TASCAM GigaStudio Software Sampler - ProSoundNetwork.com

TASCAM GigaStudio Software Sampler

A few years back, Nemesys unveiled some amazing new technology with its GigaSampler software. "Endless Wave" allowed a software sampler to load just the initial snippets of its samples into RAM and stream the rest from the hard drive. The all-too-familiar limit imposed on sample time by RAM was gone; GigaSampler could play back a gigabyte or more worth of samples without requiring an equivalent amount of RAM.
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A few years back, Nemesys unveiled some amazing new technology with its GigaSampler software. "Endless Wave" allowed a software sampler to load just the initial snippets of its samples into RAM and stream the rest from the hard drive. The all-too-familiar limit imposed on sample time by RAM was gone; GigaSampler could play back a gigabyte or more worth of samples without requiring an equivalent amount of RAM.
Product PointsApplications: Studio

Key Features: 160-voice polyphony, hard disk streaming for nearly unlimited sample size, digital mixer, plug-in effects, MIDI automation, instrument editor, Red Book audio converter/mapper, record to hard disk

Price: $699

Contact: TASCAM at 323-726-0303, Web Site
The industry noticed, and GigaSampler began to make its mark on the recording industry. With utilities to convert various sample types to GigaSampler format, many die-hard sampling fans were ditching their hardware samplers in favor of this software solution (even if it meant - gasp! - buying their first PC). Though it did not involve purchasing a new PC, this writer retired his trusty Roland sampler in favor of GigaSampler after reviewing it.

Now owned and distributed by TASCAM, the next incarnation of the Nemesys software sampler is called GigaStudio. It goes beyond just the sampler to include a digital mixer, effects, MIDI automation, automation and other enhancements.

Features

As its name implies, GigaStudio 160 is capable of a whopping 160-voice polyphony with a capable computer. Polyphony hinges on processor speed, RAM and hard drive access/transfer speed. Though the software will run on a 266 MHz Pentium with 64 MB of RAM, TASCAM recommends an 800 MHz machine with at least 128 MB of RAM. Even the latter is a pretty modest system by today's standards. GigaStudio supports Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000 and XP.

If your MIDI interface offers four or more inputs, GigaStudio will respond to 64 MIDI channels on four ports. GigaStudio will route sounds to up to 32 discrete audio outputs, and boasts 24-bit/96 kHz hardware support.

GigaStudio's four port panes arrange sounds into four banks of 16 instruments. By default, these correspond to the four MIDI input ports. Double-clicking on a GIG file from the sound list pane loads a single GigaStudio instrument into the next open slot, or you can drag a GIG file to the instrument slot of your choice. You can also save and load GSP performance files, which store all instrument assignments, digital mixer settings, effects settings, MIDI surface assignments and more.

GigaStudio's DSP Station mixer is the software's audio control center, sitting between the sampler engine and audio outputs. Each channel of the DSP Station can have four insert-style (serial) effects added, with many effects parameters controllable via MIDI automation. Each channel also offers eight sends with automated levels, which go to the mixer's eight busses (up to four serial effects each). Busses and channels alike can be assigned to any hardware output, for which DSP Station gives you a master fader and other controls.

One display area that is always visible in GigaStudio is the performance area. It shows several valuable displays to help track how well your computer is handling its job. These status meters include the number of voices currently playing, the highest number of voices used so far, amount of RAM used for sample precache and overall CPU load.

The software offers the means to quickly locate instruments and performances by keyword, thanks to its QuickSound database. QuickSound keeps track of new sounds when added to your system. Key to this capability are GigaStudio's new instrument and performance file formats, which store extra information about the instruments they contain. They also load much faster, which is a real plus. These new instruments and performances are not compatible with GigaSampler, and you have to convert older files to be used with GigaStudio (a quick process).

Also new to GigaStudio is the Distributed Wave system, which allows you to quickly stream any WAV files on your hard drive. You simply drag-and-drop WAV files onto MIDI keys to map the sounds, and GigaStudio plays them back in response to MIDI note-on messages. The Distributed Wave instrument goes through the DSP Station just like any other, allowing you to add effects. This is a quick, tidy way to trigger WAV files.

GigaStudio's instrument editor offers some nice new capabilities, including a handy Wizard for combining instruments. A crossfade editor makes it relatively easy to combine multiple instruments into one composite sound.

