With the audio-editing power available in today's digital audio sequencers and hardware-based editors, do you still need a stand-alone multitrack audio program in your arsenal? We took a look at six professional Windows multitrack editing programs and found some very good reasons why you might want one in your studio. Multichannel recording and playback; sophisticated, nondestructive editing; support for a wide range of file formats; and versatile mixing, panning, and processing capabilities are just the beginning. As you'll see, these programs pack a wallop.
The six audio editors in our roundup are Syntrillium's Cool Edit Pro 1.2 ($399), Canam Computers' Quartz Audio Pro 32 4.05 ($399), SEK'D's Samplitude 2496 5.5 ($799), Innovative Quality Software's SAWPro 2.0 ($950), Sonic Foundry's Vegas Pro 1.0b ($599), and Steinberg's WaveLab 3.0 ($599). Each is a mature program with feature sets that run deep and wide. (Two newcomers, Steinberg's Nuendo and Minnetonka's MxTrax Native, were not available in time for this article. Keep checking EM for reviews of these programs.)
To give you a clear picture of how these audio editors compare in several key areas, we'll discuss the main features of each, including interface and navigation details, mixing and editing options, recording and processing features, supported file formats, and documentation. We'll finish with a few words on each program's distinctive features.
You won't find a single "winner" here, because one size doesn't fit all. Musicians who record live, multimedia musicians who do video work, broadcasters who produce commercial spots, and Web-site sound designers all have different requirements. So consider each program carefully and find the one that best meets your creative needs.
DISPLAY CASEThe overall look and feel of a program and the way it meshes with your working style are essential considerations when you're evaluating a multitrack editor. Our test group contained dramatically different interface styles, perhaps because some of the programs were developed quite recently, whereas others originated in the early days of the Windows operating system. Each focuses on different aspects of mixing and editing and takes a different approach toward handling audio files.
Our first area of comparison encompasses palettes and toolbars, preset screen arrangements, and various aspects of scrolling, zooming, and selecting regions. Some of the programs present their features in a very direct way, while others employ multiple layers of detailed operation.
Cool Edit Pro. Cool Edit Pro's Multitrack View is a model of clarity and user friendliness (see Fig. 1). The program's overall design is intuitive and accessible; the layout is uncluttered and offers plenty of customization options. You can change the color of various screen elements, rearrange the tracks, and select from different measurement units. The toolbars at the top of the screen, which are grouped and color-coded to match their corresponding menus, provide shortcuts to most operations. At the bottom of the screen, a thin set of level meters with peak-hold and clipping indicators extends across the window. You can easily read the large time display from across a room.
Mono and stereo waveform displays occupy most of the Multitrack View's central area. You move the individual waveform blocks by right-clicking and dragging; you select regions by left-clicking and dragging.
Each display can also include rubber band-style volume and pan envelopes. In Edit Envelopes mode, clicking anywhere on the envelope lines creates a new grab handle for changing the envelope shape. To the left of each waveform, a Track Console provides fields and sliders for adjusting the overall level and pan settings. Three colored buttons let you mute, solo, and record-enable each track, and two other buttons afford quick access to each track's input and output hardware assignments.
Between the waveform displays and the toolbars, a narrow black strip graphically represents the total length of the session. A green Display Range bar within the strip indicates the currently visible part of the file (its size changes as you zoom in and out). Cool Edit Pro uses this bar in lieu of a horizontal scrollbar. You simply grab the green bar and drag it left or right to scroll quickly to a new location. Right-click dragging on the bar turns it into a variable zoom control-it's very cool. And speaking of zoom controls, six horizontal zooming buttons are located on a toolbar between the transport controls and the time display; vertical zoom buttons are on the far right. You can zoom in to the single-sample level, at which individual samples appear as small boxes on a line.
A large button in the upper left takes you to the Edit View screen, where you can perform more extensive audio-file editing. The Edit View looks much like the Multitrack View, except that only a single mono or stereo audio file occupies the central area. The file can appear in a traditional waveform display or in the colorful Spectrum View, which shows the waveform's harmonic content (see Fig. 2). Switching between screens is quick and easy.
Quartz Audio Pro 32. The user interface in Quartz Audio Pro 32 is not as intuitive as it could be, but the program is relatively easy to use once you understand its approach to multitrack manipulation. The main screen consists of three sections (see Fig. 3). The lower part of the screen, called the Mixing Grid, displays tracks and waveforms in the familiar multitrack format. The center section holds the transport controls, time and position displays, and buttons for various functions.
The upper view changes according to the operation. The Recording display, for example, includes a pair of nifty "mechanical-style" VU meters along with buttons and menus for setting recording parameters (see Fig. 4). The impressive Spatialisation display uses a 3-D grid to show the "positions" of your tracks (based on pan and volume settings) as they exist in their virtual environment. A simple Mixer screen provides the usual set of sliders, knobs, and buttons.
You begin a project by recording or importing audio files and adding them to the list in the Edit Elements display (the primary option for the interface's upper portion). In Edit Elements, you can view and edit each individual file's waveform. A colored bar beneath the waveform display graphically represents the entire sound file. Dragging through a section of the bar places that section in the display.
The program provides adjustable pan and volume envelopes, but only two break points are available for each, which limits you to three-segment envelopes. (You can create multisegment envelopes in the Mixer Grid, however, by using the Automation tool.) The Edit Elements display also lets you create a single loop segment by right- and left-clicking to set the starting and ending points. You can then adjust the loop points as the music plays.
Once you've made your preliminary edits (you can always change them later), the next step is to add the audio clip to the Mixing Grid. But rather than simply dragging the file from the Edit Elements display onto the Mixing Grid, you must first open the Toolbox palette and select the Insert (pencil) tool. Clicking in the Mixing Grid then adds the selected audio file at that location. You can also press the Insert key on your keyboard, and the clip will appear on the grid at the current position on the active track.
The Toolbox palette includes 12 waveform-editing tools, a number of which have confusing icons. The magnifying glass, for example, is not a zoom control-it's the Edit Element tool. The FX icon does not open a DSP window; it's the Multiple Element Insert tool. Labels for some but not all of the tools appear at the bottom of the screen, and not when you roll over the tools with the mouse. You have to select a tool (which closes the palette) to see what it does-not very helpful.
Quartz Audio Pro 32's user interface is enhanced by a certain amount of visual redundancy. For instance, when you double-click on a track name, a small set of controls called a mixer slice pops up at the head of the track. Pan and volume changes are clearly visible in the Mixer Slice and are also reflected in the track's waveform envelopes (in Automation mode). Above each track name, a blue band grows as the volume increases, and a small red mark moves left and right to indicate the current pan position. When the Spatialisation display is open, you can even view the changes on a 3-D grid. (More on this later.)
Both the Edit Elements display and the Mixing Grid provide a set of vertical and horizontal zoom controls that enable you to scan through the zoom levels by holding down the buttons. In the Mixing Grid, however, the "plus" and "minus" buttons are inconveniently located at opposite ends of the scrollbars. Neither control set lets you zoom in to the single-sample level.
Samplitude 2496. Most of Samplitude's multitrack activities occur in its Virtual Project (VIP) window, where tracks appear as waveforms against brightly colored backgrounds (see Fig. 5). Recordings and imported audio files are termed Hard Disk Projects (HDPs). You add the HDPs as Objects to the VIP window (performing destructive editing in a separate window beforehand if you wish). The Objects are simply representations of the original recordings, so you can add multiple copies to the VIP window and apply a variety of nondestructive processes to them. Objects can also represent RAM recordings and even MIDI files, and all the file types can appear together in a single VIP. MIDI tracks are indicated by a miniature multichannel piano-roll display instead of the usual waveform.
Samplitude offers a unique Comparisonics option that lets you render waveforms in variegated colors that depict the harmonic content of the sounds. This helps you pinpoint the subtle differences between similar sounds. A sophisticated Search algorithm can even locate sections with similar harmonic material.
To the left of the waveforms, each track has a set of peak-hold meters, sliders for controlling overall volume and pan, and mute, solo, and record-enable buttons. The L button locks the Object in the track to prevent horizontal movement. The V and P buttons activate a set of rubber band-style volume and pan envelopes with an unlimited number of grab handles; just double-click on the line where you need a break point. (The volume envelope is yellow, the pan envelope blue.) When the Custom Envelope function is active, the volume and pan sliders resize the envelopes without changing their shapes.
Each Object also has its own dedicated volume/fade envelope with five grab handles, one in each corner and the fifth at the top center. You can scale an Object's volume by dragging the center handle downward with the mouse. The waveform and its background shrink to show the changes, and a pop-up label shows the deviation in dB from the original level. To create a simple linear fade-in or fade-out, just drag the upper corner handles left or right. Drag the bottom two handles left or right to adjust the start and end times of the Object (change its borders). With all of these track and Object envelopes visible at once, the VIP window can look pretty busy, but fortunately the program makes it easy to view only the relevant envelopes.
Samplitude 2496 has several Mouse modes, but the default Universal Mouse Tool is the most useful. In this mode, the upper half of each track is designated as the Play Cursor and Range Manipulation area; the lower half is the Object Manipulation area. When you click in the lower half of an Object, the five grab handles appear, allowing you to change volume, fade settings, and Object borders as we just described. You can also drag the Object to a point elsewhere in the track or to another track. Clicking in the upper half of the Object lets you select a region for editing by dragging with the mouse. Although it's easy to get used to, this arrangement can be a bit confusing at first. For example, an Object with a reduced volume may appear below the track's midpoint. That forces you to select a region by dragging above the waveform display rather than inside it. Other Mouse modes restrict the mouse to specific actions (like selecting ranges or changing envelopes).
At the top and bottom of the VIP window, five toolbars offer easy access to a variety of functions and a surprising number of highly specific options. For example, well over a dozen zoom controls line the bottom of the window: horizontal zooming buttons are in red, vertical in blue. Zoom in and out to several levels of magnification, or fill the whole screen with the Project or a selected region (some of these controls are also in the scrollbar area). In addition, you can set the display level so that one pixel equals one sample. Not enough options? Four more buttons let you set the zoom level so that the screen width equals 1 second, 10 seconds, 1 minute, or 10 minutes. What's more, if you grab either side of the horizontal scrollbar slider and drag left or right, you can zoom smoothly through a wide range of levels.
