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NotationUser 10-20-2010 02:55 PM

Notation Software, "Cantabile" VST host and more.
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I always found it difficult to make GM based midi music sound really well.

I think I'll let you know what I'm currently using to make sound with Composer. Because I want to play instruments in realtime too, I needed a "low latency" solution, based on VST / ASIO technology. Here are the bits and pieces:

1) "SGM-180"
There are so many soundfonts and soundfontbanks... :eek:. For a while I use "SGM180" which is a compilation of some of the largest sf2 samples available. I wouldn't say it's too great but much better than Microsoft's built in wavetable synthesizer - and you have not to dig and compile your own soundbank. Just google for download links, there are many.

If you know about any better sounding GM compilation than SGM-180 - let me know

2) Cakewalk sfz+ pro
I use this as soundfont player as I have no soundcard that can load soundfonts. This is a VSTi (virtual instrument) you can use in VST host programs based on ASIO realtime audio. You can download the unrestricted version for free for a while now. Just follow the "holiday deals and gifts ideas" link on this site: scroll down and download. I think it has some issues but basically it works fine.

3) "Cantabile"
This is a great VST live host made by "Topten Software".
You can get started with the free "Cantabile Lite" version. Imho it's one of the most convenient free VST live hosts around. It works with a free routable rack concept and may present a familiar logic to keyboarders. Don't miss it, download "Lite" for free here and try it:
There are two commercial versions as well, called "Solo" and "Performer". I admit I am addicted to "Performer" for a while. What I like about Cantabile is again the mix of functionality it provides. It's not only a VST host but an easy to use audio recorder, a midi and audio player (with unlimited number of players) and a nice performance environment too. It's a live tool and no DAW.
Read more about Topten Software and "Cantabile" here:

4) Asio4All
This is probably well known and a free universal ASIO driver to provide ASIO low latency audio on any built in pc soundcard. You can download that for free here:

5) Virtual midi cable
I already postet about this, see:
If you just need one cable probably LoopBe1 is the easiest to use and fully 64bit compatible too.

Finally put all together and you get my actual first setup I use with Composer.

Basically all I quote here is free of charge. Try it and have fun! :cool:

Mark W 10-20-2010 05:07 PM

Re: Notation Software, "Cantabile" VST host and more.
Hello NotationUser,

Thanks for your excellent write-up about options for playing back General MIDI (GM) sounds via alternative soundfont and VST solutions.

Many of our Notation Composer use these tools. These solutions appeal to technically inclined users, and somewhat technical users who are sufficiently motivated to play back their music with better sounds that the ones "out of the box", i.e., those built into Windows.

There's an upcoming Notation Composer feature for direct soundfont support. It basically presents to the user soundfont banks and instrument choices in a way that looks very similar to the "out of the box" GM instrument choices. This feature is about 80% complete but got stalled by other tasks. I'm not sure at this time when I'll get back to finishing the soundfont support. There might be issues of incompatibility with Vista and Windows 7-- I haven't investigated yet.

So, well, this soundfont support in Composer is somewhat of a hallow promise; but, really, the support is quite good. The convenience it offers for choosing soundfonts will be far better than that of any MIDI-capable software (MIDI sequencer or notation app) that I've ever seen.

-- Mark

NotationUser 10-20-2010 06:02 PM

Re: Notation Software, "Cantabile" VST host and more.
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Hi Mark.

Thanks for your insight in ongoing development.

Concerning myself I am critical with built in sound sources as I want to play in realtime. This needs usually ASIO based low latency sound generation.

One experience I can refer to is "Miditzer216", a free - and BTW must see: - Wurlitzer theater organ emulation with built in sounds synthesized by "Fluidsynth". Fluidsynth is an open source project providing a synthfont based sound synthesizer that some developers include with their products.

Just to give an idea of the difference: With Asio4All and Cantabile I usually run 1x 128 sample buffer size for realtime audio needs. With Fluidsynth in Miditzer I hardly can go below 8x 128 sample audio buffer size without running into buzzing audio overload.

If Midizer were a piano this latency would be a real issue... just original (theater) organs don't feel snappy too because of their construction with pipes - so in this special case it works.

I am not sure if Fluidsynth already provides ASIO support yet - it's probably on the development community list. But as long as it does not it is no serious choice for anything beyond pure playback were latency doesn't matter too much.

Not sure if you were experimenting with "Fluidsynth" - but it sounded a bit alike... ;)

[Edit:] I forgot to mention "Notion 3" from notionmusic: If you haven't seen this check it out. It's the most in one scoring - hosting - soundlib supporting - mixing - producing solution I know about. It's at a different price point, I know, but it comes with a professional sample lib that totally integrates into the scoring process. Any articulations work from score symbols, even those that need sample switching to make it more reslistic. That's really a monster package. :eek:

Mark W 10-21-2010 08:30 PM

Re: Notation Software, "Cantabile" VST host and more.
Hello NotationUser,


Just to give an idea of the difference: With Asio4All and Cantabile I usually run 1x 128 sample buffer size for realtime audio needs. With Fluidsynth in Miditzer I hardly can go below 8x 128 sample audio buffer size without running into buzzing audio overload.
You've identified one of the biggest challenges of offering sound font support, which is choosing the right buffer sizes. I spent a couple weeks implementing automatic selection of the right buffer size. I really need to release this soundfont support in Composer. There are many such 50% or 80% finished projects that I should have finished rather than start on another that was begging with a higher priority at the time.

-- Mark

NotationUser 10-21-2010 11:25 PM

Re: Notation Software, "Cantabile" VST host and more.
I think it's simply difficult to provide realtime audio without ASIO.

Windows audio (DXi or however it is called) is not designed for that and often works just with 1024 samples buffer size. Going below get's usually tough.

The usual guess is that total latency should be below 10ms to be not too disturbing.

1024samples @44.1kHz sampling rate calculates to over 23ms!

128samples @44.1kHz sampling rate results in about 3ms.

Usually there is a bit additional system and midi latency too that is difficult to rate or meter depending on what one is using. I don't think more than 256sample @44.1kHz buffer size is acceptable for realtime playing.

And I frequently read that drummers can't even go with 3ms latency and want less... :eek:

All depends on if one wants just to playback audio or to play it keyboard style as well.

nimaranjbar 10-31-2010 10:01 AM

Re: Notation Software, "Cantabile" VST host and more.
Hi Mark,
Native SF2 support sounds great!


NotationUser 10-31-2010 11:02 AM

Re: Notation Software, "Cantabile" VST host and more.
It depends... as you might quickly want more features like recording because you can't simple use external tools for that except via introducing more technology like ReWire or similar tailored for audio...

However, just for playback it might be great to use better SF2 directly or even for practicing and performance as well if output is ASIO based to get low latencies.

I lately checked out the latest version 12 "LiveStyler" - a program emulating an arranger keyboard - which now supports direct SF2 playback on ASIO drivers too and makes the thing now finally a from scratch usable no brainer even without special HW.

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