Last fall BIAS, Inc. released version 5 of its popular Peak editing software. Shortly thereafter the company announced an array of production bundles targeted at different user groups and price points. The Peak Pro XT 5 bundle includes Peak Pro 5, SoundSoap 2, SoundSoap Pro, multi-track software Deck, and the new Master Perfection Suite. Aimed at professional and advanced users, the XT pack, which stands for XTended Technology Edition, claims to provide the “ultimate bundle for the Peak audio professional.” Hmmm . . . well over the past several weeks I have used this collection in real word situations to see if this claim holds any kind of merit at all.
THE KEY TO SETUP
Many Peak users do remote work or editing on the road. So, I decided to use my Mac PowerBook 17 as the test host. (It has a 1.5GHz PowerPC G4 CPU, 1GB DDR SDRAM and a 7200-RPM hard drive). Additionally, laptops are notoriously weaker on CPU power when compared to their desktop counterparts, making host-based processing even tougher.
Installing the bundle wasn’t quick. It took four CDs to load Peak Pro 5, SoundSoap2, SoundSoap Pro, and the Master Production Suite (I did not test Deck). Accompanying the CDs and manuals was a new member of the BIAS family — a HASP USB dongle. At about an inch long, it’s a bit smaller than the iLok dongles many of us have seen. Fortunately, the key has a short cable with a mini-key ring on the end. I was able to connect it to my power cable to avoid losing it.
I don’t want to get into a debate over copy protection. I’ve been a fan of the iLok because it allows me to move plug-ins to another studio or take them on location. I can’t do that with disc-based authorization schemes. Two drawbacks of a dongle-based scheme are: It takes up a USB slot and you can loose your key. My laptop has two USB ports, but I have an audio interface (Mbox), a mouse, an iLok, and now a HASP key. When I asked BIAS why they chose the HASP key over the iLok, Vice President Christine Berkley explained that the HASP was “the most secure of all the available solutions, has the smallest form factor, and offers additional benefits to users who require network-based solutions.”
And my laptop still has two USB ports, so I ended up getting a mini USB hub to give everyone a place to live, but I’m worried about losing dongles and/or complicating my road setup. By the time you read this, BIAS should have released a Peak 5.2 update. It will give users the option of authorizing via hard drive or HASP key. My complaining aside, I like the dongle. But if you don’t, BIAS will let you opt for a code-based scheme.
Speaking of set up, there is one thing all potential owners need to know. MP3 support is not ready out of the box. In this era of the iPod, this might seem like a major gaffe by BIAS. In fact, it has more to do with the licensing agreement requirements set forth by Thomson Consumer Electronics and the Fraunhofer Society, the controllers of mp3 patent rights. Consequently, users will need to go to a website, download, and install a library app. This will allow Peak to encode mp3s without issue. The whole process takes just a few minutes, but you need to know this going in.
WHAT’S NEW: STYLE OR SUBSTANCE
I have been a long time Peak user. I find their interface and menus to be rather straightforward. In fact, I had been using it for a year before I opened the manual. I have always been pleased with stability and functionality, save one area: CD authoring. Prior versions of Peak required the assistance of Jam to burn audio CDs. Moreover, CD Text, ISRC, and PQ embedding was left to the auspices of Jam. With Peak 5, these issues are handled inside the application. As for track assembly, there is a graphic playlist window that allows users to line up waveforms visually. Unfortunately, it displays files as a single stream graphic. The world is used to working with DAWs where mono files are single streams and stereo tracks are a pair of streams. I found this aspect of an otherwise great screen to be distracting.
Other improvements include the ability to have unicode and long file names (over 32 characters), automatic plug-in latency compensation, and MIDI support for virtual instruments. Numerous DSP programs and plug-ins received processing and interface overhauls, as well. My favorite updates include a tape-style scrubbing feature, which is very helpful when trying to narrow in on a click or edit spot. Also, there is a recover audio file feature and your edit decision history is stored in a file drawer, allowing you to go back to a point in time and restore your work.
Behind the scenes, BIAS exerted considerable effort improving sample rate conversion accuracy. It’s very common to work at many different rates, e.g. 44.1k for CDs, 48k for film, and 88.2k or 96k for higher resolution projects. Unfortunately, not all sample rate converters are created equally. It’s difficult to code accurate algorithms, let alone ones that operate at a quick pace. The improvements made in Peak 5 are significant. Skeptics can download the documentation, source files, and procedure from the BIAS website and conduct their own tests. (It’s kind of hard to find. From the main page, choose ABOUT, and then select PRESS. It’s the first press release for 2006).
BIAS also offers a DDP export program for a nominal fee. DDP, which stands for Disc Description Protocol, had been a standard delivery format required by many duplication houses. These days, fewer manufacturers mandate DDP delivery, so BIAS smartly chose to make this feature an optional add-on.
The inclusion of two noise reduction titles is confusing at first, but SoundSoap 2 and SoundSoap Pro have different purposes and drastically different interfaces. Originally targeted at video editors and the casual user, SoundSoap has a streamlined GUI, allowing users to achieve results with minimum fuss. For general duty noise and hum reduction, this fits the bill. However, power users and sound restoration professionals require the ability to adjust numerous aspects of the processing. SoundSoap Pro provides this flexibility, giving no less than five processing areas: global settings, hum and rumble, click and crackle, broadband, and noise gate.
I have used nearly every noise reduction plug-in available. They are all a compromise — you have to balance throwing out the baby (the audio) with the bathwater (the noise). Consequently, any application that allows me to adjust what stays and what goes (as opposed to a “smart” algorithm) usually garners approval. I employed SoundSoap Pro on a transfer from an audio cassette. The source file had issues with hiss, rumble, and tape drag. In about 10 minutes, I was able to remove the hum, hiss, and rumble while retaining much of the source material. The tape drag was reduced, but not removed. But I don’t know of any mass-market title that could resolve that problem. Short of spending thousands on a CEDAR noise reduction system, SoundSoap Pro is about as good as a solution there is — provided you take the time to do the proper adjustments.
There is a lot going on with the BIAS Peak Pro XT bundle. But the core improvements with Peak Pro 5 are enough of a reason to upgrade. (Occasional users or those with limited budgets should consider the LE version without hesitation). Peak has always been a stable, easy to use program, albeit short on some features required for true CD authoring tasks. Well, those features are now included, and when combined with the sonic improvements and additional plug-in titles, make Peak the strongest option available for Mac-based audio engineers.