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BIAS PEAK 2.04 (MAC)

2/1/2000

When Peak made its debut four years ago, the primary stand-alone waveform editors for the Macintosh were Digidesign's Sound Designer II, Passport Designs' Alchemy, and Macromedia's SoundEdit 16. In their day, they did a great job of importing, recording, editing, and exporting audio, but their designs had not seen a serious upgrade in several years, and they were beginning to show their age. It's therefore no surprise that BIAS (Berkley Integrated Audio Software) created quite a stir when it introduced a new hard disk-based 2-track editor with high-quality DSP functions and support for Adobe Premiere plug-ins, CD audio importing, and hardware samplers.

In its current incarnation, Peak has been completely rewritten to further expand its substantial feature list while retaining the intuitive environment that initially drew people in. What has emerged is a more sophisticated and more versatile program that comfortably embraces the worlds of professional sound designing, CD mastering, and sample editing.

For this review I examined the $499 TDM Edition of Peak 2.04, which offers support for TDM plug-ins. If you aren't running a Pro Tools system, you can save quite a bit of money by purchasing the $299 standard version. It's the same as the more expensive version except that it lacks the TDM support.

THE MAIN SCENEPeak's main Audio Document window displays a mono or stereo waveform where you can view position markers, loop markers, and selected regions (see Fig. 1). An Overview display shows the entire waveform, so you can quickly jump to different locations in the file and play back from anywhere in the recording.

Above the Overview display, a new toolbar provides access to a variety of editing functions, DSP commands, and transport operations. You can position the toolbar horizontally or vertically, and you can add or remove any of its myriad buttons to suit your needs. If the buttons get in your way, or if you prefer to use keystroke commands, as I do, you can always hide the toolbar.

Directly beneath the waveform display, a narrow information field displays the current file's sample rate, resolution, file format, and size. The adjoining scrollbar lets you move horizontally through the waveform. The "live" scrollbar is linked to the Overview display; as you drag the scrollbar, a rectangular frame moves across the Overview waveform, letting you see exactly where you are relative to the entire recording. That can be especially helpful when you're working on large files.

Another new feature is a floating cursor palette with four additional options. You get the familiar arrow cursor as a default, as well as a hand cursor to grab and move the waveform, a magnifying glass to zoom in and out, and a pencil tool that lets you draw on the waveform to correct glitches and clicks.

You can select audio regions in the waveform by dragging with the arrow cursor or Command-clicking between two markers. Pressing the Tab key lets you hop between regions and highlights each one in succession. In the current version, you can also highlight either the right or left track of an audio file for independent editing and playback.

Beneath the Audio Document window, a display indicates the current cursor coordinates and provides a progress bar during processing. You can configure the neighboring time display to indicate samples, seconds, bars/beats, or SMPTE time code. To the right of the time display, two thin horizontal VU meters, with clip indicators, extend across half the screen width. The meters let you specify a peak-hold duration (none, 3 seconds, or infinity).

And finally, if you like to play with colors, Peak lets you assign any color you want to many of the display elements in the Audio Document window, such as the waveform, the background, and different marker types. It also provides several preset color schemes.

MARKING YOUR COURSEUnlike some programs, Peak allows you to drop in markers on the fly while you're recording or playing back. Press Command-M to insert a new marker at the current location. Each marker appears in the waveform display as a vertical line with a small triangle at the bottom. Double-clicking on the triangle opens a dialog box that lets you specify the marker's function and modify its default name. Markers can serve as beginning or ending loop points, or can function as anchored or unanchored reference points.

When a marker is anchored (the default setting in Peak), it remains locked to its position in the waveform and changes position in time as you delete or insert material. In other words, it stays with its designated sample in the waveform. If a marker is defined as an unanchored reference point, however, it represents a specific point in time rather than a place in the waveform. When you select and drag one of these reference markers, Peak indicates its distance from the next reference point. This can be quite useful for placing sounds at precisely timed intervals.

The easiest way to move markers is simply to drag them into the position you want. If you need to find a particular marker, you can type in the first few letters of its name and press Return; the insertion point will then jump to that marker.

Unfortunately, you can delete a marker only from within its dialog box. I'd prefer to manage markers by using keystrokes to highlight and delete them. On the other hand, the highly useful Delete Except Audio command clears the slate of all markers in a selected area while leaving the waveform untouched.

