Making Noises... 

Two sound systems reviewed by Alan Goldsbro


Issue 23

Sep/Oct 86

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2 Bit Systems 


Would you like to convert your computer to a programmable drum system or sequencer?

DIGIDRUM is menu driven, the majority of controls are obtained by using the main function keys. OPTION gets a selection from the main menu which is permanently displayed across the top of the screen. With each press of the button, the highlighted cursor moves from one option to another, left to right. SELECT gets an option from the active pull down menu and START executes that option. Using these pull down menus may look cute but unless you've got a mouse to flick over them they really aren't much good. I found them slow and cumbersome. if you miss your option first time round then it's back to continually pressing the Option button until its highlighted again. I was constantly frustrated by this procedure which I feel detracts from the ease of use. Don't let my inability to handle this system put you off this program however, as I enjoyed my time as a drummer.

All the sounds you hear within the program were digitised using the 'Replay' Sound Sampling System from the same authors. The eight drum sounds all 'recorded' at 10KHz are, Bass-Drum, Snare, Lowtom, Midtom, Cowbell, Hi-hat open, Hi-hat closed and Clap. DigiDrum can store up to 29 different patterns using any combination of the drum sounds, these can be constructed, edited and played at different tempo's. DigiSynth employs the same method as DigiDrum except that the rate is recorded at 16KHz.

Within DigiDrum there are numerous sections all connected to give you hours of enjoyment by constructing, editing and compiling patterns to make songs. Functions include, selection from any of 29 Patterns, Wiping (erase), Editing, Playing, changing the Tempo and linking patterns to form Songs. All the patterns and songs can be stored on either disk or tape. If you have a disk drive, a catalog can also be displayed thus enabling easier selection. Up to 16 files can be stored on disk although the programmers don't employ the same procedure here as they do with the menu. With the menu all you do is highlight your option and press START. When loading files though, you have to type in the filename and press return. I can't work out why they don't use the same principle as the menu.

I would have liked the opportunity to send my patterns to the printer so further study could be easier, however, at this price I'm not going to make a song and dance about it.(!) The manual is a small cassette inlay size typeset document which is quite readable but it lacks in-depth information and clarity and I found some of the instructions a little vague.

DIGISYNTH is not as complex as DigiDrum but is still an effective program. Employing the same design structure (and faults) it can handle such functions as entering Music, Editing, Erasing, Tempo, Playback and Filing.

Entering the notes is achieved by using the bottom two rows of the keyboard. Editing is by real time use of delete and cursor control keys. As with DigiDrum whatever you do is seen on screen immediately through a little grey window, in fact in this program there are windows popping up and down all over the place and what's more I couldn't seem to get rid of them. Never mind you always get to see what you are doing.

You will probably have realised by now from the lack of detailed musical comment that I know nothing about those funny little things like notes, staffs, sharps and rests but I did thoroughly enjoy myself creating as yet another unfinished masterpiece!!

The manual is part of the DigiDrum manual and again is a little sparse. The disk comes packaged in the now almost standard hard vinyl case. All in all though DigiDrum and DigiSynth are well worth 4-95 and when you've got tired of trying to beat your last score playing that arcade game you could always come back to this and write a different type of score!

2 Bit Systems

Real music from your computer?? Spoken words with clarity??

The Replay Sound System consists of a plug-in cartridge and disk or cassette based software comprising of the main program (Replay), sample sound files and supportive programs. All the sounds in the DigiDrum/DigiSynth package are derived from this system. Replay allows you to produce high quality digital sound through your TV or Monitor speaker. Once a sound has been recorded it can be played back without the use of the Replay cartridge.

To create effective and realistic sounds a good quality tape recorder is required to play music or sounds so the Replay cartridge can 'record' it. The sounds can then be saved to either disk or tape. The cartridge comes with a lead about 18 inches long terminating in a small 3.5mm phono plug which should be inserted in any output socket of the recorder although the manual makes no reference to this whatsoever. I managed to plug it into the headphone socket after first getting a conversion unit as, like most recorders, the headphone socket was of a larger size than the phono plug supplied.

The Replay program itself employs the same 'modus operandi' as DigiDrum and DigiSynth. Functions include, Setup, Wipe, Sample, Play and File as follows.

Set-up has three sub programs: Sample Rate - lets you select the 'recording' quality/time. Using the SELECT key you can choose to record your sample at six different levels from 6KHz (poor) to 21KHz (excellent). As the quality of the sound improves the less recording time you have available. For example with 6KHz you get 12 seconds and at 21KHz there are only 3 seconds of recording time, but what a superb 3 seconds they are!! Storage - just toggles the disk/cassette option and Calibration - which is a handy section acting like a row of LED's to help you select the correct output level of your tape recorder.

Wipe - has exactly the same functions as in Digidrum.

Sample - having pre-selected the 'recording level' under the Set-up command this option records the input signal at the current sample rate. When Sample is selected, the signal from the tape player is audible through the TV. A 'Sample Length' indicator shows the amount of time available for the sample sound. Once the START key is pressed, the sample length starts to decrease and your sound is recorded.

Play - as it says, highlight the option, press START and whatever file is loaded into memory is played through the TV speaker. The sounds produced can be altered by going to Set-up and changing the KHz rate.

File - this, in my opinion, is wrongly placed. Surely the file needs to be loaded first, then played? I can't understand why the Play option is placed before the File option which doesn't seem logical as you have to move the cursor right round the menu bar. File lets you load and save your sample sounds to disk or cassette and in the case of disk owners a Catalog is an additional feature.

Once a file has been loaded or recorded the sound waves appear in a window across the width of the screen giving a visual effect of your sounds. A nice feature here is an editor function which allows you to scroll from the start of the sound sample to the end. Markers can be placed anywhere between the start and end to let you either wipe the parts out you don't want or alternately save only the section between the markers. If you only use part of the time limit in 'record' you can add on more sounds by moving the editor markers and recording sound from that position. In this way it's possible to edit speech to your own requirements. As with any program that relies on other equipment to provide the conditions to enable it to operate the quality of sample sounds are dependant somewhat upon the quality of your tape recorder.

In addition to the main program there are demo sounds ranging from guitars to Captain Kirk in perfect voice! A separate program is LISTed to disk to enable sample sounds to be included in your own programs. This comprises of a couple of machine code routines and all that has to be done is to find out the start and finish address of the sample and away you go.

The package comes in a plastic case reminiscent of a video box with a 12 page manual and even a wooden dowel for the 400/800 cartridge lid which has to stay open to allow the lead to be plugged into the recorder. It is available for all 48K computers. For those who have friends going green with envy whilst you're creating sounds, there's something for them too, a simple space invader game as a freebie!

Replay Sound Sampling System will cost you 39.95 for either Disk or Cassette and is available from retailers or 2-BIT SYSTEMS themselves. The sampler was loaned by 2 BIT SYSTEMS to whom I am indebted. One thing is for sure, I've no intention of being without the Replay Sound Sampling System for long, I'm off out now to buy one before they all get snapped up.