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ADOBE SYSTEMS Audition 2.0

August 1, 2006
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FIG 1: Audition sports an intuitive, modern user interface that is consistent with other Adobe products. Panels can be rearranged and undocked.

From its humble beginnings as Cool Edit Pro, a midline stereo audio editor, Adobe Audition has evolved into a powerful platform for multitrack recording, mixing, and mastering. Version 2.0 continues this evolution by adding real-time mixing and monitoring, new ways to analyze and edit audio, and a host of other new features. I reviewed Audition 1.5 in the January 2005 issue of EM (available online at www.emusician.com), so I'll cover only the new and improved features in this review.

Audition is available both standalone and as part of Adobe's Production Studio bundle. Its new look and feel put it more in line with other Adobe products (see Fig. 1), and like those, Audition now requires product activation within 30 days of installation.

Several of the editing tools in Adobe's programs have consistent names and behavior. So whether you're editing a photo in Photoshop, a drawing in Illustrator, or an audio clip in Audition, you'll find yourself in familiar territory. You can also link to Audition from other Adobe programs. For example, if you choose Edit In Audition while working with video in Premiere Pro or After Effects, your audio will open in Audition. Audition also links to Adobe Bridge, which provides content management and metadata-based searching and organization for audio, video, photos, and text documents.

Life in Real Time

Audition now supports ASIO and offers low-latency mixing and monitoring. All of the inputs and outputs on my MOTU 828 were recognized immediately, and with monitoring set to Audition Mix in the Session properties, I could monitor the inputs on any track as soon as it was armed for recording. Latency on my 2.4 GHz Pentium 4 system was only 2 ms, which is undetectable to my ears.

When monitoring, you can choose Smart Input, which monitors the input only when you're actually recording in a track (useful for punch recording). Or you can choose Always Input, which always monitors live audio, regardless of whether you're playing back or recording. In either case, you hear exactly what you'll get in the final mix, including the impact of any effects that you might have configured.

Audition 1.5 had support for multiple buses, but the audio-routing capabilities in version 2 have improved dramatically. The only limit on the number of tracks and buses is your system's resources. Buses appear alongside tracks in the Multitrack view, and configuring effects racks in each track and bus is much more intuitive than before. With live monitoring, you can hear what changes to effects parameters will sound like as you make them.

FIG 2: Audition''s new Mixer view lets you see all of the settings for each track and bus at once. Several controls can be hidden if you need more screen space.

Each track and bus can have 16 stereo sends to other buses (complete with pan controls), and each send can be configured as pre- or postfader. The bottom line: Audition's audio routing is flexible enough to set up any configuration you can imagine.

All of this capability is of no use if you can't make sense of it during a mixdown. To help in this regard, Audition now has a Mixer view that shows each track and bus side by side (see Fig. 2). There's nothing here that isn't also available on the main track view, but the Mixer view gives you the ability to see everything on one screen. If you need more screen real estate, you can hide the output, effects, sends, or EQ sections of the channel strips. You can also drag, dock, or hide all windows and window panels, and then save your layouts as a work space.

The Automation Lane

Audition 2 allows you to open any number of automation lanes to establish precise control over individual track and send levels, panning, muting, EQ, input gain, and effects parameters. I like the ability to open lanes only for what's needed while leaving everything else hidden.

As in previous versions, there are level and pan envelopes for each clip. But the envelopes in automation lanes operate on the track as a whole and give you access to many more parameters. The envelope editing tools behave in the same manner whether you're adjusting a clip's envelope or an envelope in an automation lane.

There are five modes for recording envelopes in automation lanes, each of which can be set on a per-track (but not per-lane) basis. Off causes the automation lanes to be ignored during recording and playback, and Read lets you hear the envelopes being applied during playback. Write records new envelopes as the transport moves, and Touch overwrites the envelopes only while you're making a change to a particular control.

The fifth mode, Latch, starts recording new values as soon as you make a change and continues recording until the transport is stopped. And even though these modes are set on a per-track basis, there's a Safe During Write button on each envelope to keep you from inadvertently changing envelopes that you don't want to change.

I really like Audition's automation capabilities, and I found them very intuitive to use. I would, however, like the ability to control automatable parameters using any MIDI message. A MIDI Learn mode to help set it all up would also be useful. This capability would make mixing using real faders and knobs on hardware much more practical.

