Although I have many interests, I am sincerely a music lover. Since a child I have learned to play guitar and sing reasonably well. I also am fairly talented at whistling as strange as that may sound. Throughout High School I played the Trombone on a daily basis and was in the Jazz band and was fairly good. The one common denominator is that I have always been musically inclined. If not for the audiophile ear, it\’s the ability to tell pitch by ear, etc. Occaisionally I have ideas that randomly come into my head to compose a song. How do I write it down? I\’ve always hated sheet music. I\’m better at picking up a guitar or something and expressing and refining the idea then I am at writing it down.
So it was to this effect that I decided in order to express the idea of computer music better, I should built a cheap efficient MIDI system in order to facilitate an idea of mine just to see if I can compose a song. I tell you, as they play out in my head, they sound brilliantly beautiful, but I really wonder if I can transpose that into an actual piece, much in the way it is hard to transfer a concept to code when it comes to Programming.
I decided the first thing I should buy is ACE Midi. A beginners background of what ACE is? Well ACE is a software synthesizer. It is essentially a super configurable version of several hardware boxes that you can buy. It\’s for the Falcon and makes heavy use of specialized Falcon hardware. With ACE Midi you can take recordings or samples of say a Roland grand piano, play song data via MIDI to Ace and you\’ll hear your song on the software synthesized Roland Grand Piano. ACE can also be used to create a lot of the funky sounds and beats you hear in a lot of your favorite techno songs. Listening to Aqua\’s Barbie Girl as I write this review I can pick out at least 10 software synthesized instruments, that could be easily reproduced by someone with good training and experience with Ace. Probably most of the instruments in the song are syntheszized. As you can probably start to tell, to the trained fingers, a piece of software like ACE is a really powerful tool!. A powerful tool of which no other exists for the Atari\’s. I also certainly don\’t know of any PC tools that are better than Ace but for the sake of discussion and me being wrong, we\’ll assume that one exists.
Ace was the logical next step to start building my beginners MIDI system. After ACE came my Mega Ste with monochrome monitor which will be my synthesizer which if I am lucky will run Cubase ;-) After that I will work on getting a Roland Sound Canvas to produce normal General MIDI instruments and other such stuff, and later on I will get a MIDI Keyboard controller to complete the package.
So what is interesting about ACE? Exactly what is mentioned above, it is the single * most* powerful tool in a MIDI setup. With ACE you have the infinite power and flexibility to create your very own instruments, being a mix between a real instrument and an electronic one or a completely synthesized one. From the first start to the latest one before writing this review I have never experienced even one single problem or bug within Ace. Although it has some issues under MagiC with the file selector it does indeed work.
And the interface? Completely intuitive. ACE forgoes GEM in order to give the user a more realistically beautiful interface with which to manipulate it\’s controls and features. All of the features are easily acceptable making it an ideal solution for even something like concert performances. Bank selection is easy and it might even possible to use MIDI to control it (I think so anyway). Interestingly enough the most important thing about ACE is the fact that it is rock solid. Nobody wants their machine to crash or get out of time during a concert or performance. Or while demoing their music to friends or family. There\’s pretty much no time where an apparent software bug is really acceptable.
Other interesting features? The one that is coolest to me is the ability to load and mix samples in addition to the own internal synthesis. This makes ACE a nice tool for anyone who is simply just an audiophile who wants to give new flavor to MIDI pieces that they download. ACE also supports external DAC\’s, number of voices settings in order to ensure that the system will not overload trying to mix too many voices. ACE is designed from the ground up to be compatible with upgrades. An upgrade to a Falcon\’s processor/DSP means more channels able to be played simultaneously giving instant benefit to upgrading your Falcon. Also Ace can add effects and other such things to your sample playbacks. This means that your Roland Grand Piano can easily have reverb effects and have that grand ballroom echo sound - also a very cool feature.
Service? I decided this review would be more of an all inclusive one which may be modified as I learn more about MIDI and Ace. But for now I will talk about the excellent service of Newbeat Productions. Thomas Bergstrom had no idea who I was or that I would be writing a review about his product has given me nothing but the best level of service.
Firstly, Newbeat Productions accepts Paypal, and if you know anything about Paypal you\’d know that this is a great thing! I\’d say within an hour of clicking my mouse to send payment I had access to a download site to get Ace from as well as my registration key. Thomas also sent me the latest copy of Ace via email eliminating any need to go rummaging through the site even. Your purchase of Ace also gives you not just download access to the site, FREE Ace updates (compare to other software packages!), and a collection of additional goodies, not to mention a happier Atari software author. After a week or three (can\’t remember), I received Ace via snail mail. I do believe Thomas sent Ace via Airmail though I am not completely sure. When the package arrived, it was evident the mail system took a beating on it. Still the floppy disk AND CD included with the package were in excellent condition and just as well the manual and cd inserts were not dirty or damaged in any way. The only problem was that the envelope was slightly opened and that the cd case cover was cracked (these are available for roughly 30 cents each). The manual is very informative and is designed such that it is good for beginners yet as to not bore the professionals.
Two personal touches that rate this experience as a perfect 10? Thomas sent the Ace manual in PDF format which allowed me to get reading and playing right away! Also The package via mail contained a CD AND a floppy disk! Excellent Service!
Remember, Ace can be useful to more then just music composers. If you have an interest in music and would like to be creative on your Atari Falcon, I would highly recommend purchasing this package. To a MIDI professional, it wouldn\’t be right for me to properly advise your purchases but I highly suspect this would be a very good addition to your collection.
Important note: Although ACE and another MIDI module to produce the normal general midi instruments is probably the best way to go in addition to a MIDI Keyboard controller it really isn\’t the only way. Many times you can make great pieces using Trackers. Trackers are basically an all inclusive MIDI player/sample mixing software suite. Although they don\’t play MIDI files due to having no built in samples, they play other formats such as MOD or XM. A good example of good trackers would be Flextracker, also a Newbeat production or the infinitely powerful Groumftracker from several atari demoscene members. Interesting features? Groumf tracker can very effectively import and play XM\’s up to 12 channels or so in my observation. Flextracker has cool DSP audio effects to the instruments so the songs sound neat. By building a MIDI system including ACE you get the actual instrument SYNTHESIS versus just sample playback as well as a system that you can add on to.
Related Link: Newbeat Developments