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                      Review: Clarity 16 from HiSoft
  Michael Vissers                                   michel@hell.xs4all.nl
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"Revolutionary sound".  Yes, back in 1985 the Amiga was the best you could
get in sound quality.  4 channel, 8 bit stereo sound.  Now look at the
Amiga.  1997, and we still have 4 channel, 8 bit stereo sound.  It's rather
sad.  While for the PC you can get 16 bit sound cards for only $30, we are
stranded...or aren't we ?  New soundcards are appearing everywhere, like
the Delfina and the Soundstage for example.  But also the somewhat older
soundcards like the Toccata seem to get more attention.  Especially with
AHI, the new retargetable audio software for the whole Amiga family.

Of course those new soundcards are, although still a bit pricey, very
interesting and it's good to know that there are still companies developing
for the Amiga.  However, those cards are all zorro cards, which means
people, like me, with an A500, A600 or A1200 (without zorro expansion) are
not able to use them.  The Clarity 16 however, is an external "soundcard",
which can be connected to the parallel and serial ports on every Amiga.

THE PACKAGE

The Clarity 16 comes in a big box, containing the Clarity 16, an audio
cable for connecting to the in- or out-put, 2 disks with software and
examples and a 56-page manual.

FEATURES

The Clarity 16 is a small box with 2 audio inputs, 2 audio outputs, 1 midi
in and 1 midi out.  The Clarity 16 is capable of sampling and playing 16
bit stereo audio up to 44.1 kHz (CD quality).  The midi interface included
is compatible with existing midi software.

THE SOFTWARE

The software supplied with the Clarity 16 supports, next to sampling,
playing and cut&paste, different editing functions like overlay insert, mix
and fading but also filtering and echo.  Real-time effects are possible
too.  Next to sample edit functions, the software also contains a small
sample and midi sequencer.

TEST

Well, the moment I came home I hooked up the Clarity 16.  The first thing I
wanted to do was to sample something.  Didn't matter what, as long as I
could hear the difference between 8 and 16 bit.  So I grabbed a CD
connected the player to the Clarity 16, pushed play and started the
monitoring as described in the manual.  Nothing...only some noise.  Some
fiddling with cables, restarting the software and even the machine, somehow
did the trick.  I finally heard something.  I was monitoring the sampling
through my Amiga outputs.  Logical, since the parallel port was busy
reading samples from the sampler.

But the sound was way too loud, so I had to decrease it.  But nowhere a
volume knob on the box, or a input volume slider in the program could be
found.  I couldn't set the input volume so I ended up using a mixingboard
between my CD player and the Clarity 16.

Then I created a new sample, 16 bits stereo at 44,1 kHz, and as large as
possible.  I selected a CD and started the monitor to find the part I
wanted to sample.  But when I actually started the sampling I was already
too late.  Why ?  Well, it's not possible to switch from monitoring to
sampling directly.  You have to end the monitor and start sampling at
another window.  I finally managed to start in time for the part I wanted.
But I couldn't hear when I sampled enough, since the program doesn't output
any sound while sampling.  So I connected a headphone to my mixingboard to
be able to hear when I had sampled what I wanted.

Now I wanted to hear what I had sampled and pressed the play button.  Again
I heard nothing.  The software can play using either the Clarity 16 or the
Amiga.  Ofcourse I wanted to hear it through the Clarity 16 so selected the
Clarity, and removed the audio cable from my Amiga and plugged them in the
Clarity 16 (yes, here also a mixingboard could come in handy).  Again I
pressed the play button and...WOW!  Now that's what I call a nice sound.

Next came the editing part.  Since I wanted a usable sample I had to
cut&paste a bit.  I selected a range and searched for the "play range"
button.  But unfortunately I only found a menu item with this function. 
Not even a shortcut key.  I selected the item and the range was played. 
The software fails again, since no pointer displaying where in the range it
was playing was implemented.  This made the cut&paste operations a bit
hard.

Finally I wanted to save the sample.  I selected AIFF (the software
supports IFF, AIFF and it's own format) and saved the sample.  I tried
loading it in Symphonie, but due to a bug it ended up as trash.  Converting
the sample to WAV solved the problem, so I could use the sample.

(Since I don't own any MIDI equipment I couldn't test the MIDI
interface...sorry)

OPINION

The Clarity 16 is really cool.  Both the input and the output quality is
top notch.  I sampled a bit without a CD playing and couldn't hear any
noise unless I set my amplifier real loud.  Eventhough there is enough in
my room to cause interference, the Clarity 16 doesn't pick up any.  The
samples are clear and both the high and low frequencies sound fine.  What I
missed though are a input volume knob and inputs to connect the Amiga to
the Clarity 16 so it can mix these two signal together.

The software however is terrible.  It crashed 2 twice the fist day I used
it.  It misses a lot of desperately needed functions like a playing
position pointer and a quick way to switch from monitor to sampling and is
awkward to use.

CONCLUSION

The Clarity 16 could have been a great product, if only HiSoft had taken
the trouble to rewrite the software.  Since there is no 16 bit parallel
sampler standard (unlike the 8 bit samplers) there is only one way to
support it, and that is by using AHI.  However I haven't seen a driver for
the Clarity 16 yet so...  I'd say skip it, until an AHI driver is
available.

If you own a A500, A600 or A1200 and you really want 16 bit quality, go
bother HiSoft, and demand AHI drivers, or get them to release programmer
information so that someone else can make one.

FINISHING TOUCH

The Clarity 16 is still available for about $150-$170 (I think).

Thanks must go to OCS for supplying a Clarity 16 for review...

OCS Computers
Van Goghstraat 1-5
3331 VM Zwijndrecht
Holland
ocs@indi.nl

HiSoft's web site is http://www.hisoft.co.uk