Adobe claims that Audition works only with the Mackie Control Universal (MCU) or a device that emulates it, such as the Behringer BCF2000. My ADS Tech Red Rover — left around from my days using Cool Edit Pro — worked fine, however, though it deals with only one track at a time. It would be great to see more manufacturers adopt the MC standard. (Adobe offers an SDK that would allow developers of control surfaces to add Audition 2.0 support, and new programs such as WiseMix's approximately $49 MCmu Mackie Control emulator, available at www.wisemix.com, could alleviate this problem.)

Audible Editing

Given Audition's roots as a 2-track editor, it makes sense that the program's offline editing capabilities should see some enhancements. Audition's Spectral view has a new Lasso tool that lets you select precise regions across time and frequency for editing. You can display frequencies using either a linear or a log scale. Using the linear scale, the same number of hertz always covers the same number of pixels, regardless of frequency. In Log mode, the scale slides so that low frequencies are displayed using more pixels than higher ones.

A Spectral Pan display gives you a visual representation of stereo spread. This view shows time across the horizontal axis and pan position across the vertical (measured from 100 percent left to 100 percent right). Intensity is shown with brighter colors. A single-point source of audio, for example, moving from left to right in time would show up as a downward-sloping line. If you want a uniform stereo field, you should target a view that shows colors of equal intensity spread evenly from left to right.

FIG 3: Audition''s Phase Analysis window gives you a graphic representation of your audio''s stereo spread and phase relationships. Everything above the horizontal line is in phase.

Similarly, a Spectral Phase display shows you the phase relationships in your audio plotted over time. This lets you determine where any problems might be if stereo audio were to be summed to mono. Frequencies that are in phase are plotted at vertical center (0 degrees), and frequencies that are out of phase are plotted at their difference in phases (from +180 to -180 degrees). In my experience, using this display required me to isolate the exact audio that might have the phase problem. Audio of any complexity (for example, a final mix with a full-frequency spectrum, reverb, and so on) tended to show phase differences all over the place, which limited the tool's usefulness.

I found the Phase Analysis window more useful for detecting phase problems (see Fig. 3). The Spectral Phase display shows you phase over time, but the Phase Analysis window shows you the stereo spread and the phase relationship of your entire selection at once. Left versus right appears on the horizontal axis. In-phase audio is plotted above the horizontal axis, and out-of-phase audio is plotted below it. The program offers several alternate views of this data.

There are other improvements in the Edit view. The Scrub tool lets you find precise editing points by audibly scrubbing the audio with your mouse, and the Mastering Rack lets you set up a bank of effects that work in real time from the editing window. This allows you to hear exactly what will be printed to disk when the time comes to export a final master. In Audition 1.5 you could preview only one effect at a time, then you'd have to apply it and move on to the next one. Now you can preview your effects all together before applying them.

Other Goodies

Adobe added a number of other enhancements to Audition 2.0. An intuitive multiband compressor displays audio in four separate frequency bands and lets you adjust compression settings in each band during playback. There's support for additional video formats as well, including QuickTime, Windows Media, and MPEG, although you can export video only in the same format that you used to import it. Ogg Vorbis support, embedded BWF time stamps for broadcast applications, and support for XMP metadata (which is used in content-management applications) have also been added.

Audition includes gigabytes of royalty-free loops and music beds (the latter in 15- and 30-second lengths), a printed manual, and extensive online help. Its price has gone up a little since the last version, but it's still quite reasonable given the features you're getting.

Audition probably isn't the application to buy if you're looking for extensive MIDI support or a bundle full of soft synths. But if you need a solid program for multitrack recording and editing, with loads of built-in effects and lots of royalty-free content, then Audition is hard to beat. And if you're already using other Adobe applications, you'll certainly appreciate its familiar look and feel, as well as its integration with products such as Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Bridge.


Allan Metts is an Atlanta-based musician, software/systems designer, and consultant. Check him out at www.sonicbids.com/AllanMetts.

GUIDE TO EM METERS

5 = Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology

4 = Clearly above average; very desirable

3 = Good; meets expectations

2 = Somewhat disappointing but usable

1 = Unacceptably flawed

PRODUCT SUMMARY

ADOBE SYSTEMS
Audition 2.0

multitrack audio editor
$349
upgrade, $129

FEATURES 3
EASE OF USE 4
DOCUMENTATION 5
VALUE 4

RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Real-time monitoring. Extensive parameter automation. Intuitive user interface. Excellent documentation and royalty-free content.

CONS: Minimal MIDI controller support.

MANUFACTURER

Adobe Systems Inc.
www.adobe.com

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