Computer-Music.com contains articles and product reviews related to making music using computers and creating 3D computer animation in sync with music. Computer-Music.com is also the home page of  Donald S. Griffin, an experienced professional composer, sound effects designer and audio consultant with an emphasis on computer games,  video games and internet music and sound effects. For pricing and contract availability send email to: DGriffin (@) Computer-Music (.) com

Computer-Music.com  contains articles and product reviews related to making music using computers and creating 3D computer animation in sync with music.
Computer-Music.com is also the home page of  Donald S. Griffin, an experienced professional composer, sound effects designer and audio consultant with an emphasis on computer games,  video games and internet music and sound effects. For pricing and contract availability send email to: DGriffin (@) Computer-Music (.) com

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All reviews on this site are always under construction. Additional information is posted as it becomes available.

Yamaha DSP Factory

This review is partly out of date.

This review was written a long time back. While the DSP Factory has had a relatively long and successful shelf life and seen wide support it has been outclassed in most aspects by a combination of new hardware and faster computers that can do much better effects in software than back when the DSP Factory first came on the market. As this product is still quite usable I will not be removing this article from the site any time soon but I also have no plans for an update.

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The Yamaha DSP factory consists of the DS2416 mixing card and up to two AX44 expansion bays. Two DS2416 cards can be internally linked to effectively double their functionality and each can support two AX44s (for a total of four) but you might need a taller computer tower case than shown here. The DS2416 and AX44 have $800 and $250 street prices respectively. The DS2416 can also be internally connected to the Yamaha SW1000XG synthesizer card but since this requires one of the DS2416's two digital bus connections you won't be able to set up a full bi-directional connection with another DS2416.

Don't mistake the DS2416 for just another sound card or set of inputs and outputs. This card packs the punch of five DSPs (digital signal processor chips) and performs most of the tasks of a professional digital mixer several times the price.

The DS2416 comes with absolutely no supporting software other than drivers so the DSP factory is difficult to review separately from the supporting software since its interface will look different depending on which software you are using and to what extent it supports the specific features of the DS2416. For this reason reviewing the DSP Factory is a major task. If this was a normal review it would be a long time before we could post any more for you to read about the DSP Factory but since this is a Spot Review you will be able to read more about this impressive hardware on a regular basis. Because the DSP Factory is such a major piece of hardware we will be referring to it in most of our sequencer reviews and some of our digital audio editor reviews.

So far I have been testing the DSP Factory and SW1000XG with Emagic Logic Audio 4.1.1, Steinberg Cubase VST/24 and Musicator Win 3.08 (with DSP Factory extensions).

Musicator is the only one which handles all of the features of both cards as well as their integration including controlling which of the eight direct digital audio busses between the SW1000XG and the DS2416 are used to send each MIDI channel so that individual MIDI channels on the SW1000XG can be recorded to different audio tracks or receive different audio processing from the DS2416. Although Musicator is probably the least powerful program of the three it gains very high marks for ease of use and a short learning curve. In spite of this it is still quite a powerful and useful program. Probably the best compromise I have seen between power and ease of use. If you need to jump in quickly but don't want to get stuck with a dog of a sequencer you will need to quickly trash then Musicator is the program for you.

