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Sound font

The Sound font standard, developed by Emu Systems and their parent company, Creative Labs, is a data format that contains the detailed information necessary to create musical notes or sound effects using wavetable synthesis technology. A “Sound font bank” is a collection of sounds in the Sound font standard format. Such a bank contains both the digital audio samples captured from a sound source, and the instructions to the wavetable synthesizer on how to articulate this sound based on the musical or sonic context as expressed by MIDI. For example, a trumpet could be a particular sound in a Sound font bank that might contain both recordings of trumpets being played at several different pitches, as well as information which would tell the synthesizer to filter or mute the sounds when notes were played softly, loop information about the sample which would allow a short recording to be stretched into a sustained note, and instructions on how to apply vibrato or to bend the pitch of the note based on MIDI commands from the musician. Sound fonts get their name because the concept and their behavior is much like fonts we use in computers. Special Sound font compatible hardware is required to play Sound fonts and the quality of playback will vary somewhat depending upon the capabilities of the playback device, just like fonts we use in our computers can look different depending upon the output characteristics of our screens and printers. The main advantage to Sound fonts is they provide a tremendous amount of real time control to sound playback while still benefiting from the realism and computational simplicity of samples. As of this writing their use is mostly limited to computer sound cards (Emu does have some instruments that can use Sound fonts), but there are more ambitious hardware plans in the future.

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