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buying advice?
Hi all -

I have had two hard drive crashes in the last week. Both were minor and I was able to recover (4 hours of work one time, an hour's worth the other), but they tell me beyond any reasonable doubt that my beloved old Dell laptop is going to need replacement very soon. The big problem with this is sound, which - as we all know - is generally crummy on laptops. I've dealt with this on my Dell with a Soundblaster Audigy 2 card which fits into the PC card slot. Unfortunately, technology "moves on" (hasn't anyone in the computer industry ever heard of backward compatibility?) and PC card slots are essentially nonexistent on today's laptops. They've been replaced by Express card slots. Fortunately, Creative has released a sound card that fits into an Express card slot. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to support soundfonts. Hence, a quandary.

I appear to have three choices: (1) buy a laptop with a decent soundcard and give up my soundfonts; (2) buy a Creative X-Fi Notebook card and give up my soundfonts; or (3) buy an adapter that will let me use my Audigy 2 in an Express card slot. I'm leaning toward (3) but am a bit worried about torquing the slot by putting too much weight out at the end of the adapter. (The Audigy 2 is heavy, and most of the weight is on the end away from the connector, which will sit unsupported about three inches away from the body of the laptop. Aristotle on levers comes to mind.)

Any advice? Anyone know of a laptop with decent sound? Or an Express-card soundcard that supports soundfonts? An external soundcard is also possible, I guess, but I hate to give up a USB connector for that. Am I faced with reconfiguring the MIDI instruments on all my NWC files, most of which use the Audigy's sound banks instead of GM? Ideas? Support? Even a few new swear words I can aim in the general direction of Planned Obsolescence would be nice....

Cheers (I think) -

Bill

Re: buying advice?
Reply #1
G'day Bill,
hmm, a quandary indeed...  I see 2 other possibilities:

a) a hard drive failure doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the machine is kaput.  If the notebooks spec's are still OK I'd just buy a new drive and clone my existing install to it and continue.

However, some day an upgrade is inevitable so:

b) you could consider my VST solution - or one like it.  This will still give you access to soundfonts and provided the notebook is a reasonable specification (min i5/4GB RAM) then I don't see the latency problems my testbed gave me occurring.

If it were me, I'd probably choose b).

I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals 'n youfonymums - gonna lern tubies next

Re: buying advice?
Reply #2
Quote
Aristotle on levers comes to mind.

Aristotle?
Maybe Archimedes...

Re: buying advice?
Reply #3
Maybe Archimedes.....it's all Greek to me ;-)

Re: buying advice?
Reply #4
Hi Bill,

Lawrie already covered the possibilities, but this also comes to mind.

Please forgive me is this is too obvious.

Is the laptop configuration necessary?

Would you want to consider a separate desktop unit, optimized for audio?  It could easily accept the Audigy 2 and give you a superb and lasting PC audio foundation.  You could find an el-cheapo desktop solution with not too much invested, and still have the laptop for other stuff.

Not to drag it out . . .   Just an example.

An "old" Pentium 4 here, 2.2Gig RAM, Audigy 2 with soundfonts.  Audio out goes to a really good amplifier and loudspeakers (audiophile ones, with clean mid/high range and a huge bass woofer -- not PC speakers).

It would take up space, but it could be a dedicated sound setup for using and enjoying NoteWorthy.  You'd still have the laptop for everything else.

Hoping it's a help,

Joe


Re: buying advice?
Reply #5
Hi Joe -

Yes, I thought of a desktop, but quickly thought better. I haven't owned a desktop since about 1998. It's so nice to be able to just pick up the laptop and go, wherever I'm going to go, with everything on my computer with me, without the need to copy anything from my desktop to make that happen. I guess I'm spoiled. Why does ANYONE buy desktops these days?

Currently leaning toward a Dell Studio with what they call "advanced" sound. Advanced enough for optimal NWC performance? we'll just have to see....

Bill

Re: buying advice?
Reply #6
Why does ANYONE buy desktops these days?
Some of us are "cave dwellers" and we like our caves.
Registered user since 1996

Re: buying advice?
Reply #7
Why does ANYONE buy desktops these days?
'cos I like my dual 22" monitors...  :)

Quote
Currently leaning toward a Dell Studio with what they call "advanced" sound. Advanced enough for optimal NWC performance? we'll just have to see....

Gotta say I'm not a great fan of Dell - build to a price is OK, but their build price is often way too low when compared to what you're paying...  If you get a good one they're usually very good, but a bad one is your worst nightmare - guess which ones we see the most?  ;) 
I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals 'n youfonymums - gonna lern tubies next

Re: buying advice?
Reply #8
FWIW:
On my laptop (XP) I use the Yamaha SYXG50 soft synth.
For soundfonts I use Chaos 8Mb sf2 with Synthfont VST or SFX through VST Host and MIDI Yoke.