If you suffer from chronic indecision, Samplitude's many choices may just send you over the edge. Those who take zooming seriously, however, will appreciate all the options. You can even zoom in so close that individual samples look like mammoth buildings against the horizon. But that's not all. Four Z buttons allow you to store and recall your favorite zoom settings, and four S buttons let you save and recall different screen-position/zoom-level combinations. With other buttons you can change Mouse modes, access editing functions, work with regions and Sections (alternate views), and open Samplitude's great-looking automated mixer with surround-sound 5.1 mixing-but not encoding-capability. (SEK'D sells a Dolby Digital encoder.) Fortunately, you can also hide any of the toolbars.
SAWPro. Based on Innovative Quality Software's popular SAWPlus32 design, SAWPro offers an improved user interface, many new features, and a slightly different approach to creating and editing multitrack projects. The main screen's default setup consists of a collection of windows that provide most of the primary tools you'll need in a typical session. Brightly colored pop-up sliders and 3-D buttons with deep shadows combine with clearly marked timelines to create a colorful and appealing look (see Fig. 6).
At the top of the screen, the MultiTrack View window displays a horizontal band for each of 32 tracks. Audio clips, called Entries, appear on the right; a set of buttons for each track appears on the left. Along with the usual solo and mute buttons, you get a fader button that brings up a graphic fader and pan control (much like the Mixer Slice in Quartz Audio Pro 32), an FX button that opens the Effects Patch Builder for adding effects to a track, and the Record button, which reveals a colorful recording window with peak-hold meters. Other buttons let you zoom in and out horizontally, set the sampling rate and resolution, change the editing mode, and show or hide the Entry waveforms.
SAWPro also provides 12 dedicated Output tracks that appear in a different color scheme below the standard tracks. They enable you to control fades, effects, and other settings you're sending to specific sound cards. A yellow FX button lets you add pre- or postfader 24-bit effects; a purple FX button allows you to add dither and postfader effects.
Clicking on a track activates it and gives it a white border; it is then called the Hot track. You can have only one Hot track at a time, and it is the only track you can edit. Clicking in a Hot track with the mouse sets the position of the MultiTrack View cursor. It establishes the start point for playback and recording as well as the location for various editing operations. For example, the MultiTrack View can show volume and pan envelopes (as in most multitrack programs), but you don't shape the envelopes with grab handles. Instead you position the MultiTrack View cursor where you would like a break point, and use the pop-up fader and pan control to change the setting at that spot. You then move the cursor to the next position and repeat the procedure. (Unfortunately, the envelopes are visible only when the fader control is onscreen.) Another cursor, Playback, scrolls through the waveforms during playback and recording to indicate the current playback position, so you'll often see two cursors showing at once.
In the center of the main screen, the SoundFile View window provides a close-up look at an individual mono or stereo waveform for trimming, editing, and marking of regions. Dragging left to right (but not right to left) through the Time Line display beneath the waveform selects an area for exporting to the Regions View window on the left. From there any region can be added to the current Hot track in the MultiTrack View window.
Located above the SoundFile View window, the Full View window serves as an overview display and shows the complete sound file with its own timeline. Left-clicking in this timeline jumps the SoundFile View to that location; right-clicking starts playback at that point. When you double-click an entry in the Regions View window, the corresponding region appears highlighted in both the SoundFile View and Full View windows.
The SoundFile View window supplies a single row of buttons. The yellow buttons let you zoom in and out horizontally, the red buttons zoom in and out vertically (the 0 dB button returns you to the original level), the blue buttons let you set region boundaries without dragging through the waveform, and the red button opens the same recording palette as in the MultiTrack View.
You might assume that the In Full button zooms you in as far as the program can go, but it really only brings you to the one-pixel-equals-one-sample level. SAWPro can actually zoom in much closer than that. In fact, with the Zoom In button you can view individual samples spread across the screen like beads on a string. You can then grab a single sample and drag it up or down with the mouse. (This is a destructive edit and can't be undone.)
At the bottom of the main screen, the Sequence View window lists the current Hot track's regions with their in and out locations and lengths. In the lower right the Remote Transport panel provides buttons for various playback functions.
If you're a fan of multiple toolbars, you may be disappointed by SAWPro's complete lack of icon-based tool palettes. Instead, the program relies heavily on keyboard-mouse combinations for most operations. Once you get accustomed to keeping one hand on the mouse and one hand on the keyboard, you can maneuver quickly through the program and easily switch from one editing mode to another. The program's speed is enhanced by the fact that it was "hand-coded" in 32-bit assembly language, which seems to yield a nimble yet stable work environment.
Nevertheless, SAWPro's emphasis on offering an intuitive user interface belies many of the program's most useful capabilities. For example, in the MultiTrack View window, if you click in the gray area to the right of any Record button, the Playback cursor snaps to the beginning of the session. Why not simply include a button so we know that this function is there? In a similar manner, buttons are provided for zooming tracks horizontally-but if you want to enlarge the tracks vertically, you have to use the Page Up and Page Down keys. (This function is not offered in any of the menus.) A few small vertical-zoom buttons in the scrollbar or next to the other zoom buttons might have come in handy.
In a few cases, SAWPro violates standard Windows user-interface guidelines, which may cause a bit of confusion at first. For instance, clicking in the gray area on either side of the horizontal scrollbar slider shoots you to the beginning or end of the session or sound file (depending on the window), instead of moving you one screen at a time as you might expect. The vertical scrollbar, on the other hand, works in a more traditional manner.
Overall, SAWPro is not especially difficult to learn; you simply have to spend some time getting acquainted with it, because many of the program's features are not immediately obvious. Once you learn the appropriate keystrokes, however, much of SAWPro's power becomes readily available.
Vegas Pro. After exploring Vegas Pro for only a few minutes, it quickly becomes apparent that Sonic Foundry has successfully tackled many of the user-interface issues that have long bedeviled other companies' multitrack editors. The result is one of the friendliest and most accessible programs around. True, Vegas Pro offers no destructive editing capabilities, which definitely simplifies things, and its remaining feature set is not as deep as some of the other programs in this group. But for working nondestructively with voice-overs, multitrack songs, multimedia, and video soundtracks, its ease of use is hard to beat.
The key to Vegas Pro's appeal is the direct nature of its interface, which shares many characteristics with another Sonic Foundry creation, Acid. Drag-and-drop functions abound, dialog boxes are kept to a minimum, and most basic editing tasks are performed directly onscreen without key combinations (although shortcuts are plentiful) or unnecessary steps.
For example, tracks can have their own Volume (blue) and Pan (red) envelopes, which are superimposed over the waveform displays in the Track View section of the main screen (see Fig. 7). Simply double-click anywhere on an envelope to create a grab handle, and drag to change the shape. Click and drag on any envelope segment, and you can change the level at that section. Click on any Event (audio clip or sound file) to select it, and you can drag it to another location or to any other track. (It then adopts the new track's color.) Click on an Event's left and right edges, and you can drag its borders to edit the playable start and end points. Drag its top edge down to lower the Event's amplitude. You can also select multiple Events and drag them around, combine Events into Groups, and copy Events and tracks. It's quick, easy, and intuitive.
Next to the waveforms in the Track View section, the Track List section provides separate Volume and Pan sliders and a "Scribble Strip" for naming each track; just double-click and type to change a name. A set of buttons for each track allows you to apply effects (noise gate, EQ, and compression), enable recording, select the output bus, and toggle the Solo and Mute functions. At the bottom of the Track List, a handy Scrub control lets you vary the playback rate and perform forward and reverse scrubbing.
The bottom of the main screen is occupied by the Window Docking Area, where you can deposit up to four frequently used editing windows for viewing and ready access. Simply open an available window, drag it to the Window Docking Area, and drop it into place. The docked windows are resizable to accommodate their individual display requirements, and if one window ends up covering another, a tab appears at the bottom of the window so you can switch between them.
One of the available windows is Vegas Pro Explorer, which emulates Microsoft's Windows Explorer. It offers a handy way to find and audition files (without leaving the program) for inclusion in the Track View. A dedicated Play button allows you to preview a file before adding it to your project-very useful.
The Video Preview window displays video files during playback, the Trimmer window lets you view and define ranges in the waveforms of individual Events before dragging and dropping them into the project, and the Mixer window provides individual level faders and VU meters for each output bus. Two other windows let you view Event information in list form and locate, organize, and rename plug-ins.
At the top of the main screen, a modest set of buttons gives you access to the most common commands and tools. Beneath the tools, the Video Ruler section displays an imported video file as a string of individual frames aligned with the waveforms below, similar to how AVI files are handled in Sound Forge. And just above the rather diminutive timeline, the Marker bar shows markers as red flags with attached labels.
Vertical and horizontal zoom buttons are provided in the Track View's scrollbars to cycle through several waveform zoom levels. You can also drag either end of the horizontal scrollbar slider for infinitely variable zooming through the full range. It works quite well and can get you up to the single-sample level. Aside from enlarging the Track View window overall, you can increase or decrease individual track heights to better display the Track List controls or to get a clearer view of important waveforms and how they correlate to the envelopes.
WaveLab. WaveLab has been around as a stereo editor for several years, and during that time it has matured into one of the most powerful editors on the market. With the introduction of version 3.0, however, the program has taken a quantum leap into the world of multitrack audio, and the result is truly impressive. WaveLab's user interface boasts a level of flexibility and versatility that is seldom seen in audio software, yet the program retains an intuitive look and feel that makes it approachable in spite of its depth.
Nevertheless, WaveLab lacks a few important track-related features that many of the other multitrack editors offer, because it operates within a somewhat different paradigm for handling recordings. Its main multitrack window is called Audio Montage to reflect this difference. It is here that you assemble and edit individual audio clips and apply effects processing and crossfade functions, do CD burning preparation, and perform other operations (see Fig. 8). Steinberg is quick to point out, however, that Audio Montage "is not a multitrack tape-machine emulator" but is more like a "workbench for assembling audio pieces." As such, it does not come with a mixer window, nor does it offer the track-oriented volume and pan envelopes and faders found in most other programs. (It does provide Volume and Pan envelopes for each separate audio clip, though.)
You can record directly into a track in the Audio Montage window where new recordings appear as clips, but most of the time you'll probably begin a project in the Wave window. Imported or recorded files can be examined and edited in great detail in the Wave window before you drag and drop them into a track in the Audio Montage. Both windows use the same sets of toolbars and most of the same interface design features; instead of the track area, however, the Wave window provides a large waveform display with an overview (see Fig. 9).