The Markers to Regions command is another great feature. It creates a region from the waveform area between a pair of neighboring markers (Markers 1 and 2 become Region A; Markers 3 and 4 become Region B, and so forth). You can then save the audio within each region as its own file-handy for extracting sound effects and sections of dialog from a long recording.

RECORDING AND PLAYBACKPeak now features a new recording interface with separate Record and Recording Options dialog boxes. Recording Options lets you select the hard drive you wish to record to, assign the file format, set incoming audio levels, and choose whether to record through an Adobe Premiere plug-in. A new Split Stereo Files function allows you to record dual mono files rather than interleaved stereo-the default format in Peak. In addition to the Pro Tools system, programs such as Emagic Logic Audio and MOTU Digital Performer import only dual mono files, so Peak makes it easier to work with a variety of programs.

The Record dialog box consists of three sections: an Audio Source display, which shows the waveform as it is recorded; a Notepad section; and a Transport section, with displays for available recording time, sample rate, and resolution (see Fig. 2). The Notepad section lets you type in comments during recording. Each time you press the Return key, it creates a Notepad marker; the comments you type are attached to the marker as a label once recording is finished.

Aside from using the transport controls, you can play an audio file by double-clicking anywhere in the Audio Document window or by pressing the Spacebar to start and stop. The Return key takes you to the beginning of the recording. If you want to play just a selected area, simply drag to highlight the area and press Option-Spacebar to play the selection.

Peak allows several files to be open at once. The Audio Document windows can be stacked on top of each other or tiled to fill the screen. Each file has an assigned number, and you can trigger each file by holding the Command key and entering numbers in the order that you want the files to play. This is an excellent way to check out alternate sequences for your CD project.

Audio scrubbing functions have been well-implemented in Peak since its early versions. Peak's Dynamic Scrubbing mode plays a short loop (selectable between 10 and 600 ms) at the cursor location. In addition to Dynamic Scrubbing, Peak also offers jog wheel-style scrubbing and tape-style scrubbing (which mimics the sound of a reel-to-reel deck).

Peak's new VU meters are clearly an improvement over the program's original meters, but unfortunately they are still not quite up to par. When I compared them with the meters on my A/D converter, the input levels registered a weaker signal in Peak by as much as 10 dB. (According to BIAS, this problem exists only with the Sound Manager drivers for certain cards, especially MOTU's 2408 system.) Another anomaly surfaced with long fades: The meters blipped inexplicably when there was essentially no level.

UNDO ME, REDO MEPeak's nondestructive approach to editing is one of the program's greatest strengths. With Peak, your original audio file remains untouched until you save the edits. Furthermore, the program offers unlimited undo/redo capability between saves, so you can return to an earlier state without penalty. You can even toggle between edits while the audio is playing.

Being able to severely process a file without committing to the final mess is a real blessing and an essential tool for serious sound designing and music production. The Edit menu displays the most recent edits along with the Undo and Redo commands. Peak also provides a helpful Edit List that shows a history of all edits, the time they were made, and what sections of audio were affected. If you click on any item in the list and select Revert to Item, Peak jumps back to the selected edit point. In essence, the Edit List provides a kind of random-access Undo capability. Once you've saved the file, however, the current Edit list is cleared.

To hold audio that is cut or copied, as well as to perform undo/redo functions, Peak designates part of your hard drive as a scratch disk for storing a temporary file until you save your work. You can choose your internal or external drive as the scratch disk, or you can use a high-speed server if you're linked to one.

Peak's list of editing commands includes the usual suspects, such as Cut, Copy, Paste, Insert Silence, and Crop. Key combinations for selecting audio speed the editing process further. For example, you can drop in a couple of markers while an audio file plays back, and then Command-click between the markers to select just that area. The Crop command removes the unselected audio on both sides of the markers and isolates the part that you want to work on. The whole process is quite efficient.

In some programs it can be a challenge to make seamless transitions across edit points, but Peak provides an excellent crossfade command called Blending, which can be applied automatically during cutting and pasting operations to smooth out abrupt splices. You can indicate the length of the crossfade and custom-design the in and out envelopes. You can then save these envelopes as files; the program includes several presets as well. Because Blending operates in the background, it's important to be aware of when it's enabled, or you may not realize that it's treating your audio.

