The sound and the fury. (Windows-based audio products) (Column) (Buyers Guide)
by David English
Ever since Microsoft brought sound to Windows, there has been an explosion in Windows-based audio products. Sound cards are selling as fast as stores can get them in, and 16-bit sampling cards--the ones with CD-quality audio-are quickly becoming the standard.
Software companies are reacting just as Hollywood did following the success of The Jazz Singer in 1927--sound is being added to everything in sight, whether it needs it or not. You can buy talking icons, talking clocks, and even talking solitaire games.
One fast-growing category of audioware lets you attach sounds to your Windows system events. These events can include Windows open, Windows close, default beep, critical stop, application open, and control panel minimize. A good place to begin with this kind of software is with one of the SoundBits collections (Microsoft, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, Washington 98052; 206-882-8080; $39.95 each). The three current collections consist of Hanna-Barbera cartoon sounds (including the Flintstones, the Jetsons, and Yogi Bear), movies (including The Wizard of Oz, The Maltese Falcon, and North by Northwest), and musical instruments from around the world. You can buy five similar packages from Sound Source Unlimited (2985 East Hillcrest Drive, Suite A, Westlake Village, California 91362; 800-877-4778). Sound Source currently offers two "Star Trek" packages ($59.95 each), two "Star Trek: The Next Generation" packages ($69.95 each), and one 2001: A Space Odyssey package ($69.95). Three packages of sounds from the Star Wars movies will be available soon.
In all these packages, you'll find sounds appropriate for specific Windows system events. For example, you could have Windows start each time with Captain Picard saying to you, "Welcome aboard," or have Windows exit with Cary Grant saying, "I've had enough stimulation for one day." I especially like the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" computer and communications sounds because they're less intrusive than the usual dialogue-based sounds.
Almost all sound cards come with software that lets you create your own sound files. But if you're interested in recording, editing, and manipulating sounds with professional-quality tools, you'll want to check out three new Windows sound programs. If you're looking for the best set of editing tools, your best bet is WAVE for Windows (Turtle Beach Systems, Cyber Center #33, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, York, Pennsylvania 17404; 717-843-6916; $149). WAVE includes a full undo, a fascinating 3-D visual analysis of your sound file, time compression and expansion, volume adjustment of all or any part of your sound file, and four-band digital equalization. Despite the elaborate tools, WAVE is easy to use. Turtle Beach has been selling a similar recording-and-editing system to professional musicians for years and clearly knows how to turn your PC into a powerful recording studio.
The other two programs are Sound Impressions (DigiVox, 991 Commercial Street, Palo Alto, California 94303; 415-494-6200; $149.00) and MCS Stero (Animotion Development, 3720 Fourth Avenue South, Suite 205, Birmingham, Alabama 35222; 205-591-5715; $79.95). While they don't have the editing savvy of WAVE for Windows, they make up for it by offering a solid group of features for Windows audio, MIDI, and audio-CD. Both model themselves on a home component-stereo system. Both offer a WAVE-format recorder-and-playback system that looks like a cassette recorder, a CD-ROM play-back system that looks like a standard audio-CD player, a MIDI playback system that looks like a digital recorder, and a mixing panel that lets you set the input and output levels for the other three components.
Both programs are well designed, though I would have to give the edge to Sound Impressions for its ease in loading individual files and its special editing features. MCS Stereo is a little easier to learn, but currently has conflicts with Adobe Type Manager and Squeegee.
Look for even more audioware throughout 1993 and for sound-card circuitry to be built into many PC mother-boards. As Al Jolson said in The Jazz Singer, "You ain't heard nothin' yet!"