WaveLab offers several excellent ways to manage windows. For example, you can edit the same audio file in more than one Wave window by simply selecting the Duplicate View command or by dragging with the mouse to create a box for the new window. You can then edit different areas of the waveform without scrolling back and forth. Individual window settings can also be saved as Snapshots, so you can quickly switch between various views of a file. In addition, different Screen Layouts that preserve the size and placement of windows and dialog boxes can be stored for later recall. And WaveLab's use of nonmodal dialog boxes improves efficiency by allowing you to audition or edit files even when a dialog box is onscreen.
WaveLab's dedication to interface customization is further exemplified in its six toolbars, which appear initially at the top of the window. The toolbars can be rearranged, docked to any window edge, or converted into resizable floating palettes. The six toolbars are the Switcher, for showing or hiding the other toolbars; the Standard Commands, for quick access to common menu items; the Toolbox, for changing the cursor when performing various operations; the Snapshot toolbar, for recalling different window settings; the Transport, for recording and playback controls; and the Marker toolbar, for marker-related activities.
At the bottom of the window the narrow Status bar provides information about the current file as well as current editing activity. Just above the Status bar, a set of tabs-the Document Switch bar-lets you quickly switch to another Wave window or to the Audio Montage window if it's covered up. As you might expect, you can hide the tabs or move them to the top or sides of the window.
If you're using a Microsoft Intellimouse or a compatible input device, you'll really appreciate WaveLab's extensive support for the scroll wheel. Just point to a waveform and you can scroll horizontally through the window by rolling the wheel. Hold down the Control key, and the wheel zooms the waveform horizontally; Control-Shift zooms it vertically. Point to an edit field, and the wheel can be used to change the value. And perhaps best of all, in the Master Section window you can use the wheel to adjust the Master volume faders in 1 or 6 dB increments. Hold down the Alt key, and you can even adjust the faders when another window is active. It works like a charm!
Zooming with the Intellimouse is actually only one of many zoom options offered by WaveLab. For starters, the scrollbars in the Overview and main waveform displays have their own independent sets of vertical and horizontal zoom sliders. You can drag with the mouse to change levels quickly, click anywhere on the scale to jump to that level, or click on the small arrows to step through the settings, from full-out to the single-sample levels.
As an alternative, you can simply place the cursor in the ruler area over the main waveform display and drag up or down with the mouse. (It works in the Overview as well.) With this approach, you can still drag the cursor horizontally through the waveform to scroll along and locate edit points while continually zooming in and out to examine points along the way. This is a clever and very cool feature that works quite smoothly.
For another approach to zooming, you can use the Magnifying Glass tool. Drag a selection box around any part of the main waveform or Overview, and WaveLab zooms in on that area and fills the main display with it. Moving the cursor into the Overview activates the tool automatically. A striped line beneath the Overview waveform shows which part of the audio file is currently visible in the main display.
The same zooming options are available in the Audio Montage window, where the main display is taken over by a multitrack view containing clips. Small magnifying-glass buttons in the vertical scrollbar let you change the track heights to get a better look at clips or to squeeze more tracks onto the screen.
The Audio Montage Overview shows the locations and relative lengths of the clips with color-coded bars that match the clip colors below. The Track View rectangle that appears in the Overview indicates which part of the project is currently visible in the Audio Montage. You can zoom in or out on a project by simply resizing the rectangle with the mouse. As in the Wave window, you can save different views and zoom levels with the Snapshot tool.
Clips can be lengthened, shortened, copied, repositioned, and dragged around from track to track without the need for keyboard combinations. This is accomplished through the use of six Mouse Zones, areas within a clip that determine how the cursor functions. (They're similar to the Universal Mouse Tool mode in Samplitude.) For example, dragging on the left or right edge lengthens or shortens the clip (exposes more or less of the sound file for playback); dragging in the lower half moves the clip; dragging in the upper half makes a selection. The Info Line at the bottom of the display lets you know which is the current function.
Each clip also has rubber band-style volume and pan envelopes that let you add as many grab handles as you want. And you can mute individual clips to try out different arrangements without making a commitment.
Above the Overview, a row of tabs lets you replace the Overview display with any of a dozen options including a specialized Zoom View for working with crossfades; lists of files, markers, CD tracks, clips, and snapshots; a random-access edit history; a colorful peak-hold frequency-spectrum display; and a sophisticated set of multifunction output meters with a companion Phase meter (see Fig. 10).
ON THE MOVEBeing able to move easily through an audio file or multitrack project is something that all musicians can appreciate. Not only does quick navigation offer huge time savings, but you'll feel more comfortable trying out different editing options if you can go back and forth to different locations without getting lost in the waveforms or losing your creative energy.
In this section, we'll take a look at several features that each program offers to help you find your way around and get you where you need to go. These include scrubbing, markers, transport controls, shortcuts, and various playback options.
Cool Edit Pro. Cool Edit Pro's ten Transport controls are available on both the Multitrack View and Edit View screens. Aside from the usual Stop, Play, Pause, and Record buttons, the program includes Go to Beginning, Go to End, and Play to End controls. A Play Looped button loops a selected region or the entire session. Cool Edit Pro lacks a dedicated scrub control or jog/shuttle wheel, but it provides some of those capabilities through its Fast Forward and Rewind controls. They shuttle the cursor forward or backward at a user-defined speed from two to eight times normal. In the Edit View screen you can listen to the audio as you scan through it. A separate jog/ shuttle wheel would be a welcome improvement, however.
In addition to the main transport controls, Cool Edit Pro also provides a complete set of CD transport controls, so you can play audio CDs from within the program. That can be quite handy when you're importing sound effects and music for a session. Cool Edit Pro doesn't allow you to insert labeled markers in the waveform display, but it does support saving selections and cursor positions in its Cue List. (Region boundaries and locations from the Cue List are marked in the waveform display.) You can then name the entries and return to any one by double-clicking on the name.
In addition to its customizable toolbars, Cool Edit Pro provides access to its myriad commands and menu items through hundreds of keyboard shortcuts and MIDI triggers. The Keyboard Shortcuts dialog box can also be used to create your own QWERTY or MIDI assignments.
Quartz Audio Pro 32. Most of the transport controls in Quartz Audio Pro 32 are grouped in the Transport and Status display just above the Mixing Grid. The Status indicator on the left shows the functions (Play, Loop, Record, Solo, and so on) that are currently active. A set of Fast Forward and Rewind buttons rapidly scroll the playback cursor or move it in steps. If you click on the small elapsed-time display under the Status indicator, it opens a menu that lets you jump to one of several locations, such as the start or end of the Project. (The 0 key on the numeric keypad serves as a return-to-zero button.) The Edit Elements display provides its own set of playback controls, including a similar pop-up menu.
In the center of the Transport and Status display, an excellent jog/shuttle wheel lets you smoothly scrub the audio in a single track or the entire multitrack mix. The remaining buttons are used to toggle between various clock, sync, automation, and display options.
Each Project in Quartz Audio Pro 32 can have up to 32 markers, which appear chronologically in the Markers display. A dialog box lets you name each marker, assign it a keyboard shortcut for quick access, and add several lines of comments (in your choice of fonts). You can add markers at any cursor location or drop them in on the fly. When you select a marker in the Marker display, the cursor in the Mixing Grid jumps to that position. Unfortunately, the markers don't appear in the Mixing Grid, so you don't get a graphic view of their locations. As mentioned earlier, Quartz Audio Pro 32's looping capability is limited to a single loop.
Quartz Audio Pro 32 supports a large number of keyboard shortcuts for menu items, zoom levels, tools, and transport controls. In addition, you can use an external MIDI device to trigger playback functions.
Samplitude 2496. Samplitude's main transport controls reside in a dedicated, resizable Transport window with Play (forward and reverse), Fast Forward, Rewind, Record, and Return to Zero buttons. The toolbar at the top of the VIP window also offers Play Once, Play Loop, and Play into Loop buttons. (You can easily create loops with or without crossfades using the Build Loop Object command.) Other toolbar buttons are for accessing punch-in recording functions, grouping and ungrouping Objects, toggling the Auto Crossfade function, and playing to and from edit points.
Samplitude doesn't provide an onscreen jog/shuttle wheel, but its scrubbing feature is always close at hand. Just hold down 0 on the numeric keypad, and the pointer turns into a double-headed arrow and snaps to the center of the screen or to the current cursor position (depending on your settings). The farther you drag the arrow cursor in either direction from its starting position, the faster the playback in forward or reverse. Surprisingly, there's no button in Samplitude's toolbars to activate scrubbing, and although the feature works quite well, it's a bit cumbersome to use two hands for the task. A Varipitch function is also offered as a playback option. It lets you change pitch and speed together (as on a tape deck) in a forward or backward direction.
Samplitude's marker functions are extensive and nicely implemented. You can add up to ten markers with simple numeric key combinations during playback or when playback is stopped; the marker numbers appear in the VIP window above the waveforms. You can change a marker's location by dragging it to a new position, and you can recall it by simply pressing its corresponding number key during playback or when the music is stopped. Marked regions are handled similarly and recalled with function keys.
You can also drop in non-numeric markers and label them with text, in a dialog box that lets you recall markers from a marker manager. The Marker on Range Border option places S and E markers at the start and end of a selected range. (You can move and rename them if you like.) A Set Markers on Silence command places markers at silent sections of the waveform (based on your Threshold and Minimum Time settings).
Samplitude 2496 supports user-defined QWERTY keyboard shortcuts for any of its menu items. The Edit Keyboard Shortcuts dialog box provides a list of commands and lets you assign available keyboard combinations. (MIDI control will be discussed later.)
SAWPro. SAWPro's Remote Transport window provides the program's main set of playback controls. The floating window is designed to remain visible even when SAWPro is hidden with the H/S (Hide/Show) button; the TL (Top Latch) button connects the Remote Transport window to other windows with H/S buttons. These buttons allow you to hide SAWPro while working with other programs and still access the essential playback and navigation functions.
The B and E buttons let you jump to the beginning or end of a marked region, and the T/S (Time/Samples) button toggles the display units. The Z (Return to Zero) button snaps the cursor to the start of a sound file or multitrack session after playback is stopped. This button also serves as a "relative" zero-position control when you press the Shift key with it. It lets you establish a new zero position anywhere in the waveform or session; the Current Time display doesn't start counting until playback reaches the new position.
