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Adobe Audition 3

2/1/2008

screen shot image of Adobe Audition 3

Touted as an “all-in-one toolset,” Adobe Audition 3 (Windows-only) provides recording, mixing, editing and mastering of audio files and includes some basic video integration. Version 3 has undergone considerable “under-the-hood” work to enhance performance and responsiveness. Audition is now fully multicore compatible, splitting up processing among multiple cores. Improvements in disk I/O buffering have made read/write operations faster and both the mix architecture and effects handling are more efficient. I performed testing on a 2.13 GHz dual-core PC running Windows XP SP2 and driving an M-Audio Delta 66 soundcard.

Adobe purchased Syntrillium Cool Edit Pro in 2003 and renamed it Audition. In 2006, the powerhouse Audition 2 included ASIO driver support, a redesigned GUI that broke from the standard Windows look, VST support and improved mastering tools and effects. Many of the time-based effects in Audition use the Radius time-stretching/pitch-shifting engine from iZotope, a top-shelf algorithm also used by Sony, Cakewalk and Digidesign.

Audition requires about 500 MB of hard-disk space, and a 5 GB Loopology DVD with more than 5,000 bass, drum and guitar loops covering many genres is included. The caliber of this sample collection impressed me, and the retail box also includes an excellent 322-page user guide with detailed instructions and tips for using Audition 3's myriad features. Once installed, the software requires activation over the Internet or phone.

DRESSING THE PART

Audition has been my wave editor of choice since the Cool Edit days; however, I have preferred Sony Acid Pro for multi-tracking. Audition's Adobe-specific interface is notably more compact and appealing than the standard Windows GUI, and it allows for efficient and attractive themed layouts. Multiple color schemes are provided, and you can save custom color schemes. The interface is clean and uncluttered, although many tools you may frequently access end up buried under multilevel menus or contextual menus. Each section of the GUI is actually a dock-able, float-able, tab-able and resizable window panel; the active panel is highlighted with an orange margin. You can save custom layouts as well.

Audition 3's “workspaces” concept can optimize the layout to match the task at hand. The three main workspaces are Edit, Multitrack and CD; however, variations are provided, including optimized dual-monitor setups. You can create and save your own custom workspaces. When composing a song, I frequently flipped back and forth between the Edit and Multitrack views. Audition lets you have separate audio soundcard settings for its Edit View, Multitrack View and Surround Encoder, so you can further optimize your setup based on your tasks and preferred equipment. Unlike applications such as Acid Pro, which cram many panels into a single crowded interface, the Workspace approach provides one of the best, most flexible interfaces of any audio app I have used.

MONOLOGUE: THE EDIT VIEW

In the Edit View, the Waveform Display is the large primary panel. Transport, Time, Zoom and Selection controls sit along the bottom with File and Effects tabs showing in a left-hand column. The default layout works well, and the waveform editor is straightforward to use, with the mouse scroll wheel performing multiple zooming duties depending on where you place the pointer. The display update rate is markedly improved over version 2.

The Import dialog features a selectable Auto Play preview and a File Information viewer that shows file type, uncompressed size, parameters and length, making selecting files easier. It would be nice to see some of that functionality integrated into the File tab as well.

Changes made in Edit View are destructive, but Audition supports multilevel undo. Audition 3's waveform editor usability enhancements include on-clip fade handles and on-clip gain control that allow quick visual access to common tools. While viewing the start or end of a waveform, small boxes appear that let you apply quick fades that show their adjustable curves in real time on the waveform. However, as with many of Audition features (file close, trim and effects), they are available only when playback is stopped.

Audition 3's dizzying and slightly confusing array of more than 50 effects are grouped by category or by type (real time, process or multitrack), making finding the effect you want a little easier. Abundant effects would generally be desirable; however, many of the effects in Audition are seemingly redundant, partially because Audition includes both process effects and VST effects, many with similar or identical names.

Process effects use the standard Windows GUI and generally have less user-friendly interfaces; VST effects use the new GUI with more visually oriented dialogs — you edit parameters with sliders instead of value boxes. Only VST effects are available in both the Multitrack and Edit views, but in Edit mode you you cannot apply them non-destructively in real-time or automate them.

Effect dialog boxes show you effect parameters and let you preview the effect before applying it. Most effects provide multiple presets with descriptive labels, and Audition 3 applies the effects faster than the occasionally sluggish version 2. It also introduces some great new effects: Convolution Reverb, which simulates acoustic spaces from coat closets to concert halls; Analog Delay, which simulates vintage hardware delays; and Guitar Suite, which has compression, distortion, filter and a Box Modeler optimized for guitar tracks.

The Waveform display can toggle into the new Top/Tail View that allows you to zoom in to the start and end of an audio file, while still seeing the entire clip in a central window with the zoomed top and tail highlighted. That's quite handy because you have zoom control over all three panes and can edit a section of audio while viewing it simultaneously at two different zoom levels.