Logic 4.1.1 totally replaces its software mixing with the hardware mixing (and other functions) of the DS2416 so, if you want to get the full functionality of the DS2416 in Logic 4.1.1 you will have a few restrictions on the number of plugins you can use but thanks to the 4.0.4 upgrade you can use 4 DirectX plugins on each DSP Factory channel even when operating in DS2416 mode.  Before this version you could not use DirectX plugins in this mode so if you have not yet upgraded here is a good reason to do so. This is a welcome update because the DS2416 mode in Logic offers one of the easiest ways to access the features of the DSP Factory. There is a wealth of very good audio processing algorithms built into the DS2416 and they are all done in hardware so not only will they probably sound better than your DirectX Plugins but they won't suffer from stuttering or crashing and you can use more of them at the same time without needing to own the fastest computer on the market. You can also easily switch from using Logic in the DS2416 mode to its standard mode where most of its higher functions are missing but you can now use as many DirectX Plugins as your system can handle. At this moment it looks like you will need to be in PCAV mode if you want to use the new audio instrument object necessary for having a ReWire compatible sofware synthesizer on a Logic Track. If this proves to be the case then this may be fixed for DS2416 mode in a near-future update. Logic 4.1.1 still has no support for selecting which MIDI channels are routed to which audio channels for passing to the DS2416. It is possible to set this with an external program that does support this feature (if you have one) but this is yet another inconvenience, a bigger one this time. Logic version 4.0 for Windows adds the Autolink to SoundDiver feature so if you have SoundDiver it may eventually be possible to control this routing from the XG SoundDiver module. I am told this is a possible addition to the SoundDiver XG module but it is not included in the present version. These (hopefully temporary) problems should not cause you to question the value of Logic. I have found it to be one of the most thoroughly thought out and conceived programs, of any kind, I have ever seen and I have faith that Emagic will eventually address these few remaining  issues. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Cubase VST/24 supports the DSP Factory by adding it on top of its own software mixing as an additional mixer layer. The closest analogy is that you feed your audio into one mixer (Cubase) then have the option to feed to further to a second mixer (the DSP Factory). While this allows you to keep all of your previous functions like DirectX (and VST) plugins and use of other audio devices you gain a layer of complexity in an already very complex program. On the plus site Cubase has lots of very pretty panels for controlling all of the various functions of its internal mixer and the DSP Factory... on the minus side it has LOTS of panels. While they are attractively designed to look like a real mixing console which helps to make it easier to understand how to use them there are so many different consoles that it can become a full time job just finding your way around.