The small slider in the lower right corner acts as a fast-forward/rewind control when playback is stopped, and the Auto button toggles on and off the Auto-Rewind function. The remaining buttons let you play a marked area once or loop a marked area. (You can also lead into a marked area and then loop it.)
Using the Remote Transport window is not the only way to play sound files, though; right-clicking in the Full View or SoundFile View windows also initiates playback from the current cursor position. As the music plays, you can left-click anywhere in the waveform to snap playback to a new location, which makes it easy to find your way around a long file, and it nicely complements the program's scrubbing feature.
SAWPro's Loop Scrub mode is similar to the Auto Event Locator feature in Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge. (Tape-style scrubbing is not offered.) The program loops a very short segment of audio as you drag slowly back and forth through the waveform. It works quite well at the default loop size, but you can fine-tune the loop length in increments as you scrub by hitting the Up and Down arrow keys. (You can also change the zoom level while scrubbing is active.)
SAWPro's implementation of markers is not extensive, but the Markers View window does offer some handy features. You can drop in markers during playback or at the current cursor location when stopped. Markers don't appear in the waveform displays; they're simply listed in the Markers View window where they can be named and relocated if necessary. Two buttons let you designate a pair of markers as Marker 1 and Marker 2 and then view the elapsed time between them-a very handy tool.
SAWPro makes extensive use of keyboard shortcuts, most of which are preassigned. Many of the commands are not duplicated onscreen or in menus. You can also save up to 12 different screen views and assign them to function keys for easy recall.
Vegas Pro. Vegas Pro's transport bar is a bit small, but it offers an excellent set of controls for moving around in a project. You can play back from the current cursor position or from the beginning of the project (return to zero), you can jump to the end or the beginning, and you can continuously loop a selected region. The Skip Forward and Skip Backward buttons snap the cursor to the next grid increment. To the left of the toolbar, the Scrub control provides tape-style scrubbing with a separate Play Speed control to set the "normal" playback speed.
Of course, keyboard equivalents are also provided, and they're included in the pop-up labels that appear as you roll over the buttons. In fact, Vegas provides keyboard shortcuts for most of its activities that are preassigned and can't be changed. You can, however, customize the toolbar by adding or removing buttons. For example, you can add a second set of transport controls (in any order), if you like.
Vegas Pro's marker implementation is very intuitive yet surprisingly powerful. You can drop markers on the fly during playback or at the current cursor position when stopped. A marker appears as a red flag above the timeline, and you can drag it to any location. Right-clicking on the flag brings up a menu that lets you label the marker; the marker's label (which can be several words long) appears next to the flag and in the Markers List display.
Markers can also be used to define region boundaries (the flags appear in green), which are labeled in the same way. The labels, along with region start and end times, appear in the Regions List display. If the cursor is offscreen, you can easily jump it to any marker by right-clicking on the marker's flag and choosing Go To.
For those who work with multimedia, Vegas Pro offers a third type of marker, designed for use with streaming media and HTML layouts. Command markers appear with blue flags in the Command Ruler above the other markers. They are used to display headlines, captions, Web site links, copyright notices, and other functions that are intended for the final streaming-media files.
WaveLab. WaveLab offers a comprehensive set of navigational tools that extends the program's overall versatility. The transport controls reside on the transport toolbar, which you can reposition or convert into a floating palette. The toolbar includes all the usual suspects like Play, Record, Rewind, Fast Forward, and Return to Zero. A handy Start Point button pops up a menu that lets you specify where playback is to begin when you click the Play button. Among the ten options are starting from the cursor, from a marker, from the side of the window, and from a selection.
A Stop Point/Loop button offers some similar options along with options that affect the neighboring Loop Switch (used to toggle looping on and off). WaveLab lets you loop the entire file, a selected region, or a marked area. It also supports nested loops and is well suited to working with samplers.
In the center of the transport toolbar, a handy jog/shuttle button enables WaveLab's two scrubbing options. With the button active, clicking in the upper part of the display initiates tape-style scrubbing where you drag the waveform past a fixed point; clicking in the lower part provides the more common shuttle-style scrubbing.
You can also jump over specified areas during playback by adding Mute markers or Mute regions and then clicking the Skip button. It's a good way to try out variations without actually editing anything. As an alternative to the Play button on the transport toolbar, you can also use the Play tool in the Toolbox. When it's active, playback begins wherever you click in the waveform. This tool is great for locating edit points, because you can click repeatedly as you adjust the mouse position; in many cases it works better than scrubbing.
WaveLab's implementation of markers is excellent and intuitive. You can insert more than a half-dozen types of markers to perform such services as marking cursor locations, selecting or muting regions, defining CD tracks, and looping. You can also add temporary markers that aren't saved with the file. Markers can be added at the current cursor location or during playback or recording. They appear in the Wave or Audio Montage window with a small triangle that you can drag to a new location. Markers appear in the Markers List display, where they can be named and selected.
WaveLab has a large number of preassigned keyboard shortcuts to help speed editing operations. It also lets you define several of your own shortcuts, for a variety of functions, in the Key Commands dialog box.
COLLECTION BOXWhere's your music headed? Are your eyes on the Internet, are you doing music for the media, or is there a small plastic disc in your life that you would like to share with the world? In this section we'll look at the file formats that each program supports and also grapple with the fundamental task of recording audio into each program. There are some vast differences among the contenders in this category, so look closely at what each has to offer.
Cool Edit Pro. Cool Edit Pro's recording options are as straightforward as any of the programs covered. In the Edit View screen, a one-button record feature gets audio flowing to your drive instantly, or, if you prefer, you can establish some conditions in advance of recording using the Record Time dialog box. For example, you can set a limit on the duration of recording or use the Auto-start feature to trigger recording at a particular point in the future.
Additional options appear in the Multitrack window, such as one-click access to all input devices on your system and, of course, the ability to record onto multiple tracks simultaneously. You can also record multiple takes while punching in; the takes appear in a Take History list, but you'll need to try each one in the mix before making your choice, since you can't preview them directly from the list. If you have data already recorded on your drive, you can drag and drop files from an Explorer window to either the Edit View or Multitrack View screens. It's also easy to move files between the two main work areas.
Cool Edit Pro supports an extensive number of file formats-but several of them are nearly obsolete (Turtle Beach SampleVision format, for example), and the all-important MP3 format is available only with a $29 plug-in option. Still, for many musicians it's very handy to be able to create files for formats outside of the traditional pro-audio world. (Numerous broadcast formats are especially well supported.) Cool Edit Pro is also the only program to support sampling rates beyond 96 kHz.
Quartz Audio Pro 32. Quartz Audio Pro 32 supports fewer file formats than most of the other programs. In fact, it reads only AIFF and WAV files at a resolution of up to 16 bits at 44.1 kHz and can write only CD-quality WAV and compressed ADPCM formats. It is smart enough, however, to automatically create a new version of a file at its current "working" sample rate if you attempt to load a file of another rate from your hard disk. This allows you to mix files of different sample rates in the same project.
Pressing the Record button opens the Recording display, which offers a number of options, including splitting stereo recordings into mono tracks, enabling and disabling playback of existing tracks when recording, and pausing a recording (see Fig. 4). You can also modify the record-buffer size directly from the Recording display, which is a convenient option, but like many other dialogs, you can't enter a value for the buffer size by typing; instead, you must select from a long list of choices (from 50 to 200 ms in 10 ms increments).
After you make a recording, you have several options. You can insert it directly onto a track in the Mixing Grid or use the Save option to send it to your hard drive and to the Records list (similar to the Take list in some other programs). From the Records list, the audio can be sent directly to the Mixing Grid or edited using the various trimming, volume, and pan adjustments that the program provides. This system is logical enough, but it isn't really optimized for creating multiple takes or retakes, primarily because you have to name and save each take before moving on to the next.
Samplitude 2496. Like many aspects of the program, Samplitude's recording options are highly configurable. There are two basic recording modes, one that writes your files directly to disk and the other that stores them in RAM. Other options allow you to record onto any number of tracks simultaneously and determine whether data is captured in 16-bit linear or 32-bit floating-point format (32-bit files can be dithered down to 16 or 24 bits after the fact.) There are also many ways to conserve resources while recording, such as turning off waveform drawing, disabling monitoring, and turning off the playback of existing tracks.
One-button punch-in on the fly and predefining a punch-in region using markers are both supported in Samplitude. Performing retakes is easy, and the Looped punch-in feature is as good as it gets: define a region, press Punch-in Record, and do as many takes as you want. Then simply pick your preferred take from the Take Manager and insert it into your file. Not only can you preview the takes in the Take Manager, but you can even choose to have a new Project window created automatically with each take positioned on a new track. That allows you, for example, to play every part in your composition in succession and build a mix simultaneously in just a few steps.
Samplitude's real-time sample-rate conversion is useful for many purposes; for example, if you have a DAT or other media recorded at 48 kHz and your current Project is headed for CD. You can even pass audio directly "through" the program to another device while converting, without writing anything to disk. (This feature, called Live Mode, will be detailed later.) Markers can be dropped in while recording, and both AVI and MIDI files can be triggered to play back as you record. That's a great option if you're performing a live soundtrack or need to use some MIDI tracks as a timing reference while you play.
Samplitude supports numerous file formats and would be suitable for projects headed in many directions. In addition to reading and writing WAV and AIFF formats, you can load MP3 and Windows Media Audio (WMA) files directly into a Project. (To encode a file as MP3, you must have an encoder installed on your system.) You can also extract audio from an AVI file and load MIDI files onto a track. (MIDI editing features will be discussed later.) As its name implies, files of resolutions up to 24 bits and 96 kHz are supported.
SAWPro. SAWPro's flexible recording options allow you to record directly into either of its main work areas. Clicking on the Rec button in either the MultiTrack or SoundFile Views brings up the Record Remote Transport window, in which you can set a number of different parameters (see Fig. 11). In addition to selecting standard options such as sample rate and bit depth, you can quickly scan to see how much space is remaining on any of your drives or adjust the input level before recording begins. You will need to name and save the new file before recording, but if you choose not to keep your takes, the file disappears.
Takes are added to the Regions list if you keep them and also appear in the MultiTrack View if you began your recording there. (SAWPro automatically numbers the takes, saving you that step.) And even after doing several takes, you can bail out by pressing the All button, which kills everything you've done up to that point in the session but keeps the Record window open so you can give it another go.