As with GigaSampler, GigaStudio includes 600 MB of the excellent GigaPiano piano samples. Three of the proprietary NFX effects are also bundled in, including reverb, chorus and multitap delay. If you register GigaStudio by going to the Nemesys web site, they will e-mail back the NFX four-band EQ. These effects offer zero-latency performance, automated parameters and relatively low CPU load.

S-converter, an Akai sample library translator, is included with GigaStudio. At least two other converter utilities are available from third-party companies, including Chicken Systems's Translator and Amazing Sound's CD Xtract. A-converter, also bundled with GigaStudio, makes quick work of creating and key-mapping WAV files from a Red Book audio CD.

In Use

When you first fire up GigaStudio, the main interface can be a little challenging to figure out. There are text menus across the top, toolbars, left-hand navigation links, tabs and numerous panes visible by default. You will spend most your time using the left-hand buttons, which cycle through the four Port pages for instrument selection, the DSP Station page, the Settings page and a few others.

Once you get comfortable with GigaStudio's interface, most functions are quite simple to implement. Locating and loading instruments is fast and efficient with the QuickSound database search system, and GigaStudio remembers all loaded sounds until you reset the sampler.

Efficient access to a large library of sounds is important, especially when you consider the wealth of instruments one large hard drive can hold. GigaStudio will also stream sampled instruments off a local area network, which will come in handy in very large production environments.

Did someone say instruments? The GigaStudio universe of sounds is growing at a rapid clip, covering the gamut from dirty loops to ultra-realistic strings and orchestra instruments. Already got a sample library? No problem. Several affordable software packages will translate most any library to GigaStudio format with minimal after-the-fact cleanup.

GigaStudio's DSP Station interface is straightforward to use, with a large volume fader and clearly labeled buttons (though I would have preferred a little more visual distinction between channel pairs).

Though it comes close to being a full-fledged digital mixer, DSP Station misses in a few areas. For starters, it offers no way to solo up effects returns for serious plug-in tweaking. Busses are for send effects only-you cannot use them for submixing instruments. You cannot apply insert plug-ins to the mixer's outputs, and output meter ballistics are so slow as to make them nearly irrelevant. The meters consistently show levels 12 to 15 dB lower than a more accurate RMS meter.

The big showstopper with GigaStudio's DSP Station is its inability to host plug-in effects other than the four supplied with GigaStudio. Because the sampler code runs "below" Windows to reduce latency, GigaStudio works only with its own zero-latency plug-in effects. This means you cannot use any of your favorite plug-ins with GigaStudio - DirectX, VST or otherwise. I cannot speak for everyone, but I would gladly give up zero-latency performance for the ability to use the dozens of plug-ins I already own. During mixing, eliminating latency is as simple as shifting MIDI tracks back in time (something most of us do anyway).

Is the sound quality and flexibility of the NFX effects enough to make you forget the loss of your favorite plug-ins? Not likely. When it comes to bundled plug-ins, Logic Audio Platinum this is not. On the plus side, several of the NFX effects offer MIDI automation of parameters, and all boast relatively low CPU load. Unfortunately, the quality and flexibility of at least two of the NFX effects leaves something to be desired.

The NFX reverb, for example, does not offer quite enough versatility to cover all musical styles and instruments. While it does a fair job with longer reverbs, it does not deliver short reverbs with adequate density. The NFX EQ offers three bands of control, with high and low shelving filters and a variable-width mid band. The NFX Chorus and Multitap delay fare better. The chorus is nice and dense, with a good range of sounds from subtle thickening to more dramatic chorusing. The NFX Multi-tap delay is easily the best plug-in of the lot, offering generous control over four discrete delay taps.

I have one quibble with GigaStudio, in the area of documentation. TASCAM is following the trend toward not supplying a full manual in print form. Instead, a simple introductory manual skips the in-depth functions of the software and point users to the on-line help files instead. GigaStudio's on-line help files are neither.

Summary

Split the software's name in two, and it is apparent Nemesys was trying to mate its excellent GigaSampler software with a digital "studio." I can find little fault with the sampler side of GigaStudio. In a word, GigaStudio's sampler offers an amazing amount of sampling and editing power. It has become a big part of many studios these days, being used on everything from back-bedroom demos to major motion picture soundtracks.

The "Studio" part of GigaStudio is not nearly as impressive as the sampler. Though it offers good automation of some effects parameters, it falls short in the areas of routing, metering and a few other nuts-and-bolts mixer functions.

REVIEW SETUP

Micron Millennia 933 MHz computer, Windows ME, 384 MB RAM, Frontier Designs Dakota card with Tango24 interface.