Friday, March 10, 2017

Replacing the Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth in Windows 10

I guess it's fairly obvious that I'm working on something in regards to my old Ontario Emperor music project. But as I got deeper into the project, I decided that I needed to address something.

You see, the very first Ontario Emperor mp3 files - i.e. most of the ones that I uploaded to - were all created on a Macintosh. But the final ones - "Non Sequitur 15" and the entire "Brevity Is" collection - were created after I got rid of my Mac, and therefore were composed and assembled on various Windows computers.

And they were...lacking.

Finally, after a decade and a half of putting up with this, I thought that maybe I ought to explore the issue and understand why MIDI files on Windows (I convert MIDI to audio) didn't sound all that great.

On Windows, the system used to generate MIDI sounds is called the Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth. It was a good solution (back in 1991).

Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth is the MIDI Synth that is bundled with Windows releases. It is licensed by Roland and based off of the first release version of Virtual Sound Canvas, at the time a commercial product. It contains its SC-55-based sound set which, while more compact and downsampled, was considered to be high quality at the time. Though its limitations have caused it to age poorly, it is still used as a standard for MIDI composers.

It turns out that it's really easy to upgrade to a better MIDI synth on Windows 10 - so easy that I could do it. To do so, you need a different MIDI synth, as well as a different (i.e. bigger) soundfont.

For the MIDI synth, I followed Anvil Studio's recommendation and installed the VirtualMIDISynth from CoolSoft - although there are others available.

For the soundfont, I chose Timbres of Heaven from Don Allen - primarily because it had step-by-step instructions on how to use Timbres of Heaven with VirtualMIDISynth. Again, there are a number of soundfonts out there.

After that, the only thing that I had to do was to go into Anvil Studio and set my MIDI Out Device to be CoolSoft (in the View menu, I chose the "Synthesizers, MIDI + Audio Devices" menu item).

So after that was set up, I played one of my MIDI files through Anvil Studio - and noticed a significant improvement.

Time to redo some audio files...
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