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.
ACE sounds every
bit as good as it looks!