If you're recording from an MDM such as a Tascam DA-88 or ADAT, you'll appreciate the MultiChannel record mode that lets you assign inputs and outputs for each track independently. This mode is very flexible: you only have to supply one file name, and SAWPro appends a card and channel identifier to all the files it creates (for example, newage_card3_R.wav). A meter appears for every track you're recording onto, and an input fader also becomes accessible. You can reassign any input channel to a new track by simply using the Track list that appears when you click at the top of the meter (this isn't possible while recording), and there's no problem performing multiple takes in this mode.
SAWPro is also adept at loading WAV files into its work areas directly off your hard drive, and it's happy to incorporate formats up to 24/96. When converting a mix into a stereo file on your drive, it offers three types of dither, and using a free third-party plug-in it supports MP3 output in addition to WAV format.
Vegas Pro. Vegas Pro's recording features are found exclusively in its Track View window. You begin recording by arming one or more tracks and then hitting the Record button. There aren't any record-triggering options, nor is there an option to pause recording, but it's easy to punch in or perform retakes, which we'll cover in a moment. A unique recording source for each track can be selected directly on the track's control area; otherwise, recording defaults to the global input device you've specified in the Preferences dialog box. You can also select whether to record the left, right, or both channels of the input to your card.
Punching in is simple: highlight the region you want to punch in by dragging with the mouse, or select an entire Event by clicking on it. Position the Selection bar to cover the range before and after you want recording to occur, then hit Record, and you're off. If you want to do multiple takes, press the Loop button before recording, and Vegas Pro rewinds to the preroll point and continues to record takes until you click on Stop (or press the Spacebar). You can then access and preview your takes from the Take manager.
Vegas Pro provides several helpful options for loading files from your drive. For example, if you've selected several files from a directory for inserting into a project, you can choose to drop each one onto a separate track, insert them all sequentially on the same track, or even overlay them at the same point in time as discrete takes. The command to determine which of these options is used pops up with a right-button mouse-click, which means you don't have to decide which you want until your cursor is positioned on the Track View. In other words, you're not locked into an "insertion mode" from which you have to back out if you change your mind.
When it comes to file formats, Vegas Pro has you covered. You can load popular audio formats such as WAV, AIFF, and MP3, or extract the audio from a QuickTime or AVI file, and you can save in even more formats, including WMA and RealNetworks G2. (MP3 encoding is available via an optional plug-in.) You can even use multiple file formats with different sample rates and resolutions in the same project or on the same track.
WaveLab. WaveLab's Record dialog box offers a host of triggering options that are well suited to unattended recording. For example, there's an option to set a volume threshold above which recording starts and below which it stops automatically, as well as an autostart feature for setting a time at which recording begins. You can specify a finite recording duration and pause recording, and, if you want, WaveLab will even drop a marker automatically if the level of your source falls below a predetermined threshold for some length of time.
Here's a unique twist: a continuous recording can be split into multiple files automatically. Just designate what the maximum size or length of each separate file should be, and WaveLab automatically creates a new file every time you exceed the limit. And if you are a visual sort of person, you can choose to display a real-time spectrum analysis of the incoming audio as opposed to the default level meters.
Recording on multiple tracks simultaneously isn't possible in WaveLab. The only new option that appears when you enable recording in the Audio Montage window is the recording of audio into an existing track. This is a fairly significant deficiency for those who want to use WaveLab like a multitrack recorder. Fortunately, it's very easy to move files from the Wave area to the Audio Montage screen.
WaveLab loads files of many different formats, including WAV, AIFF, and MP3. From the Wave window, it can read and write Next (AU) and Sun (SND) formats, as well as Ensoniq Paris (PAF) files, but in the Audio Montage window, you can save projects only in WAV or MP3 format (an encoder is built-in). WAV files of up to 32 bits can be employed (up to 24 bits for most other formats), and even if your sound card doesn't support formats above 16 bits, you can still open and edit high-resolution files.
WaveLab also has a special mode called "dual mono" that is especially useful if you work with files created on the Macintosh. Many Mac audio programs split stereo files into two associated mono files, and during editing WaveLab lets you choose whether these are merged into a single stereo file or preserved as mono files. Even if you choose to merge them into a stereo file for editing, you can save them as mono files when you're done.
COMMAND PERFORMANCEFor most people, the main function of a multitrack editor is the ability to precisely edit and mix multiple layers of audio. Any of these programs will do the job admirably. Even the program with the fewest tracks, SAWPro, checking in with 32, should be more than adequate for nearly any project, and of course if real-time, multitrack playback starts to overload your system, you can simply bounce down tracks in any of the programs and continue to build your mix.
Now we'll look at the various editing and mixing options each program provides, as well as laying out other important considerations such as the number of tracks you'll have available. Some of the programs are very deep in this category, and we'll try to give a good picture of what's in the toolshed.
Cool Edit Pro. Cool Edit Pro offers a host of tools for tweaking your data. Traditional cut, copy, and paste options are available in the Edit View screen, where you'll also find less familiar features such as loop pasting, which can repeatedly paste data directly from a file on your hard drive into the current file. Bordering on the special effects category is the ability to "modulate" the current waveform by the data in the Clipboard. This effect produces ring modulation but lacks parameters to control the modulator directly. (Other modulation effects can be found elsewhere in the program.)
In the Multitrack View you can drag blocks of data around on the screen or enter an exact start point for a block using a text-entry dialog box. You'll also find a handy option in the ability to autoalign start times of blocks on different tracks. As mentioned earlier, you can adjust volume and pan settings for individual blocks as well as for an entire track, but there's no dedicated mixer display for quickly adjusting the levels on all tracks. There is a global volume control, though it's hardly noticeable tucked away in the upper left corner of the screen.
You can "link" data that's copied in the Multitrack View to the original or you can make "unique" copies of the data. (Linked copies reflect any changes made to the original, while unique copies do not). Splicing or merging (combining) blocks is easy, and various types of multitrack edits, such as cutting data from multiple blocks on different tracks, can be a real time-saver.
Cool Edit Pro offers 64 tracks of audio for your projects and allows you to route them to up to 16 physical audio channels. A track can contain either mono or stereo data, and the program uses "background mixing" to continuously create a stereo mix of all your tracks. This keeps the mix updated and ready to play, though you'll notice a very minor delay when performing operations such as cuts and pastes in the Multitrack View. Background mixing also ensures reliable track throughput, even on slower systems.
Like the other programs, Cool Edit Pro offers unlimited Undo, but be sure you remember to enable this option as there's no message warning you that it's disabled when you make a change. (Undo is on by default.) You can also use the Revert to Saved feature if you've made a large number of changes and want to restore the original version of your file.
Quartz Audio Pro 32. Quartz Audio Pro 32's Mixing Grid provides 128 virtual tracks and supports up to eight physical outputs. To ensure acceptable performance on different systems, three play modes are offered, one of which, for example, lowers the playback resolution of your audio to 8 bits to increase the number of tracks you hear at once. This option is also available during recording. (You can bounce all tracks down to disk at full resolution once the project is complete.)
As with the other programs, you build a mix in Quartz Audio Pro 32 by loading an audio file from your drive (or recording a new file), then selecting the portion you wish to use. As mentioned earlier, you can adjust the volume and pan levels of the data before or after you send it to the Mixing Grid. One very handy option is an automated mixdown feature that mixes all or selected tracks and creates a new project with the new bounced track loaded and ready to edit. The program automatically reapplies any effect that was previously assigned to the track the new file is placed on, so remember to disable this effect after you do the mixdown.
In addition to dragging segments of data around on the screen, a text-based playlist allows you to set start times of Events with 0.01-second resolution and also gives you quick access to level and pan-adjustment windows. Yet another list can be used to "sequence" volume and pan adjustments. Like the Event list of many sequencers, the Automation list presents an overview of Event start points and allows you to edit their individual pan and volume levels directly. You can also set the start points of Events onscreen using the Move command, which provides similarly high-precision values, or use the Align command to left- or right-justify Events, or separate them by some amount (for example, automatically position any number of Events to start exactly 2 seconds apart).
Quartz Audio Pro 32's Spatialisation display (see Fig. 12) is unique among these programs and offers an intuitive way to set the stereo position and level of tracks. This three-dimensional grid represents each track as a small sphere and allows you to move the spheres around, with left/right movements representing pan and forward/backward movements representing volume. The Rapid Positioning tool moves the spheres to the extremes of the parameters, and the Transform command applies a process that you've designed (such as a fade or pan curve) to multiple Events simultaneously. During playback, you can watch the balls jump around in response to automated pan and volume changes in each track. It's very handy indeed. A traditional Mixer display, which allows groupings of up to 8 tracks, is also on hand for those who prefer more traditional pan and level controls.
Samplitude 2496. Samplitude offers numerous variations on the ubiquitous cut, copy, and paste commands, such as cutting audio and leaving a gap, cutting and filling in the gap, pasting over a section, pasting and mixing data, and trimming (cropping). Not every option is available in both the VIP and HDP (or RAP) screens, however. For the most part, the edits you perform in a VIP window are nondestructive; those that you do in an HDP or RAP window are destructive. (The impact of effects processing will be covered in a moment.) However, there's a new Undo option that you can enable for HDP and RAP edits if you wish.
A number of dedicated editing windows provide tremendous capability for fine-tuning your material. The Crossfade Editor window, for example, provides access to powerful tools for shaping customized fades, and, of course, the fade-out and fade-in segments can be edited independently. (You can also manipulate crossfades by moving Objects directly on screen.) Every Object also has an associated Object Editor, which gives you a screenful of parameters that affect its playback. Here you can use graphic controls to create fade-ins and fade-outs, adjust volume and pan levels, normalize the Object, and apply a DirectX plug-in. You can also tweak the EQ level and dynamics-processing values, or access advanced controls for these and other functions. Relevant changes you make in the Object Editor are reflected in the Waveform view, and are independent of track-level parameters you set in the Mixer. (More on the Mixer in a moment.)
In the main Project window, you'll find numerous options for editing multiple Objects simultaneously. As with a sequencer, you can move Objects onscreen using various "quantized" distances. For example, by setting the Step Width parameter to 100 samples (other increments are beats/bar, milliseconds, and SMPTE time), you can bump the start time of one or more Objects exactly that amount. You can also group Objects and perform many different types of operations on the group, from changing the color of the waveform display to adjusting the volume and pan settings.
