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Reviewed by David Duberman
David Duberman has been involved in Atari computing for the past five years. He is primarily interested in the use of personal computers for enhancing human creative potential.
You can preview the partial's sound at any time. From here you can select directly any other partial to edit, but you must return to the main screen to hear the full sound.
Softsynth lets you set as many as 40 (!!) stages in each partial's amplitude envelope and up to 15 in the frequency envelope. You can also set the partial's ratio to the fundamental pitch, after which Softsynth calculates the actual frequency for that partial. Finally, you can set a waveform type for the partial, selecting from Sine, Square, Triangle, Bandlimited Noise and White Noise. This ability to use waveforms other than the usual sine wave makes it easier to create interesting sounds more quickly, as well as to add special effects.
Softsynth also offers an alternative method of additive synthesis which gives you more control over the overall sound while sacrificing fine control. Time Slice Editing lets you control relative levels of the individual partials by means of timbre events, which are "snapshots" of the amplitude of each partial at a given moment in time. A single, overall amplitude envelope is shown, with any number of timbre events arrayed underneath. Click on a timbre event and the current levels of all partials at that point are shown on the slider display, ready for you to adjust if you like. You can add, delete and move timbre events. The manual provides a tutorial in use of the unusual Time Slice method.
The concept of FM synthesis in a nutshell involves different sound waves interacting as carriers (audible) and modulators (usually inaudible, modulating carriers). Softsynth's advanced FM implementation lets you set any partial to modulate any other partial (including itself), with modulators audible or not. You'll be surprised at the complexity of the sounds you can create with relatively few operators. That's the power of FM synthesis, while the drawback is loss of fine control over subtler aspects of the sound.
Finally, Softsynth's Smartsynth function is a wonderful way to experiment with sound. To quote the manual, "Smartsynth uses parameter ranges and a random number generator to create new sounds"—that is, it's an "auto-droid" function. You can set just about any combination of a screen full of parameters such as Harmonic Series, Range and Filter, Partial Detuning, Doubling, Frequency Movement and Attack, and Attack and Decay Rates. Then Softsynth throws a few dice and creates for your ears only a brand-new never-before-heard sound, based on your Smartsynth settings and any existing sound parameters. You can fine-tune any successful results with Softsynth's other sections.
Once you've created a new sound, the Preview command lets you hear an approximate rendition via your monitor speaker or with the ST Sound Digitizers (Navarone) or ST Replay (Michtron/Microdeal). Next the Synthesize command generates and saves to disk a sample file that can then be sent to the sampler. If you're using the program to experiment with, I recommend use of a RAMdisk for this step to save significant amounts of time, both in saving the file and in sending it to the sampler.
The process of sending a sample file to the sampler varies with different keyboards. Fortunately the manual includes a separate section with detailed instructions for each supported sampler. Softsynth supports each sampler's choice of methods of creating multi-samples in memory. For example, with the Korg DSS-1, you can replace any sample in any existing multisound, append a sound to a multisound or create a new multisound.
The program is copy-protected, but uses the key disk protection scheme so that you can run it from a hard disk, RAMdisk or a copy in drive B. But the original disk must be in drive A before you start—you're not prompted for it. You get a free backup when you send in your warranty card.
While Softsynth is near the top of the price range for Atari ST software, it's certainly one of the finest programs that I've used on any computer. It's well-designed, easy to use and fast and efficient in operation. Samples produced are clean and glitch-free. The program's professional caliber, combined with the variety of integrated ways of creating sounds, offers tremendous value even at $295. I recommend Softsynth to anyone with an ST and one of the samplers listed above, and in particular to musicians seeking an endless source of new and unusual sounds.