The beginner's guide to the AWE cards
SoundFont 2 | Effects on the AWE32 | Sample CDs
Stomper - almost a 909... | Mixermap for Cubase
Pitch bend range | AWE32 real time control
Random pan in Cakewalk | Add memory to your AWE32
AWE Sequencer Secrets
Which card should I buy??
Here's a comparison between the different wavetable cards from Creative Labs. The table shows what the hardware on the cards is capable of. Keep in mind that together with the cards comes microphones, cables, tons of software and more - but most of this is crap, so go for a good card instead!
* The AWE32/SB32 has jumper-connectors for digital S/PDIF out, so it is possible to build without big difficulties.
** On some versions
*** RAM not upgradeable on value versions
AWE32 - The first AWE card from Creative. Good all-around soundcard, and useful for making music. Has on-board memory and is upgradeable with standard 30-pin simms. A good second-hand choice.
SB32 - A 'low cost' wavetable card without sample-ram (although it's upgradeable). Perhaps a good card if you just want good GM MIDI play and a nice sound card for games and multimedia.
AWE64 (and gold) - The successor of AWE32, but quite similar. Also includes a software synthesizer support which requires at least a Pentium Processor to run. I'd recommend you to choose this one, as it's getting quite cheap now. It's AWE32 compatible, and now available as PCI as well. The gold version has also a 20bit S/PDIF output and 4Mb RAM as standard.
The beginner's guide to the AWE cards
If you're thinking of buying an AWE card, or already bough one, then read some of this, and you'll get some useful information on how to use it.
1. Which card
Which card you should buy is up to yourself. Look at the table and information above, and descide which card is the best for you. The best choice for the future will probably be the PCI AWE64 version. If you're into music, I'd also recommend a card with some sample RAM on. Because the prices change so fast, you'd better look around yourself for the best.
2. Installing the card
Now when you got the card, you just have to plug the card into you computer and install the software. Unscrew you computer and find an empty ISA slot on you motherboard (or PCI if you've got the PCI AWE64 version). The ISA slots are the long ones where your card can fit. Remove the cover and push the card into the slot. Screw it to place and you're finished with the first part.
Windows will probably recognize the sound card itself and install it. Otherwise, you just have to go to the control panel and choose 'install new hardware' and windows will find it. If you like, you can install the software from the disks enclosed. Look in your manuals for more info.
3. Using the card
When you play MIDI files with e.g. the Media Player, you should hear the sound of the wavetable synth (if it's using the FM-synth then go to Control panel - Multimedia - MIDI and select the wavetable synth instead). Sound effects and .wav files will be played with the Wave device on the card. The volumes can be adjusted by double-clicking on the small speaker in the lower right corner of the screen, or choosing Volume Control in the Start-menu.
If you'd like to do your own MIDI music, you must have a sequencer. All windows sequencers work fine with the AWE cards, and some cards come with a simple sequencer, too. Which sequencer you choose is up to you, but a famous sequencer like Cakewalk and Cubase is probably the best if you're serious...
You must tell the sequencer that you want to use the wavetable synth as MIDI device. (this is a bit more tricky on the AWE64, as it has quite a few output drivers a.o. for the WaveGuide synth) Look in the sequencer-manual for that, and when that's done, you're ready to make some noise! The easiest way to get MIDI input is from an external MIDI-keyboard or synth. (see below).
5. Connecting a keyboard
The AWE cards have MIDI interfaces together with the joystick ports. You just need a split cable (which is included with some AWE cards). Then connect the MIDI in and out to your keyboard or synth, select Soundblaster MIDI in as input device in you sequencer. If you've got no MIDI keyboard and still want to use a sequencer, there are some software substitutes. For example, the program Virtual Piano (included in Cakewalk) lets you use the computer- keyboard as a MIDI-input device.
Most games for DOS asks you for the IRQ, DMA and base ports of you sound card in the setup procedure. If you don't know these, you can look in the Control panel - system - device manager - Soundblaster 16 or AWE32/64. Double click on this and select resources. There are all DMA channels, IRQ and ports that the card uses.
7. Using soundfont banks
One of the most useful things with the AWE cards is their ability to use soundfont banks as new MIDI sounds when you're sequencing. First you either have to make an own soundfont bank, or use someone else's. Open the AWE control panel and go to the user page, select bank number 001, and load the soundfont bank there. See picture below.
Click apply, and the sounfont bank will be loaded to you AWE card. Then, in the sequencer, if you've got no bank field for every track, you have to insert a bank change message at the beginning of the track you want to use a soundfont instrument. See the manual of your sequencer how to do this.
An extensive FAQ about the AWE32 can be found at Creative's web pages. Here is a link to it.
Here are a few ways to make your sequencing with your AWE card better and more exciting.
First of all, use your imagination while sequencing. It's never wrong to experiment a little, although it might be a good idea to save once in a while then... The best things in a song are often made because you made a mistake or something else weird.
2.Don't fear the FM
If you've owned a non-wavetable soundcard, you're probably almost afraid of the sound of the FM-synthesizer, also known as Yamaha OPL2/3. And it sounds pretty bad, too, but as the AWE cards has one too, sometimes you can spice your songs up with a small amount of FM sounds. Especially the percussion sounds are useful. This requires a sequencer that can use several MIDI devices, but most Windows sequencers can. I use Cakewalk, where I've assigned port 1 to the AWE32, port 2 to the FM-synth and port 3 to my external synths.