Samplitude supports an unlimited number of virtual tracks, and the manufacturer claims that a new, optimized audio engine in version 5.5 offers far greater track throughput than earlier versions. (We weren't able to make definitive comparisons.) The large Mixer window adapts to reflect the number of tracks you have in your current Project, and each Mixer strip includes controls for Aux 1 and 2 amounts, Delay and Reverb, Dynamics, EQ, and Pan, as well as Mute/Solo buttons and a button to toggle channel automation (see Fig. 13). This is a truly user-friendly interface.
A 5.1 surround sound-mixer mode can be toggled on and off with the click of a button, and a dedicated, graphic surround-panning module appears when you press the Pan button associated with any surround channel. You can draw panning automation with your mouse or with a joystick if you have one, and you can adjust the position of the speakers if your own 5.1 setup is a nonstandard configuration. Additional windows let you modify the sound field, and you can specify the crossover frequency for an LFE using the aptly named 5.1 Surround LFE Channel Master FFT Filter window (see Fig. 14).
SAWPro. SAWPro has one of the most versatile mixing environments you're likely to find. Like in the other programs, most sessions begin by loading or recording files into the stereo SoundFile View, defining the regions you want to keep, then adding regions to the MultiTrack View window. In the MultiTrack View, you assemble material on 32 virtual tracks, create volume and pan settings using any of several methods, then apply internal or third-party effects. Overall, the process is straightforward, and SAWPro has numerous options that make the job easy.
You can define a region in several ways; for example, by marking its beginning and end with keyboard shortcuts (B and E, respectively), pressing Shift-N to name it, then adding it to the Regions View window. You can also click the left and right mouse buttons simultaneously to access a dialog box where you name and add the region, or you can simply hold down the Shift key and click once on the region with the mouse to automatically add it to the list. Using this last method, you can then move directly to the MultiTrack View window and insert the region with a single click. This type of flexibility allows you to accomplish tasks in the way that suits you best.
Once your regions are in the MultiTrack View window, it's easy to manipulate a single region or multiple regions simultaneously. Here again you'll find lots of shortcuts, such as using the End key to select all regions to the right of the cursor or using a single keyboard command to realign all tracks into their original order. And speaking of aligning, you can autoalign the start times of regions on different tracks with yet another simple command.
In addition to assembling the regions in your project, you use the MultiTrack View to control pan and volume. Though settings are created using a fader (as opposed to drawing directly on the screen), you can actually move volume and pan data around independent of the audio it affects. You could even create a complex pan curve, copy it, and use it elsewhere in your mix.
Attention to detail is apparent throughout the program, such as in the ability to adjust the resolution of the volume and pan changes you make or modify the increments used by faders. Though there's no dedicated mixer, you can open or close faders for all tracks with a single key-click combination. Unfortunately, once all the faders are onscreen, there's no way to adjust their placement automatically. (They appear stacked on top of one another.) There's also no dedicated global fader, although you can achieve the same effect by setting the levels on SAWPro's Output tracks, to which all tracks in the mix are routed.
Vegas Pro. In Vegas Pro you assemble a mix primarily by moving Events with your mouse in the Track View window. Though you won't find an abundance of tools for positioning Events, such as nudging them one sample to the left or right, it's easy to make very precise edits nonetheless. For example, it's no trouble to create a crossfade that begins on the sixth sample from the beginning of a file or build a fade-in over a ten-sample range.
Speaking of crossfades, Vegas Pro has an Automatic Crossfade mode that builds a crossfade any time two Events overlap. Once the crossfade is created, you can choose from among nine different fade types. Vegas Pro also offers several Paste functions that make assembling a project easier. Once you've copied data to the Clipboard, you can paste it repeatedly using either the End to End option, which lines up the successive segments with no gap, or the Even Spacing command, which lets you specify a recurring gap between instances of the pasted data. You can then use a keyboard shortcut to jump directly to the start point of each successive segment.
Individual Events in a track can be looped, normalized, muted, and locked in position. If the Loop switch is enabled, dragging the end point of that Event causes it to play repeatedly throughout the duration of the new region you create. (You can also shorten the length of an Event the same way.) Otherwise, dragging simply adds silence over the area that extends beyond the Event's original length.
Vegas Pro offers playlist-style editing via its Edit Details window (see Fig. 15). This area resembles a spreadsheet and displays information about your project, such as Event start and end times. You can edit nearly every field in this window and save the worksheet to disk. The program also offers an Edit Undo history list, which allows you to return to any random point in your work session. And rest assured that you'll have plenty of tracks to work with; in fact, you're limited only by the computing resources you are able to put to the task.
When all is said and done, you have two options for creating your final mix. One option allows you to mix down a multitrack project to a new stereo track, which is what you would use for burning a CD. (You can also simply save all tracks in a project as a new WAV file.) The second option allows you to preview your mix using a number of different compression options as well as various sample rates and bit depths before writing the final file. Choose MP3 format, for example, and you're presented with a screenful of settings to determine the exact configuration you want. When you click on OK, the program "renders" your project into an MP3 file and begins to play it back using your system's default MP3 player.
WaveLab. WaveLab's Wave screen offers editing options as robust as any in this group. In fact, the editor has all of the many features WaveLab 2.0 has, along with a number of enhancements. Many of the most common editing commands are available in a context-sensitive menu accessible with the right mouse button. Not only will you find the standard Cut, Copy, and Paste functions in this menu, but there are some handy selection options as well. For example, you can define a range that extends from the current cursor position to the beginning or end of a file, or from the cursor to the beginning or end of the current window display. Similar options for tweaking a range once you've defined it are also available.
The program gives you several choices for pasting data into a file, including overwriting existing data or adding the pasted data to the beginning or end of the file automatically. You can also mix in the pasted data, but you won't find any options to change the proportion of source and destination (the default is 50/50). And if you happen to forget which data you most recently cut or copied, you can view and play (and clear, if necessary) the contents of the Clipboard.
Because clips in the Audio Montage window are simply pointers to actual audio on your hard drive, you can easily manipulate them to play more or less of the file they reference. You can also stretch audio data to fit a specific length of time, which can be useful if you're trying to match the durations of two clips on different tracks. To do this, just position your cursor at the point on the timeline where the longer clip ends. Then highlight the shorter clip and choose the Time-Stretch to Cursor option. A dialog box appears that lets you configure the stretching parameters to your liking.
Playlist-style editing is accomplished in the Clip List, where you can edit a clip's start and end times, adjust its volume, and audition it. You can also drag a highlighted range from a file in the Wave window and drop it onto a blank area of the workspace to create a new file. As with several of the other programs, there is no fixed limit to the number of tracks you can work with.
Drawing volume and pan curves directly on clips in the Audio Montage window is a handy way to work with your data, and the crossfade options are as versatile as any we've seen. (No fewer than 17 pages in the manual are devoted to fades and crossfades in the Audio Montage alone!) Different types of fades can be used for the beginning and end of a crossfade, and each individual clip can have its own default fade type. (There are numerous rules that govern what happens when clips with different default fade types overlap.) You can create custom fades directly on the screen and save them as presets, in addition to the program's numerous preset common fade curves.
You can use a keystroke-plus-mouse-click combination to alter the volume on all the clips on a track simultaneously, but we would prefer the option of faders on each track or a global mixer with strips for each track. If one of these features is added to future versions, it will vastly improve WaveLab's mixing capabilities.
Once you've adjusted the volume and pan settings for all your data, you can mix down an entire Audio Montage using the Apply function in the Master Section. Here you choose whether to mix all clips in the project, only selected clips, or just a finite range of time. The new file can be saved to disk or just created in a Temp directory and immediately reopened in the Wave window. This last option is especially useful for bouncing tracks while in the middle of a session.
HAVING AN EFFECTWhether your plans include making minor tweaks to your data or performing massive spectral surgery, you'll find plenty of processing and effects options among these editors. In addition to the traditional delays, reverbs, and EQs, we were pleased to see more esoteric functions such as the convolution effect in Cool Edit Pro and Samplitude, and the vocoder in Cool Edit Pro. You'll also find many types of mastering tools among the group-several programs sport multiband compressors, for example-and with universal support for DirectX plug-ins, plus VST support in WaveLab and SAWPro, the possibilities for adding third-party effects via plug-ins are nearly infinite.
Cool Edit Pro. Cool Edit Pro offers several dozen high-quality internal effects that are useful for both traditional mastering purposes and more exotic manipulations (see Fig. 16). Most of these "transforms" are applied in the Edit View screen, though two, Vocoder and Envelope Follower, are available only in the Multitrack area. The majority of the effects are destructive, but most can be previewed before you apply them. There are numerous good-sounding presets to get you started, and we detected little if any latency when changing settings, even as a file played back.
Among the more interesting features is a Clip Restoration tool, which can do wonders to damaged audio, and an excellent noise-reduction routine that comes complete with a noise-print option. The reverb effect has been significantly enhanced in the latest version of the software and now rivals many dedicated reverb plug-ins costing hundreds of dollars. We also liked the time-stretching function, which is as good as any we've heard, and Cool Edit Pro is one of few programs that offers time-varying time stretching, which means the beginning of a file can be stretched to 200 percent its length while the end is set to 50 percent of the original. (The actual values range from 10 percent to 400 percent.)
Quartz Audio Pro 32. Quartz Audio Pro 32 includes ten internal real-time effects, and its well-designed interface for building effects chains makes it easy to apply the effects. Each effect has an extensive set of parameters as well as a Mute and Compare button. Moving controls while audio was playing produced no noticeable delay, at least on a PII/400. (The effects can be applied pre- or postfader.) Unlike the parameters found elsewhere in the program, you can enter values by typing text directly into the effects-control fields.
Overall, the real-time effects are of very high quality, but another type of processing seems to be a particular favorite of the developer: there are no fewer than three different ways that you can apply time-stretching to your data. In addition to accessing the time-stretch controls directly from the Edit menu and applying effects in the Edit Elements screen, you can simply drag the end of a clip of data in the Mixing Grid and extend it to any point you want. The program automatically computes the stretch factor for the audio to fit the region you've defined.
Though Quartz Audio Pro 32 supports DirectX plug-ins, it failed to recognize more than half of the plug-ins I had registered on my system. That's mainly because it can use only plug-ins that employ both stereo-in and stereo-out audio streams. Yet even some plug-ins that met this requirement did not appear in the DirectX list. The developer is currently looking into this problem.
