The line between computer and musical instrument is getting less distinct by the minute. Thanks to the increasingly powerful processors in today’s computersand the talents of a few software engineersmodern Macs can be transformed into musical machines. One such transformation is possible with the help of BitHeadz’s Unity DS-1, a software-based digital sampler thatwhen given a fast CPU and heaps of RAMis responsive enough to be used in live performances.
Unlike analog synthesizers, which generate sounds with oscillators, samplers use recorded sounds as their building blocks. For example, the A-flat played by a trumpet can be recorded, digitized, loaded into a sampler’s memory, and triggered by a MIDI keyboard. Most samplers can also alter the characteristics of a soundchange its attack, pitch, and harmonic makeup, for example.
Unity DS-1 is a remarkably complete sampling synthesizer that can do all this and more. But perhaps most noteworthyfor a software synthesizer, at leastis that when the program’s various memory settings are configured properly on a fast Mac, Unity DS-1 plays with no noticeable delay. In addition, given enough memory and CPU horsepower, the sampler allows you to play up to 64 notes concurrently.
You can directly import Akai S1000, DLS, SoundFont 2.0, and SampleCell I and II instruments, with key and velocity maps intact. Just select an instrument file from a CD-ROM with SampleCell instruments, for example, and import or drag and drop it into Unity DS-1’s Multisample page. In moments, the various samples that make up the instrument are mapped to the proper keys. You can also import single samples in Sound Designer I and II, AIFF, CD-Audio, and WAV formats.
Multisamples are assigned to one of two oscillators that act as your sound source. You can apply filters, modulation, and effects to these oscillators and then save these configurations as a program. You can layer or split two programs in Unity DS-1’s MIDI Processor application.
But Unity DS-1 wants a lot of RAMheed BitHeadz’s recommendation that your Mac have 64MB or more. And although a 120MHz PowerPC is required, consider it a bare minimum. The program can squeak by with these configurations but is happiest on a fast 604e- or G3-based Mac.
Although Unity DS-1 comes with a passel of sounds, some of them are nothing to write home about. For example, those who have the RAM to spare will wish that BitHeadz had included a larger General MIDI banksomething BitHeadz claims to be developing as this issue goes to press. Also, now that BitHeadz has capably conquered the difficult problem of making a responsive software sampler, it should turn its attention to the program’s interface. Many of Unity DS-1’s elements are separate programs that would benefit from being ganged together into one or two applications.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Despite its cosmetic shortcomings, Unity DS-1 is a distinctive and flexible piece of software. If you’re a musician with a fast, RAM-laden Mac who seeks an inexpensive alternative to hardware samplersor you simply want to enhance your current MIDI setup with another instrument that can use your sample libraryUnity DS-1 is well worth a listen.