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SONY PICTURES DIGITAL Sound Forge 7.0A (WIN)

April 1, 2004
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Version 7 is the first edition of Sound Forge to be released by its new developer, Sony Pictures Digital. This venerable audio editor was previously owned by Sonic Foundry, and though it is sad to see an old friend disappear, it's clear Sony intends to keep Sound Forge current and competitive.

Unlike the past few releases, which mostly played catch-up and had little in the way of visible interface changes, Sound Forge 7 adds many of the modern features found in the company's other software (Vegas and Acid, for example), and also includes a host of new options not seen elsewhere in the product line. There's a lot to get through, so let's get started.

RECORD READY

At the top of the new-features list is a host of recording options that make Sound Forge a much more flexible program for capturing audio. One of the more esoteric, though potentially very useful, options is the new time-based recording feature. If you're a soundscape composer and need to grab, say, a recording of some sonic environment one hour every day, you can set Sound Forge to record either indefinitely or for a set duration (two weeks, for example), then return later to retrieve your audio.

Another type of automated recording is possible using the new Threshold feature. This familiar function has Sound Forge scanning an incoming signal and starting recording when the signal reaches a level that you determine. In addition to setting the level (from -• to 0 dB), you can set the amount of time the program will continue to record after the signal moves below the threshold. You can also choose to rearm after each new recording completes if you want to make a series of recordings using the same threshold.

If you've ever missed the very beginning of a recording because your computer hiccuped or your mouse finger missed the mark, you'll also appreciate the new Prerecord Buffer, which constantly captures a user-defined amount of time from the audio input, even before you initiate recording. The buffer size can range from 0 to 30 seconds.

New metering options provide much better views of your signal. In addition to the Peak level meter found in older versions, you can now use VU and Peak Program meters with a variety of user-definable scales (including traditional and logarithmic VU; and UK, EBU, and DIN peak program) to view the average loudness of a signal. Many engineers prefer VU metering to peak metering because it's a better tool for matching track-to-track loudness. Sound Forge lets you view Peak level and either Peak Program or VU at the same time.

LIVE, FROM VEGAS!

If you're a user of Vegas or Acid, you're already familiar with some of the new interface enhancements. Sound Forge now includes an Explorer window, in which you can navigate to and preview any supported media files on your system (see Fig. 1). The Auto-preview option is similar to the Auto-play feature found in the File/Open dialog and will start playing back a file as soon as you click on it. However, even though I have a multiclient sound card, playback of the currently loaded sound file stopped when I clicked on a file name in the Explorer. I'd like the option to hear the new file mixed with a file I already had loaded.

If you drag a file from the Explorer onto an existing file, Sound Forge lets you mix, crossfade, or paste it into the currently loaded file. Dragging directly from the Explorer means you don't have to first open a file, copy it to the Clipboard, then select which method of combining the two files you want. When you mix or crossfade, a dialog box pops up in which you can adjust the balance between the existing and the new file. Sound Forge will also mix stereo and mono files automatically.

Also imported from Acid and Vegas are new envelope options, including a dedicated envelope-editing tool. You can add a pan or volume envelope and modify it directly in the main waveform display, and you can automate many (but not all) DX effects. Rather than limit you to linear segments, your envelopes can now have one of six different shapes, selectable on a per-segment basis. (The new envelope types also work in the FM-synthesis tool and in several of the Processes and Effects.)

When you first load an automatable plug-in in the Chainer, you'll see a list of its parameters on the right of the screen (there's a folder in the Plug-in Manager that contains all the automatable plug-ins). You can enable automation for each parameter individually, and you can choose whether or not automation envelopes will be displayed on the screen, also on a parameter-by-parameter basis; very flexible indeed. In the original version 7 release, when you looked at the envelopes superimposed over the waveform display, you couldn't tell which envelope controlled which parameter until you clicked an envelope and started to drag it. Fortunately, like Acid, version 7a now shows you the parameter's name when you point to it with the mouse (be sure to update online if you have an early release).