Samplitude 2496. Samplitude has so many high-quality internal effects that you may never need to look outside the program for third-party plug-ins. In addition to a number of excellent traditional effects, such as reverb, delay, echo, and parametric and graphic EQ, you'll find a multiband compressor, a noise-reduction routine, a declipper, and a dehisser. More esoteric options include the Convolver, which applies the impulse response of an acoustic space (or any audio file) to a file. You also get a filter designer with a vast number of parameters for fixing many types of audio problems. A Resample/time-stretching feature is also provided. At the Very High quality setting, the results are excellent, though it's too bad that the stretching tops off at 200 percent.
DirectX support is also available. In fact, you can even assign a plug-in to an individual Object on a track. Equally cool is the ability to use Samplitude as a real-time effects box, without writing any audio to disk. When you activate Live mode, audio is routed through the program, and all of the effects and playback parameters you've set in the mixer (including the real-time reverb) are applied. If you have a multichannel sound card, you could even route different audio channels to different tracks and apply several distinct effects simultaneously. Each channel can be sent out discretely, or you can mix the whole thing to stereo, even using automation functions to pan or adjust volume faders as the audio passes through. It's truly excellent.
Of course, a plethora of choices can also cause some confusion, so follow carefully: some of Samplitude's effects, such as the Room Simulator, FFT filter, and Resample/time stretching, are always applied destructively, though you can easily create a backup copy of your data by enabling that option in an effect's parameter window. Other effects, such as those enabled in the mixer, are always nondestructive. DirectX plug-ins, on the other hand, can be applied destructively or configured to operate only during playback, depending on where you apply them. Quite a few choices!
SAWPro. SAWPro provides a modest but high-quality set of internal effects. Included in the group are a graphic EQ, dynamics processors, and an echo/delay module. Reverse Phase and Reverse Audio also appear in the effects list, and a center-channel eliminator is available as well. Fortunately, SAWPro supports DirectX and VST plug-ins, which opens the door to many other options. You can also purchase additional plug-ins, such as IQS Reverberator, direct from the manufacturer, but at around $100 per optional plug-in, this can get a bit pricey.
All of the included effects can be previewed in real time, though you might need to modify your PreLoad Buffer settings to compensate for any latency when you adjust effects parameters during playback. You can't add, switch, or remove an effect once audio has started to roll, but of course, a Bypass option is available when you're playing back, and you can toggle a Post Fader button on or off in real time as well. Though SAWPro doesn't have the plug-in manager that some of the other programs have, you can easily determine which plug-ins load at startup by modifying one of the program's configuration files.
Vegas Pro. Vegas Pro doesn't have as wide a range of built-in effects as the other multitrack programs do. In fact, there are just a few basic "utility" effects included, no doubt because Sonic Foundry has made provisions for you to link directly to an external audio editor. And since DirectX plug-ins are supported, you have easy access to any plug-ins in that format that you've already installed.
The included effects are a 4-band parametric EQ, a compressor, a noise gate (automatically added to every track), and a dithering utility. All can be applied globally or track by track. They may not be very fancy, but they are all fully functional and offer enough adjustability to get by. You can also normalize an Event using the command for that purpose found in the Switches menu accessible via the right mouse button. And in a nod to Vegas Pro's sibling Acid, there's a pitch-change feature that offers a two-octave range in either direction (though not, unfortunately, in real time).
In spite of its limited number of built-in effects, Vegas Pro does offer several useful ways to employ whatever outside effects you may have. Among other goodies, the program offers a flexible approach to building effects chains. For example, open the Plug-In Chooser and drag the plug-ins into position at the bottom of the screen (see Fig. 17). Then rearrange the different effects by dragging them to new locations or by using the dedicated buttons to shift the selected plug-in left or right. Close the Plug-In Chooser window and the entire chain appears in the FX window in the Docking area, where each effect can be tweaked and tuned to taste. (Effects chains can be saved and reused across projects.) This quick and intuitive working method helps you get the most out of the plug-in resources that you have available.
WaveLab. What WaveLab is missing in the areas of mixing, it makes up for in the effects and processing categories. WaveLab has a large number of built-in effects, some for real-time processing and others for use "offline," and it provides creative ways to apply them. For starters, you can process files in the Wave window with either real-time DirectX or VST plug-ins using the Master Section. (WaveLab's 14 internal real-time effects are also available from this screen.) In the Master Section, you'll find slots for assigning up to six effects in series and accessing their editing screens. The program also provides an Output Level Block that allows you to adjust master-volume faders and to monitor output levels. It includes buttons that control dithering and noise-shaping as well.
You can also process files in the Wave window using the included non-real-time effects. In this group you'll find options for time-stretching, pitch correction, normalization, reversing a file, harmonization, chorusing, EQ, and more. These processes are quite effective, and in some cases, truly unusual. The Chorus effect, for example, makes up to 100 slightly detuned copies of a file or selected range and mixes them together. You can specify the maximum variation in pitch from the original and set a "dispersion" curve that determines how the pitch variation is distributed among the copies. Both the real-time and offline effects can be run in Batch mode, but WaveLab's batch-processing feature is so vast that we'll have to save it for another review.
You can also route multitrack audio in the Audio Montage window through the Master Section, but there are many other options for working with clip data. For example, you can assign up to ten VST effects to an individual clip in the Audio Montage and specify the duration of the "tail" you want added at the end of a processed clip. (Using a tail ensures that time-based effects such as reverbs and delays are not cut off if they continue beyond the total length of the original clip.) You can also copy and paste an effect, complete with its settings, from one clip to another.
You can apply VST effects in the Audio Montage as inserts or in a modified "send" mode that lets you adjust the mix of wet and dry signal. Effects envelopes allow you to vary the amount of processing that is applied over time, and you can even apply envelopes that you've created for other purposes onto the effects. And when you've found just the right settings for an effect, why not just use it on live audio? Like Samplitude, WaveLab provides a Live Mode feature for that purpose.
PICTURE PERFECTAs more musicians move into the realm of multimedia, working directly with a video file while composing or mixing music has become a major advantage. We found that support for video is growing, but is still by no means universal. On the other hand, playing back your mix in sync with an external video device (or even a sequencer running on the same computer) has become quite common.
In this section, we'll take a look at how these programs handle video files and time code and how well they address the needs of multimedia audio developers and soundtrack producers.
Cool Edit Pro. Cool Edit Pro does not support QuickTime or AVI movies, so you can't synchronize your sessions to onscreen video clips. The program does, however, support all popular frame rates of SMPTE time code (in the form of MIDI Time Code), which allows you to sync an audio file or session to a video work print. Cool Edit Pro's Play List lets you assemble up to 64 Cue List entries and trigger them individually, but unfortunately you can't sync the Play List to incoming time code.
Quartz Audio Pro 32. Quartz Audio Pro 32 supports AVI files and synchronizes the picture to the Project audio for simultaneous playback. (The picture appears in its own resizable window.) You can also extract the soundtrack from an AVI file and add it to the current Project or insert your stereo mix into an AVI file. We did experience some difficulty controlling AVI files that were loaded via Quartz Audio Pro 32's MCI command, however. Once a file started to play, the transport controls froze and there was simply no way to stop the file from playing through to the end.
Quartz Audio Pro 32 supports SMPTE time code (MIDI Time Code), so you can slave your multitrack mix to a video work print. The program can send or receive frame rates of 24, 25, and 30 (drop and nondrop) fps. It can also send MIDI Clock and Song Position Pointer signals for use with a sequencer. Quartz Audio Pro 32 does not offer a synchronized playlist option, although it can trigger individual tracks from a CD through the use of MCI commands.
Samplitude 2496. Samplitude supports AVI and QuickTime movies, so you can link video clips to VIPs and scrub the video and picture together. The picture appears in a resizable window; a separate dialog box lets you extract or replace the soundtrack (not yet available for QuickTime). You can also view a movie's individual frames lined up in miniature along the top of the VIP window, which comes in handy if you're trying to locate a specific edit point in the video clip. Samplitude can also link to other media files, including MIDI and WAV files.
Samplitude supports SMPTE (MTC) in 24, 25, and 30 (drop and nondrop) frame rates as well as MIDI Clock, and it can serve as either the master or the slave. (Full chase-lock sync is supported when using the SEK'D ARC series audio cards.) Its synchronization capabilities enable you to sync a VIP to a video workprint or use Samplitude as a sync source for a sequencer. Samplitude does not offer a synchronized playlist option, but you can play CDs from within the program, trigger individual tracks, extract CD audio, and import the extracted audio into a VIP.
SAWPro. SAWPro does not support AVI or QuickTime video, so you can't import a video clip into a session and sync it to the multitrack mix. (IQS offers a 32-bit AVI Viewer plug-in for $100 that provides a professional set of features for working with video clips.) SMPTE and MIDI Time Code are well supported in SAWPro, so you can work with other programs and external equipment. The program can serve as the master or slave in a setup, and it reads and writes all SMPTE frame rates. Surprisingly, it does not have a large SMPTE readout display as most other multitrack programs do.
SAWPro also lets you play regions and trigger playback from markers through the use of MIDI trigger notes. A dialog box offers ten octaves of MIDI notes from which to choose.
Vegas Pro. Vegas Pro supports AVI, QuickTime, and MPEG files, which makes it well suited to a variety of multimedia projects. Adding a video clip to a session involves simply dragging the video file into the Track View window and depositing it in the Video Ruler area. The movie then appears spread out across the top of the window as a series of individual frames. It also appears in the Video Preview window if it's open.
If the video file includes a soundtrack, the audio portion of the file is automatically assigned to its own track above the other waveforms. Dragging the video left or right in the Video Ruler drags the audio as well; the two tracks remain locked unless you separate them. You can add the soundtrack to your mix, or you can easily delete the original audio and replace it with the current project. The final result can then be previewed or rendered as an AVI file for stand-alone playback.
Vegas can also work with external hardware through its support for MIDI Time Code (at all frame rates). The program can slave to incoming time code, and it can generate MIDI Time Code as well as MIDI Clock messages. (It doesn't support MIDI Clock input, however.) The Track View's already large elapsed-time display can be enlarged even more, which makes it very easy to read from across the room.
WaveLab. WaveLab does not support AVI, QuickTime, or other video formats, so you can't create multimedia soundtracks while viewing an onscreen video clip. The program does, however, support SMPTE time code (MIDI Time Code), which lets you synchronize playback from the Wave and Audio Montage windows with external video decks, tape recorders, and MIDI sequencers.
