MicroforumNew Beat Trancemission


Review by Dale Wilks

Name:         New Beat Trancemission
Publisher:    Microforum
Format:       CD
Available:    Out now


O/S:          Windows 95
Processor:    486 DX2/66
RAM:          8Mb
Graphics:     SVGA
CD-Rom:       X2
Soundcard:    8Bit soundcard

Tested on:

O/S:          Windows 95
Processor:    AMD K6-166 MMX
RAM:          32Mb
Graphics:     2Mb SVGA - Matrox Millenium
CD-ROM:       X8
Soundcard:    Soundblaster AWE32 & Yamaha DB50XG
Controls:     Mouse, Keyboard

New Beat Trancemission

Dance music really started to take off in the eighties. It has evolved somewhat - over the years we've had funk, swingbeat, house, ragga, techno, dub house, progressive, hardcore...I could go on. It's not everybody's cup of tea mind you; the constant thud of a bass drum and the manic bleeping of synthesisers is often frowned upon, and described as 'not real music, just a bloody noise' (usually by parents and the like). But, love it or hate it, there's no denying the mainstream success of various forms of dance music. 2 Unlimited have a lot to answer for!

Regular readers will remember that a while back I reviewed a product from Mixman Technologies called Spin Control. It allowed you to remix the 8 provided techno tracks, which was all very well but as Spin Control didn't provide the ability to import your own samples, it's lifespan was a little short. Guess what NBT allows you to do though? Oh yes, and it even has a separate application included for recording your own sounds, editing them and applying various effects. Cool!

NBT is painless to install, and upon starting it up a control panel is displayed which looks not unlike a modern drum machine. This is the main screen of NBT, and all your mixing is done from here. First of all though, it is best to set your sound preferences, according to the speed of your PC and how much memory you have. The output settings range from 8bit mono/22khz for users with a 486 and 8Mb RAM to 16bit stereo/44khz (that's CD quality, folks!) for those with suitably capable systems. Like mine. Heh! In the middle of the screen there are 20 buttons - these are the 20 channels. (This is Microforums terminology, but it is easier to think of them as your 20 samples, voices, whatever.) They can be toggled on and off by clicking on them with the left mouse button, while the right mouse button tells them to start playing at the start of the next 'loop'. For example, if your kick drum sample loops after 4 beats, then you can set your main rhythm to start playing on beat 1. The buttons are also assigned to the keyboard, but there is no way of telling a sample to start playing at the beginning of the next loop when using the keys. This is a pity, as I found using the keyboard to be quicker than using the mouse.

The first thing you will probably want to do is use one of the provided layouts. A layout is a collection of samples which have already been assigned to the buttons (you can make your own later on). There are several on offer, called 'Trance', 'Hip hop', 'Dance' and more. Once you have loaded your desired layout, you are free to experiment with the buttons and see which samples work well together, as well as weed out the ones you don't like (there are usually one or two). After a while you may decide that you'd like to record your mix, so just hit the 'record' button (funny that), and do your thing. A finished mix can then be saved in a format that can be loaded back into NBT or as a WAV file, which can be handy if you want to record your masterpiece onto a CD. I warn you though, the WAV files usually are huge things - I recorded a 4 minute mix as a 16bit, 44khz stereo WAV file and it ended up being about 50 megs! Yikes!

Microforum have kindly supplied 250 samples for you to use in your own layouts. These are sorted into 5 categories; drum, rhythm, bass, misc and SFX. They vary wildly in quality - the drum samples are pretty unimaginative and the bass samples are the same (there aren't many of them either). Some of the miscellaneous FX are particularly cheesy, including the cringeworthy 'You make me feel so forward' and 'Ladies and gentlemen'. All that's needed is a 'What time is it?' sample and you could create your very own naff retro mix! The rhythm samples aren't bad though - some very catchy synth lines there and some ambient-sounding pads too. All of these samples can be loaded and assigned to one of the 20 buttons, and when you've filled all 20 channels you can save them as your own custom layout.

The real fun though, is including your own samples. To this end, a separate application is included, called Sound Warp. This is a no-frills program which allows you to capture a sample from your CD drive or through your soundcard. The world is then your oyster, although bear in mind the prickly issue of copyright. I have the brilliant Datafile sample CD's (incidentally, you know that Progidy track 'One Love'? Well that's not really someone warbling 'One Looooooove', it's an oriental chant taken from one of the Datafile CDs and speeded up!) so I was able to sample all manner of breaks, vocal FX and percussion samples. The only slight pain is that NBT will only use samples of 2, 4 or 8 seconds in length, although with a bit of jiggery pokery this needn't be a problem. Once your sample has been grabbed, you can apply some echo, flange, phase shifting, whatever takes your fancy, before you save it.

Also included with the package is a little app called Fuse Box. This struck me as something of an oddity, as what Fuse Box does is let you create your own drum loops from the 14 percussion sounds provided, which can't be changed. You basically build up your drum loop with bass drums, high hats and snares etc. and when finished it can be saved as a WAV file to be used with NBT. I couldn't quite see the point though - why spend time creating you own drum loops in this fashion (which will always use the same 14 instruments) when you can sample one from somewhere?

NBT is a lot of fun and very flexible, although I would have liked to see a bit more on the mixing side of things. One thing that Spin Control did was allow you to solo a certain sample. This meant that you could have loads of samples jamming together, and then suddenly drop them out and play a vocal or something. It might have been nice too to be able to fade channels in or out, rather than just toggling them off. Apart from that though, it's well put together, and is recommended. Use your own samples though - the included ones are nothing special.

Score - 8/10

Dale Wilks for Game-Over!

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