ACE: World Exclusive!
Now the first demo version
is released, come and explore the decks with Tim Conrardy
New Beat Productions
has just released ACE, a new soft-synth for Atari Falcon
computers. In the past, Atari has enjoyed several "chip"
editors designed to take advantage of the Yamaha sound
chip inside the TOS machines. While these were good
for bells, whistles and squeaks, ACE takes Atari to
a new level offering professional sound and ease of
programming with an intuitive interface. Your Falcon
will never sound the same again! ACE taps into the DSP
chip of the Falcon to realize its analog synth engine.
Expect fat, warm analog sound as well as clear ringing
digital sound and a unique synthesis structure. I have
had the privilege of being an ACE beta-tester (pun intended),
giving the programmer Thomas Bergström feedback and suggestions as well
as bug reports during the last few months. It has been
a rewarding effort as we are completing testing of the
First of all, let's take
a look at the specifications:
- Up to 16 voices
on a standard Falcon030
Depends on system speed,
replay frequency and the configuration of ACE. A
standard Falcon can do 16 voices if you choose to
use external effects and run the synth engine at
33 KHz output).
- 256 sounds in memory
It's amazing that stored in a small 50 KB file are
256 patches for ACE. You will be hard pressed to
fill these slots with your original patches. You
can also scroll through the banks and patches with
the arrow keys making it easy to audition them.
The file format allows you to share sets, banks
and patches with other ACE users, so no messy SysEx
to deal with. Just load the set, patch, or bank
from the menu. Individual patches can be saved as
well. This will come in handy if you want to modify
an existing patch.
- Two oscillator modes:
maximum 256 samples in memory, up to 20 MB each.
Yes, this means you can load in WAV and AIFF files
and use the ACE synthesis engine (filters, envelopes
and modulators) to create new sounds. You can also
view the samples graphically and edit the loop points.
A fine tool for further synthesis.
Synth mode, two oscillators
OSC1 Saw ramp up/down, noise, square. OSC2 Saw ramp
up/down, square positive, square.
- Three modes to mix
the two oscillators: normal (sum), merge (XOR) and
ring modulation (product). The non-sample mode is
where you can generate analog sounds in ACE as well
as a quasi way to do cross modulation (like a Casio
CZ 01, remember?) with its merge and ring modulation
functions. Any of the waveforms are selectable which
allows for a wide range of timbres. The tuning is
quite intuitive. A right-click will bring it up
one octave making it easy to create tuning settings.
Tuning the oscillators to unison, then offsetting
them slightly produces a rich fat analog sound.
You can also tune them to intervals against each
other, such as a fifth above or below the primary
- VCA (amplifier)
with ADSR envelope
The bread-and-butter envelope
is here which control the overall loudness contour
of ACE. You can obtain long attack and release times
making ACE excellent for ambient type sounds.
- VCF (low-pass filter)
with ADSR envelope
This is the meat of ACE,
with its excellent filter section. Squeaky warm
resonance and a wide cutoff frequency give ACE its
sound. Small movements of the dedicated ADSR to
the filters input can affect the overall sound greatly.
- LFO (low frequency
oscillator) with six different waveforms
be connected to frequency and/or filter and/or volume.
Here you can create vibratos, filter sweeps, wah-wah
effects and random noise.
- Step Modulator
User-defined 32-step "sequencer". Can
be connected to filter and/or amplifier. Velocity
curves. Separate curves for volume and filter response.
This is a modulator you will not find on any other
soft-synths or hardware synthesizers for that matter!
Sample hold effects, vast filter sweeps, portamento,
a 32-step analog sequencer and more. You will find
many uses for this unique module.
- Internal post processing
Reverb and stereo (ping-pong) delay:
I remember creating echo effects using a cable and
a reel-to-reel tape recorder just to add to the
sound of my first analog synth, an EML 500. This
has been recreated in ACE and greatly enhances the
sounds, giving it more body and ambience. There
is also a reverb section, with parameters for both
reverb and echo, with the option to turn it off
in case you can connect ACE to a mixer board with
effects already in place. ACE is a stereo instrument,
in that you can also place any of its sound in the
stereo field via panning controls. You can save
your settings so every time ACE loads you are set
Ace also supports
a multi-timbral mode where it is possible to have 16
sounds for each MIDI channel with 120 split points per
channel. You basically set up patches for each MIDI
channel, and use your external sequencer to play ACE,
just like a normal synth module. Of course, the number
of voices are dependent on how fast your system is.
This also allows you to create "kits" using
either drum samples or even different synth sounds for
each key. The Kawai XD5 percussion synthesizer had this
function and you can be quite creative in making layered
textures spread across the keyboard. Remember you will
need an external sequencer to make full use of this
section. Many musicians using Atari usually have more
then one machine as a back-up or to run software not
compatible with 030 machines (such as Notator), so this
would not be a problem. Also, the "left hand"
applications such as Tunesmith, M, Music Mouse (algorithmic
programs) could also be used on ACE. Another application
would be running the available analog sequencer software
into ACE, thus re-creating the electronic music of yesteryear.