Time sure changes things. I used to use Musicator GS DOS for all of my composing. It had very few features but its basic interface design was very composer friendly and I have NEVER known a program that was less likely to crash. However, I found myself having to take short trips into other programs like Cakewalk or Cubase to handle the more complex tasks that Musicator GS DOS was totally incapable of handling. So I started looking for something better. I spent a while with Cakewalk but it has never taken notation seriously as the main window for composing so I could not take the program seriously even though most other aspects of Cakewalk are excellent. So I tried Cubase Score (version 1.0) and while it took notation as a composing window much more seriously it kept confusing and frustrating me with small oversights in design that were just too much and too many for me to feel comfortable using it as a my composing tool. It was still a very good program so I was sad to leave it behind. When Logic for Windows came along I snapped it up. I had heard nothing but good things about this program on the Mac and Atari. I had even briefly considered buying an Atari computer just to be able to use Logic. While I found Logic wonderfully powerful and useful I also found it to be terribly hard to learn to use. Ease of use is of paramount importance in a program that must free up your mind to be creative. While I am confident that somebody that had finally mastered Logic would find it easy to use I just could not get myself to that point. Still I was impressed enough to keep buying upgrades and trying each upgrade to see how it had improved the program. Finally the need to take a fresh look at many sequencers for this web site's Spot Review section made me take yet another look at Logic, this time version 3.6. Then I received my review units of the DSP Factory and SW1000XG from Yamaha and I was finally convinced that I would have to make the commitment to moving my composing operation permanently over to Logic. The program has improved in ease of use over the years and the few problems I mentioned before will probably be solved either in version 4.0 or in the addition of SoundDiver autolink to the equation. But then something unexpected happened. A PR campaign by Emagic gave the distinct impression that Logic 4.0 would be available at the start of the Frankfurt MusikMesse so I decided to put Logic on hold until I could get the new version and decided to spend the intervening time reviewing Musicator which recently added support for the DSP Factory through an upgrade that must be purchased separately. Musicator has continued to send me upgrades over the years but their first move from DOS to Windows was a big disappointment for me. Under the philosophy that it should be possible to control everything in the program via the mouse they had discarded several aspects of the program that I had found key to its brilliance. They had added a lot of power and features to the program while removing nearly everything that I had loved about it. Over the years the upgrades had shown little tendency toward restoring any of those removed features. So I fully expected my review of Musicator's DSP Factory implementation to be an experience of sentimental longing for the good old days. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Musicator not only supported the the DSP factory pretty well but their support of the SW1000XG in conjunction with the DSP Factory far exceeded that of either Cubase or Logic! In addition I slowly discovered that they had added enough features over the years that Musicator is not only catching up to Cubase and Logic in power and complexity but most of what I was missing has been replaced by one feature or another and plans for the next major version promise to completely remove any lingering reservations I have about the product's change over from DOS to Windows. I discovered through idle conversation that my new dentist's two young daughters were very fond of the music I had done for Aladdin for the Sega Genesis and I am reviewing a new CDR burner from Yamaha so I promised him I would make a custom CD with the Aladdin music done on the sound canvas (the device on which it was originally composed) just for his girls. When I finally got around to it I discovered I did not actually have digital audio versions my arrangements of the five tunes from the movie that were used in the game. I only had recordings of my originals. So I decided to do the recording of the arrangements using the SW1000XG instead since its TG300B mode (used for Sound Canvas compatibility) would make it sound very similar to the original Sound Canvas version with the added benefits that it would feed its audio signal digitally directly to the DS2416 for mixing then the DS2416 could feed the mix directly to another track for recording. Since the sound would never have to go to analog it should sound pretty good (which it did).   In Musicator I had to add GM&GS reset sysex to the starts of the files and since the SW1000XG reverb was stronger than that on the Sound Canvas I had to adjust the initial reverb settings. I also had to set up audio tracks in Musicator to receive the final mix and set up the DSP Factory to receive the mix from the SW1000XG and route it back into the mixer for recording to a track. This included setting the digital audio sync to SUB so it would be controlled by the SW1000XG card and patching channels DS2416 strips 9&10 to receive SUB 1&2 (via the internal cable from the SW1000XG). I then simply hit record and watched my pristine digital audio file being mixed and recorded. The first tune took a while since I had never used any of these functions before. I had not even read the manual or help files for the program. But in spite of all this, and the complexity of the process, it did not take any where near as long as I expected. The following tunes went so fast that I decided to re-record my five originals as well so that the whole CD would have a consistent audio quality. This experience made me reconsider my commitment to moving to Logic as my sole composing sequencer. It turned out that Logic 4.0 was going to be release much later than they implied so I have had a lot more time to work with Musicator and it looks like the two programs will be running neck and neck in my studio. I will probably be using Musicator for developing ideas and assembling notes then setting up SW1000XG sysex then exporting a MIDI file to be loaded into Logic for the more complex arrangement, audio processing and mixing chores. Frankly there are things I really like about nearly every sequencer I have ever tried but I have found you have to settle on one or two or you will never get any work done. My current use of these two programs very much reflects my personal preferences. For example I like to work in a notation window as much as possible and recording in real time is the exception rather than the rule so notation and non-real-time functionality are very important to my way of working. You may not even be able to read music notation fluently or you may have gotten used piano roll. You may work solely in real-time recording mode or you may not even use MIDI as much as the audio features of your software. These personal preferences will, and should, influence you choice of sequencer. This is why I continue to examine all aspects of every PC sequencer I can lay my hands on. You, my readers and my clients all have different needs so I try to review products with that in mind. When choosing a sequencer or any other computer music product you should try to keep in my how you would like to work and resist forcing yourself to work in a different way simply because that is how one sequencer does things. Your own style rather than the preferences of any other composer should form your checklist of desired features. Well, I can see that I have moved somewhat out of the realm of the DSP Factory review but I thought you would rather read this additional material now that wait until I was ready to move it into the various sequencer reviews.

You can link to Yamaha's web site at http://www.yamaha.com

(more specific links will be added soon)

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