Roland SCC-1. (sound card) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Peter Scisco
For years, Roland's MT-32 sound module was among the best sources for high-end PC sound. The company then remade that module, which was an external device, into the LAPC-1, a full-length 8-bit card largely compatible with the MT-82.
That card found large numbers of followers, not only among professional musicians but also among computer-using audiophiles looking for the best in PC sound. Software entertainment companies such as Sierra and Electronic Arts supported the LAPC-1 with stunning sound effects and theme music that rivaled television and approached the quality of motion picture soundtracks.
Don't look now, but Roland has released the high-end, ear-stunning SCC-1, also known as the GS sound card. Like the LAPC-1, the SCC-1 is an 8-bit AT-compatible card; unlike the LAPC-1, the SCC-1 is a half-size card, which makes installation a little easier, especially in crowded PC cases. You can have your SCC-1 installed and running demo sounds in less than ten minutes. The card ships with a utility disk that allows you to set the address and interrupts and includes a selection of music ranging from jazz fusion to acoustic guitar.
The SCC-1 combines a sound-source card with a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) processing unit for access to 128 different sounds (all built into the card itself, with variations on those sounds for more than 300 separate sound effects and instruments). From pianos to gunshots, the SCC-1 creates all of the sounds within the GS Format. That standard codifies some of the MIDI standard and irons out some of the inconsistencies that occur between different products that claim to be MIDI compatible.
In essence, if a sound device carries the GS-Format label, then it can play data, created with any other GS-Format device in the same form. If a piece of data created with one GS device calls upon an instrument or effect not available in another GS device, then the target device will supply a sound that matches the data as closely as possible.
All of this talk about formats and data devices means that the SCC-1 is widely compatible with software--such as entertainment, multimedia, and education packages--that supports the MT-32. It also means that the card is compatible with MIDI, which makes it a good all-around device for computer users who need access to both.
The GS Format used by the SCC-1 combines the program-change number employed by MIDI devices (numbers 1 through 128) with MIDI's bank of select numbers to create the various sounds. Roland claims that the SCC-1 is able to change between 16,384 tones, but there's no device on the market that supports that many sounds. The GS sounds are arranged in a Tone Map, which can be shared by any number of GS-compatible sound devices. Composing with this technique is what gives the GS Format such compatibility from one device to the next.
When it comes to sound quality, the SCC-1 matches the best equipment you're likely to have on your home stereo--unless you're a hopeless audiophile with one of those $10,000 turntables I once saw at an electronics show. But for most of us, the powerful bass and well-defined treble are incredibly rich, especially when they come from a PC. This card can't be compared with the Sound Blaster or the Thunder Board or any of the other sound cards that have made a mark in computer entertainment and multimedia. The SCC-1 is a professional-level card. While other sound cards are great for day-to-day work and for educational software, the SCC-1 is essential if you're composing music or otherwise involved in creating applications that need a specific range of sound effects and MIDI capability.
The flexibility and performance of this card make it a solid investment for the professional PC user whose tasks require music/sound composition. It's not meant for the occasional MIDI tinkerer; however, if you're interested in exploring the world of PC music, this card will probably last longer than the PC you put it in. And that's a sound investment, no matter what your musical needs. PETER SCISCO
Roland SCC-1-$499 ROLAND U.S. 7200 Dominion Cir. Los Angeles, CA 90040 (213) 685-5141
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