Examples include Neil Wakeling's Pulsar, Dr Ambient's
AEX, Gaston Klare's Sequence and Electronic Cow's
Velocity, pitch bend
and modulation wheel are also supported. An excellent
function of ACE is that you can assign the modulation
wheel to LFO for vibrato effects or to the filter for
filter sweep effects. A very real-time control feature.
A session with ACE:
- Double-click on
ACE.PRG and the program loads. The main screen comes
up. I usually go to the Load section and load a
set that I have been working on. It might be good
practice to load the same set so you can continue
to add sounds to the same set (unless all 256 slots
have been filled!). Then I go to an empty slot in
the last bank that was used. The patch name should
- Now we are ready
to go. First of all, you have to think conceptually
in synthesis. You are creating a sound. What kind
of sound do you want? You are also dealing with
analog sounds, so even though there are infinite
variables, you are still limited to analog type
sounds (unless you are using a sample as a basis
for construction). For this example, let's create
a swelling fat analog lead sound that can also be
used as a pad.
- Start with the oscillators,
which is the sound source. There are two in ACE.
This is not going to be a bass sound, so let's bring
up the octave range on both oscillators by right-clicking
once on each transpose parameter. They both should
read 12. To audition the sound hit a note on your
MIDI keyboard or any QWERTY key on the Falcon keyboard.
You will hear a tone, but not very "phat".
How do you make it "phat"? By de-tuning
one oscillator against each other.
- Turn the tune control
of oscillator 2 to the right slightly. Not too much
so it does not sound in tune, but enough to create
a chorus effect. However, it is not "swelling".
For this we go to the filter section. Bring the
Res. control up to just touching the red, and still
in the orange range. Audition the sound. You hear
a fast attack, which is more prominent.
- This is still not
swelling yet. To achieve this effect, bring up the
Attack control to about three-quarters to the right.
Audition the sound. You will now hear a swelling
type effect. However, the swelling comes down too
suddenly. To create a smoother effect, go to the
Decay control and turn it three quarters to the
right (same as attack). Audition the sound. Much
- Now let's create
some more variation. Go to the LFO section (Low
Frequency Oscillator) and select Osc1. We will be
trying for a vibrato effect, so the Freq (or speed)
of the LFO should be set to a little less than half-way.
- Now go the Depth
control. This will tell ACE how much LFO will be
affecting oscillator one. Set it to the same as
Freq. Audition the sound. The vibrato effect comes
in too soon! Not to worry. There is a Delay control
so the vibrato comes in more smoothly. Set it to
taste, auditioning as you adjust it. The same goes
- To get some fast
action pitch-bending going, go to the Pitch bend
parameter in the Ctrl section and set it to 2. You
can now use your pitch bend wheel to play a Jan
Hammer type lead.
- We have now completed
a sound in ACE. Click in the field where it says
"empty" and use the [Esc] key on the Falcon's
keyboard to clear the field (as in other Atari applications).
You can now put in a 20-character name! Lots of
room for something creative. Don't be shy! Try something
- When completed,
hit [Return] and then go to the Save section and
save your set (or Patch if you are using the demo
version of ACE). Otherwise if you exit or turn the
computer off, there goes your sound (you should
know that by now!).
The ACE DEMO
There is now a demo version
of ACE MIDI available. While the demo is still very
workable, some functions have been removed (as in all
- Save BANK
- Save SET
- External Outputs
(4 output mode for external effects)
- 44.1, 48 and
50 KHz modes removed
- Only possible
to use 1 Part (1 of 16)
- Only possible
to play two voices (2 of 16)
The only save option
left is "SAVE PATCH" which saves one single
patch (sound).This means you can start making patches
even before you get the full version of the program,
if you decide to register it.
While the above limitations
have been imposed, you can still do quite a lot with
the ACE demo. Create sounds using the synthisis sections.
Import samples. Play with the delay functions and multi-section.
This will be like the old mono synths of yesteryear
with their 1 or 2 voice polyphony.
However to get full 16
voice polyphony, full use of the multi-timbral section
as well as other functions, please register the program!
Thomas has put about 2 1/2 years of his life into creating
this fantastic application. Lets not disappoint him.
Support Atari programmers and we will get more programs,
more updates as ACE can only get better.
ACE to the future
This is only
the beginning as we can look to possible updates as
well as new sounds created by users of ACE. We can also
expect new pieces created on ACE to be made available,
as we move forward into a new future of synthesis exploration
using ACE, the new soft synth for Atari Falcon, a definite
milestone in Atari computer history. Atari is still
alive in the new century thank you!