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Review: Adobe Audition 3.0 (Win)

5/1/2008

With its suite of products for graphic design, photography, document creation, and video production, Adobe is no stranger to the pursuit of creativity. And since acquiring Syntrillium's Cool Edit Pro (which it renamed Audition), the company has been offering a powerful audio workhorse as well.

Adobe releases significant improvements to Audition every year, and version 3.0 represents yet another solid enhancement. This time around, we get MIDI sequencing and virtual instrument support, some great new effects and audio-editing tools, and quite a few advances in performance and usability.

FIG. 1: Audition''s Sequencer windows are accessible for each MIDI track. Here you''ll find multiple Instrument tracks that can be assigned to MIDI channels and sent to either soft synths or hardware outputs.

FIG. 1: Audition''s Sequencer windows are accessible for each MIDI track. Here you''ll find multiple Instrument tracks that can be assigned to MIDI channels and sent to either soft synths or hardware outputs.

Move into MIDI

As a synthesist and longtime MIDI enthusiast, I was eager to check out the virtual instrument and MIDI support. Previously, Audition offered MIDI playback-only capabilities, and MIDI data could output to one or more hardware devices or to a ReWire application (all outputs received the same MIDI data, however).

In version 3, MIDI tracks reveal the same audio output, metering, effects, and envelope-automation controls as audio tracks. Click on a button in the MIDI track, and a Sequencer window appears (see Fig. 1). Here you can link a different VSTi soft synth to the MIDI events in each channel of the track. You can then manipulate the audio output of these synths in the Main and Mixer views, which gives the program a nice symmetry and ease of use.

Like all Audition windows, Sequencer windows can float freely or dock in a tabbed windowpane. Unfortunately, there is no visual representation of the MIDI events in the Main panel, which makes it a little difficult to align audio and MIDI at times. I was able to work around this somewhat by splitting the window, with the Main panel on top and the Sequencer window beneath. I was glad to see that the two panels scrolled in tandem when I did this, but it took a bit of effort to get their timelines aligned perfectly.

Within each Sequencer window, you can add up to 16 Instrument tracks, one for each MIDI channel. These all combine into the corresponding MIDI track on the Main and Mixer panels. In each Instrument track, you can choose the VST instrument, adjust its settings, and specify the input and output channels. You also have your choice of piano-roll, Velocity-editing, or controller-editing views of the Instrument tracks. There is no event list or standard notation view.

Editing operations in the Sequencer windows are basic but intuitive. You can choose to select, insert, or delete events, with events restricted to MIDI notes and one of nine controllers with fixed names (Filter Resonance, Portamento, and so on). A MIDI Learn mode lets you map external hardware messages to the named parameters, but I would rather see either all 128 MIDI controllers or the automatable parameters from the soft synth in this list of controllers.

Snap To Grid and Snap To Scale features control the resolution and available note choices for note insertions, step recording, and quantization. I was happy to see choices for triplets and dotted notes in the grid selection. Step recordings can replace or overdub existing data.

Edit Away

Selected note events (but not controllers) can be cut, copied, pasted, and dragged as you would expect. I was disappointed that I couldn't select multiple note Velocities from the Velocity view and adjust them all at once, but then I discovered that I could select the notes of interest in the piano-roll view, switch to the Velocity view, and see that my selection remained intact. I could then slide the Velocities up and down at will, maintaining the relative Velocity differences between notes.

Selected notes (but again, not controllers) can be quantized, transposed, humanized, or have their Velocity randomized. That's it. And only transposition has any adjustable parameters: how many semitones to shift. Quantization is always 100 percent, with no swing or groove option (although quantizing to 8-note triplets should be similar to swing). Humanization and Velocity randomization is whatever the program chooses. The effects are reasonably subtle, but they may or may not suit your needs depending on the nature of your music and the sensitivity of your synth patch.

Rounding out the Sequencer windows are controls for importing and exporting MIDI files, configuring VST instruments and MIDI hardware ports, and opening a virtual keyboard (which unfortunately does not respond to QWERTY keystrokes).

If you have hardware synthesizers, you can use a Sequencer window without specifying a soft synth. In this case, MIDI data will simply stream to your chosen output ports on the channels you specify. However, the choice of MIDI output ports is not specific to MIDI tracks or Instrument tracks — any MIDI data sent over a particular channel goes to all MIDI outputs enabled for the program.