I also found one minor bug that affects editing. If you select a region, apply the Change Gain command, then Undo the change, Peak highlights a region larger than what you'd originally selected. You therefore lose the selection and have to create it over again. This is a minor irritation, and I hope it gets remedied in future versions.

GETTIN' LOOPYWhether you're producing a drum track or transferring rhythm loops to a sampler, Peak provides several approaches to creating and adjusting loops. For example, if you open a file and press Command-L, Peak automatically inserts Start and End loop markers at the beginning and end of the file. As the audio loops during playback, you can drag either marker to adjust the loop boundaries until you get the best result. You can select a waveform area, use the Loop This Selection command, and make adjustments from there. Or you can use the Threshold command to break up a rhythm track into its component parts by inserting markers where the audio level crosses a user-defined attack and release amplitude.

Peak's new Loop Tuner window (see Fig. 3) lets you compare and visually align a recording's beginning and ending loop points to create a smooth transition. Independent scrollbars and two zoom buttons help you align the waveform at the transition, and you can listen to the changes as you make them. If you need help in smoothing the transition, a Crossfade Loop window lets you blend the beginning and ending of the loop. Once you have the loop nailed down, Option-dragging one of the Loop Tuner's scrollbars moves both loop points together across the waveform. This is a wonderful way to check out different beat accents if you're working with rhythmic material.

Peak also includes Loop Surfer, an algorithm that automatically creates loops based on the number of beats and the bpm setting that you type in. If you don't know the bpm of your waveform, a Guess Tempo function handles that.

Unfortunately, you can't have more than one loop during playback. It would be great to Tab across a waveform from Loop A to Loop Z, for example, while the audio plays. For that matter, being able to toggle loops on and off during playback would also be a benefit. I hope we'll see these options in a subsequent release.

DSP POWERPeak includes a large number of onboard audio-processing tools and also supports Adobe Premiere and Digidesign AudioSuite plug-ins. With DAE and the right hardware, Peak's TDM Edition supports TDM plug-ins as well.

Common DSP operations include changing pitch, duration, and gain; converting the sample rate; fading in and out; reversing the waveform; and normalizing. With this version, you can also phase-invert a file and remove any DC offset that might be present. You can now convert stereo files to mono and vice versa, and a Panning dialog box lets you draw the left-to-right movement of sound. In addition, the Pitch Change algorithm has been greatly improved in this version and seems to produce virtually no artifacts.

Peak also offers a unique collection of weird and wonderfully original audio treatments, such as Convolve, which applies the spectral characteristics of one sound onto another. The resulting sonic mutations defy easy description. Modulate, a related command, functions like a ring modulator and multiplies two signals together. It's especially useful for creating complex, metallic timbres. Rappify is an unusual command that sounds like a resonating highpass filter. It adds a brittle, crunchy quality to many passages by applying what BIAS calls "extreme dynamic filtering" to a selection. The Phase Vocoder lets you independently adjust the duration and pitch of the audio, and Reverse Boomerang creates a reversed version of your file and integrates it into the original. If this isn't enough, you can Add sounds from the Clipboard at the insertion point or Mix signals together to thicken the soup.

If you need to remove pops and clicks from audio files, the Repair Clicks command may help you get at them quickly-but only if you're working with digital recordings. Cleaning up passages recorded to hard disk from scratched vinyl records is another matter. Apparently, the ability of Repair Clicks to detect these pops and clicks is compromised by the analog-to-digital process. The manual offers some suggestions for working with scratched vinyl recordings, but I often find that I have to hunt down the clicks individually.

Peak's newly improved Batch File Processor is another powerful feature. Say you've recorded 20 live pieces in succession, saved them as separate files, and placed them in a folder. The levels aren't optimal, but you don't want to adjust each file individually. With the Batch File Processor, you can choose a DSP command, such as Normalize, and apply it to the whole group of files. Simply drag the folder to the Peak icon on your desktop, and the program automatically normalizes each file. The Batch File Processor can be scripted to perform a sequence of operations for more complex tasks and saves your files in a variety of formats. The main drawback is that batch processing can be slow, even on a powerful computer.

SAMPLE AND SYNCPeak supports most major samplers; dialog boxes for Akai, Roland, Ensoniq, and SMDI samplers (such as E-mu, Kurzweil, Yamaha, and Peavey) let you take advantage of Peak's editing and DSP capabilities (see Fig. 4). Keep in mind that for Akai, Roland, and Ensoniq samplers, you need a MIDI interface and Opcode's OMS; SMDI samplers require simply a SCSI cable between your Mac and the sampler.

