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Author Topic: promidi studio system (1985) SDA-200 for IBM/PC DOS  (Read 5780 times)

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Offline chrisNova777

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promidi studio system (1985) SDA-200 for IBM/PC DOS
« on: July 16, 2017, 12:07:44 PM »
System Design Associates' Promidi Studio System is a powerful sequencing package for IBM and compatible computers that records straight to disk. Ian Waugh checks it out.

An IBM PC sequencing package powerful enough to boast direct-to-hard disk recording is sure to attract its share of attention.

"CAN YOUR SEQUENCER do this?", asks the advert: "Record three million MIDI events? Record songs direct to disk? Play songs without waiting for them to load?" (Trick question.) "Does it give you an unlimited number of tracks and an unlimited track length?"

Unless you have Promidi, I think you'll have to answer "No" to most of these. Promidi differs from yer average MIDI sequencing program in several ways. It records direct to disk; it needn't be a hard disk but if you want to store 3,000,000 events you'll need a 20Meg drive. A floppy disk will store about 60,000 events.

It stores music as files on disk instead of as tracks in memory. If you're used to "conventional" sequencers, this will take some getting used to. But get used to it you must, for it is the hub of Promidi's operation.

The package comes with its own MIDIcard which plugs into one of the slots at the back of the computer. It contains its own RAM and part of the program loads into the computer's RAM and part into the MIDIcard. Updates will be in software form (for the price of a disk and p&p) so you don't have to worry about forking out for a new card.

It has a timing resolution of 192 clocks per beat. There's nothing new about that, but it also has a tempo resolution of up to 762 beats per minute. Yep, that's fast.

You can install a RAM disk to speed up disk operations. While a hard disk won't increase Promidi's actual recording ability, it will speed up some of its other disk-intensive activities such as filtering, mixing and editing (all coming up in good time).

As it saves direct to disk the program requires relatively little onboard RAM. The minimum requirement is 320K, which still leaves room for a small RAM disk. A hard disk will improve the Punch In/Out function by a factor of about five times, a RAM disk will increase it by a factor of 19.

Another consequence of saving direct to disk is that should a failure or power loss occur, your data is already there on disk. One word of advice if you use a RAM disk, however, don't forget to back it up.

Promidi was developed by SDA - System Design Associates of America, not to be confused with Steinberg Digital Audio which is something else altogether.

So, introductions over, let's get started. The version under review is E1.2, the manual is 94 pages long and contains 6 pages of addendum.

Getting started

THE FIRST THING you have to do is make a bootable disk from the one supplied. If you've a hard disk you can install it quite easily. If you've a double disk drive it won't take very long but if you've only one drive your arms will drop off swapping disks during the conversion process.

This is as good a time as any to say that the system was mode for hard disk although it is still eminently useable with 5 floppies.

The conversion, copying and installation over, you boot the disk and get a few screens of welcoming words leading to the Main Menu which has six sub-screens: Directory, Play/Record, Mixing, MIDI Channel, File Maintenance and Filter. The program is menu driven, mainly by the function keys. Pressing Escape at any time will take you back through a menu or two, eventually returning to the Main Menu. You'll never get lost, although you may occasionally be confused over which screen (or sub-screen) you need to do a particular job.

Most of the menu screens contain diagrams of the function keys with arrows pointing to a description of their function. Reading a screen is a little like following a route map.

You can call up Help screens from any part of the program by pressing "H". The Help files are stored on disk and if you keep them on your work disk you'll be left with a meagre 22K of music storage space. They can be removed, however, once you're comfortable with the program; alternatively you can use an empty work disk - or get a second disk drive or hard disk.


RECORDING IS NOT just a matter of pressing a button and playing. First you must select/create a directory and then enter a filename for the track/music line you are going to play.

Filenames can be up to eight characters long and they are suffixed with a version number. If you're really in a hurry you can jump in and go by pressing "T" to create temporary files called TV01, TV02, TV03 and so on. You can rename them later. Promidi allows 99 versions of a file to appear in each directory - I wish you the best of luck sorting them out. Pressing the "=" key lets you draft a note of up to 1036 characters to accompany each file. Useful.

Having recorded a file you can play it back straight away by pressing F1 (to nominate the file as a playback file) then F2 (to play it). To record one file while another plays back you must designate both a record and a playback file. This requires a brief excursion to the Directory Screen to select the Playback file.

To playback several files at the same time you must mix them. You can do this from the Play/Record screen with the Listen function (which automatically produces a file called $LISTEN) or from the Mixing Screen (which lets you choose your own filename). You can then play this new file while recording another. If you want to mute a track/file within the mixed file you have to do another mix.

Promidi's powerful recording facilities will record multiple MIDI channels at once. You can extract specific channel information from the file and edit it.

On the Play/Record screen you can adjust the tempo and fast forward and rewind to a specific location in the file. The Beat and Bar Numbers are shown as the piece plays. You can pause the music by pressing the space bar and "rocking" the fast forward and rewind buttons, then pressing F2 (play) again. Really odd.

On the Level

ON THE LEFT of the Play/Record screen is a box containing five options which are activated by the function keys. Pressing + cycles through three more sets of options (the program calls these Levels). Let's see what we've got here.

F1 sends a file from the Record box to the Playback box. F3 toggles the Queued function which puts the sequencer under the control of external MIDI equipment (strange name). F5 lets you set the time signature and F7 toggles the metronome on and off (it plays through a separate audio out on the MIDIcard). F9 lets you punch time signatures, tempo and program changes into a file: the position is defined in beats.

On Level two, F1 accesses the Step Editor (coming up). F3 is an auto punch-in function allowing you to record a section inside a file. F5 toggles the Master control on and off which puts the sequencer under timing control of the MIDIcard. F6 toggles Omni mode and F9 toggles looping on and off allowing you to playback or overdub a file continuously.

On Level three, F1 will trim empty beats from the beginning and end of a file while F3 and F5 add empty beats. F7 shows you where the Marks are and F9 lets you set up to 16 Marks in a file. These are inserted in real time as the file plays back. Pressing "M" advances you to the next Marked position.

At Level four, F1 Cuts, Blanks and Copies segments from a file: the segment must be defined in terms of beats. F3 is the Paste function and F5 adjusts the metronome volume. F7 lets you chain up to ten files together, allowing you to specify leader beats and the number of repeats. Adjacent files can be made to play simultaneously and you can even perform an overdub. The flexibility of this process allows you to construct songs based on patterns as well as linear, tape-like constructions.

As you may have gathered, all positions within a file are referred to in terms of beats and some reference to bars (or Measures as the program calls them) would have been helpful