This choice limits you to 16 MIDI channels across all your hardware synthesizers, and if you use multiple multitimbral hardware synths and don't want to layer your sounds, you'll have to disable the MIDI channels the other synths are using in each device.

Other omissions leave the impression that Adobe intended Audition to be used primarily with soft synths. There is no support for other types of MIDI events you'd typically need in a hardware synth world, such as Program Change, Bank Select, and System Exclusive messages.

FIG. 2: Audition''s surround encoder lets you place each track in your project exactly where you want it. Left/right and front/back envelopes are available for dynamic panning.

FIG. 2: Audition''s surround encoder lets you place each track in your project exactly where you want it. Left/right and front/back envelopes are available for dynamic panning.

I Get Around

Audition now sports a capable surround encoder for multichannel audio (see Fig. 2). The surround implementation is a bit different from what I've seen in other programs, and I find it to be a cleaner, more intuitive approach. Multichannel audio is represented as individual mono or stereo components when you're working in the Edit and Multitrack views, which lets you do your initial tracking and editing without worrying too much about audio placement for surround sound. (That said, a disadvantage of this approach is the inability to see the context of all channels in a multichannel file while editing in the Edit view.)

When you're ready to mix your project to surround, the surround encoder shows you each track in your project and provides graphical panning tools to put each track's audio exactly where you want it. For stereo tracks, you can even choose whether to maintain the stereo field or sum to mono before panning. Audition supports only 5.1 configurations, though, so you'll need to look elsewhere if your surround needs are more esoteric.

The surround encoder has its own basic transport control, a waveform display, and 6-channel metering. Mixing your project to surround is simply a matter of panning each track in your project and auditioning the results. Referencing to the Video panel is possible as you do so. Audition also provides envelopes to dynamically adjust the left/right and front/back levels over time.

Once you're done, you can export your multichannel audio directly from the surround encoder. Audition supports WMA files, as well as multichannel and discrete mono WAV files. (See the online bonus material at emusician.com for details on Audition's enhanced audio editing in the frequency, panning, and phase domains.)

A Bigger Toolbox

Audition has always provided a powerful suite of effects and other goodies, and I'm happy to report that version 3 expands this arsenal even more. An Automatic Phase Correction tool can help you expel pesky phase problems, and an Adaptive Noise Reduction effect can help clean up your audio. Noise-reduction tools are nothing new to Audition, but this new one works well on dynamic broadband noise where you may not be able to capture a noise print. And unlike the other noise-reduction tools, it's a VST effect that you can use in real time.

Also new are suites of effects for guitars and mastering. The Guitar Suite effect includes stages for compression, filtering, distortion, and amp modeling, while the Mastering effect gives you a parametric equalizer, reverb, an exciter, a stereo widener, a loudness maximizer, and an output gain stage. I was able to achieve reasonable results with both of these, although the Guitar Suite sounded a little too “digital” to my ears (I'm no guitarist, however, so your experience may be different).

Adobe added a convolution reverb with more than a dozen built-in impulses, and you can import your own. There's also an Analog Delay effect and a Tube-Modeled Compressor effect from iZotope.

IZotope's handiwork also appears in the program's time-stretching and pitch-shifting, where the company's Radius algorithm, which includes formant-preservation capabilities, is used to produce a much higher-quality effect than before. You can access this algorithm in the Stretch effect, but it is also used elsewhere in the program when time-stretching or pitch-shifting needs to take place (such as with looped clips in the Multitrack view). I tried this effect on several files, and the results sounded great.

Rounding out the version 3 improvements are clip grouping and automatic crossfades in the Multitrack view, automatic lookup of track information when ripping CDs, and batch processing. Batch processing is particularly welcome. You can apply any number of processes to any number of files, resample the results to a given sampling rate and bit depth, and output the results using the file format and naming scheme you choose.

Audition's documentation is complete and context sensitive and is available in both HTML and PDF formats. You even get a printed user guide — a rarity these days. Once again, Adobe scores big with a solid upgrade to this capable program.


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

PRODUCT SUMMARY

digital audio workstation
$349

PROS: Clean and intuitive user interface. Comprehensive effects and processing tools. Excellent editing capabilities in the frequency domain. Support for MIDI and VST instruments.

CONS: Limited MIDI support for hardware synths. Simplistic implementation of quantization and other offline MIDI processing.

FEATURES 1 2 3 4 5
EASE OF USE 1 2 3 4 5
DOCUMENTATION 1 2 3 4 5
VALUE 1 2 3 4 5

Adobe Systems Incorporated
adobe.com

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