Over the years, though, Peak (now at V5.2, with Universal support) has matured into a stable, serious, and creativity-friendly program (Figure 1). It “turned the corner” with version 4, which embraced Mac OS X to the fullest, remedied some annoying omissions, and cleaned up the workflow. Although its roster of plug-ins was limited, the new Peak Pro 5.2 XT package (which lists for twice as much as Peak 5.2) makes up for lost time with a solid, and sometimes inspired, suite of plug-ins called Master Perfection Suite.
While Peak 5.2 includes the Freq-4 (4-band parametric) and Sqweez compressor/limiter, the XT version adds GateEx (gate/downward expander), PitchCraft (pitch correction/transposition), Repli-Q (linear phase EQ/spectral matching), Reveal (suite of analysis tools), SoundSoap 2 (“one-click” noise reduction and restoration), SoundSoap Pro (more flexible version of SoundSoap 2), Sqweez-3 and Sqweez-5 (linear phase 3-band and 5-band compressor/limiter respectively), and SuperFreq-4, SuperFreq-6, SuperFreq-8, and SuperFreq-10 (4, 6, 8, and 10-band parametric EQs, respectively). Note that these plug-ins (except both SoundSoaps) cannot be used with sequencing hosts as of this writing, but a free update is planned that allows AU, VST, and RTAS compatibility.
Peak works in trial mode for 14 days; you then need to authorize (online or phone, and it’s painless — BIAS has made the dongle optional). The Master Perfection Suite of plug-ins do require a dongle (included) for the time being; the SoundSoaps get registered online.
As there’s a demo you can check out for yourself, instead of covering the basics, we’ll look at some of the areas where Peak stands apart from the crowd.
Although Peak has only five insert slots, you can insert the outstanding Vbox plug-in into one of these slots and gain an essentially unlimited number of effects. Vbox is basically an effects matrix plug-in that hosts VST/AU/BIAS plugs and lets you create series, parallel, and series/parallel effects chains. Within Vbox, it’s easy to mute and solo effects, as well as move (“hot swap”) effects around, save/load presets, adjust input and output levels for each slot (with full metering to aid in level-setting), and set up A/B comparisons with different effects setups.
Much of this menu remains unchanged, but it’s a strong point. While the DSP includes the usual suspects, there’s also an impulse-based reverb and “sound designer’s delights” like Envelope from Audio (an envelope follower), Harmonic Rotate, Phase Vocoder, Rappify, Reverse Boomerang, and Convolve (some of these take a while to crunch all those numbers, but the results can be worth it). Rather than try to describe these, just download the demo and listen for yourself. You’ll be impressed.
THE MASTER PERFECTION SUITE
If you’re into mastering, this plug-in suite transforms Peak 5.2 into a serious mastering machine. For starters, I like that the meter along the bottom extends the region between –8dB and 0dB, as you can really see what the peaks are doing. However, I would also like the option to choose different scales; sometimes you’re more interested in what’s happening at the bottom of the range than the top.
The Reveal plug-in offers an oscilloscope, peak and RMS power history, spectrograph, pan power, spectrum analyzer, phase scope, and peak/RMS level meters. One view shows these as “thumbnails,” or you can click on tabs to make one function (with additional controls) fill the Reveal window.
The EQs sound good, but the SuperFreq-10 is built with mastering in mind — the 10 stages can each be set for lowpass, highpass, high shelf, low shelf, or peak; there are individual bypass controls for each band, and an intuitive graphic interface. I like that you can store four settings, and A/B/C/D among them. What I don’t like: The graphic interface isn’t very tall, yet covers a range of ±24dB. I’d like to see the scale adjustable to at least ±6, ±12, and ±24dB.
The multiband compression interface (Figure 2) is outstanding. It’s easy to see how the bands are EQ’ed, as well as the thresholds and other parameters. I particularly appreciate the ability to set a maximum amount of gain reduction.
PitchCraft corrects vocals and such, but also does a surprisingly good job on program material if you match the pitch change with its corresponding formant change. Finally, Repli-Q is also cool, as it lets you superimpose the response curve of one piece of audio on to another. This has more uses than the obvious ones (see “Curves of Steal” in the Aug. ’05 issue of EQ), and is also useful for analysis as it can show “holes” or peaks in audio that would be difficult to see with a spectrum analyzer.
OTHER FEATURES OF NOTE
Some features aren’t new, but deserve the spotlight too. The Pow-r dithering is an essential mastering tool for going from higher to lower bit resolutions, and Peak’s handling of loop-oriented functions is superb. For example, the Loop Surfer function lets you specify a particular tempo and number of beats; Peak then automatically sets up a loop based on the loop start. (It can also calculate tempo, as well as “guess” the tempo.) After initiating Loop Surfer you can still adjust the start/end points, but more interestingly, you can move them in tandem. This allows trying out different loop placements, while retaining the same number of beats. If you’re into extracting loops from files, this can save a lot of time.
Peak also excels at batch processing and scripting; and it still supports several hardware samplers, although your Mac will need a SCSI interface adapter to take advantage of this.
Version 5.2 is not only the best Peak yet, but with this version, it’s joined my other editors in “heavy rotation” for editing-related tasks. For mastering, there’s a precise, well-oiled , reassuring vibe: It feels like a mastering suite. For sound design and sample creation, it’s flat out wonderful. As I was testing out various features, more than once I made sure to hit “Save As” because I’d stumbled on something genuinely cool.
Peak has never been a pretentious program; it’s always been about getting the job done. But Peak Pro 5.2 XT earns its keep as a hard-working, reliable, pro piece of software that’s inspiring as well as utilitarian.
Product Type: Editing, mastering, restoration, and CD-burning software for Mac OS X 10.3.9 and up.
Target Market: Mastering, sound design, post-production, sample editing, CD creation.
Strengths: Significant DSP functions and restoration tools. Supports VST and AU instruments. SoundSoap provides effective noise reduction. Clean sample rate conversion. Excellent printed manual. Sophisticated CD burning options (e.g., CD Text). Strong looping and analysis tools. Vbox plug-in matrix. Great multiband compression, solid pitch correction. Aesthetic interface. DDP export optional ($399).
Limitations: No surround editing. Some interface labels hard to read. Fee-based phone support after three incidents in 90 days (free online support). Can’t re-record the output.
Price: $1,199 list (Peak 5.2, $599)