The beefy processors in modern-day Macs not only help applications run briskly, but also enable Macs to take on chores that were once the domain of peripheral devices. With the right pairing of software and a G3 or G4 processor, your Mac can imitate a DVD player, a console game machine, or a PC. And with Black & Whites from BitHeadz, you can even turn your Mac into a music synthesizer. Given enough RAM and a fast processor, this collection of sampled acoustic and electric pianos plays and sounds very much like the real thing.
Black & Whites is a scaled-down version of BitHeadz’ software sampler, Unity DS-1 (see Reviews, June 1999), lacking Unity’s many banks of sounds, editor (for tweaking sound parameters), and MIDI processor (for combining sounds). Essentially a sample player, Black & Whites takes its sounds from 9-foot and 7-foot Steinway pianos, as well as a Fender Rhodes electric piano.
To get the most from Black & Whites, you need a Mac with a hefty complement of RAM. The Unity DS-1 engine, which powers Black & Whites, loads all samples into RAM and requires 7MB of its own. Because Black & Whites’ largest samples can top 40MB, you must dedicate at least 47MB of free RAM to the Unity DS-1 engine to play these sounds. If you’ve checked the Expand Samples When Loaded option in the Unity DS-1 control panel (as BitHeadz recommends if you desire more polyphony), you must configure the control panel’s memory settings to twice the size of the largest sample. That means Black & Whites alone could easily devour 128MB of RAM.
But the results are worth it: on a 250MHz PowerBook G3 with 288MB of RAM, there was no discernible delay between when we pressed a key on our MIDI controller and when the note sounded. The pianos were sampled at different dynamic levelsfrom pianissimo to fortissimoand sounds had rich, realistic tones. You can select from among single-dynamic groupsall notes played at mezzo forte, for exampleor choose multisampled sets, in which samples are layered and triggered by your MIDI controller’s velocity. Within each set you can select sounds that have had effects like chorus and reverb applied.