Three spectral-editing views have been enhanced in Audition 3: Spectral Frequency, Spectral Pan and Spectral Phase. Spectral Frequency shows the frequency of the signal on the vertical axis with the amplitude represented by color variation, and you can edit and/or apply effects to only select frequencies of an audio file — a powerful feature. Spectral Frequency is great for cleaning up clicks, pops and unwanted noises. Using the Marquee or Lasso tools, you can highlight specific frequencies; or, using the new Effects Paintbrush, you can “stroke” and define the intensity of the effect — similar to Photoshop editing tools. After playing with the Paintbrush for a short while, I like it, and it works very well. The new Spot Healing Brush does a superb job of auto healing selected frequencies of an audio file.

Spectral Pan shows the pan position of every frequency along the vertical axis with brighter colors representing higher amplitude at the given position. In the Spectral Phase Display, the vertical axis shows the amplitude of the audio that exists at a given phase as ±180 degrees. Both displays now include the Marquee tool for easy visual isolation and editing of any portion of audio based on time, frequency, pan and phase. Spectral Pan and Phase were less useful than Spectral Frequency, but for certain tasks, they're quite powerful.

Audition 3's large collection of editing tools has many improved automated tools. Adaptive Noise Reduction can be tweaked to clean up audio when you can't isolate a place in the waveform from which to take a noise profile. Also, the Automatic Phase Correction calculates the optimal delay to align the channels of a stereo waveform. Both tools perform impressively.

ENSEMBLE CAST: THE MULTITRACK VIEW

In Multitrack View, the Main tab represents each track as a horizontal waveform, and the Mixer tab shows fader channel strips with Effects, Routing and EQ sections. Multitrack “songs” are stored by default as SES (session) files, which will reopen all related audio files and ReWire slave apps (if used). Unless you're using only WAV files, it takes considerable time to open a session; Audition seems to reprocess each file, displaying multiple progress bars as the files open. A fairly simple 10-track session typically took more than 10 seconds to complete loading — while not that long, it is notably slower than a similar session in Acid 6. Audition 3 also allows multitrack sessions to be stored in XML format for sharing with other applications.

The Multitrack View lets you arrange multiple audio clips on one track. You can create virtually unlimited tracks restricted only by disk space and processing power. Some usability enhancements include grouping clips together both within and across tracks, so you can move them as a batch and perform simple edits like trims and fades en masse. The new on-clip fade handles even apply identically to grouped clips. Audition 3 applies automatic but adjustable crossfades when any clips overlap, and when moved, clips snap-align to the start/end of other clips, making it easier to arrange quickly and precisely.

Audition 3 supports automation of both clips and tracks. Clip envelopes allow you to automate clip volume and pan settings per clip, whereas Track envelopes let you automate almost anything over time; each track can have multiple automation lanes. Furthermore, you can record automation settings to a track envelope while playing back your session back in real time. Volume and pan automations are reflected in the Mixer interface. You can also create bus tracks to combine the outputs of several audio tracks and collectively apply effects, EQ and automation.

Effects and edits performed in Multitrack View are nondestructive, allowing you to experiment easily. The most effective way to work with effects in Multitrack is the Effects Rack, a pop-up window that contains slots for stacking multiple effects and adjusting the wet/dry mix. Its right-hand section lets you control the effect parameters and reuses the dialog box layout from Edit view. You can apply as many as 16 effects to each audio and bus track and adjust them on the fly, as well as save presets.

Audition 3's looping controls a little bit difficult. While you have the ability to define audio files as loops, such features are hidden away in a contextual menu. Setting a newly created audio clip to loop and to match the session tempo requires multiple clicks and is more complicated than it could be.

Audition features the ability to record multiple takes; however, the interface for doing so is rather clunky, and the end result is difficult to work with compared to multitake features in Acid Pro or Propellerhead Reason.

OUTSIDE INFLUENCE

Audition 1.5 introduced ReWire support; ReWired apps consume a track in Multitrack View. During testing, I ReWired a Reason 4 Thor synth into a song, but despite any amount of tweaking, I couldn't get the latency low enough to record/playback the bass line in real time. The lag was longer than 1 second. After working with Adobe Tech Support, it appears the bug may be related to some specific VST EQ effects. Ultimately I removed the offending effects, recorded the bass line and then re-added the effects with ReWire playback unaffected.

You can import, edit and record MIDI data from VSTi instruments or hardware synthesizers with Audition 3's sequencer, and keyboard shortcuts and MIDI controllers can trigger almost any command. Also using MIDI, you can playback and record multitrack audio with other hardware or software as either a SMPTE master or slave (as an alternative to ReWire).

While there are some great new features, Audition 3 is more of an evolutionary than revolutionary step compared to Audition 2. Still, it's a bargain for new users or for current users to upgrade. Audition is a powerful tool with excellent features, a highly usable interface and a collection of high-quality loops; it would be an excellent addition to a PC-based studio.

For audio demos of Audition 3's Spectral Frequency tool, go to remixmag.com.

ADOBE SYSTEMS INCORPORATED

AUDITION 3 > $349 ($99 UPGRADE)

Pros: Powerful all-in-one audio solution. Attractive and flexible interface. Free Loopology DVD and printed manual. Value for the dollar.

Cons: Rather clunky multitake recording compared to other programs. Confusing redundancy in the choice of effects. Some erratic ReWire perfomance.

Contact: www.adobe.com/products/audition

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

PC: P3, P4 or Centrino; 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended); Windows XP Pro/XP SP2/Vista; soundcard with DirectSound or ASIO drivers (multitrack ASIO soundcard recommended)

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