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CreamWare Audio Case Study

CreamWare logoCreamWare Audio Reproduces Vintage Sounds for PC-Based Add-In Cards and Synthesizers Using SHARC® —

Over the years, CreamWare Audio GmbH has gained quite a reputation for delivering innovative, high-quality audio products that run algorithms on SHARC® processors from Analog Devices, Inc. (ADI). CreamWare, based in Germany, develops modular digital audio solutions, offering a range of products including PC-based add-in cards for studio-quality recording and a new line of stand-alone music synthesizers. In addition, CreamWare, now distributed in the US by QuireTec, is supplying original equipment manufacturer (OEM) software solutions to third parties who can integrate the audio technology into their own products.

CreamWare Authentic Sound BoxThe company has recently developed the Authentic Sound Box (ASB) family of sound modules designed to perfectly emulate the sound and feel of several popular vintage keyboards. Digitally modeling classic analog audio circuitry, one of the most popular members of this family is the Minimax ASB, a system that brings the legendary Minimoog synthesizer back to life. Another is the B4000 ASB — a stunning audio replica of the famous Hammond B3* tonewheel organ (remember Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale?"). CreamWare says that many a sound professional can barely distinguish these systems from the originals.

CreamWare CTO Frank Hund said that ADI's SHARC 2126x and 2136x processors are responsible for the absolute perfection in the modeling of the analog circuitry of these systems. SHARC 2126x/2136x processors are members of the single-instruction multiple-data (SIMD) SHARC family, featuring 32-bit/40-bit floating-point processing optimized for high-performance audio applications. "We've been working with SHARC processors since 1997," said Hund. "They have the precision and performance we need, enabling us to ship more powerful products at market conforming price points. The SHARC 2126x/2136x processors suit the challenges and requirements of high-end audio like no other signal processors on the market."

Vintage Sounds Live Again

One of the most popular synthesizers of all time, the Minimoog has been around since the 1970s. CreamWare has re-mastered the sound of the Minimoog down to each detail with the Minimax ASB. The unit's three oscillators feed a mixer whose output goes to a 24dB/octave lowpass filter and amplifier, both controlled by attack-decay-sustain-release (ADSR) four-stage envelopes. Musicians will find familiar velocity controls for the filter and amp, an output effects section with chorus and delay, 128 presets and an equal number of memory spaces for their own creations. Remote software is included with the package for editing. The physical design features wood panels to simulate the "look and feel" of the original Minimoog but in a much smaller package for musicians who love the analog sound but want a lighter version of the original classic to take on the road.

CreamWare's re-mastered B4000 ASB, which is almost a replica of the Hammond B3 organ with wood panels, produces the authentically breathtaking organ sounds of its analog predecessor. While an original Hammond B3 weighs in at 200 kilograms, the CreamWare B4000 ASB weighs approximately 198 kilograms less, so a musician can take it anywhere. The B4000 ASB incorporates a simulation of the famous Leslie speaker cabinet, with bass, and treble speakers along with separate settings for variable rotation speeds and accelerations, independent pickup microphones for the individual speakers, and Doppler effect.

"SHARC Just Sounds Better"

SHARC processors were a natural choice for CreamWare's new ASB line of synthesizers, especially the third-generation. "The new SHARC 2126x/2136x processors are a breakthrough in price/performance," said Hund. SHARC processors, based on ADI's Super Harvard Architecture, combine a high-performance fixed- and floating-point processing core with sophisticated memory and I/O processing subsystems. The code-compatible family spans entry-level products to high-end products providing 400-MHz/2400-MFLOPS of signal processing performance. Said Hund, "SHARC's floating-point precision means audio algorithms just sound better."

Third-generation SHARC products employ an enhanced SIMD architecture. The products also integrate a variety of ROM memory configurations and audio-centric peripherals designed to decrease time to market and reduce the overall bill of materials (BOM) costs. This increased level of performance and peripheral integration allows third-generation SHARC processors to be considered as single-chip solutions for a variety of audio markets. "In today's market, the most important thing is the price point, which includes not only the DSP itself, but also the chip infrastructure, that is, the total integration cost," said Hund. "SHARC processors are very balanced products."

SHARC audio processors integrate audio-specific peripherals designed to simplify hardware design, minimize design risks, and quicken time to market. Dubbed the Digital Audio Interface (DAI), these peripheral blocks may be connected to each other or to external pins via the software-programmable Signal Routing Unit (SRU), an innovative architectural feature that enables complete and flexible routing among DAI peripherals. "We typically use any I/O and memory feature we can get hold of," said Hund.

According to Hund, CreamWare took advantage of "the usual tools," which includes a complete set of CROSSCORE software and hardware development tools, including ADI's emulators and the VisualDSP++ integrated development and debugging environment (IDDE). The VisualDSP++ IDDE lets programmers develop and debug an application. It includes an easy to use assembler, which is based on an algebraic syntax, an archiver (librian/library builder), a loader, a cycle-accurate instruction-level simulator, a C/C++ compiler, and a C/C++ runtime library that includes DSP and mathematical functions.

Hund says that CreamWare's future roadmap includes ADI. That's because when it comes to modeling legendary musical instruments, CreamWare's only choice is the legendary SHARC from ADI.

For more information about CreamWare, please visit CreamWare.

*B3 and Hammond are registered trademarks of Hammond Suzuki

"SHARC: You Never Have to Compromise"

As previously stated, CreamWare has been using ADI's SHARC DSPs since 1997, and most of the company's SCOPE line includes the processors. "We are enthusiastic about SHARC technology and love to spread the word," said Hund. CreamWare's SCOPE is a highly flexible studio system that can be configured, adapted, and used according to specific needs such as recording, mixing, and mastering. It is a flexible powerful digital mixer with latency-free real-time DSP plug-ins and other quality features. It includes SHARC DSP boards, software packages, recording tools such as mixers and effects, and exclusive sound machines such as synthesizers and samplers. SCOPE is fully expandable. DSP power, I/Os, and software can all be updated thanks to its modular structure. One can implement configurations comprising as many as 42 SHARC DSPs and more than 100 I/Os.

"The considerable DSP power of the platform itself allows for implementing only sophisticated top-notch algorithms — we have always focused on quality. For example, the synthesizers on our platform rarely provide extensive polyphony but the sound just blows right into your face. There is, however, one more technological motive: The employed SHARC DSP was specifically designed to perform high-resolution audio processing. It always processes the audio with a 32-bit resolution, and algorithms and parameters are computed with a floating-point resolution of even 40 bits," said Hund.

"If there are no such powerful structures at hand, programmers will have to make compromises regarding the resolution (accuracy) again and again for performance purposes; so the weakest link in the processing chain will often determine the sound. With SHARCs, however, you never have to compromise — the highest resolution is maintained during the entire process without affecting the performance," Hund said. "You can hear it in the results."