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Ace up the Falcon's sleeve

Shiuming Lai previews a DSP synthesizer destined to become a hit!

Several months ago I received an audio recording from the guys at New Beat Development in Sweden, demonstrating the exciting capabilities of their forthcoming DSP-based sound synthesizer for the Falcon. I was suitably impressed - the Falcon acted as a MIDI module running the ACE (as it's called) synth engine, slaved to an ST running Cubase. Despite being a fairly rough MP3 encoding, a broad palette of textures was in evidence, from rich bass and percussion to squidgy leads plus stereo panning and subtle reverberations.

After waiting and waiting, desperate to spread the news but bound by non-disclosure, the project recently became official. Even better, I now have a working preview version with a proper interface, in the usual clean and fresh New Beat style that oozes class from every pixel and movement. Topping off the front-end, moving the mouse pointer over a button changes it into the hand of Willie the painter, as if to tease us keen Falcon gamers some more!

I kid you not, I've had to tear myself away from playing with ACE to write this, it's that good. For all the hype since the Falcon's launch about its DSP being ideal for sound synthesis among many other things, finally we're about to see a realisation of this claim in the way most were led to believe. That is, sophisticated sounds, real-time response (turn an envelope or filter knob and hear the results instantly) and support for professional hardware accessories so it may be of practical use in the real world.

ACE will be three editors in one program: a sound editor (the part I'm mainly describing now, approximately 90% complete), a tracker-style editor and MIDI management. The latter two are not yet commenced, so let's take a closer look at the sound editor.

Currently, there are two oscillators with four wave types each, soon to be complemented by user-wavetable (sample mode): OSC1: Square, square positive, saw ramp up, noise. OSC2: Square, square positive, saw ramp up, saw ramp down.

A conjunction of the two may be achieved by summation, merging or ring modulation, with a very clear "before" and "after" display in the sample waveform window. Real-time, of course. Each oscillator also has a filter and amplifier with independent ADSR envelope control, LFO, amplifier and oscillator frequency. A new addition is the arpeggiator, which can be used as it is, and/or an extra amplifier (VCA), filter (VCF) or LFO. You want more? How about delay and reverb...

The result of all these features is simply luscious sounds with great variety and depth. Thomas Bergstrom kindly supplied me with some of his sound patches, filling four of the 8x16 available sound banks. What a treat for the ears! Storming techno, dreamy fantasy, congas, brass (trumpet and tuba), spooky synth pads, powerful synth and acoustic bass, retro chip-synth and many more weird and funny noises.

Performance-wise, the whole output is rendered to 32.78 KHz, sounding very good indeed at all but the highest notes. A standard Falcon will manage 16 voices in synth mode and 11 in sample mode while accelerated machines will have the full 16/16 if not more (pending fast RAM support) as well as the potential for 44.1/48 KHz output using an external sample clock or the SoundPool FDI. FPU dependency will be eliminated by the use of a look-up table file, for the filter coefficients, and here are just a few more of the features being evaluated:

  • Various filter types
  • VU meter/oscilloscope
  • 4-output support for Jam/FAD users in case you have some outrageously good outboard processing gear (straight 2-channel stereo output on the DSP port already works)

We'll be keeping you up to date on the development of ACE, it's definitely one to watch out for. Meanwhile, just drool over the screen-shot and listen to this cool MP3 demo.

Click here to enlarge
ACE sounds every bit as good as it looks! 


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MyAtari magazine - Preview #1, December 2000

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