VISUAL MUSIC

Sound Forge has an enhanced spectral-analysis view with a vast range of new options. Though the display itself isn't up to the level of my all-time favorite analysis view, which is in Steinberg's WaveLab, there are many new features that can give you a lot of useful information about the content of your audio (see Fig. 2). A tabbed interface takes the place of the old drop-down menus, making it easier to change settings, and the Spectrum window is now dockable, so you can leave it open as a file plays back. Equally important, you can use the Real-time monitoring option to see a moving picture of a sound as it plays, and the Hold Peaks feature makes it even easier to see where the action is in the spectrum. You can also save up to five Snapshots (custom arrangements) of the Analysis window.

Speaking of seeing, Sound Forge 7 now supports one of the hottest new video formats, which is known as “24p.” This format is used for high-definition broadcasts and is especially useful if you are transferring film to video (or vice versa), because both film and 24p run at a rate of 24 frames per second. As a result, there is no conversion needed as there is with standard NTSC video, which runs at 29.97 frames per second.

AND THAT'S NOT ALL!

Other handy new features appear throughout the program. For example, in previous versions, you could drag any audio file from the Windows Explorer directly onto the Sound Forge interface, and it would open the file. Now you can even drag a track from an audio CD and Sound Forge will extract the audio automatically.

The new Project file format lets you save a record of all the edits you make in a work session even after you close the file and the program. You could then go back to a saved file and undo any edits you might want.

With the exception of the ExpressFX Vinyl Restoration plug-in (available with 7.0a), there's nothing new in the Processes and Effects categories, places I turn to first with every new release. It might be time for Sony to think about adding some new effects (vocoding, for example?) or to add support (available in Acid) for VST-format plug-ins. (You can use a wrapper, such as Cakewalk's VST Adapter, to get around this limitation.) There are a few new options in the Synthesis menu — for example, four new noise generators (filtered, pink, brown, and white) — but here again, perhaps Sony would consider an additive-synthesis tool for generating static waveforms more complex than the ones currently available.

Though not new, Sound Forge's Playlist feature deserves mention as perhaps the least-heralded feature in the software. Sound Forge doesn't have Acid's looping capabilities, but if you have any interest in creating music with highly rhythmic, repeating segments (not to mention stuttering and other modern effects), give the Playlist a good look.

HELP IS ON THE WAY

Sony has provided a number of support resources for both new and experienced users. Among these are a 23-minute comprehensive online video tutorial and a 23-page PDF describing the new features, complete with usage tips. Alas, the bound, printed manual, available with early versions of Sound Forge, has not magically reappeared. But a 300-page PDF manual is included with the release (and available for download). An active online users forum is also a great resource for anyone with questions.

It's worth mentioning that though Sony will only support users running Sound Forge 7 under Windows 2000 or XP, I used both an XP laptop (with an Indigo I/O interface) and a 98 desk-top machine (with a MOTU 2408mk3) and ran into no problems whatsoever.

Though still only a stereo editor, Sound Forge remains an indispensable tool for audio editing on the PC. No matter how fancy the audio-editing features get in Windows digital audio sequencers, I still would never undertake a serious project without Sound Forge close at hand.

Perhaps someday, Sony will integrate the features of all its many multimedia applications — consolidation increases with every release. But of all the tools in the company's catalog, Sound Forge is the one I turn to most.


Dennis Miller is an associate editor of EM.

Minimum System Requirements

Sound Forge 7.0a

Pentium II/400 MHz; 64 MB RAM; Windows 2000/XP

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Sony Pictures Digital

Sound Forge 7.0a (Win)
audio editor
$449.96 (boxed)
$399.96 (download)

FEATURES 4.5
EASE OF USE 4.5
QUALITY OF SOUNDS 4.5
VALUE 4.5
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: New interface elements enhance work flow. Much-improved spectral-analysis options. Recording features modernized. DX plug-in automation.

CONS: Only one new effect. No printed manual.

Manufacturer

Sony Pictures Digital Inc.
tel. (800) 577-6642 or (608) 250-1745
Web www.sony.com/mediasoftware

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