Echoes, delays and such effects are easily created within your sequencer. A simple way to test this is to record a lead track, copy it to another track, delay the second track perhaps a quarter, and decrease its volume to about the half of the first track. Then you'll get a nice 'echo' effect. To make it even better, use two separate MIDI channels, and pan one of them slightly right, and the other left. You can also add some reverb to this if you like. Another way, if you're using Cakewalk, is to use my delay CAL program, which can be downloaded from my CAL page. This will make as many echoes as you like, and with any delay between. Experimenting with the delay time can give very exciting results. Try it on drums too. The only real drawback is, unlike a delay effect box, that this method eats polyphony. And be careful, as the AWE32 only has 32 wavetable voices.
When you're satisfied with your song (and have some hard disk space to spare) you can record it to hard disk for further processing. With a program like e.g. Steinberg WaveLab or CoolEdit you can record the song while you'r sequencer is playing it. When it's a .wav file, you can process it with effects like echo (don't exaggerate it), noise reduction (where CoolEdit really shines...) EQ, compression and much more. And then you can for example convert the (large) .wav file to MPEG audio Layer 3 (.mp3). Play and experiment...
E-mu have made a standard for soundfont-banks (which should now be called 'soundfont compatible banks'), which is far more flexible than the old soundfonts. Current AWE drivers support SoundFont 2 (.SF2) banks, and E-mu have an sf2-editor. It's free if you register at E-mu's homepage, and works very well.
The new format will probably be supported by more soundcards, synths and samplers in the future. A few of the advantages with the new format and the new soundfont editor are:
Effects on the AWE32
According to E-mu and Creative Labs, the effect processor on the AWE32 isn't programmable. That isn't true, though. AWE32 FX Workshop and the wonderful AWE-toy are nice small programs that (among others) let you make your own reverbs and choruses, and the results are sometimes bloody wonderful! Imagine a 15 s smooth and big reverb, just like many dedicated effect processors...
The AWE-toy does a lot of other very funny things with your soundcard too, so go get it as soon as possible. These must be a couple of the most innovative programs yet for the AWE32. The question is only WHY the guys at Creative Labs haven't written such a program or included some support for own and better effects in the latest drivers.
Another nice aspect of the AWE-toy is that the program doesn't reset the effects engine when you quit, and therefore makes it possible to use your own effects together with a sequencer or whatever you want.
Sample CDs for the AWE32
If you're running short of sounds and samples for the AWE32, the solution is maybe to buy some sample CD/CD-ROMs. There are even some CDs made especially for the AWE32, with ready-made soundbanks, available. The price is often very affordable, too, compared to many other sample CDs. (about £20-£40 each)
Time+Space also sell CD-ROMs with a lot of .WAV samples. These should also be convenient to use with the AWE32 and a sound font editor. For more info or a free catalogue, visit Time+Space.
Stomper - almost a 909...
Need some good dance/techno drums?? Stomper is a small but incredibly useful program that makes TR-like drumsounds which you can use together with for example your AWE32. They sound very good, indeed (I've used it a lot myself - and it has even been used for professional recordings, like for example 'In my mind' by Antiloop), and you can experiment a lot and end up with all sorts of strange bassdrums or noises. The latest version also includes more waveforms and resonant synth filters and a faster C calculating engine. The program is written by Zap (Håkan Andersson), and it's free. He only wants to hear what you do with the program. You can download the latest version from his homepage (which also contains a lot of other fun stuff!).
To Zap's homepage...
To STOMPER's homepage...
Mixermap for CUBASE
If you're using Cubase together with your AWE32, you'll find this mixermap very useful (I did!). It lets you control filter cutoff and resonance, lfo, and much more. Especially interesting if you're into techno, acid or something like that. The mixermap was created by Fabrice Miras.
Download and try it! (only 2kb)
Pitch bend range
By default, the pitch bend range is set to 2 semitones. Sometimes you may want a much wider range of pitch bend, maybe one or two octaves. This is possible by entering a few MIDI-messages, for example in the beginning of your song you're working with. Do the following:
Realtime AWE32 Control
This is virtually invaluable for any techno, ambient or dance maker. The AWE32 is capable of controlling many sound parameters for every note or even in real time. You have to send a few NRPN messages to get control over your sound card. Try the following (picture below):
(And if you still don't see what I mean, download the song 'FUN!' from the songs page, listen, and hear it for yourself!)
If you're lazy and you're using Cakewalk, you can go to my CAL page, and download a program that enters these controller messages for you.
Random pan in Cakewalk Many more expensive synthesizers have a random pan mode, which means that every note is played with a different pan value. This would be possible with the AWE32 too, but as the drivers don't support it (yet), we have to do it ourselves. If you are using Cakewalk, this really should be a piece of cake...
In Cakewalk's own programming language, CAL, I wrote a small program that gives every note a random pan value. You'll find the program on my CAL page.
If you're using cakewalk, it might be a good idea to visit its homepage. It contains not only information about new products, but also many CAL programs that could be very useful sometimes.
More memory on your AWE32
If you're seriously making music with your AWE32, perhaps you should add some sample-RAM to it. Although this doesn't automatically make the card sound better, you can squeeze more and longer own samples in it, which will often result in better sound. There are also some General Midi replacement banks available, which you could load as the GM bank, and then all MIDI music should sound better.
Adding RAM to the AWE32 is very easy. Just buy two similar 30-pin SIMMs (should be 80 ns or faster, but almost all are nowadays), and put them in the empty slots on your soundcard. Then move the jumper "DRAM_EN" located close to the SIMMs (if you're not sure, look it up in the manual) so the AWE will use your RAM instead of the 512kb onboard RAM.
I've got 8Mb myself (2*4Mb) on my AWE32, which I find enough for my needs. Two 30-pin 4Mb SIMMs shouldn't be very expensive either (although they're more expensive than 72-pin). I paid 399 SEK (about $55) each.