an made my adjustments till it sounded right. This was all done right from the Mix window, easy as could be and very pleasing to the ear and eye.

One feature that sets Samplitude apart is its support of "in-house" CD burning. There is no need to export the wavefile to another program to burn a CD. Samplitude features the same set of functions found in professional CD-creation programs, including sub-code editing, adjusting track gaps, and placing pause markers. In fact, if your system has enough horsepower, you can burn a CD on the fly without having to mix down to the disc first. Samplitude can calculate all real-time processing adjustments including mixing on the fly. You can even volume and pan adjustments live while burning. . A large number of ATAPI and SCSI drives are supported, and you should find that everything needed to get your music onto disc is included in the package. I did not feel that my recordings were finished enough for a final product mix and will write about that in a future article. However, it sure was nice to know that if I wanted, everything could be accomplished "in-house" with this one program.

As for MIDI, I must admit, I am quite the MIDI novice. I am an old analog kind of guy. However, Samplitude has more than adequate MIDI capability for my level of experience. With this program you can trigger MIDI files to play back at various points, you can load, record, edit, and create MIDI files from inside Samplitude. I will be the first to admit that at this point in its MIDI development, Cakewalk is in no danger. However, Cakewalk cannot hold up under the vast array of options this program has that Cakewalk does not. Nonetheless, adding MIDI capability to this program lends great support to Sek'd's claim this is an all-in-one professional quality solution for the recording artist.

Overall impressions:

Well, this program is very powerful and nearly infinitely flexible. It is not intuitive but is well worth the investment in learning its particular characteristics. Ultimately, when you learn its system, it is extremely efficient. The tech crew down at Sek'd are very helpful as is the FAQ page on their site. Samplitude is not cheap, no way no how. However, if you add up all of its included functionality, compare what it might cost if you had a less expensive program plus all the additional software necessary to replace the included features with Samplitude, my guess is you would pretty much break even.

Once I learned how to use its basic functions, I was very impressed with its logic, its functionality and efficiency. It does what it says it will do and very well. I would suggest that Sek'd edit their manual and begin with a more general approach for analog/midi recording how-to information. This would get people recording with the system quicker. Then, delve into the wondrous depths of functionality this program provides. My sense is that a user less bulldog like than me may not take the time to wade through the details and give up. Additionally, there are numerous places where a user can select playback devices and not all of them seem to work together. For instance, if I change the playback device in the Mixer, it does not change it in the playback control window. This was confusing at times because there were too many options. Another small complaint I would have is that the analog recording process takes too many steps. To record you press the red transport button and the recording window appears. You then press on record and it takes off. When you stop it asks you if you wish to keep the recording? Unless you know you made a mistake, how would you yet know if you want to keep it? Nonetheless, you must either accept it or not. Then to exit the recording function, you must press the OK button. OK to what? It should at least say exit or something. This is a minor complaint but I think it would be better if the process were simplified, with fewer steps.

Conclusions:

Samplitude 2496 is simply an amazing program. It does more than any other program I have tested so far and it does it very efficiently. I know that I am at the tip of the iceberg in delving into its capabilities and look forward to learning more as time goes by. I will write an update to this review when I finish my project and actually burn a full CD. Samplitude is well worth getting to know better. It will reap great benefits for any user who takes the time and makes the effort.

webmaster@pcrecording.com

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