A valuable tool that the manual doesn't emphasize enough is the ability to send and receive multiple samples within the sampler dialog boxes. The dialog boxes allow you to view the contents of the sampler that you're linked to. You can then select the samples that you want and fetch them in a single step. Conversely, you can send multiple files from Peak to any sampler, which saves a good deal of time.

Many people like to chop up rhythm tracks and play back the beats as individual samples for creating new rhythms. As I mentioned earlier, Peak's Threshold command makes it easy to isolate the components in a drum track. You then simply export the individual beats (as separate files) to your sampler for playback.

If you work with video, you'll appreciate Peak's ability to sync to SMPTE time code. Supported frame rates include 24, 25, 29.97, and 30 frames per second. In addition, Peak lets you scrub a QuickTime movie with full audio chase. Although you can't edit the QuickTime video within Peak, you can sync effects and music to picture, which makes Peak an excellent post-production tool for multimedia.

THE PLAYLISTThe hallmark of nondestructive, disk-based editing is the ability to move audio around into myriad combinations without altering the original file. Peak fully exploits this capability by offering a powerful Playlist window where you can organize and play back various selected Regions in any order you wish. The Playlist works equally well with short Regions (such as drum hits in a rhythm track) and with longer Regions (such as songs being prepared for CD burning).

Events are added to Peak's Playlist window from the floating Contents palette (see Fig. 5). The Contents palette shows all the regions, markers, and loops in the currently open audio files. Each region is listed by title and location and can be dragged and dropped into the Playlist window. Within the Playlist, you can nudge the start and end times of Events, add gaps between Events, create crossfades, and adjust the individual gain settings. Even better, you can apply up to four Adobe Premiere plug-ins to each Event. You can even scrub Events in the Playlist. The Playlist is one of the most important enhancements in Peak and is well worth exploring.

Once you've completed a Playlist, you can save it as its own audio file, or you can burn a CD from the Playlist with Adaptec's Toast or Jam. Toast comes bundled with Peak, but I prefer working with Jam. Toast records only one track at a time and inserts a gap between each track, so crossfades between songs will be lost. Jam can write in Disk-at-Once mode and leaves the transitions intact.

One minor concern that I have is that there's always a slight delay before playback while Peak calculates the crossfades. Perhaps BIAS could find a way to bypass that lag time in a future update. And while I'm making my wish list, I'd also like the ability to move around Playlist Events during playback. That way, I could change parts around without having to stop each time. And I'd like to be able to loop sections of the Playlist instead of having to drag multiple Regions over from the Contents palette. That would be particularly useful for working with drum patterns.

FADE OUTMuch of Peak's strength lies in its ability to provide different means of approaching editing tasks while retaining an intuitive, user-friendly interface. The program even helps you organize your work by including FileMaker Pro database templates for finding and auditioning audio files. And though you can explore much of the program without cracking the manual, the helpful documentation is thorough and well written, with excellent cross-referencing. BIAS's Web site also provides wonderful support and resources for the user.

Since it was first introduced, Peak has come a long way in fulfilling its potential as a top-notch professional-level audio editor. The strong Playlist and Batch File Processor have further cemented its position at the top of the heap. So has Peak's support for hardware samplers; real-time recording through plug-ins; and a slew of file formats, including MP3 and Shockwave.

On the downside, however, Peak is still occasionally unstable in some hardware configurations-specifically when using Digidesign sound drivers paired with Audiomedia II and III cards. Granted, drivers exist in an uncertain universe that BIAS and other software developers have little control over. Nevertheless, some users have found that Peak works better when running under Sound Manager with the Mac's built-in audio I/O.

Overall, BIAS has made great strides in clearing up conflict issues, and DAE errors have been cropping up less and less. BIAS's responsiveness to end users has also helped build confidence in the product. With Peak slated to support ASIO drivers in version 2.1, concerns over stability are fading as anticipation for the added flexibility grows.

Peak does an excellent job of providing a complete editing environment for sound designers, audio post professionals, and musicians who record their music and burn CDs at home. It's not easy for a program to meet such wide-ranging demands, but with its strong editing and processing features, Peak is likely the best solution you'll find.

Alex Artaud is editor of the Spanish-language edition of Mix magazine.

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