When synching to time code, WaveLab can act only as the slave device; it does not generate time code for output. A large, resizable Monitor window shows the incoming time code; it's quite easy to see from a distance.
BOOK REPORTGetting help when you need it most is a major concern when you're learning a new piece of software. We evaluated the types, organization, and quality of the supporting documentation that these programs offer, and were amazed at the differences among them. Printed manuals, for example, range from the slimmest of "getting started" booklets to massive, 600-page printed tomes. Sure, you'll find more thorough documentation in some of the PDF files that are offered on disc, and those are great for randomly searching out a specific topic. But we still prefer having hard copies on hand for browsing when the computer is turned off or busy with other tasks.
We also appreciated the tutorials that we encountered, whether in the form of AVI files on disc or in the printed manuals. (Cool Edit Pro deserves a nod for its extensive video tutorials.) We further discovered that some manufacturers offer additional tips and tricks at their Web sites, so it might be worth checking them out if you're stuck with a question.
Cool Edit Pro. Cool Edit Pro's documentation is exemplary. The 236-page manual is well organized, clearly written, and informative. In addition to explaining the program's features, the user manual includes several short essays on topics such as time code, digital audio, filters, and MIDI. It also includes FAQs and miscellaneous notes on various subjects. (To get the manual you must send in your registration card or make a request by phone.)
In addition, Cool Edit Pro's CD-ROM includes a PDF version of the manual and extensive self-running video tutorials that demonstrate all aspects of the program. Once you're in the program, an excellent online help file provides concise descriptions of tools and features, and pop-up labels identify buttons and icons throughout the interface. Syntrillium's Web site offers additional FAQs and other helpful information.
Quartz Audio Pro 32. Quartz Audio Pro 32 comes with little in the way of printed documentation. A 20-page training manual introduces you to the program, but we were unable to run the only tutorial because an essential file was missing from the CD-ROM. The full documentation comes on the disc as a 61-page PDF user manual and a 112-page PDF reference manual.
The program also includes extensive online help with links to related topics. In most cases, the online help will get you through most situations nicely. The American distributor's Web site (www.tracertek.com) offers some FAQs, tips, and other helpful information.
Samplitude 2496. Samplitude's documentation consists of a 324-page, spiral-bound user manual that details the program's extensive feature set. A separate Version 5.3 Addendum provides another 45 pages of explanation of new features, with much space devoted to the redesigned 5.1-capable Mixer window and related topics.
The Samplitude CD also supplies a PDF version of the documentation and a helpful video demo showing how to use various elements of the program. Other CD goodies include several VIP demos, tutorials, and additional software. Within the program itself, you'll find a good online help menu with an excellent context-sensitive help option and a search function. The SEK'D Web site offers FAQs and access to a newsgroup.
SAWPro. SAWPro comes with a 286-page spiral-bound user manual that describes the program's features in detail but lacks tutorials to help you get started. Online help with a search function is also available, as is a PDF version of the user manual. Although the user interface is relatively clear, we were a bit disappointed that pop-up labels weren't provided to help identify (and maybe even explain) some of the more cryptic buttons.
IQS markets tutorial CDs, seminars, and even telephone training, and the company maintains an active Web site with useful information, chat rooms, newsgroups, and an online magazine.
Vegas Pro. Vegas Pro comes with a 164-page user manual that introduces the program and highlights the main features. It's easy to read and well illustrated, but it's far too sketchy for more advanced users. Much of the program is not covered in detail, which forces you to search for information elsewhere. A complete reference guide to the program's features would come in handy. The user manual does, however, include an excellent tutorial that gets you started with several of the program's primary tools. The online help (with a search feature) is satisfactory, but not in any way outstanding. Handy pop-up labels appear for many of the buttons and other onscreen controls.
The Vegas Pro CD-ROM includes a PDF version of the user manual along with some example projects, product demos, and tutorial files. The Sonic Foundry Web site provides product news, a Vegas Pro forum, and user-directed demos that introduce the program.
WaveLab. Of all the programs in this group, WaveLab takes top honors for offering the most extensive printed documentation. The 650-page manual is comprehensive, well written, and well illustrated. The Getting Started tutorial does a good job of introducing several of the basic tools and editing procedures for the Wave window. A few more tutorials for other aspects of the program would be helpful, though.
The online help, which is comparable to that in most of the other programs, includes a search function. The CD does not include a PDF version of the documentation.
ODDS AND ENDSThough we've covered the features that we think will be of greatest interest to our readers, there are additional aspects of each program that deserve mention. Here, we'll discuss some of the distinctive features of these editors, and add a few points that can help you get an even better feel for what they have to offer.
Cool Edit Pro. Cool Edit Pro has a number of tools that move well beyond the traditional editing features mentioned previously. Among these is its Scripting feature, which, like a macro, allows you to record and play back long series of keystrokes. You can use scripts to generate material from scratch: for example, you could have Cool Edit Pro generate several basic waveforms and save them to your hard drive. Or you can use scripts to manipulate all or part of an existing file. You can also run a script on a group of files-which could be useful, for example, if you needed to convert the sample rate or bit depth of many files. A number of scripts are provided as models, and because they are saved as text files, you can easily edit the examples or your own script files.
Cool Edit Pro also has several features that make finding loop points particularly easy. The Find Beat feature identifies two successive amplitude peaks and highlights the region between them. Then, as the audio in the region plays repeatedly, you can extend or shorten the range until the loop's end point is precisely where you want it. And once you have a loop region defined, Cool Edit Pro can search out the next zero crossing automatically to ensure that your loop repeats without a glitch.
Quartz Audio Pro 32. Though Quartz Audio Pro 32 doesn't have the sheer number of features that some of the other editors have, for the most part it's easy to use, and its main work areas are well integrated. Unfortunately, several problems cropped up during the review period, and it was not an easy matter to get a reply from either the domestic distributor or the French manufacturer.
Granted, one of the problems we encountered, a program crash when we attempted to use a third-party plug-in, turned out to be something that plagued one other program as well. But other problems, such as the AVI file playback issue and the failure to identify supported DirectX plug-ins, were simply not accounted for.
Still, there is a simple logic to Quartz Audio Pro 32 that is appealing, and the quality of its effects and the convenience of its editing options should make it a player in the audio world, assuming the manufacturer smooths out a few rough edges.
Samplitude 2496. Two features that set Samplitude apart from the others are its support for MIDI and CD burning. (WaveLab is the only other program that supports CD burning directly.) Not only can you trigger MIDI files to play back at various points, but you can load, record, edit, and even create new MIDI files inside the program. You can also use the Control Panel feature to map external MIDI data to Samplitude functions. This allows you to use external MIDI control surfaces such as the Peavey PC 1600x or a sequencer running on the same computer to scroll, scrub, zoom, or adjust mixer settings.
Though none of the MIDI features will be unfamiliar to users of any modern sequencer, having them integrated into an audio editor this powerful is a major bonus and makes Samplitude one of the most multifaceted programs you'll find.
The same can be said for the CD-burning options. You'll find all the features of a professional CD-creation program, including editing subcode, adjusting track gaps, and placing pause markers. You can even perform volume and pan adjustments live while burning, and there's no need to waste drive space creating an image file, because Samplitude calculates all real-time processing adjustments including mixing on the fly (assuming your system can handle it). A large number of ATAPI and SCSI drives are supported, and in the package you should find everything you need to get your music onto disc.
SAWPro. SAWPro is very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get program, and you won't find dozens of features buried beneath the surface. Instead, the richness and depth of the program can be attributed to the vast number of editing shortcuts and options the program provides. SAWPro feels quite compact and is clearly well integrated; it's easy to move data from one area to another or perform similar functions in different sections of the program.
We wish that some of the "extras," such as CD burning, AVI support, and the highly touted Reverberator, were built in. A program of this cost should include these types of features, in our opinion. On the other hand, IQS's long-standing policy of free upgrades is to be applauded, and the company has been active in publishing free information on how to optimize a PC for audio. That's a resource that all Windows users will appreciate.
Vegas Pro. Vegas Pro may just be the first major professional PC audio application designed from the ground up with multimedia and the Internet in mind. Its clean and intuitive layout, which clearly owes its heritage to Acid, should make it very appealing to multimedia producers and Web-site developers who work with a range of projects headed in many different directions.
Vegas Pro also provides the capabilities that a professional musician needs for live recording and mixing, although in that scenario, you'd really need a companion stereo audio editor or a large batch of DirectX plug-ins to fill some of the program's editing and processing gaps. But that's a very common scenario today, and if you already own a stereo editor and plug-ins, why pay for redundant features? Vegas Pro is clearly a model that's different from the other programs in this group, and many people working with multitrack audio may decide that it makes a lot of sense.
WaveLab. WaveLab has more extras than nearly any other program in the roundup. Not only does it have extensive CD-burning features, fully the equal of any professional program on the market, but you can communicate directly with a hardware sampler via MIDI (SDS) or SMDI if you have the proper hardware. The Crossfade Looper tool is a great help in creating perfect loops, and the Tone Equalizer minimizes amplitude changes in a loop to provide more options for setting loop points.
WaveLab's Database feature is also an excellent add-in and offers a way to manage different types of audio files on your system or on CD-ROMs that you keep around your studio. You can set up numerous conditions for searching, such as "all 16-bit mono WAV files smaller than 1.5 MB," and create categories for the files that the Database locates.
WaveLab also has some of the best customization options around. For example, the Plug-In Manager allows you to determine which plug-ins are loaded when you run the program, and includes a feature for grouping plug-ins by category. You can also create keystroke shortcuts for loading a plug-in and opening its edit screen. And we haven't mentioned it earlier, but WaveLab 3.0 still has the best looking 3-D analysis plot (FFT) on the market today.
WRAP IT UPAs you can see (those of you who've hung in this far!), these programs are very versatile, surprisingly powerful, and, in some cases, elegantly designed. And in spite of the depth of their feature sets, many of their operations are straightforward and for the most part intuitive. Whether you're looking to record your band directly to your PC, produce multimedia soundtracks, or create audio for the Internet, one of these multitrack workhorses should do the job. To learn a bit more and to get some hands-on experience, check out the demos on the manufacturers' Web sites. It's time to find out if there's a virtual multitrack in your future!
Associate editors Dennis Miller and David Rubin live more than 4,000 miles apart, but through the wonders of modern telecommunications, they were able to compare notes and compile this article in record time.