-----------------
Barry Graham
Melbourne, Australia

Re: buying advice?
Reply #9
Looks like VST is going to be the way to go, eventually. Does anyone know if it's compatible with Intel's new HDA standard? I understand that not everything is - the HDA audio chipset has a completely different architecture from the A97. And most machines I've been looking at have HDA integrated cards.

Re laptop vs. desktop: yeah, I see some advantages to desktops, mostly in terms of greater upgrade flexibility and connectivity. My wife runs a desktop. A desktop would allow me access to a much wider array of soundcards. But the portability of the laptop is what counts for me. In motel rooms I get to ignore the TV and work on NWC scores (I carry good headphones) or edit photos (my other great love) - and I never have to sync my work on two different computers. I can also easily move my laptop to the living room, connect it to the TV, and bore my guests with anything on it. I have no desire to go backward on any of those fronts. It's all a matter of choice.....and I guess that's mine.

Bill

Re: buying advice?
Reply #10
Looks like VST is going to be the way to go, eventually. Does anyone know if it's compatible with Intel's new HDA standard? I understand that not everything is - the HDA audio chipset has a completely different architecture from the A97. And most machines I've been looking at have HDA integrated cards.

I don't really see why not...  Ultimately it will be a function of the VST host software chosen and I'm pretty sure that will use a standard Windows API.  OTOH if you wanted ASIO working then hardware compatibility might be an issue.
I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals 'n youfonymums - gonna lern tubies next

Re: buying advice follow-up
Reply #11
I thought I should give people an update on this topic...let you know what I ended up with...and point out a pitfall or two others might be able to avoid.

First, the computer: Dell Studio 1558, Intel Core i3, 2.27 GHz, Win 7 home premium 64-bit, IDT HD sound, 4GB internal memory . Purchased on sale from Best Buy. I chose this machine because it had an express card slot (few in my price range do), and because I thought I would be getting an adapter and plugging in my Audigy soundcard. Actually ordered the adapter from Amazon. Then I found out that the Win 7 driver for the Audigy, while available, didn't support all the features of the card and sometimes made systems unstable. Compared the IDT sound to the Audigy sound (still have my old laptop) and found it only slightly inferior. Sent the adapter back to Amazon without opening the inner package.

Now stuck with good (?) old (!) Microsoft GM MIDI, which hasn't changed since they introduced it in....what, Win 3.1? HiDef soundcard, decidedly LoDef sounds. So, with Lawrie's VST guide in hand (Thanks, Lawrie!), I began spending time....and spending time....and spending time exploring the welter of confusing options out there. I'll tell you what I ended up with in a minute, but first a word about orchestra synths. Garritan Personal Orchestra is the best-known, but it's not alone. Prices have been coming down. You can now pick up GPO for $150 USD, and its primary competitor, Miroslav Philharmonik, in a stripped-down form for $129 (the full version costs $229). All the others cost between twice and twenty times this much, so I limited my deeper investigation to these two. Soundwise they are essentially identical, with Miroslav perhaps having a slight edge. Interfaces are very different, and here, GPO appears to have the edge. However, I didn't end up with either. Neither one has any NWC support on its website. (Well...GPO has an old, user-written guide for installing an obsolete version of NWC into an obsolete version of GPO. Miroslav has nothing.) GPO doesn't have a downloadable demo, and they won't refund your money if you can't get it to work, so that took care of that. Miroslav has a demo with a 10-day trial period. I downloaded and installed it. Found out that (a) it came with an extremely limited instrument set, and (b) I couldn't get a peep out of it with NWC on my machine. Miroslav's on-screen keyboard worked, once I deciphered the interface (the documentation is pretty awful), but its MIDI input didn't. I had it connected to NWC with a virtual cable - knew that worked, because I'd already been playing around with VST. Miroslav recognized the cable. It even recognized that it was getting data from the cable - the faux-LED indicators lit up in the proper pattern when I played an NWC file. There just wasn't any sound. Got fed up and uninstalled. That's when I found out that the Miroslav uninstaller doesn't work properly with Revo Uninstaller. I've been using Revo for years, and the current version was one of the first pieces of software I put on this machine. Miroslav is the only product that's given it trouble. I ended up having to do much of the uninstall by hand. People who have been or might be considering Miroslav are hereby warned.

OK. Back to VST. Here's what works well with my setup, arrived at after a great deal of experimentation. I offer it to others who might have similar systems. There are a lot of choices, but not all of them will work with Win7 64bit. These all do, and all of them are freeware:

VST host: Cantabile Lite. The free version of a pro-grade program, with plenty of power for my uses. Easy to use, regularly updated, worked perfectly right out of the box.

Softsynth: VSTSynthFont. Love the Dilbert icon. Program works OK, but it's a bit quirky and it has a tendency to leave button shadows behind on-screen which then show up in all your other programs. Website says they've addressed this problem, but it's still present, at least in Win7 64. I've found that if I set it up as soon as it comes up and then minimize it the problem usually doesn't appear. Still looking for something better, but not looking very hard.

