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I just happened upon this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tNizdyx-DE

It's a selection of Amiga music produced using a program I've never heard of before: "Symphonie Pro".

Does anybody know anything about this program? Most particularly, the sound it produces seems vastly in excess of anything I've ever heard from an Amiga. It sounds less like a sample-based system, and more like an actual subtractive synthesizer, with convolutional reverb, distortion effects, phasing, etc. And the video description talks about how this program is "aimed at high-end Amigas" and uses "software DSP".

Thing is, real-time subtractive synthesis should be vastly out of reach for any Amiga. Certainly programs like OctaMED could do realtime wavetable stuff. But I've run both FM synthesis and subtractive synthesis programs on the Amiga, and none of them were even remotely real-time. (E.g., multiple minutes to render a 6-second synthesizer riff. And it sounded awful anyway.) So I'm confused as to how this program works. Does anybody know anything about it?

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There's nothing magic with it as such. Simple subtractive synthesis and software sample mixing is "easily" possible on a 50 MHz 68060, which is the kind of Amigas this software targets. You would of course not run this on an unaccelerated Amiga 500.

The source code is available for download, and the program itself can be freely downloaded from Aminet.

One random thread where a few users discuss this tool tells us that some modules indeed required a 68060 CPU, and with a 68040 you could expect about 32 channels.

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  • Real-time mixing is no problem. OctaMED Soundstudio lets you have "unlimited" channels and 14-bit playback. (Although if you have too many actual notes running, the system starts to get a little sluggish.) I'm still perplexed as to how it's doing synthesis in realtime though; in my limited experience, that's too slow for realtime. Nov 22 '20 at 11:09
  • So, it is literally synthesizing hundreds of notes in realtime? That's actually what it's doing? It's not prerendering them and then playing them back? It's actually realtime? Nov 22 '20 at 11:14
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Symphonie has no synthesizer or reverb. It's all samples, but as it natively supports large 16-bit stereo samples, it invites the user to use high-quality sample sources unlike many other trackers of its time. In the end, a good sample can represent the sound of any source accurately, including that of expensive synthesizers. As Symphonie is targeted towards higher-end Amigas, there is no problem in storing or mixing those high-quality samples.

As I'm currently implementing a player for Symphonie modules, I can shed some more light on what some of the tracks in that video use. Symphonie can do the following operations to samples while they are being loaded (i.e. these changes are non-destructive):

  • resonant filters
  • simple (non-resonant) lowpass and highpass
  • simple waveshaping (overamplification of samples doesn't just clip them but acts more like a compressor)
  • mixing of several samples into a new sample
  • "Transwave synthesis" (takes two short sample loops and morphs between them) - none of the tracks in that video use this effect

In addition, Symphonie can do the following realtime effects during playback:

  • resonant filters
  • a simple echo and delay DSP effect
  • more through custom plugins (but the video you linked does not use those)

Most of those features will sound pretty advanced compared to most other trackers of the time, but they are about the only differences. Apart from these, it's just the combination of using more channels and high-quality samples that make these tracks sound much better than e.g. a ProTracker MOD file.

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real-time subtractive synthesis should be vastly out of reach for any Amiga

I've looked at the source code and it looks like any typical sample-based tracker would. It has a variety of sample processing available, so that the samples can be modified exactly as you describe, and it also has DSP block plug-ins for additional global effects such as reverb. No subtractive synthesis is done.

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