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Adobe Creative Suite (Mac/Win) Quick Pick Review

June 1, 2009
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Soundbooth CS4 is organized into panels you can move and group according to your preferences. You can save and recall preset panel layouts called Workspaces, which are optimized according to task.

Soundbooth CS4 is organized into panels you can move and group according to your preferences. You can save and recall preset panel layouts called Workspaces, which are optimized according to task.

In creative fields ranging from photo retouching and video editing to print design and Web development, Adobe's applications have become de facto standards for producing content digitally. Almost anyone who owns a digital camera and a computer knows about Photoshop, and the Web would not be what it is today without Dreamweaver, Flash, and FireWorks. Like thousands of other publications, EM uses InDesign to lay out the magazine you're reading now.

Creative Suite 4 (CS4) comprises the latest versions of those applications and more. Several bundles are available, including CS4 Web Premium ($1,699), Production Premium ($1,699), and CS4 Master Collection ($2,499). Which bundle is best for you will depend on your budget and the kind of work you do. Adobe maintains a consistent user interface across all CS4 apps. Although no paper manuals are included, you can access searchable help files, printable PDF files, and online training videos directly from the applications.

CS4's audio-editing program, Soundbooth CS4 2, is included in those three bundles, or you can purchase it alone for $199. I'll concentrate on Soundbooth here and cover other CS4 applications on emusician.com (see the online bonus material “Adobe CS4 Master Collection”).

CS4 is cross-platform, but Mac users should be aware that some applications require an Intel processor. If you have a PowerPC-based Mac, you can install some apps but not others. That's why I installed Soundbooth on my MacBook Pro running Mac OS 10.5.6 rather than my Power Mac G5.

TASK-DRIVEN AUDIO

In 2003, Adobe acquired Syntrillium Software, makers of Cool Edit Pro, and shortly thereafter released Audition, a sophisticated audio editor for Windows. Soundbooth — a slightly scaled-down, task-specific cross-platform editor — is explicitly geared toward working with audio for video or rich media for the Web, especially when used with other Adobe CS4 software. Rather than furnishing Audition's large assortment of tools, Soundbooth lets you perform a more limited number of functions by clicking on tabs to open various panels.

The Editor panel contains a traditional waveform display, a color spectral display, or both. You can view stereo or surround channels either separately or layered atop one another in different colors. Soundbooth allows you to display, edit, and mix multitrack files you've assembled from numerous mono or stereo audio files. You also get a Video panel for viewing video clips as you edit their audio tracks.

The Files panel functions as Soundbooth's browser window, from which you can open audio and video files in a good variety of formats. The History panel makes it easy to undo and redo several steps at a time. Though you can add and move markers in the Editor panel, the Markers panel gives you greater functionality; you can work with all the markers in a list, and if you're working in Flash, markers can automatically sync to cue points. For seamlessly editing sound and picture at the same time, Soundbooth links with Flash, Premiere, and After Effects, and all four apps can share Adobe Sound Document (ASND) files.

You can easily specify a file's overall loudness, normalize it, or insert BREAKpoints (called keyframes) that control its loudness over time. You can almost instantly fade a sound clip's beginning or end and then manually change the fade's shape. For reducing noise — a crucial task when you're editing sound for video — you can isolate a segment of the sound file containing nothing but hiss or hum (called a noise print) and then selectively reduce anything that matches that signal from the remainder of the file.

Opening the Effects panel gives you access to Effects Rack presets, each containing a maximum of five effects ranging from compression and distortion to convolution reverb and 30-band EQ. I was pretty impressed by the quality of Soundbooth's effects, though their GUIs are sliders only, very much like the graphics on some Apple and Cycling '74 plug-ins.

THE COMPLETE PACKAGE

Taken as a whole, Creative Suite 4 can't be beat for producing print or online content. Though Soundbooth makes it fast and easy to perform selected tasks for which it's designed, Adobe Audition is more tool- than task-oriented, and it supports VST instruments and effects, MIDI tracks, batch processing, CD burning, and more. Soundbooth doesn't come with a large library of audio files like Audition does, but it does allow you to download sound effects and audio tracks called Scores from the Web without opening your Internet browser. Like all of the applications in CS4, Soundbooth is a well-designed, well-executed program, but if you have serious audio-editing needs, you may outgrow it rather quickly.


Value (1 through 5): 3
Adobe Systems
adobe.com

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