Virtual MIDI cable: LoopBeOne. Again, the free version of a pro-grade program. The only free virtual cable I could find that promised Win7 64 compatibility on its website, and since this is a driver I didn't want to chance any of the others. Works well. Has built-in feedback protection that mutes the sound if feedback develops. Forgot about this and was mystified for a while when my system suddenly stopped producing sound. Finally realized what was going on, changed the input/output connections to take care of the feedback problem, and it's been fine ever since. LoopBeOne, VSTSynthFont and Cantabile Lite all work well together, and all work well with NWC. Setting up the system was smooth and flawless.

Soundfont: Merlin_Audigy. This has been the trickiest part of the search. Most soundfont collection sites online (including Hammersound) are woefully out of date, and soundfont technology has advanced. I probably tried dozens of free GM collections. Most were terrible. A few were fairly good in many places but had serious flaws in others. Merlin_Audigy actually sounds good nearly everywhere. Not great - it's no GPO - but at least good. The biggest flaw is the drum kit. Snaredrum roll sounds like a woodpecker with cotton on its beak. But the strings are OK, and the winds, piano and timpani are very good. Merlin has a newer product out, called Symphony, that should be even better - but there's a price on it. It's tempting me....

Enough rambling. I hope this may be useful to somebody. Anyone know of a really good free orchestral drum kit?

Cheers,

Bill

 

Re: buying advice?
Reply #12
Bill wrote:

> I hope this may be useful to somebody.

It was extremely helpful in several areas -- many thanks for describing your experience with your setup.

I've been considering Miroslav Philharmonik for a week and wondering whether to take the chance.  Time to consider it a lot longer.

GPO is always a perennial contender with other NWC folks having discussed it for some time.  Maybe it's a route to explore next, beyond soundfonts, although setup issues seem to exist.  Your description was most helpful.

For soundfonts, Merlin_Audigy and Merlin Symphony both 'sound' (no pun meant) like they're worth exploring.  Here, Merlin Vienna is already available and quite good. 

Humble opinion, for orchestral sounds, the challenge is to get lush strings and full-throated (not tinny) brass.  Here at least, I've yet to find a string or brass font that's really, really good.

And then there's Choir Aahs ...   ah, well.  What can one expect?

It was a most enlightening account, Bill.  I learned a lot from your experience.  Many thanks for going into the details.

Joe


Re: buying advice?
Reply #13
You're very welcome, Joe. That's what these forums are for. Please let us know how your own search turns out.

Bill

Re: buying advice?
Reply #14
An excerpt from Bill's post:

> Merlin_Audigy actually sounds good nearly everywhere.
> Not great - it's no GPO - but at least good.

The GPO question pops up from time to time.  John White had explored it a year ago.  Here Bill mentions it in a Merlin soundbank comparison, settling on the Merlin.

GPO seems to have issues ...

...  Is it 'good' enough to explore beyond soundbanks?

...  How difficult is it to set up to work with NWC?  Now there are all the Windows versions:  Windows 7, 64/32, Vista, XP, 2000.  (Windows 2000 is still here, solid and reliable.)

...  Not looking for a step-by-step procedure, but what are the main pitfalls or 'stoppers'?

Given the GPO cost, if it finally happens to work in NWC:

...  Does it sound significantly more 'real' in playback, in comparison with Merlin Vienna, Airfont 340, or the other 'big' banks?

...  Even if it might be more 'real' for orchestral instruments, what does it add, if anything, for choral works?

I know there's no absolute measurement  --  just looking for ideas and suggestions.

Are there any MP3s that one can find that were made with NWC and GPO?

Bill gave a detailed account of options, trials and experience, and settled on a Merlin soundbank (i.e., non-GPO) solution.

If GPO can be made to work inside NWC  --  is it worth the GPO cost and effort?

Joe



Re: buying advice?
Reply #15
G'day Joe,

I haven't used GPO but I do use Garritan Jazz and Big Band but I don't use it with NWC.
GPO offers a range of instruments,articulations and control over vibrato.
For example Brass and String mutes,bow,pizzicato,tremolo, legato articulationsand portamento.
Additional instruments - eg. Alto Flute, Bass Clarinet, Piccolo Trumpet, Bass Trombone (more)

Instruments are switched with keyswitches - notes in the lowest MIDI octave placed in the score.
The default dynamic controller is Modulation (CC1) which affects both dynamic output and timbre.
Volume (CC7) is used for track balance.
You might have difficulty adapting existing NWC scores for GPO.
 
The notation software I use automates the process using controller mapping and xml files but it's still a big learning curve.

Check out GPO here:-
http://www.garritan.com/
Click on Products>Peronal Orchestra 4 then:-
Features (inc Demos)
Instrument Lists
Control

Probably not your thing but from Products>Jazz and Big Band
Listen to the demos Scream Trumpet and Trombone Section Open and with the various mutes.

If someone here has had experience with GPO and NWC they would be a better reference.

Barry Graham
Melbourne, Australia